Sunday, October 30, 2005


Clumsy Cliches

"It's not the crime, but the coverup" may be appropriate to the Watergate burgling by the Nixon White House, but it's not nearly as apropos to the Cheney Administration's deliberate manufacture of justification for destroying Iraq. In the latter case, the elaborate White House conspiracy to defraud the US Congress and the United Nations, that led to the multitude of crimes against humanity, are the main story; the subsequent coverup is, relatively speaking, incidental, even if essential to eventual prosecutions under US or international law.

Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, now held under the auspices of the UN War Crimes Tribunal--like Vice President Dick Cheney--understood the power of TV in persuading countries to go to war under false pretenses, but possibly neglected to reason such crimes to their logical conclusion and consequence. With any luck, we, too, will live to see our heads of state held accountable for their conduct.

Saturday, October 29, 2005


Racism as Philosophy

"Understanding and critically examining the public discourse, which includes identifying ideologies and groups whose missions include the reduction and destruction of American Indian peoples, is crucial for tribal leadership in this age of communication. ... Hence, we were delighted to participate in an intense and innovative training seminar for American Indian youth this summer. ...

The seminar's central themes included drawing awareness to a seemingly rising tide of anti-Indian rhetoric at the national level and encouraging the development of pragmatic communications skills tribal leadership needs to effectively respond... [to] attacks on Indian peoples that were found within mainstream newspapers and in columns distributed by organizations such as the Ayn Rand Institute...

Since the seminar, of course, the public discourse dealing with American Indian peoples and our issues continues unabated. The wordsmith warriors of ARI, as but one example, continue to slice away with abandon against the very notion of Indian peoples, cultures and nations... insulting against Indians and Native peoples as legitimate communities of human beings. "

--read the whole article at


Rending Reality

"There are three key groups that were involved in this particular fabrication that was used to stampede Congress and the public toward the transformation of Iraq into a slaughterhouse: Rendon Group, the White House Office of Global Communications, and the Pentagon’s Office of Special Plans. Rendon is a high-dollar PR outfit that is on contract with the executive branch to spin their policies and promote their agendas. They wrote many of the bogus stories that were trotted out every day in the early stages of the invasion at CENTCOM press briefings — including the serial fictions about Jessica Lynch.

Rendon is a private contractor that runs the “public” White House Office of Global Communications (OGC). Rendon basically invented the Iraqi National Congress — the Potemkin exile government ostensibly directed by embezzler and con artist, Ahmed Chalabi — Judith Miller’s “source” for many of the lurid and completely fabricated stories about Iraq she wrote for the NYT to whip up the war fever. Said one unnamed State Department official in a moment of anonymous candor, “Were it not for Rendon, the Chalabi group wouldn’t even be on the map.”

--read more on this post from Feral Scholar at

Friday, October 28, 2005


Crossing the Line

Even now, six years after the cessation of NATO bombing in the former Yugoslav republic, I am astonished by both the gruesomeness of the atrocities and the lingering misapprehensions about the nature of the conflict. Reading the horrible accounts of what former neighbors and friends and even family did to each other after the collapse of civil society during the breakup of the federation, I am reminded, to a degree, of what Americans perpetrated on each other in our civil war.

But much of the brutality that took place, in Bosnia especially, was between civilians, not soldiers, and much of the genocide there entailed something more akin to what the Nazis did to German and Polish Jews, while their neighbors looked on in silence or with gleeful approval. In fact, something Bosnian Muslims have in common with Eastern European Jews is a legacy of managerial status from previous centuries that left them vulnerable to the prejudices of the Eastern Orthodox/Roman Catholic peasantry's hostile resentment.

But what has gone mostly overlooked in the even now well-documented Balkan genocide of the 1990s, is that it was not an "ethnic cleansing", despite this term having now become part of the popular modern lexicon. Ethnically speaking, the Muslims and Orthodox and Catholics, that once comprised the six republics of Yugoslavia, were all Slavic, indigenous, and--in the case of Bosnia--intermarried. Most of the large cities and governing bodies were roughly half Serb, half Muslim, but these people spoke the same language, looked the same, ate the same food, listened to the same music.

Granted, old political/religious grievances were still present--much like they are in the US and elsewhere--but the abandonment of their longstanding willingness to coexist harmoniously, seems to be rooted more in wild opportunism unleashed by the systematic simultaneous pandering to bigotry and to economic dissatisfactions built up during the 1980s. And once the cycle of violence began--usually at the behest of unregulated paramilitary militias--no one was immune to the lure of fear, hate, and revenge.

