U. S. Politics

On Natural Education

Review of “Educated” by Tara Westover

April 18, 2018 in The Rockies,U. S. Politics | Comments (0)

By LARRY JOSEPH CALLOWAY (c)

“Educated” is an ironic title for a memoir by a young woman, Tara Westover, who showed up at Brigham Young University from rural Idaho at age 17 without any education at all, not even home schooling. All she knew was the mountain where she lived and the personalities of her extended family and the beauty of the seasons and animals and junk cars and how to ride and tame horses and how to cook and identify herbs and their healing properties, and how to sing before an audience and how to trust her own instincts. The meaning of “educated,” then,  must lie in her flyleaf quote from John Dewey that “education is a reconstruction of experience.” 

At 27 Tara Westover received a PhD in history from Cambridge University in England. Her story, published in March, is sure to provoke public schoolers and believers in Jeffersonian democracy. They will have explanations and investigations. All I have is the suggestion that you read this book.

If it were simply about “another young person who left home for an education. . . and isn’t going back,” as the New York Times review concluded, then her memoir would not be a best seller, despite her skillful story telling. The success is in the setting, the surrounding, which is a mystery to most Americans. Most of the book takes place in what is being called The American Redoubt, by fringe writers and their followers. This is the mountainous spread of the interior northwest (Idaho, Wyoming, Montana, and parts of eastern Oregon and Washington).

The survivalist culture of the Redoubt (a fortified refuge) involves severing dependance on government, its schools, its police powers its health care requirements, its systems of water, power, and transportation, and its distribution of goods. The culture involves preparing for the political-economical system’s collapse by stockpiling guns, food and fuel and other necessities. Culture is the business of anthropology and this memoir, along with its literary virtues, is anthropological.

Her father is a tyrant, a doomsday prepper who has dozens of guns and a thousand gallons of fuel wrapped and buried. He draws his absolute family authority from random biblical passages. He supports the family with his junkyard salvaging and barn building, in which the seven children as they grow are expected to help. He ignores safety as a matter of crazy religious faith — the angels of the Lord will protect them — and Tara is slashed, impaled and twice nearly crushed to death by his frenzied junkyard sorting. “Dad lived in fear of time. He felt it stalking him. I could see it in the worried glances he gave the sun as it moved across the sky, in the anxious way he appraised every length of pipe or cut of steel,” she writes.

Still, as the novelist Anna Carey wrote in, alas, the Irish Times (American reviews are routine commercials):  “Westover never demonizes him, or her mother, a midwife and herbalist who facilitated his delusions. She doesn’t even demonize her violent brother, whose behavior provided a further impetus to get away from her stifling environment. She recounts her experiences with a matter-of-act lyricism that is extraordinarily evocative and which makes the emotional impact of the inevitable rift between herself and some members of her family even more powerful.”

Tara Westover’s values are expressed in literary conceits, such as her description of her half-trained gelding by contrast with the mustangs being broken by the violent brother, Shawn. She writes of her horse, “He had accepted the world as it was, in which he was an owned thing. He had never been feral, so he could not hear the maddening call of that other world, on the mountain, in which he could not be owned, could not be ridden.” 

She lost the reins when her horse panicked during a training ride. Her instinct to hold on to the saddle horn instead of trusting her brother snag the reins as she slid off the bucking horse saved her from being dragged. “All my life those instincts had been instructing me in this single doctrine — that the odds are better if you rely on yourself.”

Self-reliance distinguished her from other teenage girls obsessed with finding a future husband and settling down after high school to raise children, in conformity with the expectations of local society. Shawn, two years older than Tara, enjoyed taunting girls in town who were attracted to him. He seemed perfect. His father’s right-hand assistant in the junkyard, he could drive an 18-wheeler, operate heavy construction machinery, break horses, maintain firearms, hunt, fish and fight. He would do things like ask a mooning girl to go buy him a Milky Way and when she came back with it, complain that he had ordered a Snickers and send her back. The patriarchal tradition demanded they accept this treatment.

