Looks Like Me But Isn't

Looks Like Me But Isn't

Monday, November 10, 2008

Miriam Makeba 1932 - 2008

If you never heard of her, then here is a brief introduction. She was a South African woman, famous as much for singing as for her uncompromising stand against the apartheid system of her own country as well as the injustices all over the world. Because of she spoke out publicly against apartheid she was exiled from South Africa for more than 30 years. She did finally go back home when Nelson Mandela became president and invited her back. Here are some quotes of hers from over the years and this blog ends with a text from Nelson Mandela. Be sure to check out her music as well.

Everybody now admits that apartheid was wrong, and all I did was tell the people who wanted to know where I come from how we lived in South Africa. I just told the world the truth. And if my truth then becomes political, I can't do anything about that.

People in the United States still have a 'Tarzan' movie view of Africa. That's because in the movies all you see are jungles and animals . . . We [too] watch television and listen to the radio and go to dances and fall in love

In every community, in every nation, people are doing little and big things to help make a better world. Think of what has been accomplished to date: space exploration; satellite communications; heart transplants. Today, we have managed to do what previous generations never dreamed of. But, you see, today, around the world, 820 million people still don't have enough to eat. And it doesn't have to be this way.

And why is our music called world music? I think people are being polite. What they want to say is that it's third world music. Like they use to call us under developed countries, now it has changed to developing countries, it's much more polite.

You know, and then you expose your people to other cultures and other people's music. You see, that's why, people need to be exposed to different types of music and that is how you learn to appreciate other people. Through their music, through their art, and so on and so forth.

The text of Nelson Mandela's statement paying tribute to South African singing legend Miriam Makeba, who has died aged 76:

The sudden passing of our beloved Miriam has saddened us and our nation.

For many decades, starting in the years before we went to prison, MaMiriam featured prominently in our lives and we enjoyed her moving performances at home.

Despite her tremendous sacrifice and the pain she felt to leave behind her beloved family and her country when she went into exile, she continued to make us proud as she used her worldwide fame to focus attention on the abomination of apartheid.

Her haunting melodies gave voice to the pain of exile and disclocation which she felt for 31 long years.

At the same time, her music inspired a powerful sense of hope in all of us.

Even after she returned home she continued to use her name to make a difference by mentoring musicians and supporting struggling young women.

One of her more recent projects was to highlight the plight of victims of land mines.

She was South Africa's first lady of song and so richly deserved the title of Mama Afrika.

She was a mother to our struggle and to the young nation of ours. It was fitting that her last moments were spent on a stage, enriching the hearts and lives of others - and again in support of a good cause.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Some Thoughts on Patrick Buchanan's Book, Day of Reckoning

If Richard Dawkins is considered the bull dog of evolution than it seems fair to say that Patrick Buchanan is the bull dog of the right wing in the US. I just finished reading his book and it seems safe to say that it can be summed up in the following ideas:

1. Americans need to put America first. In some ways, you could say he wants to make the US of today go back in time to the US before the first world war: isolationist and culturally unified (ie., European Christian decent)

Although he denies the isolationist claim it is counteracted by his America first idea. Personally, I'm always suspicious of people who put forth selfish ideas. But especially in the case of Buchanan and his ilke because they never want to do the simple things like make health care available to everyone or increase public transportation, things which the richest most powerful nation in history should be able to do. That higher education could be free because it is in many thirld world countries should be a no brainer for this great nation. So yeah, I'll buy into a small portion of the America first rhetoric when it's done in a positive spirit but not for the negative. As it stands, Buchanan presents the America first idea based on weakness and backwardness.

2. He defines a nation by the following ideas: "Blood and soil, tradition and faith, history and heroes." This is counter posed to what he believes exists today "...an artificial nation, a nation of the mind ...united by a belief in the new trinity: diversity, democracy and equality."

The right wing, and I mean this for all countries because they sound the same no matter where you go, has a serious problem with logic and with history. The first part of the quote would presents absolutely zero problems for any translator. Lets go through this step by step. Blood, which I take to represent both family and sacrifice. All of our blood, ie., ancestry, family, etc. comes from such a diverse number of places as to have a DNA pool that probably no other nation can equal. Not only that but it has come in different stages. I would go so far as to say that the US serves as a perfect, living example of the nation building process. We tend to think of nationalities as always having existed the way we see them today. But with out exception every nationality in history has been brought about by the mixing, both peaceful and violently, of various smaller groupings of people. In other words, nationalities are a process not a static thing.

This is true of soil too. Nation is a process not a static thing. Although there are definitely many cultures that have deeper ties to their soil than Americans can ever hope to have with theirs in terms of time. Feelings are mostly universal but I would bet that even those rare Americans that own the same land as from (or before) when our nation was founded would bow their heads in solemn respect when compared to their equals in Egypt, Japan, China and some places in the Middle East where generations can be counted in thousands of years instead of decades or centuries. And yet, even among those I just named, there is not one whose national soil / territory, as a whole, has remained unchanged. Some have expanded some have shrunk. Time has no alliance, DNA or borders to respect although our own individual time being so short and limited can distort our abiliity to view things as they really are.

Tradition is ironic because it strives to be static and looks backward as much as possible while those who are practicing it are moving forward and being put in different situations with different people, thus changing. I'm sorry if my imagination and memory are faulty but there is not a single thing I can think of in the traditions of any country that have remained the same throughout it's existance. If I'm wrong, I would be more than happy to be told so. Just send me an example and I will show it.

