Saturday, September 7, 2013

The "gulag" of the soul

Perhaps the greatest sermon ever uttered and/or written of all time and my farewell to the few readers of this blog, but (hopefully) not all writing (communing) on the web or generally.

But who really knows?

The Bible (King James Version)
Matthew 5:1-12

1 And seeing the multitudes, he went up into a mountain: and when he was set, 
his disciples came unto him:

And he opened his mouth, and taught them, saying,

Blessed are the poor in spirit:
 for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are they that mourn:
 for they shall be comforted.

Blessed are the meek:
 for they shall inherit the earth.

Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness:
 for they shall be filled.

Blessed are the merciful:
 for they shall obtain mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart:
 for they shall see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers:
 for they shall be called the children of God.

10 Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: 
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, 
and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.

12 Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: 
for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.

~God bless us all.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Post-revolutionary America

On this day, it may be of interest to reflect upon certain elements that actually existed and ultimately led to the founding of the Republic, particularly after the fateful battle of Yorktown in October 1781.

The Surrender of Lord Cornwallis (by John Trumbull)  

1. The British army took some time to take the American threat seriously enough and consequently was often outnumbered. At the outbreak of war in 1775, Great Britain had 8,580 troops stationed in America. By war's end in 1781, despite concurrent wars with its Dutch, French and Spanish neighbors and across its empire, 57,000 British troops were stationed in America and the West Indies.

2. The Patriots/Rebels did indeed adopt guerrilla tactics, but also often engaged with the enemy in the conventional manner.

3. The Hessians: Approximately 30,000 men hired out from some of the regular army units of Landgrave Frederick II of Hesse-Kassel (a principality in northern Hesse or Hessia in Germany) and other German leaders to Great Britain for use against the Patriots/Rebels not only influenced American sentiment, but also pushed some Loyalists to favor the revolution.

4. The unconditional surrender of Cornwallis (insisted upon by General Washington) forced a new perspective and accord, in particular, on the treatment of prisoners of war with an uneasy stalemate existing until a formal ending of the war with the Treaty of Paris in 1783.

  1. Acknowledging the United States (the Colonies) to be free, sovereign and independent states, and that the British Crown and all heirs and successors relinquish claims to the Government, property, and territorial rights of the same, and every part thereof;
  2. Establishing the boundaries between the United States and British North America;
  3. Granting fishing rights to United States fishermen in the Grand Banks, off the coast of Newfoundland and in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence;
  4. Recognizing the lawful contracted debts to be paid to creditors on either side;
  5. The Congress of the Confederation will "earnestly recommend" to state legislatures to recognize the rightful owners of all confiscated lands "provide for the restitution of all estates, rights, and properties, which have been confiscated belonging to real British subjects [Loyalists]";
  6. United States will prevent future confiscations of the property of Loyalists;
  7. Prisoners of war on both sides are to be released and all property left by the British army in the United States unmolested (including slaves);
  8. Great Britain and the United States were each to be given perpetual access to the Mississippi River;
  9. Territories captured by Americans subsequent to treaty will be returned without compensation;
  10. Ratification of the treaty was to occur within six months from the signing by the contracting parties.

    Signing the Preliminary Treaty of Peace at Paris, November 30, 1782.
    John Jay and Benjamin Franklin standing at the left.

6. British Loyalists, often overlooked or undercalculated in American views of the history, were of mixed, but significant consequence. Historians generally report that after the Revolutionary War approximately 70,000 Loyalists emigrated, mostly to Canada, the West Indies and Britain. English-speaking Canadians today, particularly, consider the War of 1812 a great victory and defining moment, regaling in the once sizable immigrant Loyalist population.
In the two centuries since the Loyalists' arrival [in Canada], the myths and realities of their heritage have intertwined to have a powerful influence on how we, as Canadians, see ourselves. Truly, the arrival of the United Empire Loyalists not only changed the Course [sic] of Canadian history by prompting the British government to establish the provinces of New Brunswick and Ontario, but i[t] also gave them special characteristics which can be seen today. Perhaps the most striking of these is the motto on the Ontario coat of arms: Ut incept sic permanet fidelis that is, "As she began, so she remains, Loyal".
---from A Short History of the United Empire Loyalists by Ann Mackenzie M.A.

