Archive for the ‘history’ Category

Vietnam, at ground level 1970

July 10, 2018

Herein I recommend a novelized real story from that infamous “War in Vietnam.”

  https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/13437

John Podlaski’s novel about a brand-new American soldier in Vietnam strikes at the heart of the matter— just what the hell were our soldiers over there supposed to be doing?

Them brave boys were  putting their asses on the line, stalking communist enemies in strange jungles on the other side of the world, when all the while their survival instinct was demanding them to just hunker down, lay low, and get through their year-long sentence of jungle warfare in one living, still-breathing piece.

And All for what?

Because we sent them to do a job—kill communists, and run the ones we couldn’t kill back to the North.

Now we all know it didn’t work out that way, but we learned some lessons—and the world did too—in the process.

The problem our guys had over there was: how could we know, in a SE Asian village scenario, which villagers were helping the NVA, and which ones were on our side? As if these rice-cultivating peasants knew the difference between Karl Marx and George Washington!

After reading this book, Cherries, it seems to me that, in the midst of the terrible gun battles, every soldier’s internal war must have been a constant conflict between these two missions: to kill enemies and thus keep the brass-mandated “body count” on an upward curve, or to stay alive!

Which would you choose?!

In most cases, it seems it came down to protecting yourself and your squad buddies, while treading fearfully through the booby-trapped minefield of two opposing international ideologies whose political strategies had turned absolutely, militarily lethal.

That project required real men—brave soldiers who could bite the bullet— who could launch out and give it a shot while death and danger stalked them at every turn along the path.

This was a terrible, terrible ordeal that our nation put these guys through! We need to talk about it.We need to acknowledge their incredible bravery.  We need to ask: Just what the hell happened back then and there in Vietnam?—in that war that so many of us managed to evade.  Whether you were for the war of against it— reading John Podlaski’s “Cherries” is a provocative way to begin the assessment— an evaluation that needs to take place, for the sake of our nation’s future security.

Read the book, because this quasi-autobiographical story gives a close-up, day-to-day, boots-on-the-ground account of what our guys were doing over there in Vietnam, while we were trying to figure it all out here, stateside— here, safe in the home of the free, while the brave were answering the terrible call that our government had imposed on them.  They endured that jungular hell-pit so that we, as a nation, could, in spite of defeat,  pass successfully through the 20th-century burden of Cold War paranoia.

John’s fictionalized personal story fleshes out the constant conflict between two soldierly inclinations: fulfilling military responsibility by driving up enemy “body counts,” vs. following  the human instinct to just stay alive, and somehow make it through your one-year tour of duty without getting your ass killed.

Our American purpose there was unclear. No definite battlefield could be found;  the war was waged wherever our boys happened to run into the Viet Cong or the North Vietnam Army, in a perpetual theater-game of deadly hide-and-seek. Our teens and twenties recruits and draftees were dropped into unfamiliar Asian jungles, then immersed immediately in extreme fear—fear like you would feel seeing two of your platoon-mates’ heads staked on bamboo poles.

Not in Kansas any more, Toto!

Khe Sahn. A Shau, Ah shit! What have we gotten ourselves into?!

Read John’s book to find out what perils our boys  were trudging through while we stateside were trying to figure out the whys and the wherefores.

BTW, by the 1990’s it was plain to see that  the free world, led by the USA, had prevailed in our struggle against both fascism and communism. In the big picture, our effort in Vietnam played an instructive role in that victory. The governance of nations has more to do with learning from your mistakes than fighting a lost cause to some idealized bitter end.

VNGame

Thanks to you all you guys—Cherries, LongTimers and Lifers—who answered the call to service at that time. Oh yeah, and here’s another belated message: Welcome Home!

King of Soul  

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The New World

July 4, 2018

The New World

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HClX2s8A9IE

The coming of the New World dawns slowly; soon and soon very soon its urgency is, was, and will be proclaimed with bold horns and wind.

Listen!

Strings vibrate with anticipation, mounting intensity, declaring themes of freedom.

Flute gently flows; bassoon resonates with agreement

Woodwinds

while horns flourish, air tubes tremble.

Quiet strings set a tone for oboe’s innocence, double reeds  inhaling human breath, portending meditations of possibility, proclamations of potentiality, yet quelling quietly the revolutionary air we breathe in smooth  strides of tender melody;

Oboe

Bows sweep up the fervency of this New World and now the golden door swings open, accompanied by bold trombones, to awaken huddled masses yearning to be free!

Strings, undulating in support, inspire a melting pot of symphonic unity, the Union resounding. Harmony ripening establishes a beachhead of audible beauty with well-tempered passion. Strains of melody  wave like amber waves of grain. Themes of freedom abound in the harvesting of human liberty, melding with the promise of a New World; it arrives so fragile, and yet so  bold.

