Active Shooter Drills: The New Duck and Cover

When these drills are conducted, the kindergarteners are just terrified.

Here’s everything you need to know about our warped American gun culture: When looking up statistics for the number of mass shootings in this country, I was actually relieved to discover that, according to this report in Statista, since 1982, these atrocities have only occurred in 38 states (plus Washington DC). We’re still horrified by these events, but we’re also becoming habituated to them.

Of course, Statista goes on to clarify that they’re only counting those shootings that were reported. They also note that, “since 2013, the source defines a mass shooting as any single attack in a public place with three or more fatalities, in line with the definition by the FBI. Before 2013, a mass shooting was defined as any single attack in a public place with four or more fatalities.” So the numbers are probably a bit low. Great.

They also point out that, of the 137 incidents considered, 13 of the worst mass shootings in the United States have occurred since 2015. The vast majority of the shooters in these incidents were white males, and since 2000, police have intercepted 351 active shooter incidents in the U.S. Until we call these events what they are, domestic terrorism, they’ll never be taken seriously by this government. But this government is hesitant to call white males terrorists. Or rapists. Or anything else, for that matter.

When I was in public school in the late 70’s, early 80’s, one time, one time, someone brought a knife into a classroom. It was a huge scandal. The kid didn’t even use it, and he wasn’t even in any of my classes, but it took me months to feel safe again after that. It just didn’t occur to anyone at the time to bring weapons onto school grounds. Well, except for that kid. He’s probably the CEO of some major corporation now.

Little did I know that those were the salad days of public education. I fell in the sweet spot between duck and cover and active shooter drills. I was never made to crawl under my desk in anticipation of nuclear annihilation or bloody death. Not once.

Nowadays, kids are subjected to those active shooter drills along with their totally whitewashed and historically inaccurate lessons. I often wonder how that is fundamentally changing this generation’s perspective. It’s sad to contemplate. My research on the topic broadened my worldview to the extent that it is resulting in three posts, of which this is the first.

According to this article, as of 2017, 95 percent of all public schools conduct active shooter drills. They can be as mild as just going through the motions of turning off lights and locking doors to the extreme of playing gunshot sounds over the loudspeakers while actors dressed as gunmen roam the halls. I don’t know about you, but that extreme end would seriously freak me out, and I’m 57. I can’t imagine how a 7-year-old would handle it. A kindergarten teacher told me recently that when these drills are conducted, she tries to keep the students calm, but they’re just terrified.

The article goes on to describe a study that was conducted by Georgia Tech regarding active shooter drills. Just by comparing the social media texts of community members from 90 days before a drill to 90 days after, they concluded that there is a 42 percent spike in anxiety and a 39 percent increase in depression for months afterward, and not just in the students. The teachers and parents were similarly impacted.

Frankly, I’m of the opinion that drills, as we Americans conduct them, don’t actually prepare you for any catastrophic event. They don’t empower you. Our drills teach fear and panic. When the stuff hits the fan, if you’ve been living in a state of constant, low-grade fear as politicians make us do, all bets are off. You get primal. And quite often you make poor decisions. Now, throw hundreds of small children into that mix, and you have chaos. I’ll be offering suggestions as to how to improve these drills in my third post.

But these drills, in their current format and cultural context, are nothing other than safety theater. They allow bureaucrats to give the impression that they’re doing something, when, if they really wanted to do something, they’d be advocating against weaponry, beefing up security, and insisting upon more mental health professionals on staff. Instead, we want to look like we’re doing something, so we do something. Not the right thing. Not the reasonable thing. Not the thing that makes an actual difference. But, hey, we are doing something.

While wondering about the psychological effects of active shooter drills, I began to think about the duck and cover drills that, thank God, had just stopped being commonplace a year or two before I went to school. I really feel sorry for those who had to experience them. I probably would have been that child who said, “Why do you think our desk will protect us from a bomb? How stupid is that?” And then I would have done what I was told, because I may have had a big mouth, but I was still a good kid.

I happen to be a member of a Facebook group that is mostly comprised of women from the duck and cover era, so I decided, out of curiosity, to ask them what their experience was like. I did this a about a year ago. I don’t know why it took me so long to write this blog post. Perhaps I wasn’t ready. I wasn’t prepared for the amount of insight I would gain from these women. (I had good intentions of getting this done. I lugged about 150 printed out pages of their comments back and forth to work for months. My backpack is so heavy that it triggers my car to insist on a passenger side seat belt, such is the weight of my unfinished projects.)