The 1949 United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide--to which the US is a signator--defines genocide as "acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group." The dithering over intervention by the US and Western European countries during 1992--while Serb-occupied Bosnians experienced first, employment discrimination, then demolition of their four hundred-year-old UN-designated world historic monument mosques in cosmopolitan cities like Banja Luka, and finally deportation, torture, and murder by the newly-formed Serbian Bureau for the Removal of Populations--is nearly incomprehensible.

Then again, the Bosnian tragedy was largely a case of well-armed Christians killing mostly unarmed Muslims. Not quite so difficult to imagine in the current context of Iraq.

Thursday, October 27, 2005


All Over Again

At the time I composed my fictional piece Deja Vu (located under Fiction in the sidebar), I encountered little interest in the subject of the shadow war that inevitably takes place in US incursions like Vietnam, Nicaragua, or Iraq. But thanks to the due diligence of such notables as Special Prosecutor Fitzgerald and Whiskey Bar's editor Billmon in today's posting , the possibilities I raised in this "novella" (especially part six) have now entered the realm of infamous reality. Oh, the pains of being prescient; I sincerely hope I am not right about everything in my fictional narrative.


Sense of Future

No matter what indictments are forthcoming in the days ahead, the members of the federal grand jury who spent the last two years considering the evidence of high crimes in the White House--as presented by Special Prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald--will have some interesting stories to tell their fellow countrymen. Both they and Judge Thomas F. Hogan, the chief judge of the district court who has presided over the leak case, first and foremost deserve our thanks for carrying the burden of trying to resurrect our republic from the ashes of the 12/12/2000 shock and awe Supreme Court decision, and the subsequent criminal rampage the likes of which our generation has never seen.

Every now and then, I remember the one time I served on a jury for a mere two weeks, and the profound impact it made on me--how I came to regard the notion of collective wisdom based on diverse perspectives as a reality worthy of my deepest respect. Much has transpired in the twenty years since then to shake my confidence in the possibility of a return to democracy in America, but not in its legitimacy and authenticity as a system of governance.

Perhaps, in time, the stories told by these and others called to the duties of mindful citizenship will enable us to create a new narrative appropriate to the chaotic context of the present, cognizant of our less than glorious past, and most importantly, useful to the renewal of the sense of a future in which equality and inclusion are again valued as vital aspects of our culture.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005


Well-mannered Quislings

Those who rightly complain that the media have actively helped to make morons of Americans have a target rich environment. Talk radio (including PRI and NPR), TV, and newspapers not only provide fuel for imbeciles and bigots, but also provide sanctimonious sanctuary for the smug and arrogant. Just listening to PRI's praise for oil industry missionaries in Africa today made me want to by a flamethrower.


Institutional Memory

According to Slavenka Drakulic, author of The Balkan Express, war is a simple matter. No politics, no dilemmas, nothing but struggle.

Prior to this state of affairs, though, comes a process of getting used to the idea of war, making the idea a part of everyday life. “Then,” she observes, “rules can change, rules of behavior, of language, of expectations…no room for dialogue anymore, but only for opposing sides to issue warnings, threats, conditions…”

The social conflict that precedes war or political violence is replete with abnormal conduct and rhetoric. References to fears and grievances—real or imagined—proliferate. It is during these times, in particular, that other narratives function as community safeguards against organized aggression, xenophobia, vigilantes.

Barbara Gray and Pat Lauderdale, in their paper The Great Circle of Justice, refer to narratives and stories as

“basic life forces needed to establish and to preserve communities and develop a common culture of shared understandings, and deeper, more vital ethics…how humans are to live with each other…a blueprint that provides the communities’ structures (e.g., political and spiritual forms of governance, kinship relations, and societies that have specific duties and responsibilities in maintaining justice
within the community).”

Through participation in narrative events, they claim, those who feel as if they are alone become connected to their community.

Gray and Lauderdale’s paper, oriented toward American Indians, applies as well to the rest of us here in Indian country; the stories we tell help to model the type of society we want to live in, who we are, and where we came from. And it is this role of storytelling, the use of history, the preservation of memory, that enables us to recognize patterns of conduct and rhetoric our communities have witnessed previously, in order for us to comprehend new threats and dangers. Replenished, renewed, and repeated, these stories build a cohesive narrative of our collective understanding—our institutional memory.

Memories, however, do not reside in books or aging minds alone; indeed, they require the regular nourishment of ceremonies and conferences and public gatherings where they are spoken and heard and embellished with the perspective of time and maturation and contextual change. And by making the linkages between the past and the present, our stories--with luck--allow us to create the narrative of a future that embraces both.

