In Search for Eklutna Annie

The Jewelry Worn By Eklutna Annie on the day she was murdered.

The events of the last few days, along with hard work restoring the deck, and more than a couple of beers, sent me down the path of needing some time off. The topic of discussion on the social media of a friend led me to watch, “The Frozen Ground” a 2013 film about serial killer Robert Hansen.

As many serial killers have, Hansen preyed on prostitutes, whose illegal occupation keeps them moving around more than people with illegal and steady jobs. Drug abuse, alcoholism, and homelessness plagues these women, so they are perfect targets for serial killers, as well as sexual assault.

I read a book about the Green River Killer, Gary Ridgeway, who claimed he hated women, and that above all things drove him to murder. At the same time, Ridgeway was aided and abetted by a system that pays women less than men, gives them fewer opportunities for work, and allows sexual harassment to be difficult to prove and harder to prosecute. I’ve been desperately poor in my life, worked some very shitty jobs for low pay, but no matter where I went, and what job was offered, sex for money was never anything anyone pushed me towards. A man can always find a job, for some sort of money, but a woman will always find someone willing to take advantage of her.

People consider Thomas Jefferson and other Founding Fathers as somewhat divine, but Jefferson’s sexual relationship with one of his slaves, Sally Hemings, cannot be construed as consensual. Jefferson was intelligent enough to know the woman would not, and could not refuse him, and he knew rejection on the part of Hemings would have been inconceivable, no pun intended. This is rape, and no other word more clearly defines it.

Likewise, prostitution is not wholly consensual in a system that marginalizes women’s abilities to make a living. Making prostitution illegal guarantees that the sellers must sell lower to attract buyers who also run the risk of arrest, however slight that may be in some areas. Prostitution is a form of rape women are paid to endure, and men pay to enjoy, with many more severe consequences for the women than the men, both physically and emotionally.

Alaska, like prostitution, has a reputation for being something it isn’t, as some people look at movies like “Pretty Woman” and wonder if it’s not all like that, instead of the desperate reality of women living hand to mouth selling their bodies. Alaska, with its pristine forests and snow-covered mountaintops, also has a seedy, dirty, secret life where women are second class citizens, native women routinely go missing, and arrest for sexual assault is rare.

The scenery of “The Frozen Ground” bars no holds in its portrayal of the alcohol fueled bar scene of topless dancers and sex for money in Anchorage.

Robert Hansen confessed to murdering a young woman back in the late 70’s, and claimed she was his first. A badly decomposed body of the woman was found, and because she had no identity, she was called Eklutna Annie.

Last night, I had a disjointed, scattered and fearful dream. Dimly lit streets, dingy snow, crowds of people, and I was looking for Eklutna Annie, to tell her not to get into the car with that guy. But each turn was a new road, somewhere else, the night shifted to day, the snow was there, gone, and then back again. I never found her. I woke up and couldn’t get back to sleep, Lilith wanted out, and so from about three in the morning on, I haven’t slept.

Gary Ridgway’s path of destruction included at least fifty women. Ted Bundy’s killing spree was equally horrible. But one of Ridgway’s victims, one of the few he buried, was a seventeen-year-old whose identity remained hidden for years. She turned out to be a runaway, who walked away from her home at age fourteen. Her parents, and family, never reported her missing. She was simply gone for three years. No one was looking for her, no one was expecting her to come back, no one thought that she might be selling her body for drugs on the street, and eventually, targeted for rape and murder.

When pretty and blonde, Gabby Petito, was murdered by her boyfriend, the nation recoiled in shock and horror. Petito was on a cross country road trip, videoing her journey with the man she loved, as her family awaited her return in Florida. She had the money to do this, her family had the money to push for justice, and in the end, her boyfriend knew he would be hunted down for this murder.

Yet this is not the case for street walkers, sex workers, and runaways. Without the social status money brings, forced to work on their backs in dangerous and degrading conditions, poor women will never see the outrage when one of their own is murdered.

