As you may have noticed, I’m consolidating articles. A big part of this is Google. They will give me a lot more credit for one 10,000 word article than 20 500 word articles. That’s what I did for my Christmas posts. I will create a whole new post on Christmas that includes the old posts and then I won’t have any old articles on the subject of Christmas itself. (I’ll still have articles about specific issues that relate to Christmas, however.)
I’m doing the same thing for Thanksgiving. This is really hard, because work is a nightmare around Thanksgiving because of Black Friday and something you may not even know exists, Cyber Monday. So this Monday I worked 11 hours. Tuesday, I worked only 9 hours — but just because I was too exhausted to go on.
Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. It’s one of the few times of the year that I get to cook for a large collection of people.
This year, we are having a ham and tri-tip. That’s all very easy. I’m responsible for the tri-tip as well as pretty much all the side dishes: green bean casserole, potatoes au gratin, macaroni and cheese, and strawberry cupcakes with vanilla frosting. I was going to make a cheesecake, but I decided that I was going to make something for myself instead. So cupcakes it is! Also: cheesecake takes a long time to make. The truth is that nothing on my list is all that time-consuming.
The Serious Business of Thanksgiving
Most of my writing about Thanksgiving is historical, however. I’m very interested in the European invasion of America. Mostly, the Europeans acted very badly. But even when they didn’t, they brought so many diseases that it didn’t matter.
Check out this great video by CGP Grey, Americapox: The Missing Plague:
So much of what follows will be along these lines.
Thanksgiving Without Cynicism
Well folks, I’m pushing today. There is so much to do. First, I have to write my normal stuff for today. And then I have to write at least my morning stuff for tomorrow. And, I have all this cooking today. As usual, I’m going to my older sister’s place for Thanksgiving. I’m not in charge of cooking. But I’m still bringing: my au gratin potatoes, which are now kind of a staple that no family gathering can be without; my absolutely great macaroni and cheese; the great mushroom quiche from The New Moosewood Cookbook; and a pumpkin pie, which I have never made before and I don’t vouch for. All of this is a good deal more complicated than you might imagine. The macaroni and cheese in particular, takes a long time; it is very complex. Really, I can’t stress this enough: it is fantastic.
But here’s the thing that I think you can probably tell from that last paragraph. I am really looking forward to this holiday. In fact, I keep thinking that it is Christmas. And in fact, it pretty much is for me. The only difference is that I give the kids money and try to lobby everyone beforehand to not buy presents. Otherwise, it is an opportunity to cook for a bunch of very grateful people. And it is an opportunity to hang out with my family.
Everyone in my family is about as annoying as I am. We are imperfect people. Yet on holidays, it all seems very much like a game to me. Mostly it is just one long tease, but very good natured. And we laugh a lot because it just doesn’t take much to get us to laugh. We are the sort of people who laugh at stand-up comedians performing in an empty bar on a Tuesday night with a blizzard outside. And the only one who has strong opinions about things is me. I, of course, have strong opinions on everything. But I keep them to myself.
Speaking of lobbying, I successfully lobbied against turkey this year. Other than on sandwiches, I don’t see the point of eating turkey. Ever. But on special occasions, I really don’t understand. What is special about turkey? It’s just a really big chicken with less tasty meat. My preference is to have prime rib. And the cost is basically the same! We aren’t having it tomorrow, however. For one thing, it is a pain to cook. I’m willing to do it, but I’m not cooking. So we are having tri-tip. Why? I don’t know. It just is the case that my brother-in-law likes to cook it and he does a good job of it. So I’m sure it will be delicious — especially with my side dishes!
Does this mean that tomorrow there will not be the usual “Frank tries to destroy your holiday” post? Not at all, although I have to admit that I don’t have any idea what I’m going to write. But holidays are very disruptive of my work. This week has been really difficult. And then Friday, the libraries are closed. There is no national political news except the turkey pardon. (That give me an idea for an anti-Thanksgiving post!) But overall: family, food, and some excellent alcohol (I’m still deciding). It really doesn’t get much better.