Post-revolutionary American views of heritage remain just as mixed and mythical, despite several best efforts throughout the last two centuries. And whatever happened to "British Loyalists" who actually did stay in America post-revolution? I find that to be the unresolved question since so much focus and attention has been cast elsewhere.

Nevertheless, an interesting perspective, exemplifying just how mixed (and mythical, too, perhaps) is found in a paper published not long after the "liberation" of the Baltic States in 1992:
Nevertheless, the United States survived. How did this happen? 
First, America was fortunate in having as president after 1789 George Washington, a man who was trusted for his impartiality, integrity, and competence. Washington selected as his cabinet men of ability regardless of their political orientation. Trying to make Hamilton and Jefferson work together was a daily trial to him, but he kept the country together and used their talents for the common good. Washington did not escape criticism for this — he was vilified by the press for failing to follow the ideological line each editor preferred. But his pragmatic employment of men was wise. Washington valued proven ability. One of the important legacies of Washington and his time is that Americans tend to look at what a person can do, not what his past was. 
Secondly, America had a philosophy of government which discounted ideology. Best described in The Federalist Papers, it said that good government had to be founded not on ideals or education, but on self-interest. Only when people saw their own interests affected by government would they act to protect it — or use it. This means that Americans habitually form combinations to pass laws for the benefits of groups. It may look corrupt and be condemned by those who lose out in the competition, but it results in stimulating those not benefited into political activity for their own protection. It also gets things done.
--from Post Revolutionary Government in America and in the Baltic States by William Urban, MonmouthCollege

I do not agree with the limited view propounded on "self-interest" here in this piece from over 20 years ago, but it does prompt me to ask: What "things" are actually getting done today?

Recurring themes and their underlying emotions seem to bubble to the surface as one attempts to see into the soul of the periods prior, during and (particularly here) directly following that historic British surrender.

It might possibly even be observed that President Washington's faithful (and pragmatic) pursuit of the common good remains not only relevant today, but imperative.

And to paraphrase the motto on the above noted Ontario, Canada (United Empire Loyalist) coat of arms, perhaps the enduring quality of the American revolution is really quite as simple and profound as:

"As WE began, so LET US remain, Loyal."

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The Alawites of Syria - Lessons?

The Syrian sectarian war continues with no end in sight - over 70,000 deaths (in almost 2 years; so far).

. . . a prayer for the departed and the suffering . . . 

Moved, writing here today, on an interesting, mostly unexamined aspect (possibly) at the root of the conflict found within the religion of the Al-Assad family itself.

The Alawites exist as an offshoot of Shia Islam  - "the largest schismatic sect in Islam, accounting for approximately 10-20% of the world's normative body of Islam."  [And in Syria they have represented as much as 12% of the violently decreasing population.]

In other words, religiously, they are an offshoot of an offshoot; and currently find themselves fighting (not only for their lives, but) against members of the largest branch of Islam itself, the Sunnis.

A major difference or unique quality of this offshoot of an offshoot is a belief in the transmigration of souls (comments on that later).

Also, of some import or interest, particularly for reactionary extremists (as well as the peaceful orthodox) among us all, Alawites do not observe the five pillars of Islam.

For that reason, particularly, they have been ostracized for most of their history, albeit, the fortunes of war and alliances and even compromises made over the years have kept the Ba'athists and (the Alawite) Al-Assad Family in power for over 40 years. The Assad policy might even [have been] seen as something of a mixture of both embracing minorities (including Christian and other) while maintaining a centrist, fairly absolutist (or socialist) base.

