Category Archives: History

History

Proof of Human Evolution

It has occurred to me that the proof for human evolution is right in front of our eyes.  

Literally.

One of my favorite places to think is in the sauna at my gym.  The endorphins from the exercise have saturated my brain so I’m naturally high, and the heat makes me quickly relax as the sweat pours out of me.  It is at this transition between a hard, intensive workout and deep relaxation that wonderful insights will often present themselves.    

This gym has its amenities that include not only the sauna, but a pool, Jacuzzi and steam bath as well so it is quite popular with a very diverse group of people.  It also happens to be located very close to San Francisco one of the most diverse places on the planet.  Young, old, fat, thin, Chinese, Japanese, Greek, Persian, Spanish speakers, French speakers, there is no limit on the diversity found there.  It is a veritable Galapagos of human specimen contained on three levels and 55,000 square feet.  

Now in order for living and irrefutable proof of human evolution one must simply do the following.

Go into the men’s locker room at my gym and open your eyes.

Boom!  There before you, is living walking proof of evolution while it dries itself off, applies deodorant, takes a dump and combs its hair.  

Not to be rude and trying to be as genteel as I can, the best evidence lies in the last noun of the previous sentence.  Hair.  

When you enter a locker room with an incredibly diverse array of men you will see hair, and a lot of it.  Hair will be in places it shouldn’t be, like on the tops of feet.  There will often be more hair running down the back than on the tops of heads!  Sometimes the hair is so plentiful on the torso it is as though they might be wearing a very poorly knitted sweater! 

michelangelos-david

The image of man we most commonly see before us in a gym locker room (or any changing area for that matter) could not be farther from the more classical male portrayal best represented Michelangelo’s David.  If one had never seen the nude male form before, was first shown a picture of David, then an image of one of the hairier specimens from my gym’s locker room, they could easily be forgiven for not believing the two examples are representations of the same species.  

The battlefield for this debate on evolution lies in the classroom.  There are monumentous debates among the states as to how the history and scientific books should be worded in regards to evolution vs other ‘theories.’  But just as Darwin emerged from his study and traveled afar for proof of his idea, our young people too engage in ‘field trips’ to further solidify and provide actual proof of what they have learned.  

As my gym locker room is a paradise of living, breathing scientific proof, yet undiscovered by the academic community I propose we arrange ‘field trips’ for the most mature of our young scholars.  What they will see is indeed shocking, but true science isn’t for the faint of heart!  Just march those wide eyed students right on through the middle from the door to the shower and back out again.  Let them pause to scribble down a few notes, snap a couple of pictures and gather undeniable evidence for consumption by the outside world.  Let the realization that we are indeed descended from the apes sink in right before their own eyes in all its musty, odoriferous and fuzzy glory!

 tourbusA revolution is at hand my friends.  It should have occurred a century ago at the Galapagos islands but nobody lives near the Galapagos islands so how could we be absolutely sure this wasn’t some anti-religious plot to confuse the faithful?  Well friends, my gym is in Daly City near San Francisco.  And San Francisco is a place everyone wants to visit if they haven’t already.  Perhaps in addition to field trips we could also make my gym’s locker room a stop on the big bus open top tour line!  Surely then everyone would then see for themselves and the case for evolution will disseminate far and wide as they return to their home countries!   

 Science is so exciting especially when new discoveries are made that completely overturn long held beliefs!  

A revolution indeed!  

lucid-dream-flying

Dream as Reality, Reality as a Dream

At 36 years of age, I have come to a concrete realization that this world I live in is completely absurd.  

It is similar to a lucid dream, where the dreamer becomes aware of the improbability and often outright impossibility of his surroundings and thus realizes he is dreaming while inside of the dream.  

I have had the good fortune to travel the world, learn languages and delve deeply into the mindsets of other cultures.  These fortunes enabled me to escape from the fishbowl of a small environment and see the enclosure from the outside, as well as compare it to all the other enclosures I have been recently exploring through language study and travel.  Through these studies I found such a sense of freedom and excitement that I have never been able to stop or quell my desire for more information, more learning.  I found freedom from established traditions, mindsets, beliefs and biases.  I found great excitement for the unknown, the new, the exotic, the blasphemous, the feared and the heretical.

Recently however, time, money and obligations have limited my actual travel but in its place have come books, magazines and a need to devour more knowledge.  A great discovery I’ve recently made is Lapham’s Quarterly.  This publication pulls the golden nuggets out of history and complies them in a neat publication according to a central theme.  I have decided to pay much less attention to the daily noise of the news, the gossips and the outright stupid splashed along the T.V. screens.  Instead I have turned my focus to books, mostly historical nonfiction, and anything similar to Lapham’s Quarterly that really adds to my knowledge and gives me a greater understanding of this world I currently occupy.

Through these studies, travels and continual quest for more knowledge and in order to simply make sense of my surroundings, I’ve come to the conclusion that this world I live in is absurd.  Now that I’ve given my introduction let me put down some examples from the silly to that which has changed the course of the world.  

1.  High Heels


-   Once cannot venture outside without seeing multitudes of women wearing the most ridiculous form of footwear that while being extremely uncomfortable, also causes grotesque foot problems such as bunions.  The high heel was designed in 17th century Persia as a riding shoe so that the rider could stand up in the stirrups and maintain balance while shooting his arrows.  

After I learned this I can no longer look at women in high heels the same way.  I do not find them as an attractive addition but rather as an absurdity akin to one wearing over sized clown shoes.  

2. The suit and tie

We men did not escape this evolutionary comedy of the fashion trend either.  The origin of the tie is that it was essentially a bib worn to protect the shirt from stains.  The bib has just gotten smaller.  The suit on the other hand came out of military uniform fashion.  The military is regimented, disciplined and serious.  The businessman being formal in all his dealings must give an air of seriousness and formality and thus what a better fit than the military uniform without the military trappings?  So here we are, men running to our office to sit in our cubicles typing away in a modified military uniform and small bib.  

Once you know the origins of why things are the way they are life becomes completely bizarre.  

3. Wars 

I have recently been reading books on WWI and II as well as checking the facts on many historical wars through Wikipedia.  The conclusion I’ve come to is that war is absurd.  What is even more absurd is how quickly a leader can convince the people about the “just” reasons for the war.  

World War I is the most raw example of this.  In brief, a rather significant regional assassination happens and then due to country alliances we end up with millions dead.  It is as if monkeys wrote the framework of this play and gorillas carried it out.  We do not retain the right to consider ourselves separate from the animals.  The absurdity of the reasoning behind the war combined with the very real consequences are simply incomprehensible.  

As for the absurdity of reasoning for war, this has happened very recently in my country.  The slogan is “defending freedom.”  Now whenever war or soldiers are mentioned this is what a good portion of the population mindlessly blurts out.  Need to start a war?  Just have the leaders say we are “defending freedom.”  This slogan has had some wear and tear but still has at least another decade of durability before it is worn out. 

My conclusion is that humanity is still very primitive and that this period in our evolution will be looked upon millennia from now as just branching off from the animals.   For any reason, any reason what so ever millions and millions can still be convinced that extinguishing the life of another is the appropriate solution for whatever ideology, belief or passing issue of the day holds sway.  

It is as though we are not fully conscious.  For if we were fully conscious then the fibers of creation should tear apart while everyone screams in writhing agony for the atrocity, the unnatural, the unthinkable that has occurred.  

4.  Religion – Christianity

I hold no qualms with the overall spirituality and trying to connect ourselves with that which is unknown yet pervades everything including our own existence.  I also am inclined to give a bit of a pass to those that need religion, a set framework to tell them exactly what to do since the majority of adults are unable to discover a spiritual side on their own.  Most adults no longer advance mentally/intellectually and thus how could anyone expect them to make progress with that which cannot be seen, experienced directly or understood?  

To get straight to the point here, after all my travels, experiences, studies, meditations, reflections and so on, I can definitively say that Jesus was just a man.  I have extricated myself thoroughly from the fairy tale, the bedtime story that we use to sooth our fears about that which we do not know but which we pretend to hold every answer (unless it is a mystery of course *inside joke for those raised Catholic*).  

To stand up against 2000 years of history which has reshaped the world, billions of believers and an institution which has outlasted governments and call it nonsense is frightfully empowering as well as bewildering.  This belief, that a simple peasant is the son of the unknown which in our feeble minds we call God.  This God, the soothing blanket which keeps us warm and secure against that unknown void, that veil behind which nobody has seen yet everyone must go is a creation of our own imagination.  It is my opinion that we cannot even conceive of the true nature of the Great Spirit, الرحمن,  יהו   or whatever we have decided to call the unknown.  