Men with money and power create a world where women are sexual creatures, to be bought and paid for, used, and then discarded without the social justice those with wealth can afford.

Nothing has changed since Jefferson’s days. Slavery may not be legal anymore, but the system that once allowed that sort of thing will always find a way to continue it.

Take Care,

Mike

Sunday Morning Grifers

The interstate is like a blood vein that transports people from one place to another, but it also transmits sexually transmitted diseases as well. In the world of transportation, Grifters are the disease of travel. To wit: Pulling into a gas station within spitting distance of I-75, I notice a guy standing outside, out of view of the cashier, and he’s watching people pull in. He waits until I start pumping gas, smiling, ambling over slowly, he strikes.

“Good morning, sir, would you like to have some free money today?” he asks.

“Oh my, a preacher, first thing in the morning,” I reply.

“I, what, what makes you say that?” he’s still smiling, but he’s stopped his spiel, and the advance on the would be victim.

“No one is giving away money these days, or any other day. Your con looks like this, you’ll offer me something of value, get me to agree to either listening to you, or agree to some sort of invitation, then you’re going to tell me heaven is worth more than money. It’s bait and switch, the oldest con in the books. It still works, that’s why it’s in the book,” I put fifty bucks worth in the truck, and the pump clicks off.

“But how did you know?” he asks.

“The smell of deceit and greed,” I tell him, hanging the pump up. “Go. Away.”

“I’ll pray for you,” he calls out.

“Good. It won’t hurt me, and it will keep you from active mischief,” I say loudly.

And away I go.

I’m looking for a life vest so I can go out with the kayak. Some places require you have one onboard, so I have to hit a retail store. I rather chew glass. But there is no other way, other than Amazon, and I do not want to wait.

I used to park in the back of the parking lot, and near a cart corral. But believe it or not, Grifters have started staking out cart corrals at retails near the Interstate. I’ve seen them take a cart from someone who has just unloaded it, push it five feet to the corral, and then ask for money, as if they’ve worked for it.

Now, I try to park in the middle of the parking lot, and across from a corral. Grifters have always been around, but they’ve become more numerous in the bad economy, and they’ve become creative. Anyone standing around talking to someone else is suspect. It’s damn early on a Sunday morning so I should be okay, but a man standing in front of the door draws my attention. Right. In. Front. Of. The. Door. It’s a good ploy because people have to walk around him, through him, or stop. I slow down, and he spots me. He looks around and realizes I’m waiting for someone else to get to the door before I do. A woman is headed in.

He knows what I am doing. But two points in time confound him. The woman is an easier mark, for women are more compassionate than men are, and he’s smoking a cigarette. Right. In. Front. Of. The. Door. He doesn’t want to move before the woman gets there, and he doesn’t want to ditch his smoke. I stop and take a photo of the sun barely burning through the clouds. The woman, who seems to understand the assignment, stops too, and she is texting someone. The Grifter doesn’t know what to do.

“The sun ain’t coming out today,” he calls to me, and I glance over to see the woman slipping towards the door, thinking the Grifter is distracted. I know she’s going to get there first, so I start walking, too. The Grifter is pleased I’m headed his way but sees the woman at the last second and turns. I go in through the out door, and the woman, who certainly has figured this out, points towards the other side of the parking lot, and when the Grifter turns to looks, she dashes through the door with a grin.

She and I trade a fist bump as we enter the store.

I drop back in the clothing section and watch. The Grifter has been had, and he knows it. In Grifter Code, nothing could be worse. He finishes his cigarette and decides to go hunting inside the store. I’m kind of hoping I’ll run into him, but I don’t. Once outside again, I sit in the truck and watch a woman with a suitcase waiting near a cart corral. Just another five Grifters before the end of the month, and I get a free set of steak knives, but enough is enough for one day.

Take Care,

Mike.