Tara softly narrates his similar acts of domination over her — describing her clothing as whorish, holding her head in the toilet bowl while screaming “slut!” crashing into her room and grasping her neck, and as things progressed, threatening her life in various ways. His behavior was denied by their father and ignored by their mother, and her accounts were dismissed as lies by others in the family. She was thought to be possessed.

The book begins with the disclaimer: “This story is not about Mormonism.” Yet Idaho is as Mormon as Utah, and her family went to LDS church on Sundays. Her father and his likeness, Shawn, are vested with patriarchal authority, which is a tradition of the Mormon church (and some other religions). But this is not the male dominance of survivalists, white nationalists or simple militant racists because it comes from religious faith, not from the American secular-consumerist culture gratified by the non-print media and its cast of reasoning politicians. 

There are many others up there in the refuge who have nothing to do with the political exploiters or the self-styled militias. I have friends deep in the geography of the Redoubt who have lived quite well for 50 years on 40 acres in an artful house hand made from used materials, with a shallow well, a fertile garden, freezers full of Alaskan salmon, three cords of bartered sawmill scraps for firewood, and a carefully home maintained VW bus. They depend upon electric power and gasoline, but there are backups. They are neither religionists nor politicians. They are not afraid. They know the best defense is community. They have good friends. Their children went to public school and college.

They represent an American tradition, mostly secular, going way back. A Economist report using the term Redoubt came under the headline: “The Last Big Frontier” and concluded, “The Old West is alive and well.” For a long time, Americans were inspired by Frederick Jackson Turner’s Frontier Thesis, which said the constantly receding frontier, with its requirements of  communal skills and cooperation, defines American history. 

So what’s wrong with the modern frontier picture? Nothing, except, as the Economist reported, the demand for safe autonomous dwelling places exceeds the supply. One real estate agent in northern Idaho shows properties by air. He flies his own plane and keeps cars ready at several small airports. The historian Turner called the frontier a “safety valve.” But now the cost of escaping urban hopelessness might be beyond the means of most Americans. 

And the picture here encourages resentment, the tyranny of the majority, which under some political conditions can be dangerous. The first chapter of Westover’s book begins with the enduring foundation image — she was only five — of her father gathering the family to tell about the Weavers of Ruby Ridge not far away. She personalized it, imagining for the rest of her childhood gunfire and shouts as the family hides in the kitchen and her mother holding a baby when, “a shot echoes like the lash of a whip and she falls.” Tara, the youngest of the family, always identified with the baby in her dead mother’s arms.

She reproduces her father’s chilling narration as the siege of the Weaver cabin was still going on:

 “They’re freedom fighters. They wouldn’t let the Government brainwash their kids in them public schools, so the Feds came after them.” Dad exhaled, long and slow. “The Feds surrounded the family’s cabin, kept them locked in there for weeks, and when a hungry child, a little boy, snuck out to go hunting, the Feds shot him dead.”

 No one spoke. Eventually Luke, who was twelve, asked if we could help. “No,” Dad said.

 “Nobody can. They’re trapped in their own home. But they got their guns, you can bet that’s  why the Feds ain’t charged in.”

The story of the siege by FBI agents and others is told in many versions, but the principle in all of them is you must prepare to defend your family against the government. The famed Wyoming trial lawyer Gerry Spence, who successfully defended Randy Weaver in a notorious trial, was compelled by his outrage at continued police shootings around the nation 20 years later to retell the story as Chapter 1 of his 2013 book, “Police State.”

“The Weaver case demanded change. It demanded that we remain vigilant and dedicated to restoring America to the land of the free and the home of the brave. But nothing has changed,” he says. The new rule of engagement became: “Kill any armed person, and Vicki (the mother) was armed, remember, armed with a baby. It is merely how one interprets the rule,” he says.

