Tag Archives: United States

“American Gods” by Neil Gaiman: Issue 04

I recently had a discussion with my wife regarding the founding of the United States. We came to the conclusion that, although many Americans like to think the country was founded upon the principles of freedom, it was actually commerce and enslavement that were the driving forces that led to the founding of America. With that still fresh in my mind, I came upon an interesting passage while reading this installment of Gaiman’s “American Gods” series.

The important thing to remember about American history is that it is fictional. It is a fine fiction that America was founded by pilgrims seeking the freedom to believe as they wished. In truth, the American colonies were as much as dumping ground as an escape. In the days when you could be hanged in London for the theft of twelve pennies, the Americas became a symbol of clemency, of a second chance. Transportation, it was called: for five years, for ten years, for life. You were sold to a captain and shipped to the colonies to be sold into indentured servitude–but at least you were free to make the most of your new world.

Another part of this comic really interested me was the three sisters. Gaiman based his three characters on the Slavic myth of the two sisters who watched the stars for a sign that the universe was about to end.

In Slavic mythology, the Zorja (alternately, Zora, Zarja, Zory, Zore = “dawn”; Zorza in Polish, Zara-Zaranica (Belarusian: Зара-Зараніца), Zvezda, Zwezda, Danica = “star”) are the two guardian goddesses, known as the Auroras. They guard and watch over the winged doomsday hound, Simargl, who is chained to the star Polaris in the constellation Ursa Minor, the “little bear”. If the chain ever breaks, the hound will devour the constellation and the universe will end. The Zorja represent the Morning Star and the Evening Star.

The Zorja serve the sun god Dažbog, who in some myths is described as their father. Zorja Utrennjaja, the Morning Star, opens the gates to his palace every morning for the sun-chariot’s departure. At dusk, Zorja Vechernjaja—the Evening Star—closes the palace gates once more after his return.

(Source: Wikipedia)

In Gaiman’s retelling of the myth, he adds a third sister. It seems that Gaiman did this to also tie in the mythologies of the triple goddess, the three fates (Moirai), and possibly the three witches from Macbeth.

You wanted to know what I was looking at. The Big Dipper. Odin’s Wain, they call it. The Great Bear. Where we come from, we believe that it is a thing, not a god, but a bad thing, chained up in those stars. If it escapes, it will eat the whole of everything. And there are three sisters who must watch the sky, all the day, all the night. If he escapes, the thing in the stars, the world is over.

So far, I really love this series. Even though the artwork is a little weak, the quality of the writing makes up for it, and then some. I think I will have to reread the original text of American Gods at some point when this graphic series is finished.

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“Martin Luther King, Jr. on the Six Pillars of Nonviolent Resistance” by Maria Popova

mlk

I subscribe to the Brain Pickings newsletter, and while I do not always have time to read all the thoughtful essays, I am spiritually and intellectually stimulated each time I do. This week’s installment included an article about Martin Luther King, Jr. entitled “An Experiment in Love: Martin Luther King, Jr. on the Six Pillars of Nonviolent Resistance and the Ancient Greek Notion of ‘Agape’” which I figured would be appropriate to read this morning for MLK Day.

Popova begins the essay by pointing out the spiritual traditions and philosophies that influenced King.

Although Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (January 15, 1929–April 4, 1968) used Christian social ethics and the New Testament concept of “love” heavily in his writings and speeches, he was as influenced by Eastern spiritual traditions, Gandhi’s political writings, Buddhism’s notion of the interconnectedness of all beings, and Ancient Greek philosophy. His enduring ethos, at its core, is nonreligious — rather, it champions a set of moral, spiritual, and civic responsibilities that fortify our humanity, individually and collectively.

Popova then begins exploring the key tenets in King’s essay “An Experiment in Love,” which I have not yet read in its entirety, but suspect I will have to soon. The first quote that really struck me concerns how we treat those we oppose.

Nonviolence … does not seek to defeat or humiliate the opponent, but to win his friendship and understanding.