Cottonmouths and Santa Claus

When I got involved in Snake Identification in Facebook groups, I had no idea there was a culture, and subculture, that revolved around snake myths, and snake identification. I should have known, for if you get ten people together in a room for a week, by the end of that seven days, you’ll find narratives that have no basis in fact at all. Three people will believe the narrative, three will accuse the first three of lying, three will be indifferent, and one will have never heard of it.

Even before we are able to fully understand our mother language, as infants, we are fed the myth of Santa Claus. Every year, as we grow up, we see photos, videos, movies, hear songs, listen to adults and other children talk about Santa Claus, so we believe, because why wouldn’t we? Why would all of this be based on a lie?

But it is a lie. It’s not a misunderstanding, or some tightly held religious belief with no evidence, no, it is an outright lie.

Whether you want to admit it or not, whether or not you think it matters or not, parents teaching their children about Santa Claus is teaching those same kids, once they discover the truth, that lying is acceptable, and even more desirable, than the truth. To use a lie to modify someone’s behavior, like parents do when they tell their kids if they misbehave Santa won’t come, is perfect.

Here’s the fallout: Children will so reverently believe this lie they’ll repeat it to other children, and among the kids, will be stories of how one or the other, or some group, stayed up late, or got up early, and actually saw Santa. Others will see something in the sky and know, really know, deep down inside, they truly and honestly saw a red nose, brightly leading the sleigh through the sky. Moreover, as the kids get older and the lie gets harder to defend, and the truth becomes glaringly clear, both parents and children will pretend to believe, as to keep the lie alive, for just a little while longer.

Gee, Mike, that’s certainly a buzz kill, but what’s any of this got to do with Cottonmouths?

Here in The South, as I was growing up, I was told the tale of Hoops Snakes who would grab their tails in their mouths and roll like a hoop to chase you. Then there was the story of how Coachwhip snakes would chase you and whip you with their tails. And rattlesnakes had a poison dust in their rattles that would kill the unwary. Snakes hypnotized birds to catch them. And if you killed a rattlesnake, its mate would hunt you down by the next day. And there was the story of the water skier who fell into a nest of moccasins, and as rescuers tried to drag the lifeless body from the lake, the snakes were still hanging on!

Also, Cottonmouths would chase you.

None of this is true, of course, and most of these myths have slowly evaporated as videos become more and more ubiquitous, and the evidence for such snake activity becomes more and more impossible to prove.

Yet the one myth that seems to be the hardest to dispel is the one of Cottonmouths chasing people. In ID groups, long and irritating threads will stretch on and on, with the person claiming to be chased never relenting, never giving an inch, but yet never producing a photo or a video that their claim is true. They grew up hearing about people being chased, and they feel they are not part of their own culture if they do not produce a story about nearly being killed as they barely escaped the deadly fangs of the moccasin.

Yet there are issues here, and those issues are based in reality. The truth of the matter is while these snakes do strike swiftly, on land they are remarkably slow. The Cottonmouth got its moniker by its eponymous mouth agape position, showing its fangs. But it is impossible to chase anyone from this position as it is a purely defensive posture! Moreover, there have only been four recorded deaths from Cottonmouth bite in the United States. If these animals are so dangerous, and they do chase people, why is it so few people have been killed? Why is it so few people are bitten? Why is it we have no videos, why not hundreds of them, if the myth is not a myth?

The truth is we have “The Santa Claus Effect” here. People have been fed a lie, by people who were fed the lie, and each generation passes it own without thought. It’s true not because it happened but because it’s part of the culture. People lie about it, and find a ready audience for their lies, because they have already told the lie themselves. To argue this point is to find a group of people emotionally invested in what they are telling, and what they have been told.

If you really want to piss people off, tell the truth. Tell a four year old child the truth, Santa doesn’t exist and watch their parents explode in anger. It’s magic, the parents will tell you, it’s wonderful, that is, until the bill comes due after Christmas and all the fake snow and tinsel has really brought is credit card payments and a child who believes no amount of toys is quite enough to keep the magic alive.