In his occasional paper, Tribes Institutions Markets Networks, David Ronfeldt examines the framework of societal evolution, contending that, “Civil society appears to be the realm most affected by the rise of the network form, auguring a vast rebalancing of relations among state, market, and civil-society actors around the world...a new center of meaningful citizenship.” These networks—emerging in response to broad societal conditions—embody, he notes, “a distinct cluster of values, norms, and codes of behavior” that, combined with other forms, “allows a society to function well and evolve to a higher level,” but “depends on its ability to integrate these contradictory forms through the regulatory interfaces of law and policy.”

Absent a widespread tribal support system or reliable public or private institutions (let alone markets) for the regular exercise of our new narratives incorporating our vital stories, values, and norms, it is the network form we must now rely on as “curator” of these tales. Organizations within a civil-society network, more precisely, the individuals who retain these collective memories, are then crucial to keeping them alive. Communication of our stories will then determine who we will become. Indeed, they are all we have.

Saturday, October 22, 2005


Surf and Turf

The last winter we spent in the Pacific Northwest, at the mid-way point of the temperate rain forest that blankets the two thousand miles of mountainous coastline from Kodiak to Mendocino, the snowfall on the volcano visible from the hilltop behind our home set a world record of 95 feet. We attempted to document this awe-inspiring climatic phenomenon by photographing the sno-cone on our backyard barbeque that greeted us on rising the morning after the storm, but the magnitude of the dumping didn't really dawn on us until taking a hike with our hounds in the forest, plowing a path up to our waist in powder.

With a light but firm crust formed on top by the afternoon sun, we decided to celebrate this most impressive display by hosting a barbecue for our neighbors where everyone had to eat standing up in snowsuits, resting their plates and beverages and condiments on the table height snowpack, followed by moonlit sledding and storytelling around the campfire we built at the end of our gravel drive. It remains one of our fondest memories of a relatively wild and wet landscape we once called home, but we've managed to get used to the surf and sun.

Friday, October 21, 2005


Top Billing

William LaFreniere was the kind of guy who plodded through life with a grin and apparently without giving it too much thought--a simple but amiable character. Unfortunately--probably due to his having been cited for an illegal construction debris dump on his rural property--he was drawn to the propaganda of property-rights groups seeking to evade or overturn environmental regulations in Washington state and Whatcom county.

At the time, I suspect William had never even heard of the Wise Use Movement--probably still hasn't--but was merely attracted to the pioneer notion of being able to do what you want with your own property, regardless of the consequences. At any rate, as these groups began to feel their oats and to subvert local elections and public hearings through time-tested tactics like heckling or otherwise intimidating public officials, Mr. LaFraniere decided to run for public office himself.

Serious or not, he had some really nice campaign signs made, and posted them himself around the county way up near the top of telephone poles where you could see them from a long way off, but when you got close enough to actually read them, had to lean out the window and crook your neck up to see what it said, which was particularly difficult given the amount of rain there in the fall season. Which puzzled many of my friends, until I pointed out that William was a house painter, and probably had a long extension ladder, and figured he could put it way up there, far above all the others.

But the best story I heard about candidate LaFraniere was when he decided to attend the Whatcom Democratic party picnic as the mystery candidate in his painter's hood--apparently as a lark--and had the local liberals up in arms for two weeks over a reported Klan sighting. Fortunately--for William and for Whatcom county residents--he was not elected, but as candidates go, he was perhaps the most amusing non-politician to emerge in a long time. And, as we know all too well, a sense of humor--no matter how odd--is sadly missing from the public arena these days.


All We Have

"It is a memorial potlatch for Skilay that has brought so many people to Old Masset. Skilay was one of the most powerful members, not just of his clan but of the entire Haida Nation. He was not a chief, but he occupied a position that was equally admired and, in day-to-day life, even more practically important. A talented fisherman, carver, and singer, and dedicated politician and activist, he was one who could transcend boundaries; when everyone else was too angry or too discouraged to talk, he could get them laughing again.

Skilay was known as the Steersman; he was one who made sure the canoe--the Haida's ship of state--was going in the right direction."

--from The Golden Spruce by John Vaillant

"I will tell you something about stories. They aren't just entertainment. Don't be fooled. They are all we have, you see, all we have to fight off illness and death."

--from Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko

Wednesday, October 19, 2005


The Sea's Bounty

Bella Bathurst began her inquiry into the history of wrecking in the British Isles when she stumbled on a mention of the practice while researching Robert Louis Stevenson, whose family were noted lighthouse engineers in the hayday of construction of these aids to navigation. What she found was that due to their proximity to the most active and treacherous shipping lanes in the world, the coastal communities of Great Britain were--for roughly three hundred years--largely dependent on the spoils of shipwrecks for their livelihoods. In only the latter half of that era were they also involved in the new industry of lifesaving; prior to that they were engaged in everything from salving to extortion to piloting to plunder.

