Monday, October 31, 2011

Joe Bageant's(RIP) letter to John Ashcroft

"John, goddammit, we are going to have to thrash this thing out! Thanks to you, my librarian wife, who is pretty much the stereotypical, quiet, matronly archivist down in the basement of the local scriptorium, can be fined and sent to prison if she refuses to hand over library records and public internet logs to federal agents. In fact, under the USA Patriot Act, she can be prosecuted if she tells anyone at all, including coworkers and me, that the government came snooping around. And YOU, Mr. Ashcroft, made wisecracks about the National Library Association's objections to this spying on citizens, calling the librarians' concerns "baseless hysteria," and a "hissy fit over Tom Clancy novels."

And only last weekend I learned that the Department of Homeland Security has put restrictions on what genealogists can request. Genealogists for god's sake! For the record Mr. Ashcroft, I am being neither paranoid nor having a hissy fit. I am asking a simple question. And this time none of your arrogant, smart-assed replies. How does preventing some old blue-haired genealogist from looking at my aunt Gertrude's baptismal certificate prevent terrorists from blasting me and old Bingo out of this garden shed? And exactly how does surveillance of the reading habits of an aging redneck pud like me make this nation one bit safer?"

(signed) Ready to rumble,
Joe Bageant

I've not heard back from the attorney general, but it's only been a week. So during the wait, I've put aside for the moment this Mexican standoff between me and the attorney general in order to contemplate the larger picture. Maybe the problem is that I am not a "big picture guy." It could very well be that aunt Gertrude's baptismal certificate is somehow related to the war on terror and events in Baghdad, via a strange web of connections far too vast for me to comprehend. After all, I have seen stranger political events happen during my lifetime, things with mysterious connective tissues far beyond my humble grasp -- chief among them being an Alzheimer’s victim shaking his fist at the Berlin Wall and bringing down the entire Soviet Union. I still haven't figured out how Reagan did that, whether it was an optical illusion or just another example of chaos theory, wherein the butterfly flaps its wings causing a tornado in some other part of the world.

Friday, October 28, 2011


Terry Tempest Williams can also remind us powerfully of our special connections to God as his chosen people. She tells of when her mother first had breast cancer, with only a twenty percent chance of living. At a stake conference to change the presidency, her father, a member of the high council, is interviewed by Apostle Thomas S. Monson:

He asked him, if called would he serve as stake president? My father’s reply was no....
“Brother Tempest, would you Like to explain?”

My father simply said it would be inappropriate to spend time away from his wife when she had so little time left.

President Monson stood and said, “You are a man whose priorities are intact.”

After conference President Monson calls Brother Tempest aside and says,“Brother Tempest I feel compelled to tell you your wife will be well for many years to come. I would like to invite you and your family to kneel together in the privacy of your home at noon on Thursday. The Brethren will be meeting in the holy chambers of the Temple, where we will enter your wife’s name among those to be healed.”

Williams continues:

That Thursday, my brothers and I came home from school to pray. We knelt in the living room together as a family. No words were uttered. But in the quiet of that room, 1 felt the presence of angels.
--from "Refuge"

Thursday, October 27, 2011

From the journal of Joseph Millett, who tells of his name being read out as a missionary in the Salt Lake Tabernacle in 1852, of making his way as a nineteen-year-old, alone and mainly on foot, across the continent to Nova Scotia, learning the gospel and making converts essentially on his own, choosing one of them as a wife and making his way with a group of Saints back to Utah and then on to a colonizing mission in Spring Valley, Nevada. Near the end of the journal, he records a crucial, self-defining experience from the first days in Spring Valley when his daughter had died and many suffered great sickness and hunger:

"One of my children came in, said that Brother Newton Hall’s folks were out of bread. Had none that day. I put . .. our flour in a sack to send up to Brother Hall’s. Just then Brother Hall came in. Says I,“Brother Hall, how are you out for flour.” “Brother Millett, we have none.” “Well, Brother Hall, there is some in that sack. I have divided and was going to send it to you. Your children told mine that you were out.” Brother Hall began to cry. Said he had tried others. Could not get any. Went to the cedars and prayed to the Lord and the Lord told him to go to Joseph Millett “Well, Brother Hall, you needn’t bring this back if the Lord sent you for it. You don’t owe me for it.” You can’t tell how good it made me feel to know that the Lord knew that there was such a person as Joseph Millett."

This sense of being special, of God knowing us by name, favoring us with his voice and special direction and responsibility, is crucial to the Mormon identity and central to our best literature from the beginning. But in my view, the quality of this passage is more than doubled by the way it opens out to the other meaning of chosen—called out of the world to bless the world. God knew Joseph Millett’s name not because he was partial to him, but so God could, with perfect confidence, tell his neighbor Brother Hall to go specifically to Joseph Millett for help.
--Eugene England

Thursday, October 20, 2011

the world has no use for a drone...

Drone technology is advancing faster than the public or the legal system has time to catch up to their now ubiquitous use in America’s many war zones. US troops in Afghanistan will soon be able to deploy what’s called the Switchblade, a miniature drone that can be stored in a backpack and be launched from the ground to surveil or kill targets.

A California-based company, AeroVironment, Inc., developed the Switchblade to be fired from a small tube and can transmit wireless live color video, confirm a target, and arms itself at the operator’s demand, and shoot. The company’s website says it “is designed to provide the warfighter with a ‘magic bullet,’” that is “difficult to detect, recognize, and track even at very close range.”

Drones are fast becoming the weapons of choice for America. In the first nine months of 2011, US-led spy drones conducted nearly 23,000 surveillance missions in Afghanistan. The unmanned aerial vehicles are being sold to various governments all around the world.

Ominously, military drone technology is increasing for domestic use as well. Expecting budget cuts, the defense industry has begun to shift the sale of the high tech drones from the Pentagon to local police departments.

The use of drones has dangerously permitted the government to disregard the sovereign borders of other countries and skirt their legal obligations to inform the American people of their aggressive actions abroad. Drones have eased the process of making war, and it doesn’t bode well for targeted countries, or for the US.

Thursday, October 13, 2011


The first of the rescued reached Salt Lake on November 9th, a day of tears and thanksgiving. For many days afterwards the others were straggling in, some riding the wagons, some still grimly hauling their battered carts, still defiantly on their own legs. Margaret Dalglish, that gaunt image of Scotch fortitude, dragged her pitiful handful of possessions to the very rim of the valley, but when she looked down and saw the end of it, safety, the City of the Saints, she did something extraordinary. She tugged the cart to the edge of the road and gave it a push and watched it roll and crash and tumble and burst apart, scattering down the ravine the last things she owned on earth. Then she went on into Salt Lake to start the new life with nothing but her gaunt bones, her empty hands, her stout heart.
Wallace Stegner, Ordeal by Handcart.