This single sentence perfectly captures my present sentiment. I recently had to cut myself off from much of social media because of the toxicity that permeates it these days. I get the sense that social media has become a tool for people to denigrate those they disagree with through snarky tweets and memes that depict the opposition as objects to be feared or ridiculed. Social media, instead of bringing us closer together, has helped drive a wedge between us, and I refuse to expose myself to this any longer.

The other passage that resonated with me concerns physical and spiritual violence.

Nonviolent resistance … avoids not only external physical violence but also internal violence of spirit. The nonviolent resister not only refuses to shoot his opponent but he also refuses to hate him. At the center of nonviolence stands the principle of love. The nonviolent resister would contend that in the struggle for human dignity, the oppressed people of the world must not succumb to the temptation of becoming bitter or indulging in hate campaigns. To retaliate in kind would do nothing but intensify the existence of hate in the universe. Along the way of life, someone must have sense enough and morality enough to cut off the chain of hate. This can only be done by projecting the ethic of love to the center of our lives.

This tenet applies to the social media toxicity I mentioned earlier, as well as the divisiveness we are experiencing in the aftermath of a most contentious election. There is so much hatred and fear and anger and distrust directed at “the others,” that it has resulted in a violence that manifests physically and spiritually. We have found ourselves in a terrible place and as a society we need to move past it.

If our civilization is to survive, we need to transcend the “us and them” mentality and begin to see ourselves as one people, regardless of our differences. We do not have to agree with everyone, but we need to begin respecting everyone and treating everyone with dignity. If we don’t, we will cease to advance.

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Hillary Clinton’s Concession Speech

Earlier today I shared my thoughts on president-elect Donald Trump’s victory speech. I just watched and then read Hillary’s concession speech, and for me, the contrast was significant. I can only imagine how painful it must be to deliver a speech such as this, to come so close to something monumental and then fall short.

In my post on Trump’s speech, I highlighted the key point for me, so I will do the same here:

“And to all the women, and especially the young women, who put their faith in this campaign and in me, I want you to know that nothing has made me prouder than to be your champion.

Now, I know, I know we have still not shattered that highest and hardest glass ceiling but someday, someone will and hopefully sooner than we think right now.

And to all the little girls who are watching this, never doubt that you are valuable, and powerful and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world to pursue and achieve your own dreams.”

As a father of two talented and independent young women, I am painfully aware of the challenges women face in our society. I hope that in their lifetime, our global society will see a paradigm shift and get to a place where there is true equality for women and all people.

Anyway, here is the transcript of the entire speech which I found on NPR website.


Thank you. Thank you all. Thank you. Thank you all very much. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you so much.

Very crowded room.

Thank you my friends. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you so very much for being here and I love you all too.

Last night, I congratulated Donald Trump and offered to work with him on behalf of our country. I hope that he will be a successful president for all Americans. This is not the outcome we wanted or we worked so hard for. And I’m sorry that we did not win this election for the values we share and the vision we hold for our country.

But I feel, I feel pride and gratitude for this wonderful campaign that we built together. This vast, diverse, creative, unruly, energized campaign. You represent the best of America and being your candidate has been one of the greatest honors of my life.

I know how disappointed you feel because I feel it too. And so do tens of millions of Americans who invested their hopes and dreams in this effort. This is painful and it will be for a long time. But I want you to remember this: our campaign was never about one person or even one election. It was about the country we love and about building an America that’s hopeful, inclusive and big-hearted.

We have seen that our nation is more deeply divided than we thought.

But I still believe in America and I always will. And if you do, then we must accept this result and then look to the future. Donald Trump is going to be our president. We owe him an open mind and a chance to lead. Our constitutional democracy enshrines the peaceful transfer of power. And we don’t just respect that, we cherish it.

It also enshrines other things: the rule of law, the principle that we are all equal in rights and dignity, freedom of worship and expression. We respect and cherish these values too. And we must defend them.

And let me add, our constitutional democracy demands our participation, not just every four years, but all the time. So let’s do all we can to keep advancing the causes and values we all hold dear. Making our economy work for everyone, not just those at the top, protecting our country and protecting our planet and breaking down all the barriers that hold any American back from achieving their dreams.

We spent a year and a half bringing together millions of people from every corner of our country to say with one voice that we believe that the American dream is big enough for everyone, for people of all races and religions, for men and women, for immigrants, for LGBT people and people with disabilities – for everyone.