I have been connecting the dots for some time now and the tapestry is complete.  Now, explaining exactly how I’ve arrived at this point would fill up a book which one day I may write but one can find clues in my previous posts from the past.  But let us just say that a good many things in the Bible have turned out to be fabrications, metaphors, or just plain wrong.  The world was not created in 7 days, humanity didn’t start with Adam and Eve, Jesus had brothers and was married and many of the miraculous acts happened in other cults/pagan beliefs long before Jesus.

If Christianity were a corporation it would have gone out of business a long time ago.  Anyone who puts their money and belief in a corporation that has been so wrong so often throughout history would be an investment opportunity for the slow witted.  

So why do so many people believe?  The reasons are as varied as the stars but I would say the main reasons are tradition, security and the need to believe there is something more than the disappointment that is often found here in this existence.  

The ship guiding my belief out of Christianity set sail a very long time ago and has visited many ports.  I recently read a book which seems to me as my final bill of lading summing up what I already knew and putting it in a well researched, organized intellectual format.  That book is called “Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth” by Reza Aslan.  

Jesus was just a man and I feel as though I’m in a dream when I see so many clinging to this fabricated story even though we have more universities and more learning than at any other time in the history of the world.  

The old religions die hard.  

5. Reality

Most people at this point will either have stopped reading or want to know what my own opinion on creation/reality may be.  People are so eager to know the opinions of those they disagree with not so they may consider the idea but rather to have the opportunity to defend their beliefs.  One cannot readily do this until they know the beliefs of the other.  

In any case, here is my belief.  

I have no idea where I am, what I am or where this environment came from.  All I know is that I have thoughts.  These thoughts come and go and I do my best to control them.  

This “I don’t know” is a very thought out, deep, reflected upon statement.  It is just as probable to me that we are in a computer program designed by a highly advanced civilization as it is that this universe is some advanced biology student’s creation and we sit upon a shelf in a small jar surrounded by millions of other universes in small jars.  The reader of this post may scoff but I have not said that I know we are in a small jar, I’ve said the opposite with a very clear “I don’t know.”  The jar example is one possibility out of infinite possibilities the majority of which I believe I cannot even comprehend.  

The book that really got me thinking about this was “Why Does the World Exist?: An Existential Detective Story ” by Jim Holt.  He interviewed the brightest minds as well as researched the major philosophers in trying to discover the answer.  Obviously the book never comes to the supreme truth and Jim’s own opinion is hidden in an unrelated paragraph in just one sentence in the middle of the book that most people might miss.  

I enjoyed reading all of the theories but one of my major takeaways was the realization that I cannot comprehend these theories the way the men who created them can.  Any one of them would take me years of study and even then I know I do not have the raw intellectual fire power to get there.  

So all I can do is continue to explore and be completely fascinated as well as a little terrified at not having the answer.  All I know are what my senses, studies and inquiries have gathered.  Here we are, talking monkeys on a biological rock flying through space where only a fraction of us are trying to figure out what is going on while a good majority are quite certain they know the secrets of the universe, the divine and everything in between already.  

This dream began with my birth and will end with my death.  The longer the dream persists the more bizarre it becomes.  The best I can do is to be nice to my fellow dreamers, help those having a nightmare and try as hard as I can to fly.   

 

Christianity and its non-Christian Origins

I saw this post on Google + and it was so good I had to borrow it.  I have re-posted here so that I’ll always have it.  

Written by:  Yonatan Zunger – from Google +

Since I’ve heard that there’s some kind of religious festival going on this weekend, I thought it might be an interesting time to write something about the history of how Christianity came to have such a blend of non-Christian origins in it. There’s actually a very interesting history to this: in essence, it isn’t so much that Christianity absorbed external elements, as that through the tumult of the first six centuries CE, a bunch of European religions mixed and combined, and the Christianity we know today was the result of that — it got its name on the label, so to speak.

To realize how big the difference between what came out and what came in is, just pick up the Christian Bible and read through the discussions between Jesus and the Apostles. This was, originally, a Jewish reform movement, responding to the particular skews and corruptions that had shown up in the (Pharisaic) leadership, concerned with economic reform, (e.g. Luke 12) a hard shift away from ritual towards personal piety, (e.g. Matthew 15) and a serious mystical trend. (Largely cut out of the “canonical” texts, but very present in the Egyptian texts) The first radical change came with Paul, who was interested in converting outsiders — something that the earlier “followers of the Way,” as they called themselves, had very little interest in. But if you compare even Paul’s early churches with (say) medieval Christianity, or even most modern branches, you’ll see very little in common. How did this happen?

Let me start by setting up a few bits of history. We’re in the Classical Roman Empire, say around the year 100 CE. Rome is expanding everywhere; there’s a well-practiced routine when a new barbarian tribe is encountered. The Romans make offerings to the gods of that tribe, saying that they will build them a temple in Rome if they let this tribe be joined to the empire; then they go to war, win, and start to fold yet another tribe into the center. The erection of that temple isn’t something accidental: it’s part of what’s called the “Pax Deorum,” the peace of the gods, and what it really is is a public statement that these new people are being folded in to the society. These conquered barbarians aren’t at quite the same level as true Roman citizens, but they’re part of the Empire now, and light-years above those barbarians outside the gates. The physical mechanisms of the Empire are backed by a deep civic notion of “Romanitas;” to be a Roman is to be part of this great thing, to have a particular relationship to the outside world: we will conquer you and you will join us. And to be part of Romanitas is to have the weight of the Empire behind you.

And then it stopped working. Hadrian makes it halfway up Britain and builds a wall; and the Romans start to realize that they’re at the logistical endpoint of where they can conquer. A climate cycle drops food production down and leads to widespread famine and disease across Europe. Worse climate cycles to the east start to push nomadic tribes further out in search of resources, and they start to hit an already-weakening Empire. Without the constant influx of resources from conquered tribes, the underlying lack of planning in the Roman economy (and system of succession) starts to show; and from about 180 to 280, the Empire essentially collapses into an infinite sequence of famines, plagues, civil wars, and barbarian incursions. The last of these wars, the War of the Seven Emperors, is ended in 287 when Diocletian personally executes his last rival, and sets up a new regime. 

Diocletian’s empire was very different from Caesar’s in a lot of interesting ways, but the one I want to talk about today is that notion of “Romanitas.” Once, to be a Roman meant that you were ready to conquer everyone that you met; but the later Roman Empire was in no state to do such a thing. The central question of civic identity — of what it even meant to be a part of this empire — didn’t have a good answer, and with it, the whole question of what held the Empire together at all was up in the air as well.

Now switch over and look at the religion of the time. If we rewind back to the year 100, the Latin word religio had a very different meaning from what we think of today: it was the set of public rituals that the society participated in. These were tremendously important in a lot of ways. First of all, they were a key economic glue. Roman society didn’t have a notion of “taxation” in the modern sense; but instead, leading citizens were expected to regularly have sacrifices to the Gods to honor their good fortune in various things. At a sacrifice, animals would be killed, their first fruits given to the Gods with various prayers, and what followed is what we would today call a “big damned barbecue.” A Roman could expect to go to a sacrifice every week or so on the average, and this was the primary access that most Romans had to meat. (So when I say “key economic glue” I mean “a major part of how the society got access to food.”) Second, they were the way in which people defined their civic nature. Today, we define our nationality in terms of things we learn in school, what we read in the papers and discuss in the media — all things which didn’t exist in Rome. The expression of nationality was the common rituals that people went to. (And this, incidentally, is why the cult of the Emperor was so important: by sacrificing to the Emperor, you were indicating your loyalty to the Emperor and the Empire) Public actions were the main way that people communicated their thoughts.

One thing you may notice is missing from that list is anything which resembles our modern notion of “faith.” This wasn’t an unfamiliar concept, but it wasn’t considered to be part of “religio.” People had household gods with which they had a personal relationship, and actual priests had relationships with their gods, but nobody was generally expected to have a deep and abiding religious faith in each god that showed up through the gate. But the urge for deeper religious experiences was certainly there, and ever since the time of Alexander the Great (around 300BCE) one of the main ways this manifested was in “mystery cults.”

Mystery cults were the religious secret societies of the ancient world. You could join some of them by simply walking in the door, and for others you had to know someone, but what they all had in common was that you would be initiated, participate in secret rituals, gradually learn more and more of the secrets of this god. These cults often taught a combination of mysticism, philosophy, and theology; they offered a chance to see into the world beyond; and they offered a close confraternity among the members. And they were quite separate from “religio” proper, bearing it about the same relationship that gentlemen’s clubs in Victorian England bore to Parliament. 

