A Lover of History (2017Aug26)


BoucherAllegoryOMusic

Saturday, August 26, 2017                                                3:30 PM

A Lover of History   (2017Aug26)

I’m not a believer, but I sing “God Bless America” just as loud as anyone else—I love this country. And I admire its greatness—its ideals, its inventions, its victories, and its opportunities. When Trump says MAGA, he simply reveals his ignorance of America’s true and enduring greatness—something he has continued to do for over 200 days now.

America is a dream dreamt by most of the rest of the world—not the land, but the culture of freedom and inclusion and opportunity—that’s America’s greatness—and ironically, it is threatened by the very con-man who ran on MAGA. Big surprise, right?

But I don’t want to discuss that blimp today. I want to talk about seeing America with open eyes—seeing that, in spite of its many achievements, there is plenty to regret in its bloody and divisive history. We are currently at war with a country that surrendered to us sixteen years ago—and at war with another group borne of the fighting—that’s some sad, stupid shit.

But America’s history is not a pretty picture. Those of us with the luxury to sit around and post online all day, with a fridge full of food and an electrified house and good roads—we tend to forget that it took over four hundred bloody, horrifying years to get here—and if we’re not mindful, it will all go down the drain.

GiaquintoWinter

First, we killed off all the innocent native people, who lived here before we ‘discovered’ it. Then we set to shipping as much of the natural spoils (fur pelts, lumber, new products) as possible back to Europe. Britain and Europe sent criminals and refugees off to our country—just to remove such people from the civilized world.

Okay, that was glib—but let me just say that I still respect Americans who take pride in their pioneer and settler forebears—that process was a grueling one, demanding incredible courage and sacrifice. But it was also a bloody one—and the pioneers were, from the aboriginal viewpoint, merciless invaders.

Even when native Americans surrendered to the ‘civilized’ white people, it was always a lie—the colonists and later, the United States, would always make a binding pledge to their captives—and then turn around and break it—always. If one is proud of one’s heritage, it’s always dangerous to examine that history too closely.

Further, let me point out, the Europeans prized furs and lumber because they had denuded the European landscape of same—even without the benefit of industrial technology, human beings, like goats, can destroy an ecosystem simply by living there.

Also, the vast majority of immigrants (colonists) being criminals and refugees made for a rather anti-establishmentarian culture in the North American part of the ‘New World’. Eventually, we rebelled against the Church, the King, and wrote Founding Documents that specifically direct the citizens to keep firearms and rise up against the government again—whenever we weren’t happy with the people in charge. And people wonder why the United States has ten or twenty times the annual gunshot deaths of the rest of the world combined.

So, that’s just for starters—then we started kidnapping Africans, shipping them to America and making slaves of them. It seemed like a great idea at the time, I’m sure—but, in hindsight, it had a few problems. And slavery was the worst of it—but it was far from all of it.

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The white, English-speaking Protestants (along with the Dutch in New York) have always exuded a pompous, entitled discrimination against anyone from out of town—like Peyton Place people. They persecuted the Asian immigrants, the Irish immigrants, the Scandinavian immigrants, the Italian immigrants, the Polish immigrants, the Jewish immigrants, the Indian immigrants—I know I’m leaving a few out—Americans love their pet peeves.

Nor is this ancient history—as a child, I remember people discussing whether an Irish Catholic (John F. Kennedy—and me) could ever be elected president of the United States. But African-Americans still win—white America has, somehow, made a fetishistic art-form out of hating African-Americans.

We’re the only country with an entire region characterized by a nostalgia for the ‘good old days’ of African-Americans in chains. We’ve had a hundred years of ‘the first Black this’ or ‘the first Black female that’—and you’d think Barack Obama’s two terms would put a period to all that, but no—there’s still some slots open for discriminating white people to take note of.

We even have a white nationalist movement—right now—that sees a leveled playing field as ‘reverse racism’—these are many of the same yahoos that complain that our religious-freedom-laws are an imposition on the freedom of their religion—no one has the heart to explain to these morons that that’s what it’s for.

