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Archive for the ‘History’ Category

When plunder becomes a way of life for a group of men in a society, over the course of time they create for themselves a legal system that authorizes it and a moral code that glorifies it. – Frederic Bastiat

tgLife happens, and mine has been busy. I could be blogging about all that’s going on, but frankly I’m not in the mood.

I did share a bit a couple of months back, but haven’t felt the need to blab much lately. Yes, on a personal level life is grand; it’s in general, which includes everyone else (those not within my sphere, or spinning away over on the periphery) that has me hunkering down here on PP and instead popping off regularly in 140 characters like  screaming goats at a curry protest.

It’s Trump. Of course it’s Trump! But, then again, it’s so much more than SoCalledPOTUS Tangerine Skidmark Shit-Gibbon. He is vile, and that’s for sure. He’s also insane, stupid, glaringly shallow, ugly, insipid, avaricious, acquisitive, covetous, grasping, materialistic, mercenary, self-indulgent, self-aggrandizing, self- possessed, and … OH! … how I could go on, but a rather new, yet keen awareness of how quickly 140 characters flow by has tempered my use of descriptive adjectives. (You’re welcome.)

So actually it isn’t Trump that set me to raising my hand and my voice and my hackles in outrage at the world we live in now. Nope. It’s the people who allowed this blathering turd to take charge of the United States of America. Voted for him? You are complicit. Vote 3rd party? You are complicit. Didn’t bother to vote? You are complicit. Work in news or any sort of communication or information providing, yet did not bother to drag him down? You are complicit. GOP party faithful letting him slide? You are complicit. Politician of any stripe covering your own ass? You are complicit.

Yep. Anyone who is pulling a punch is helping the setup that has set us ALL up.

As a student of history, and now old enough to have a slice of it under my belt, perspective might have a chance of offering some comfort … if anything like this had ever happened in my lifetime.

But it hasn’t, so when my 30-something friend was disheartened and desperate and terrified of a future that no longer seemed assured to be at least reasonably reasonable asked, “Is this what it felt like back in the ’60s and ’70s?”, I was forced to pull that tiny shred of hopeful rug out from under his feet and admit that, no, putting an end to the Vietnam War and removing Richard Nixon from the Oval Office was NOTHING like what is going on today.

Robert Redford summed this reality up well when he said recently after being asked to equate the “All the President’s Men” days with what is happening today:

… while watching archival footage of the Senate grilling former White House Counsel John Dean in the Watergate Hearings, he had “a realization that made me sad, about something being lost having to do with our country.”

Continued Redford: “What I saw was the panel was made up precisely of both sides, both Democrats and Republicans, all acting as one, trying to get to the truth, and that hit me like a ton of bricks when I revisited. I said, ‘Oh, so there was a time.’

So … not in my time, and not in my place, which is NOT to say this hadn’t happened before.

Cue the DVD of the 1959 film “The Diary of Anne Frank“.

WWII ended in Europe with the unconditional surrender of Germany in May 1945, so 14 years before the release of this film, and I was I was eight-years-old when the movie came out.

I’d read Anne’s book before seeing the film and been deeply touched and totally terrified by the knowledge that something as horrible as the holocaust not only could happen, but DID happen in a place not long ago and not all that far away, so the movie served to underline the fact that humanity was not to be trusted.

I watched the film again this afternoon. Everyone should watch it. Everyone’s kids children should watch it. Everyone should hear the sound of jackboots pounding the pavement just outside the hiding place of two families while the knowledge that the 13-year-old girl portrayed died in Bergen-Belsen concentration camp along with her mother and sister and thousands of others because … well … Jewish.

It is fact that more than 6 million people were killed because other people lined up behind a lunatic and his insane hatred. They turned their backs to blatant bigotry, let stupidity run rampant, clucked sympathetically when losers laid blame by color or status or favored books, let their attention be diverted by cheap and trivial shiny things, and allowed themselves to be amused through various versions of perceived intellectual superiority to the idiot shouting catch phrases ad nauseam.

And here we are again.

Who made up the Gestapo? The SS? Commanded the death camps? Turned in their neighbors? Were those we now see as a hideously evil faction within the Third Reich somehow manufactured for the events?

Of course not. They were neighbors and school chums, buddies from church and the PTA, the harmless nutcase next door, the crazy uncle who creates trouble every holiday. And they didn’t do it just for the hats or the boots or the preferred parking, although all those things did convey a sense of being somehow special.

