Category Archives: Social Commentary

What it says.

A Masque

Don’t remember who this is of, but the artwork is in Dublin.

It is mandatory at the moment in Nevada to wear a face mask (masque) in public. Most people are okay with that, but there are always some very vocal opponents to anything that smacks of not letting one do whatever one wishes. So I wasn’t sure what to expect when I went to Wal-Mart a while ago for a loaf of Italian bread and some other things. I was amazed to see that compliance seemed to be 100 percent. Yes, everyone I saw was wearing the required face covering. I don’t know if the die-hards gave up, or are simply staying home. Either way, it works for all of us in general. This got me thinking.

Are there fewer narcissists in other countries? I’ve been studying France, not just the language, but the nation, preparing for a planned relocation (déménager). France has almost the identical constitutional guarantees as the US. In fact, no less than Thomas Jefferson gave advice to Pierre L’Enfant as he was writing “The Declaraton of the Rights of Man and the Citizen” during the French revolution. The same L’Enfant for whom a plaza in DC is named. The two countries have very similar philosophical underpinnings. Yet, in France, they were able to enforce with stiff fines social distancing, staying home, and mask wearing. (As a result, France is emerging well from their crisis conditions, while the US struggles with renewed incidences of infection.) That’s right: you’ll pay up if you violate the special coronavirus restrictions. Yet, the French worship individual freedom, they like to put one over on the government (they use what they call “System B”, which means getting things done without the government finding out.) Their rights of speech and action are spelled out, much like ours. Yet, they did not  use any clever methods to evade the special restrictions imposed by the pandemic. In America, some swear that wearing a mask in public was the first step toward the SS dragging people out of their homes. (Which is ironic, since the idea is to keep people in their homes.) Well, most of us know that mask wearing is probably the fastest way to get over this mess, but in this country, there is a very vocal minority who can’t yell and scream enough about their rights being violated by mask-wearing orders. Huh? Ever hear of “promoting the general welfare?” It’s somewhere in the Supreme Law of the Land. You should check for it.

Which is why I ask the question about narcissists. Are there fewer narcissists in France? In Germany? In Spain? Or is it that we allow those people to influence our national policy, even though most of us know that they are dead (yes, dead) wrong. I honestly don’t know. I think I’ll Google it, then post a virulent rant on Facebook. That’s how to get things done, right? 😉

 

 

ATTENTION!

A Home-Town Landmark that was Gone When I was Born

This post is about some of the effects of Attention Deficit Disorder. A few sentences first to explain what that is.

First, it is not really a disorder, and no one blessed with the condition has any shortage of ability to pay attention. The main effect is that one is incapable of being bored. If one gets bored enough, one loses consciousness. That’s why often kids with the condition seem hyper. Movement creates interest, it’s as simple as that.

Second, one of the major effects on the blessed recipient is that the child misses out on a lot of social cues. For instance, they might miss the subtleties of how to kid, and actually insult friends without meaning to. Also, the child may well miss some deeply ingrained and important societal constructs. Remember these two things as you read this.*

Third, someone blessed with ADD can usually tell when they’re being lied to.

As you may have guessed, I am so blessed. I had teachers in elementary school who were very frustrated with me. One kept sending home nasty notes, to no avail. Occasionally I was asked why, since my test scores showed that I was smart, did I not do better in school. The first time, and only the first time, I told the truth: school was boring. Somehow, the faculty and administration were not impressed with my honesty on that point. But it is time to move to my main point.

My main point is that I missed a lot of subtle, unspoken socialization. I did have trouble in school resulting from not knowing the proper way to “praise insult” a friend. But there is one really big part of general American socialization that I completely missed out on. That is, the idea that some people are more equal than others. I have felt, and been grateful for, what is now being called White Privilege for almost my entire life. Sheesh, would I hate to be a minority. I even got to take advantage of a whole boatload of White Privilege without asking for it! I did not ask because, from school days to now, the people one asked for even more, extra-special privileges, are people who, basically, I tend to despise. Yes, folks, I hate seeing a succession of pasty, old, white dudes in charge of the country. (Okay, one of them is now orange, but it’s the same difference.) I’ve never liked the pasty old dudes in charge of, well, anything. Churches, clubs, government organizations, anything. The first group of such dudes, who, honestly, I admire in many respects, set up a system of hypocritical lies right in the founding documents of this country. Sure, all free white men are created equal, and endowed by their creator, etc. But nobody else is! The roots of racism lie in those men having to justify to themselves holding other groups (anyone not one of them, initially) in slavery, exile, inferior status, second-class citizenship. Over centuries, the definition of “whole person” got expanded by adding other ethnic groups (slowly, don’t want to rock any boats here) and, very reluctantly, to women, but the jury’s not totally back in yet on that one. Anyone else, well, fuck ’em and the horse they rode in on, dontcha know?

