Nacotchtank

In Australia, it is becoming a relatively common practice to acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land where important meetings and government functions take place. They recognize the people who occupied the land they are on and sometimes are given a little bit of relevant history by a representative of the tribe. Australia has a VERY VERY shaky history with indigenous people, in ways similar to and distinct from the US, but that is evidence that at least some effort toward peace and justice is being made.

I had never heard of the Nacotchtank until yesterday, when I decided what I wanted to write my Independence Day blog post about. They are a tribe that is no more, one of the countless victims of White People in History. Facing encroaching violent settlers and dwindling numbers, they departed their homeland and became absorbed by larger tribes in the area.

They lived throughout what is now the District of Columbia, including on Capital Hill itself. Archaeological relics, including pottery and bones, have been found under and around the Supreme Court, White House, and Bolling Air Force Base. We owe them at very least the name Anacostia, some weird Latinization of Nacotchtank. In case you haven’t heard of it, the Anacostia is the river that flows into the Potomac in the southeast part of the District.

The National Museum of the American Indian (which, yikes, not even going to talk about that) has said that they only briefly mention the tribe because it essentially ceased to exist in the early eighteenth century, instead preferring to speak with the living tribes in the area–which they do, so that’s good. I’m not convinced we need to go back and find all the historical groups, especially on the East Coast, that’s just not really possible.

However. On some level, we need to remember. Not only were other people here first, people were here first and we deliberately exterminated them.

To be clear, I think America is a good idea. I appreciate the thought, and in many ways the reality, of the United States. But there’s a lot of very dark history that we consistently, as a nation, refuse to reckon with. I think that’s a big reason why there’s a lot of very dark present times. Because people who are not indigenous feel no compunction about railing against ‘illegal’ immigration.

ALL WHITE PEOPLE EXIST IN THIS COUNTRY BECAUSE OF COLONIALISM ie theft, murder, and genocide.

In a practical sense, yes, we are here and we have set up a government and that government should function appropriately. But in a sort of macro sense, we are still an occupying force hostile toward the local population. In a practical sense, immigration policy needs reform of course but is itself, in principle, a valid thing. In a larger way, though, borders are arbitrary and imaginary so why not let any and all people live anywhere they wish. Reality is a thing that we have to deal with, definitely, but so is morality so…

I do not imagine or expect this country to be perfect. And as a citizen, I am certainly not exerting every possible effort to effect the change that I wish to see. Even so, I think it is important that we, collectively, at least are trying to work toward justice and peace in a meaningful way. And we aren’t. Instead, we’re setting up concentration camps and killing innocents, then dehumanizing them by calling them illegals.

This is a pretty good place to live. A good place to be born. Especially but not exclusively for white men. But most of the ‘American idea’ stuff also exists in other countries and a lot of them do it better. Now more than ever, I just don’t feel much like celebrating. I don’t know exactly what should be done, Australia is an example of some bare minimum effort but isn’t necessarily the template to follow. And I think that I, as a white guy, probably shouldn’t be the one figuring it out. At least not on my own.

But here and now I want to apologize for my complicity in the oppression of indigenous peoples here and abroad. And I want to continue to do better.


I apologize, I’m too upset thinking about all this to include cats. I don’t want to subject them to this level of negative emotion.

Leaving tomorrow morning for a brief stop in St Louis. Wish me luck, it’s a long drive.

Good Laws under a Free Government

This week, I’m just going to do a reading and explication for you, everyone’s favorite pastime! The text is George Washington’s farewell address, when he declined to put himself forward for a third term as president. It is quite lengthy, and written in the high formal style of it’s time. Today, I will quote it liberally and offer my humble thoughts and layman’s translation of sorts. I’ve never tried anything like this, and it’s a weird turn of events for this blog but hey. I will be using the copy of the text from the Lillian Goldman Law Library at Yale, since they have it online and it was a top Google result. Bear in mind that this truly is very long; I preserve a great deal of block quotes because I love the language, it’s so beautiful.

The first president of this country was a man of his time. There are plenty of things about him that I’m not wild about, to say the least. He is problematic, as is idolization of all founding fathers. However.

He had some excellent ideas which he believed, as far as I can tell, with deep fervor and expressed with timeless eloquence. He sums up what he thinks about the country he helped birth and gives some warnings that everyone promptly ignored. But, as he himself says, they are warnings worth reviewing periodically across the span of history. Here is my attempt to highlight a few of his points.


