Years ago, when I lived in Manhattan, I was noodling around Washington Square Park and saw a couple of chess hustlers nearly come to blows. Not over a game of chess exactly, but because–wait. Yes, there are actual chess hustlers in NYC. Anything that can be hustled is being hustled in NYC. A good chess hustler can make a couple hundred dollars a day, playing tourists and chess enthusiasts for, say, three to five bucks a match. Mostly you’ll find them hustling in the parks–Washington Square Park, Central Park, Union Park.
Okay, back to the almost-fight. It wasn’t over a chess match. It was almost a fight because one chess hustler had called another a potzer. A small crowd had gathered; I turned to the guy next to me–another chess hustler–and asked him, “What’s a potzer?” He gave me a look that basically said, “If you have to ask….” Another told me a potzer was “a wood-pusher,” which I interpreted as an incompetent chess player. A third guy said, in a growly Eastern European accent, “Is Yiddish. Or German. An insult.”
I love a good insult. Potzer, it turns out, is a great insult. It doesn’t mean somebody who’s merely incompetent. It doesn’t mean somebody who is simply an amateur. It means a bungler, somebody who’s not as good as they think they are, a wanna-be who’s really a never-can-be but doesn’t recognize it. A potzer may have a rudimentary understanding of a particular skill set, but is ill-informed, clumsy at the actual skills necessary, and confused about the point.
It’s an insult usually restricted to chess players, but I think it can be applied to almost anything. Like politics. Matt Gaetz is a potzer. Comrade Trump, a potzer. Gym Jordan, Josh Hawley, Lauren Boebert, Louie Gohmert, Marjorie Taylor Greene–hell, the entire Republican Party in Congress, all potzers.
These people are NOT in Congress to legislate. They’re there to perform. They’re not there to work for the common good; they’re there to draw an audience and keep their attention. While they may have the rudimentary understanding of governance, they lack both the skills necessary to accomplish it and the desire to follow through. Mainly, they’re in Congress to seize the public’s attention by creating wedge issues and conspiracies and crusades. Gaetz actually described his political ‘agenda’ as elevating his profile. He said:
“The way that you’re able to elevate your profile in Washington is to drive conflict, because conflict is interesting. And I think that the really powerful people in this town are the ones that can go on television and make an argument, and that’s power that leadership can never take away from you.”
Go on television, get power. That’s why he’s in Congress. Gaetz and his ilk (ooh, a tangent…ilk is derived from the Proto-Germanic ilīkaz, meaning ‘a body’. And ilīkaz is also the root term for lich, which refers to a re-animated corpse, which somehow seems appropriate when speaking about the modern GOP) operate on the belief that somehow power and authority are a product of the number of people who are paying attention to you. That’s why they rarely address actual legislative issues (which tend to be rather dull and unexciting) and focus instead on flashy distractions. Like ‘radical libs attacking Dr. Suess’ or ‘male perverts dressing and identifying as women in order to watch young girls pee in the women’s toilet at Walmart’.
These people are poseurs. They think they’re playing chess because they can identify the pieces and recognize the board. They know the basic moves, but they’re not serious players. They don’t ‘get it’ at a fundamental level.
In one sense, it matters what happens to Matt Gaetz. It matters because he’s corrupt and a colossal asshole–and corrupt assholes should never be allowed to get away with it. But in another sense, it doesn’t matter at all, because Gaetz is, and always will be, a wood-pusher. A potzer. And like all potzers, he doesn’t even know it.
Somebody (I don’t remember who) at some point in time (I also don’t remember when) asked me how I decided what to write about on this blog. I don’t remember what my answer was, but…okay, wait. I should point out there’s absolutely nothing wrong with my memory. It’s just that who asked the question and when it was asked and what my answer was–none of that’s important, except as a ridiculous way to introduce what I’m about to say. Well, write. You know what I mean.
Probably the reason I don’t remember what my answer was is that I’ve no idea how I decide what to write about. Something somewhere sparks a thought and I write about it. That’s it. Anyway, after yesterday’s post, my friend Anne said this:
“Beautiful photos, and really lovely musings.”
Musings. It sounds so intellectual, doesn’t it. But dude, IT IS NOT. I know this on account of the fact that ‘muse’ came up in a conversation I had years ago (and no, I don’t remember when, but I’m pretty sure I remember who…again, it doesn’t matter). I’d just assumed that ‘musing’ had something to do with the Muses. You know, the nine daughters of Zeus who were goddesses of the arts and sciences? Those Muses. I mean, that would seem to make sense, right?