And I did not get that. I knew that “Coloreds,” as known in the 50s were denied certain rights, but I couldn’t see why. It was obvious that John Law was using Marijuana to keep a thumb on the Mexican migrants who picked produce outside of town, but I couldn’t see why. When, at nineteen, I first smoked the stuff myself, I really couldn’t see why, but that’s probably for another post. The net effect of ADD for me, then, was being able to see American society more for what it is than for what my teachers taught me that it was. It’s not bad in design. In fact, rather than White Privilege, we should extend American Privilege to anyone born here or naturalized, at the very least. Nothing wrong with young people getting help when they need it, after all. And some people are a lot happier governing than most of us would be, so I’m okay with them grooming their own. But, their own has to be an open group based on inclination and talent, not on being lucky enough to be born an Old Pasty White Dude.

And, for the record, I’m a genuine White Anglo-Saxon Protestant. William Powell was living in Philadelphia in 1729. In 1730 he married a girl from Ocean City. Twelve of their sons (!) fought in the revolution. In particular, one Phillip, who fought with a Connecticut regiment, and who received a nice letter of recommendation from his CO. My great-grandfather Andrew Powell fought for the Union with the 123rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry, and got himself shot in the ass in triplicate for his trouble. He limped for the rest of his life. He was father to my grandmother Bertha Powell, who gave birth to my mother, who, well, you know. So, I have old-time American Cred, and I’m sick and tired of the cretins who think immigrants are the ruination of America. If you think that, you’re deluding yourself. I know this because I can see our society without the subtle prejudices that most of us soak up without knowing we’re doing it. Thanks to the blessings of ADD.

By the Way, I’m pretty sure that an army of medical professionals and scientists knows more about epidemiology and diseases than a gaggle of pasty white dudes in the white house. Again I say, Sheesh!

 

 

  • Worried about your child having ADD? Here’s a quick test. Give them unlimited access to Mountain Dew for an afternoon. If they have any form of ADD, they will have a calm and happy day. (Sugar does not make a child hyper, that is a total myth. If anything, it may make them sleepy.) If your child is a third-grade boy, and they do not have ADD, they will not be calmed by the caffeine. What you have is a third-grade boy.

Paradigms

Just this Once, an Illustration that Goes With The Title!

What? You thought it was pronounced “paradigims?”

A paradigm, pronounced just like what is pictured above (for non-north americans, those coins are worth ten cents, and are called “dimes.” There are two of them — a pair) is an excellent example of something, and that something can be a football league, or how a society is organized and operates. As it happens, every so often (about once in everybody’s lifetime, in fact) a free society needs to reorganize and develop new paradigms to live by. Prior to the depression/World War Two, nobody liked the idea of consumerism, moving to the suburbs, commuting to work. After those events, that’s how we’ve lived for the past 80 years or more. It worked great for a while. Some of the other paradigms we’ve lived by include the idea that, to a “good” person, minority citizens need help; to a “bad” citizen, minority citizens are inherently inferior. Also, growth is good for its own sake. Bigger is better, and so is faster and further. Moving around a lot is the way to live is another. There are oodles of paradigms by which we all attempt to make our way through life. But the paradigms that work so damned well when they’re first developed turn into big negatives when they’re used past their expiration date, so to speak. And that’s where we are.

The conservative among us can see this perfectly well. And it frightens them. That’s why they say that they want to “Make America Great Again.” After all, when America was truly ruling the world, those paradigms were how we were living. Makes sense that they’d work again, if we can only get back to them. But, there is a problem with that idea.

It won’t work.

Commuting is a major cause of ill health, in more ways than one. The car ads present a world that cannot exist. No matter what you do, you will never be able to cheerfully park right in front of the country club and leisurely stroll in. You will never have the twisty mountain road to yourself. You will never be able to do a damned thing to avoid that nasty-ass commute you’re stuck with every damned day.