My post to that group said the following: “I am just young enough to have missed those cold war bomb drills that children used to have to do. You know. Duck and cover, because your desk will save you. (Sheesh.) I was wondering how many of you remember doing that. What did you think as a child? Do you think it changed the way you view the world? Was there common knowledge that these drills were an insane waste of time back then, or was there a general buy-in of this concept?

Those questions must have hit a nerve, because I got 400 replies. I wasn’t expecting that. No two people are the same, so naturally there were a variety of ways that these kids processed the duck and cover experience.

I’d say that about 55 percent were either bored silly by these drills, thinking of it as a nice break from math class, and/or too clued in to think that duck and cover would do any good at all. At the other end of the spectrum, about 30 percent were seriously freaked out by the process. (I’m quite sure I would have been in this group, even if I had been clued in.) The rest seemed to have been confused by it all, and since the adults around them weren’t telling them anything rational or understandable or true, they didn’t know what to think. That’s a really unpleasant state for a child to be in.

The 50’s and 60’s were a high stakes time to be a kid in America. Most of that generation had no expectations of living to adulthood. During the cold war, the brinkmanship displayed made them feel like the inmates were running the asylum. And when they heard about Khrushchev pounding his shoe on the table, the kind of thing that really gets a child’s attention, that provided them with all the confirmation they needed that the adults in charge were crazy. (The shoe incident made such an impression on me, a decade after the fact, that to this day I could swear I’d seen footage of it, but no such footage exists. Isn’t that strange?)

That generation’s anxiety reached its peak during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Many of children concluded that the Russians hated them personally and wanted to kill them, but they didn’t understand why. They came by their reactions honestly. Here is some of the propaganda of the era that they were treated to every single day:

These kids also bore witness to the assassinations of Martin Luther King and both Kennedys. And, lest we forget, many of these children were growing up in the south and dealing with the KKK, segregation, and an utter lack of human rights as well, so they felt more anxiety from terrorists within the country than they did from communists a half a world away.

What follows are several points that the amazing women in my Facebook group proffered for your consideration. I’ll paraphrase the comments and avoid specifics so that I don’t have to track people down to get permission to quote them. (Sorry, ladies.)

Duck and Cover Drills came in a variety of forms. As the name implies, many students had to crawl under their desks with their hands protecting their necks and/or the backs of their heads. Others were ushered into hallways to hunker down in rows, facing the walls or the banks of lockers. Some went down into the creepy, dirty basements of their schools. One woman reported that her class had to walk single file, with the teacher at the head, and she’d drop them off at their houses, one by one by one. (I’m assuming this was a small town.) Not only was that hard on the teacher, but it must have been creepy for the last group of children on the route, thinking about radiation raining down upon them with every step they took. Location, location, location, as the saying goes.

There seemed to be a wide range of communication or lack thereof, about these drills. Some kids were told entirely too much, in my opinion. Small children should not be shown videos of mushroom clouds and disintegrating buildings and melting bodies. Eight-year-olds shouldn’t memorize all the signs and symptoms of radiation poisoning or be instructed on the best ways to build and stock bomb shelters. All that should be the realm of adults.

On the other end of the spectrum, a lot of children were not told anything at all, and were left to draw their own, sometimes funny, sometimes horrifying conclusions, including the following:

  • “Fallout” meant things falling from the ceiling, and therefore climbing under their desks made perfect sense.
  • The Russians would come and take them from their parents and/or they’d never see their families again.
  • Bombs must not be much of a threat if the solution was to hide under a desk.
  • Every plane that flew over had the potential to kill them.
  • I don’t want to die crouching in a hallway.
  • While we do these drills in school, are the adults doing the same thing in the bomb shelters?
  • My parents will be blindsided unless they keep the radio on.
  • These floors are really dirty.
  • The boys are trying to look up my skirt.
  • At least we don’t have to freeze outside like we do for fire drills.
  • How will I find my family?
  • Walking home was scary, because if a plane flew over you didn’t have your desk to save you.
  • Some were scared for their parents because they didn’t have a teacher to keep them safe like the kids did.
  • The Communists or some vague enemy would break in any minute, and that would be the end.
  • They only practiced these drills at school, so school seemed dangerous.
  • One girl, whose school had them pressing their noses against a wall, thought that the paint must be strong if it could save her from the bomb.