There were a few categories of mystery cult which were becoming particularly popular in the first few centuries CE. The first was the cult of Magna Mater, which was basically the worship of Isis gradually transmuted into a pan-European religion. Consider that ancient Egyptian religion was already extremely, incomprehensibly ancient: the pyramids are a great work of the late Stone Age, as much older than the Romans as the Trojan War is older than us. The knowledge of hieroglyphs had already passed out of the world, but the infinite number of mummies and inscriptions and magical practices were still very much there. Add on to this that, even thousands of years earlier, Egyptian religion had highly favored spectacular, awe-inspiring temples where people went for rituals, healing, miracles, surrounded by fire, strange smokes, talking statues — and that this tradition was still very much alive — and you have a great factory of religious beliefs which were immensely popular in the Roman world.

Second was Mithraism, a religion that we still understand relatively little. Mithras was a warrior-god, of Persian origin; he has many similarities to similar warrior-gods spread across the Near East, not least the version of Yahweh worshipped in the western Levant which later became a core part of Judaism. In Rome, his worship became very popular among the army, starting with soldiers who had served in the east. The rituals were very secret, part of the brotherhood of joining the Roman Legions; underground caverns, secret dances, sacrifices, rituals that we know very little about today because they were actually fairly good at keeping their secrets, and quite deliberately didn’t write many things down. 

The third was ascetic monasticism, something which never really caught on in Europe but which was a huge deal in Egypt for hundreds of years. There was a tradition of hermits retreating off into the desert to pray, fast, and generally mortify themselves, and these hermits were considered to be avatars of purity itself, holy, powerful, capable of great magics, and mad as a bag of clams. (As a side note, The Book of the Fathers, a book on how to be a good monk written in fragments from the 4th through 10th centuries, has lots of examples of the stories of early monks, who were basically Christian Egyptian ascetics. Something like two thirds of these stories end with either “and then he/she starved to death” or “and then he/she died in a sandstorm.” These guys werehard-core.

And Christianity — Paul’s Christianity, the kind that wanted to spread — joined in to this mix. This early Pauline Christianity worshipped in secret, because it was defiantly anti-religio; this was honestly a holdover from its Jewish roots, with the Jews being rather famous for their (often violent) unwillingness to sacrifice to other gods. But it had many other familiar features: secret meetings in (literally) underground churches, intense personal faith, mystical healing, close confraternity between the followers. Unlike many of the other mystery cults, it was built fairly strongly around concepts of morality — another holdover both from its Jewish antecedents and from Jesus’ own focus on reforming Judaism towards personal religiosity. 

These religious traditions competed with each other pretty openly. If you read Apuleius’ The Golden Ass (arguably the first novel), you’ll see all these conflicts show up in people’s daily lives. Laws were passed banning Christians from serving in the army — it would destroy unit cohesion, you see, and the men might feel uncomfortable. (Le plus que ça change…) And they also combined: Christianity became popular in Egypt, and people combined it with both Egyptian asceticism (to form the seeds of monasticism) and Manichaeanism, another Persian import from which Christianity got its notions of the duality of God and the Devil. The healing magics of Magna Mater stayed popular across the board, and Christians found themselves doing basically the same things. 

(There’s a whole history here, too, of how these religions related to the earlier Roman political order.)

And around the year 300, these religious and political trends started to come together. The political order of the old religio made less and less sense: giant, formal, public rituals to the gods of old Rome didn’t pull people together the way they once did. But the underlying needs behind them, both civic and economic, were still there. By the time of the civil war that followed Diocletian’s retirement (a very interesting story in its own right), Mithraism was in a bit of a downturn, apparently not providing quite enough mysticism relative to simple brotherhood; Christianity had folded most of the magical elements of Magna Mater into itself, and had done a better job of conversion through its strategy of focusing on women, and soldiers, many of whose mothers had been converts, started to use it as their secret brotherhood ritual. Against this background, Constantine (one of the warring emperors) made it the quasi-official religion of his army, and soon after won control of the Empire. 

What happened here was that a religious trend of secret societies, previously illegal in many situations, which thus tended to forge close relationships among the practitioners, suddenly became an official Thing which people realized they could further their careers by converting to. Many is the Roman nobleman of this period who went to bed one night, a contented pagan, and woke up the next morning a bishop, and a few hundred thousand solidi poorer. (That was the going rate for a bishopric) But this new religious system had communal identity baked so deeply into it, and held people together well enough (after all, that’s one of the big things Constantine used it for!) that it started to become a substitute for this now-missing identity.

Several things happened over the next hundred years which reinforced this, but perhaps the most dramatic was the sack of Rome in 410. It’s hard to express how world-shaking this was: imagine if, on 9/11, rather than destroying the Twin Towers in New York, the Taliban had simply marched in to New York City andsacked it, and the government was powerless to do anything about it. That’s roughly what happened then. And yet: the Goths who sacked Rome left the churches untouched — they, too, were Christians. Augustine used this as the jumping-off point for his book, The City of God, which crystallized the ideas that had been building up over the years: Christianity united its believers in a sort of world-spanning empire. This notion of Christianity as a social identity, rather than as a religious faith, became the cornerstone of European society for the next thousand years.

This answered the question of “how do we deal with those barbarians?:” If they were Christians, then you could use this common language of Christianity to establish relations with them. If they weren’t, you could convert them or kill them — or point your own friendly barbarians their way. It also provided a new social glue for the society, so long as everyone came over and converted.

And what you might notice is missing, again, from this picture is the modern notion of “faith.” It was important that everyone be a Christian because that was part of being part of the Empire, but the details weren’t quite as important. So the common variety of “conversion” in the Late Antique Empire went something like this:

A priest shows up in a village. The village is generally having some kind of major problem or another, whether it be a failed local irrigation system, or a famine, or a plague. The priest calls people together in the name of his god, and fixes the problem: either by prayer, or by getting people together to fix the well, or by pulling in external resources. (Most of the time, incidentally, the priest didn’t successfully fix the problem, in which case he simply would move on to the next village and try again) On success, the village praises God and converts. They have to give up “pagan rituals” — i.e., they have to adopt the forms of Christianreligio rather than whatever they did locally. But the underlying importance of the sacrifices (economic, civic, etc) was still there, so what was important was to do them in a Christian way. Do them in a church, not a cemetery. Praise a saint rather than a god, and so forth.

And then the priest would move on to the next town, racking this up as yet another successful conversion. But nobody was left behind in this town who actually had a particularly deep understanding of Christian doctrine; and in fact, owing to how bad travel was in the Empire at this point, it was often 100 yearsuntil the next priest would reach a particular village! So Europe “Christianized” by adopting a shared set of practices and religious language, but not a shared religious faith in the modern sense of the word. 

The results of this weren’t fully appreciated until nearly a thousand years later, during the Counter-Reformation: in response to the rise of Protestantism, the Catholic Church started to try to root out “heresy” in its own world, and discovered (much to its shock) that the average Christian had absolutely no ideawhat the religion was supposed to mean. (A truly fascinating account of this can be found in The Cheese and the Worms: The Cosmos of a Sixteenth-Century Miller, which studies the record of the heresy trial of some random schmuck who was grabbed by the Inquisition. The title comes from his attempt to explain just how the world was created.) 

So when we talk about a “Christian syncretism,” what was happening wasn’t that Christianity deliberately or accidentally took on bits of other religions. Rather, most of the conversion of Europe — and very similarly, most of the conversion of other parts of the world later on — happened very quickly, with groups of people agreeing to take on the structural forms of Christianity, praying to saints in churches and so on, but with very little emphasis on constructing a shared “faith” in the modern sense.

In fact, this modern notion of faith came largely out of the Protestant reformation. The Protestants started out with a notion that people should have a direct, personal familiarity with scriptures and a much more personal relationship with God: ideas which hadn’t really entered much into the Christianity of the preceding millenium. The Catholics, in response, tried to “purify” their own faith and make sure that everyone was on the same page, using much the same techniques which they had developed for ensuring that there were no secretly practising Muslims or Jews in Spain after the Reconquista. (Yes, I know. You were expecting that the Spanish Inquisition would show up in here at some point.) Several centuries of spectacular bloodshed later, it was a commonly accepted idea in all branches of Christianity that Christianity was, first and foremost, about individual faith, and a common understanding of doctrine was what bound Christians together. But this hadn’t actually been a feature of Christianity ever since the days of Paul, and the Christianity of the 19th century is a very different beast from that in too many ways to count. It was a new thing.

So today, when people tell you about how Christianity has “borrowed” ideas from non-Christian religions, or that this or that holiday is actually a pagan festival in disguise, your surprise isn’t coming from the fact that Christianity ever was really a common religious language rather than a unified faith: it’s coming from the fact that, over the past few hundred years, Christianity has deeply rewritten its creed, and largely forgotten its own history. These things aren’t alien to Christianity at all: they’re the deepest part of its origins.