In its prolonged prosecution, Spence wrote, “the government lost no opportunity to broadcast its toxic propaganda—that the Weavers embraced religious beliefs that would be offensive to most of the jurors who’d be trying Randy Weaver. Never mind our constitutional right to freedom of religion. That right is mostly extended to those whose religion is substantially the same as mainstream America’s. Hanging out in a minority religion in America has been dangerous from the beginning. Ask the Indians.”

To which I would add, Ask the Mormons.

In the way Notre Dame is a Catholic university, BYU is a Mormon University. A bishop in that community, Provo, Utah, was the first to counsel Tara Westover when, due to intimidation in classes and lack of support from her hostile father, she considered dropping out. He got her a grant. Faculty members encouraged her unusual abilities. “My teacher said I had a knack for writing but that my language was oddly formal and stilted. I didn’t tell her that I’d learned to read and write by reading only the Bible, the Book of Mormon, and speeches by Joseph Smith and Brigham Young,” she writes.

If educators are to disregard her story as an anomaly that does not refute the proposition that in order to learn everybody needs to be taught in a formal manner by competent people, then they will have to discard this too:  of the three Westover children who left home after the same unschooled upbringing, one brother earned a PhD in mechanical engineering and the other earned a PhD in chemistry. Tara Westover’s Cambridge doctoral thesis is entitled: “The Family, Morality, And Social Science in Anglo-American Cooperative Thought, 1813-1890.”


HILLBILLY SYNCHRONICITY

My Fellow Americans. . .

November 9, 2016 in SOUTHERN JOURNAL,U. S. Politics | Comments (2)

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By Larry Joseph Calloway ©

 The networks were so unprepared for Donald Trump’s win that my election night switching caught only one panelist who could speak with authority for the key voters euphemistically called “white – no college degree.”  He was J. D. Vance, the black-haired concise-speaking author of “Hillbilly Elegy,” an immediately personal story of his poor and violent family from Appalachian Kentucky.

I was reading it in October along with another pre-election bestseller, the radical history “White Trash” by Nancy Isenberg. These books are cultural not political, but they explain something about the “populist uprising,” as Vance termed it in an interview while adding that Trump understood the anger behind it but offered no solutions.

Apart from politics, my research represented an obsession with my father’s hardwood Appalachian roots. He was always wanting something far away. His sisters talked of North Carolina when we visited their farms near Lyons, CO. They were pretty and spoke in sweet accents. My father drank. He died. I was about to set the periodic ancestry project aside when, suddenly, up popped an email from a total stranger in Longmont, Colorado. I’ll get to the deep synchronicity* of it in a few minutes.

Writer-lawyer Vance’s family moved from Jackson, KT, to Middleton, in southern Ohio, so his grandfather could work in the Armco steel mill. It rusts away now under a Japanese name. His grandfather died as an out-of-work alcoholic. His mother, pregnant at high school graduation with his older brother, was more in love with drugs than any of her half dozen husbands.

His elegy is for his grandmother, who raised him. She was a heroic exemplar of the lost mountain culture of pride and toughness. She disciplined him relentlessly to pursue self-improvement through education and even, among other folksy wisdoms, learning golf because “that’s where rich people do business.” (Trump is an international developer of golf courses.)

Mamaw, as he called her, represents the culture lost when the families of several generations were uprooted by economics and dropped dead by economics. “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away,” as my father used to say. I had his brother-in-law minister, a chaplain of the Arizona National Guard, read it at his graveside ceremony. Vance does not mention churchgoing in Middleton, but I suppose religion was a part of the lost culture because in every North Carolina hollow where I searched for Calloways there was a church — usually Baptist — often looking forsaken. Vance observes out of nowhere, “I wasn’t surprised that Mormon Utah — with its strong church, integrated communities, and intact families — wiped the floor with Rust Belt Ohio.”

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What Did You Expect? Privacy?