Bathurst's book, The Wreckers, provides an interesting history of these villages and the hardy, seafaring people who inhabited them, but what I found most enthralling were the detailed descriptions of the geologic and maritime factors that contributed to the colossal tonnage of flotsam and jetsam on the shores of Scotland, England, Cornwall, and Wales, not to mention the Orkneys and Hebrides. In fact, one of her discoveries was an account of a near disaster involving George Orwell and his children when they capsized their small boat in the Hebrides islands while on a sunny outing near where he was holed up at Barnhill writing his famous novel 1984.

One of the features of Jura Sound, where Orwell was nearly drowned, is known as Corrievreckan, the largest whirlpool in European waters and the second largest whirlpool in the world. Due to the strong, bottleneck, tidal currents, vertical underwater rock stack obstructions, and a 219 metre deep aquatic pit that creates pulsing vortices rising as much as 30 feet above the surrounding sea level when the whirlpool runs in fullest spate, Corrievreckan's roar can be heard ten miles away.

But the physics of this maelstrom account for only half the confusion. As Bathurst recalls,"I look at the land, and I realise that some parts of it are higher away from the water than others. The water is not all at the same level...This particular patch of ocean has hummocks and contours, and a one-in-four gradient...a pit had opened up in the water minute he was sailing across level water and the next minute he was staring into a 10-metre abyss."

Imagine a sea captain coming off the rolling regularity of the North Atlantic on his way to Belfast or Glasgow or Liverpool in a heavy fog and encountering such abnormal conditions.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005


Start Making Sense

I remember a while back my fascination with the information in a book titled The Secret Life of the Brain, modeled after a PBS documentary by the same name. The very accessible narrative allowed even the non-scientifically inclined to readily comprehend the various stages of human brain development and deterioration throughout a lifetime, in a way that helped make sense of the challenges faced at different ages, as well as the limitations on what can reasonably be expected of our learning capacity under these very different mental conditions.

I thought of this recently--and do more often, now--as I watch children in the park devise dangerous amusements, listen to my 80-year-old father's complaints about attempting to master basic computer skills, observe teenagers exercising questionable judgment, or try to imagine retraining myself at 53 in a new field of employment.

The book itself is a pleasure to read, partly because of the straightforward explanations of what actually transpires in our cortex, but also because it enables us to be more understanding, empathic human beings. While we may live in a society unstructured to reward or take advantage of such things as the judgment and perspective and knowledge acquired with maturation, we can at least be well-informed in order to better deal with the effects of this pervasive malevolence.

Saturday, October 15, 2005


The Final Battle

Rules for Old Men Waiting by Peter Pouncey is like a series of windows on scenes from a lifetime's intensity, exquisitely enacted by the fictitious narrator's use of real and imagined warriors in his family's three Anglo-American crusades, interspersed with vital memories of testimonies from the protagonist's novel research. Each layer of unreality simultaneously reveals more about a generational perspective on the confusions of war and family than I suspect any single memoir could accomplish. A remarkable literary achievement.

Thursday, October 13, 2005


Western Guy

When I first met Flapjack Singer, he was still using the handle Ziggy, a nickname I presume he acquired while traveling in the 60s on a hippie school bus with Wavy Gravy and other residents of The Hog Farm, many of whom ended up as unworldly participants at the event of the century for my generation—Woodstock.

It was also under the pseudonym Ziggy that Flapjack had once met Roy Rogers and Dale Evans when his hippie VW van broke down on a back country road somewhere out West, and a couple of Roy’s ranch hands roped his rig and towed it back to the machine shop for repair. As I remember it, Ziggy—now Flapjack—remarked that the cowboys weren’t particularly enthused about playing host to a drug-addled peacenik, but that their deeply-instilled code of hospitality toward anyone down on their luck fortunately overrode their prejudice against longhairs.

Seeing how Flapjack got his name partly due to his incessant gabbing, I’m not quite sure where this episode fits into the chronology of his storybook life, but I’m inclined to think it was after his arrest in either Ecuador or Peru for alleged smuggling of cocaine on the deep-sea fishing vessel he skippered while fishing anchovies off the coast of South America. Nevertheless, it kind of ties in with his previous propensity to find himself in technical if not flagrant violation of the law, which really is a shame considering his friendly, cheerful disposition and heartwarming joie de vivre.

