Archive for February, 2013

This post is a summary and review of an essay in the book “An Oklahoma I Had Never Seen Before,” edited by Davis Joyce. For an introduction to this series, check here.

The first essay in “An Oklahoma I Had Never Seen Before” is by George Milburn. Aptly titled Oklahoma, this piece first appeared in the March 1946 Yale Review. You can find it online starting on page 101 of American Thought 1947, where it was also published.

Oklahoma begins with a humorous description of where the state is situated and its social and political makeup. Milburn does a good job explaining the diversity (and hypocrisy) of his home state.

Oklahoma is to sociology as Australia is to zoology. It is a place where the trials and errors of men, instead of nature, have been made only yesterday, and the results are as egregious as a duckbill, or a kangaroo. Oklahoma is filled with man-made contradictions, perversities and monstrosities.

As examples of how Oklahoma is a state of contrasts, he cites the history of forcing Native Americans to migrate here, then taking the land back away from them; Oklahoma’s political fickleness (something that it can’t be accused of today), and its sense of humor (or lack-thereof). One line from this section sounds like it is being said today.

Although Oklahoma is one of the wealthiest States in the Union, at the same time it is one of the most poverty-stricken.

It is amazing how little changes in 50+ years.

The next portion of the essay outlines his reluctance to write about Oklahoma at all. He explains how touchy some of those in his own state can be, recounting a run in he had with the University of Oklahoma auxiliary of the Ku Klux Clan back when he wrote for the university paper. What had made them so mad was his suggestion that Oklahoma (and its premiere university) were a comic-opera. He points out that the popularity of the comic-opera Oklahoma! (of “sweeping down the plains” fame) is particularly ironic considering how upset everyone was at his suggestion.

Milburn laments the authors who have written works set in the state without having spent any real time here. He points out Edna Ferber’s book Cimarron as an example, but the one most of the modern readers will think of, The Grapes of Wrath, sets up my favorite line.

It is evident that Mr. Steinbeck wrote his book without ever having set foot in the State.

I appreciated this because, while I’m a fan of Steinbeck’s account of Oklahoma migrants attempting to build a life in California, I completely agree. Steinbeck clearly didn’t know what Oklahoma actually looked like. His descriptions of eastern Oklahoma as a dusty prairie are laughable to anyone who has ever lived here.

“Oklahoma” feels like something Christopher Hitchens or H.L. Mencken might have written. It is acerbic, but in the kind of way that disarms potential anger. Honestly, I think this essay should be required reading in any Oklahoma History class. Ironically, Milburn is somewhat prescient on the teaching of Oklahoma History, a common subject in state classrooms.

Of course, Oklahoma is still on the map. And even if it its history is not a subject for schoolboys, it is still a good one for political scientists because, in my opinion, no other place in the world offers a more gruesome study of democracy in the raw-nor of how thoroughly it can be cooked.

That sounds so much like something Frosty Troy, Brittany Novotny or Ed Shadid could say about today.

Let’s hope the rest of the essays are this good.

The Examiner has a story up about Lawton resident Colin Henderson and his efforts to help shut down Narconon Arrowhead. Henderson attended Arrowhead and left when he realized they were trying to recruit him into Scientology. Now he is working with Ivester and others to expose them and their practices.

You can read the story here.

Upon the event of my 100th post

Posted: February 26, 2020 in Uncategorized

Today Odd Oklahoma hits the entirely arbitrary triple digit mark. For a blog that started in November, and with a few very good exceptions, is written entirely by one person, I think that’s a pretty good output.

I’ve decided to use this post to give my readers a window into what posts have been the most popular and how many people are reading.

First of all, this site doesn’t get a huge amount of traffic. I average around 50 hits a day right now. A 100-view day is pretty good for me. I’ve got enough posts now that I get at least 10 hits a day from search engines alone.

My slowest time is on the weekends, which only makes sense. People tend not to read as many blogs on the weekend, and I don’t put up new posts during that time unless something big happens and I don’t want to get scooped.

This year, my worst week was the I spent summarizing bills coming out of the legislature.

My best ever day was November 30, 2020, when Reddit picked up my Meet the Flinstones post on the Creationist dinosaur statue in Woodward. My site had 531 hits that day. Meager, I know. I’m still getting the occasional comment on that post, though. I had a spike in my stats a few weeks ago when someone from Woodward passed the story around to all of his Facebook friends.

My second-most popular post is the story I broke on Ivester filing Senate Bill 295. That one got passed around Reddit, Facebook and a few Scientology watchdog sites.