They gassed children, raped and killed, stole every bit of everything from anyone who fit the profile because it made them feel good about themselves. They suddenly belonged and life had meaning. Well, THEIR lives had meaning.

This massive festering blight on the history of our species did not begin with gas chambers, but with lies and diversions and divisions and insanity that it was not polite or profitable to address.

This is the world we live in now.

#Resist

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boschsevendeadlysins

The Seven Deadly Really Sucky Things

It just so happens that today, the 9th of November in the year 2016, I am rereading Richard Leakey’s  1994 take on how we became what we’ve become, “The Origin of Humankind” . The timing of the read was dictated by nothing more than it being the only hardback book on hand after relocating to Italy, but it all seems somehow prescient upon awakening this morning.

Why?

Donald Trump has been elected to be President of The United States. Wow. Aside from underlining just how good an idea it was to leave the US almost 25 years ago, there are no positive points to this now being the actual reality. (Had it been scripted and edited as ‘reality shows’ actually are, no one would ever have believed this situation even remotely possible … no matter how clever the contrived convolutions.)

The New York Times conveniently compiled a list of The Donald’s tacky snipes , so there’s no reason to dwell on the nasty divisiveness that spews forth from His Orangeness, but it does rub against the grain even more abrasively when juxtaposed aside the anthropological construct that says humanity itself … the very basics of what makes humans human and separates us from apes … began evolutionarily with sharing.

As Leakey states in his 1981 book, “The Making of Mankind”, sharing is THE factor that puts us where we are, “ … the food sharing hypothesis is a strong candidate for explaining what set early humans on the road to modern man.”

The Smithsonian’s Richard Potts notes in “Early Hominid Activities at Olduvai”:

The home-base, food-sharing hypothesis integrates so many aspects of human behavior and social life that are important to anthropologists — reciprocity systems, exchange, kinship, subsistence, division of labor and language.

Yet 1.5 million years later where are we?

We are in a world that just made a lying bigot with zero experience, no integrity, ethics or morals the most powerful man on the planet, not only suggesting democracy is a failed system, but also that evolution has come to naught. Sharing made us human, now not sharing will reduce us to whatever form of cockroach-like scramblers we are destined to become as Earth revolts against perpetual rape and some learn the hard way that avarice is actually one of the seven deadly sins.

And … just FYI …

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For last year’s words belong to last year’s language
And next year’s words await another voice.
And to make an end is to make a beginning.
~T.S. Eliot

The_Little_Engine_That_Could1Anyone reading me for a while knows I have no great fondness for the changing of the years and the obligatory omphaloskepsis that accompanies the calendar flip it requires.

Not only does it mean more thinking about time and its passing, causing an infernal hesitation before jotting dates on checks and documents, it stirs shit that has taken 364 days to settle uncomfortably to the surface and forces contemplation of said shit.

In the grand scheme of quantum quandaries linear time doesn’t exist, an idea rejected out of hand by our puny biological built-in chronometers, so just try moving your head beyond the day-by-day plodding that can only feel to us like a train moving along a straight stretch track and hell-bent on a final destination not to be found on any map we know of.

Pausing at stations along the way is an illusion, as the train is always moving, and always in the same direction. It may seem we’ve dallied, stepped off to enjoy time on the platform, but it’s all just part and parcel of the ride.

Accepting that, we ignore the train and try our best to focus on the journey. Throwing ourselves into our personal odysseys (and occasionally under the train … bus … whatever …) and using our imagined stops along the way to gauge the distance traveled and judge progress feels natural to us, so that’s what we do.

Being confronted by the timetable on a regular basis hits hard though, and once a year there are few ways to avoid the slap upside the head. The turn of the page from one year to the next shows us an indication of how far along the track we’ve traveled, and the angst in our baggage is prompted to contemplate every stop we didn’t make, how much we have added to our load, how much we’ve lost, and how long we’ll keep moving.

Some choose to imagine an engineer in control, some expert that guides the trip up and down mountains, through tunnels and avoiding obstacles along the way. It’s handy and alleviates responsibility, but the fact is we are all driving our own trains; storms, fallen trees, rusting components, precarious terrain are ours to deal with as they happen; there’s no reversing and no stopping until the end is reached. It is for us to navigate, to face decaying bridges in the dark and make necessary repairs to keep the damned train moving.