At any rate, when Ziggy wasn’t spinning yarns about his Latin American adventures, he often recounted the time he worked on the Alaska pipeline, and how he once jumped from an airplane when the pilot pulled up into a low stall in order to prevent his momentum from propelling Ziggy and his buddy too deeply into the snow bank where they planned to recover a behemoth bulldozer they’d buried there as a nest egg. Again, providence intervened and neither Ziggy nor his pal broke their necks in the stunt nor went to jail for their exceptionally creative larceny.

Which is how I eventually came to meet Ziggy at his truck repair shop, established, I presume, on the proceeds of his Alyeska escapades. When I brought my one ton rig in for a new exhaust system, I recall thinking that if his mechanical skills were half as good as his gab, it might just be worth getting to know this charming character. As it turned out, they weren’t, but by then I’d become so enthralled by his stories that I just didn’t have the heart to take my business elsewhere. I suspect this was the case with the majority of his clientele, some of whom to this day speak with affection about his less than kosher restorations.

Around about this time, my partner and I had a couple of horses on our place and as Ziggy acquired an enthusiasm for Western culture, he and his girl friend started coming over for barbecue and trail rides. It wasn’t long before Ziggy got himself a Western hat and some Navajo blankets and Southwest Indian art, and his transition to another alias was nearly complete. But before we were going to willingly start calling him Flapjack, we figured he ought to demonstrate the ability to saddle and ride a horse, which he did. Much to his chagrin, though, he was so sore when we returned down the mountain that he had to walk around like a candy-ass city-slicker at a dude ranch. I recall his girl friend finding this eminently amusing, to the point of her suggesting the alternate handle of “Hotcake.”

So needless to say, we were sad to hear the news that Flapjack had decided to close down his shop to take a job on a ranch as a combination welder/mechanic and all-around fixit guy on the other side of the mountains near Conconully. In fact, when he phoned his girl friend to say he had a trailer all set up so she could move there with him, I offered to give her a ride and spend some time hunting and camping with them in the high plateau pines.

A couple of weeks after I returned home, his girl friend called to tell us about Flapjack’s improving marksmanship with his new pearl-handled six-gun with which he’d managed to shoot several holes through the floor of the trailer narrowly missing the terrified rats that had managed to sneak in the screen door looking for dog food. About a month after that, they moved back to town after extinguishing a brushfire set off in a wheat field where Flapjack was welding up a broken piece of machinery.

After a year or so of fixing rigs in the side yard, though, Ziggy decided to head south and his girl friend north, and we sort of lost touch until we decided to look him up one time on our way back from Oregon, and were delighted to find Flapjack—now Tim—was happily married to his high school sweetheart, playing with his model train set, and raising goats on the several acres he’d bought when a bank finally caught up with him to tell him about the eighty thousand dollars he’d forgotten about in his truck shop business account he’d neglected to close out several years earlier.

And so it was, that things had come full circle for Ziggy aka Flapjack aka Hotcake, and his many and varied misadventures. Nowdays, the only thing to worry about is his new-found fascination with the art of dynamiting tree stumps.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005


Real Indians

“First Peoples need to continue to take back the power to name, specifically to reclaim, the right to determine Indian nation membership. If we do not, the oppressed have become the oppressors: By denying our relatives, we have turned on our own. As long as we do not cast aside the colonizer’s rules about blood quantum, phenotypical stereotypes, and other forms of racialized thinking with all of its issues of power, status, and prestige, both mixed bloods and full bloods will remain the “colonized other,” a demonstration of internalized oppression.

To reclaim Native definitions of identity, blood quantum must, first and foremost, be abolished as a culturally appropriate measure of whom legally and culturally constitutes a ‘real’ Indian. However, the true work lies in outing blood quantum for what it truly is, a colonially imposed apparatus of cultural destruction. By adhering to blood quantum requirements to determine enrollment and identify prestige, American Indians have internalized ‘Anglo norms’ and Western notions of ‘race.’

If traditional modes of enrollment, such as cultural affinity, kinship ties, and descent are not reclaimed and most importantly validated as ‘authentic’ modes of inclusion criterion, American Indians, as a distinct cultural group, will one day cease to exist."

--from Biometrics in Indian Country by Tiffany Waters


Wild Abandon

I was surprised to learn of the growing hostility and discrimination against indigenous Irish Travellers--once known as Tinkers--to the degree it has in many respects come to resemble the 1960s Civil Rights struggle in the US. Travellers, as they refer to themselves, are neither Roma (Gypsies) nor foreign in either origin or appearance or religion, and merely migrate throughout Ireland and Britain and sometimes Europe--picking up work here and there--but are distinctly Irish, although they speak an old dialect of the language that includes some ancient words from druid culture.

