Regions of Mind

Self-assured but self-questioning.

U.S. regionalism,
foreign policy,
politics, life.

Geitner Simmons is an editorial writer with the Omaha World-Herald.
This weblog expresses his personal views only.
He is also
a Midwesterner,
a Southerner,
a husband, a father, a son. And always
a student.

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Thursday, June 12

Regions of Mind has moved to a new location, here.

My thanks to everyone who has stopped by here over the past year.

Wednesday, June 11

I am intending to launch the new site for this blog on Thursday. The name will remain Regions of Mind. An upcoming post here will provide the new URL. See you then.

Tuesday, June 10
Is it the Christian cross -- or only Thor's hammer?

A boar spear could be quite an effective combat tool when wielded by a Viking who understood its qualities.

Not far from the spear’s tip was a short metal bar secured at a perpendicular angle to the spear’s shaft. A Viking fighter could remain at a safe distance, use the metal bar to hook an opponent’s shoulder and rip into it. Or, if the opponent was using a shield, the Viking could use the metal bar to grab the shield’s edge and force the shield aside; with his opponent thus exposed, the Viking could make a quick lunge and skewer him.

The techniques of Viking combat were one of the points explained during a Viking re-enactor program at the recent Tivolifest, a Danish heritage celebration in Elk Horn, Iowa. Two groups of Viking re-enactors (one from Omaha, the other from Minnesota) set up an elaborate 11th century camp, demonstrated medieval crafts and put on a series of mock battles in a nearby field. I and my family were among those in attendance. It was quite a way to spend a late Sunday afternoon.

The mock battle began with two groups of about six Viking fighters each facing each other and shouting provocative remarks (in some Norse tongue). Then, with shields close together in phalanx-like fashion, the two sides slowly moved toward each other, grunting and banging their swords on their shields until the fighters came within striking distance of each other.

The Omaha re-enactors have Web pages here and here.

The most fearsome-looking Viking fighter was covered with black and brown animal skins and was referred to as a “berserker.” Berserkers were infamous as crazed fighters. Some would enter combat naked. Most drank a powerful drink that would narcotize them, feeding their rage even as it heightened their ability to tolerate pain. Berserkers grew increasingly reckless and uncontrollable outside the battlefield, to the point that authorities felt obliged to reign them in:

In 1015 King Erik outlawed berserks, along with holmganga or duels ... it had become a common practice for a berserker to challenge men of property to holmgang, and upon slaying the unfortunate victim, to take possession of his goods, wealth, and women. This was a difficult tactic to counter, since a man so challenged had to appear, have a champion fight for him, or else be named ni(dh)ingr, a coward.

The re-enactors included a wide range of Viking types, from a Viking who was part of an elite guard for the Byzantine Empire around 1000 to a Viking trader called “Ivor the Rus.” As the re-enactors’ Web site explains,

In order to be able to keep the fancy of all his customers, Ivor would’ve had to make it possible to claim both of the popular religions of the time. Simply by changing the way a piece of jewelry hung from his neck, he could show favor for one or the other, pagan or Christian. The usual, Thor’s Hammer, that most Viking men wore as a talisman of the Norse thunder god, was simply fashioned in such a way as to allow the wearer to invert it and portray the Christian symbol of the Cross.

One female re-enactor, representing a Viking woman in Russia, explained that in Viking culture, married women were obliged to cover their hair.

A male re-enactor, representing an “Anglo-Dane” in medieval England, noted that during the Vikings’ day, chain mail was expensive and used only by the well-to-do, whereas leather was cheap and widely available. Today, though, the opposite is true: Re-enactors who use chain mail, he said, don’t have to pay much for the metal they use. But re-enactors using leather have to pay quite a bit.

By the way: In 1999, at the very end of my North Carolina days, my final historical project at my old newspaper examined a Spanish expedition that traveled through Piedmont North Carolina in the 1560s. In putting that series of articles together, I had the privilege of working with an outstanding historical re-enactment group from Florida. The group specializes in 16th century Spanish explorer re-enactment. I plan to post on Spanish explorer topics here at some point in the not-too-distance future. Fascinating stuff.

No wimpy Dukakis, he

John Kerry may speak dreamily to the ideals of liberal Democrats, but he also knows how to use a gun.

And how to bring down doves.

And then skin ’em and eat ’em.

From the Washington Post:

The hat was a little mildewy. The green camouflage was fading, the seams fraying.