I know it blasphemous to speak of faith as anything but unchanging and static. But let me address myself to just the faith Buchanan is talking about which is Christianity. However, even the quickest, most superficial look shows diversity and change. Even under the umbrella of Christiany you have these major groupings: Restorationism, Anabaptism, Protestantism, Anglicanism, Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodxy, Oriental Orthodox and the Assyrian Church. They all believe in Christ as a savoir but their are major differences among each of them over a number of subjects related to Christ. It begs the question, which type of Christianity should be allowed to dictate to the other Christains? That is the question never asked by the Christian right in our country. And the one they fail to understand in relation to the founding fathers and our constitution. The right wing always put the question as those who believe against those who don't when in reality by not allowing one faith type to take over, our founding fathers saved us from the petty bickering and more serious religious wars not only from different relions against each other but also the fights of members of differing branches of religions within the ame faith group. The hardest thing for the Christian right to understand is that it is the secular domination of the government; its secular agencies and secular laws that protect the equality and freedom of all the faith groups.

History is not the accumulation of facts. History is an interpretation of facts. Does that mean you can say what you want? No. Let me repeat: No you can NOT interpret history any way you want. Facts are part and parcel of history but alone they mean nothing. History is a living changing thing it is not an object. You have to do or make history. Any one who proposes that you can go back to actions and ideas of the past and make life "better like it used to be" is a
demagogue. Behind this idea is a static, selective view of history that denies the historical forces that caused a certain way to be chosen in the first place. It also denies popular common sense. Everyone knows the expression, "you can't go home again" and the reasons why that is true. Even if the dwelling place is the same, the person who left is not the same and neither are those who stayed. And no amount of wishful thinking, facts of things that used to be can effect how time and events change things. Just one example from Buchanan will illustrate this, the idea that President Washington left us with that we should never enter into binding treaties with our international friends lest we stretch ourselves thin and really have no interest in their fights which do not effect us. The problem is that we cannot now leave all the treaties we made since Washington's time without it effecting us. Too many decisions among governments and businesses are made and based upon those treaties and to pull out of them will not make the world Washington lived in come back. Old ideas in new times do not produce old consequences, they produce new consequences. This leads us to heroes.

Heroes are part of how we define ourselves as well as a nation. In his case, his publically stated heroes are Gen. Douglas MacAuthor, Senator Joseph McCarthy, and General Francisco Franco. Taking these three helps explain his disdain for democracy and equality because for him they had "higher" principles. Among those higher principles are loyalty, fighting spirit and nation. Can anyone argue against these ideas, they are after all, very powerful ideas. But this where his interpretation of history helps him. Don't think of Franco as a military dictator because he was a God beliving man trying to hold his country together against enemies (godless communist enemies, no less) and if heads had to role and civil liberties had to be suppressed so be it. No fear of fighting the good fight or trying to put the responsibility on someone else. Apply this line of reasoning with slight modifications and you get similar justifications for MacAurthur and McCarthy. Now, I can admit the possibility of suppressing civil liberties and fierce determination fighting enemies are necessary in crisis situations. That means I can see their use in specific situations and hopefully for determined amounts of time but I would not consider those to be "higher" principles. As a matter of fact, when compared to equality, diversity and democracy I see them as being lower principles. Our national heroes should reflect those good things from our history that we want to project into the future and that offer the best chance to deal with new situations and challenges in a solid but flexible manner. We should not raise to a false pedastal the necessary actions of a crisis.

3. He argues against the greedy but has two different categories, the good greedy he calls "nation builders" Rockefeller, Morgan, Carnegie and Gates. And the bad greedy, those who make their money from the financial sector. This false division gives him the ability to move from defender of individual rights to property (ie., the interests of the rich) to defender of the common working person. Essentially this is not a position for or against anything in particular. It can be used to justify or argue against whatever seems to be prudent at the time. Populism in action.

4. To deal with moral issues like "...abortion, gay rights, school prayer, public display of the Ten Commandments, homosexuality, Darwin, creationism, medical marijuana, racial quotas or assisted suicide", he proposes the following four principles:
  1. Republicanism - elected representitives not judges should decide these things.
  2. Federalism - the states not the federal government should decide these things.
  3. Localism - "decisions are best taken by the smallest unit of government able to decide and implement them."
  4. Participatory democracy - voters should decide these issues by initiative and referenda.
He claims that these issues are tearing our country apart; that we are becoming "tribalists" and yet his method for dealing with the situation would be less democratic, less unifying and less in line with the principles of our Constitution and its amendments. Since most of these issues are only moral in a religious context and are not to the non religious they can't be solved along those lines. We should frame the questions differently:

  • Considering that our country has brought down wall after wall of discrimination, why should we support one against people's sexuality? We show, as a people, a historical distaste for discrimination, be them for racial reasons or religious ones.
  • Why the public display of only the ten commandments? How about guiding principles from the Qu'ran or the various Hindu, Buddhist principles? Same thing for prayer. In essence, do the ones who want all this public display of religions think the founding fathers were wrong in how they formulated the constitution and amendments of this country?
  • Would our country be better off if we stopped teaching and producing science, medicine and technology?
  • Who is best able to make decisions about your body: you, a religion or a government?

5. He has a 10 point program to deal with immigration. But the main idea behind it is to "keep the US predominantly Christian and European." Obviously Mexican and Christian isn't good enough. How much of this anti immigrant rhetoric is just scape goating?

6. No more wars to fight for democracy. Why does he single out wars for democracy? Does this imply there are other things to go to war for? If so, what are they and let's have an open discussion of them. We may find that we don't want to fight any more wars for any reason unless we are attacked directly on our soil. This has serious implications in how we budget money human and physical resources. For now we will have to wait for a future book of his to see what his real thoughts are.

Now playing: Elvis Costello - (What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love & Understanding
via FoxyTunes