For more information, some places to start:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cybele
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mithraic_mysteries
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Constantine_I_and_Christianity
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/City_of_God_(book)

The best sources of all on this subject are books. Peter Brown’s The Cult of the Saints or The Rise of Western Christendom give an excellent snapshot of the Late Antique transition and can get you started looking for other things. Carlo Ginzburg’s The Cheese and the Worms is a great way to see what ground-level faith in the sixteenth century looked like.

pilgrimsindians

The Truth about Thanksgiving

America always has the best holidays.  They are of a different nature when compared to European holidays in terms of the level of enthusiasm, participation and excitement.  America is like the young child, bursting with anticipation for their fêtes while Europe would be the slow lumbering adult who smiles with muted amusement and in no particular rush towards their holidays.

The one thing about America however is due to its youthfulness it has been able to recreate each holiday according to its will without much regard to the actual origins and in most cases turning a complete blind eye to actual fact.  

Such is the case with the holiday we celebrate today.  We call it Thanksgiving and for most it is the time to eat turkey, watch football and take long naps.  If you ask most Americans about the origin they will tell you the story about the “Pilgrims” who are these people in top hats and buckle shoes who were helped by the Indians (Native Americans) when they didn’t have enough to eat.  

They will remember from their childhood drawing pictures of smiling pilgrims and Indians sharing a table and being good friends.  Unfortunately, this couldn’t be farther from the truth by the simple fact that as I look around I do not see one Indian anywhere but I do see a lot of non Indians.  In fact, the world has spun around the sun so many times since the first Thanksgiving that I actually see many many Indians from Indian but *not a single* Native American.  

As this blog enjoys pointing out truths that have either been forgotten or are just completely ignored, I’d like to share an excerpt from a very good, historically accurate book.  Enjoy.  

Book: The Hidden History of Massachusetts
Author: Tingba Apidta
Link:  Amazon.com

The Real Thanksgiving

Much of America’s understanding of the early relationship between the Indian and the European is conveyed through the story of Thanksgiving. Proclaimed a holiday in 1863 by Abraham Lincoln, this fairy tale of a feast was allowed to exist in the American imagination pretty much untouched until 1970, the 350th anniversary of the landing of the Pilgrims. That is when Frank B. James, president of the Federated Eastern Indian League, prepared a speech for a Plymouth banquet that exposed the Pilgrims for having committed, among other crimes, the robbery of the graves of the Wampanoags. He wrote:

“We welcomed you, the white man, with open arms, little knowing that it was the beginning of the end; that before 50 years were to pass, the Wampanoag would no longer be a free people.”

But white Massachusetts officials told him he could not deliver such a speech and offered to write him another. Instead, James declined to speak, and on Thanksgiving Day hundreds of Indians from around the country came to protest. It was the first National Day of Mourning, a day to mark the losses Native Americans suffered as the early settlers prospered. This true story of “Thanksgiving” is what whites did not want Mr. James to tell.

What Really Happened in Plymouth in 1621?

According to a single-paragraph account in the writings of one Pilgrim, a harvest feast did take place in Plymouth in 1621, probably in mid-October, but the Indians who attended were not even invited. Though it later became known as “Thanksgiving,” the Pilgrims never called it that. And amidst the imagery of a picnic of interracial harmony is some of the most terrifying bloodshed in New World history.

The Pilgrim crop had failed miserably that year, but the agricultural expertise of the Indians had produced twenty acres of corn, without which the Pilgrims would have surely perished. The Indians often brought food to the Pilgrims, who came from England ridiculously unprepared to survive and hence relied almost exclusively on handouts from the overly generous Indians-thus making the Pilgrims the western hemisphere’s first class of welfare recipients. The Pilgrims invited the Indian sachem Massasoit to their feast, and it was Massasoit, engaging in the tribal tradition of equal sharing, who then invited ninety or more of his Indian brothers and sisters-to the annoyance of the 50 or so ungrateful Europeans. No turkey, cranberry sauce or pumpkin pie was served; they likely ate duck or geese and the venison from the 5 deer brought by Massasoit. In fact, most, if notall, of the food was most likely brought and prepared by the Indians, whose 10,000-year familiarity with the cuisine of the region had kept the whites alive up to that point.

The Pilgrims wore no black hats or buckled shoes-these were the silly inventions of artists hundreds of years since that time. These lower-class Englishmen wore brightly colored clothing, with one of their church leaders recording among his possessions “1 paire of greene drawers.” Contrary to the fabricated lore of storytellers generations since, no Pilgrims prayed at the meal, and the supposed good cheer and fellowship must have dissipated quickly once the Pilgrims brandished their weaponry in a primitive display of intimidation. What’s more, the Pilgrims consumed a good deal of home brew. In fact, each Pilgrim drank at least a half gallon of beer a day, which they preferred even to water. This daily inebriation led their governor, William Bradford, to comment on his people’s “notorious sin,” which included their “drunkenness and uncleanliness” and rampant “sodomy”…

The Pilgrims of Plymouth, The Original Scalpers

Contrary to popular mythology the Pilgrims were no friends to the local Indians. They were engaged in a ruthless war of extermination against their hosts, even as they falsely posed as friends. Just days before the alleged Thanksgiving love-fest, a company of Pilgrims led by Myles Standish actively sought to chop off the head of a local chief. They deliberately caused a rivalry between two friendly Indians, pitting one against the other in an attempt to obtain “better intelligence and make them both more diligent.” An 11-foot-high wall was erected around the entire settlement for the purpose of keeping the Indians out.

Any Indian who came within the vicinity of the Pilgrim settlement was subject to robbery, enslavement, or even murder. The Pilgrims further advertised their evil intentions and white racial hostility, when they mounted five cannons on a hill around their settlement, constructed a platform for artillery, and then organized their soldiers into four companies-all in preparation for the military destruction of their friends the Indians.

Pilgrim Myles Standish eventually got his bloody prize. He went to the Indians, pretended to be a trader, then beheaded an Indian man named Wituwamat. He brought the head to Plymouth, where it was displayed on a wooden spike for many years, according to Gary B. Nash, “as a symbol of white power.” Standish had the Indian man’s young brother hanged from the rafters for good measure. From that time on, the whites were known to the Indians of Massachusetts by the name “Wotowquenange,” which in their tongue meant cutthroats and stabbers.

Who Were the “Savages”?

The myth of the fierce, ruthless Indian savage lusting after the blood of innocent Europeans must be vigorously dispelled at this point. In actuality, the historical record shows that the very opposite was true.

Once the European settlements stabilized, the whites turned on their hosts in a brutal way. The once amicable relationship was breeched again and again by the whites, who lusted over the riches of Indian land. A combination of the Pilgrims’ demonization of the Indians, the concocted mythology of Eurocentric historians, and standard Hollywood propaganda has served to paint the gentle Indian as a tomahawk-swinging savage endlessly on the warpath, lusting for the blood of the God-fearing whites.

But the Pilgrims’ own testimony obliterates that fallacy. The Indians engaged each other in military contests from time to time, but the causes of “war,” the methods, and the resulting damage differed profoundly from the European variety:

o Indian “wars” were largely symbolic and were about honor, not about territory or extermination.

o “Wars” were fought as domestic correction for a specific act and were ended when correction was achieved. Such action might better be described as internal policing. The conquest or destruction of whole territories was a European concept.

o Indian “wars” were often engaged in by family groups, not by whole tribal groups, and would involve only the family members.

o A lengthy negotiation was engaged in between the aggrieved parties before escalation to physical confrontation would be sanctioned. Surprise attacks were unknown to the Indians.

o It was regarded as evidence of bravery for a man to go into “battle” carrying no weapon that would do any harm at a distance-not even bows and arrows. The bravest act in war in some Indian cultures was to touch their adversary and escape before he could do physical harm.

o The targeting of non-combatants like women, children, and the elderly was never contemplated. Indians expressed shock and repugnance when the Europeans told, and then showed, them that they considered women and children fair game in their style of warfare.

o A major Indian “war” might end with less than a dozen casualties on both sides. Often, when the arrows had been expended the “war” would be halted. The European practice of wiping out whole nations in bloody massacres was incomprehensible to the Indian.

According to one scholar, “The most notable feature of Indian warfare was its relative innocuity.” European observers of Indian wars often expressed surprise at how little harm they actually inflicted. “Their wars are far less bloody and devouring than the cruel wars of Europe,” commented settler Roger Williams in 1643. Even Puritan warmonger and professional soldier Capt. John Mason scoffed at Indian warfare: “[Their] feeble manner…did hardly deserve the name of fighting.” Fellow warmonger John Underhill spoke of the Narragansetts, after having spent a day “burning and spoiling” their country: “no Indians would come near us, but run from us, as the deer from the dogs.” He concluded that the Indians might fight seven years and not kill seven men. Their fighting style, he wrote, “is more for pastime, than to conquer and subdue enemies.”