Some children comforted themselves with the belief that nothing bad was going to ever happen to them because they lived in America and that was the safest, smartest, strongest place in the world. Others thought that since Russia beat us into space, they must be more militarily advanced. Those were likely the same children who went home and tried to build bomb shelters out of cardboard boxes in their back yards or basements. One brilliant girl even surrounded hers with lead pencils, because she had heard that lead would protect her.

In hindsight, many women were grateful for the honesty some adults were willing to provide. Some kids were told how painful their deaths might be, and actually found comfort in the idea that they were at ground zero and would die instantly. Photographs from Hiroshima made it clear that immediate death would be preferable. One woman remembers being grateful for just being sent home to be with her family during the Cuban Missile Crisis. At least that was honest.

And I found this quite interesting. It seems that nearly everyone was told that their location was a prime target. They lived near military bases. They lived near factories or power plants or big cities like Washington DC, New York, or Chicago. They lived near a transportation hub. In the heartland, the communists would target their farms to starve the country. And everyone in Florida, to this very day, knows that Cuba is only 90 miles away.

Everyone seemed to believe that they would be the first to go. No one stopped to think that Russia couldn’t bomb everywhere at once. If they could, there would be nothing left of this planet.

No matter what they thought, these kids did these drills because that’s what they were told to do. Unfortunately, they were told to do some very insane things. I’ll discuss that in my next post, The Insanity of Duck and Cover.

Special thanks to the women of the Facebook Group Crones of Anarchy!, for revealing so much about their duck and cover experiences. You guys are awesome!

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Why the Ukrainians Are Fighting So Hard: Remembering the Holodomor Genocide

Somewhere between 3.8 million and 10 million Ukrainians died during Holodomor.

This poignant statue, at the entrance to the memorial park in Kyiv, Ukraine, is how I first learned about the Holodomor Genocide of 1932-33.

I first saw this photo just two weeks after Russia invaded Ukraine in 2022. I have to specify the year, because Russia (in one form or another) has been invading, annexing and generally mistreating Ukraine (in one form or another) since the 1700’s. (In case you’re feeling superior, remember that we Americans began committing genocide against Native Americans at about the same time. Our country, too, has much to answer for.)

The more I learn about the suppressed history of the world, the more horrified I become by man’s inhumanity to man. No one taught me about Holodomor in school. In fact, the United States only got around to recognizing Holodomor as a genocide perpetrated by the Russians in 2018, 86 years after this Russian-coordinated terror/famine occurred. (I am proud to say that my state, Washington, was the first US state to recognize Holodomor, nearly a year and a half earlier than the country did. But still, that’s a long period of silence.)

Ukraine’s history is complicated. Its pieces and parts have been under the purview of various tribes, kingdoms and countries since Neandertals first entered the area around 45,000 BC. This well-written article, including maps, can give you a better idea of the tug of war that has been happening in this region throughout history. What we now call Ukraine has been a geopolitical faultline between democracy and authoritarianism since its inception.

To understand the Holodomor Genocide, one must look at least as far back as the declaration of independence of the Ukrainian People’s Republic in 1918, toward the end of World War I. Needless to say, the Russians were not amused. It is a grave oversimplification to say that Ukraine was swallowed back up by the soviets in 1919, and became an unwilling founding member of the USSR in 1922. This period was a long, exhausting one of fighting and resistance for the Ukrainian people.

1n 1932, Stalin decided he had had enough of the Ukrainian shenanigans. This area was too important for the Russians. It was, and still is, Europe’s breadbasket. This land produces five times more grain per hectare than can be produced on Russian soil. Stalin felt the need to bend these people to his will, and he did so in the most heinous way possible.

First, he took away all the farmland from the Ukrainian people, and forced them to work on collective farms for free. And then all the food produced by these farms was systematically removed from Ukraine, leaving the people to starve. By the spring of 1933, 17 Ukrainians died of starvation every minute, which is nearly 24,500 people every single day. Many would simply drop dead in the streets.