Mechanic In A Digital Age

June 17, 2013 in U. S. Politics | Comments (1)

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Finally, some media attention to the thin legal basis for the NSA surveillance of telephone and e-mail communications. Stories today about the decision of  U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon that the program is unconstitutional report his dismissive comments on Smith v. Maryland. The 34-year-old Supreme Court opinion says you don’t have an “expectation of privacy” when you dial a telephone. This opinion was the basis of the government’s defense in the case before Leon. He wrote that “the government’s surveillance capabilities, citizens’ phone habits, and the relationship between the NSA and telecom companies” today are so unlike 34 years ago that the Smith decision does not apply. Here is what I reported in June:

 

By LARRY CALLOWAY

Be reasonable. The government can look at your phone and email logs. You should know that by now.  All reports say this,although there may be limits.  According to the government, there is protection of privacy, but that depends upon secret decisions by secret courts. So you don’t know. You have no “reasonable expectation of privacy,” as the Supreme Court likes to put it.

The issue was framed in a 1967 opinion by the court involving the Fourth Amendment, which guarantees “the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.” Without getting a warrant,  the FBI placed a listening device on a phone booth to catch a man who was phoning unlawful bets from one state to another. His lawyers argued it was a violation of his privacy. The federal prosecutors argued the phone booth was public, not a private place.

Justice Potter Stewart wrote the 7-1 majority opinion (Katz v U.S.) siding with the the bookie. “One who occupies [a telephone booth], shuts the door behind him, and pays the toll that permits him to place a call is surely entitled to assume that the words he utters into the mouthpiece will not be broadcast to the world.” The opinion extended Fourth Amendment protection to any situation where a person has an expectation of privacy. And it expressed Stewart’s dictum: “Property does not have rights. People have rights.”

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Minutes Of A Crestone Meeting

The Case For Economic Sustainability

November 10, 2011 in Rio Grande West,U. S. Politics | Comments (0)

Baca Grande Membership Vote Update.  See Baca Blog. . . 

 

By Larry Joseph Calloway

The anti-government passion that animates politics nationally was echoing off the walls at Jillian’s studio, where I have experienced yoga classes, a Sufi zirka, a feng schui talk, a sales pitch for ionized water, and such. Crestone is not where Republicans bother to campaign. It voted overwhelmingly for President Obama in both the primary and general elections three years ago.

But here before about 50 residents on folding chairs the speakers, backed by PowerPoint slides on a big screen, were saying we cannot depend upon government – federal, state, county – for relief in the coming upheaval. The main speaker was Vickie Helm, known to most of the gathering, whose only apparent motive in organizing the discussion was to inspire the community to work toward what she called “economic sustainability.”

That title does not convey the spirit of the gathering, just as speaker probably is not the best word for Helm, who was more like an evangelist than economist. She ran back and forth placing imaginary buckets under imaginary sudden leaks in the imaginary roof until, panting and exhausted, she made her point: namely, we’re running around containing leaks without realizing the roof is about to cave in.

OK, call it the sky. Call her Henny Penny. It don’t matter to her, I thought. “In a short period of time we’re going to be going through the same thing that Greece is going through,” she predicted. In other words, our national sovereign credit card is maxed out. “The inconvenient economic truth is this: the United States is broke.” There will be inflation and devaluing of the currency, but no more funding (federal, state, local).

She said somewhere in Kansas a school board proposed charging parents $40 a week to have their kids bussed to school. (I guess that board would never consider a small general tax increase for the general welfare. Oh, no! Forget the communal spirit that used to prevail in rural America if it costs money. Similar problem in Crestone, I thought:  Here an emergency services district to replace the endangered private fire department was created by a thin margin of voters this month, but a peculiar switch of only about 20 of the voters defeated the tax to support it.)

What if everything collapsed by natural disaster or by bankruptcy of the various corporate entities that sell services here but don’t care about the community? Who ya gonna call?

How to weather the coming storm? Up flashed some PowerPoint points:  Support community businesses. Community businesses support each other. How many folks in the audience had businesses? A dozen raised their hands, and she had them stand up. How many would like to learn how to make money on the internet? Two dozen hands went up. “If I get nothing else across to anybody, it is this: The most important thing is where you spend your dollars.”