But all the above is just human nature—we haven’t even started on how greed (aka Capitalism) has transformed our environment, our lives, and our laws—even our elections. But pollution, corruption, neglect, and community apathy are all much too complex, ingrown, and depressing for me to go into here and now.

All I’m saying is that America is neither simple nor easy, neither perfect nor perfectly evil—it is a struggle, a moral experiment, a system that bets on good against bad. It is complicated enough that sloppy-thinking, ignorant people like our president just get in the way of people of good will—the entitlement that makes them ignorant of our true character is the same entitlement that makes them a danger to the character of our nation.

GiaquintoAutumn

greatshakes

Denial   (2017Jun09)


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Friday, June 09, 2017                                               10:35 PM

During the Depression, it became obvious that business owners were a threat to the equality of the workers—but with the Red Scare, we managed to deny that—and denying that business owners are a threat is a founding pillar of the Republican platform to this day. When Rachel Carson published Silent Spring, a new awareness came to the public—an awareness that what we do, and the waste we produce doing it, and the poisons we use doing it—has an effect on the places where we live.

Even as we busied ourselves, learning to throw our trash into receptacles (instead of on the ground)—chemical and petroleum companies began to push back on the idea of ecology—denying that our use of natural resources could have any ill-effect on the Earth—or that resources would ever run out. And climate-change-denial is still a part of the Republican platform, as well.

It was different in the past, when big money and big business had an understanding ear in the GOP—now, it seems more as if the fat cats outright own the GOP—lock, stock, and ethics. The masses of people who overlooked the favoritism of the entitled for the promise of conservative, unchanging security—they have become dupes of those who would make great change—and most of it retrogression or partisanship. And now they have a crazy man in charge—it may take time, but they will come to see him as a dangerous man.

So many of our political footballs carry within them some sort of denial on at least one side of the argument—right-to-lifers deny that legal abortion is better than illegal abortion—climate-change-deniers ignore the preponderance of both scientific authority and evidence—marijuana-haters deny the probability that pot has many medicinal uses—gun-nuts deny that the ubiquity of guns has any connection to our sky-high murder rate—it goes on and on.

And these people have their arguments, their points-of-view—but seem, in the end, to simply deny something which they are uncomfortable accepting as part of their reality. I can sympathize—but I still think they’re wasting their own—and everyone else’s—time.

Improv – Woods Trails

Improv – High Notes

Bach – Prelude in C (with Improv)

Satie – Gnossienne (with Improv)

Improv – Maelstrom

 

ttfn.

More Than Anything (2017May18)


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Thursday, May 18, 2017                                          1:45 PM

Humankind has a pretty long history—even the special case of United States history, alone, is a pretty thick almanac of ups and downs, bests and worsts—centuries of heroism and villainy, celebrity and infamy, achievement and catastrophe.

When Trump says ‘Never before in history…’, he does not speak as an historian. He is using the phrase ‘in history’ as a synonym for ‘very’. He is not merely being (laughably) ignorant when he claims his historical superlatives—he is also, subliminally, undermining the concept of history as meaningful archive. For Trump, a meaningful archive is a threat—evidence of the past.

For an old wheeler-dealer like him, the point of mistakes is to get people to forget about them—to gloss over any negatives and make that sale, close that deal—and move on to new sales, new deals. But for an elected official, the point of mistakes is to investigate them—to scour the records. It would be odd indeed if Trump were a history enthusiast—most of his mistakes have been made before.

But me—I am a history enthusiast—and Trump offends me on many levels, not least of which is his pretense of scholarship:

This is the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history.” – D. Trump

No politician in history, and I say this with great surety, has been treated worse or more unfairly…” – D. Trump

These are professorial wordings, usually used by someone who isn’t pulling facts out his or her ass—Trump uses the words of intellectual rigor, as if to give his bullshit respectability.