Most Ukrainian cities had buildings where orphaned children were housed. These places were effectively children’s concentration camps. The Russians did not allow them to have clothing or bedding, even in the dead of winter, and many were given only a teaspoon of milk a day. Most of these children were too weak to walk. They crawled. And the only reason they expended the energy to crawl was to find grass to eat. During their short, brutal lives, they were prohibited from speaking Ukrainian, and were subjected to political brainwashing to make them hate their own country.

Meanwhile, out in the countryside, many farms continued to resist collectivization. Those that did were confronted with what was called the Black Board Regime. If your village made the blacklist, it was surrounded by Russian troops. Its shops were emptied and closed. The food and livestock were confiscated. Village leaders were purged. If the people tried to steal grain from the fields, they were often shot on sight. They were deprived of the internal passports the Russians required you to have to travel anywhere. Some people resorted to cannibalism. Basically they were starved out. There was a 50 to 70 percent mortality rate in the 400 villages that were blacklisted.

The Russians denied (and still deny to this day) that this famine was happening. They refused all international aid. They made it illegal to even talk about this brutal reality that they themselves intentionally created, and as of this writing Russia has not been charged with war crimes for any of it.

Somewhere between 3.8 million and 10 million Ukrainians died during Holodomor.

Wherever villages were left deserted, Russians moved in to take up residence. About 17 percent of all Ukrainian citizens are now ethnically Russian. This is why much of Eastern Ukraine has a strong Russian Nationalist movement. Much like ours, this is a country bitterly divided.

Ukraine was not able to withdraw from the Soviet Union until 1991, and therefore they were not legally allowed to talk about Holodomor until that time. That’s nearly 60 years where an entire nation could not discuss or process its collective trauma. That’s got to leave a mark.

Since 2009, Ukrainians have observed a Holodomor remembrance day, and the National Museum of the Holodomor Genocide was opened in Kyiv at about that same time. I hope those efforts have helped the people move a little bit closer to healing…

…for a short while, anyway. Then Russia stole the Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, and nothing was done by the international community to stop it. In fact, after a brief burst of outrage, we have all apparently forgotten all about it. And then Russia invaded Ukraine as a whole starting this February, and the international community, while sympathetic and willing to provide aid and weaponry, refuses to get involved militarily for fear of sparking off WWIII and/or nuclear devastation.

And so, as has often been the case, Ukraine is left to battle Goliath on its own. Is it any wonder they’re fighting so hard? After all they’ve been through, they certainly have adequate motivation.

We must all stand with Ukraine. They are the front lines of a much bigger struggle. If they lose their freedom yet again, rest assured that ours will be under threat as well.

Now that you know about it, never forget Holodomor. To find out more, if your heart can take it, I highly recommend a documentary entitled “I Will Remember Them”, which was presented by the National Museum of the Holodomor Genocide, and is available to view on YouTube.

Wishing you peace, dear reader. Wishing us all peace.


Most Americans can’t be bothered to care about Ukraine.

The people of Ukraine are on my mind a lot these days. We Americans have no idea what they are going through, and likely never will. Most of us can’t be bothered to care. And it shows.

Imagine this. You’re sitting in your living room, doing your thing, minding your own business, harming no one, when you hear explosions in the distance. And those explosions come closer and closer and closer. You look out the window and see the images below (which are actual photos of what is going on in Ukraine even as you read this.)

As you realize that there are people coming who want to kill you, you give up your entire life in an instant. You know you won’t be going to work tomorrow, dropping the kids off at school, visiting the local market, or returning books to the public library. All these things, your routine, your method of living, are gone.

Your hierarchy of needs gets stripped down to the basics. How will I get food and water? How do we stay warm once the electricity goes out? How will I keep my family safe? What about all the other loved ones who are scattered throughout the country? How do I gain access to my money? What do I do about my dog?

You do have a few options. You could evacuate. This would mean leaving behind your home and all your possessions to GTFO. And odds are there will be looting and bombing and you’ll lose everything. That, and many of the roads are closed. The airport is definitely closed. And where will you go and what will you do if you have to abandon your job?

You could also sign up to defend this beloved country of yours, with its government that you helped elect. But you’ve never held a gun in your life. And your enemy is about 1000 times more equipped than your country could ever hope to be. No other countries are willing to step in and help you out. Deep down, you know it’s just a matter of time before your world is occupied by an invader that wants you dead, and nothing will ever be the same again.

Of course, you could choose to stand by and do nothing and hope you aren’t killed, and hope your home remains intact. Hope you’re not tortured. Hope you don’t starve. Hope you wake up and find that this is all a bad dream.