And, Helm proclaimed the importance of supporting the non-commercial collection of community efforts she called “infrastructure.” Namely, that unfunded Crestone Emergency Services District, Neighbors Helping Neighbors, the various youth programs (thank you, Lisa Bodie and others), the food bank, the charter school (building under construction), the newly consolidated library district. These things, to me, are signs of a young and enthused community with a spirit of American volunteerism.

To the infrastructure she added two information-age essentials that bind the community to itself and to the world: the Crestone Eagle, a successful monthly newspaper in a time when mass circulation dailies are falling like trees (and saving some) and, the fledgling effort to bring high speed internet to this digitally disadvantaged rural area.

Internet. Now here was a cause worth urgent consideration. Cheered on by some in the audience, Mayor Ralph Abrams of Crestone took the floor. He has been working for a year to create a community internet company, and he said it’s going to happen – to begin to fire up in the next few weeks. The company, which he will head, is called Crestone Telecom. It will bring in high-speed internet service with state of the art equipment.

This was the most hopeful project to come up at the meeting (not to dismiss the many undeveloped suggestions for green technology) because it is concrete and ready to go. Problem: the effort is being undermined by a distant corporation. In a word (or maybe two), FairPoint. The sudden unannounced competitiveness on the part of a phone company with more apparent interest in the bankruptcy code than digital engineering is a good preface for the concept economic sustainability. This is probably going to be a test of standard corporate capitalism versus Abrams’ community capitalism.

Further, the year-long drill that Abrams and company were put through by the USDA in applying for a grant under a program that was cancelled at the last minute (budget problems?) is a good case history in support of the argument that we can no longer depend upon government.

Discouraging, this distrust of corporate America and American government (might as well add the corporate media). I stood to say that for reasons of practical politics including the obvious intent of some Republicans to purge all political opposition by driving the economy into the ground, I could not endorse the increasing cynical distance from government. I grew up as a student of the New Deal, which saved America from some of the terrible mistakes made elsewhere (Germany, Italy, even Russia where the mistake began) in reaction to Great Depression I. But that was long ago in a different world.

Anything on the bright side?  Jeff WishMer, a bright young man who works for Chokurei Farm Store, married with a home in the Baca, received a warm applause when he stood to include home-grown food in the infrastructure against the Collapse. He is running for the POA board against an incumbent, Robert Garnett, who opposes the new EMS district and almost anything else that might cost money. WishMer is being criticized by some of these oldtimers because he has said he hates the POA, at least the way it is.

Distrust of government is in the American grain. I became atuned to it not long ago when I went searching in rural North Carolina for family roots. My father’s people were subsistent farmers (and, some of them, moonshiners). These Scot-Irish folks were responsible for the Whiskey Rebellion and many other insurgencies in our history. They’re still around. Take Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., the writer-soldier who won an astonishing victory in 2006, defeating an incumbent Republican to give Democrats control of the U.S. Senate. My grandparents on my father’s side were born just 70 miles over the mountains from his grandparents.

Webb has proposed that this Scot-Irish minority, southern in origin but without a history of slavery, has a lot in common with the African-American minority, which goes back almost as many generations. Together they could form a populist force that would revive the Democratic party and its historic principles, particularly in the Republican South (which includes Texas).

Similarly, it occurred to me that the communal sentiments expressed at the meeting in the yoga studio might be wedded with the anti-government sentiments of those  angry folks who seem to support the Tea Party. They might want a divorce, I supposed, once they realize they are being used by corporately funded professional politicians to defeat the many and strengthen government in the interest of the few. Perhaps  Crestone is not that far from Kansas, Dorothy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


If It’s Halloween, This Must Be Moffat

Grass Roots Politics, Grama Grass Style

November 1, 2010 in U. S. Politics | Comments (0)