Getting down to cases: Mandela spent decades in prison before becoming South Africa’s president. Lincoln and Kennedy were both shot in the head. Hitler and Mussolini were ridiculed in Charlie Chaplin’s “The Great Dictator” so ruthlessly that the government tried to block its release in theaters.

If we want to talk history—Donald Trump may have a claim to being the biggest pussy ever to take office—as far as his other historic deeds go, we’ll have to wait until after the investigations to say with any real ‘surety’.

Obama – The Final President (2017Mar08)


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Wednesday, March 08, 2017                                            12:06 PM

In 1941, when our country was attacked, FDR told us the only thing we had to fear was fear itself. After the war, Truman assured us that the buck stopped with him. Eisenhower, a former general who knew about such things, warned us, in his farewell address, that a military-industrial complex was commodifying violence and leaching our strength during peace-time. JFK inspired us to reach for the stars. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act. Nixon, while a crook, at least ended our military involvement in Viet Nam. Ford pardoned Nixon, but in his defense, he always pointed out that accepting a pardon was an admission of guilt. Carter helped us begin to accept responsibility for our effects on the environment and the planet. Reagan won the Cold War. Bush-41 freed Kuwait. Clinton defended abortion, saying it should be kept ‘safe, legal, and rare’, and signed the Family Medical Leave Act, and Don’t Ask-Don’t Tell—the first acceptance of gays in the military. Bush-43 enacted No Child Left Behind—an attempt to democratize our educational system. Obama recovered from Bush’s ‘great recession’, passed the ACA, and killed Bin Laden.

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As you can see, every modern president has made a significant contribution to our nation and to the world. By being responsible, semi-woke leaders of the free world, they all used judgement, insight, and patience to achieve things that few people have the character and determination to achieve. And those presidents had educated, responsible legislators to work with.

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So join me in having a good cry—those days are gone. America has been broken into tiny pieces by a bunch of selfish, ignorant hacks and poohbahs. The world laughs at us, as their ‘Igors’ go on TV and parse ‘alternate truths’ and unfounded libel against the former president. They hand us to the Russians for thirty pieces of silver. They rush to pass laws that allow coal waste to be dumped in our drinking water—but dither over ongoing lead-poisoning in Flint that is destroying the nervous systems of a whole generation of kids.

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Photo by Eric Draper, White House.

These evil cynics and hypocritical truth-twisters don’t need to be resisted—they need to be lined up against a wall. They call themselves conservatives—but they only conserve their bank accounts. They call themselves people of faith—but the only faith they have is yours (if you’re fool enough to give it to them). They confuse governing with poker—where lying with a straight face is an integral part of the game. They have no ethics. They have no honesty. They have no shame.

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(Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

And me? I was proud to be an American. There was a lot to be proud of. And we were just about to go on to even greater things. My dreams are shattered. My heart is broken. I see only darkness ahead. Where did this sudden lobotomy come from? Can we really blame the Russians for voting in this clown? And, if so, can we really expect his cronies to uncover the truth in these investigations? And even if we nuked Russia tomorrow, would that rid us of the yahoos that shouted ‘Trump that bitch’? I don’t think so. The explosion of racism in this country of late is all on us—election notwithstanding, we have people being violently xenophobic at every opportunity.

Stupid people have decided that they have a voice. And they do—it’s the voice of stupidity—and I have a message for them in return—shut your fucking mouth you stupid fucking asshole. I want America to go back to when stupid people had at least enough sense to respect intelligence, even when they didn’t understand it. And for all those of you who’ve gone all the way past crazy, to science-denial—here’s a special message for ya: Go eat a bag of dicks. I want my fucking country back.

The Dust We Stand On (2017Feb04)


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Saturday, February 04, 2017                                             5:31 PM

So, I was reading about my hero, Joseph Henry, who grew up in Albany, New York at the turn of the nineteenth century. That got me interested in the history of New York State. Today I started reading one such history and it described the Native Americans of the area prior to First Contact with the West—the Iroquois and the Oneidas, Mohawks and what-all—what was the Five Nations and would become Six. It described their early agriculture—the Three Sisters, which were beans, corn, and squash—the beans climbed the cornstalks like a trellis and the squash leaves kept the moisture in the ground, plus their root systems descended to three different levels, so the three crops weren’t competing for nutrients.