Nope. Well, mostly nope. Etymologists suggest the modern word probably has been influenced in sense by capital ‘M’ Muse. There’s a lot of elasticity in ‘probably’. Doesn’t matter, because in fact, small ‘m’ muse comes…wait. Do I need to define ‘muse’? Probably not, but what the hell.
Muse: verb (mused, musing) 1 intrans (oftenmuse on something) to reflect or ponder silently. 2 to say something in a reflective way. 3 intrans to gaze contemplatively. musing adj thoughtful; reflective. noun 1 (musings) literary thoughts. 2 the act of musing.
There you have it. As I was saying, small ‘m’ muse comes from the Old French muser, which meant “to ponder, dream, wonder’ and/or “to loiter, waste time.” This, in turn, came from the Gallo-Roman musa, meaning “snout”. It was apparently a term used in hunting. So basically, ‘musing’ referred to the act of standing around, sniffing the air like a dog who’s lost the scent. The term muzzle, by the way, is derived from the same root.
So in essence, Anne was saying I stood around in that shop with my nose in the air, sniffing like a dog. Which would be rather rude and insulting except that it really isn’t that far from the truth. The place had a fairly distinct pong; sort of a melange of dust, must, wood chips, organic decay (remember, it was also a plant shop), and old pillows. And I did sort of root around like a curious puppy.
Comrade Trump has a new legal team. Another new legal team. A new new legal team. His original impeachment team declined to represent him in his repeachment, so he had to find a new legal team. Over the weekend, his new legal team walked away from him, which makes them his old new legal team. His new new legal team will probably defend him in his repeachment trial. I say ‘probably’ because this is Trump and who the hell knows?
The new new team revolves around two lawyers, David Schoen and Bruce Castor. These guys are taking a metric ton of shit about their previous clients and legal decisions. Castor, for example, was the prosecutor who initially chose NOT to prosecute Bill Cosby for drugging women and raping them. And Schoen? He represented Jeffrey Epstein, among others. He’s been quoted as saying the following:
“I represented all sorts of reputed mobster figures: alleged head of Russian mafia in this country, Israeli mafia and two Italian bosses, as well a guy the government claimed was the biggest mafioso in the world.”
Me, I don’t have a problem with that. In the US every accused criminal has the right to defend themselves, and every defense lawyer has an obligation to defend their client to best of their ability. The fact that Trump’s new lawyers worked with some other nasty folks doesn’t bother me at all. It’s the least interesting aspect of the looming repeachment.
I like the sound of that. The looming impeachment. [Okay, tangent: loom as a verb is entirely unrelated to loom as a noun. A loom, of course, is a weaving machine, and the term originates from the Old English geloma, meaning a utensil or tool. An heirloom is a crafted thing bequeathed to one’s heirs. Nobody is quite certain how loom as a verb meaning ‘to be imminent, especially in some menacing or threatening way’ came into being. Some folks think it’s from the East Frisian lomen, which meant “to move slowly” and was probably related to the way ships move in a harbor. Which is appropriate, since Trump’s repeachment is slowly coming to the dock — and lawdy, there’s another etymological rabbit hole.]
Anyway, what I find interesting about the repeachment is how Trump’s defense is being framed. Trump, it seems, wants his lawyers to focus on the same thing the rioters and insurrectionists focused on — the ridiculous claim that the election was stolen from him by fraud. That would require Trump’s lawyers to present a case based on lies, which would get them soundly spanked by the American Bar Association. Instead, Trump’s lawyers apparently want to challenge the constitutionality of the repeachment, claiming that it’s unconstitutional to impeach a president who’s no longer president. Most constitutional scholars describe that strategy as “a load of stinking bullshit.”
Steve Bannon, Trump’s recently-pardoned former adviser, has been suggesting Trump should lead the defense team himself. It’ll never happen, but lawdy, there’s part of me that would love to see that, because there’d be a really good chance of a Colonel Jessup / A Few Good Men moment. “You can’t handle the truth! We live in a world that has walls, and those walls have to be guarded by men with guns!”