Those minorities are not minorities any more. There are more “non-white” children in the US than “white” kids. Nothing can be done to reverse that. In some places, such as where I live, “white” people are no longer a majority of the population. (This causes, um, nothing, actually, except that you need to be polite to everybody regardless of how they look.)

And our use of burning fuels to power all of our stuff is resulting in a shift in worldwide climate that will make continuing to use the old paradigms impossible in the first place. These are examples; there are plenty of other things that aren’t working properly anymore, but these should be enough to show what I mean. Short story is that it’s time for new paradigms, new approaches to how we live and relate to each other. I have a feeling that one of the new paradigms (for the US, not for most of the advanced world) will be that health care is a right. (No arguments in this forum, please. That’s what Twitter is for, after all, and I’m just stating what I think will happen, not registering an opinion.) For another, we will need to find alternate sources of energy that don’t involve burning things. (Again, no arguments here, please.) And we will no doubt learn to live in an actual multi-cultural country, not just one that pays lip service to the concept. And there will be more, much more, that I can’t begin to see from where we are today.

The new paradigms will seem to create a world that is ever so much better than the one that came before. There will be what you might call “Nouveau Archie Bunkers” who pine for the mid-twentieth century, but most people will be happier. Until, in a few decades, whatever these new paradigms are start to malfunction for reasons I couldn’t begin to guess, and we end up back at the end of the world as we know it.

That is exactly where we are today, and, in the words of Michael Stipes, I Feel Fine!

Crisis Mode

Walapai Trading Post in Peach Springs, Arizona

There is a book titled Generations: The History of America’s Futureby Strauss and Howe. (The Link goes to Amazon.) It is a book about the cyclical theory of history, and it posits four main generational types. What’s important for this writing is that the cycle repeats roughly every 80 years, more or less. (This is not absolute. The Civil War, for example, threw the entire process off by at least twenty years.) Eighty years ago World War Two had started, on September 1st. In fact, every eighty years (more or less) there happens a crisis that seems likely to end civilization, if not life as we know it. The authors believed that the next crisis (as of 1980) would probably be environmental.

One of the principal ways of determining the validity of a hypothesis is how well it predicts future events. Environmental crisis, huh? Imagine that.

We are most certainly at an environmental crisis. The only place on the planet where this fact is at all political is in the USA, and that’s because the Koch brothers and their friends want it to be, because they make their living (and a great one it is) from fossil fuels. Everywhere else, it’s science, not politics. Sigh. So, we find ourselves in a situation where life as we know it is threatened, and our fearless leader (I know, no comments, it’s sarcastic) is determined to return to the days of big coal and big oil. He’s on the side of climate change denial, politically. So, we may well be pretty completely screwed if we don’t figure out what to do and damned fast, huh? It absolutely consumes some people, this crusade to “save the planet” (a ridiculous term as the planet is perfectly healthy even if too warm for humans.) It is, in short, a marvelous distraction from what must be done in a free society every, oh, eighty years or so.

I mean, it is time to shift to a new paradigm on how we organize and operate as a society. And, as always, the opposition to the shift is extreme. And extremely obvious, except that we’re distracted by the crisis, as has been the case since the days of Queen Elizabeth I. Last time, the way out of the economic doldrums was consumerism, flagrant overuse of materials, automobile culture, and spending more than you make. It’s been fun, and that’s a fact. My generation, children of the Baby Boom that followed World War II, is an example of what those authors call an “Idealist” generation, given to introspection, social rebellion, and things like running naked through the woods. What, it happened before Woodstock? Oh, heck yeah. You ever read about the Transcendentalists? Ever wonder why Thoreau was so popular with Boomers? Fellow travelers, folks. The reason that Idealist generations get that way is because their parents, very Civic-minded and trusting of institutions, had a rough row to hoe, and they make damned sure that their children don’t suffer the way they did. In this cycle, this has led to, in recent decades, a belief that life should be fair and painless, which causes great distortion of reality, which is seldom fair, and never painless. Nobody, absolutely nobody, has ever been able to “have it all.” Besides which, the culture of Postwar America is now threatening to end our ability to live on this best of all possible planets. (We evolved here, so this is not hyperbole.)