The East Coast Native Americans were different from the Plains Tribes and others further West and South—and certainly different from the Natives closer to the Arctic Circle, up North. They lived harsh lives, from our perspective—but looked at differently, they lived in the ultimate health spa—living and dying exactly as nature had evolved them to live. They hadn’t even gotten around to metallurgy before the Europeans came along.

Yet there was a civilization—with a spiritual framework, a wide-spread confederation of oversight (one couldn’t call it governance—since their lifestyles precluded the need for taxes or prisons) and, more to the point, a society just as complex—and more humane—than any we have created or seen since.

It is melancholy to imagine what the Americans would have done with their land, left to themselves. A land without livestock, mining or metalwork—an incentive to live less bellicose lives. Who knows how that would have panned out, given some space? But now we’ll never know—and given the reality, we are fortunate that any record of their cultures survives (not that all of them have).

So, I’m going to slog through this pre-invasion history—and then try not to think about it, as I move forward to the more modern history of colonization and ultimate statehood. What else can be done—rewind the past? There’s no helping the fact that the birth of the United States was the death of something else, something that had a right to exist, something beautiful—but no one can undo the past.

The genocide, like Henry’s discovery of Electromagnetic Inductance, is both a foundation of the present—and entirely irrelevant to the present. It is now nothing more than dust—but it is the dust we stand on. A fascination with history can turn sour if we don’t keep our heads above water—there’s a limit to empathy and we are only human.

The early chapters of my history also describe the geography—the many lakes and rivers—particularly the Hudson River and the Great Lakes—and what a convenient harbor New York had at the mouth of the Hudson. It is strange to think that waterways, today, tend to be obstacles to transport rather than a means. The vast majority of international shipping still travels the oceans—but today’s technology makes inland travel almost entirely a dry-footed affair.

The Native Americans hadn’t much technology above the bow and arrow—but they had invented canoes (and moccasins—a technology the Europeans first ridiculed—then instantly adopted). And water was kind of handy to have around in those days, even if you didn’t travel. They had a great trail that went from Manhattan all the way up to Canada—today we call it Rt. 22, mostly—and 90% of New Yorkers still live along that trail. But when they weren’t walking, they were using the profusion of rivers and lakes that New York offered.

I read somewhere that New York State has the greatest diversity of trees of any state. I read somewhere else that an early European colonist once described flights of migrating birds so vast that they would darken the sky from horizon to horizon. Can you imagine what it was like back then? Virgin forests, pre Iron-Age culture—golly.

 

I feel a little jinxed, peering into the details of the improbable history of the Empire State—the stuff of legend, half of it, and the rest merely incredible—here at a juncture in time when the whole thing may be balanced on a knife edge—and only because the entire world as I’ve known it seems bound and determined to hurl itself into the abyss as quickly as possible. From what I can tell so far, what we call New York was a great land before anyone ‘discovered’ it—it became a colony and a state that was an empire unto itself, regardless of the federal government—and the tip of it became a city so busy with power and life that it, too, became an entity unto itself, outside of its state.

New York State is one of those things so large and diverse that we are taken unawares by the sudden realization of its existence—this massive determiner of so many destinies—so much a part of our lives that we hardly realize it’s there. And it is even easier to overlook, given that each of its nooks and crannies—particularly within the five boroughs—is a province unto itself.

New Englanders are known to be flinty, anti-social types—but they are a step down from Manhattanites, who are actively antagonistic towards their neighbors. Yet New York City remains such a gravitational force on the globe that we can excuse the inhabitants their need to be actively repellent—they need to make sure you really want to be there—it’s crowded enough already. And the pressure at the center of human civilization is not for the faint of heart.