But no, that’s not going to happen. Still, what’s interesting is that neither defense approach really addresses the crime with which Trump is charged: incitement of insurrection. The sole article of impeachment accuses Trump of engaging “in high Crimes and Misdemeanors by inciting violence against the Government of the United States.” Claiming “the election was stolen from me” may speak to Trump’s motives, but it isn’t a defense against inciting violence against the government. Claiming it’s unconstitutional to impeach a former president isn’t a defense against inciting violence against the government either; it’s just an argument saying the Senate isn’t legally authorized to rule on Trump’s behavior since he’s no longer in government.
On February 9th Democrats are going to say, “Trump incited a riot.” Trump wants his defense team to argue, “The election was stolen from him; he was just trying to get it back.” His lawyers want to argue, “Y’all aren’t authorized to decide whether or not he incited a riot.” It appears nobody will be arguing, “No, Trump didn’t incite no riot.”
That’s because Trump did, in fact, incite a riot. To be clear, he hasn’t actually been charged with the federal crime of inciting a riot. I’m not a lawyer, but I suspect you could make a case that Trump violated 18 U.S. Code § 2101 in that he 1) traveled interstate, 2) told his supporters the election had been ‘stolen’ from him…and from them, 3) encouraged them to travel to DC, 4) on a specific date, where 5) he told them they had to “fight like hell” to stop Congress from ratifying the Electoral College results, and then 6) told them to walk to the Capitol building.
He may not have specifically told them to riot, or to break into the Capitol building, or to harm anybody, but he created the conditions that inflamed the crowd, then he pointed them in the direction of the Capitol, and told them to fight like hell. Which they did.
Of course, that doesn’t mean Republicans in the Senate will vote to find Trump guilty. They’ll probably never find him guilty of anything. Republicans have proven themselves to be invulnerable to evidence.
Comrade Trump is gone. Uncle Joe Biden is the prez, with Kamala Harris as veep. Democracy has been resurrected. Winter will end. Bluebirds will sing again. Flowers will grow unbidden where Amanda Gorman walks. The breeze will be warm (or cool) and scented like apricots. All small towns will be called Bedford Falls. A cup of coffee will only cost a nickel.
Okay, maybe there’s some wishful thinking in there. But that’s sort of how it felt yesterday. That feeling won’t last, of course. Reality is a merciless sumbitch (as QAnon believers discovered yesterday); the Covid pandemic is still killing thousands of Americans every damned day, the climate is still massively fucked, and it’ll take a generation or so before anything like real racial/gender justice takes firm root.
But we deserve — hell, we need — a few days to just let the feeling that good things can still happen roll over us. Yes, there’s a LOT of work to do, but let’s not allow necessity to cast a shadow over the multitude of ways yesterday was special. Just one example: the undiluted joy of seeing the first woman — a woman who is black AND Asian — sworn in as Vice President of the United States by the first woman of color appointed to the US Supreme Court with her hand on a Bible that belonged to the first black man appointed to the US Supreme Court. That’s some serious history, right there.
So let’s not make a fuss about which particular bit of history yesterday was the most significant. It’s not a contest. And let’s not scold or castigate (now there’s an interesting word; it’s derived from the same root as ‘chaste’ and it originally meant ‘to make someone pure by correction or reproof’) other folks for enjoying a fashion decision, or an internet meme, or the selection of an entertainer that seems trivial compared to the magnitude of yesterday’s events. And for fuck’s sake, let’s not be assholes about ‘winning’. A bit of gloating is understandable and forgivable (did I spell that right? It doesn’t look right), but even though Trump and his followers treated us as the enemy, we shouldn’t prove them right.
I’m NOT saying we need to forgive and forget. Fuck that. But I am saying unity is important. There are people who ought to be investigated; if found responsible for awful behavior, they need to be held accountable. NOT for our pleasure or amusement, but because that’s how society is supposed to work. (On the other hand, if we get some measure of pleasure and amusement out of it, that’s gravy and we needn’t deny ourselves of it.)
I guess what I’m saying is this: yesterday was a good day. A really good day. Let’s not make any more of it than what it was, but let’s also not diminish or minimize any part of it. Yesterday was…let’s say yesterday was a peach Bellini. A cool, stimulating, mildly alcoholic cocktail with a delightful but subdued color palette. Was it a great peach Bellini? No, not really. Ideally a Bellini would be made with Prosecco and white peaches. Maybe this one was made with champagne instead of Prosecco, maybe with yellow peaches instead of white. But it was a very good Bellini, served properly, and at exactly the right moment.
Drink it, don’t diss it for not being perfect, don’t overstate its fine qualities, just enjoy it for what it is. Fizzy, refreshing, sweet, mellow, but stimulating.
