Seeing this picture made me a little dizzy. When I lived in Aledo, my closest friend in the community was from Keithsburg. Her mom was the mayor. In ’93, she told me that the Corps went around and spraypainted lines on all the telephone poles, to warn people how high the water was going to get in their homes after they blew the levee. And she said, “I don’t have a line on my telephone pole.”

And the guy from the Corps said, “You don’t have a home.”

She said that they were not allowed to go back to their homes while they were flooded, but that some of the men in town would sneak back in at night in row boats to go on expeditions to childrens’ second-floor bedrooms to retrieve long abandoned stuffed animals, because kids who had not needed the comfort of a toy in years couldn’t sleep in strange places.

If this is the building I think it is, it used to house a pool hall. The woman who owned it was convinced that she and my friend had inadvertently cursed the town, that it was their fault it flooded.

I think this was supposed to make it somewhat just that they lost their homes.

The strategy then was that the government would not rebuilt your house in the flood plain. They were just, slowly, abandoning the original sight of the town to the river.

If you look at the empty lots on Google Maps now, you can guess that they’ve continued this plan. I don’t know how it’s set up now, but when I was there, there was a levee along the Mississippi and then a levee along the creek just north of town. When the Mississippi flooded, it backed up into the creek. They blew the levee along the creek to try to keep the levee along the river functioning. That’s why Lincoln Street was lost.

If you look at the patterns the empty lots make, you can guess that’s probably how it flooded in 2008 as well. Their FEMA map doesn’t make me feel too confident about the viability of Jackson Street, either.

I think Keithsburg will vanish in my lifetime. And that makes me sad. To put it mildly.

I remember my friend’s mom’s anger at the Corps, years later. But what can you do? Some folks in town believed that the river used to flood more often before the levees went in, but not as severely. But none of them lived in Mississippi or Arkansas in ’29.

So, who can say?

Sometimes, it’s heartbreaking, but you can’t fix it.

Santorum Surges

I’m actually kind of intrigued by the Republican primary. I mean, yes, I’ve been alarmed, too, but mostly intrigued. It seems like Romney has been anointed the obvious front-runner almost from the get-go and the media stories have all been “And here’s where Romney’s lead becomes decisive and unassailable” only to have the decisive and unassailable lead evaporate. And yes, no delegates were awarded to Santorum yesterday, but he’s got very little money and his association with poop is even more yucky than Romney’s “I let the dog shit on the roof of my car” association. So, I think the fact that he pulled three wins out of his ass (sorry, folks, sorry) says something important.

But what?

I think it’s obvious that Romney doesn’t have the support of regular Republican voters and I think regular Republican voters are trying to signal as hard as they can that they wish they had someone else to vote for. But I’ve been trying to understand why, exactly, in order to speculate on whether he could turn it around.

Clearly, his religion is a problem. And one that the Republican establishment doesn’t quite understand. I think they think that he says he’s a Christian, so fine, he’s a Christian. But I don’t think Republican voters buy that. When he says he’s a Christian, I think it makes a lot of non-Mormon Christians uncomfortable and upset. The problem is that, for him to say he’s a Christian, for a lot of Christians, means that basic doctrinal tenets of Christianity can just be ignored. It’s not a matter of whether women can be preachers or something (though people get really worked up about that, too.)–not a “B” level problem. Christians don’t believe men become gods–an “A” level issue, so to speak (I’d lump in the divinity of Christ and the mystery of the Trinity as being other examples of “A” level issues). So, a religion that does believe that and which also calls itself “Christian” is going to dip into a lot of people’s uncanny valley–it’s supposed to be Christian and it comes so close that its inability to bridge the gap causes revulsion.

But would it be better for Romney to say that he’s not a Christian? I don’t know. We have another prominent example of a religion that believes Jesus is a holy dude, but that Christianity isn’t the end-all-be-all of religions and that they, in fact, have a later revelation that surpasses the New Testament. But I have a hard time imagining a Muslim Republican Presidential Candidate. Except that, I feel like, if I squint a little and imagine a Republican party that was like “Hey, let’s focus on economic conservatism and religious freedoms” and that turned away from xenophobic bigotry, it’s not hard for me to imagine Muslim Republican politicians. The party’d have to move some, but it’s going to have to move some if it doesn’t want to be lost on the trash heap of history.

I mean, consider where Republicans were, even twenty years ago, with Catholics and now Santorum is running for president as a Republican. And he’s getting votes, at least in the primary, from people who believe Catholics aren’t really Christian.

So, I don’t know. Maybe that’s an argument for Romney to continue to say he’s a Christian–eventually people will come around? But I don’t know. The differences between Catholics and Protestants aren’t at that “A” level.

And I stand by my earlier statement that this kind of has the Republicans over a barrel. If Mormons come to believe that Republicans won’t vote for a Mormon because of his religion, the Republicans face an enormous and very real risk of losing the Mormons.

But the other thing is that, as assholish as I think Santorum and Bachmann and Gingrich are, they’ve done a very good job of having a point of view and a message and getting it out there.

What does Romney really stand for? I don’t know.

One thing is clear, though. The time has NEVER been riper for a conservative party that wasn’t xenophobic. A political party that appealed to conservative Mormons, Muslims, African-Americans, Latin@s, and gay people as well as fiscally conservative white people would be incredibly popular. And I wonder if we’ll see a party like that come into being.

Isn’t This Kind of an Obvious Line to Draw?

I had a hard time finding a smart, general history of hypnotism along the same lines as the books on Spiritualism I’d read earlier in the Sue Allen project. But I’ve started Hypnotism: A History by Derek Forrest and it’s okay so far. It’s just that the lines between hypnotism and Spiritualism seem so obvious–go into an altered state, let the funkiness begin–that I’m already frustrated by the book.

What I need, I guess, is a scholar of mesmerism (I’m not really interested in what happens once it enters the modern era) who I can just question directly. Because I’m very curious about whether mesmerism and Spiritualism are two-gendered sides of the same coin. Is one more acceptable for men to practice and the other more acceptable for women? Is the seance table at the end of the 19th century a place where mesmerism and Spiritualism overlap, with the set-up so often being men who induce receptive states in women who then channel spirits?

I mean, I thought this was interesting in some of the Spiritualism books I read, that late in the 19th century, you’d often find the men referred to as mediums, when it was the women who were channeling spirits and the men were just aiding the women in entering altered states and then directing that consciousness shift. From our perspective, we’d call the women who were embodying these spirits the mediums and the men would be some kind of guides. (And, interestingly, earlier in the 19th century, the person who contacted the spirits–male or female–didn’t need anyone to help him or her.)

But the men were the mediums. Not in every case, but it’s very important when you’re looking at those old accounts to not assume that the person identified as the medium is the one who is embodying the spirit (or in whom the spirit is manifesting). The medium is always the one communicating with the spirit, but where that spirit is–either in that person’s body or in the body of the woman at the table with him–needs to be assessed. This is really obvious in Ben and Sue’s case, historically. Ben was considered a great medium. But there’s are a couple of give-aways in the Lindsley Warden piece that tell you how the seance actually proceeded–the most important being that Sue would have seances even when he wasn’t home.

In other words, she was the conduit. He lead her into an altered state, the spirits came through her, and he talked to them.

And, deliciously, Allen was infamous for his hypnotism skills.

Which leads me to believe that, even if scholars have not yet made the connection between the two, practitioners at the time had.