It makes me superstitious—as a computer guy, I’ve spent a great deal of my life learning about things that disappear—old hardware, old software, old businesses that have faded away—all my precious knowledge becomes so much sewage clogging up my brain—and it’s not as if that stuff was easy to learn, dammit. And now, as I study American history—and my home state, no less—I feel a cold draft on the back of my neck—it could be melting ice caps, it could be Trump’s inability to resist the big red button—I can’t help worrying that I’m learning about something else that may disappear someday soon.

History Repeats –or- Et Tu, Cooper? (2016Dec14)


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Wednesday, December 14, 2016                                               9:57 AM

History Repeats –or- Et Tu, Cooper?

During my reading of Joseph Henry’s biography, I’ve acquired a sudden interest in the history of New York State. As I researched the reference material, I ran across someone’s comment that there were scant histories of the state, which they found odd, considering its size and importance—and that would appear to remain the case. Amazon is strangely ungenerous when searched for the ‘history of New York State’ specifically.

The first book I came across was “New York” by James Fenimore Cooper. One passage stopped me in my tracks, right off:

“We are not disposed, however, to look for arguments to the debates and discussions of the Convention, in our view often a deceptive and dangerous method of construing a law, since the vote is very frequently given on even conflicting reasons. Different minds arrive at the same results by different processes; and it is no unusual thing for men to deny each other’s premises while they accept their conclusions. We shall look, therefore, solely to the compact itself, as the most certain mode of ascertaining what was done.”

[Cooper, James Fenimore. New York (Kindle Locations 190-193).  . Kindle Edition.]

I couln’t help thinking that nothing has changed in this regard—and that we are careless to overlook it. No matter what excuses or rationales are offered for a given legislation, all that truly matters is its effect. If poor people and prisoners can become ‘profit centers’ using the existing laws, then no amount of blather can forgive the fact that our laws promote a form of Capitalist slavery. If pro-business legislation gives power and security to businesses at the cost of fairness to the people, then such laws are unjust—and all the BS in the world isn’t going to change that.

Then I came to this part:

“A great deal that has been done among us of late, doubtless remains to be undone; but we are accustomed to changes of this nature, and they do not seem to be accompanied by the same danger here as elsewhere. The people have yet to discover that the seeming throes of liberty are nothing but the breath of their masters, the demagogues; and that at the very moment when they are made to appear to have the greatest influence on public affairs, they really exercise the least. Here, in our view, is the great danger to the country—which is governed, in fact, not by its people, as is pretended, but by factions that are themselves controlled most absolutely by the machinations of the designing. A hundred thousand electors, under the present system of caucuses and conventions, are just as much wielded by command as a hundred thousand soldiers in the field; and the wire-pullers behind the scenes can as securely anticipate the obedience of their agents, as the members of the bureaux in any cabinet in Europe can look with confidence to the compliance of their subordinates. Party is the most potent despot of the times. Its very irresponsibility gives it an energy and weight that overshadows the regular action of government. And thus it is, that we hear men, in their places in the national legislature, boasting of their allegiance to its interests and mandates, instead of referring their duties to the country.”

[Cooper, James Fenimore. New York (Kindle Locations 287-296).  . Kindle Edition.]

Déjà vu all over again, huh? Could our King Clown have won the late election if he had not, however contrivedly, attached himself to the Republican party? And how many Republicans, while eschewing Trump’s lack of ethics or character, were nonetheless still staunchly behind his candidacy, because he ‘stood’ for their party? The more things change, the more they stay the same, James old man.

Moreover, one of Trump’s endless empty promises was to abolish this partiality to party over public good, to ‘drain the swamp’—a problem he thoughtlessly claimed to be able to solve, in spite of the fact that Cooper saw its operation way back in the years leading to our Civil War, and attributed it, rightly, to human nature—which is something even Trump cannot ‘solve’.