The Cottonmouth tale is much like this. People want excitement, and safe fear. They want to feel brave and heroic as they blast away at a creature that will run away if given a chance, and who has harmed no one. They want to feel like they have, once again, conquered the wild by beating to death a snake they have always heard was dangerous, and they have always told people was dangerous, without giving a single thought to the truth.

Take Care,

Mike

A few years after I was born, my Dad met a stranger who was new to our small town.  From the beginning, Dad was fascinated with this enchanting newcomer and soon invited him to live with our family. The stranger was quickly accepted and was around from then on. 

As I grew up, I never questioned his place in my family. In my young mind, he had a special niche. 
My parents were complementary instructors: Mom taught me good from evil, and Dad taught me to obey.  But the stranger … he was our storyteller. He would keep us spellbound for hours on end with adventures, mysteries and comedies.

If I wanted to know anything about politics, history or science, he always knew the answers about the past, understood the present and even seemed able to predict the future! He took my family to the first major league ball game. He made me laugh, and he made me cry. The stranger never stopped talking, but Dad didn’t seem to mind. 

Sometimes, Mom would get up quietly while the rest of us were shushing each other to listen to what he had to say, and she would go to the kitchen for peace and quiet.
(I wonder now if she ever prayed for the stranger to leave.) 

Dad ruled our household with certain moral convictions, but the stranger never felt obligated to honor them.  Profanity, for example, was not allowed in our home – not from us, our friends or any visitors. Our long time visitor, however, got away with four-letter words that burned my ears and made my dad squirm and my mother blush.
My Dad didn’t permit the liberal use of alcohol but the stranger encouraged us to try it on a regular basis. He made cigarettes look cool, cigars manly, and pipes distinguished. 

He talked freely (much too freely!) about sex. His comments were sometimes blatant, sometimes suggestive, and generally embarrassing 

I now know that my early concepts about relationships were influenced strongly by the stranger. Time after time, he opposed the values of my parents, yet he was seldom rebuked
… And NEVER asked to leave. 

More than sixty years have passed since the stranger moved in with our family. He has blended right in and is not nearly as fascinating as he was at first. Still, if you could walk into my parents’ den today, you would still find him sitting over in his corner, waiting for someone to listen to him talk and watch him draw his pictures.   

His name?….  
We just call him ‘TV.’ 

Someone sent this to me in email. I am not the author.

A Cross Made Of Chopsticks

Back in the day, I had a co-worker who hated the sight of people eating with chopsticks, at a Chinese restaurant, in south Georgia. Chopsticks, he claimed, was not only un-American it was anti-American. Of course, forks were brought over from England, so not strictly American, but I occasionally used chopsticks in the office while eating lunch just to watch him melt down. It was interesting in that he personally invested in chopsticks being the antithesis of American values but cell phones, clothing, and thousands of plastic items from China polluting the waterways were perfectly fine.

It should be noted that injustice is practiced, and nearly perfected, when it comes to conjuring excuses to colonize violently those places deemed desirable. Once the early settlers became strong enough to declare war on those who helped them survive, one of the tried-and-true methods was religion. In due course, the settlers accused the natives of Satanism, for they knew nothing of Christianity. In Central America, the Spaniards would hand a local leader a bible, and if he failed to be able to read it, they would kill him and loot his kingdom. Greed, the psychological desire to possess more than enough, drove the Spanish to destroy ancient and advanced civilizations, and erase cultures from the maps of history. Christianity was their excuse of choice.