One thing we’ll need is for everyone, and by that I mean everyone, not just “white” people, to contribute their knowledge, skill, and intelligence. Big paradigm shift there: everybody contributes to their abilities. (I know that sounds like Marx, but it isn’t. Karl was a nice guy, but way to much a dreamer to be useful.) They old idea of a “white” race lording it over other, inferior races, which goes back to needing an excuse for enslaving people, is one of the ideas that are going to need to fall. Also, the idea that bigger is better, that we need automobiles (we need convenient, affordable transportation, which doesn’t have to be automobiles per se,) and that the goal of any corporation is to enrich the stockholders, all useful since WWII, are also in need of replacement. In fact, I’m pretty sure that the current “Conservative” backlash evidenced in the current administration is due to the fact that, on some level, even the Koch brothers can see what has to happen. If your entire identity is tied up in the old paradigms, well, friend, you are not going to be happy about the change.

In conclusion, and you knew there would be one, we will overcome the crisis in climate. it will, in fact, provide a hell of a lot of work for a hell of a lot of people. And the new paradigm, not yet fully formed, will be slipped in behind all the fuss over climate. And, if past cycles are any indication, Generation X will provide the leadership, and Millennials the front-line expertise, to do it. Gen X will, of course, receive no credit, because such is the fate of those caught between Idealist and Civic zeitgeists. (I truly am sorry, but I’m only one guy.) The current Conservatives will, in fact, hate the next twenty years, and spend the remainder of their days complaining about how great it used to be and how awful it is now. Think the opening of All in the Family. And, yes, it appears, and will appear even more so in the next few years, that we have failed, and that civilization is doomed. And, in a sense, it is, as our no longer useful paradigms are tossed into the trash to make room for the new.

Well, that’s my opinion, anyhow.

R. E. S. P. E. C. T.

Made famous by Toulouse Latrec. you’ll find it in Paris.

One thing that seems to be in short supply in America these days is respect. I mean respect for each other’s basic humanity. I guess it is largely because social media seems so anonymous, and can in fact be so, that I see so many cases of someone blaming entire groups of people (MAGA wearers, liberals, conservatives, Democrats, Republicans, Rastafarians, Pastafarians, Vegans, meat eaters, women, men, and whoever created mosquitoes, for examples.) I’ll tell you this right now, folks, if you do that, you’ve just lost your argument. Sure, it feels good, but it just shows your own weakness. Ironic, that. Anyway, interpersonal respect is what keeps a society functioning. Respect of authority isn’t it. Respect of social position isn’t it. Respect of wealth or job title isn’t it. It is simply respect for the basic humanity of another person. That is what we need to cultivate, and stat.

We might look to France for some guidance on this, because the French are very much committed to respecting each other’s basic humanity. My first morning ever in France, in 1976, I went to a change booth in a train station (no ATMs in those days) and received a stern lecture from the change lady on how to be polite in society. Fortunately for me, I took her lesson to heart. Not only in France, but after I returned home. I generally say hello, goodbye, please, and thank-you. For years I took that as basic courtesy, and was at first amazed at how much easier simply being polite made things. But, to the French, it is courtesy, yes, but also much more.

In France, the word for hello is “bonjour.” Literally that means “good day,” but it has been used as “hello” for so long that people had to adopt “bonne journée,” which originally meant “good trip you can take out and back in one day.” FYI. Anyhow, you first say “Good Day” and then you add, “Madame” or Monsieur.” Madame literally means “My Lady.” Monsieur literally means “My Lord.” So, no matter who you address in France, you are saying, “Hello, My Lady,” or “Hello, My Lord.” Sounds a bit over the top, but it works. If the President of France wants to speak to a beggar on the corner, the President must first say, “Hello, My Lord” or “Hello, My Lady.” Only then is it proper to begin a conversation. This is why sometimes Americans believe the French to be impolite: because in America we don’t go for such ceremony, and anyway, shouldn’t the shopkeeper say hello first? (Sometimes they do. I would, but it isn’t required.) No matter who you are addressing, it is assumed that you are invading their personal space, and you owe them the simple acknowledgement of that fact, which is to say, a polite greeting. Is the beggar on the corner a Lord or Lady? Probably not, but by using those terms, you grant them the basic dignity due to any human being.