So now, our responsibility as citizens is to keep doing our part to build that better, stronger, fairer America we seek. And I know you will.

I am so grateful to stand with all of you. I want to thank Tim Kaine and Anne Holton for being our partners on this journey.

It has been a joy getting to know them better and it gives me great hope and comfort to know that Tim will remain on the front lines of our democracy, representing Virginia in the Senate.

To Barack and Michelle Obama, our country owes you an enormous debt of gratitude. We thank you for your graceful, determined leadership that has meant so much to so many Americans and people across the world.

And to Bill and Chelsea, Mark, Charlotte, Aidan, our brothers and our entire family, my love to you means more than I can ever express. You criss-crossed this country on our behalf and lifted me up when I needed it most, even four-month old Aidan who traveled with his mom. I will always be grateful to the creative, talented, dedicated men and women at our headquarters in Brooklyn and across our country.

You poured your hearts into this campaign. For some of you who are veterans, it was a campaign after you had done other campaigns. Some of you, it was your first campaign. I want each of you to know to know that you were the best campaign anybody could have ever expected or wanted.

And to the millions of volunteers, community leaders, activists, and union organizers who knocked on doors, talked to neighbors, posted on Facebook, even in secret private Facebook sites…I want everybody coming out from behind that and make sure your voices are heard going forward.

To everyone who sent in contributions as small as five dollars and kept us going, thank you. Thank you from all of us.

And to the young people in particular, I hope you will hear this. I have, as Tim said, spent my entire adult life fighting for what I believe in. I’ve had successes and I’ve had setbacks – sometimes really painful ones. Many of you are at the beginning of your professional, public and political careers. You will have successes and setbacks too. This loss hurts. But please, never stop believing that fighting for what’s right is worth it.

It is. It is worth it.

And so, we need you to keep up these fights now and for the rest of your lives.

And to all the women, and especially the young women, who put their faith in this campaign and in me, I want you to know that nothing has made me prouder than to be your champion.

Now, I know, I know we have still not shattered that highest and hardest glass ceiling but someday, someone will and hopefully sooner than we think right now.

And to all the little girls who are watching this, never doubt that you are valuable, and powerful and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world to pursue and achieve your own dreams.

Finally, finally I am so grateful for our country and for all it has given to me. I count my blessings every single day that I am an American. And I still believe, as deeply as I ever have, that if we stand together and work together with respect for our differences, strength in our convictions and love for this nation, our best days are still ahead of us.

Because you know, you know, I believe we are stronger together and we will go forward together. And you should never, ever regret fighting for that.

You know, scripture tells us, “Let us not go weary in doing good for in due season, we shall reap if we do not lose heart.” So my friends, let us have faith in each other. Let us not grow weary, let us not lose heart. For there are more seasons to come and there is more work to do.

I am incredibly honored and grateful to have had this chance to represent all of you in this consequential election.

May God bless you and may God bless the United States of America.

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Trump’s Election Day Speech

So because I am a reader, I had to read Trump’s election day victory speech. While most of it read like a television awards show, where he thanked everyone from his parents to staff, there was one line that stood out for me as expressing the crux of what just happened:

“The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer.”

The fact is that there are many, many people who have been left behind in a world that is rapidly changing and difficult to understand. People who have made a living on skills that are obsolete in a technological world are frustrated, forgotten, and feeling left behind. These are legitimate feelings and Trump tapped into that sentiment.

For those of you who, like me, read and analyze text, here is the full text from Trump’s speech (from cnn.com).