No matter what you decide to do, this is bigger than you. It’s beyond your control. That’s it. You’re done. Just like that.

Meanwhile, we Americans sit in front of our televisions, secure in the knowledge that we don’t share a border with a country that’s more powerful than we are, and it’s a safe bet that we never will. We’re also pretty confident that tanks will never roll past our houses, and if we hear an explosion in the distance, it’s most likely a transformer that was struck by lightning, or a pesky teenager shooting off illegal fireworks.

Most of us will never be surrounded by total strangers who are intent upon our demise. With a few rare and horrifying exceptions, no one is trying to kill us at all. Our democracy may be circling the drain, but that’s our own doing. In fact, when there actually is an insurrection in an attempt to overthrow our elected government, most of us can’t be bothered to take it seriously. It feels like a mere gnat that is jumping around at the periphery of our vision. A nuisance. We’re just too big to fail. So the perpetrators of that insurrection don’t even get a slap on the hand, despite all the footage of the violence, destruction, and death.

The odds are pretty darned excellent that the majority of us will never have to leave our entire lives in the dust with no notice whatsoever. The majority of us will not have to dig foxholes and hunker down and prepare to kill another human being for the first time in our lives.

Our biggest concern is how inconvenienced we are by the concept of wearing masks and getting vaccinations so that our loved ones might survive. Many of us can’t be bothered to make that sacrifice. Oh, no. We’re too busy anxiously awaiting the results of the fantasy football game we’re engaged in. We can’t raise our eyes from Wordle long enough to even open the door when the neighbor comes by to borrow jumper cables. We don’t even know their name. Don’t know, don’t care.

Do I think this blog post will make a difference? Not at all. I write it in hopes that some future historian might stumble upon it and realize that we did see what was happening. We just couldn’t suffer the massive inconvienience of doing anything about it. Shame on us.

Relatively speaking, the average American is so fat with entitlement that they could probably make foie gras from their own livers. But I suspect that it wouldn’t taste very good.

Happy Birthday, Estonia!

If any country deserves a piece of cake, it’s this one.

I missed a very important anniversary recently. On February 2, 2020, Estonia turned 100 years old. But their independence was declared (but didn’t actually “take”) on February 24th, 1918, so by that count, I guess you could say that today they are 102 years old in spirit.

Yeah, I know. You probably go months or years without thinking about Estonia. But to its 1,328,360 people, I’m sure this anniversary was a big deal. It’s no mean feat, being the 153rd largest country in the world, especially when you border Russia.

Estonia is not even 3/4ths of the size of the State of West Virginia, but hey, at least they’ve got universal health care and free education for all, so they’re a heck of a lot more civilized than we Americans are. Something I didn’t know is that its territory includes 2,222 islands as well. That’s nothing to sneeze at.

Don’t get me wrong. It hasn’t been easy being an Estonian throughout history. Since the place thawed out and human settlement reached the area 13,000 years ago, it has been occupied, fought over, or at least invaded by Scandanavian and Germanic tribes, the Danes, the Germans, the Russians, the Swedes, and the Polish-Lithuanians, with all the devastation and famine such wars and occupations can cause. Then Russia stood on their neck, basically, until around 1850, when people started looking around and saying, “Hey, we have a national culture and identity, here.”

After decades of struggles, crackdowns and revolutions, World War I, and invasions back and forth between Russia and Germany and Russia again, And that unsuccessful independence declaration in 1918, Estonia and Soviet Russia signed the Tartu Peace Treaty on February 2, 1920, and Soviet Russia “permanently gave up all sovereign claims to Estonia.” Happy birthday!

But you knew it wouldn’t be that clean cut, didn’t you? Of course not. Constitution after constitution, the Great Depression, and then, blam, World War II, which placed Estonia back into the Soviet sphere of influence, causing it to be officially occupied by them. Again. Whew. I’m tired, just reading this, aren’t you?

Then came a period of oppression, deportations to Siberia, and war, where part of Estonia was captured by Germany. Then the Soviets invaded. Again. And the Estonians didn’t want to be on either side of this conflict, and therefore got caught in the middle. The Estonians resisted the Soviets after the war, so the soviets responded with a campaign of Russification, which encouraged Russians to settle the area. By 1989, Estonians only comprised 62 percent of the population.