Personally, I find it much easier to calibrate myself with a new timetable when the track ahead appears to be clear. Once again, though, that’s not the case with the flip from 2015 to 2016. I know what’s behind me, but have no idea what’s ahead, and if there is a light at the end of this tunnel I just hope it’s not the headlamp of another train set to derail the one I’m driving.

In preparation for contingencies, I’m trying to work out a strategy.

I think I can. I think I can. I think I can.

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I have a lot of Christmases under my belt.

There were those when I was a kid and followed my mom’s tree-decorating dictates demanding tinsel was to be strung one … strand … at …a … time, then collected in the same fashion when the holiday finished, put away carefully, then stored for the next year. (I swear she was still using some 1958 tinsel in 2010!)

The years my first batch of children were little were at times fraught, but we always had a tree with gifts under it and Santa always did his midnight visit. We’d open gifts and such, then go to Grandma’s house for the feast that never varied. (Okay, once it varied; mom made orange jello-mold salad with carrots instead of green jello-mold salad with the alternating pineapple slice/cherry pattern we’d grown up with. She never heard the end of it … nor did she ever again try that sketchy menu change.)

When those kids were older, money was less an issue and the house was much bigger, so the tree was a sixteen-footer and decked to the halls. Gifts were more lavish and home was the gathering place for relatives from near and far. My brothers played basketball in my living room, the turkey was huge and the table could sit 25.

One Christmas found me in Australia with a family that wasn’t mine, but was still family and lovely. It was my first ‘Summer Christmas’ and a pool party was a novel idea in my mind that took a bit of adjusting to, but there were laughs and fun … and the fire to roast chestnuts was a barbecue. I had my first Pavlova that year and I heartily recommend that addition to the traditional meal no matter where you are.

Christmas in England encouraged every Dickensian fantasy I’d ever had, and my daughter’s decision to spend the holiday with me over the pond made it pretty perfect. We were introduced to crackers and crowns and the weather gave us a bit more perspective on poor old Bob Cratchit’s issues with coal.

By the time the holiday rolled around in Seychelles I was accustomed to the Beach Christmas concept and surrounded by friends. Christmas gatherings were huge affairs attended by people from many countries speaking often up to 10 languages, all bringing their own flavors in food, traditions and entertainment. One year we had Shetland Island folk songs played on mandolin and fiddle by an authentic Shetland Islander, and a fabulously funny game of euphemisms … another word for the male member, the sex act, etc. … which allowed submissions from any language.

Once Sam and Cj joined the family Christmas was again about kids.The tree went up, the house draped in various sorts of holiday tat, gifts went under the tree. We’d host a party Christmas eve, then trot up to Gay’s for what had become the traditional food Bacchanal with participation of people from all over the world. The last time this happened was 2 years ago and the festivities of the Eve and the Day included folks with roots in Seychelles, England, Kenya, South Africa, the USA, Scotland, Sri Lanka, Germany, Australia, Ireland, Italy, and probably a few I’m not recalling.

Last year I was back in England to celebrate with the kids in their home-from-home. To say there was a bittersweetness to it would be an understatement, but the ‘sweet’ was very and the ‘bitter’ was easily swallowed. To Cj’s disappointment, it didn’t snow, but it was cold enough to warrant extra coal on the fire. The circle of family had expanded wonderfully and embraced all.

Yes, so many Christmases under my belt.

This one, however …

For the first time in my life I am alone for Christmas. I have already watched the 1951 version (my fav) of “A Christmas Carol” AND “It’s a Wonderful Life” as tradition dictates, but must admit that big a dose of the ‘spirit’ didn’t help much.

Yeah, yeah … I know there are a load of songs on being alone for Christmas, but listening to any of them is not on my to-do list. I’m at loose ends, confounded, stuck between I-don’t-give-a-shit and bawling.

But I’m a grownup, FFS, fully aware that for millions of people this is just another day, and millions of others haven’t one-tenth-of-one-percent of what I have to be grateful and happy for.

Thanks to the age we live in, I will Skype with my kids on Christmas Day … a gift beyond measure! I can take a bottle of wine to the beach and toast the holiday, the ocean, the sky above me and the Earth beneath my feet … and be thankful. I can reflect on Christmas Past, ponder the years, remember those who are no longer reachable by technology, and I can set my focus for the positives.