"My good luck hat," Kerry said, happy to see it. "Given to me by a CIA guy as we went in for a special mission in Cambodia."

Kerry put on the hat, pulling the brim over his forehead. His blue button-down shirt and tie clashed with the camouflage. He pointed his finger and raised his thumb, creating an imaginary gun. He looked silly, yet suddenly his campaign message was clear: Citizen-soldier. Linking patriotism to public service. It wasn't complex after all; it was Kerry.

He smiled and aimed his finger: "Pow."

(via a listserv run by Democratic activist/law student/blogger Wyeth Ruthven)

By the way: In their respective campaigns for the U.S. Senate, Nebraska Democrats Bob Kerrey and Ben Nelson have both played up their hunting enthusiasm during campaign time. Nelson succeeded Kerrey in 2000, when Kerrey opted not to seek re-election.

The wrong niche

Have you ever bought a product that was out of your “demographic”?

That was the case this week when my wife bought a modest cell phone. Although it has a sober silver design and fully meets our needs, the phone is geared toward teen-agers in several ways. One of its features is an option to receive daily updates from MTV.

Like, I don’t think so.

By the way: On a serious note, I heard on the radio program “Marketplace” this morning that teens are beginning to receive a lot of spam in their daily e-mail -- spam that includes pornographic material. I cringe at that, considering how graphic some of the material is that turns up in spam I receive.

Monday, June 9
Trade obstacles to our south

This article from In The National Interest explains how Brazil’s government remains an obstacle in promoting a Free Trade Area of the Americas. The piece also notes how frictions with the United States have undercut Mexico’s clout in promoting regional trade agreements:

Originally one of the main proponents of the FTAA, Mexico has been forced to build its own coalition after falling out of favor with the United States. Turning to its much-neglected neighbors to the south, Mexico is negotiating a free-trade agreement with Central America. President Vicente Fox has campaigned hard to gather a following for the Plan Puebla-Panama, a free-trade area that would unite the region from Mexico in the north to Panama in the south.

However, following Mr. Fox’s announcement that he would not support a U.S.-led intervention in Iraq , things have gotten harder for Mexico and -- in terms of negotiating trade treaties -- Mexico has lost some if its bargaining power. No longer viewed as the bridge to the U.S., a trade agreement with Mexico is not as critical as it was just a few months ago. As a result, the Central American nations -- in an attempt to hedge their bets -- have also begun negotiations for a free-trade agreement with the United States.

Big-media reporters and their city-mice ways

Predictable, but still infuriating: Reporters from the New York and London newspapers were polite in interviewing folks in the North Carolina mountain town where Eric Rudolph was arrested, but in their articles they unfairly trashed the town’s reputation. As described in an Atlanta Journal-Constitution article:

Murphy residents are equally outraged by the way they believe the town has been portrayed to the world -- as a cousin-marrying, white lightning-swiggin', backward-stepping, white-supremacist-infested stronghold.

"The most frustrating thing is, you talk to these (media) people face to face, they're complimentary about your town -- telling us this is the nicest spot for covering news they've been in -- and then they get back and you can't believe what they write," said Tammi Johnson, manager of the Daily Grind, a gourmet coffee and wine shop.

Mayor Bill Hughes, retired from the Cherokee County school system, has an article from the New York Times and two from the London Times on his desk. Hughes is in disbelief about what he has just finished reading. ...

A London Times writer described Murphy as full of "aging sawmills and Baptist churches."

"Have you seen a sawmill since you've been here?" Hughes asked. "They make it sound like everybody up here can't walk straight because of cousin inbreeding," said the mayor, who has three degrees in education.

Yes, that’s just what they do: The parachute-journalists-as-piranhas find it easy to resort to stereotypes. I’ve seen that happen here in Nebraska, the same as I did back in North Carolina.

GOP anger; high art and urban landscapes; the Brown decision

  • Boy, are Republican activists in South Dakota cheesed off at this Democrat (and it’s not Tom Daschle).

  • Excellent op-ed piece at the NYT about how Lincoln Center is part of a failed urban vision from the 1950s and ’60s:

    Like the acoustics of Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Center has never really worked. This island of culture stands apart from the city like a fortress, with an elevated plaza on the east offering a lukewarm welcome to one segment of society while concrete walls shut off the less fortunate segment represented by the public housing to the west. Centers like this deaden urban street life, bringing a rush of traffic and human activity all at one time and then lying almost dormant the rest of the day, like a stadium without a game.