All this describes a people for whom war is a deeply regrettable last resort. An agrarian people, the American Indians had devised a civilization that provided dozens of options all designed to avoid conflict–the very opposite of Europeans, for whom all-out war, a ferocious bloodlust, and systematic genocide are their apparent life force. Thomas Jefferson–who himself advocated the physical extermination of the American Indian–said of Europe, “They [Europeans] are nations of eternal war. All their energies are expended in the destruction of labor, property and lives of their people.”

Puritan Holocaust

By the mid 1630s, a new group of 700 even holier Europeans calling themselves Puritans had arrived on 11 ships and settled in Boston-which only served to accelerate the brutality against the Indians.

In one incident around 1637, a force of whites trapped some seven hundred Pequot Indians, mostly women, children, and the elderly, near the mouth of the Mystic River. Englishman John Mason attacked the Indian camp with “fire, sword, blunderbuss, and tomahawk.” Only a handful escaped and few prisoners were taken-to the apparent delight of the Europeans:

To see them frying in the fire, and the streams of their blood quenching the same, and the stench was horrible; but the victory seemed a sweet sacrifice, and they gave praise thereof to God.

This event marked the first actual Thanksgiving. In just 10 years 12,000 whites had invaded New England, and as their numbers grew they pressed for all-out extermination of the Indian. Euro-diseases had reduced the population of the Massachusett nation from over 24,000 to less than 750; meanwhile, the number of European settlers in Massachusetts rose to more than 20,000 by 1646.

By 1675, the Massachusetts Englishmen were in a full-scale war with the great Indian chief of the Wampanoags, Metacomet. Renamed “King Philip” by the white man, Metacomet watched the steady erosion of the lifestyle and culture of his people as European-imposed laws and values engulfed them.

In 1671, the white man had ordered Metacomet to come to Plymouth to enforce upon him a new treaty, which included the humiliating rule that he could no longer sell his own land without prior approval from whites. They also demanded that he turn in his community’s firearms. Marked for extermination by the merciless power of a distant king and his ruthless subjects, Metacomet retaliated in 1675 with raids on several isolated frontier towns. Eventually, the Indians attacked 52 of the 90 New England towns, destroying 13 of them. The Englishmen ultimately regrouped, and after much bloodletting defeated the great Indian nation, just half a century after their arrival on Massachusetts soil. Historian Douglas Edward Leach describes the bitter end:

The ruthless executions, the cruel sentences…were all aimed at the same goal-unchallengeable white supremacy in southern New England. That the program succeeded is convincingly demonstrated by the almost complete docility of the local native ever since.

When Captain Benjamin Church tracked down and murdered Metacomet in 1676, his body was quartered and parts were “left for the wolves.” The great Indian chief’s hands were cut off and sent to Boston and his head went to Plymouth, where it was set upon a pole on the real first “day of public Thanksgiving for the beginning of revenge upon the enemy.” Metacomet’s nine-year-old son was destined for execution because, the whites reasoned, the offspring of the devil must pay for the sins of their father. The child was instead shipped to the Caribbean to spend his life in slavery.

As the Holocaust continued, several official Thanksgiving Days were proclaimed. Governor Joseph Dudley declared in 1704 a “General Thanksgiving”-not in celebration of the brotherhood of man-but for [God's] infinite Goodness to extend His Favors…In defeating and disappointing… the Expeditions of the Enemy [Indians] against us, And the good Success given us against them, by delivering so many of them into our hands…

Just two years later one could reap a ££50 reward in Massachusetts for the scalp of an Indian-demonstrating that the practice of scalping was a European tradition. According to one scholar, “Hunting redskins became…a popular sport in New England, especially since prisoners were worth good money…”

References in The Hidden History of Massachusetts: A Guide for Black Folks ©© DR. TINGBA APIDTA, ; ISBN 0-9714462-0-2

 

 

Past Meets the Present – Infinite City

I’m currently reading a book called “Infinite City – A San Francisco Atlas” 

When most people hear the word “Atlas” they think of boring school subjects and perhaps don’t bother to lift the cover.  For me however, I opened the cover and this book has kept me spellbound.  

As any reader of this blog knows, I enjoy language, culture, history, politics and general discovery.  As it happens, these things often come all at once.  My mind is able to paint a fuller picture of the things which surround me by combining my knowledge of language, my travels to places not yet explored (by me), interest in history and reading of current events.  

I am reminded of this quote by Thomas Paine ““The mind once enlightened cannot again become dark.”   Once that spark of curiosity has been ignited it turns into a conflagration consuming as much knowledge as it possibly can.  

The “Infinite City” has definitely poured much fuel on the fire.  

The first thing I really like about this book is how it talks about “Ghosts.”  These ghosts are the past, the forgotten that have been built over yet have contributed so much and define the character of the city.  

Every neighborhood in San Francisco is full of these ghosts.  Most people cannot see them, they are disconnected from the past by that veil which grows thicker with each passing year.  

As I mentioned I have great interest in many things and from my world travels and experiences I actively seek out these ghosts.  Sometimes, I know they are there but really have no understanding of the history until I have found the right book and have done my studies.  Only then, do they really come alive.  

I will not go into the details of these ghosts in this post but instead will just give you a few examples of what I think about when walking through San Francisco.  

1. Japan Town – I see the Japanese being boarded onto buses for concentration camps courtesy of the US Government.  I see a shell of a place that once was a thriving Japanese community now being bought up by Koreans.  

2. The Fillmore – A heart of African American culture where many famous Jazz musicians once played.  This was gutted by redevelopment.  I also think of how it is named after the US President Millard Fillmore

3.  The Embarcadero – In Spanish, a “Barca” is a boat, thus the “Embarcadero” is the place where you board the boats.  

Now, take these examples and multiply them by a million and that is how I have come to see this city.  Much of my knowledge comes directly from the book I have mentioned.  

Now, how can we understand the present without understanding the past?  

The fact is, we really cannot.  Reading this book I can make greater sense of what is happening politically right now.  The 99% vs. the 1% has happened all before.  

Very few people would remember the United Fruit Company.  It was the UFC that coined the term “Banana Republic” as they controlled many third world nations.  This was the behemoth that exploited the poor in the third world countries and put people out of work in the US.  In early 1995 the exploitation was expanded by NAFTA to not only include fruit, but also anything possible of being manufactured that really put a lot of people in the US out of work.  

I believe it just took a decade or so for the process to lubricate properly, the US citizens to realize that their jobs are disappearing and should they have a job it is stagnant.  Meanwhile, the executives of these international companies are making a killing.  

The crisis did not start with Wall Street, they are only the profiteers of a system designed to make American citizens much poorer while trumpeting the horn of “efficiency and progress.”  

A great point the author makes in this book is in regards to shipping containers.  Yes, those large bulky containers they put on ships to transport goods.  These are directly responsible for the exploitation of cheap labor from other countries and the declining industrial jobs in the USA.  The “working man” started to lose power long before NAFTA, long before Wall Street and Finance went into overdrive.  

These containers were responsible for the loss of industrial jobs in SF and the USA as a whole.  An interesting fact she makes is that SF could not receive these containers do to limited space thus they went to Oakland and later Seattle and LA where space was available.  

She talks about the transition of SF going from human labor to the industrial and technological economy.  My favorite parts are here.  

“The truth is that we’re drowning in busywork, nonproductive work, everything from “creative” bankingand insurance bureaucracies to the pointless shuffling of data and the manufacturing of products designed to be obsolescent almost immediately – and I would argue that a great deal of what we’re doing shoudl just stop.  

The modernization and progress that gave this soul-destroying process a certain inevitability did indeed affect the whole country, and even most of the world.  It was not invented in the Bay Area, but San Francisco was one of its earliest epicenters…….  As this process unfolded, the white working class lost its identity as workers, mostly fled the cities, sent the kids to college, and took full advantage (by going into massive debt) of the wealth that US militarism and multinational business poured into U.S. coffers.” 

Now look at our current environment.  We have the Republicans who are the defenders of these multinational robber barons and the Democrats who try to put a few curbs on them but are basically in league as well.  

We can never turn back the clock but I think it is about time we take another look at the meaning of “progress.”  In the current Capitalistic climate, “progress” means making the profits ever higher no matter what the expense, no matter who is hurt financially.  Make more money so you can buy more stuff is the meaning of “progress” in the USA.  