And I will do all those things. But today, the day before Christmas Eve, I’m indulging in a bit of some whine in the sun. (Poor me. What a bummer. If wishes were horses I’d be elsewhere. Etc., etc., etc. ad nauseam.)

Wishing everyone a Happy Christmas filled with love and food and making merry. I will raise a glass to all with love and hope and to Christmas Yet To Come!

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SaminCam copy

The true meaning of life is to plant trees, under whose shade you do not expect to sit.
~ Nelson Henderson

Now that I’m no longer ignoring my blog, I’ve been prompted by another (Thank you, Lori, for your post that stirred me into action!) to do a bit of gap filling on gap filling.

As do all internationally adopted children, my kids have gaps in their personal stories that can’t be filled. Not only do they have little information on their genetic links and the specific circumstances that preceded their adoptions, their country of birth is also somewhat of a mystery.

They know a lot about Cambodia, of course, from books and photos and films and the tales of our family history, but those can’t convey the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of Southeast Asia any more than breathing into a freezer compartment can relate the experience of being cold enough to see their breath.

It has long been in the works for the kids to spend time in their birth country, and this happened for Sam back in February.

Some years back I wrote about Gay’s plan to have him accompany her on an annual housebuilding trip for Tabitha. She’s been doing this every year since Sam came home in 2003, and now that he’s eleven-years-old, it seemed the right time.

I had my concerns, of course, as any mother would seeing her young son travel far without her, but knew most of the building team (Brits, Americans, friends … ) and trusted in their dedication to my son’s safety and had the team leader, Dave Richter on my radio show just a month before, assuring me that Sam would be well looked after.

I won’t say that I was thrilled by him going, as I knew I wouldn’t relax until he was back under my wing, but his excitement was contagious and I knew he was leaving on the trip of a lifetime.

After almost two full days of travel, the first item on his agenda was a 10K walkathon benefitting the building of a women’s hospital in Phnom Penh which he completed with no problems whatsoever … and had raised almost £600.00 for on his Justgiving page. (He’d also raised over 3,000 Seychelles Rupees at a carwash conducted here!)

More difficult were the orientation visits to the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum and the killing field at Choeung Ek. Although he has been familiar with the tragic history of Cambodia since he was old enough to turn the pages of a book, there’s a lot to process in those places for anyone, even more so a Cambodian-born 11-year-old.

The housebuilding days were a joy for him. Meeting and playing with the children in the village reaffirmed his hope for his compatriots. Working hard felt good, too, empowered as he was at his age to contribute something so substantial to some he knows are his people.

How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world. ~ Anne Frank

Gay had wisely decided to end the adventure at Angkor Wat with its evidence of the rich and grand history that is also Cambodia … an amazing wrap to an amazing time had by my amazing son.

My love and my gratitude for my children are the greatest gifts I’ll ever know. They are all spreaders of light … candles all.

There are two ways of spreading light – to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it. ~Edith Wharton

Here’s a video Gay put together showing some of the highlights of the trip. Huge thanks to Gay, to Tabitha Cambodia, Dave Richter and everyone involved in making this such a wonderful experience.

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DeadguyThere’s nothing new about trying to keep old, dead iconic autocrats around; the Egyptians came close to perfecting the process more than 3,000 years ago, after all. What differs now is the lack of the bling, the box and pointy building.

These days there seems to be the thought that people will actually yearn to be very close to a lifeless corpse and to lament the lost leader while gaping at said corpse forever. Hugo Chavez is the next despot in line for non-desposal. Being somewhat iconic in life, someone apparently figures displaying the icon rather than burying it six feet under will render it (not in the candle sense, please, although my guess is that would shed more light on more subjects than a carcass) somehow still tenacious.

Yes, Chavez will soon join the ranks of Mao, Lenin, Ho Chi Minh, Ferdinand Marcos, Eva Peron and the Kims … father and son, both Il in life, both dead-but-not-gone, Jong and Sung … on display, like Roy Roger’s horse. (Russia offered Stalin The Stiff as a side show until 1961 when he was finally buried as part of a move to “un-Stalinize” the country, figuring, I suppose, that out of sight is out of mind.)

I have had the dubious honor of filing past the perpetually present corpse of Mao, an experience fraught with emotion … but not the sort it was designed to inspire.