    So it seems almost inevitable that the New York Philharmonic would leave Avery Fisher to return to its ancestral home, Carnegie Hall, declared an anachronism in the era of urban renewal. The alleged outdatedness of Carnegie Hall was part of the rationale for Lincoln Center's construction in the 1960's. In fact, it is Lincoln Center that is outdated, even though 70 years newer. ...

    the Philharmonic's move is like a shot heard around the world. This could begin the undoing of the country's islands of culture -- some with streets, some without -- from Miami to Dallas to Washington that sit in isolated glory, strangers in their own neighborhoods.

  • I knew that some New England states place great emphasis on municipal government, but I had no idea that county government, in Maine at least, is such a nonentity. The governor’s budget package includes a push to consolidate town governments into regional entities; the measure is meeting much resistance from the public.

  • DNA testing is used to resolve uncertainties over the death of Billy the Kid. Reports the article: “The goal now, he said, is to compare genetic evidence of Catherine Antrim -- the woman believed to be the Kid's mother, who died in 1874 and is buried in Silver City, N.M. -- and of Brushy Bill, who lived out his life in Texas.” Genetic testing is being used in Kansas, too, to look into the demise of Jesse James. xavier Basora sent me a link to a National Post article on that, but the link is no longer viable due to my tardiness.

  • Next year will mark the 50th anniversary of Brown vs. Board of Education; Chris Scott points that out at the Insecure Egoist. Chris links to an article explaining how a South Carolina case was consolidated into the Brown case. I imagine I’ll have several posts next year on the Brown topic, given that it includes the intersection of race, history, the Midwest and the South. If that isn’t something that I’d post on, nothing is.

  • Jim Bakker has returned to TV.

    Sorry, this is all I have time for right now. I’ve spent most of my normal blogging time working on the new site for this blog. The new site will make its appearance in a few days.

  • Friday, June 6
    More on Raines

    While the topic of Howell Raines' resignation is still fresh, I'll mention this vivid graf from a Village Voice piece last April on the Raines regime at the NYT (I ran across the article while researching a non-Raines-related topic today):

    According to insiders, Raines is the kind of 1950s-style autocrat who manages through humiliation and fear. Aside from right-hand men Gerald Boyd and Andy Rosenthal and a core of loyalists, morale is said to be at a new low. There are many rooms in that palace and nobody sees the whole picture. But, says one source, "the old timers who lived through the worst of [former executive editor] Abe Rosenthal say they have never seen anyone be so arrogant, so petty, so mean. Vindictiveness is in." Another source says, "It's no longer about managing down. It's about paying obeisance to the king." Among cognoscenti, 43rd Street is now known as the "republic of fear."

    A familiar irony

    The oddity of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, whose membership includes unapologetically thuggish regimes, is frequently pointed out. The same irony was demonstrated this week in a U.N. conference touting the importance of democracy. Democratic change is a legitimate and important topic, but the U.N. gathering was held in Beirut -- the capital of a country with a sham democracy. Did anyone at the conference speak out forcefully against the strangling of Lebanese democracy by Syrian puppet masters? I hope so, but I doubt it.

    The article I link to reports that "Butros Butros Ghali spoke of the necessity of instilling the democratic principles inside the United Nations and the participation of non-governmental sides in forming norms and resolutions pertaining to the future of the globe." Handing NGOs even more power on the international stage: Now that would promote U.S. interests and security, wouldn't it?

    Onto to Omaha Beach

    Next year will mark the 60th anniversary of D-Day; hard to believe. Today, of course, marks the 59th.

    Shortly after he issued the order for the launch of D-Day, Dwight Eisenhower wrote the following note; he ordered an aide to release it immediately to the press if the invasion proved a debacle:

    Our landings in the Cherbourg-Harve area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops. My decision to attack at this time and place was based upon the best information available. The troops, the air and the Navy did all that Bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt it is mine alone.


    July 5

    A facsimile of the message, written in pencil on a plain white pad, is available here. Yes, Eisenhower mistakenly dated the message "July 5."

    As I've mentioned here on occasion, Eisenhower and I are directly related. We both have a common 18th century ancestor back in the Palatine region of Germany. Children of that German immigrated to Pennsylvania. Some descendants eventually moved south (my maternal forebears) while others moved west (Eisenhower's forebears).