And before someone says something: yes, my expectations have gone down over the years…
The Myths of Thanksgiving
John Green is an internet phenom. He and his brother Hank make highly produced videos that seem that be educational while being very entertaining. But if you watch them enough, you’ll come to see that they are neither. Or maybe it’s just me. If I already understand the subject, then I can follow along and see that they are in fact hitting the high points. If I don’t already understand, I might pick up one or two things, but I end up wishing that I had spent the time reading Wikipedia. As for entertainment value, let’s just say that John Green is a one trick pony who gets old fast. (In fairness, I can put up with Hank a lot longer.)
But now and then, a John Green video is just what the doctor ordered. And I’m desperately looking for things to post on this Thanksgiving Day. I figured that he would have something interesting to say about the history of the day. Surprisingly, he didn’t. But he did make the following hodgepodge video about the European colonization of America. It all goes by rather fast and I can’t help but think that at this point he isn’t trying very hard. It is more schtick than anything else. Still, it’s kind of fun and interesting in as much as it make sense:
The most interesting thing about the whole Thanksgiving story is the ex-slave Squanto, who is probably the only reason any of the Plymouth colonists survived. Something that I don’t think is highlighted enough is that only half of the people who came over were Pilgrims. Included in their cargo was beer and opium. And most of all: the Pilgrims weren’t searching for religious freedom. They had religious freedom in Holland, but it wasn’t going well. Many of the older members of the congregation were going back to England and the children were leaving to start new lives. Moving to the new world was their way of surviving as a going concern. That’s fine, but I get really tired of the happy horseshit about the brave Pilgrims coming to America in search of religious freedom.
Recently, I’ve seen a lot of Christians trying to claim Thanksgiving as a religious holiday. Where does that come from? Even the standard story they tell to children doesn’t indicate that. The Native Americans saved the colonists from all starving to death. So to pay them back, they had a big old party with turkey. To me this says that the colonists were gracious, but clearly the natives are the heroes — you know, the pagan natives. In retrospect, they’ve got to have regretted that.
I like to think of it happening like this:
Capitalism, Productivity, and Thanksgiving
Happy Thanksgiving everyone! It is actually a holiday that I kind of like. That’s because it is just about eating. I think we could use more holidays like this. In fact, as time has gone on, I’ve become more fond of holidays. The reason is simple: the oligarchs are trying to destroy the very idea of holidays. Americans work far too much. We need to take more time off. Part of our economic problems come from the fact that those who do have jobs work a lot, leaving an unreasonable number of people with no work at all.
In other countries, the people have chosen to exchange increasing productivity for more leisure time. This makes sense. But Americans have not in general made that decision. They’ve taken all of the increased productivity in a higher standard of living. I think that is likely not an actual choice. In the United States, not “living to work” is seen as a moral failing. But at some point, the “family values” crowd might consider what is better: being able to afford a better television and iPhone or being able to spend more time with their kids?
Of course, for the last four decades, American workers haven’t traded their productivity gains for either more leisure or a higher standard of living. All those productivity gains have gone to the owners of capital. The whole social contract in America has broken down. And I’ve been waiting for decades for the people to do something about it. But they seem too busy just trying to make ends meet to do anything else.
In addition to this, conservatives have gotten really good at defining as “normal” and “moral” the current system that enriches the powerful at the expense of the weak. It reminds me of Newspeak in 1984. The idea of the language was to make it so that people weren’t even able to think heretical thoughts. The very idea of freedom would be gone from people’s minds. I run into people all the time who are poor but somehow think that the capitalist system is God given. We have embraced capitalism in the past because it worked — for both owners and workers. Now it has stopped working for the vast majority of people. But capitalism is embraced for ideological reasons rather than practical ones. And that is evident in the fact that most workers don’t think that capitalism has to prove itself. Capitalism never fails — it is only failed.
So on this Thanksgiving, I hope that you did not have to work. What’s more, I hope that you took care of all your shopping before today so that you don’t have to go down to Safeway to pick something up. All that does is convince our corporate masters that everything must be open on Thanksgiving. But most of all, I hope you don’t sneak down to one of those horrible pre-Black-Friday sales. Trust me: you don’t need all that crap anyway.