Thankfully, the tide is turning ever so slightly.  People (in California) at least are more apt to purchase locally, at least where foodstuffs are concerned.  Some people are questioning the need to buy ever more goods and giving a thought to at least saving some money.  

But, it is all a dream, I highly doubt that the tide can be turned and that people will look away from greed and the desire to purchase more things.  On one side you have the business people that employ armies of marketers to make people want to buy, to make them feel they do not have enough.  On the other, you have a handful of thoughtful people who realize they are being suckered and would like to opt out of the system.  These people are the ones who shop at the local farmers markets and do not fall for every single sales pitch thrown at them on a day to day basis.  

To sum up the current climate in the USA, I’d like to take a line from the failed presidential contender Herman Cain.  “It’s you’re own fault if you’re not rich.”  It seems that in the USA  becoming wealthy is the whole purpose of being, the purpose of life, at least in the Republican party.  

But, I digress, as I’ve gone off on a tangent again.  I guess my point is that I find it so enlightening to uncover a book like “Infinite City” and realize that these class struggles have been fought way before the current crisis.  It is fun to be able to look past all the sound bites from the politicians and realize that we’ve been here all before.  

I guess if I were to strive for a point which sums it all up, in the USA we have an electorate who is incredibly ignorant of the past and believe all these issues just started as soon as a Hannity or a Limbaugh opened their mouths.  

My advice, is to become interested in the past, to look for those ghosts.  Only then, can we really understand where we are and where we are going.  

Until we can do that, a “Banana Republic” will remain a clothing store and the world would have begun in 1990.  

 

The means to attain a happy life

I ran across this epigram the other day.  I found a lot of wisdom in these words. 

MARTIAL, the things that do attain
The happy life be these, I find:—
The richesse left, not got with pain;
The fruitful ground, the quiet mind;
The equal friend; no grudge, no strife;
No charge of rule, nor governance;
Without disease, the healthful life;
The household of continuance;
The mean diet, no delicate fare;
True wisdom join’d with simpleness;
The night dischargèd of all care,
Where wine the wit may not oppress.
The faithful wife, without debate;
Such sleeps as may beguile the night:
Contented with thine own estate
Ne wish for death, ne fear his might.

From Wikipedia

Marcus Valerius Martialis (known in English as Martial) (March 1, between 38 and 41 AD – between 102 and 104 AD), was a Latinpoet from Hispania (the Iberian Peninsula) best known for his twelve books of Epigrams, published in Rome between AD 86 and 103, during the reigns of the emperors DomitianNerva and Trajan. In these short, witty poems he cheerfully satirises city life and the scandalous activities of his acquaintances, and romanticises his provincial upbringing. He wrote a total of 1,561, of which 1,235 are inelegiac couplets. He is considered to be the creator of the modern epigram.

Question Everything: Jews, Circumcision and Netflix

I had a very difficult time coming up with a title for tonight’s post.  If you are reading this then I guess it worked and I shall not let you down regarding the catch words.  And as usual I’ll veer off into related topics and rarely stay on point.  Some would call this “rambling” but I much prefer to call it “Stream of Consciousness” because that is a respected writing style and sounds so much better than “rambling.”

As usual I chose another random movie from Netflix and came up with a TV series from the 1980’s called “30 Something.” This show is about, in Netflix’s own description, “examines the lives of several suburban friends as they grapple with love, marriage, parenthood, work and the ever-present fear that life is passing them by.”  It caught my eye because I happen to be a 30 something and wanted to see what 30 somethings in the 1980’s were dealing with.

Now, for some reason Netflix doesn’t always go to the first in the series and I ended up watching season four’s “Prelude to a Bris” which is a about the parents decision to circumcise or not.  The husband is Jewish and the wife apparently, so far, not religious.  The wife wants to know why they should automatically circumcise the baby and the husband, not being particularly devout, was grappling with tradition vs the feelings of his wife.

I listened to their debates with intensity because this was a recent decision I also had to make.  It was not based on religious reasons but instead the tradition of hospitals to just assume that everyone wants to have their kids circumcised.

As the husband debated with himself, he got some advice from both a Rabbi and an older Jew.  The Rabbi said it was “A covenant with God,” and the older Jew said it was like an unbroken chain of tradition that went back for centuries.  His main point was that nobody was forcing him to continue the chain but would he be the one to want to end this tradition?

As for me, in our enlightened age of 2011 I found it a bit odd that God would base his relationship on a little piece of skin being chipped off the old wiener or not.  There are tons of traditions in all faiths and from my studies of history and travels I’ve come to think that all these traditions were just made up over time for certain reasons.

For example, many religious folk are not supposed to eat pork.  As I researched, I learned that it may have been because if this food is not cooked properly then there is a high chance of getting worms or some other nasty parasite in you.  Thus, this safeguard learned over time eventually gets incorporated into religion and finally becomes God’s word.  Interesting how that works.

By the same logic and from all the debates I have read concerning circumcision it could be that an uncircumcised male might find it a bit more work to wash and keep his favorite part clean which could have led to infections especially in the past when people were not showering daily.

Thus, over time people learned that simply snipping off the foreskin was a simple method of not having bad things happen to Mr. Happy down the road.  And just like meat (pardon the pun) the tradition gets incorporated into religion and becomes something that God apparently once said.

Having reasoned it out like this, I decided not to mutilate my own little boy.  I don’t hold anything against those that are still bound by 2000 year old traditions.  But for me, and more importantly my son, I thought the body knows best and should retain all things that accompanied him at birth.  One of the arguments that swayed me was that the foreskin covers the sensitive part and if you take the foreskin away it will lose sensitivity over time.

Now, one day I can tell him that I did him a very very big favor by bucking the trend of doing something simply because everyone else was doing it.

But, I am not alone.  In San Francisco and other parts of the USA there is actually a petition to stop the barbaric practice.  Think I’m crazy or anti-religion?  No, check out the Jewish Circumcision Resource Center 

“The organization maintains in its petition, that in a modern democratic society there is no place for the “barbaric” ceremony, which mauls a child who does not have any say in the matter. One spokesman for the group, a Jewish man who stated he is proud that his son was not circumcised, explained there are no health benefits, and in some cases, such as contracting herpes, there are disadvantages.”

Moving on to other topics, the older Jewish man in the show said the child’s name in Hebrew.   His English name was Leo (Means Lion, just think of a horoscope), but in Hebrew it was “Lyeb ben Adam.”  What caught my attention was the use of the word “ben” meaning “son of.”

You know what that made me think of?  Osama bin Laden.  I had no idea that Hebrew and Arabic were so close in terms of the word for “son of.”  It then made me think of how few Jews I knew that used Hebrew here in the USA when saying their names yet the Muslims still use the Arabic way regarding bin/ben.

No real point to make on this, I just found it interesting.

As I continued to read and learn about the origins of Jewish names I then got a real shock.

I COULD BE JEWISH!

“It is commonly believed that “-sky” is a Jewish surname while “-ski” is not. This spelling difference, however, seems do have more to do with the source of the surname: Russia or Poland. The correct spelling of this common surname suffix in Polish is “-ski”, and Poles usually kept that spelling after immigration to America. In Russia, this suffix is spelled in the Cyrillic alphabet, -sky (in Cyrillic), and may have been transliterated into English as either -ski or -sky. However, a Jewish friend of mine who comes from Moscow tells me that in Russia, names ending in -sky (in Cyrillic) were usually Jewish.”

My grandfathers last name was *******-ski and came from Poland.  Now, it is hard to trace back but I know for sure that the Americans took many liberties when taking down the names of immigrants since the founding of the country.  They just spelled the last names as they heard them (in English) and that is what they became.  So unless I traced that family branch back to Poland there is no way I could be absolutely sure.

But, to end the speculation, I’m pretty sure I’m not Jewish as the Polish side were pretty strong Catholics.  But then again, what if a very distant ancestor just decided to convert?  We know that many Jews did convert (forced, out of fear, or just because) at many times in European history.

So could it not be possible that I have a tiny bit of Jewish blood in me?  After all, I was circumcised against my will, with absolutely no debate on the matter when I was just months old so it looks like my family is following the same traditions although the doctrine changed a bit about 2000 years ago with the world changer JC.

Wow, look where we’ve ended up with this post.  Isn’t it fun that when we start to think a little bit, we just might find that we may question ourselves and have more in common with those who previously were very distant to us?  Through a bit of thought, research and new ideas provided by my beloved Netflix, I learned I might have a bit of Jewish blood through a very distant ancestor!

Even if that is not the case, I just hope people start using their noggin a bit more, start realizing that we are not all that different and if we go far enough back in history we could all be related!  Adam and Eve anyone?  Or hell, God for that matter if you really want to get to the source (sorry for the blasphemy.)