When you combine this basic respect with the French educational goal of being able to discuss literally anything without getting personal, you end up with a polite society where it is considered normal to argue. (No, shopkeepers won’t argue with you. Once you’ve exchanged “bonjours” they’ll be so eager to help that you’ll almost feel guilty.) Imagine a society where arguments were not the Monty Python type (No they aren’t!) but rather reasoned and defensible. We could have that, if we respected each other. We certainly don’t need to go to the lengths of calling each other My Lord or My Lady. In fact, a bunch of patriots once fought a war for the right to eliminate Lords and Ladies. But we can still be respectful. A few suggestions:

  • Don’t call people names. Not even if you hate them. Remember, as we writers occasionally point out, that everyone is the hero of their own story. You may not agree with their reasoning, but you can respect their right to an opinion without getting snarky.
  • Say hello to everyone you expect to interact with, and to anyone on the street with whom you happen to lock eyes. And when you want something from someone, say “please,” and after you get it, say “thank-you.” and Maybe throw in a Sir or Ma’am to really seal the deal. (Yes, watered down versions of those old titles, but still appreciated.)
  • Don’t blame groups, any groups, for society’s problems. We are all members of society, so we all contribute, each in our own way, to the problems. Boomers didn’t wreck the world (trust me,) nor are they any better than any other generation. We all have our quirks. Millenials aren’t lazy. Generation X has never slacked. And Generation Z, while pretty young yet, will make a great contribution (that history will forget) to the welfare of humankind. (Such generations always do. The last one invented rock and roll. They called them “silent,” ironically.)
  • Don’t get over invested in a particular world view. For one thing, in philosophical terms, it’s as likely as not that you have some significant information wrong.
  • Stay cool, stay respectful.

Ladies and Lords, we can do this. We can make America better simply be being mutually respectful. And, very importantly, by being respectful even of those who don’t respect us. In that case, remember, that’s their problem, not yours. Okay?

Great. Now go forth and be respectfully kind to each other! Thank you.

American Conservatism

Two Cats to Soothe Your Eyes

In an Earlier Post, I wrote about racism and its origins. Among other things, it is noteworthy that prior to enslaving Africans, Europeans never mentioned race at all. There were people in other places with dark skin, but that was as far as it went, because, who cared? Nobody. No reason to. Once you start doing wrong by people, though, you need to justify your actions to yourself. Enter race. The “Black Race” is clearly inferior, or else how could the “White Race” have enslaved them? Obviously, some serious genetic deficiencies are evident in the world. This was the worldview upon which the United States of America was founded. Even dour New Englanders were okay with other races being inferior to the “White Race.” They just didn’t think that this justified enslaving them. And, of course, we did benefit as a nation. Those slaves were instrumental in building the nation, whether they ever get credit for it or not. We eliminated slavery with our Civil War, but not the idea of racial superiority. Our laws covering cocaine, for instance, stem from an instance where somebody in Georgia axe murdered his family. He was “black,” and so the New York Times editorialized about “protecting our Negro brethren.” Yes, the New York Times. I once saw a post extolling the virtues of Ray Charles’s song, “Seven Spanish Angles,” in which the writer noted how Ray was backing up Willie Nelson on the piece. Trouble is, as Willie could tell you, Willie was backing up Ray, but the writer assumed the opposite, because, well, “Blacks” are inferior in every way, right? (Ray’s first gig was with a country band, for the record.)

So, what does this mean for Conservatives? Well, traditionally, America has benefited from a bogus structure of racism. It has allowed “White” people to enjoy tremendous prosperity, all the while they can not notice the underlying support they’re getting from “inferior” races. So, what Conservatives want to return to, to Make America Great Again, is simply the former mindless acceptance of a structure that suppressed a lot of minority people to the benefit of “White” people. In short, what Conservatives want to conserve is good old European-American racism. It’s really that simple. So when the current Republican leadership is accused of being racist, well, they are. No getting around it. Of course, there is a huge fly in the ointment of traditional racism.

That is that the game is up. As of a few months from now, there will be more “non-white” children in the United States than “white” children. (If you’re wondering about all the quotation marks, read my earlier post.) In another generation, those who insist on the superiority of the “White Race” are going to be seriously outnumbered. Fine with me, because I live in Clark County, Nevada, which is already a majority minority county. “White” folks have a plurality, but they cannot blindly dictate policy any more. The irony of the situation is that Vegas was once the “Mississippi of the West,” due to the extreme segregationist policies enforced here. Sammy Davis Junior had to go into the resort through the kitchen before presenting his sold-out shows. Fortunately, that is no longer the case. It can’t be, even though there are still plenty of people here who probably wish it could be. But, how could it?