Enjoy Thanksgiving! We may not have it much longer.
I figured there must be some fun Thanksgiving poetry out in the big world. And I was sadly disappointed. That’s not to say there isn’t such poetry. It is just that the vast majority of what I found was pretty lame. But I did find a decent amount of stuff that tickled me — at least a little.
One website, You Can Be Funny, had Funny Thanksgiving Poems. There are basically just two things that the poems discuss. One is the fact that people eat a lot on Thanksgiving. The other — and main — category consists of those that discuss the fate of the turkey. Here is a typical, but better than average, example:
Please be careful what you do.
Thanksgiving day is almost here.
We eat turkey every year.
Go and hide out in the woods.
We’ll eat pizza like we should.
Better is a poem by Jane-Ann Heitmueller, “Reprieve.” It is the turkey equivalent of Poe’s “The Raven.” It is a little funny, but mostly it is profound. Thanksgiving is always a good time to think about death:
I sensed a quiet, hidden gaze directed in my way.
With searching eyes I scanned the limbs to find the Peeping Tom,
And sure enough, though well concealed, the turkey sat… so calm.
Apparently, ’twas in his heart approaching Turkey Day,
So he was hidden with the hope to be nobody’s prey.
I couldn’t help but sympathize, as I went strolling by,
And know I too would be in fear thinking I soon might die!
Striking a pose of nonchalance, my pace, I kept it steady,
Deciding this Thanksgiving Day—
My meal would be spaghetti.
Will and Guy’s Humor (“Funny Clean Jokes”!) provides some very sentimental poems, but we must have one poem about food in general:
May your turkey plump,
May your potatoes and gravy
Have nary a lump.
May your yams be delicious
And your pies take the prize,
And may your Thanksgiving dinner
Stay off your thighs!
Let’s end with a couple of more sophisticated poems from MadKane. This first one is from one of her limerick competitions. She asked people to write one about eating. And as always, she provided her own example:
When he spotted a mouse near his seat.
So he smashed down his foot,
And the mouse went kaput,
As his kid cried, “You killed little Pete!”
And then there is this Thanksgiving limerick from 2012 when Washington was approaching the “Fiscal Cliff”:
Please don’t bitch or complain, and don’t balk.
Our issues are great—
Act before it’s too late.
So kindly talk turkey. Don’t squawk.
Just to show you how beneficent I am, I have decided to not leave you with a poem. But I could totally create a poem using turkey, perky, quirky, murky, and beef jerky.
Morning Comedy: Thanksgiving
This week is Thanksgiving. When I was a kid, I didn’t think much of it as a holiday. Now, it is one of my favorites because it is an excuse to cook in a very ostentatious manner. Of course, I’m spending this Thanksgiving with my younger sister who is kind of a vegetarian, so I won’t be doing a prime rib. Instead, it will be a couple of very nicely treated chickens. So I thought that we would do a week of Thanksgiving songs.
But given that at the moment I don’t know how many Thanksgiving songs there are, I figured I would hedge and start the week out with this sketch from Portlandia. I’m pretty sure someone mentioned this to me recently in the comments. And frankly, I’m very pleased whenever I’m able to rip off one of my readers for an article.
This is a very funny sketch that speaks both to the over-concern of many people about animals and also my odd love of chickens. Because, frankly, I’d love to see one chicken with its wing around another chicken.
It is Thanksgiving. And given that this post will go up at 11:05 am local time, I should already be cooking and, more important, drinking. But as I write this, it is days earlier and I am sober. So let me tell you a little about the Thanksgiving celebration. Don’t get me wrong: any excuse for a party. And our society is sorely lacking in rituals that bring people together. So that’s great. You should enjoy this day. And you should give thanks, because if you are able to read this, it probably means that your life isn’t too bad. But that doesn’t give an excuse to the bastards who run the world.
Anyway, I came upon an interesting article at Indian Country Today Media Network, Six Thanksgiving Myths, Share Them With Someone You Know. It wasn’t like I was shocked or anything. But I did learn a great deal. One thing I did not learn, but that is very important is that the Wampanoag and Pilgrims were not all that friendly. In fact, the Pilgrims had chosen a former Wampanoag settlement. The tribe had abandoned it because previous European traders had caused an outbreak of plague that killed as many as two-thirds of the roughly 100,000 Wampanoag people who lived in 69 villages. Of course, it wasn’t just the plague; traders also kidnapped tribesmen and sold them into slavery.