Thank you. Thank you very much, everybody. Sorry to keep you waiting. Complicated business. Complicated. Thank you very much.
I’ve just received a call from Secretary Clinton. She congratulated us. It’s about us. On our victory, and I congratulated her and her family on a very, very hard-fought campaign.
I mean, she fought very hard. Hillary has worked very long and very hard over a long period of time, and we owe her a major debt of gratitude for her service to our country.
I mean that very sincerely. Now it is time for America to bind the wounds of division, have to get together. To all Republicans and Democrats and independents across this nation, I say it is time for us to come together as one united people.
It is time. I pledge to every citizen of our land that I will be President for all of Americans, and this is so important to me. For those who have chosen not to support me in the past, of which there were a few people, I’m reaching out to you for your guidance and your help so that we can work together and unify our great country.
As I’ve said from the beginning, ours was not a campaign but rather an incredible and great movement, made up of millions of hard-working men and women who love their country and want a better, brighter future for themselves and for their family.
It is a movement comprised of Americans from all races, religions, backgrounds, and beliefs, who want and expect our government to serve the people — and serve the people it will.
Working together, we will begin the urgent task of rebuilding our nation and renewing the American dream. I’ve spent my entire life in business, looking at the untapped potential in projects and in people all over the world.
That is now what I want to do for our country. Tremendous potential. I’ve gotten to know our country so well. Tremendous potential. It is going to be a beautiful thing. Every single American will have the opportunity to realize his or her fullest potential.
The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer.
We are going to fix our inner cities and rebuild our highways, bridges, tunnels, airports, schools, hospitals. We’re going to rebuild our infrastructure, which will become, by the way, second to none. And we will put millions of our people to work as we rebuild it.
We will also finally take care of our great veterans who have been so loyal, and I’ve gotten to know so many over this 18-month journey.The time I’ve spent with them during this campaign has been among my greatest honors. Our veterans are incredible people.
We will embark upon a project of national growth and renewal. I will harness the creative talents of our people, and we will call upon the best and brightest to leverage their tremendous talent for the benefit of all. It is going to happen.
We have a great economic plan. We will double our growth and have the strongest economy anywhere in the world. At the same time, we will get along with all other nations willing to get along with us. We will be. We will have great relationships. We expect to have great, great relationships.
No dream is too big, no challenge is too great. Nothing we want for our future is beyond our reach.
America will no longer settle for anything less than the best. We must reclaim our country’s destiny and dream big and bold and daring. We have to do that. We’re going to dream of things for our country, and beautiful things and successful things once again.
I want to tell the world community that while we will always put America’s interests first, we will deal fairly with everyone, with everyone. All people and all other nations.
We will seek common ground, not hostility; partnership, not conflict.
And now I would like to take this moment to thank some of the people who really helped me with this, what they are calling tonight a very, very historic victory.
First, I want to thank my parents, who I know are looking down on me right now. Great people. I’ve learned so much from them. They were wonderful in every regard. Truly great parents.
I also want to thank my sisters, Marianne and Elizabeth, who are here with us tonight. Where are they? They’re here someplace. They’re very shy, actually.
And my brother Robert, my great friend. Where is Robert? Where is Robert?
My brother Robert, and they should be on this stage, but that’s okay. They’re great.
And also my late brother Fred, great guy. Fantastic guy. Fantastic family. I was very lucky.
Great brothers, sisters, great, unbelievable parents.
To Melania and Don and Ivanka and Eric and Tiffany and Barron, I love you and I thank you, and especially for putting up with all of those hours. This was tough.
This was tough. This political stuff is nasty, and it is tough.
So I want to thank my family very much. Really fantastic. Thank you all. Thank you all. Lara, unbelievable job. Unbelievable. Vanessa, thank you. Thank you very much. What a great group.
You’ve all given me such incredible support, and I will tell you that we have a large group of people. You know, they kept saying we have a small staff. Not so small. Look at all of the people that we have. Look at all of these people.
And Kellyanne and Chris and Rudy and Steve and David. We have got tremendously talented people up here, and I want to tell you it’s been very, very special.
I want to give a very special thanks to our former mayor, Rudy Giuliani. He’s unbelievable. Unbelievable. He traveled with us and he went through meetings, and Rudy never changes. Where is Rudy. Where is he?
Gov. Chris Christie, folks, was unbelievable. Thank you, Chris. The first man, first senator, first major, major politician. Let me tell you, he is highly respected in Washington because he is as smart as you get.
Sen. Jeff Sessions. Where is Jeff? A great man. Another great man, very tough competitor. He was not easy. He was not easy. Who is that? Is that the mayor that showed up? Is that Rudy?
Up here. Really a friend to me, but I’ll tell you, I got to know him as a competitor because he was one of the folks that was negotiating to go against those Democrats, Dr. Ben Carson. Where’s Ben? Where is Ben? By the way, Mike Huckabee is here someplace, and he is fantastic. Mike and his family Sarah, thank you very much. Gen. Mike Flynn. Where is Mike? And Gen. Kellogg. We have over 200 generals and admirals that have endorsed our campaign and they are special people.
We have 22 Congressional Medal of Honor people. A very special person who, believe me, I read reports that I wasn’t getting along with him. I never had a bad second with him. He’s an unbelievable star. He is … that’s right, how did you possibly guess? Let me tell you about Reince. I’ve said Reince. I know it. I know it. Look at all of those people over there. I know it, Reince is a superstar. I said, they can’t call you a superstar, Reince, unless we win it. Like Secretariat. He would not have that bust at the track at Belmont.
Reince is really a star and he is the hardest-working guy, and in a certain way I did this. Reince, come up here. Get over here, Reince.
Boy, oh, boy, oh, boy. It’s about time you did this right. My god. Nah, come here. Say something.
Amazing guy. Our partnership with the RNC was so important to the success and what we’ve done, so I also have to say, I’ve gotten to know some incredible people.
The Secret Service people. They’re tough and they’re smart and they’re sharp and I don’t want to mess around with them, I can tell you. And when I want to go and wave to a big group of people and they rip me down and put me back down in the seat, but they are fantastic people so I want to thank the Secret Service.
And law enforcement in New York City, they’re here tonight. These are spectacular people, sometimes underappreciated unfortunately. We appreciate them.
So it’s been what they call a historic event, but to be really historic, we have to do a great job, and I promise you that I will not let you down. We will do a great job. We will do a great job. I look very much forward to being your president, and hopefully at the end of two years or three years or four years or maybe even eight years you will say so many of you worked so hard for us, with you. You will say that — you will say that that was something that you were — really were very proud to do and I can — thank you very much.
And I can only say that while the campaign is over, our work on this movement is now really just beginning. We’re going to get to work immediately for the American people, and we’re going to be doing a job that hopefully you will be so proud of your President. You will be so proud. Again, it’s my honor.
It’s an amazing evening. It’s been an amazing two-year period, and I love this country. Thank you.
Thank you very much. Thank you to Mike Pence.