And oh yea, think a bit before you simply cut off a piece of your little boys most important part.  NOT everyone is doing it.

Goodnight – Laila Tov

 

 

 

 

Native American Spirits

 

I recently went on a business trip to Phoenix Arizona.  I had never been in the state and the desert environment was entirely new to me.  We were shuttled to a place called Scottsdale and we stayed in a luxury hotel.  

Now I had heard of this place called Scottsdale before.  Many older rich people had raved about it and a lot of young people I knew bragged about living there.  As I walked through the hotel, I payed particular attention to the other guests and what they were like.  It seemed to me as though many of the women were auditioning for a place in the show Desperate Housewives.  This idea came to me so strongly that I actually mentioned it to a few I had met at the bar and they had a very good laugh.  Not only that, but they told me I was right on the mark.  There was so much wealth there that a sort of competition had emerged and the inhabitants really did portray the characteristics one would find on the show.  

If you haven’t seen the show “Desperate Housewives” it is basically a caricature of the white upper class living in privileged suburbia who have nothing better to do but create drama.  This is exactly what I found in Scottsdale.  

But this is not what was impressed upon me most strongly.  At the luxury hotel all of the art were of Native Americans.  

Now, if you read my posts with any frequency you can probably guess where I am going to go with this.  I pride myself on understanding the mentality of others and try to put myself into their lives and see the world through their eyes.  To me, this is what a Global Citizen should be about.  The constant effort to understand and see the world exactly as others would.  This is an exercise I practice almost daily and in doing so, discover that we simply do not understand each other.  

We go about our lives only seeing the world from our own very limited point of view.  We believe we can judge right and wrong based on our own very incomplete understanding and miniscule point of view.  

Now I know very little about Native Americans except from what I have read and the songs I have listened to.  My favorite descriptions of the Native Americans come not from Western historians but instead from George Catlin who, in my opinion, understood them as much as any white man could.  He traveled into their lands and painted their portraits while the Natives still inhabited a large amount of the USA.  I would highly encourage taking a look at his website.  What he did was create a record of a people who did not write, in a time where their world was collapsing.  

I tried very hard to get into the mindset about how a Native American would feel about all this art.  In order to do so, I awoke before dawn and took a walk in the Cactus Garden that was laid out beside the hotel.  From this place I could study the landscape which included an enormous desert mountain and very distant terrain.  

In this peace and quiet I reflected on how a Native American might feel about all the sculptures representing his people that were placed in the garden.  Perhaps it was the silence of the desert, or the quiet solitude one feels while walking in the desert at night but an incredible feeling of sadness came over me.  

These sculptures represented the lives of people long ago wiped out by the very people now attempting to honor them with a piece of art.  As I looked at the sculptures I saw these people being murdered by white men on horseback, children screaming and women being shot in the back as they fled.  

I expected tears to start flowing from the sculpture depicted above as I imagined all of these things.  It was almost as if the spirits of these long deceased spirits were calling out to me in the silence of the desert night.  I could feel their presence, their energy and in my mind I responded, yes, I know what happened to you, you are not forgotten.

I found it unsettling that this luxurious hotel had been built upon land which was stained with Native American blood.  The guests swimming in the pools, drinking, eating find food and not giving one thought to the suffering that had occurred a century or two ago.  These are the people that would look upon the sculptures and only think about how nice it would look in their mansions.  

I soon came upon another sculpture with this inscription.

“From where the sun now standsI will fight no more forever.” 

I did not know this quote and so promptly looked it up and found that it came from Chief Joseph.  As I read, two ideas quickly came rushing into my mind, perhaps with the aid of the spirits that were whispering to me.  

The first is that this Chief had taken a Christian name.  The influence of the white man had already penetrated the tribe but this was not enough to appease them.  They required more.  They wanted the Indian lands but, with no Indians on them.  Even though the tribe had excepted the white man’s religion he wanted more and what he wanted was to have them disappear.  

You can try to appease the devil but in doing so will only add to his desire for more.  This desire will not abate until the giver is completely destroyed. 

The second thing that occurred to me after reading the description was that Chief Joseph was not from Arizona.  He lived in Oregon and the US army wanted his people relocated to Idaho.  Thus, the “white man” who erected this sculpture did not even bother to try and honor a local Chief but must have thought that any Native would do.  

And to add insult to injury, according to Wikipedia the quote was made up by an Army lieutenant.  

“The popular legend deflated, however, when the original pencil draft of the report was revealed to show the handwriting of the later poet and lawyer Lieutenant Charles Erskine Scott Wood, who claimed to have taken down the great chief’s words on the spot. In the margin it read, “Here insert Joseph’s reply to the demand for surrender”

As if this was not enough insult I came upon one other sculpture that left me in complete despair in regards to our understanding and sympathy for each other.  

 

This one is called “The Future” by Alan Houser.   What I find in this piece is irony smacking me right in the face.  There is no future for Native Americans.  They were decimated and what remains are in the squalor of reservations except for those lucky tribes that have been awarded casinos.  And what do they do with these casinos?  Well, what one would expect of humans in our current state of development,,,,  horde all the profits for themselves while their brothers and sisters languish on the reservations.  

I was thrown a twist when I looked up who Alan Houser actually was.  It appears he is an Apache Indian.  Now, perhaps I simply do not understand his aims or purpose and I sincerely hope my conclusions are the result of misunderstandings.  

Yet, I cannot help but feel the ire, the disdain of the Native spirits seeing their image being sold to the wealthy ancestors of the conquerors who most likely have no real understanding of what has occurred.  

Perhaps I feel too deeply.  Maybe I understand history too clearly.  I could have traveled too much.  Yet, I simply cannot understand how people can so quickly forget the past.  An entire civilization erased and even when presented with the images of the long deceased they only think of how great a piece of art would look in their foyer.  

The spirits remain in that desert and they have not forgotten.  

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x1uJidwo77s[/youtube]

The Rape of Nanking – Thoughts

This is perhaps the most depressing book I have ever read in my life.

A quick background.  The Japanese invade the city and do the worst possible things one human being could do to another.  In short,

- Babies torn out of their mothers and killed
- Daily rape and thrusting of bamboo poles into them
- Killing games – Line up the Chinese and bayonet them as fast as possible to see who can kill more in a limited amount of time
- And so on and so on.  Just think of the absolute worst and that is what happened.

 

I’ve been thinking about which way I want to take this post and have decided not to dive into the mentality of the Japanese or possible reasons why they became “Japanese Devils.”  Instead, I would like to relate to you the difficulty I have reconciling the Japanese/Japan I personally know with the mass murders of the Japanese Army in the past.  Further, it baffles me how little is known about this atrocity.

It should also be known that the author if this book, Iris Chang” in diving so deep into an event as horrible as this committed suicide.  She is known as “The woman who could not forget.”

For some reason, I think I can understand her.  I too try to put myself into different mindsets and am astounded how quickly we forget the terrible events of the past.  When I read her words I feel as though I’m actually there and a hatred for Japan starts to ignite.

This is where I come into conflict with myself.  I love Japan, the Japanese people and their culture.  When I read something like this it starts to turn all my opinions about Japan on its head.  It feels like an internal struggle with the emotions of hate and love tearing at each other.

As I read the book I think what an awful race of people the Japanese must be!  I then put the book down, tear myself from that time frame and quickly realize that the emotions I have just had cannot be correct.  I have family, friends and a life I’ll eventually return to in Japan.  I reason with myself that it must have just been an army that went out of control, that normal Japanese would also be outraged if they knew what happened there.   The hate subsides and then I see a picture like this.  (For more see War Pictures - Very awful)

The hate returns.  I have to tell you that this internal struggle is mentally draining.  I wish the Japanese would just apologize and the criminals all be thrown into the sea.  At least then I could feel that the country has atoned, moved on and perhaps have a fresh start.  But the Japanese have never apologized.  Many of the criminals went back to normal life and the leaders found positions in government.  The Emperor was never punished and his descendants remain on the throne.

We can see that this issue remains very troublesome even today.  If you read the news carefully you will see that the Japanese Prime Minister visits Yasukuni Shrine every year to pay homage to the Japanese war dead.  The Chinese protest but it is all blown over in the interest of commerce, the buying and selling of goods is more important than remembering the Chinese dead.

I then think about what we are taught in our own US school system.  We are constantly reminded about the Holocaust and it would seem there is a new movie every year just in case anyone had forgotten.  Yes, what happened to the Jews was horrible and should not be forgotten, but why is it we are so easy to forget all the other atrocities in the world?  Why do the Jewish people get all the attention?  There are horrible genocides everywhere but we rarely hear about those.