So why do we consider 1920 to be the establishment of this poor battered country? Because many Western countries considered the annexation of Estonia by the Soviets to be illegal, and so a government-in-exile was established. Their independence was restored on August 20, 1991, and that’s a national holiday to this day. But they also celebrate February 24th as their independence day since that was the date they first declared independence in 1918. The last of the Russian army left Estonia in 1994. If I were them, though, I wouldn’t rest very easy, because, well, Putin, and clearly they can’t count on help from Trump.

Through it all, though, Estonia has trundled on, and has even managed to develop a very strong IT sector. Estonia is where Skype was born. And it was the first post-Soviet republic to legalize civil unions, too. Good for them!

So I’m thinking, if any country needs birthday wishes and a slice of cake, even if it is belated (or not, depending on how you look at it), it’s Estonia. Happy birthday! You sure have earned it, a thousand times over.


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A horrible part of human history that I knew nothing about.

Kolyma was a word that I had never heard until a few months ago. I suspect only 1 out of every 100 Americans has ever heard it. On the other hand, it likely causes the average Russian to shudder.

It is a region in the far eastern part of Russia, and is part of Siberia. It’s a harsh climate, bitterly cold all year round, and covered in permafrost. It’s isolated, and inaccessible for the better part of the year. You can only reach the place by boat for the very brief period when the ice breaks up on the Sea of Okhotsk.

Humans are not meant to live in such harsh conditions, and no one in their right mind would do so. Not voluntarily. Kolyma is a place to be avoided.

From 1930 to about 1954, it was home to the most brutal labor camp in Soviet history. It is estimated that 250,000 to more than a million people died there, after working in this Gulag under starvation conditions, mostly to extract gold.

It was a place where violent criminals were considered the cream of the crop. They got the most privileges. The inmates that were treated the worst were the political prisoners, which mostly consisted of academics or intellectuals.

You could find yourself sent to Kolyma for a variety of trivial reasons. One man, it is said, was sent there for refusing to write a song about Stalin. You could also wind up there for decades, if you survived, simply for speaking out against the state or refusing to incriminate friends or colleagues. After World War II, many Soviet POWs who were released by the allies were then sent to Kolyma for 10-25 years for “collaborating with the enemy”.

Many authors have written about Kolyma. The one who has touched me the most during my research on this post was former prisoner Varlam Shalamov. You can read one of his moving stories, Condensed Milk, on-line. It really shows how much your humanity can be taken away from you, and how your whole focus, your whole survival, can be reduced to one can of condensed milk. You can also read some chilling quotes from his book, Kolyma Tales, here.

It is said that this Gulag shut down in 1953, but many people, oddly enough, remained there voluntarily. And in truth, there were still some prisoners there. The last prisoner was supposedly released in 1990. Most structures in Kolyma are disintegrating now, and most people are gone. But no one knows for sure how many bodies lie beneath the permafrost.

What I find most disturbing about Kolyma is that it occupied such a horrible place in human history, and yet so few people know about it. It makes you wonder what else we are missing.

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Was this a country I never heard of? How is that even possible?

I saw that word for the first time in my life at the Nordic Museum here in Seattle. And there was a beautiful flag underneath. It was in a display, right next to similar displays for Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Iceland and Finland. Was this a country I never heard of? How is that even possible?

Upon further investigation, I learned that Sápmi is the land of the Sami people, and it stretches over vast swaths of Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Russia. There may be as many as 135,000 Sami people roaming around out there. And they have been around since prehistoric times, inhabiting the area for at least 5,000 years. Again, how had I never heard of them?

Turns out I have. But in elementary school I was taught that they are called Laplanders, or Lapps. Apparently these are actually derogatory terms.

I was taught that they herded reindeer. That fascinated me. But currently only 10 percent of them are doing this, even though, in some regions, they are the only people allowed to do so. They also herd sheep, and are known for fishing and fur trapping as well.

Over the years, they have suffered the same indignities as other indigenous people. Land encroachment. Suppression of their language and culture. Forced relocation and assimilation. Sterilization (which went on until 1975). Children taken far away to missionary schools. The fact that they have their own parliaments, university, anthem and flag tells you much about their ability to resist such outrages.