What I did not know is that the Indians and the Pilgrims seem to have gotten together because the latter group were acting like typical American idiots. They were happy about harvest, so they were shooting off guns and cannons. “The Wampanoag chief and 90 warriors made their way to the settlement in full warrior mode — in response to the gunfire.” Since the Pilgims were vastly outnumbered, I guess they figured they should invite the concerned warriors to hang out and eat.
But the most interesting thing is that this didn’t become a regular event. The original meal took place in 1621. But there were no similar celebrations for more than a decade. In 1636, a white man was murdered. Now, usually, that means he was murdered by another white man. That’s the kind of thing that happens. If you look at the statistics in modern America: whites kill whites and blacks kill blacks and so on. But the Pilgims blamed another local tribe, the Pequot people. So in retaliation, the good Christian Pilgrims massacred them — burning many of them alive and killing many others by different methods. It is this massacre that the Pilgrims started celebrating each year:
Apparently, Thanksgiving didn’t become the G-rated celebration of how super-keen things were between the Pilgrims and the Indians until the Civil War, when Lincoln used it to try to united the nation. And it is a nice story! But it should be treated like Santa Claus: a nice story, but not the truth. This nation has never come to terms with its treatment of the hundreds of native tribes. Maybe we should rename this holiday AskForgiveness Day.
I do like Thanksgiving in the sense that I like cooking and I like eating. But it’s hard to get past the mythology of the holiday. You know what I’m talking about: the Wampanoag and Pilgrims getting along and singing Kumbaya. One day out of hundreds of years and we pick up on it. The reason is clear enough: our European ancestors were awful. And the room that I write this in — much less the house that I will be cooking Thanksgiving dinner in — is the result of straight-up theft, combined with unthinkable acts of cruelty and murder.
That’s not to say that the hundreds of American tribes were perfect people. I don’t buy into the noble savage myth either. Humans are, all things considered, pretty awful. But when the first Americans came here, they weren’t invading; they were settling. And they ended up with a diverse system of cultures. Most important, they interacted very much like the countries of Europe: sometimes they got along and sometimes they didn’t. It’s sad to say that today, most people just assume it was one or the other. Either these original Americans were peace-loving peyote eaters. Or they were constantly at war with each other.
The truth is that the first Americans were just people — like any others. When Europeans invaded, they won because they had more firepower. And by “firepower,” I’m talking more about disease than guns. Cortés didn’t manage to destroy the Aztec empire by his brilliance. It’s just that all his men, coming from disease infested Europe managed to wipe out 90 percent of Moctezuma’s troops by breathing on them. This, of course, was typical of meetings between Europeans and Americans.
I’ll discussed this below, AskForgiveness Day. I note that, “The Pilgrims had chosen a former Wampanoag settlement. The tribe had abandoned it because previous European traders had caused an outbreak of plague that killed as many as two-thirds of the roughly 100,000 Wampanoag people who lived in 69 villages.” But don’t get the wrong idea; it wasn’t just inadvertent death and destruction. Those earlier Europeans kidnapped many Wampanoag people and sold them into slavery. You should read the whole thing; it’s got some other nice tidbits of information that are worth thinking about today.
It isn’t my intent to beat up on the Europeans. As I said: humans are awful. But the whole European invasion of America always makes me think of a platitude from my youth, “Might doesn’t make right.” But unlike most platitudes, this one is so obviously wrong. Might indeed makes right. If it didn’t, certainly all our presidents going back to at least Ronald Reagan would have been hanged for war crimes. And does anyone think but that Churchill would have been tried and hanged if the Nazis had won World War II?
We humans try to avoid hard truths. So we come up with fairy tales to justify why we are rich and others are dead. But fairy tales are for children. After a while, we tell children that Santa Claus is a fable. But we never get around to admitting that the Thanksgiving story is equally one.