I used to wade in the icky waters of FreeRepublic on a fairly regular basis. I did that because I thought it was important to have some notion of what radical right-wing gun owners were thinking. That last bit — the gun owning bit — was the motivating force for me. I may disagree with right-wing extremists, but so long as all they do is shout hateful stuff, I’m okay with it. People shouting hateful stuff who are also armed, well that’s an entirely different kettle of fish. [Tangent Alert — if you’re wondering about the expression ‘kettle of fish’ see below.]
A couple of years into the Trump administration, I lost my willingness to visit FreeRepublic. I did it on occasion, but it was just too fucking ugly and stupid and discouraging to visit regularly. However, after Uncle Joe became POTUS-elect, I’ve started peeking in through the FreeRepublic window again, to see how they’re reacting.
Not well, is how they’re reacting. Poorly. Angrily. Fearfully, is how they’re reacting. Delusional, is how they’re reacting. A large chunk of them continue to believe Covid is a hoax. One of dozens of overlapping, continuous hoaxes — including the hoax that Uncle Joe beat Comrade Trump in the election. They act like they’re completely convinced Trump won, that there was a massive conspiracy to deny him the election, and that Trump will still somehow overturn the result of the election and emerge victorious (to the sound of trumpets, hymns of great praise, an orchestra of angels, a flight of bluebirds, and the continental United States will smell like cinnamon rolls in the morning). Maybe they honestly believe that. It’s not clear.
“Call out the military and hold a new election free of FRAUD and the CCP! CCP interfering was an act of WAR!” — by doc maverick
CCP — that’s the Chinese Communist Party. Yeah, that’s right, they’re involved. NOT the Russians, the Chinese. They’re working with other Globalists (always capitalized) and the Deep State in the US to undermine Trump and destroy the government. The Deep State wants the government to collapse in order for them to…to do something that will give them the power to become…the Deeper State? It’s unclear. But obviously, Trump won the election.
“Stolen. As have been many elections in AmeriKa. O’Bunghole was installed as potus similarly. He has no right living in this country, much less, holding public office. He was potus because of voter fraud, just like creepy joe and crazy ho. We’re so hosed.” — by LouAvul
The FBI tentacle of the Deep State is conspiring with the Fake News Media to impose socialism on the US. This will allow them to…to…I think it’s to take away the guns of honest Americans? Probably. Take their existing guns and make it harder to buy still more guns, which is why there’s been an increase in gun sales these last few months before the Deep State can act. The problem, see, is that there are Republicans IN NAME ONLY who cooperate with…wait, maybe it’s the ATF? I mean, since they’re the ones who deal with firearms. I don’t know, it’s unclear. Anyway, there are Republicans who are part of the fraud they’re helping to steal the election from Trump.
“It’s sickening that most of these states that are in question with a plethora of fraud that is killing the country had majorities of REPUBLICANS at various levels within the states.” — by shanover
These same RINOs are also part of the Great Covid Hoax being perpetrated by the Deep State and the Democrats and China (obviously China). They want America weak and scared (which, by the way, is another reason to buy more guns) and distracted so they can steal the election while Decent Law-abiding Americans are too busy wearing masks and buying toilet paper (and guns) to notice that Hunter Biden’s pals in China inserted code into the voting machines which turned votes for Trump into votes for Biden. The illegal code was illegally inserted through illegal means, specifically by…by means of…well, it’s unclear. But the so-called pandemic was part of the plan, because of…of the economy, I think. Again, it’s unclear. But c’mon, seriously Trump won, it’s obvious and he should stay in office by any means necessary.
“The lockdowns must end ! By force if necessary ! TYrranical out of control demoncraps need controls ! Fire them !” by Truthoverpower
Seriously, how could Biden possibly have won the election (which, of course, was stolen from Trump) given that, at the order of the Deep State and Hunter’s friends in the CCP, he stayed in his basement? For months! Who ever heard of a candidate winning an election from his own basement? Or anybody’s basement? Or any subterranean facility? It’s impossible. UNLESS there’s fraud involved, perpetrated by the FBI and George Soros and other cannibalistic communist sex perverts! There are rooms full of affidavits and videos of Democrats cheating at the polls and bringing in fake Biden ballots disguised as pepperoni pizzas and takeout Chinese (China AGAIN!), and did you know Mitch McConnell’s wife was Chinese? Do you need any more proof that…that something unwholesome and fraudulent is taking place? I don’t think so. McConnell is in on…that thing everybody is in on. It’s not entirely clear what they hope to…well, you know, the cheating and all. Because it was a rigged election.
