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world wide wednesdays :: because you don't want people to think you're ted nugent

[please excuse kate for being tardy. she lost her will to write after seeing swansea city continue a poor run of form with a loss yesterday and then regained it by stepping out to the brilliant voix de ville variety show, which happens every wednesday night at the wiggle room, which ate up most of the time she was supposed to spend writing this post. slacker. -ed.]

the altai mountains of siberia, birthplace of america
some of you may have heard last year that rock musician, self-promoter, proud republican and born-again right wing nut-job ted nugent got a titch upset when the owners of an indian casino canceled his appearance at their venue due to his comments about people of other races. nugent referred to the native americans as "unclean vermin" and said that he didn't even consider them to be human, which serves as a perfect illustration of why they declined to be graced by his presence in the first place. you may all now pause and wallow in your feelings of superiority.

not content with having dismissed an entire race of people as subhuman, he went on to say that those who protested his performance were jealous because he was a successful white man and that native americans needed to be rounded up and sent back where they came from. ok, ok. that's not actually fact, although the "vermin" and subhuman comments are. and he did say that native americans who protested his appearances just hated all white men who stole their land. but when i read that article, just for a moment, i did think it was possible that nugent actually believed that native americans were some sort of immigrant group. heck, for all i know he does believe it, because all that clicking the convenient "show facts" button at the top of the page establishes is that the exact quote they've attributed to him is satirical.

it's probably impossible that anyone thinks that native americans are immigrants, even ted nugent, who isn't exactly going to win any scholarships to oxford. but if you let your eye wander south of the article itself and into the comments thread [always a risky proposition], you'll find gems like the one that says all america was native land before any "mexican, viking, whiteman [sic] or spaniard" arrived. this statement is backed up by someone else who rejects the "b.s." that native americans come from africa or asia.

sigh.

the americas :: late bloomers on the human circuit
i don't ever want to be the kind of person who people believe could say something as stupid as "native americans need to be sent back where they came from". and i certainly don't want to be the kind of person who thinks the mexicans invaded mexico or thinks that "whiteman" is a word, let alone a nationality. and i'll bet you don't want to be those people either. so here, to ensure that we don't have to worry about being mistaken for those people, is a very broad story of the settling of the americas. well, settlings.

now, i'll start by saying that, while the idea of a white man telling native americans to "go back where they came from" is laughable, it is true that they came from somewhere. ultimately, we could all go back "where we came from" and that would mean that we would all move to southern and eastern africa, where we would be extremely crowded and uncomfortable, but at least no one would be able to tell us to go back where we came from anymore. in fact, our species spent longer in this region of africa than anywhere else in the world. it took about a hundred thousand years for us to even tiptoe our way across the suez canal and check out the middle east, as well as north africa and those places were like right there. so, as you can imagine, it took a hell of a long time for anyone to make it all the way around to the other side of the world.

here today, gone some time in the next thousand years
by the time people got around to doing that, there were a lot of differences between groups in different regions. over tens of thousands of years, dna began to diverge, giving each group recognisable features that persist, in some form, to this day. this is how we're able to trace which groups are descended from which: we all carry the dna of our ancestors. in the case of native americans, their closest genetic links are with northern central asia- specifically the area of the current altai republic in siberia. those people were hunter-gatherers and lived by following the pleistocene megafauna [which, incidentally, is going to be the name of my sludge/ doom rock band] right across the land bridge that once joined russia to sarah palin's back yard. there is some debate as to when exactly people made it far enough into the north american land mass that they figured there was no point heading all the way back. consensus is that it happened no later than about 15,000 years ago. a lot of people believe that's when it did happen. however there are others who think that the immigrants started arriving as far back as 30,000 years ago. it's a question of determining when it would have been physically possible to pass into north america, which is trickier than you would think, given the as it turns out, getting into north america from europe would have been the easy part. [side note :: inuit and aleut people, while they are generally included in the blanket term "native american" are descended from a completely different series of migrations, which occurred several thousand years later, displacing the existing dorset culture and eventually driving them to extinction. the inuit and related groups are linked with the thule culture which migrated from northern asia into alaska, through canada's north and eventually into greenland. the inuit and aleut just barely beat the europeans to north america, arriving only in about the year 1000 and not fully establishing themselves until about five hundred years later.]