    By the way: This info, including the URL, comes from Friend 3, whose observations have made occasional appearances here and who writes today that he "is looking forward to the new location" of Regions of Mind.

    And: My new blog goes up sometime next week. Won't be any radical change from this one. But I hope to say goodbye to the technical problems that have become a hassle for myself and for visitors here. Have a good weekend, everyone.

    Thursday, June 5
    More spats among the Dems

    Work on my new blog is progressing. But I'm still posting here for the time being. Anyway, to business:

    The jousting between the Democratic Party's centrist and staunchly liberal factions continues. Harold Meyerson of The American Prospect fired back at the Democratic Leadership Council in a Washington Post op-ed piece. (Here is a related TAPPED post.)

    Notable quotes from the Meyerson piece:
    This year, the Democrats can only benefit from offering voters a major program that will make health care more attainable, affordable and secure. ...

    Lieberman is the only candidate who has forsworn all populism, and for whom the very notion of playing class politics -- even against an administration that has unceasingly waged class politics in behalf of the rich to the detriment of everyone else -- is anathema.
    In their zeal to demonize liberals, though, From and Reed miss the pragmatism that informs today's movement.

    How the Gephardt's health-care proposal, which Meyerson praises, can be accurately labeled "pragmatic" is beyond me. Philip Terzian, of the Providence Journal, pegged it right in a recent column (I'm not bothering to provide a link because registration is required):

    Huge, unwieldy, immensely expensive, a bewildering combi­nation of tax hikes, unfunded mandates and gigantic subsidies to large corporations, the Gep­hardt proposal is (in the words of a friendly Time reporter) “a clas­sic Old Democratic plan, pegged to a constituency that is shrivel­ing: the Big America of Rust Belt manufacturing and trade unions."

    Gephardt's opponents [the other Democratic presidential contenders during the recent South Carolina debate] were momentarily caught off guard.

    Their first reaction was to con­centrate on the plan's estimated expense ($247 billion per year and counting), its burdensome cost to entrepreneurs and small business, and the odds against its ever surviving congressional scrutiny. But their second reac­tion was pragmatic: Gephardt's plan may be delusional, but at least it's a plan.

    In the absence of any other overarching issue, Richard Gep­hardt had made his call for uni­versal mandatory health insur­ance the Democratic litmus test for 2004.

    For their part, leaders with the DLC had some fun this week by tweaking liberal Democrats attending a meeting of the Campaign for America's Future, a group formed in the '90s. Wrote the DLCers:

    We cannot regain the White House if we raise new doubts in Americans' minds about Democrats, or if we deepen, rather than rebut, the lingering doubt that Karl Rove and company exploited in the midterm elections: that too many Americans don't much trust us to protect them against terrorists and other threats to our national security. We're not convinced that your panel on "Next Stages for the Peace Movement" will reassure the country on this count. We will continue to speak out for an assertive, principled American role in the world, and bold, smart measures to make America safer at home. ...

    But let's not make the next several months a test of who's the loudest, maddest Democrat. ...

    Again, best of luck at your conference. If you join us in the effort to make the Democratic Party's support broader and deeper, there will be more than enough of that Ben & Jerry's ice cream and Newman's Organic Cookies to go around.


    On another matter, Democrats are stepping up their PR offensive against Republicans -- not just through Al Franken's verbal drubbing of Bill O'Reilly (a scene very heartening to the political left, I'd imagine) but also through the formation of a $10 million think tank/PR apparatus explicitly intended as a left-wing counterpart to the Heritage Foundation. there's nothing wrong with that; we'll just have to see how the institution fares in the marketplace of ideas and in public reaction.


    On a Democratic-related note, here is the text of a short editorial in today's Omaha World-Herald:

    Activists with the Nebraska Democratic Party will no longer call their annual get-together the Jefferson-Jackson dinner. Thomas Jefferson was a slaveholder, and Andrew Jackson was a slaughterer of Indians, Democrats said in explaining their decision. (Of course, both men were also towering figures in the creation of the modern concept of democracy.) Will Democrats also boycott, out of high principle, any Lewis and Clark activities? That would seem logical, since the expedition, which included a slave owned by William Clark, was the brainchild of the unmentionable Mr. Jefferson.