Trump was holding 3 to 4 rallies PER DAY for weeks on end with hardly a day off. Spontaneous “Trump Train” car rallies and boat rallies were all over the place with thousands and tens of thousands of people turning out, even without a star being there to draw people in. Biden, his execrable “doctor” wife, and Harris couldn’t draw flies. The number of times Biden spoke gibberish and slurred his speech was immense. He never once talked about his policies and vision for America. The press lobbed him softball questions about his favorite ice cream.
A liberty-loving, true-blue American patriot who gave up his retirement to save the USA versus a communist life-long political hack who is one of the meanest people in American politics. And the people voted for the communist? This whole thing is just preposterous beyond belief. — by ProtectOurFreedom
Anyway, there it is. Trump had ALL the boats and trucks, because he’s a friend of the working man. Once Sidney Powell gets a chance (as a special prosecutor) to finally present her unbiased evidence in a REAL court of REAL law, it’s all over for Biden and then Nancy Pelosi will get what she deserves in GITMO. And Michelle Obama too. And all the loud-mouthed girls, they’ll all get what they deserve, which is…well, it’s unclear. Well, it’s clear, but it doesn’t do to say so out loud. But when Trump is inaugurated for his second term, they’ll be able to take care of troublemakers and burn the Deep State and disband the FBI unless the FBI comes around and Democrats will have to eat bugs in prison. That much is clear.
“Once Powell has the information, Biden is screwed.” — by rdcbn1
Anyway, that’s life in FreeRepublic. Trump won. Biden cheated. Covid’s a hoax. China is bad. Russia is our friend. Democrats should be imprisoned, if not shot. (Disclaimer: I made up that bit about the bugs. I never actually saw anybody who wrote that Democrats should be forced to eat bugs. Sorry.)
Tangent: Okay, you’re probably thinking ‘Greg, old sock, what is this whole kettle of fish business? Doesn’t seem to make any sense, don’t you know.’ This is why I get paid the big bucks (or would, if I got paid at all). There’s an explanation. Two explanations, actually. The most common explanation is that years ago in the UK a poaching pan was called a ‘kettle’, and it was apparently a common practice to feed large gatherings by bringing a kettle to boil and then — and I’m not making this up — they’d toss live salmon into the kettle and I don’t like to think about it after that.
The explanation I prefer, though, is that the kettle in question is actually a kiddle, which is another term for a fishing weir. And now you’re thinking, ‘Greg, old sock, what is this weir of which you speak?’ A weir (which is also known in some places as a ‘fishgarth’ if that helps, but I suspect it won’t) is a sort of trap placed in rivers or streams which fish can easily swim into but can’t easily swim out of. At the end of the day, a weir/kiddle may have a lot of different sorts of fish swimming around in a muddle. So the expression ‘a different kiddle/kettle of fish’ refers to a separate and distinct muddled mess.
A week ago I posted the following photograph of a dirt road leading back into field that held a pioneer cemetery. It sparked a number of folks to ask a perfectly reasonable question: Dude, what the hell is a pioneer cemetery? I asked the same question the first time I came across a pioneer cemetery. I’m here to give y’all the answer.
Let me amend that. I’m here to give a couple of answers. I mean the obvious answer is simple: a pioneer cemetery is a plot of ground where pioneers are buried. But that leads inevitably to the question: Dude, what the hell is a pioneer?
Let’s start there. The term ‘pioneer’ comes from the French pionnier, which originally referred to a type of specialized foot soldier — troops who were furnished with digging and cutting equipment and sent into new territories to prepare the way for an army. The root term is much older, medieval Latin, pedonem, which meant ‘foot soldier’. That’s also the root for the term ‘pawn’. In chess, pawns always move first; they’re essential, but disposable. The same applies to pioneers; they go first, they’re essential, but disposable.
In the US, the term ‘pioneer’ has a vaguely heroic connotation. I suppose that’s warranted because it takes a sort of courage — or maybe desperation — to take your family into unknown territory. And that’s what the early US pioneers were. They weren’t soldiers; they were mostly families of immigrants and first generation Americans. At the time, they were called settlers, or homesteaders, or sodbusters. They were families who loaded up wagons with their few possessions and pushed into largely unmapped territories, fording rivers and streams, in the hope they could find land they could farm. When they came to land they felt was promising, they stopped. They chopped down trees and built cabins out of the logs. They cleared trees and stones from the land by hand or with the help of livestock and created fields for crops. They planted and harvested, and they died and were buried.