The game being up explains the fierce following of MAGA folks. And I’m not calling them bad people, or stupid either, because bad and stupid people are everywhere. I am calling them victims of a centuries-old scheme of racism combined with a skillful application of populist propaganda. Too bad for them, really.

We could just wait it out and let things sort themselves out, of course. But the damage could be quite substantial to our institutions, prestige, and economic vigor. So, my advice is that all of us who see things for what they  are get out there next year and vote those people out. Don’t start fighting over ideological purity, just put up someone we can all at least tolerate for a few years, and vote them out. Please!

Stereotypes

The oldest house in Paris, next to the Jardin de l’hôtel de Sens

Which makes the house, duh, l’hôtel de Sens. Since you’re curious, here’s a bit of the garden.

The garden and hôtel pictured are in the area of Paris known as Saint-Paul. You can call up a walking tour of the quarter on your phone and follow it around, which is what we were doing when we visited this garden, which is in fact a lovely park in a quiet neighborhood. The building is medieval, as you can see. Most of Paris was razed and redone during the 19th century at the behest of Napoleon III, but a few things, like this and Notre Dame, were spared. So it’s worth looking for.

While we were looking for it, and other parts of the quarter, we walked looking at our phones. Time after time a Parisian native would stop us and ask us if we needed help finding something. Of course, we didn’t, but this behavior was from people popularly thought of as snooty and unhelpful, on the good side. I’m here to tell you that such is not at all the case. Indulge me in another story if you will, this time involving motor fuel and cash.

Tami and I carry the same credit card, so when one of ours (nevermind) was lost on the bus from the airport to the Gare Montparnasse, we had to cancel it. This meant that we had no credit card with which to buy gasoline for our rental car. (We did set it up so that the card was valid for the rental car company, and nobody else, until the end of our rental period.) (Europecar. I recommend them.) We took a train to Angoulême, where we stayed for five days. Charente is a beautiful area (formerly a province, but long story,) and here’s the view out of our bedroom window to prove it.

A view to the East from Angoulême near the center of town.

From Angoulême we drove to Bordeaux, Saint Émilion, Cognac, Royan, and Chabonais over the course of several days. By that time we were low on gas. The station we found (there aren’t as many as we have here) was credit cards only at the pump. The kiosk where one can convert cash to a ticket with which to buy fuel was broken. Thing is, I had never really spoken French before, but when we decided to ask someone to use their card and I’d give them cash (our debit card still worked at least, but not on gas pumps) I looked around and saw only French people. It was raining hard, too. I asked the man at the next pump, “comprendez-vous Ainglais?” and got a “non.” Digging deep, deep into what I’ve learned from various sources (Duolingo is a great place to start) I then used my no doubt horrible French to ask him the favor. He was eager to help the poor American, and I gave him fifty Euros, after which he pumped fifty Euros and one cent worth of gas into our car. (Amazingly, that exactly filled the tank.) I gave him every compliment in French I could think of, and he smilingly said goodbye.

I ask you, is that rude and unhelpful? (Spoiler alert — no, it is exactly the opposite of rude and unhelpful.)

I’ve posted about this before, but whatever you do to other people is reflected back on to you. In France, we take pains to be polite. French polite. That means always say hello, please, thank you, and goodbye. To everybody. Sounds silly, right?

Not to the fine, friendly, helpful people of France it doesn’t. Votre santé, France!

 

Words from an Old Anglo

 

An Old Anglo Takes a Selfie

I’m glad it’s okay to talk about racism again. Of course, the problem of racism in America boils down to one simple fact: Whiteness. Oddly, perhaps, before my forebears started enslaving Africans, there were no white people. Didn’t need ’em. My forbears started calling those poor Africans “black,” or as they said at the time, “Negro,” Spanish for black, or even “Niger,” Latin for black. That last word got distorted a bit and today I won’t use what it’s become, outside of talking about Huckleberry Finn, but originally it just was a way to indicate that somebody was “black.” Of course, there’s a pile of guilt involved with enslaving somebody who was probably just minding their own business when somebody nabbed them. And, sure, other Africans did the grabbing, but only because Europeans provided a ready market. The Portuguese, in particular, made a tidy profit buying people in Ghana and shipping them to the West Indies, or North or South America. That guilt is why you hear excuses about how “it was blacks that enslaved the blacks. They’re the culprits.” Nope. Sorry. And that guilt is why it was necessary to make those poor Africans seem inferior in every way. And if they’re blacks, then my forbears, the enslavers, must be as far from black as one can get. In fact, they invented the White Race.