    Tats in the NBA

    I found this NYT piece about the popularity of tatoos in the NBA surprisingly fascinating:

    The NBA finals that begin tonight between the Spurs and the Nets present a stark contrast in playing styles: New Jersey's stop-and-pop transition game against San Antonio's force-feed-Duncan offense. But another, if less obvious, contest is also being waged: part cultural, part generational and maybe even a tinge racial.

    It's not merely the Nets vs. the Spurs; it's tats and 'tude taking on a bunch of old-fangled Texans who refuse to go under the needle and ink. ...

    Over the past five years or so, body art on professional athletes has become so socially acceptable that, in an odd twist, players without tattoos have become the iconoclasts. ...

    Duncan, a quiet, unemotional, highly productive player, dispels the presumed link between rebelliousness and body art.
    "I know, you look at guys with tattoos and immediately think, those are the mean guys," Rose said. "But that's the stereotype. Believe it or not, there are guys with tattoos who are really nice guys. I use to have twists in my hair, had a 'fro, too. I'm a nice guy."

    The series between the Spurs and the Mavericks may have featured the fewest tattooed bodies on one NBA court at one time in recent years: a mere five players.

    Political principles north of the border

    Can't Colby Cosh make any topic sound interesting? I know a bit about the leadership fight within Canada's Progressive Conservative Party (enough, at least, to know I'm glad that the protectionist firebrand David Orchard didn't prevail), but even if I didn't, I would probably have found this Cosh post of interest:

    As the convention rhetoric made clear, the Conservative party exists only to be a big tent--why, it's the biggest and finest in all the land! It exists, as its name suggests, to take both the progressive and conservative side of every issue. MacKay was merely putting the old principle-of-no-principles into practice. The shock will wear off soon.

    Tuesday, June 3

    I hope to post here some more (among other things, I want to share fun material from a Viking re-enactor event my family attended), but blogging will be intermittent here for the time being. I'm going to move Regions of Mind off Blogger to a stable server. Should have done it a long time ago, of course. I'll provide the link once I get the new site up.

    Cavalry and aristocracy, infantry and democracy

    Jim Bennett, columnist for UPI, offered various thoughts, in response to an e-mail from me, in regard to my post below about the constitutional change in old California from principles of Mexican governance to those of an American system. Jim noted that the term alcalde (a type of unelected Mexican officer) has very deep roots and in fact originated in Arab culture:

    The implementation of the Anglosphere legal-political template in civil law societies (on which your discussion of the Lousiana experience not long ago was interesting) is something we take for granted but actually was a non-trivial accomplishment. I would suspect that even had the alcaldes functioned entirely consistently with Mexican law the Yankees would have found them intolerably arbitrary. We are just unused to a command structure of society.

    "Alcalde" by the way is derived from the Arabic "al-qaid", usually translated as "judge". Its survival in post-Reconquista Spain was one of many ways in which the Mideastern template continued to influence Spain, Latin America, and the American Southwest (as in Western water law, as you know.) We can see in post-Saddam Iraq how religious al-qaids are re-emerging as the accepted civil authority; it is an old, very deeply-engrained pattern in Islamic society.

    The formula "many are consulted, but one decides" is fundamentally a military paradigm, and demonstrates also the degree to which a military paradigm -- with centralized, top-down authority -- prevailed in the European Continent. It's no accident that the few states with effective citizen militias, local democracy, and decentralized traditions of civil and ecclesiastical government emerged in terrain where cavalry (the ultimate aristocratic arm) was at a disadvantage and the local bourgeoisie armed with standoff weapons (crossbows, logbows) and defensive technologies (cheveaux-de-frise and long pikes) had a chance of defeating aristocratic armies. Switzerland, the Netherlands, Scotland -- also the only countries where bishop-less Calvinists established themselves as the state religion.

    Such militia bands, in which each member had a high degree of skill, and where leaders were usually chosen by consensus, were as much schools of constitutional government, as cavalry regiments -- the heirs of the knights -- were schools of aristocracy.

    Going beyond talk

    Fritz Schranck, who runs the clear-eyed blog Sneaking Suspicions, has undertaken an impressive project: He's developed a plan to create the first new city in Delaware in 20 years.

    There is a need for such an incorporation, Fritz says, because of the confluence of various public needs in the Cape Region of eastern Sussex County, Del.

    It's important, Fritz says, to not just talk about a community but actually tackle it directly. A commendable endeavor.