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Appealing to the Masses

Great Orator, 1944 by Irving Norman

Great Orator, 1944 by Irving Norman

As we near the end of what may be the longest and most contentious election in US history, I have been thinking a lot about something I read in my college English Composition textbook (which I still have after all these years). It was in a section explaining how rhetoric is used to appeal to a crowd of people, and the importance of using key words that tap into the fears and prejudices of the audience. Anyway, here is the quote:

The streets of our country are in turmoil. The universities are filled with students rebelling and rioting. Communists are seeking to destroy our country. Russia is threatening us with her might, and the public is in danger. Yes, danger from within and without. We need law and order. Yes, without law and order our nation cannot survive. Elect us, and we shall by law and order be respected among the nations of the world. Without law and order our republic shall fall.

(Excerpt from speech by Adolf Hitler: Strategies for Successful Writing)

Fear seems to be the driving motivator in this election, and regardless of a person’s political inclination, fear and insecurity are the primary impetuses in candidate selection. People supporting Trump are afraid that they are losing their jobs, that they are not being heard and represented, and that the country is heading in a direction that contradicts their beliefs. On the flip side, people supporting Clinton fear increasing racism and intolerance, increased influence of corporate interests, and loss of women’s rights. Add to that the fact that everyone, regardless of political affiliation, is concerned about terrorist threats and political instability in other countries. Put all this together, and you have an election based upon fear, which is stoked by a media that seeks to capitalize on this widespread sentiment.

I am not going to tell you who to vote for, because it is your choice and you have the right to vote your conscience. I would encourage everyone, though, to take a step back, take a deep breath, and try to make a decision that is less fear based. It is tough—trust me, I know—but it is important.

Thanks for stopping by, and keep reading and thinking.

