Friday, December 31, 2010

Thought for The New Year

There is an old Italian proverb that I think is worth pondering as we start another year. It is: "The more things change, the more they remain the same."


Thursday, December 30, 2010

Native-Americans: America's Genocide

At a family gathering several years ago, I said that America should not be so quick to criticize other nations when it comes to human rights because it is responsible for a genocide. There was an explosion of sanctimonious outrage at the dinner table. How dare I say such a thing about "the greatest country in the world". After all, slavery was an evil, but it was not a genocide. But when I said that I was not talking about slavery, I was talking about the American Indian, a silence fell over the room. Then, one family member started to nod his head as he said, "I never thought of it that way before."

But, the Chinese have. In a recent statement concerning the giving of The Nobel Peace Prize to Chinese activist Liu Xiaobo, a Chinese government spokesman said that the U.S. has been and still is responsible for human rights violations concerning Native Americans.

For two hundred years from the start of the Colonial Period through the latter half of the 19th Century, there was a deliberate policy on the part of European settlers and political leaders to try to eradicate America's natives and their culture in the greatest land-grab in the history of the world. Deemed to be an inferior people, Native Americans were violently attacked, given small-pox infected blankets, made slave labor, subjected to forced-marches to inhospitable land, denied status as American citizens, and nearly destroyed as a people and a culture. And the few victories they had in defending their birthright, (such as in The Battle of The Little Big Horn, aka. Custer's Last Stand), were turned on their heads to make the white man the victim of atrocities.

When the Native-Americans were defeated, there was an attempt to re-write history. Indian children were taken from their parents and off the reservations to be placed in "civilizing" and missionary schools to create white man clones. The population of Indians continued to decline until the latter half of the 1920's when for the first time since the European invasion, the number of Indian births outnumbered the number of Indian deaths. Finally, Natives were even denied U.S. citizenship until 1924.

Some people say that this is all ancient history. They have obviously never visited an Indian Reservation. Most of these tribal enclaves of semi-autonomous Indian culture are poor and approach third-world living conditions. Their tracts of land are frequently inhospitable and often arid. And, life on the reservations is hard, aimless and leads to alcoholism. Education is sub-standard and often meaningless. And, the young are given a choice, either maintain the heritage or leave the reservation.
Though textbooks skirt the issue and use euphemisms, the U.S. is guilty of a genocide and in its aftermath an appalling disregard for the victims and the consequences. So, perhaps we should not be so quick to point the finger at other nation's human rights violations until we face up to our own wrongs and make a good-faith and honest attempt to rectify them.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Senator Tom Coburn

Oklahoma Republican Senator Tom Coburn predicted on "fair and balanced" Fox News that if the deficit is not brought under control and wasteful spending eliminated, there would be "Apocalyptic pain", a massive contraction of the economy, the destruction of the middle class, and the possible demise of The Republic. They were strong and fearful words from the Senator who is a leading deficit hawk who also predicted that the U.S. had only three or four years to get its fiscal affairs in order and straighten out its priorities. These warning and predictions might have some credibility if it were not that it is another case of political "do as I say, not as I do".

Coburn was re-elected in November for what he says will be his final term as Senator. Bear in mind that an orangutan could be elected Senator from Oklahoma provided it ran as a Republican. But, Coburn pretended that he had a viable opponent and did some campaigning. And his primary issues were Obama, wasteful spending and the deficit.

Then what did the self-proclaimed deficit-hawk do immediately after his re-election? He insisted along with his Republican colleagues on an extension of the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans and thereby voted to increase the deficit by over eight hundred million dollars over the next ten years. In fact, Coburn has never said no to any Republican legislation or earmark which would enlarge the deficit, but shouts bloody murder and prophesises doom because of deficits when it comes to Democratic initiatives.

Case in point: When Democrats wanted a fund to help with the medical bills of firemen and policemen who had developed ailments related to actives they performed after the 9/11 attacks, Coburn, a medical doctor, joined with his Republican colleagues in The Senate denouncing the bill as overly-generous wasteful spending. But, when it came to Bush's massive bailout of Wall Street and the banks, he had no problem voting "yes".

Tom Coburn is a Tea Party favorite and embraces its agenda. So, it would be fair to say that The Tea Party holds a clue as to where Coburn wants to cut Federal spending and cut the deficit. The Tea Party wants to eliminate The Dept. of Education, The Dept. of Environmental Protection, The Food and Drug Administration, and The Bureau of Civil Rights. It also wants to eliminate The Americans with Disabilities Act, Social Security, and food stamps. But, if we eliminated all of that, it would neither make a dent in the deficit nor reduce taxes by any substantial amount. So, both Coburn's and The Tea Party's agenda are clear. It is to take away Federal protections for most Americans while cutting taxes for the wealthy and making government a mere extension of corporate America and Wall Street.

Finally, Tom Coburn is from the arm-pit of Texas known as Oklahoma. Great musical, but not much else. OK?