The Sami people have contributed much to science, exploration, literature, art, music, politics and sports. Theirs is a vibrant culture. Sadly, due to the suppression of their many languages, all their languages are considered in danger of dying out, and that usually is a death knell for a culture. But I genuinely believe that the more of us that learn about and celebrate these fascinating people, the more likely that their culture will continue to survive for future generations.

Don’t you just love learning something new?

The Flag of Sápmi

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Civil Trade War

So now Trump thinks Canada is a security risk? Oh, come on. Those people won’t even jaywalk at an intersection. Seriously. There could be no cars for miles, and they’d still patiently wait for the crossing signal.

Trump imposing tariffs on Mexico, Canada, and the European Union is like walking up to your three best friends in the school yard and punching them each in the throat. Just ‘cuz.

As if we weren’t already convinced that this man is an idiot, he now decides to do something that has absolutely no upside, even for him. But oh, yeah, it certainly has taken our focus off of Russia, hasn’t it? He does like to stir shit up.

Smoke and mirrors. It’s all smoke and mirrors. The next election can’t come fast enough.

For some reason, though, a lot of people don’t quite get (yet) what a global pissing match Trump has just set off. So let’s scale it down a bit for easier comprehension.

Let’s say the Governor of Maine doesn’t like the Governor of Georgia. So Maine decides to impose a tariff on all peaches. This means that it gets a lot more expensive for Georgia to get their peaches to consumers in Maine. This causes the Governor of Georgia’s head to explode, and he says, “Fine! We are now putting a tariff on Lobsters! Take that!”

Well, messing with Lobsters in Maine is like touching the third rail. This cannot be borne! So Maine says, okay, now we’re going to put a tariff on airplanes. (You may not know this, but Georgia’s top export is airplanes.)

But hold on. Airplanes are also the top export in California, Arizona, Washington, Kansas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Arkansas, Ohio, Kentucky, North Carolina, Florida, and Connecticut. So they all sit up tensely and blink, too. What’s going to happen next? They all start looking around to see how they can hurt other states who might hurt them. Everyone is poised for battle.

That’s really how the civil war started. Only back then, the commodity was slaves. Not only won’t we buy your slaves, but you can’t have them either. And before we knew it, hundreds of thousands of Americans were dead.

This trade war? Worst idea ever. Thanks, Trump. Way to go.

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I wrote an actual book, and you can own it! How cool is that?

Feeling Helpless About Syria

Unless you live in a cave somewhere, you know what’s going on in Aleppo, Syria right now. And if you’re like me, you’re feeling pretty darned helpless about it. People are being slaughtered and I’m looking at my empty guest room. I’d take them all in if I could. I’d stack ‘em up like cordwood. At least they’d be warm and not have to worry about the world exploding around them.

But it’s not that simple. I wish it were. Contrary to what the Republicans would have you believe, it is extremely difficult to sponsor a refugee. I’ve looked into it.

This is the same level of helplessness I felt during the slaughter in Rwanda. And it’s the same frustration I continue to feel about the Chinese occupation of Tibet. No government seems to be willing to step up and do something about this atrocity. Everyone is looking the other way. People are starving. Children are dying. Women are committing suicide rather than be raped. Men are being blown to bits. And even the UN, despite various resolutions, seems loathe to intervene.

I did find a little comfort in this fundraiser for The White Helmets. This group of heroes has been saving lives in Syria, on a purely volunteer basis, since 2013. They’ve put themselves in the path of the bombs to pull people out of the rubble, and according to their website, have saved 73,530 lives to date. The stories on this website will break your heart.

They risk their lives every single day, while I stare at my empty guest room. I feel sick. And while raising money for this amazing group of people doesn’t seem like nearly enough to do, it’s all I can think of to do at this time. Won’t you help? Even as little as $5.00 will buy them a pair of safety goggles to protect their eyes. That’s better than sitting here watching the tears flow from mine.

I just donated enough for 5 goggles. I wish I could afford to contribute enough money for a gas mask or a defibrillator. I wish I could do more. But together, we can do a lot more than just sit and wring our hands. That counts for something, right?


I’d much rather that you donate to the cause above, but after you’ve done that, if the spirit moves you, check out my refreshingly positive book for these depressingly negative times.

Bone Records

I heard an amazing story on NPR’s All Things Considered the other day. Apparently in the 1950’s in Russia, censorship was so fully in effect that you couldn’t get Western rock n’ roll music. Even being in possession of such music could send you to prison.

