More thoughts on the Washington Redskins name controversy

Back in March, when the Washington Post was leading the preseason charge to pressure the Redskins to change their name, I wrote a short post suggesting the team shouldn't change the name, making two main points: (1) the word "redskin" is no longer commonly used to refer to Native American people at all, and (2) the linguistic origins of the term are not actually offensive, with the offensive usage taking hold for a much shorter period later. (See Ives Goddard, "'I am a red-skin': The Adoption of a Native American Expression (1769–1826)", Native American Studies 19:2, 2005)

It's October now and the Washington Redskins are visiting the Denver Broncos for the first time in eight years. My mother-in-law flew out for the game and we went downtown to the Redskins Rally at the Tavern last night. The organizers said it was the largest turnout for any event they had ever had in a visiting city; I guess waiting eight years will build up some excitement. Chris Cooley was there and took a picture with Joel. Valerie and Ruth took a picture with Dan Snyder. Several renditions of "Hail to the Redskins" were sung. There were also a couple of spontaneous chants of "keep the name."

That got me thinking about why I still don't support the name change, even though I try not to use other offensive words like "fag" or "retard" or "nigger."  I don't use those words because I love beer, freedom, and other people and see no value in hurting others.  (I do slip from time to time and use offensive terms like "Cowboys fan."  Mea culpa.) 

Many years ago, I read a book by Miss Manners, the etiquette columnist. I recall her suggesting that the polite thing to do is to refer to someone how they would like to be referred to. It came up in the example of someone named James who would be called Jim by strangers and really preferred to be called James. Since then, if I meet someone with a commonly shortened name or nickname, I always ask them which they prefer.

This situation came up more recently after the Manning trial. The Pfc. Manning was an Army soldier who leaked a number of videos and cables to Wikileaks and was court martialed. After the conviction, Manning came out as transgendered and asked to be referred to as Chelsea Manning (as opposed to Bradley, her male birth name). Having transgendered acquaintances in the past, this was just common sense and the polite thing to do. However, a number of journalists and commentators thought it was absurd.

The point that's often overlooked in the Redskins name debate is that the activists who want to team to change the name are not asking that people not refer to Native Americans as "redskins," they're asking that we not refer to a football team as "the Redskins." They are taking offense at the use of the word per se, not at use of the word as an offensive slur.

It's fine to have the opinion that some words are just offensive and not want them used at all. I have many friends who are on the other side of this issue and I respect their position. But there is a fundamental difference between campaigns like The R-Word that seek to stop the use of a term to disparage individuals and a campaign to change the name of a football team because you are offended by the word's use in any context.

In short, there's a difference between saying "you're a filthy redskin" to a person and singing "Hail to the Redskins" after a touchdown. I would never do the former; I hope to do the latter many times this afternoon when they beat the Broncos.


Build a $50 workbench and start woodworking

A few weeks ago, I picked up a book at the library with some furniture projects I wanted to build around the house, "Ridiculously Simple Furniture Projects: Great Looking Furniture Anyone Can Build."  Author Spike Carlsen breaks projects down into just one or two pages of instructions with beautiful pictures and minimal material and tool requirements.  The second project in the book is a Tic-Tac-Toe Shelf that looked nice and easy to tackle.  The author uploaded it to Pinterest if you want to take a look:

However, as I was contemplating cutting out a curved piece of wood with a jigsaw and notching it with a chisel, I remembered that I'd be doing it on the floor of my garage.  Since buying my first house back in 2001, I've collected a fair number of tools, but have never had a proper workbench to build things on.  So I decided I needed a workbench to build a tiny brick-a-brac shelf.

The bench I decided on was one I found on Family Handyman after a lot of web searching. Entitled "Super Simple $50 Bench," people were talking about it only taking 4 hours to build a very sturdy and practical bench.  The materials required are straightforward: 15 2" x 4" x 8' studs, cut to various lengths, one sheet of 1/2" plywood, lots (I used about 2 1/2 lbs) of 3" screws for framing, and some 1 5/8" screws to secure the plywood bench tops.

The nice guy in lumber at Home Depot did most of the long cuts on my studs and plywood for free.  The only downside is that some of the lengths were off by 1/2" or so, so my finished bench is not entirely square.

A couple of warnings: This project takes longer than 4 hours if you're working alone, especially if you're building on the garage floor because you don't have a proper workbench.  Also, $50 is low for current prices.  My final costs were about $100 for basic materials, and another $40 or so for a light, pegboard, and a power strip.

All that said, two weekends later, I have a completed workbench in my garage.

Finished workbench with pegboard and light

While it might not be exactly square, it's incredibly sturdy.  So sturdy that I had to have my neighbor come over to help me move it to the other side of the garage, since Valerie couldn't lift the other side of it up for more than a second.  I put on some pegboard, a light and a power strip, but still want to run pegboard all the way across and apply some polyurethane or Danish oil to the plywood tops to protect them.

Now I'm ready to tackle that shelf.  Next weekend.



Facing the truth on the debt limit

David Friedman has a very good post on The Debt Limit and Default that makes two essential points for cutting through the hyperbole in the news about the risks of not raising the country's debt limit.  (1) Our government takes in enough revenues to make all interest payments on existing debt and (2) even defaulting on all of those interest payments would not be enough to deal with the budget deficit.  Read the whole thing, it's short.

Joe Nocera has an op-ed in the New York Times trotting out the parade of horribles that would occur if the Federal government did default on its interest payments, but never acknowledges that not raising the limit doesn't automatically lead to default.

Matt Yglesias, writing at Slate, acknowledges that the Federal government could make all of the interest payments, but says it would be really hard and require the Treasury Department to figure out how to rework its computer systems to do it.

Both authors uncritically repeat a widely believed falsehood about United States debt.  Nocera: "The second point worth making is that U.S. government debt is the only risk-free asset in the world."  Yglesias (on impact of payment prioritization): "But nobody in the future could seriously treat U.S. government debt as a risk-free information-insensitive asset."

There are no risk-free investments.

I had to put the above in bold because it's so basic and important.  The real effect of not raising the debt limit is not default, but rather facing the reality that there's nothing magical about the United States that lets it borrow money it doesn't have indefinitely and without negative consequence.  That truth hurts, but it's time we faced it.


Why are you buying enchilada sauce?

We just got back from vacation late Friday night and I was going to make dinner for the family to give Valerie a break.  Simple bean and cheese enchiladas; refried beans, corn tortillas, pepper jack cheese, and enchilada sauce.  We had the first three things in the house, but no enchilada sauce.

I considered driving out to the grocery store to pick up some more enchilada sauce, but decided to do a quick Google search first to see if there was a recipe to make our own.  Third link down, I found this recipe for homemade enchilada sauce.  The ingredients were as follows:
  • 2 Tbsp. vegetable or canola oil
  • 2 Tbsp. flour
  • 4 Tbsp. chili powder
  • 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. cumin
  • 1/4 tsp. oregano
  • 2 cups chicken broth

I had all those spices in the house and the 15 minutes necessary to simmer the sauce.  The result was delicious.  Two cups of rich, spicy enchilada sauce for probably $0.20 worth of ingredients. Compare that to spending about $1.29 per small can of store-bought sauce (and needing two for a full batch of enchiladas).

Just like making your own bread with a breadmaker, making your own enchilada sauce is a simple way to eat better and save a few bucks in the process.