over time, these new arrivals wended their way south, becoming a smaller and smaller group as they did, since some of them would decide along the way to set up a permanent or semi-permanent camp. over the next two thousand years, more and more of them poured across the bering strait land bridge and further south into this strange new megafauna-filled land. as they started to make their way across the narrow strip of land connecting the north and south americas, something odd started to happen: the weather warmed up. the ice age ended, the glaciers retreated and parts of the americas that had been inaccessible opened up. it was probably a great time to be american, with all this new stuff to explore, a much more hospitable climate and, with the land bridge to asia now submerged, they had all this great stuff more or less to themselves. to celebrate, the first americans got to knockin' boots. the population expanded rapidly and the last major landmass on earth became inhabited. [side note :: the timeline of how all this happened has been called into question. clearly, having spent thousands of years inching their way across the land bridge and into present-day canada and the united states, the paleo-indians proceeded to gallop the rest of the way through the continent, populating everything down to the southern tip within about a thousand years. while there's no rule that says they couldn't have done this, it does seem peculiar and history does not yield a lot of large-scale peculiarity without a pretty good explanation. furthermore, there are archaeological sites in south america that pre-date the oldest ones in the central part of north america and are show some surprisingly advanced technology. how this came to be is still a complete mystery and, while theories abound, there isn't a enough science to favour any particular one.]

if you think having to learn a second language is a pain, consider the alternative
by the time new colonizers arrived from europe over ten thousand years later, the earliest americans had spread throughout both the northern and southern halves of the land mass and diversified into a complex web of nations with different cultures and languages. they had made the transition from hunter-gatherer to agrarian culture extremely successfully- a large number of the crops we rely on today were first domesticated by americans. while some cultures remained at least partially nomadic, others were extremely advanced, had huge cities with advanced engineering and considerable bodies of written work in their languages. despite that, even the greatest of those civilisations crumbled before the invaders for reasons that are left vague. originally, of course, the europeans claimed it was because god was on their side. [the spanish also bragged that their completely inhumane treatment of the natives guaranteed they were feared, respected and, ultimately, followed.] gradually, this got supplanted by the idea that the europeans were just superior, both in armaments and in intellect, to the "primitive" tribes they encountered. in the latter part of the twentieth century, a more apologetic tone was taken and the official story became that the europeans had employed some dirty tricks and exploited the americans. this, of course, still rests on a pretty paternalistic view that the american groups were naive, childlike, and too disorganised to mount a counterattack. the real reason that the american nations were defeated and manipulated by the europeans was that most of them were dead.

in most schools, there is lip service paid to the fact that the americans were exceptionally susceptible to european diseases, having built up no immunity to them. and there are stories of the europeans exploiting this by offering gifts like disease-infested blankets. but the extent to which this damaged the american population is not well understood. in the early years after the first contact with europeans, the native population of the americas dropped by at least half and possibly as much as ninety percent. smallpox, the bubonic plague, measles, mumps, typhus, yellow fever, malaria and influenza, along with others, killed off millions of people, essentially doing the bulk of the conquering before the europeans even had to raise a sword.

erik the red wuz here
had the americans faced the europeans at full strength, things might have gone very differently. hundreds of years earlier, the vikings had advanced as far as eastern canada, but had eventually abandoned their settlements. although the vikings never admitted as much, it seems that a likely reason for this was that they were repelled by the tribes already in the area and continued tension with them meant that it simply wasn't feasible to establish a permanent colony. given how incredibly rich in natural resources the area was, the situation would have had to have been pretty dire to convince the vikings to give up and return home. but return they did and chances are that, if the native americans hadn't been decimated by disease, they would have sent the spanish, english and french packing as well. [side note :: why were the europeans so disease-ridden? most major infectious diseases emerge from close contact between humans and animals. because of the east-west layout of the eurasian land mass, it was much easier to domesticate animals over a large area, as opposed to in the americas and africa, where changes in climate and flora make large scale domestication difficult. as a result, europeans were around animals and their bacteria a lot more than any of the american tribes, so they built up antibodies that helped them resist infection. that isn't to say that a lot of europeans didn't get sick and die from these causes, but the difference between some defense and no defense is pretty spectacular.]

given the advantage it conferred on the europeans, the rapid spread of disease and its profound effects on the american population is the single most important event in the history of the americas since the arrival of of the people who originally settled there. by the same token, an invading army storming across europe in the wake of the black plague would have had a very different impression of their civilisation. the european invaders were certainly aware of the fact that these natives were vulnerable to infections- hence the diseased blankets- but it seems like that knowledge faded after the new world was secured and was minimized in favour of arguments about military prowess and god and organisation.

it does lend a rather ironic quality to ted nugent's choice of the words "unclean vermin" to insult native protestors. someone needs to tell him that if it weren't for unclean vermin, people who look like him wouldn't be living in america today.

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