Now semi-settled, the one thousand out of four thousand Traveller families in Ireland who still live on the road in trailers and carts, find their country less and less accomodating of their lifestyle despite intervention on their behalf by the Catholic church. (Travellers are devout Catholics, albeit more into the magical aspects like miracles than your average believer--something they share in common with Roma.) Violence, however, toward Travellers--settled or otherwise--is not uncommon, and parents have been known to remove their children enmasse from schools that admit Traveller children.

At the Traveller cultural center in Dublin, some younger adults have taken it on themselves to become literate for the express purpose of advocating for Traveller's civil rights, and a greater acceptance of and tolerance for their way of life. Lacking a printed history of their culture or origins, their library includes a lot about other nomadic ethnic and cultural groups who've come into conflict with settler culture, especially that of the American Indian, and Travellers are quick to point out that they both were initially oppressed by British colonizers trying to control their respective landscapes and everything that roamed therein.

My attention most recently having been drawn to the issue of borders and migrants and xenophobia, I couldn't help but think that there must be something to the notion of settled peoples universally resenting the freedom of wanderers, and persistently looking to nomads and other subcultures as scapegoats for everything that goes wrong in their lives. Perhaps it is a sign of the times, that under the malign neglect of market economies, people in general are simply growing less charitable, while at the same time worshipping the wild.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005



"Metaphor is a Greek word that literally means to transport something from one place to another; and in Athens the public transit system is called the Metaphor. There one can literally take the Metaphor to work, or take the last Metaphor home, though in the rest of the world metaphors serve only as a medium of imaginative travel...the transportation system of the mind, the way we make connections between disparate things...the essence of the ways in which we think."

--from A Book of Migrations by Rebecca Solnit


Minutemen Not Needed

Anti-vigilante organizers at the US/Canadian border have their heads screwed on right:

Partly because they're well informed:

Sunday, October 09, 2005


By Any Other Name

Ten years ago, the public spokesman for the then nascent Washington State Militia--a self-appointed paramilitary group of misfits on the Canadian border--liked to tell news reporters about his group's good intentions: sandbagging dikes during floods, directing traffic during emergencies, and so on. In their private meetings, though, they complained about all the brown-skinned immigrants coming into the US, and in January 1997 he and seven of his cohort were convicted of making explosives in order to do something about it, including threatening and murdering human rights activists.

Some of the older fellas hanging in this milieu wore Minuteman caps, and recited long-standing grievances about communism, civil rights, and gun laws. Others talked about obscure references to "common law courts" where they could exempt themselves (as white property-owning males) from paying taxes, licensing their cars, and other legal requirements.

Even their anti-communist propaganda harkened back to the McCarthyism and the witch hunts of the 1950s and the associated Minutemen of the 1960s. But the prevalence of racist rhetoric seemed more of a blend of the Ku Klux Klan Border Watch/John Birch Society talking points from the 1970s.

So when I read about the latest incarnation of the Minutemen--the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps--planning to patrol the US/Canadian border between Vancouver and Seattle this week, I was neither surprised at the continuity of identity within the racist vigilante milieu, nor with the media's lack of institutional memory on the subject. I mean, that's history, right?

But there are, fortunately, people and organizations who do remember, do understand, and do worry about vigilantism, racist violence, and other forms of domestic terrorism in the US. Two of them I link to below.

Friday, October 07, 2005


Local History

There's something to be said for a calm demeanor in law enforcement officers, especially for those in charge of their jurisdiction. Heaven knows there's plenty of alarming news these days, and alarmists for hire are coming out of the woodwork. Still, occasionally the times call for stronger public statements, particularly when situations and groups formerly involved in lawlessness and violence are involved.

In my former home of Whatcom county Washington, where some Minutemen are organizing an illegal immigrant stakeout on the Canadian border, that history includes federal explosives and firearms convictions of racist militia members in 1997, a cross-burning at a migrant worker camp in 1994, and an armed standoff on the Lummi Indian Reservation between Lummi Police and Sheriff's deputies somewhere in that timeframe. Granted, the vigilante groups and racist organizations that controlled the county government back then have lost much of their clout, and all indications point to a much more savvy Sheriff now than then, but nipping the rhetoric and propaganda of violent racism in the bud would still seem to be a priority.

Toward that end, it is comforting to see the local human rights organization taking the lead with resolutions put before local governments in support of civil rights, but I doubt they'll rest easy until the Sheriff takes a more visible role in quelling any notions of vigilantism being the equivalent of neighborhood watch programs. What surprises me, though, is that this particular Sheriff is 1. not new to the area, and 2. no dummy.