I purchased two other references from Amazon: “Colonial New York: A History” by Michael Kammen, and “New York State: Peoples, Places, and Priorities: A Concise History with Sources” by Joanne Reitano. I’m looking forward to reading them, especially since I expect their prose to scan somewhat more lightly than that of James Fenimore’s.

There is nothing more exciting to a hopeful writer than to catch the scent of a hitherto-unexploited scenario, full of unfamiliar stories and strange new characters—and the history of the State of New York seems to offer just such a niche. With some notable exceptions, up to and including “Winter’s Tale” by Mark Helprin, I believe it was Cooper himself who last took advantage of the wealth of material inherent in our State’s story.

 

psalms83

Fan Mail?   (2016Dec14)

As an unabashed and vocal atheist on social media and elsewhere, I sometimes garner the special attention of evangelicals—I consider it a point of pride that I can sometimes bother them more than the average atheist does.

Ms. Sue B. of White River Junction, VT, out of an abundance of solicitude for my immortal soul, has sent me a letter—well, an envelope, at least. Inside was a typical Jehovah’s Witness flyer, with exhortations about how much God cares for me and how He can make me a better family man. I examined it closely, wondering why a stranger would send me anything by snail-mail (with a Christmas stamp, no less) and have nothing personal to say—and there was a handwritten note added to the inside of the flyer. It said ‘see Psalms 83:18’.

 

Psalms 83 (A Song or Psalm of Asaph.)

 

Keep not thou silence, O God: hold not thy peace, and be not still, O God.

For, lo, thine enemies make a tumult: and they that hate thee have lifted up the head.

They have taken crafty counsel against thy people, and consulted against thy hidden ones.

They have said, Come, and let us cut them off from being a nation; that the name of Israel may be no more in remembrance.

For they have consulted together with one consent: they are confederate against thee:

The tabernacles of Edom, and the Ishmaelites; of Moab, and the Hagarites;

Gebal, and Ammon, and Amalek; the Philistines with the inhabitants of Tyre;

Assur also is joined with them: they have holpen the children of Lot. Selah.

Do unto them as unto the Midianites; as to Sisera, as to Jabin, at the brook of Kishon:

Which perished at Endor: they became as dung for the earth.

Make their nobles like Oreb, and like Zeeb: yea, all their princes as Zebah, and as Zalmunna:

Who said, Let us take to ourselves the houses of God in possession.

O my God, make them like a wheel; as the stubble before the wind.

As the fire burneth a wood, and as the flame setteth the mountains on fire;

So persecute them with thy tempest, and make them afraid with thy storm.

Fill their faces with shame; that they may seek thy name, O Lord.

Let them be confounded and troubled for ever; yea, let them be put to shame, and perish:

That men may know that thou, whose name alone is Jehovah, art the most high over all the earth.

 

The eighteenth ‘verse’ is that last line: ‘That men may know…’ The entire Psalm appears to be an exhortation to God to punish the unbelievers, to make us ‘as the dung of the earth’, or as wood burning in a fire—to make us afraid with His storms and fill our faces with shame and let us perish, etc.

Now, I don’t mind so much—that’s an old Book from a rough-and-ready era of history—from religious freedom these folks did not know. But it does strike me as rather snotty—here’s Jehovah, who is supposed omniscient and omnipotent, and then here’s his people, all in his face, telling him what he should do and which of his ‘children’ He should be smiting left and right.

I suspect this Psalm was authored by ‘management’—it has the flavor of an inter-office memo advising the staff not to decorate their desktops with personal items, family photos or potted plants. You know the type—always enhancing their own authority by reminding everyone he or she speaks for the big boss.

I consider it one of the obvious pitfalls of religiosity—if one serves the all-powerful, then one must have power, n’est-ce pas? If religious zealotry makes a person a ‘cop for God’, that person can spend a lifetime regulating the behavior of others, without having to waste an uncomfortable moment examining themselves. It’s literally a cop-out, if you’ll pardon the pun.