Pioneer cemeteries are plots of land, often on family property, that these small, loosely formed farming communities agreed was sufficient to bury their dead. They’re the graves of the thousands of unremembered, ordinary people who turned wilderness into settlements.
We have to acknowledge the pluckiness of these pioneers, but we also need to be aware there was a very deep ugliness in what they were doing. In the US, pioneers were the leading edge of the concept of Manifest Destiny. The idea was promoted initially by John O’Sullivan, the son of an Irish immigrant. He wrote it was the new nation’s “manifest destiny to overspread the continent allotted by Providence for the free development of our yearly multiplying millions.” In essence, manifest destiny was a nice way of saying the expansion of white Europeans and their culture across the continent, displacing or killing the native tribes who’d actually lived there for centuries, was not only inevitable, it was also justified by god.
There you have it. The pioneers were intrepid settlers struggling to create a life for themselves. And they were also sanctimonious invaders who were comfortable with the idea of pushing the indigenous people off their land, stealing it for themselves, and killing those natives who resisted.
That’s who the pioneers were — settlers who were almost as expendable as the natives they dislodged and supplanted. But not everybody buried in a pioneer cemetery was an actual pioneer. The pioneers created the conditions for permanent settlements; permanent settlements inevitably bring disputes; disputes require some forum for resolution. That means a bureaucracy, and bureaucracies demand definitions.
Which brings us back to the original question: Dude, what the hell is a pioneer cemetery? The bureaucratic answer depends on where you live; different states have different legal definitions of ‘pioneer cemetery’. In Iowa, where I live, the law defines it as a cemetery in which there have been no more than twelve burials in the preceding half century. In neighboring Nebraska, a pioneer cemetery is defined as an abandoned or neglected cemetery that was founded or situated on land “given, granted, donated, sold, or deeded to the founders of the cemetery prior to January 1, 1900.”
There is, I think, something weirdly admirable about a bureaucracy making a deliberate decision to recognize and honor the ordinary people who lived and died in small farming communities dating from the late 1700s. The bureaucracies may not care about the individual pioneer cemeteries, but they care about the notion that there are people buried and memorialized in remote, semi-forgotten patches of land.
Most of the pioneer cemeteries I’ve visited are lonely places on patches of farmland or meadowland. They’re generally located on a low hill, most often with a small grove of trees. Some are only accessible by overgrown paths, or by vehicles with high ground clearance. A few pioneer cemeteries are well-tended; most aren’t. Many are overgrown with grass and weeds. Most have gravestones that are damaged, weathered, unreadable.
But all of them are full of stories. There are graves of soldiers — Civil War veterans, veterans of the world wars. You can tell by the dates which ones died in uniform. There are graves of wives who outlived their husbands, graves of mothers who died in childbirth, graves of the children they bore. There are lots of graves of infants, often with the number of months or weeks they lived.
All cemeteries and graveyards tend to be quiet. Pioneer cemeteries are more than quiet. They’re silent. And yet they’re full of stories. Untold stories. Forgotten stories. The first person buried in what would eventually become the Slaughter pioneer cemetery was eight-year-old Hester Slaughter, who died of ‘the fever’ in the summer of 1846. She was buried in a corner of the family farm. There was no lumber mill in the region, so there was no sawn lumber to make a casket. Instead, the family split the trunk of a tree that had been chopped down to clear the land; they hollowed it out, placed poor Hester inside, closed it back up, and buried her. A total of 69 people would be buried in that small plot of land, including three Civil War veterans and a veteran of the War of 1812.
Among them is Bluford Sumpter, who served in the 39th Iowa Regiment in the Grand Army of the Republic during the Civil War. We don’t know the details of his story, but we know the 39th was active from November 24, 1862, to August 2, 1865. We know they were involved in a great number of battles and skirmishes. We know the 39th helped chase Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest (who would survive the war and help found the Ku Klux Klan) into Tennessee and suffered many casualties. We know they eventually deployed with Union General William Tecumseh Sherman in his brutal and savage march across the South that essentially ended the war. We assume Bluford Sumpter survived the war (since it was uncommon then to ship bodies home for burial), but there are no dates on his tombstone, so we don’t know when he died. We only know he was eventually buried in the Slaughter cemetery in Jasper County, Iowa.