I’m quickly approaching 7000 total views for the site.

It is a humble start, but for a new blog by an unknown author, I think the site is doing pretty well.

I’m going to begin a series blogging my way through “An Oklahoma I Had Never Seen Before”, edited by Davis D. Joyce in 1998. This book is basically the Oklahoma version of A People’s History of the United States, which should be very interesting if you know anything at all about this state. I picked it up a while back at while digging around in a used book store. I was actually on the prowl for the titles ostensibly penned by Sally Kern or James Inhofe. I was going to read them so you don’t have to, and review them here. Fortunately for my sanity, and the quality of people who sell books to that store, neither was available. This was.

Each chapter is an essay, nineteen in all, covering a different period or group of people in Oklahoma. There are essays on black Oklahomans, gays, Mennonite pacifists and abortion rights advocates, to name a few.

I’m particularly looking forward to the chapter on Woody Guthrie’s Oklahoma years. (An embarrassing confession, I am a huge Wilco fan, and didn’t come to fully appreciate Woody Guthrie until I rediscovered him through the two Mermaid Avenue albums of unreleased Guthrie songs they collaborated with Billy Bragg on.)

The editor, Davis D. Joyce, is also a biographer for Howard Zinn, so it only makes sense that he’d put together this book. In 2003, he teamed up with Noam Chomsky to write Howard Zinn: A Radical American Vision.

On that note, let’s begin the series.

Editor’s Preface

Joyce begins his preface by explaining the title and why it is a quotation. It was on the comment form of one of his students at the end of the semester.

What I had done in the course was to begin to try to introduce the kind of material found in this volume.

The next paragraph sums up pretty much my entire view of Oklahoma.

I love Oklahoma. I love its land, its people. I love its history. But, just as I always thought the bumper sticker slogan “America: Love It or Leave It” was silly, narrow-minded, and in appropriate-I always like “America: Change It or Lose It” better-I react negatively to those who react predictably negatively to every criticism of Oklahoma. Love it or leave it? No. Some of use love it enough to stay and try to change it-America and Oklahoma.

This is where I start pumping my fist and singing along to Red City Radio.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jPIKCLzXn7w

Joyce goes on to say that, while this sentiment frames the book, the idea behind it is explicitly that of Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States. He quotes a couple of passages from Zinn explaining the goal of his book, namely to tell the stories of those who are usually voiceless throughout accounts of history. Joyce wants to get us to reconsider who the heroes and villains are when we think of Oklahoma history.

Joyce is careful to point out that this book is not comprehensive, but it is a good place to start. Much of the material in the book saw its first light of day in these pages.

He ends the preface by pointing out that this book is clearly political. Part of the goal is to help today’s radicals understand and appreciate their history, so they will be better equipped for the fights of this generation.

Ivester’s bill to require the Narconon Arrowhead facility to get state certification is going well. SB 295 passed out of the Senate 46-0. It now goes to the house.

Tony Ortega, a writer for the Village Voice, spoke to Ivester about the bill recently.

From tonyortega.org:

“We got it out of the Senate. The House will take a look at Senate bills the first week in March,” he says.

We asked him how likely the bill, with its unanimous vote in the Senate, could get through the House to the governor’s desk.

“Whether you start in the House or Senate, the first house is the easiest one to get it through,” he says. “But there’s a pretty good chance it will get through. It has good support in the House. The bill is real simple. You have to get certification from the Board of Mental Health.”

Apparently, Scientology has been lobbying against it.

Has Scientology sent its attorneys to try and lobby against the bill?

“Yeah, they have. I’ve talked to their attorneys multiple times. They say, ‘Look at what we’ve done and how good we are.’ I don’t really know their tactics. I’ve just been plowing ahead,” he says.

“They’ve been sending out promotional material, at least in certain districts, touting the benefits of Narconon. I’ve received quite a bit of it. But they’re pretty cagey — their attorneys are, as they should be.”

I’ll update on the bill as soon as it gets assigned to a committee. For more information about SB295, check out my original story on it here.

As for the other bills we’ve covered from this session…

Most importantly, House Bill 1674 passed out of committee with a 9-8 vote. There is good news and bad news here.

The bad news is that it could now get a vote on the House floor, where it would likely pass. It is telling that President Pro Temp Mike Jackson, who has the opportunity to vote in any committee when doing so could change the outcome, chose not to in this case. He could have killed it, but didn’t show the courage to stand up to the extreme members of his own party. Now, we have to work to keep this bill from ever coming up for a floor vote.