  • He begins by saying that he’s really pumped to retire and almost did before his second term, but decided that things were in such a delicate state that, when they asked him to stay, he thought he ought. But wow, he’s excited to get out of town.
  • He then proceeds (as, in fact, he does throughout the speech) to indicate that he knows how flawed and imperfect he is saying, “I will only say that I have, with good intentions, contributed towards the organization and administration of the government the best exertions of which a very fallible judgment was capable.”
  • He thanks the country for all that it has given him and hopes that whatever good has come out of his presidency, it will be helpful for all future Americans

If benefits have resulted to our country from these services, let it always be remembered to your praise, and as an instructive example in our annals, that under circumstances in which the passions, agitated in every direction, were liable to mislead, amidst appearances sometimes dubious, vicissitudes of fortune often discouraging, in situations in which not unfrequently want of success has countenanced the spirit of criticism, the constancy of your support was the essential prop of the efforts, and a guarantee of the plans by which they were effected.

  • When things get tricky, and people aren’t thinking clearly because everyone’s so worked up, the support of the people made sure we came out okay

…that your union and brotherly affection may be perpetual; that the free Constitution, which is the work of your hands, may be sacredly maintained; that its administration in every department may be stamped with wisdom and virtue; that, in fine, the happiness of the people of these States, under the auspices of liberty, may be made complete by so careful a preservation and so prudent a use of this blessing as will acquire to them the glory of recommending it to the applause, the affection, and adoption of every nation which is yet a stranger to it.

  • He hopes things go well for the country and that it inspires great things in all countries around the world–to support freedom, wisdom, and happiness
  • He decides to give some advice and hopes people will listen since, as he’s retiring, he doesn’t really have a stake in things
  • He says that unity of government is absolutely essential, and he knows that internal and external forces will work to attack that unity for unsavory reasons. Therefore, we need to keep an eye out and always return to unity as our foundation

watching for its preservation with jealous anxiety; discountenancing whatever may suggest even a suspicion that it can in any event be abandoned; and indignantly frowning upon the first dawning of every attempt to alienate any portion of our country from the rest, or to enfeeble the sacred ties which now link together the various parts.

  • Citizens, “by birth or choice,” must identify as American over regional identities
    • The North, South, Atlantic, and West are all bound together for each others’ good, don’t let politicians exacerbate/exaggerate/make up regional differences for political gain. National unity is in everyone’s interest
  • The Constitution is great and should reflect, at any given time, the people. The people can and should change it when necessary.

The basis of our political systems is the right of the people to make and to alter their constitutions of government.

  • Obey laws. Parties are a “fatal tendency” and obstruct law. Party interests are not the people’s interests. And when parties change power, they disrupt the orderly function of the government.

[parties and factions] put, in the place of the delegated will of the nation the will of a party, often a small but artful and enterprising minority of the community; and, according to the alternate triumphs of different parties, to make the public administration the mirror of the ill-concerted and incongruous projects of faction, rather than the organ of consistent and wholesome plans digested by common counsels and modified by mutual interests.

    • They may be popular for a moment, but they are never good in the long run

…cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion

  • Be careful about changing the Constitution, but also make sure that the government doesn’t become weak. Liberty requires a government strong enough to make sure that it can protect rights, maintain law, and combat factionalism

The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism.

  • Parties are bad and, in the end, lead to dictators, basically, because people get tired of the back and forth and grow distrustful of the mechanisms of government
  • Parties might be kind of helpful in monarchies, as people can express themselves, but are entirely bad in democracies
  • People in power need to respect that power and make sure not to expand their spheres beyond their constitutionally designated areas (checks and balances)
  • Government requires morality and morality requires religion
    • This isn’t really a thing but whatever
  • The “general diffusion of knowledge” is absolutely essential. People need to know things to participate in government.
  • Public credit is precious. Use it, but use it wisely

Observe good faith and justice towards all nations; cultivate peace and harmony with all.

  • He’s really big into neutrality, other than time-limited alliances as necessary.
    • Don’t have countries you hate, don’t have countries you love. Both will make you do stupid stuff. Just be nice to everyone.
  • Be super wary of foreign influence
  • Don’t get involved in foreign wars
    • I’m neither here nor there on this

Though, in reviewing the incidents of my administration, I am unconscious of intentional error, I am nevertheless too sensible of my defects not to think it probable that I may have committed many errors.

  • I’m going to retire and it’s going to be great

Bringing up Trump and Congressional Republicans at this point seems a little on the nose. And besides, pretty much our entire governmental system would probably be pretty disappointing to President Washington. Like I said, I’m not 100% behind all of his thoughts and everything, but I like much the above. I guess we can only shrug and, to paraphrase another president I like (Teddy Roosevelt), do what we can with what we’ve got where we are.

My New Friend, Pádraig

A quick note on last week’s post to get started. A friend of mine brought to my attention the motto of North Carolina, a quote from Cicero (among others): esse quam videri or to be, rather than to seem. It just made me feel validated to share the same sentiments as a poet and old Latin guys (and an old Greek guy said something along the same lines). It’s a fun group to be a part of, apparently along with the State of North Carolina.