But all evangelicals have that velvet-glove thing going on: God loves his itty-bitty childwen—but if you don’t love him back, well, don’t forget to duck, brother. Some parts of the Bible are patently childish, making it clear that it was written long before people had the self-awareness to hear the ‘whine’ in their supplications, or the ‘mine!’ in their fervor.

So, Sue B., whoever you may be, I appreciate your concern for my waywardness—and I don’t much mind the slap on the ass that lies behind it. But you and I aren’t going to get very far, condescending to each other’s apprehension of reality. I chuckle (fondly) at your blindness and you chuckle at mine—we’ll both be fine if we don’t confront each other with ultimatums—that’s where the trouble always starts.

It’s ironic, really—my atheism was born partly from an overabundance of enthusiasm for my childhood faith, Catholicism. I was willing to be a soldier of Christ—hell, I wanted to be a Kamikaze for Christ—and I soaked up every word, every idea that was taught me. But I was a logical little kid, and certain things began to sully my perfect reality. Nuns, for instance, would never miss a trick when delimiting our behavior in CCD classes—but their own behavior seemed to cut a few corners in the service of classroom law-and-order, even going so far as to contradict their own previous reasonings to suit a new scenario of rebuke.

My parents, also, were happy to have me indoctrinated into faith—but if I should criticize anything based on my CCD teachings, it was waved away like a pesky fly—apparently, only those in authority could cite the rules of Christian behavior. My life became the reverse of the Parable of the Talents—I was to ‘render unto the Church what was the Church’s’ and otherwise just shut up and do what I was told.

As the years passed, I learned all kinds of things about history, society and people—I accumulated a mountain of contradictions that disprove the seriousness of people of faith. But all that came later. My original fall from grace was the result of simple observation—grown-ups wanted me to take religion seriously, but they weren’t taking it very seriously, themselves.

It was a more-serious, year-round version of Santa Claus—aimed at kids, but scoffed at between grown-ups. And that condition remains—if you look at the way we live, it’s difficult to claim that most of us are ‘Christians’ in anything more than lip-service. We use Christianity when it suits us—and discard it just as quickly when the going gets tough.

I would gladly live my atheist existence away without once raising my voice against the faithful, but for one thing—I’m a little too OCD about the truth. Faith may be many things—hope, conscience, a dream, an anchor in the storm—but it is most definitely not the truth. Sane people don’t fight and die over the truth—they seek and find it, or they do not—but they don’t fight over it—that’s for opinions.

There is often conflation of argument and fighting (see my previous post on the art of argument) but argument is, in purest form, an investigation after truth—it only becomes a fight when it goes off the rails and becomes a debate, AKA ‘fighting with words’. The religious have the advantage in debate because language grew out of a religious society and inherits a bias towards it, down to the very vocabulary we use—much like misogyny, the assumption of faith is built-in to the fabric of our speech.

Thus, I am always willing to argue the question of God, but I stop short of debating it—uncovering universal truth is impossible enough with a friendly devil’s-advocate—to verbally spar over someone’s adherence to an ancient, easy solution is a complete waste of time.

History With A Grain Of Salt (2016Dec03)


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Saturday, December 03, 2016                                           1:41 PM

I’ve just watched the first five episodes of Oliver Stone’s “The Untold History of the United States” on Netflix. The thrust of his re-telling of our modern history begins with an analysis of Russia’s virtually lone struggle against Germany, transforming what we think of as the main events of World War II into relatively minor clashes—in terms of land-area fought over, scale of destruction, length of time, and number of lives lost and persons wounded—and the stats certainly make that much plain. The Western Front was smaller, shorter, and less bloody in many respects—even with the Pacific War thrown in, ‘our’ War involved about a tenth of the size and horror of the struggle between Hitler and Stalin.

statue-liberty-evacuation

As he continues to explore the question of Truman’s decision to use the bomb, he frames it as more a demonstration for the Soviets than a body-blow to Japan. Stone suggests that the end of the Nazis enabled Russia to turn and join the US, as agreed, in fighting Japan, months afterward—and that their announcement of their intent to do so—came at about the same time as the two nuclear blasts—and was a great shock to an already-battered Japan. Thus, he presents the possibility that Russia, and not our new A-bomb, was responsible for Japan’s surrender, as well as Germany’s.