It was 1989, just a couple of weeks before the soon-to-be-deadly protests started in Beijing. I was in China with my nineteen-year-old daughter, out and about to see the sites. At that time, it was required visitors be guided, both physically and with the intent to lead them toward unreasonable conclusions. On our way to visit Tiananmnen Square, our chaperone explained our upcoming experience.

“You will now have the great pleasure to see the most famous exhibit in all the world,” she said in heavily accented not-quite-Chinglish. “Millions of people come every day to see what you are about to see.”

We waited for it …

“THE MOUSE MEMORIAL!”

At least that’s what Jenn and I heard.

It took a few minutes to realize that the queue of Chinese peasants stretching for some distance … four abreast, equal distance apart, eerily silent … were having their places pushed back some so we tourists from the decadent West could officially cut in front to enter Mao’s Memorial.

Well … sorry propaganda machine of the government of the People’s Republic, but there was no way in hell we Californian’s had not already constructed a working version vision of Mickey Maos.

We had previously visited the Beijing Zoo (Remind me to write a post about that nightmare someday.), so weren’t expecting much in the way of quality, but were a bit surprised at the lavishness on the inside of the square, squat building. It was posh in the way that flash-over-substance always is and filled with enormous bouquets of white chrysanthemums in garish vases. The military was well represented with dozens of uniformed men holding automatic weapons and standing at attention. (My daughter got off the line of the day when she noticed the Red Army wears white socks.)

Reserving pride of place amongst a bazillion flowers sat a glass-domed casket inside of which lay the perpetually rigid corpse of Mao Zedong.

He wasn’t looking so good.

Being that we entered the place with certain images already in mind, could we help it if the thoughts and whispers we shared had to do with what the Disney people could have done with him? He’d be sitting up and waving at the crowd, perhaps even pacing the floor like Lincoln on Main Street instead of simply assuming the position of the waxy, fake-looking lump of whatever he might actually be after all the years … not that he was a particularly attractive man when he could still walk under his own power, but obvious inches of pancake re-dos hadn’t helped. (Here’s an explanation … sort of … on how he was made up.)

Laughing was definitely out with all those guns and properly inculcated citizens of the PRC around and stifling our giggles took a LOT of self control, but we certainly had no problem going along with the no-photos-no-videos rules. Since we’d passed on the offer to buy flowers to add to the heaps, we meandered by with our hands over our mouths and swallowed our chuckles until we made it to the other side.

And now Chavez is in the perfect position for the same treatment … if trocars and formaldehyde can be considered treatment … and legions of the faithful, the morbid and the amused will be filing by as he continues to be dead.

Personally, I hope someday to rest in peace, not in public … it’s just so TACKY.

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A: Every useless bit ever mentally digested pops up even decades later.

Q: What is really fucking annoying?

I have a prodigious memory, one that recalls without prompts everything from the profoundly impactive to the ridiculously trivial and much in between. I remember names, events and circumstances leading to them, jokes, phone numbers, all the verses of the Mr. Ed theme song … and a zillion other bits of pop culture … recipes, teachers, lessons, and much more going back now a very long way.

It sometimes comes in handy, and as the depository for life’s detritus in my family my brothers can find me useful. At other times, however, it is just fucking annoying.

Take last night for example …

I’m trying to get my head to slow down enough to drift off to sleep when I’m suddenly conjuring images of the guy in the photo at the top of this post and wondering what ever happened to Commando Cody.

While sleep evades, I recall buzzing around a living room with arms outstretched, then reaching down to punch an imagined communicator button where a lapel pin might go, cocking my head toward my chest and sending messages as I fly from the couch and run patterns on a braided rug as a little brother tries to mimic the antics.

Because I can, I Google ‘Commando Cody’, find images I instantly recognize and the disturbing information that this was a TV show that aired 12 episodes over a period of two months in 1955.

I was FOUR.

NBC, weekly, Saturdays, 11:00 to 11:30 AM, July 16 to October 8, 1955 …

Two years after their (very unsuccessful) theatrical release, the 12 films were sold to NBC, which ran them during the late summer and fall of 1955, only after all other space adventure TV programs had vanished completely from the air.

What else is locked up in this head of mine that might seep out in the dark of night? If recall of not only the sights and sounds, but also the true title and lead character of a TV show that was barely a blip on the radar of entertainment for an eye blink of time when I was four-years-old can slide from a cranial fold into conscious thought fully formed like Athena from the head of Zeus more than half a century later it’s a wonder I ever get any sleep.

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