Of course, destroying a civilization isn’t the only horror to be laid at the feet of the Genocidal Marriage of Greed and Christianity within the boundaries of this nation. Slavery was used to kidnap, murder, rape, and to steal the lives of people whose only crime, or only sin, was to be born of a darker skin color than the men who held money and land. For four hundred years, enslaved people could be, and would be, kept in bondage and made to work, getting nothing for their labors but the barest of necessities. Women were used as breeding stock, men were worked to death, and nothing, no bright point of existence could be experienced without the permission of those who were pocketing the money the slaves worked for.

Greed, in all of its various forms, has always been accompanied by spiritual heroin. The rich can convince the poor their lives are only meaningful by their submission to the way things are, by the rich getting richer, the poor getting poorer, and obeying those in power is the only real virtue. After all, how could the rich have all the money and all the power if they weren’t those selected by the gods to have them? Who are the poor to questions this?

It’s no mystery why churches in America are tax exempt. It’s the tithe they receive from those in power for keeping the poor looking past their own lives for something better. Here, in this lifetime, they must be productive, meek, and work themselves to death, very much as the slaves did. The misery they endure will be assuaged by some mythical creature, but only, never before, they die.

Take Care,

Mike

In Regard to Free Expression, and its Limitations on Social Media

Time to sit down with a cup of coffee and write. Good coffee makes for good writing, I believe, and better coffee makes for better writing. But writing is different now and I have lived to see a couple of changes in the way writing is done, and how reading is done, too. Rolling with these changes can be a bit tricky, and it is not enough now to know your audience, but you also must know the medium as well, for now, the medium in which you express yourself will define the audience that you reach, and most importantly, how that audience will react.

Twitter is the fifty word novel of social media writing. A writer is constrained from deep explanation or meaning and instead goes for the sound bite and the punchline type writing. Twitter is superficial to the point of being nearly meaningless, and before you rise to defend this site remember most commercials on television are make for an audience they know they can reach in thirty seconds, with ten seconds of that being staccato fast disclaimers being spoken in a near whisper. The level of dishonesty and deception that can be delivered very quickly is amazing and is it simple. Writing deeper requires your audience to think about what has been offered, and often it requires time to consider the level of veracity. Also, there are these thoughts:

“He who knows only his own side of the case knows little of that. His reasons may be good, and no one may have been able to refute them. But if he is equally unable to refute the reasons on the opposite side, if he does not so much as know what they are, he has no ground for preferring either opinion… Nor is it enough that he should hear the opinions of adversaries from his own teachers, presented as they state them, and accompanied by what they offer as refutations. He must be able to hear them from persons who actually believe them…he must know them in their most plausible and persuasive form.”

― John Stuart Mill, On Liberty

There is a lot to unpack in this quote. Rarely, very rarely, on social media are there those who will consider deeply those opinions they do not themselves hold and hold dearly. Entrenched positions are defended from any thought or idea, or words, that might not perfectly match those being held as the one word of truth.

Humans, particularly those who were raised by television while their parents were preoccupied, were trained to think of good versus evil, all issues black and white, and this is to the detriment of gray areas where both sides meet and build compromise for the greater good. One team scored more points, or killed more of the other side, or had more weapons, or goods, or food, and that side was the one who won the argument, irrespective of the truth. Our American culture reflects this quite strongly in our past, first with the Natives who suffered genocide, then the other colonists who were on the same continent, and finally, the enslaved people who were freed suffered the fate of those who lost. Only great political and cultural upheaval has forced change upon those in power who from profited from this system.

Now, on social media, anger is the weapon of choice. It is not preferable to debate an issue, to look upon all sides of it, no. Now, only anger will do, and once again, those who express the most power, who get the most reactions in their favor, have “won”. No issue is decided by anything short of brute force in the form of the cyber version of pitchforks and torches.

It’s important to remember the users of social media have decided to join a culture where anger is the weapon of choice in interaction between members who disagree. It is entirely within their power to commit to change.

The ability to chance will be drive by the desire to change. The emotional feedback loop, of a group of people continuously agreeing with one another, and reacting in anger to all others, will grow stronger and more resistant to change. Moreover, it will become refined, stronger, with those in the group who are less fervent being attacked by those who are more radical, and the process will continue until what was once seen as fringe beliefs become mainstream.