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(UPDATE: U.S. Rep. John Salazar, D, representing Colorado’s 3rd Congressional district, was defeated for reelection by Republican Scott Tipton of Cortez by 4 percentage points. Salazar,  a popular incumbent seeking a fourth term, had defeated Tipton by more than 10 points in 2006.  The Oct. 13 FEC report showed Salazar received 1.8 million to Tipton’s $923,000. This is an account of a campaign stop in Salazar’s final tour of the San Luis Valley, which he carried by more than 60 per cent, but that plus a weaker showing in Pueblo and Durango was not enough to counter Tipton’s 60 per cent victory in Grand Junction, Delta, Montrose and Cortez. )

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Moffat, Colorado, a dot in a high 5,000-square-mile dry lake bed called the San Luis Valley. Pure land. Old West. Snow-dusted mountain ranges, San Juans west, Sangre de Cristos east. Collegiate peaks north, infinity south. This town is so small that nobody needs an address for the political reception (Democrat). Willow Springs Bed and Breakfast is the biggest house in town.

Halloween, but nobody is scary. (more…)


Hello? Is This Chile?

Forgetting Friedmanism

October 16, 2010 in U. S. Politics | Comments (0)

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Michael Moore on the Chilean rescue: “Next time we have a hole in the Gulf, we should call Chile.”

Which was to say, in managing recent disasters Chile did it right and America did not. In the Atacama desert the government  took charge of the rescue, realizing early on that the mining company (although it is state-owned) could not handle it. In the Gulf of Mexico the government stood aside while BP fumbled and prevaricated.

The Chilean strategy involved backup plans and acceptance of expert advice. The BP approach was to try and try again, beginning with the cheapest possible solution. The result was serial failure and a public relations disaster.

CNN anchors kept calling the rescue “historic.” It was, but not in their 24-hour view of history. Not so long ago, in the longer view, if you called Chile you would get  Augusto Pinochet.

The  New York Times interviewed people in the Atacama who live with the memory that 37 years ago a Pinochet death squad flew in by helicopters and murdered 16 suspected communists, including miners, at the same place. The “caravan of death” methodically moved on to other communities of leftists. It’s commander, now an ailing octogenarian as was Pinochet, has been identified but never prosecuted.

The first murders were  in the weeks following the September 1973 military coup that opened with the bombing of the presidential palace in Santiago and the death of the elected president, Salvador Allende, beloved by the labor leaders in the exploitive copper industry. (more…)


La Politica NM: Republicans Celebrate In The Shadow Of Arizona

What? No saguaros in New Mexico?

June 2, 2010 in U. S. Politics | Comments (0)

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Primary election message from New Mexico Republicans to the political planet: Hey, we’re not Arizona! Or so it would seem to people whose knowledge of both states comes from the national media. (more…)

Why “American Violet” Is Art, Not Polemics

My impressions of the 35th Telluride Film Festival

September 2, 2008 in T-ride Film Fest,U. S. Politics | Comments (0)

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The 35th Telluride Film Festival showed two fight-the-system movies originating with legal cases. The message for aspiring heroes: Don’t settle your lawsuit. Don’t plead guilty to criminal charges against you. Go to trial. The first message in the first film came easily. In the second, the message was artfully disturbing.

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Barack Obama And The Return Of The Hooded Figure Factor

A new generation of Americans

January 31, 2008 in U. S. Politics | Comments (0)

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The Eminem video of “Mosh,” which made it’s unscheduled early appearance on the internet just before the election, is a call for born-once Americans of all colors to unify, to fight, to march, and also, incongruously, to vote against George W. Bush. It took me way back to the early days of Vietnam and the impact of music like Bob Dylan’s “With God On Our Side.” It is portentous. (more…)


Take Off With Lakoff: A Linguist’s Aerial Tour Of American Politics

It took 12 years, but the “family values” Christians won.

January 17, 2005 in U. S. Politics | Comments (0)

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When the Santa Fe Institute sponsored a public lecture by George Lakoff in April 1996, he was just a Berkeley professor promoting a book. But the Institute does not support hacks, and this scholarly work in cognitive linquistics, a field he had practically invented, was brilliant. Now, probably through no fault of his own, Lakoff is a yogi for desperate liberals seeking to get back in touch with political bodies. (more…)