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His revisionism also puts America squarely in the docket, to blame for nuclear proliferation, the military-industrial complex, and the entire Cold War that followed—and we must admit that the USA, being suddenly omnipotent (and not having their country reduced to rubble by the fighting, as was the case almost everywhere else) became the prime superpower—and had all the problems and corruptions that absolute power is known to herald.

Oliver Stone does have a habit of mentioning Stalin’s atrocities in asides, often, as if afraid someone will accuse him of glossing over them (which the asides almost accomplish, ironically). But while Stone presents a new perspective and a clarification of several old false assumptions—and highlights some overlooked or hidden aspects that radically change the context of certain events—he is still dealing with the problem of ‘history as general summary’.

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His review, for example, leaves out the details of China’s suffering and transformation, its revolution and great famine. The British role in the man-made starvation in India during World War II, resulting in a genocide greater than the Nazis’, was overlooked as well (see Howard Fast’s “The Pledge”). An historical review, by its nature, leaves out more than it puts in.

His view of the last seventy years may be clearer-eyed, less American-centric—but it is still an impossible task to pick and choose the stand-out events of world history over so large a span of time, without putting one’s own ‘centrism’ into the picking. Still, Stone’s gruesome view of modern American history is, unfortunately, solidly-grounded in facts and records, shorn of the ‘spin’ which events are often given in their own time, and which tend to continue to stand as fact, absent an Oliver Stone.

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The show, ultimately, is a flat statement to Americans that being ‘the world’s greatest superpower’ and being ‘the good guys’ are, almost by definition, mutually exclusive concepts. He almost makes us embarrassed that we don’t see something so obvious. Our laser focus on the high-points of American History, and our brushing aside of all the many sins: the original genocide of the natives, the kidnapping and slavery of the Africans, the dehumanization of ethnic and racial minorities, the industrialism that spawned sweat shops, child labor, tenements, and all the rapacity of Capitalism—we wave these things aside and point to the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the Emancipation Proclamation. Don’t look over there—look here—o, pretty!

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Most of history is a horror—and American history no exception. If you think about our greatest moments—the Bill of Rights, Women’s Suffrage, the Civil Rights Act, etc.—they are all merely points at which those in power finally conceded, for this specific case, for that specific group, that people should not be used and abused like farm animals. Points on the Timeline when those in authority declare, “Oh, did that hurt? I’ll stop now.” It’s almost funny that we have these tremendous struggles, usually over the question, “Why should I treat you like a human being?” It’s as if, when someone gets a little power, the rest of us have to turn as one and shout at them, “Hey, right and wrong still apply, douchebag!”

I suppose the great lesson of history is that victory is a sort of lobotomy—it convinces the victor that force is effective. And with force must come control. And with too much control comes the need for struggles anew, and a new victor, and on it goes.

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In sum, I was reluctant to watch another rehash of the last seventy years of world conflict—but I was not disappointed in my hope that Oliver Stone wouldn’t have bothered to make this series without some surprising and new information—and observations that really change the context for lay-historians like myself. I love this sort of thing, because you can’t really change the accepted view of history without adding in some new data—and this series exposes many overlooked, obscured, and newly-discovered bits of information, and makes connections that seem obvious once made—making one wonder why Oliver Stone had to do it, all this time later. But I’m glad he did.

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The subject guarantees that viewing will be somewhat daunting, and hardly inspiring—but looking ourselves straight in the mirror is ultimately a very healthy thing, if uncomfortable. I can’t help reflecting, however, that if Oliver Stone can take the old story and re-tell it as something almost unrecognizable—then I suppose someone else could do the same to his. When studying history, one must never neglect the grain of salt.

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