Psychologically, one might easily view the intransigent and unapologetic Alawite President Bashar al-Assad (as even the Financial Times magazine (FT) noted last year) as someone with a "split personality."

The label does seem to fit.

The rise and fall of Alawite power in Syria might also be viewed as a lesson on how a (primarily) religious minority sometimes rises to the top of a nation as well as the consequences of that (though surely, no one knows the final outcome at this time).

So, in attempting to clarify the concept of the "transmigration of souls" (also termed Metempsychosis or Reincarnation), I begin with a definition:
The Transmigration of Souls

A belief common to many cultures, in which the soul passes from one body to another, either human, animal, or inanimate. The Australian aborigines believe that an infant is a reincarnation of deceased ancestors and that the soul is continually reborn. Some Indonesian peoples hold that ancestral souls reside in sacred animals, sometimes in preparation for a new incarnation. Similarly, several tribes in western Amazonia avoid eating certain animals, such as deer, because they believe ancestral souls have entered the animals' bodies. Metempsychosis is a fundamental doctrine of several religions originating in India.
In my opinion such basic, core belief reflects a very primitivist and (ultimately) troubling view.  Extremism has often shown itself fueled by manipulation of the poor and ignorant via mysticism, superstition or simply "poor teaching" over and over again, throughout the centuries.

[Note, I did not refer here to religion itself or even Alawite religion as a whole.]

And, in the case of Syrian Alawite power and posture, it appears to be most particularly the military, not the general population (though some paramilitary and/or self-defense groups apparently do exist) that continues to zealously defend the regime.

NPR broadcast parts of an interesting, still-in-process, documentary the other day on that, entitled, "A Close-Up Of Syria's Alawites, Loyalists Of A Troubled Regime."

According to at least one resident of a besieged Alawite town, "the Syrian government is the only thing that will protect the Alawite minority." It is about survival. Also, there are indeed some who see their president as "almost [. .] a divine figure that will provide protection."

A school filmed in a town shows zealous high school students - some expecting soon to be drafted to fight - chanting gleeful support for President Al-Assad. A mother vows personal revenge after her son is gravely injured during a bombing.

There is blood. And there are tears and yelling.

The war becomes real though you are fairly sure that you are viewing only one side of it; the losing side.

But which side is that?
Who is being manipulated ?
And by whom?

The filmaker (referred to only as Hassan) explains that "the regime is just using this sectarian promise of protection as a way to maintain its own power."

The Alawites are now "trapped by fear — a fear that's allowed them to go from oppressed to oppressors."

It is all so very strange and so very sad.


Parting questions:

When does a ruling (or powerful) minority lose its moral authority?

On the other hand, when or where might a rebel majority lose its own moral authority?

[Possible Answer]

Is there a lesson here about religious freedom - and the abuse of power?

And finally:

When does God (or anyone) intervene?


Earlier Warning:

Patriarch warns Syrians of reliving Lebanon's errors

Monday, December 31, 2012

Of myths and lemmings

After the apocalypse (definition: revelation) and/or cliff  - what next?

Fact: Death (in some form) awaits us all.

Myth: Lemmings fall out of the sky and/or commit mass suicide.

A lemming corpse

Prognosis: Certain legends, folktales and myths continue to endure over the span of several human generations. [Sidebar: "The patient is not dead, doctor!"]

Over and over again, the memory of lessons learned (albeit not always or often directly) wither away and human groupings, tribes, even nations arise that proclaim superior knowledge; and, occasionally, combined in that, "leadership" skills.

It would seem that just like the mythical lemmings "fallen from the sky," and apparently ready to move forward en masse no matter the obstacle, human beings (exalted, enlightened) go through varying, less apparently instinctive cycles.

The result, at least mythically or metaphorically or sometimes, actually - is that human beings do follow certain leadership, unquestioningly.

Whether through the wilderness, over cliffs or over mountains - "because they are there" - the mysterious; some call it, "divine" quality of human faith, fantasy and folly continues onward.