In fact, Sheriff Bill Elfo began his law enforcement career in 1974, moved to Whatcom County in 1997 to accept the position of Public Safety Director for the City of Blaine, and after six years of service in Blaine, was appointed Interim Sheriff by the County Council. Elected to the position of Sheriff in 2003, he holds a Master of Science in Criminal Justice as well as Juris Doctorate. He is a graduate of the Southern Police Institute and the FBI National Law Institute and has completed thousands of hours of training in management and law enforcement. He is a member of the Washington State Bar Association and is currently vice president of the Washington State Sheriff's Association. He is also a former assistant prosecutor and police legal advisor and adjunct professor of criminal justice.

Let's hope his extensive knowledge of the law combined with the extensive institutional memory of local history in the human rights group will serve to keep a lid on things. At least Washington's governor has more sense than to pan to bigotry like California's moronic head of state.


Full Circle

One of the reasons for the continuity of white supremacism I linked to in my previous post Endangered Species, is the sheer presence of Indians throughout the state of Washington. (I seem to recall their reservations make up something like ten percent of the landscape.) I myself was born on Duwamish land, grew up on Yakama territory, and lived as an adult on Lummi and Samish turf.

Perhaps I was unusual, but I remember always being cognizant of a simultaneous Indian-Caucasian conflict and coexistence at play; sometimes dramatized over dam-building on the Snake and Columbia rivers, other times over water withdrawals in the Yakima or Nooksack, often over white-controlled real estate within reservations, and frequently over fishing and hunting rights.

But one aspect of this ongoing struggle between the indigenous and the settlers in my home state, that continues to fascinate me, is what Dr.Ryser at the Center for World Indigenous Studies called "the politics of land and bigotry." By this I mean the organized violence and racism involved in trying to extinguish the "right to exist" as my Lummi constitutional scholar friend Jewell Praying Wolf James once put it--the right to self-government and self-determination in living their way of life as promised by the US government in the 1855 Treaty of Point Elliot.

So when I read yesterday that back in the summer of 1999, while I was living in southwest Ireland, the Snoqualmie Indians of Washington had finally been recognized as a tribe, enabling its one thousand members to finally enjoy the benefits of that treaty, I was not surprised to learn that not only they, but also the Duwamish and Snohomish--all signatory tribes to the treaty--had been for one hundred and fifty years, told they did not exist. Looking at a map of Puget Sound, one can easily see that these same tribes historically occupied the lands now known as the greater metropolitan area of Seattle, and the timbered mountains and valleys nearby that made the Weyerhauser and Bullitt families so wealthy.

I suppose, in a way, it's all relative: the Yakama got to be host to the Hanford Nuclear Reservation; the Spokane got the uranium mines and lost all their salmon. But something that was not lost--despite the best attempts of the state and federal governments and associated vigilantes--was the sense of identity and history and entitlement to be treated with dignity and respect. And so it was with great pleasure I discovered that the descendants of the Snoqualmie chief Pat Kanim, the signator of the treaty at Mukilteo, are still leaders of the Snoqualmie people. And not just because of this continuity and belated, partial justice alone, but also because now I know something important and special about Swil Kanim, the renowned Lummi violinist I once met, who--as a friend of Sherman Alexie, the celebrated Spokane writer and filmmaker--played a role in one of his films, and now uses his notoriety to engage white audiences with both his beautiful music and his peoples' stories.

Perhaps in time we will be able to see the bedrock nations still present within the superficial continental administrative overlay of states and counties and provinces and jurisdictions that lend support to the notions of dominance enforced by law and prejudice in our countries. For now it is enough to end the extermination.

Read more about this.

Thursday, October 06, 2005


Fresh and Alive

This morning's NPR program on books, blogs, and memoirs by Iraq war veterans described the current public hunger for eyewitness acounts as fueled by "a deep distrust of both government and media." Since the authors interviewed all started with e-mail or electronic journals that often became blogs that in turn provided the material for their bound publications, I thought it might be interesting to see what was being said in CJR about blogworld back when the war began.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005



My northwest tribe was salmon people. The Great Silver Argatmor—who leaps from the underworld as Goll the mythical salmon, metamorphosed from the red horizon of the sun that sinks off Connacht and Donegal—is emblazoned on my family flag.

For thousands of years they have celebrated the late winter returns to Lough Derg and Lough Erne by roasting the Ess Ruaid salmon at the Falls of Assaroe. In their mythology, the first human child was fathered by salmon and born at the winter resting-place of the sun goddess Aine, Grianan Ailech, overlooking the Lough Foyle saltwater sound where the fat spring run of Atlantic salmon could be seen coming home.