Compromise and loyal opposition are eliminated quickly in this process, until nothing is left to talk about.

In closing, this is a cultural phenomenon. It can be changed, not without some conflict, and it will require an effort. But as the use of anger as the primary means of communication spreads, we will all become human beings, caught in traffic, impatient to get to where we are going, readily blaming someone for getting in our way, blowing our horns, raising our middle fingers, and still going nowhere.

Take Care,

Mike

Deliquescent

The show is over.

Years spent defining a man are spent.

Now, the time is less, more important than work

And the smell of Death is faint but growing

So much to see with fading eyes

So much to feel in shallower times

But to become liquid, is to know solidity.

Lightning in a Wire

Photo taken during the storm, right as lightning lit up the world

Before the storm moved in yesterday, I spent most of the morning digging out the compost pile, doing the work I could before everything was flooded. My plan went off without a hitch as the compost pile area is now super saturated, after three inches of rain. Another inch and there will be a compost island. But a tree fell on top of the fence, this meant cutting it into pieces, and removing it so the electric fence keeps zapping.

Not large, as far as trees go, but this one was covered in vines, which I assume led to its demise. Vines create a pull on the trees, and they also keep it from swaying with the wind the way trees do naturally, so this one broke in half, and landed squarely on my fence. A cut here, a cut there, another over there, and ordinarily the tree could have been removed easily. But the vines had it tied up, so first I had to cut through a green squid of vines, with tentacles reaching out to grab a blade or foul the cutters in some way. Into the compost pile this will all go, eventually, and the tree and the vines will return to the earth, as we all should.

I plugged the fence back up and got the whisper of a heartbeat of energy in the wire. There’s nothing to be done but walk the fence and hope the mosquitoes and ticks do not devour me before I can find the problem. Quickly, it becomes clear there’s more than one issue with the fence, and it’s only been a week or so since I cleaned it out. But that was seven inches of rain ago, and the jungle has returned. There’s a small limb pinning the wire, a broken insulator that was hit, and a few more small branches are removed, along with any vines that are creeping too close. The wind caused one section of the hot wire to get stuck on the fence, but all in all, there’s nothing horrible or time consuming. The mosquitoes, however, are truly terrible.

Ticks were not always a problem here at Hickory Head. I would pick one or two up a year, the dogs might get one on occasion, but two years ago, all hell broke loose and now I cannot go into the woods and not get a couple, if not three. My neighbor and I noticed them about the same time, so it’s not just me, and not just my neck of the woods. I can give the dogs medication to kill the ticks that attack them, but that doesn’t keep the ticks from hitching a ride into the house.

Walking the fence line, and cleaning it out means I am now lunch, no matter how much repellent I spray on my clothes and body. The vegetation near the line is covered with rainwater from yesterday and the ground is soaked. I’m drenched within minutes.

But this is old work, something I’ve done since fencing this area in, and putting a charger on it. I know how to do it, know how to get it done, and it must be. There’s no other way, and there’s no one else, so into the breech. About three quarters of the way through, in the area that’s not as wooly, I pick a small branch off the wire, that’s grounded it, and I know the limb grounded the wire because when I removed it, I was touching the wire, and had my other hand on the fence.

Now I am perfectly aware the fence is live again. The shock tears through my body like a physical blow, and this is the result I want when a dog touches the fence, and why no dog has gotten out in over three years.

Wow. That will wake you up in the morning, says I.

My left arm feels woozy, but there’s not much more to go. My shoes are soaked, as is the pair from yesterday. I am running out of work footwear. The pond is up higher than it’s been in a while, and it’s a good thing; too much water is a lot better than not enough.

But the fence is up and running, a hot shower and clean clothes are in order, and the dogs are safe again.

Take Care,

Mike