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“Revisiting History” by Umberto Eco

Umberto Eco

Umberto Eco

This essay is included in the book Turning Back the Clock: Hot Wars and Media Populism. Since most of the essay concerns Italian politics and media (a topic which I know little about), the names and references were somewhat meaningless to me. Still, there are a couple sections that discuss fascism and dictatorships that I found interesting.

There seems to be a belief that true political change only occurs through extreme action or revolution. But Eco points out that this is not really the case, that a Fascist Revolution is gradual.

At school they spoke to me about the “Fascist revolution,” but afterward it became clear to me that Fascism hadn’t arrived overnight, like the tanks in Budapest or in Prague, but crept into the country gradually.

(Turning Back the Clock: pp. 166 – 7)

As the election campaign in the US heats up, the rhetoric and tweeting and social media noise is reaching epic levels. As such, dialog and debate is being suffocated, as I see it. People are no longer open to constructive debate and only seek validation of their already established views, and anyone who expresses disagreement with those views is attacked ruthlessly. This is creating a dangerous environment which, as Eco points out, is ripe for the rise of a dictatorship.

In other words, the absence of political debate spells dictatorship, in which criticism is forbidden and newspapers that don’t toe the government line are closed down.

(ibid: p. 177)

Thankfully, the United States is not a fascist country, nor is it ruled by a dictator, but it would be naïve to pretend that we are not moving close to a precipice that we could easily tumble over. Looking back over the past 30 years, you can see the trend towards intolerance for dissent, factionalism, tribalism, and a stark division between the political right and the left. If this trend continues, it will not end well. I hope that the current ranting will move back toward constructive debate.

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“Foreigners and Us” by Umberto Eco

Umberto Eco

Umberto Eco

I have to say, I was intrigued by the title of this essay (included in Turning Back the Clock), particularly given the distrust of foreigners that many Americans currently feel. There are some correlations between the essay and current affairs in the United States, but not ones I expected.

The first correlation is in regard to news media. Eco explains how the veracity of news is determined by whether the views expressed support the established views of the reader. This has been taken to the extreme in the US, where people on the left see MSNBC as the source of truth and those on the right assume FOX News is the source of truth. But the fact is that both sources are biased and the truth lies somewhere else.

By this reasoning, if a public prosecutor accuses us of a crime, then he is an agent of the plot, and if he acquits us, he is virtuous and upright. It’s like saying that The Economist is trash because it criticizes the Polo candidate, but The Times is a model of journalism because it is more indulgent toward him. Where will we end up if we fall into such barbarism?

(Turning Back the Clock: p. 158)

Eco also points out that many politicians now rely on negative campaigning to differentiate themselves from the opposing candidate. It’s the “Vote for me because I am not that person” ploy, and it seems to resonate. I hear people saying they will vote for one candidate solely because they do not like the other candidate.

Many politicians have run for office saying that they wouldn’t behave like the Soviet Union, or Haider, that they weren’t Nazis or Stalinists, that they harbored no authoritarian ambitions, that they didn’t want their country to be reduced to the level of those governed by Idi Amin Dada, Francois Duvalier, Saddam Hussein, and so on.

(ibid: p. 160)

But the thing that stands out the most for me in this essay is a section regarding Americans, how we are a diverse culture bound together by rules of coexistence.

It’s hard to say who the Americans really are, because they are the descendants of the old British Protestant pioneers, Jews, Italians, Irish, Poles, Puerto Ricans, and God knows how many others. But what makes the United States a nation is the fact that all Americans have absorbed a fundamental principle, one that—when the time is right—also fuels their patriotism. The principle is very simple: This is the country where I make a living and allows me, if I can, to become rich, so I must accept some of its rules of coexistence.

(ibid: p. 161)

Maybe this was the case in 2003, but I see a growing disregard for the rules of coexistence in this country. In fact, there seems to be a reaction against the rules of coexistence. A growing number of very vocal individuals appear to want rules of exclusivity that favor one group above others. I find this a frightening trend and one that is bound to end poorly if it continues.

As the 2016 election campaigns continue and the rhetoric becomes more vitriolic, I feel powerless to do much other than share my thoughts and watch how it all unfolds.

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