Assholes.

Slavery has engendered a lot of guilt amongst “white people.” I used to wonder why Texans seemed to have a chip on their collective shoulders over their state. Heck, it seems like a nice enough place, lots of resources, modern enterprises, Ewing Oil, what the heck? Then I found out why they fought the war of independence from Mexico. It seems Mexico outlawed slavery, and the Texans wanted the freedom to keep on buying and selling people. Crimony! Later, of course, they joined the United States, but then joined the Confederacy in yet another effort to keep slavery alive. They failed in that one, but good gravy, how about we say “fuck the Alamo,” raze the place, and put up a Juneteenth Museum where it now stands? That seems more reasonable to me than idolizing a bunch of yahoos out to keep the freedom to be complete dicks.

And that guilt is why it is so damned important to some “white people” to defend against any sort of effort to eliminate racism. Maybe not the one-on-one sort of ugly actions that even those “white people,” with a few notable exceptions, will say is  wrong, but the built-in, long-term assumptions of white superiority and white privilege. Yes, I grew up white, and I’ve lived a privileged life. The only difference between me and most whites is that I know it. Many of my fellow Anglos have no idea. “I’m not at all privileged,” they’ll tell you, and they’re right, if you compare them to other “white folks.” As to what people of color go through, they have no idea. If you try to counter that institutionalized and internalized racism, you’re “playing the race card.” Shit. Obviously, “black” folks are a lot more forgiving than I am. If it was me, I’d want to kill those mofos. They only mess with me, of course, if I do something to remind them just how phony their whiteness truly is. You know, something like writing a blog post about racism from the point of view of an Anglo.

Why Anglo? Well, for one thing, that’s the polite term used by Native Americans and others to refer to those of us who might call ourselves “white.” It’s just an ethnic reference, and it’s basically correct. And unlike “white,” it doesn’t carry boatloads of uncomfortable baggage. And, maybe too, it lets me distance myself, just a teensy crack, from that whole iceberg of racism. Maybe. As for writing this post, it’s the only sort of thing I can do to counter the centuries-old behemoth that is whiteness.

How does this relate to writing? Well, everything else does, why not this?

So Here’s My Problem

Weird Al Yankovich performing in Henderson Nevada, fall 2014.

Weird Al looks like he certainly has a problem. The poor man has no face! I picked this picture deliberately to go with this post. This post is about my real problem as a creative individual (I hope.) Weird Al wrote and performs a song titled First World Problems, wherein he outlines such tragedies as having to brush his teeth manually when the batteries die in his electric toothbrush. I relate to that, I truly do. Because, I, too, am besieged by First World Problems, and not much else.

It’s taken a lot longer than I’d hoped to put up the shed I bought at Sam’s Club last Winter. My hearing aid batteries only last 4 or 5 days. My dog sometimes poops in the house. My house is so big that it’s almost impossible to keep clean. My optometrist recently moved far away and I have to find a new one. My local supermarket stopped carrying my favorite 35 percent fruit muesli in bulk. See what I mean? I could go on and on.

Boo-hoo, I hear you saying. I say that too, but this really is a problem. I have observed, and psychology backs me up on this, that the most creative efforts arise from relatively tortured circumstances. The one time I wrote a good poem was just after a break-up. It really was a good poem, but it’s gone forever because I lost whatever media it was on. (Another first world problem, I know.) It’s so bad that I actually got a comedy bit out of the situation. It’s a bit that ends with a song that I wrote, a song that is the only blues that I can legitimately sing. The song is called the I Ain’t Got No Troubles Blues.” And that’s the trouble with me. I’ll record it and post it to YouTube sometime, and put a link to it here while I’m at it.

Meantime, for my own version of Imposter Syndrome, I worry that I may never sell any significant amount of fiction because I’ve just lived too easy a life!

That’s probably another first world problem, huh?

What Would Jesus Say?

Sunset over Las Vegas

Not a religious piece, I promise. Instead, I am speculating about how original meanings can be distorted and lost over time. In 2009 one Stephen Mitchell published a book he titled, The Gospel According to Jesus. Yes, he knows that Jesus never wrote a word. The guy was illiterate, a not uncommon condition in his time and place. But it’s a catchy title for a scholarly work.