Sunday, December 26, 2010


With the renewed tensions between North and South Korea, I have become increasing aware of how little the American people know about what is called by its own people "The Land of Morning Calm". I have been in South Korea, studied at Korea University, and have more than a passing knowledge of Korean history and its rich culture.

Here are some interesting facts about Korea:

1. The Korean people are ethnically closer to The Manchurians than to the Chinese or Japanese.

2. The people of South Korea refer to themselves as Hanguks, the people of the Han, a major river which runs through Seoul. "Gook" became a slur and an insulting slang used by American GI's during The Korean War.

3. North Korea uses Choson as its name, a term derived from a royal dynasty rooted in the north, The Choson Dynasty.

4. The word "Korea" is rooted in the name of a royal dynasty, the Goryeo Dynasty.

5. Unlike many of its Asian neighbors which uses a pictographic form of writing, Korea uses an alphabet, the Hangul. The alphabet was created by King Sejong who wanted his people to become literate.

6. This is not the first time that the Korean peninsula has been divided. It was divided into three kingdoms roughly between 57BC and 668AD.

7. In terms of religion, in modern day South Korea about 46% claim no religious affiliation. Of the others, roughly 23% say they are Buddhist, 18% say they are Protestant, 11% say they are Catholic, and the rest are members of new religious movements or Muslim.

8. The United States is the home of the second largest Korean community outside of Korea. (The largest is in China.) The overwhelming number of Korean-Americans, between 70% and 80%, identify themselves as Christians.

9. From 1911 until 1945, Japan took over Korea and attempted to eradicate Korean culture and the Korean language, even going so far as to replace Korean names with Japanese names.

10. The Korean War (1948-1952), started when North Korea invaded South Korea. The war ended in an armistice but not a treaty to permanently end hostilities. The Armistice has been in effect for 58 years, but the two Koreas and the U.S. technically are still at war.

11. The DMZ (Demilitarized Zone) dividing North and South Korea is the most heavily armed and most dangerous piece of land on the planet.

12. Seoul, the capital of South Korea with its over ten million people, is just 23 miles south of the DMZ. There is an elevated highway in northern Seoul from which you can see North Korea.

13 South Korea's economy is the 15th biggest economy in the world.

14. Most Americans think that the hit Vietnam era movie and TV show M*A*S*H was set in Vietnam. In reality, it was set during The Korean War, commonly referred to as "The Forgotten War".

Friday, December 24, 2010

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Truth about Christmas

Let me say right off that I love Christmas. I love the music, the tree decorating, giving gifts, tradition hymns and carols, the church services, and the unbridled sentimentality. As Bill Murray said in Scrooged, "It is a time when we have a chance to be the people we always wanted to be." What I do not like about Christmas is the fundamentalist and political right-wing defenders of Christmas, the over-the-top commercialization, rotten holiday music, the over-done and tasteless Christmas lights on homes, and receiving gifts. But, my likes and dislikes are not the issue here. I just want to set the record straight about Christmas.

In some ways, Christmas is a made-up holiday like Kwanza. It has no real historic reason to be celebrated on December 25 and much of the celebration of the holiday has little or nothing to do with the birth of Christ. Let me explain:

1. Christmas was a minor Christian holiday until the mid-1800's.

2. No one knows when Jesus (whose real name in English was Joshua ben Joseph) was born.

3. The placement of the celebration of Christ's birth on December 25 was determined by early Christians to coincide with a pagan Roman winter holiday celebrating the winter solstice. The Christians thought that by choosing that day, a Christian celebration would go un-noticed by Roman authorities.

4. Because of calendar changes, he was probably born between 4 and 3 BC- in other words, between 4 and 3 Before Christ.

5. If the Biblical accounts are correct, Jesus was born in the summer. The proof is that the stable was empty, the shepherds were in the fields tending their flocks, and long distance journeys took place in warm weather.

6. One Biblical account says Jesus was born in a stable, but another Biblical account says he was born in a cave.

7. The Wise Men were not kings. They were Zoroastrian astrologers who were following a star that seemed to be visibly moving in the night sky. In ancient days, stars and plants were thought of as being the same. In reality, the astrologers were following a planet's seeming retrograde motion. Chinese astrologers recorded such an event between 4 and 3 BC. Also, the Biblical account does not contain the astrologer's names nor does it say that they gave the Christ child three gifts. It simply says that there were three of them and that they came bearing gifts.

8. There is no historical evidence of the census being taken which forced Joseph and Mary to go to Bethlehem or Herod's order to kill the babies in Bethlehem.

9. If angels had appeared in the sky, that would have been an unusual event to say the least. Yet, there is no evidence that the word was spread about this phenomenon. Nor, is it mentioned in any piece of historic literature outside of The Gospel accounts of Jesus' birth.

10. Finally, Christmas celebrations got all mixed up with pagan winter solstice customs (lighted trees, mistletoe), St. Nicolas Day (December 6), a fictitious Santa Claus and an image created by Coca Cola), The Epiphany (January 6), and the merchandising of Christmas in order to sell Christmas presents.