In other news. Last Saturday, I drove down to the outskirts of Portland and purchased a car for my very own. My initial ambition was to never own a car, then it was to have the first car I buy be electric. It is, alas, a hybrid but something is better than nothing. Also, after considering a variety of names, I have settled on Pádraig. I’ve just learned that the name shares its etymology with patrician which is fun. Also, for those of you who are unfamiliar, it’s PAW-drig. The other contenders were Paolo and Peter so participation trophies for them.

Perhaps you’ll meet Pádraig someday, he’s a pretty cool guy.

On Monday morning, I was up early and off to Issaquah, which I don’t think I’ve ever visited before. I was meeting a friend of mine to hike Poo Poo Point because why not. My erstwhile hiking partner has recently relocated and I haven’t been out much since, so that was nice. It was also lovely to catch up with my friend and his brother, who I met for the first time. The views were beautiful, draped with plenty of mystical clouds.

Not much has been going on here otherwise. Slowly acquiring a few more household accouterments necessary for the move and furnishing my place. More reading in the sun. Snuggling with cats.

Yesterday, I did go to a friend’s house to celebrate the most American holiday. He lives on a lake but there wasn’t much swimming because, though it was warm, it wasn’t sunny one minute and did in fact rain a little. Even so, it was a lovely time just hanging out, having nice food, watching pretty fireworks.

I recognize that I am very blessed by being an American alive at this time. But I also did not feel quite up to celebrating America. There is so much work yet to be done and so much of ‘America’ is only America to some. It’s a bit of a balancing act, recognizing the incredible gifts that we are given and also being convicted of the need for radical change.

I’m not really sure what else I want to say about it and I don’t really have other news to report. So there you go. Until next week.

Apostasy and Un-postasy

The heat, I think, has finally broken. It’s not cool by any means, but being outside no longer feels like death. It’s also still pretty humid, but definitely livable. I’m excited for it to actually be autumn so I can go around and do things again.

That was really the highlight this week–that and the fact that intensives are over, the last day was Tuesday. So that’s a major relief. There’s also only one more week in this term, which is crazy. It also marks my halfway point on my contract, so there’s that. But I’d like to take the bulk of this post to talk about other things, as feeble as my attempt to discuss them may be.

Once again, I find myself in the untenable position where I cannot say nothing but can’t say anything adequate. Others have written much more fully on issues like the Confederate cause (here), Confederate statues (here and here), reactions and likely reactions in government (here and here), and just generally race in the US (here). And loads of others besides. It seems like recent events are almost literally an armed rebellion. A rebellion against the religious and civic foundation of the country that, simultaneously, is perfectly in line with its religious and civic foundation. And that’s really the issue.

A writer for the New Yorker, Jelani Cobb, put it succinctly when he said, “The biggest indictment of the way we teach American history is that people can look at Charlottesville and say ‘This is not who we are.'”

When we say, “This is not us,” we’re lying.

That’s why I said it’s an apostasy and not at all. Actions like that are so against the story we typically tell about ourselves, but there are perfectly in line with the reality that so many people have faced across time and geography. The great American civil religion is Freedom, Equality, and Justice and the rituals of that religion are and have been Slavery, Inequality, and Injustice. Hate is both an apostasy and an un-postasy.

It’s so awful. And it’s so exacerbated by the reality that nothing is changing, or not much. I exulted a little hearing that Baltimore, in one night, surprised the city by removing all Confederate monuments. But the President, his administration, and Republicans in Congress will do nothing. The general public will do nothing. The majority of individuals (myself included?) will do nothing.

I cannot express how fully I condemn and abhor the violence in Charlottesville. Unfortunately, there is so much more to it than one weekend, one moment of revulsion. There is a system of violence supported by literal millions through actions and words both passive and active. A system that benefits me because I’m a cis white male.

I feel powerless. Guilt doesn’t help anybody, and I’m not sure what I can do. Donate to organizations like the ACLU, attend marches, speak forcefully to my own detriment when people deny the existence or depravity of the pernicious construct of racism that saturates our country.

It feels sort of hollow to preach ‘love’ in a time like this, when so much of me wants to violently tear into something. For all my words, it’s hard to believe that love has, does, and will win. But it’s true nonetheless.

My number one class rule is English Only because that’s a company policy. My number two rule is Be Kind. I say it all the time. So much so that many of my students make fun of me for it, which only makes me say it more, and so on, no one wins. Except I win. Because if I accomplish nothing else, I will have asked, commanded, cajoled, and begged kindness from a few score Korean kids who, perhaps, will be kind when they don’t want to be. And perhaps the scale of the world will tilt one grain or two toward love.

My post from a year ago definitely says what I want much better than the preceding rambles. But I had to say it again because here we are again.

Love only seems weak to people who don’t have enough. And hoping in love is about all I feel empowered to do just now. Hope and love.