Censorship in all its forms tends to backfire. When you tell people they cannot have something, it makes them want that thing very, very badly. (Just ask anyone who ever bought a Cuban cigar in the US.)

The Russians were very innovative in coming up with a way around this censorship. They learned how to etch music onto used x-ray film. These bootleg records were therefore called “Bone Records” and were sold in back alleys in the dead of night. They can still occasionally be found in flea markets and garage sales.

The quality of the music on these x-rays was not high. It kind of sounds scratchy, and like it’s coming from the inside of a tin can. But such was their thirst for music that they were willing to put up with this and even risk their freedom for it. That really impresses me. That tells you all you need to know about the human craving for art in all its forms.

A guy named Stephen Coates has written a book on the subject called X-Ray Audio: The Strange Story of Soviet Music on the Bone. This is definitely on my “to read” list. The NPR story was an interview with Mr. Coates. Listen to the story, read the book, and tell me what you think.

At the very least, take a minute to appreciate your ready access to music as the luxury that it is.

bone records
[Image credit:]

The Doukhobors

It’s amazing what you can learn by randomly surfing through Youtube. Today I was once again presented with the uncomfortable truth that there is a heck of a lot that I don’t know. It’s also an exciting truth, because I love it when my horizons are broadened, and there’s a world of potential out there.

I think it’s fairly safe to say that most Americans don’t give much thought to Canadians, our neighbors to the north. If you did a random survey, I bet most of us couldn’t name a single Canadian politician, or list more than two Canadian provinces. That’s pretty pathetic.

Our lack of knowledge becomes even more laughable when we tentatively dip our toes into Canadian history. Yup. They have a history, too.

Which brings me to the Doukhobors, a group of people that I didn’t even know existed until today. The average Canadian would probably be shocked by this gap in my knowledge given the fact that they have had a fairly significant impact on the Canadian cultural landscape, but there you have it. Some consider some of the Doukhobors to be Canada’s first terrorists.

My introduction to the Doukhobors was a very interesting documentary called Lost Childhood: Russian Doukhobors or Sons of Freedom. From there I was hooked and wanted to know more. I then watched a documentary entitled My Doukhobor Cousins.

A gross oversimplification is that the Doukhobors are a Christian sect that believes in pacifism, communal living, and very little government. They refuse to take oaths of allegiance, resist registering births, and eschew public education.

While in Russia, the Doukhobors burned their guns and refused military service. This did not sit well with the Csar, and they were displaced. This would not be the last time the Doukhobors were driven from their land.

In 1899, six thousand of them emigrated to Canada. Leo Tolstoy, a long-time supporter of this movement, used the royalties from one of his books and paid about half of their relocation expenses.

But Canadians were always suspicious of the communal living and refusal of public education, so this group did not assimilate well. In 1907 Canada took more than 1/3 of their land back because they refused to register it in the name of individuals rather than groups.

This caused the Doukhobors to split into three groups: those who wanted to give up communal ownership of land, those who wanted to remain true to their beliefs, and the radical Sons of Freedom.

The Sons of Freedom would stage passive protest marches. Unfortunately they chose to do so in the nude. Their message was, “You’ve taken everything else from us, so why not take our clothes, too?”

Because of this shocking turn of events, Canada criminalized nudity in 1932, bringing with it a three year prison sentence. Over the years more than 300 Sons of Freedom Doukhobors served time.

This further radicalized the Sons of Freedom, and they began resorting to arson, even against their fellow Doukhobors, and bombings. This flew in the face of their pacifist origins.

In an effort to make them “good Canadians”, in 1953, 174 children of the Sons of Freedom were snatched and forced to live in a school surrounded by a fence that was basically a prison compound. For 6 years, these children only got to see their parents once every two weeks, and only then through the prison fence. They were beaten if they spoke Russian, so much of their cultural identity was lost.

This further radicalized their parents (and the students themselves when they became adults) and accelerated the arson and bombings. But these violent protests seem to have petered out in the 1970’s, and as the Doukhobor community ages, it is also shrinking.

While I do have a problem with the concept of no education, the rest of the original Doukhobor lifestyle seems relatively harmless to me. It could be argued that their radicalization was a result of government meddling. The Canadian Doukhobor history could be studied as a lesson in how to avoid creating domestic terrorism.

I love learning new things! It’s just sad when those new things are so tragic.