The new human order told in these oldest of Erin tales--modeled on the salmon’s habitat—connects earth to sea and fish with people and people with deities as one family, of which the Celts of northwest Eire, and their kin of Galicia in northwest Spain, understood the simple, profound truths of coexistence I later rediscovered fishing Pacific salmon with the Salish Indians of northwest America.

It is not a complicated tale, but it is a common one told by tribal peoples about a time long ago when humans neglected their fish and animal relatives, supposedly at the behest of gods who they said gave them dominion over our earthly world in recognition of humanity’s great wisdom.


Cinel Eoghan

When I was young, my mother’s mother, Pearl O’Neal, told me I would need to know my family. Now that I’m nearly the age she was then, I’m just beginning to comprehend the importance of what she might have meant.

As descendants of emigrants who left Northern Ireland for South Carolina in 1767, our essential story as a people travels the other direction, to Tir Eoghan (County Tyrone), where for much of the first Christian millennium, the O’Neal’s were the chief family of the Cinel Eoghan tribal grouping in Tyrone, most of Derry, and part of Donegal, that make up the western half of the province of Ulster.

Closely allied with the O’Neal’s in this ancient stronghold of Gaelic culture, were the O’Donnell’s and Gallagher’s of County Donegal, which remains a repository of Irish language and mythology just across the western border from the British-occupied portion of their historic territory—our family’s tribal homeland.

On the top of Greenan Mountain, which overlooks Lough Foyle—a forty-mile sound between Derry and Donegal—lies Grianan of Aileach, an ancient stone ringfort known as the Sun Palace, which sits atop a sacred earthwork that served as a site for O’Neill political rituals from the 5th to the 12th centuries AD.

The O’Neal’s, O’Neill’s, and other English language derivatives describing descendants of either Niall—the legendary King of Ireland who battled the Norse invaders in 919—or Niall Noigiallach, who was King of Midhe (Meath) at the mythical site of Tara around 400 AD, can all trace their family history back to AD 360, which precedes the arrival of Christianity there by roughly a hundred and fifty years.

The term “King” here meaning something more along the line of chief among chieftains, members of the various Ua Niall and Ui Niall clans nevertheless distinguished themselves repeatedly between the fourth and seventeenth centuries in leading the central, western, and northern nations of Irish Celts, especially in repelling Norse and English invasions. Hence, the surname Niall (Gaelic for “champion”) denotes a family tradition of leadership in armed conflict, culminating in the defeat of Hugh O’Neal—sometimes referred to as the last great leader of Gaelic Ireland--by the English at the battle of Kinsale in 1601.

Unaware of this connection at the time, I visited Kinsale in 1999, and walked the fields and bluffs and shoreline where my ancestors fought.

Without getting into all the details of battles waged over the centuries, suffice to say that the feistiness of the Irish I observed on my travels there, is perhaps explained in part by the interminable wars and occupations over the past two thousand years, during which my ancestors sometimes allied with Norse and Scots to drive out English, only to turn around and fight these mercenaries later.

In 1607, for instance, the O’Neill and O’Donnell chieftains found it necessary to flee to Spain, which cleared the way for the confiscation of their lands and the subsequent plantation of Ulster with English and Scottish colonists. Ironically, when my ancestors John and Margaret O’Neal and their four children left there for America on the brig Lord Dungannon, it was in response to the offer of free land by the Colony of South Carolina.


Beacon of Hope

I listened to a gentleman on the radio this morning who organized medical services for New Orleans residents during the ongoing aftrermath of the flooding. Interestingly, he recieves no government funding--none. In fact, while the feds and states were dithering, bickering, and scheming how to raid public funds for private profit, this man and others like him were busy accomodating the needs of volunteer medical people who flew in from around the world to help out. The only involvement of the US government in this was when they prevented a team of Cuban doctors from coming to their aid.

While major media tend to focus on the spectacle of military and other government forces that eventually contributed to the rescue efforts, the real story appears to be the self-organizing by the destitute and desperate themselves, despite the malign neglect of those who control the public purse strings. A harbinger, perhaps, of a new era of freedom schools and clinics and other authentic social institutions.


Endangered Species

For those unfamiliar with the Anti-Indian, militia/property-rights/white supremacy milieu, Orcinus' editor posted a lengthy article on the history of this mess, including some links to reports written by my former partner, colleague, and best friend, Paul de Armond. <>

Tuesday, October 04, 2005


Godfather Four

Robert Parry reminds us just how crooked the pinnacle of the Bush GOP is.


All in the Family

Ya gotta admire the practicality of the Cheney administration appointing a lawyer with documented expertise in money-laundering to the Supreme Court in the same week as the top two GOP leaders in the US Congress are being indicted for the same.

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