Also buried nearby is William Wimpigler, who has his own story. Wimpigler served in the Iowa 48th Battalion during the Civil War, He was one of the Hundred Days Men — a troop of volunteers raised in Midwest during the final days of the war; they agreed to serve one hundred days in order to free experienced troops for combat service. The 48th spent its hundred days at the Rock Island Barracks in Illinois, coincidentally guarding Confederate prisoners taken during Sherman’s campaign.
Both of those Civil War veterans are buried near eight-year-old Hester Slaughter in her hollowed out log coffin on what was once an unused parcel of her family’s farm. Every grave has a story. But we only know about those stories exist because the graves exist, and we only know those graves exist because some unnamed person in a bureaucracy decided it was worthwhile to officially recognize and record the existence of pioneer cemeteries.
That unknown bureaucrat has a story too. We all do. Few of them get told, but all of them are worth telling.
Originally, a ‘surprise’ was an unexpected attack. It comes from the Latin sur meaning ‘over’ or ‘above’ and prendre meaning ‘to grasp or seize’. A surprise party, originally, was a stealth military detachment that ambushed the enemy.
The political phrase ‘October Surprise’ has a vaguely weird history. It grew out of the 1980 election between President Jimmy Carter and his challenger, Ronald Reagan. It appears to have been coined by William Casey, Reagan’s campaign manager (and a former OSS officer who, after Reagan was elected, became the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency). Casey was concerned that Carter was secretly arranging the release of 52 American hostages held by Iranian revolutionaries, and would announce the deal just before the November election. ‘October Surprise’ has also been used to describe an alleged secret deal between Iran and Reagan operatives to prevent the release of those hostages until after Reagan won the election and was inaugurated (and, in fact, Iran announced the release of the hostages literally minutes after Reagan’s inaugural speech).
Almost every election since 1980 has included some sort of October Surprise — an event designed to irreparably damage one candidate’s chances and boost the other’s. Few of them work; fewer still are actual surprises. That includes yesterday’s ham-fisted absurdist political theater. We’ve all been expecting a ‘surprise’, of course. But even given Team Trump’s reputation for bungling political schemes, this ‘surprise’ was badly managed. Comically bad.
Here’s the basic accusation as reported by the New York Post. Somebody (Hunter Biden) brought three damaged laptop computers to a Delaware computer store for repair in April of 2019. The owner of the store (unidentified in the original report) claimed to have found an email on one computer’s hard drive — an email from Vadym Pozharskyi, an adviser to the board of the Ukrainian energy company Burisma, thanking Hunter for the opportunity to meet Joe Biden, who was then Vice President. Scandal! Hunter Biden and his daddy are corrupt! Biden must be defeated in the coming election! Scandal!
Right. Now let’s ask a few questions — the sort of questions a 14-year-old fan of cop shows on television would ask.
Who is this unidentified store owner? — He turns out to be kilt-wearing Trump supporter John Paul Mac Isaac.
Who brought the three laptops to Mac Isaac’s shop? — Uh…we don’t know. Mac Isaac says he has a ‘medical’ condition that prevented him from recognizing the person who brought in the laptops. Also, nobody signed any sort of repair authorization form or receipt for them. But the person allegedly said his name was Hunter Biden.
What evidence does he have to prove the laptops were brought in by Hunter Biden? — At least one laptop had a ‘Beau Biden Foundation’ sticker on it, plus there was an email addressed to Hunter Biden on that laptop, plus there were sexually explicit images featuring Hunter Biden.
Did Hunter or anybody return to the shop to retrieve the laptops? Or called to inquire about them? — Uh…no. After ninety days Mac Isaac said he made repeated attempts to contact Hunter Biden without success.
What did Mac Isaac do when he discovered the email? — He contacted the FBI. No, wait…first he made a copy of the email (and apparently the sexual images) which he gave to Rudy Giuliani. No, wait…he gave the copy of the material to Rudy’s attorney, then he turned it over to the FBI. No, wait…the FBI got in touch with him about the material, then he gave it to them. Or maybe he gave it to the FBI, who later sought his help in accessing the material.
Is this the same Rudy Giuliani who has been working for a couple of years with known Russian intelligence operatives to dig up dirt on Hunter Biden to hurt Joe Biden’s election chances? — Uh…yes, it is.
