Virginians for Obama

Virginians have an ambivalent relationship to the South. We are the only state that was literally divided by the Civil War, and while we made a disastrously wrong decision in 1861 we did not follow the Deep South over the Goldwater cliff in 1964. But that was the last year Virginia gave its electoral votes to a Democrat, so my votes in presidential elections have been meaningless in the Electoral College except for my 1976 vote for Carter in Alabama where I was a grad student. The 2008 election is an opportunity for Virginia to redeem itself for the last forty years of racially polarized voting, and I find Obama’s strong lead here highly revealing about my home state and its present role in the national mainstream.  Virginia’s average lead of 7.4% is approximately the same as Obama’s advantage nationally.  It has been suggested that the influx of migrants into Northern Virginia accounts for Obama’s strong lead, but at the rate things are going it appears that he will also carry the rest of the commonweath. Certainly he will carry most of the cities, those of the western half (Danville, Roanoke, Charlottesville, Lynchburg, Martinsville, Staunton, Lexington, Radford) as well as those of the eastern half (Norfolk, Richmond, Alexandria, Portsmouth, Petersburg, Newport News, Hampton, and perhaps Chesapeake and Virginia Beach.) The divide in the commonweath is neither latitude nor longitude, but urban/rural; and since the rural element is steadily shrinking, McCain will find few local wins in the state.

Statistically Virginia now has more in common with the northeast than the rest of the South, so its poll results are not surprising except for our long history of Republican presidential votes.  Here is a site with comparative statistics showing Virginia’s rankings in various economic indices.  The constant evocation of fears of terrorism by the McCain campaign reminds me of two points in Virginia history where terrorism inspired self-destructive panic. First was the Nat Turner insurrection, where the murder of 55 whites by a slave army inspired by a religious prophet led to disastrous consequences across the South. The Virginia General Assembly in 1830 had been prepared to undertake serious discussions about ending slavery. By the end of 1831, thanks to the paranoia inspired by Turner, any white Southerner advocating manumission was risking his life and abolitionism became tantamount to treason. In North Carolina, the racial panic inspired by Turner’s terrorism caused the disenfranchisement of Indians; in Tennessee it caused the disenfranchisment of Free Blacks. Across the South it caused attitudes to harden and played a part in making war inevitable. The John Brown attack at Harper’s Ferry further created an atmosphere of panic among Virginia whites that contributed to the disastrous decision to secede from the Union. I see the Civil War as a “let’s you and him fight” in which hotheads from the Deep South, well out of harm’s way or so they thought, made decisions that dragged the Upper South states into a war in which we, not they, would be the biggest losers of life and property.

For most of the following century, Virginia glorified the Lost Cause more than any other state. In the late 1950s and early 1960s Massive Resistance to desegregation was embraced by the state government. But in 1964, Virginia for a change refused to go along with the Deep South and its racial animosities, and gave its electoral votes to Lyndon Johnson at the height of the Civil Rights movement. That was the last time a progressive Virginian could be proud of our state’s role in a national election until this year. Nixon’s Southern strategy turned us “red” and from my first vote in 1972 until the present we so remained.

One explanation of Virginia’s change has said that government employees in the DC metro area, including the military, are thoroughly disgusted with Bush/Cheney politicization of the civil service and military, and are part of the overwhelming Obama groundswell.  Why else is Virginia “turning blue” this year? Part of it has to do with the coattails of state Democrats. Mark Warner is thirty points ahead of Jim Gilmore for the Senate seat vacated by John Warner, not because he’s a Democrat or a liberal or named Warner, but because he is widely acknowledged to have been a much better governor than his predecessor. Jim Gilmore rode into office on a deceptive gimmick (car tax reduction) and ran us deep into the red without ever admitting his fiscal irresponsibility was the cause. His Democratic successor Mark Warner then had to pick up the pieces, and inspired confidence in the process. This perhaps makes Virginians somewhat more immune to Republican economic snake oil than residents of other states. Tim Kaine has likewise been a competent and popular governor who has improved our image nationally. Meanwhile, another Republican ex-governor humiliated us on the national stage in 2006, George Allen with his horrendous “Macaca moment” and various racist skeletons that came out of his closet as a result. Virginians are now represented in the Senate by the far more intelligent, competent, and centrist Jim Webb. Would that my congressman, the “Moozlim”-baiting fanatic Virgil Goode, might likewise be shown the door by voters of the fifth district.

