Everything You Wanted to Know about Thanksgiving

“I celebrated Thanksgiving in an old-fashioned way. I invited everyone in my neighborhood to my house, we had an enormous feast, and then I killed them and took their land.”
– Jon Stewart

  • The first Thanksgiving was celebrated in 1863. Well, that’s when it became an official holiday in the United States. Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation for the new holiday, partly an attempt to assuage the nation’s deep divide during the Civil War.
  • The real first Thanksgiving, to celebrate and express gratitude for a bountiful harvest, lasted three days at Plymouth Colony. Over the following decades, Thanksgiving observance became an annual tradition in New England.
  • Only a few women partook of the Thanksgiving at Plymouth Colony in 1621. That’s because only four of the twenty women who arrived on the Mayflower survived the first winter. By that time, about half of the approximately fifty colonists were children and teenagers.
  • Native Americans outnumbered colonists by about two to one. Ninety men from the nearby Wampanoag joined the colonists. They soon became BFF with the Pilgrims.
  • There was no Black Friday shopping after the First Thanksgiving as there were no retail stores. And there was no UPS to deliver Amazon parcels. Nor was there NFL football, as the Pilgrims had no television.
  • Native Americans had no tradition of formal Thanksgiving; giving thanks was integral to daily life. “Every time anybody went hunting or fishing or picked a plant, they would offer a prayer or acknowledgment.”
  • Wild turkeys were abundant in the region, but probably not a centerpiece of the feast. Goose and duck and even pigeon were the wildfowl of choice. Eels and shellfish, such as lobster, clams and mussels, likely were on the table. No mashed potatoes and gravy; potatoes, white or sweet, had not yet made their way to North America. Cranberry sauce? It was not until fifty years later that an Englishman reported what resulted from boiling the red berries with sugar.
  • Thanksgiving at Plymouth colony began the centuries of friendship between European immigrants and Native Americans. America’s manifest destiny even gave inspiration to Adolph Hitler and his lebensraum.

Enjoy your Thanksgiving. If you need a conversation starter at the dinner table, try “How about that impeachment?”

Endless Mexican Cartel Violence

The current occupant of the White House has made danger from our southern border a relentless theme of his pandering to die-hard supporters. In truth, however, the murders, extortion, and kidnappings by Mexican crime cartels continue unabated.

Cartels use violence to compete for control of flow of the product. In the first nine months of 2019, the state Michoacan suffered 1,145 murders, on a pace to exceed the 1,338 killings in 2018. Small towns have formed vigilante groups to provide the protection that law enforcement can’t or won’t. Farmers are arming to protect themselves and their crops. Drivers transporting the produce are regularly hijacked and robbed. All this carnage is the result of crime cartels fighting to dominate the lucrative business of satisfying the insatiable appetite in the U.S.

By now, the astute reader has probably surmised this is about avocados.
Spanish conquistadors came to the so-called new world in the sixteenth century with a mission of conquest and plunder. They found a fruit they had never before seen. The indigenous inhabitants knew it by the Aztec name for testicle. The word sounded like “avocado” to the Spanish ear.
By the late nineteenth century, avocados had made their way to the U.S. Most people were unfamiliar with the fruit until the 1980s when producers launched a massive marketing campaign promoting avocados as a healthy food.

Avocados are so in demand and prices rising so high that organized crime wants in. Supplying the fruit is as profitable as the illegal drug business and also provides the the infrastructure to launder cash from extra-legal activities.

The unintended consequences of avocado toast.

Route 66 Midden

Middens provide endless fascination for archaeologists. Middens yield information about human diet and behavior, social ranking and wealth, environment, and climate change.

Oh, “midden” is the name scientists use for old trash. It comes from the Danish word “køkkenmødding,” literally translated as kitchen mound. Middens are places where garbage was dumped, usually out of the way from normal traffic, out of sight and away from smell.

Or in plain sight and ten feet from traffic.

Continue reading “Route 66 Midden”

Google Not Being Evil

Google was famous for its distillation of business practices into the motto “Don’t be evil.” The phrase prefaced its corporate code of conduct, promulgated in 2000. Last year the company quietly removed the phrase. The company’s code of conduct is now more typically corporate-speak: “… the highest possible standards of ethical business conduct …” and so on.

(I am reminded of the pithy code of conduct posted at the late, lamented Powerhouse Brewery in Sebastopol California: “Be Nice or Leave.”)

Google recently paid $2.1 billion to buy Fitbit, maker of the tracking device worn by millions of health enthusiasts. Google now has not just the number of steps a person takes; Fitbit also records a person’s gender and date of birth, along with location, heart rate, sleep habits and more. (Of course, Google already knows where a person is and has been, in real life and on the Internet.)

Google’s mission to know — and monetize — every thing about every person. They recently partnered with Ascension, the second-largest health system in the U.S. Fitbit fills in some blanks around people’s health history including lab results, doctor diagnoses and hospitalization records. So far, they’ve gathered millions of health care records from hospitals in twenty-one states.

Neither doctors nor patients have been told that the data is being shared with Google, but there is no need for worry, because they won’t be evil.

The Ironic “Louie Louie”

The version of “Louie Louie” recorded by Portland band the Kingsmen reached number 2 on the pop music charts in 1963. Parents were outraged by the song’s supposedly obscene lyrics. Teenagers reveled in what they thought was a dirty song being played on the radio. The Federal Bureau of Investigation even delved into it, analyzing whether “Louie Louie” was smutty. The band was close-lipped but enjoyed the controversy that drove record sales higher.

The Kingsmen had paid $50 to rent the studio. They recorded the song in one take, gathered around a single microphone. The singer Jack Ely stood on his toes shouting at the boom mic, place too high.

Continue reading “The Ironic “Louie Louie””

Random Climate Factoids

Wineries and growers in California are hedging their risk from a changing climate by purchasing vineyard land in Oregon and Washington. The Northwest states, relative newcomers to the wine business, initially were known for Pinot Noir and Riesling, varieties that struggled in cooler environments but did spectacularly well some vintages. The quality of Northwest wines, though, varied from year to year because of inconsistent weather. Wines produced in the prime regions of northern California, differentiated themselves according to micro-climates, with weather patterns predictably reliable each year.

As the planet warms, vintners see northern California wine grapes becoming more like their cousins in the dry, hot Central Valley: abundant yields producing wines lacking nuance, usually blended into inexpensive bulk-produced wines. Northwest climate is becoming what California was, growing premium wine grapes that are now thriving further north.

Continue reading “Random Climate Factoids”