Why did Mac Isaac give the material to Rudy’s attorney before giving it to the FBI? — Because he doesn’t trust the FBI. He seems to think maybe the FBI (possibly in conjunction with the Democratic National Committee) murdered Seth Rich (who worked for the DNC) because Rich knew ‘the truth’ about the DNC emails stolen by Russian intelligence operatives sources and provided to Roger Stone, WikiLeaks, and the Trump campaign. He also thought maybe the FBI might kill him too. So he made a copy of the material and gave it to Rudy’s attorney as insurance. He said he didn’t tell the FBI he’d made an ‘insurance’ copy, but that they would have assumed he would make such a copy to protect himself.
Why would Mac Isaac give the material to the FBI if he thought they might kill him if they knew he had the material? — Uh…because of reasons?
What meta-data could we obtain from the email? — Uh…none. The New York Post only had a pdf file of the email, not that actual email. So there’s no header information, no metadata. Just a picture of the alleged email.
How did the New York Post get this material? — It was provided to the Post’s Deputy Politics Editor, Emma-Jo Morris, by Rudy’s attorney. Ms. Morris apparently became the Post’s Deputy Politics Editor yesterday, when she wrote the story. She has written three other political stories for the Post. All three were written yesterday. All three are about Hunter Biden.
What did Emma-Jo Morris do before becoming the Post’s Deputy Politics Editor yesterday? — She booked guests for Fox News personality Sean Hannity.
Is this the ‘smoking gun’ October Surprise Republicans claim it to be? — Nope. It’s not smoking. It’s not even a gun. It’s not a surprise. But it IS October.
This is perhaps the stupidest, worst prepared, least convincing, most desperate October Surprise ever. It’s the most embarrassingly bad disinformation op imaginable. It’s like Laurel and Hardy teamed up with the Keystone Kops to create a conspiracy theory. If the person responsible for this is in Russian intelligence, I’m going to guess he’s looking at a long drop from a high window, an acute case of cement poisoning following an incident of deceleration trauma.
The grim and sorrowful constellation of thoughts and emotions we’re experiencing right now, that’s grief. The word comes from the Old French term grever meaning “afflict, burden, oppress,” which is from the Latin gravare, which meant “to make heavy.” Grief is heavy; it weighs us down.
The outward expression of grief, that’s mourning. Mourning has a more complex origin. It comes from a Proto-Indo-European root which, because of linguistic convention, is usually written as *(s)mer. It refers to the act of remembrance, reflection, recollection. Mourning is how we use our memories and understanding of the dead to gradually reduce the awful weight of our grief.
Grief is what we feel; mourning is what we do.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is dead, and there’s absolutely nothing we can do about that. Our grief is both personal and communal. We grieve for what she means to us personally, we grieve for her family and friends, we grieve for what her death might mean for the concept of equal justice under law in the United States. It’s good that we grieve; it’s right that we grieve.
But our grief is less important than how we mourn her — how we collectively express our grief and how you as an individual will express your grief. Is making RBG your Facebook icon enough to lighten your grief? Will wearing your Notorious RBG t-shirt alleviate your grief? What about voting, will that help? What about getting others to vote? Volunteering to drive others to the polls? Donating money or labor to a candidate? What about calling both of your senators on Monday, and asking them NOT to vote on a successor to RGB’s seat until after the election/inauguration? Will that do it?
Here’s a True Thing: your grief is your grief. Nobody gets to tell you how to express it. Nobody gets to tell you the proper way for you to mourn. Nobody gets to tell you how much you have to mourn or what that mourning should include. Nobody gets to tell you what RBG would want from you. Mourn her in your own way.
But mourn her. Right now, it’s enough to grieve. Right now, it’s okay to give into your grief. Let yourself fully experience your grief. Then start actively mourning.
Obscure and Semi-inappropriate Addendum: That Proto-Indo-European root *(s)mer is also the source of the name of Mimir, the Norse god who guarded the Mímisbrunnr, the Well of Wisdom. Mimir, not surprisingly, was known for his judgment, his sagacity, his knowledge. None of that, unfortunately, prevented him being beheaded in the battle between the Æsir and the Vanir (don’t ask; we’re talking Norse mythology, so it’s complicated). After the battle, Odin found Mimir’s body and collected his head (as gods do). He did some sort of god-thing to Mimir’s head so he could tote it around with him and continue to get Mimir’s advice.
Metaphorically, we can do the same with RBG. We can carry our memory of her around with us. We can ask ourselves ‘What would RBG do?’ and then try to do it. That’s proper mourning, right there.