Returning to Japan, it would seem the criminals did very well for themselves. Just as one example, look at Mitsubishi.  They were born out of wartime Japan and making machines of destruction for the Japanese army.  Now, Americans drive their cars and ride their elevators.  (Side Note: BMW was also born out of wartime Germany – The symbol is a propeller going towards the sky – People think they are driving in luxury, little do they know they are riding in a Nazi mobile).

But, let me tell you this about Japan.  The Japanese actually are quite ashamed of what their army did in WWII.  In typical Japanese fashion, it is not in their culture to have a huge outpouring of grief, in fact they show little emotion anyway.  If you pay attention to Japanese culture they do not really like their national anthem “Kimigayo” and many refuse to sing it which always causes a stir when someone of any influence refuses.  They still do not call their Army an “Army” but instead “The Self Defense Forces.”  They still do not have an atomic bomb.

There is however a counter current in Japanese society, which all societies have in the extreme right.  These are people who drive around in black trucks called “Uyoku Dantai.” Very easy to spot, they are yelling out their loudspeakers and have Japanese flags on the side.  Best to stay away from these trucks if you are a foreigner.  But I must say they are just a small minority.

Their main problem is they are sick and tired of apologizing for Japan, think Japan can do no wrong and are tired of Japan being seen as a “weak” country.  Remind you of any other Right wing groups you know?  Every country has them.  They are people who do not know history and have no high level thinking skills.

But returning to normal Japanese, I feel they do have a lot of internal shame but as I mentioned it is not in their nature to show their feelings.  They also do not like being called out on it, encouraged to show some remorse, it makes them angry if you try to do so.  Further, it was not the current Japanese that did these terrible things.  It would be like holding all Mongolians responsible for Genghis Khan.

On a personal note, I have family there and upon meeting the grandmother she greeted me with a big smile and a bow on the ground!  Her husband was in the Japanese Army and I’ve tried (very very gently) to find out where he was stationed but that is a topic they will not talk about.  So here, we have a very sweet old lady bowing to the grandson of a former enemy of her husband.  If they had ever met, they would be trading bullets, not bows.

I cannot think of any other word to describe this but weird.

On a second personal note, when I lived in Vietnam I knew a wonderful young lady who looked just a little different.  I asked her about her heritage and she told me that her grandfather was a Japanese soldier.  She had been trying to get in touch with him through the embassy but to this day, Japan will not help and all her requests refused.  Her Grandfather probably does not want anything to do with her and to just forget that time period.

To me, this is incredibly sad.  It makes me extremely depressed to read about what human beings are capable of doing to each other.  It makes me further depressed to put myself in the mindset of a Japanese soldier thrown into war and wonder if I had been in the same situation, would I have an innate human compass that would rather see myself killed than participate?

Perhaps this last sentence is a bit crazy.  But if we think about it, it is very easy to condemn looking back in the past from the comfort of our armchairs.  If any one of us were born a Japanese Soldier, a Serb, A Nazi, A Hutu, whatever and it is all we knew, our entire community was killing others, is there a benevolent voice inside us to tell us what we are doing is wrong?  Is it inherent in the human condition or are we a product of our environment.  Do we need another to train us not to be savage monsters?

I hate reading books like this and coming to the conclusion that we as humans are shaped by our environment and if the environment was bad probably will turn out bad ourselves.  It saddens me that I believe a human left to his own devices with no society as just as equal a chance to become a monster as well as a saint.  I come to the conclusion that we are just slightly more developed apes.

I am also aghast that this is not the last time things like this will happen.  Wars will continue, leaders will find some reason or another to rip the intestines out of pregnant women, the killing will not stop.

This book has put me in a very foul mood.

Japanese Internment, Asians, Integration and Muslim Congressional Hearings

Selecting my usual nightly Netflix documentary I came across this documentary and I couldn’t help but draw a few parallels even though they are currently not as severe.

This is a documentary about the Japanese/American internment during WWII.  It is a dark period of US history that most people are not very familiar with.  In case you need a quick refresher, here is the Wikipedia link.

Japanese-American Internment

Now, I know my history but this story really came alive to me after moving to San Francisco.  As you may know there is a “Japan Town” here but, as I have learned, it never fully recovered after all of the inhabitants were forced to leave during the war.

My education began soon upon my arrival in San Francisco as I had the good fortune to quickly find a job with a very large Japanese corporation.  We participated in all the Japanese events of the city with none being more important than the Cherry Blossom festival.  This takes place right in the middle of Japan Town and is where my interest was first peaked.

I noticed that many of the shops were Korean and that there were very few young Japanese people who actually lived there.  When I asked why, I got a very quick history lesson.

You see, Japan Town up to WWII was full of Japanese but they were all forced to leave and live in internment camps.  They had to leave everything behind.  There was a great fear that they were aiding the enemy “Japan” and so were not trusted.  Yet, over time it was realized that these were Americans and the majority had no affiliation with Japan the country.  So, when the war ended they were shipped to other places where jobs were more readily available and thus dispersed throughout the United States.

Then, in 1998 President Ronald Reagan issued a formal apology which was a very long time in coming.  It was not right what was done to the Japanese and with the apology never to be repeated.

*Side note:  I met the mother (Issei – First Generation Japanese) of one of my colleagues and she was sent to an internment camp.  She told me what happened and all I could do was listen. I had no response.

*Side Note 2:  A popular place to visit when in Munich is Dachau.  I’ve visited there as you can see in the picture and I tell you it is a very depressing place.

Everyone is familiar with Dachau due to the movies and famous WWII tales.  But how many people are familiar with the following?

 

 

 

This is a Japanese internment camp that used to be located right in San Bruno about 15 minutes from San Francisco.  It has now been replaced by a shrine to capitalism more commonly known as a shopping mall.

It has since been torn down and replaced by this plaque in a small little garden that nobody notices.

Now, granted, the US internment camps were nothing like the Nazi variety but if you want to argue the awfulness of internment camps I suggest you apply to Fox News.

Now, going back to the Cherry Blossom festival held in Japan Town, I have some inside information as to how they choose the ladies for the Cherry Blossom beauty pageant.  There are not enough full blood young Japanese ladies to form a full court.  A court is comprised of about 10 ladies so really not many at all.  Then, they lowered it to half Japanese, and then a quarter because they still could not find enough.

So what happened to all the Japanese?  Well, they simply became American and melted into society (albeit under terrible circumstances).  However, we cannot simply blame it all on a sort of forced integration as the same is happening to the Chinese, Filipinos, Vietnamese and every other race here in the Bay Area.  Over time, they simply become Americans whether their parents approve or not.

You might be surprised to know that it is not Asians simply melting into a white majority.  It is the white people melting into an Asian majority.

But currently, it is not Asians or Japanese (inside subtle joke there) that are having a hard time in the USA.  It is the Muslims.

It was once said in the fashion world that “Red is the new black.”  Well, Muslims are the new Japanese, the new Poles, the new Italians, the new Africans, the new whoever had a hard time in this country.

How do I know this?  Well, I know because THERE WAS A CONGRESSIONAL HEARING THAT NOBODY CARED ABOUT THIS PAST MONTH!

But true to form we have the new idiot demagogues such as Glenn Beck and Limbaugh who feast on fear, bigotry and hate.

While I was watching this movie, a Nissei (second generation Japanese) said that the US government believed the Japanese Americans were working with the enemy,,, Japan.

This recalled to mind a quote from Glenn Beck to the first US Muslim Congressman.

‘Sir, prove to me that you are not working with our enemies’ – Glenn Beck

Well, as it turned out for Japanese Americans, they were not working with Japan and an official government apology was issued by a REPUBLICAN!

I cannot help but draw a parallel to current Muslim Americans and the congressional hearings.  Again, the government is targeting a group of people basically due to 9-11.  Only this time, it is not necessarily a country, not a race but an entire religion.

Sure, there are no camps and I would like to believe us enlightened enough that we would not do so again.  However, with the amount of bile and hatred spewed by Beck, Limbaugh, Palin, Bachmann and the rest of their hate-fest club I really cannot be too sure that it wouldn’t happen again.

After all the process has already begun with our friends over in Europe with perhaps the most visible being Marine Le Pen.  Just a quick look at this quote should get you thinking, or if not, read the entire article below.

Ms Le Pen’s talent has been to move the far-right away from its thuggish neo-Nazi fixation to more respectable concerns about integration and what she calls “Islamisation”. – The Economist

France’s far right: Le Pen’s daughter takes over

In case you missed it, Neo-Nazi and integration were just used in the same sentence.  There you go Beck, no need to draw some far flung parallel using Nazis, it is written in black ink supporting your strain of thinking.

In school, they always tell us to learn about history because history has an uncanny ability to repeat itself.