The story of the book is that the original documents which became the Christian New Testament were subjected to the sort of linguistic analysis that is used when they find what may be a new sonnet form Shakespeare. Word use, spelling, sentence length, style and voice, all are subject to computerized analysis. After doing this, the oldest, and presumably most authentic, bits of the Christian gospel were uncovered. These bits were written probably sometime in the fifties. (Not the nineteen-fifties; the fifties.) The idea being that the authors of these bits may actually have met Jesus, or at least heard him preach. Many parts of the New Testament were written much later, decades, even a century or more. So now we have it: the oldest, presumably most authentic, “Good news about Jesus.”

I’m going to assume you’re familiar with at least some of the story of Jesus’s birth, death, and afterlife. If not, feel free to read a contemporary version of the Christian New Testament after you read this. You’ll be surprised.

This oldest gospel opens with John the Baptist. Then Jesus comes down to the river to be baptized. (This is all in the orthodox bible, of course.) What’s missing is anything preceding baptism. No birth story at all. No magi, no shepherds keeping watch over their flocks, no star, no manger, no Bethlehem. As a matter of fact, the Jesus birth story is amazingly like the story of Buddha’s birth, which precedes Jesus by hundreds of years. The chief difference is that Buddha also rated an earthquake. Somebody saw fit to add that birth story later on. Don’t care why because this isn’t that sort of post. It was done, is my point.

When he hears of John’s arrest, he leaves town. He picks up some posse at Galilee, and proceeds to wander around Judea preaching. He taught at the Synagogue at Capernaum.  Here is an excerpt from his preaching in the villages:

And someone asked him, “When will the kingdom of God come?” And he said, “The kingdom of God will not come if you watch for it. Nor will anyone be able to say, ‘It is here’ or ‘It is there.’ For the kingdom of God is within you.”

He wandered Judea for a while, teaching and healing. The crowds got larger. One day he went up a hill and gave what is known as the Sermon on the Mount. Most of the beatitudes are there, as is most of the rest of the sermon. What isn’t there is the story of the loaves and fishes. Here is an excerpt that is there:

You have heard that it was said, You shall love your neighbor. But I tell you, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who mistreat you, so that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the wicked and on the good, and sends rain to the righteous and to the unrighteous.

I had a friend tell me flat out that Jesus never said to love your enemy. In the gospel, the passage above is part of a quotation from Jesus. Maybe you begin to see my point. Just one more quote, again from Jesus’s sermon on the hill:

Be careful not to do your righteous acts in public, in order to be seen. When you give charity, don’t blow a trumpet to announce it, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that people will praise them. Truly I tell you, they have their reward. But when you give charity, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, and keep your charity a secret; and your Father, who sees what is secret, will reward you.

A couple paragraphs later, he talks about prayer, which he also insists should be a private thing. He offers what the Christians call “The Lord’s Prayer” as an example of what to say to “your father” “in secret.” This is not your grandfather’s Christianity. Nor is it what is mostly heard from today. And there is one more significant thing missing from this oldest, presumably most authentic, gospel. The book ends when, at about three in the afternoon, (Jesus) gave a great cry and died. Full stop. The end. Finito. No burial, no resurrection, no reappearance, nothing. In this, the oldest and presumably most authentic gospel, he, as we all must, died and disappeared from the earth.

I commend the book to your attention. It’s copyrighted, so I can’t just give you a link to read the oldest gospel for yourself. But you can probably find the book at a library if you can’t afford to buy a copy for yourself. My point being that, other than that oldest gospel, the rest of the gospels were written later, by people who had no chance to have ever heard Jesus speak, but who did have various agendas which they were pursuing. Instead of “Love your enemy” and “Pray in private,” we get divisiveness and “thoughts and prayers.” Instead of the liberating “Kingdom is within you,” we get a hierarchy that doles out religious truth as it sees fit. Whether there was an actual Jesus or not is irrelevant. There was certainly an initial book of “Good News About Jesus” that was, over the next few centuries, modified and added on to until the original could barely be seen, although, in truth, it is still in there.

I’m not preaching, nor speculating as to why this is so. Maybe in a later post. For now, I’m just noting how wildly different the meaning of a book can be after enough people add to and reinterpret it. Amazing, isn’t it?