Douglas Wilder, our governor from 1990 through 1994, has been much in the news lately commenting on the present election, and serves as a reminder of what makes Virginia different from the rest of the South.  The world did not come to an end when a black man rose to leadership of our state, and he is generally honored as an elder statesman.  In the wake of the 2004 election, I was aghast at the sectional hatred expressed by many Democrats in online discussion,. This site was all too popular at the time, as stereotyping and scapegoating of Southerners became widespread.   “You’re all alike, and you’re all to blame” led directly to “and we’d be better off without your sort in the country.” The same people who were expressing hatred of Virginians four years ago have probably changed their attitudes. If North Carolina, Florida, and even Georgia give their electoral votes to Obama, it may be time to stop talking about a Republican South, and instead regard these states as part of the Democratic East.  The party realignment will be such as to restrict the Republican heartland to the Deep South, Appalachia, and the Great Plains.  But even if Virginia is the only one of the eleven former Confederate states to turn blue this year, that should suffice to insure victory for Obama.

Genetic Determinism of Geographical Obsessions?

When I finally got meaningful test results for autosomal DNA, more than six years had passed since I first learned of Josiah Dunlow’s reputed half-Indian or full blood status. The finding that my genes were 1/16 East Asian was equally frustrating and satisfying. Satisfying in that it provides confirmation of non-European ancestry; frustrating in that the test’s inability to distinguish East Asian from Native American ancestry had been an object of frequent customer complaint and was now illustrated by my results. (I got an email from an equally frustrated customer of Eastern European ancestry and family traditions of Mongolian admixture, whose results were 94% EU and 6% NA!) The EuroDNA 1.0 test persuaded me to take more seriously a suspicion that had been steadily growing for months yet I had kept dismissing as too unscientific and embarrassing to express in print. Any author whose last book was a sympathetic account of Edgar Cayce is in danger of being considered too woo-woo to be taken seriously as a scholar. And yet here I am reluctantly giving credence to a theory as woo-woo as anything Cayce said in trance. Somehow, our obsessions with specific places and peoples and our travel compulsions are rooted in our DNA. It sounds insane but the evidence is starting to be overwhelming. I have visited 14 foreign countries; some left me cold and only three inspired what I would consider long term love affairs.  My first love was France, which I visited five times between 1984 and 1990 for stays of a week or two. It was twenty years after my first trip to Europe that I learned about French ancestry; just a few lines but enough to ground my feelings for the French in family history. The only country I ever stayed more than a month was India in 1990. And only this month did I receive DNA results showing more than 1/16 of my ancestry to be South Asian. But after that one trip, my travel interest shifted to Mexico; between 1991 and 1998 I made five substantial journeys there plus a couple of border hops from Texas. It was not until three years after my last trip to Mexico that I learned of traditions about Amerind ancestry in my father’s family. And only this month that it was partially confirmed by more than 1/16 East Asian DNA which in light of genealogical and historical evidence can only mean Native American. Although I only visited Spain once, I felt as home there as I had in France. As for other European countries I visited, I felt very ill at ease in Germany, and cool toward Switzerland and Iceland. I never had any inkling of desire to see Slavic countries, Scandinavia, the Arab world, East Asia, or Africa. And none of those places (assuming the EA score to be mistaken) figures at all in my DNA. My haplogroup R1b predominates in France, Spain, and the British Isles, which seems eerie in light of my feeling so at home there and so not at home elsewhere in Europe.