Now, certainly, in this great age of wonders - never seen before - perhaps, maybe, finally, we might actually get our stories (la grande perspective) right?

Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

A new world inquisitor for the end world inquisitive

As the "end of the world" according to Mayan calendar (not calendars) enthusiasts draws near, it might be of some interest here (and elsewhere) to reflect upon the fall (but certainly not the last days) of that civilization.
Diego de Landa Calderón,
(12 November, 1524 – 1579) Bishop of Yucatán

First, discovering Spanish Franciscan missionary Diego de Landa and the bigger picture of his legacy as it stands today:
"In 1549, he was assigned to the Yucatan peninsula where the zealous young friar became one of the first Franciscans to live among the Mayas, learning to speak their language and taking extensive notes about their culture. For more than a decade, Landa and his fellow missionaries struggled to convert the Mayas to Christianity while the indigenous people steadfastly clung to their own spiritual beliefs. Finally, Landa launched an inquisition against the Mayas, torturing thousands and killing more than one hundred in an effort to get them to confess to human sacrifice and other sins."

Secondly, I came across the The Sacred Waters of the Riviera Maya, also known as the cenotes (or sinkholes; deep natural pits) of the Mayas.

Reading carefully one might conclude something remarkable as well as ominous in the story based
on evidence (of human and other sacrifice) found in these sacred waters, which were also an incredibly important resource of fresh water for the Mayans. A theory (one of many)  therefore offered is that the waters became contaminated by the very human sacrifices offered to what was believed to be the entrance to the underworld.

I, personally, could not help but think of these two sets of knowledge together, historically, as well as quite antithetically.

"Evil" religious expression versus evil "religious" expression and/or culture clash ending in forgone conclusion.

God dead *versus* god killed.

Or perhaps I'm way off in such thoughts and for the Mayans (and Catholics/Christians, interestingly) the dead merely represent and supersede all and anything we, the living, can conceive or concoct with our limited, fleshly minds?

And hypothetically, a few questions arise:

Could the (ultimate) encounter have gone any differently? 

What if Bishop Diego de Landa Calderón (his authorities and proxies) had been more tolerant and loving?

What if both Mayans and Catholics had simply learned from each other, grown and changed naturally over the course of time?

Today, the remnant of Mayan culture is getting a lot of attention, ironically, based much upon Bishop Diego de Landa's own writings.

And well it should; for in this new era of peak civilization, the lessons of past encounters, in particular, may helps save us from ourselves - again.


Friday, December 7, 2012

The cult of vanity

It amazes me, when I actually take time to simply - Stop, Breathe, Consider - that human beings, all of us, with our inherent impulse to live, move, sense and understand have not all gone into a state of absolute apoplexy, or, where possible; an endless, blissful trance.

Taken in totality (possible these days to some degree, anyway), the vast sum of all human knowledge would seem to lead us (each to each) to that great, terrible, tantamount conclusion . . .

In this Holy Day or Holiday season, whatever the case may be:

Cherish each other and continue working (if you got it or can) to "earn your neighbor's love." 

 Galaxies Collide in the Antennae Galaxies (NASA-Chandra Hubble Spitzer)

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Helicopter dreams

Everything is Incredible is the story of a man suffering from the debilitating effects of polio who has dedicated his life to building a working helicopter out of re-bar, bicycle parts and wood. For the last 50 years, Agustin has spent all his energy on his quest to fly and prove to the world that he isn't crazy.

As stated on the "campaign" site Round 2:

The objective is two fold

1. Raise enough funds to help Agustin with living expenses by purchasing the helicopter and his home. He will retain both and at the end of his life the helicopter will be preserved to be a lasting legacy of who Agustin is and how he spent his life.

2. We would also like to raise enough to try and get Agustin up in a helicopter.

All of this will be filmed to make a feature length film about this amazing man.

On the other hand, foot, propeller, blade, etc. (or in addition to the above) you can donate to Red Cross disaster relief here.