The good news is that the Republicans are not united on this one. If you look at the results of the vote coming out of the committee, they are telling. The usual suspects of Sally Kern and Gus Blackwell (the author) voted in favor, but some Republicans voted against. Doug Cox of District 5, Dale DeWitt of District 38, and Lee Denney of District 85 all voted no. This is the kind of issue around which we can build a coalition with moderate Republicans. Not a single Democrat voted in favor of the bill.

Senate Bill 175, to modify the definition of rape to include youth pastors sleeping with members of the church up to 20 has passed committee and picked up two co-authors, one from each party.

This week has been awash with stupid headlines. First we had the silly spontaneous combustion story from News 9, and now KFOR is reporting that a Chupacabra is running wild in Deer Creek.

“Chupacabra? Yeah! There ya go,” one man said.

Others agree. “It does look like one to me. It does. It really does,” Carmen Himes said.

A chupacabra is a legendary animal rumored to feed on the blood of goats.

Believers said it’s making its way into Oklahoma from Mexico.

Chupacabra, coyote what ever you think this animal is, it’s in the Deer Creek area at Hwy. 74 and Waterloo Rd.

Craig Martin snapped pictures of the animal when he spotted it in the field.

The avid outdoorsman said it looks just like a chupacabra.

“That’s immediately what we thought and it looks exactly the same,” he said. “There’s not much difference at all.”

He said it looks much different than a coyote.

Sigh. No.

Later on in the piece, a biologist from the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife says exactly what it is.

“What we’re dealing with here is just a coyote with a bad case of mange,” Department of Wildlife Spokesperson Michael Bergin said.

There is a lot wrong with this story.

First, the writing is terrible. I don’t usually critique people for their writing. It feels too pot kettle black, but in this case I’m going to make an exception. The way the story is written, it isn’t clear who is saying what. It sounds like a spokesman for the Wildlife Department is saying that it is not a regular coyote. I’m almost certain that the section claiming it might be a hybrid should be attributed to Craig Martin, the photographer.

Second, a little time looking into the background of the Chupacabra story would be helpful in explaining why this is almost certainly a coyote with mange, and not some mythical creature. One of the podcasts I listen to is Monster Talk, a show about legendary monsters and cryptids hosted by people who don’t actually believe those cryptids likely exist. One of the hosts, Ben Radford, wrote a book recently looking into the development of the myth called Tracking the Chupacabra.

One of the things Radford documents is how much the description of the creature has changed over the years from its origin in Puerto Rico in the 1990s. What is considered the standard description in the southern United States (namely a weird hairless canid) took years to become the common narrative. Every purported Chupacabra carcass that has been tested turned out to be a dog or coyote.

The Lost Ogle covered this story as well, and the picture they used actually fits the early Puerto Rico descriptions of the creature fairly well. It is alleged to have spines on its back and look vaguely kangarooish.

Via The Lost Ogle

Here is what more recent descriptions of the look like.

Bad dog!

As you can see, these are clearly not the same thing. Radford actually has an account of how the early Puerto Rico case got started, and I won’t ruin it for you. Go read the book.

You may not know this, but hidden away in the quieter corners of some of the universities around Oklahoma are some pretty great philosophers. They write books for non-philosophers and everything.

The first Oklahoma philosopher on my list is also one of my favorites, Eric Reitan, a professor at Oklahoma State University.

A few years ago, when British biologist and vocal atheist Richard Dawkins was making the lecture circuit with his anti-religious screed The God Delusion, Reitan was in the middle of writing a book outlining his particular take on religion. What was originally going to be a book aimed at attacking fundamentalist Christianity, became a philosophical defense of the middle ground between fundamentalism and Dawkins’ atheism. What resulted is the very readable Is God a Delusion: A Reply to Religion’s Cultured Despisers. The Kindle versions is a reasonable price. If you are interested in getting a pretty good look at the state of philosophy of religion and the debates about the existence of god, I can’t recommend a better book.

I haven’t read Reitan’s most recent book, God’s Final Victory: A Comparative Philosophical Case for Universalism, but from what I gather it is about why hell doesn’t exist and everyone is saved. I also can’t recommend this book, because you can’t currently get it for less than $100. That’s what happens when you write for an academic press on an obscure topic. Ivory tower and all that.

Reitan has a pretty great personal blog called The Piety That Lies Between where you can read his ideas for free, and he’ll interact with you. The title is a reference to his religious position between fundamentalism and atheism. He is a super nice guy, and very thoughtful.