Domestically, the picture is similar. Discount my general interest in northeastern North Carolina which started in the early 1980s and went into overdrive in 2001. That could be attributed to my knowledge of having roots there. But other things of which I was ignorant seem to have blindly driven me. When I left my native Hampton Roads in 1984, it was because I felt strongly drawn to the counties between the James and the North Carolina line: Isle of Wight, Surry, Sussex, and Southampton, all served by the public library system I directed from 1984 to 1988. I used to compulsively ride the back roads of those counties, twenty years before I learned that much of my traceable 17th century colonial ancestry was in Isle of Wight and Surry.  My brother might also be an example of this kind of blind compulsion. All that my mother’s father knew about his ancestry was that his gg grandfather Enoch Rice had settled in Ohio around 1820, and that he was a Welshman who had previously lived in Vermont and Canada. But my genealogical investigations quickly led to the discovery that Enoch was a Massachusetts native whose family had been in the colony for a century before his birth. While I’m a Southerner with a general distaste for things Northern, including the Mid-Atlantic and Midwestern states, New England was always different; from my first trip there as a teenager I loved it. But my brother did so far more than I; he went to Massachusetts to live 32 years ago and has never left; he travels below the Potomac only rarely and reluctantly. Only after 25 years there did he learn through me of our hundreds of ancestors in colonial Massachusetts.

The sense of being magnetically drawn to ancestral haunts got a lot more specific for me recently thanks to a brick wall breakthrough that led to discovering my direct ancestors Abraham and Judith Sanders who built what is now known as the Newbold-White House in Perquimans County, North Carolina.  It is the oldest surviving structure in the state, and in the early 1980s I became so enchanted with it that I toured it twice by myself and went back twice more with friends and relations in a one year period, something that is true of no other place in the state. Back then its original builders were not known as the estimated date of the house was off by 50 years; only recent dendrochronology established its 1730 date and thus its first inhabitants the Sanders family.  If we are somehow drawn to reconnect with our ancestors recent and remote by traveling to places they lived, even when those ancestors are unknown to us, it is very hard to explain naturalistically. How in the world could such a blind compulsion be carried in our genes? This takes discredited Lamarckian evolution and cubes it, making genes carry not just acquired physical traits but acquired cultural traits. Irrational theories about race and identity have a justifiably nasty reputation thanks to the Third Reich and some right wing occultists. And yet this notion resonates with the spiritual metaphor of the journey back to the Source. The way up is the way down, according to Heraclitus.  Perhaps the “way down” to our ancestral landscapes becomes a “way up” to historical awareness.

Giza: The Truth

Giza: The Truth: The People, Politics, and History Behind the World’s Most Famous Archaeological Site, by Ian Lawton and Chris Ogilvie-Herald, was first published in London in 1999, with an American paperback edition of 2001 that includes new information in appendices.  According to the author’s website it has sold more than thirty thousand copies.   Edgar Cayce is discussed as a factor in alternative Egyptology, and the authors cite my Edgar Cayce in Context:

We have already suggested that Cayce’s medical diagnoses and healing powers have been pretty well confirmed.  A scholarly and long-overdue critique of Cayce’s readings and beliefs has been recently prepared by K. Paul Johnson, whose Edgar Cayce in Context is the first serious work to be produced by someone largely independent of the ARE.  Johnson suggests that `it can be said with confidence that the general health guidelines in the readings have been increasingly confirmed in the century since Cayce’s death. Turning to his many prophecies, particularly about significant `earth changes’, which were to include not only the `Second Coming’ of Christ but also massive geological upheaval in the Americas and elsewhere, these are analyzed in detail by Johnson.  Most have not been fulfilled, especially since in the main  the readings suggest that they were due to happen at the latest by 1998. (p. 246)…  So how do Cayce’s Atlantean readings stand up if we examine the possible sources of esoteric, rather than practical corroboration?  The manuscript-based accounts prepared by Blavatsky in The Secret Doctrine have a great many similarities with Cayce’s readings, not least in their descriptions of the five `root races’ of mankind that have so far existed on this planet.    However, not only does Johnson provide a thorough comparison of Cayce’s Christian theosophy’ with Blavatsky’s `esoteric theosophy’, but he also reveals that these readings started only in 1923, when a prosperous printer by the name of Arthur Lammers came to him for a reading.(p. 247)…