Oboes dance with joy; bass viols celebrate the depth of profundity;

Bassos

Oboe re-enters with contented notes while swaying strings agree. Conductor Alan Gilbert affirms,

AlanGilbert

then urges them on with baton uplift, so horns part the ready sea of sound with their bold fanfare. Strings conclude with soft sleepy assent.

Dream on, America!

A pause.

Sudden ascension disrupts slumber with vigorous alarm, restive rhythm overtaking repose. Go West, young man! Flutes flutter in resonating encouragement; bold horns proclaim valor and future victories yet to be seen over perils yet unknown.

Rounded melodies bring forth renewals of resolve, heaps of purposeful harmony, mountains of good will, joy abounding, with triumph of compassion and reigning in of passion, to squeeze compelling music out of skeletal staffed spheres written upon pages of Dvorak’s painstaking work.

Anticipation is building. Culmination coming. Tremolos of trials intervene.

Haste and urgency suddenly are the order of the day. Trombones resound with trouble in their snouts— not trouble they have made,

Brass

–but prescient tremors of trials yet to be born, paths yet to be traveled, mountains to be climbed, trails to be trod, skies to be bright-lit with sun, then clouded with rain bringing nourishment to rivers swift, streams flowing with exploration, as cello bows stride with expansion, across the wide prairie, through the dark forest, vivacious sonorities ascending into skies of blue, purple mountains majesty and amber waves of sound.

Crescendo coming, but abruptly arrested with woodwind moments of repose. Questions arise of when and where conclusions can occur with so much going on. And how can this orchestra it end? when we have only just begun—we have not yet spun upward in fulfillment of all we had hoped for.

When where and how could this would this, should this New World arrive at such suspension of tension in frantic strains strung out upon  the peaks of human achievement and then laden into craters of creation at tranquility base? and now suddenly resolving to conclude in bold trombone harmonies with brassy bravado faithfully at their side and bountiful background violins striding o’er the airwaves in intense kinesis. Oh say do those star-sparkling trumpets yet arise! to conclude our tumultuous philharmonia with triumphant trumpet harmonia. . . but now fading into silence.

There you have it, y’all. The New World as Antonin Dvorak conceived it in 1893, and New York Philharmonic performed it in 2016.

King of Soul

The Mysterious Door

June 24, 2018

The great physicist, James Clerk Maxwell, had a problem in 1867. It was a very old problem; many had tried to solve it before he came along. It wasn’t actually his problem to fix, but merely to figure it out; his objective was to try and determine who or what had already solved “the problem”. Because, you see, the matter had already been taken care of long, long ago.

Otherwise none of us would be here; nothing would be here.

The actual problem-solver who had worked it out was not thought to be credible at the time of Maxwell’s work. The problem-solver’s presumptuous  representatives had made such a mess of things.

Consequently, in the 1800’s, the scientific community placed little or no credence in what the so-called Church had to say about anything—especially presumably scientific matters like the origin and unfolding of the Universe.

19th-century scientists and other serious researchers like Darwin, Marx and many others were all in a tizzy about throwing the God idea out with the bath water. It was a leap of faith instead of a rational inference. They did have some legitimate arguments about the Church’s faith-based input, because the so-called Church had made such a mess of things while they were running the show back in the middle ages. Two especially bad screwed-ups the Church had done happened when they had, earlier, rejected the findings of Copernicus and Galileo.

But you betcha the mystery still lay unsolved when the science boys took over, long about 1800 or so. They were working on the mystery intently. And so Mr. Maxwell, diligent Scot that he was, took hold of the mantle in 1867, as many others were doing at the time, and he gave it a shot—solving the riddle.

The question of how all this happened.

This existence, this world we live in—how did it get here?

There was, you see, a piece missing in this great puzzle of existence.

In the chain of events that ostensibly took place when the universe was made, there was a missing link that no one had been able to figure out. So, James Clerk Maxwell tackled the question, striving to solve the riddle of the missing link.

Therefore Dr. Maxwell came up with what he called the “Demon.” My unschooled opinion says he could have chosen a better word. . . something like what Rene Descartes had termed it, the Prime Mover.

As Peter Hoffman gives an explanation of Maxwell’s work, the Scot posed this profound question:

“How can molecular machines extract work from the uniform-temperature environment of cells without violating the second law of thermodynamics?”

In other words, how can atoms and molecules organize themselves to become something more than what they already are—just a bunch of damn molecules kicking around like unemployed vagrants?

Or to put it yet another way: How could life have come out of dead particles?

And so, as Dr. Maxwell pondered the problem of the missing link in 1867, he came up with the idea of (what was later called Maxwell’s. . .) Demon.

Peter M. Hoffman explains it, in his 2012 book, Life’s Ratchet,    https://www.amazon.com/default/e/B00A29OFHS/ref       this way:

“Maxwell’s demon . . . was a a tiny hypothetical creature who controlled a little door separating two gas-filled chambers, which initially have the same average temperature. The job of the demon was to separate gas molecules into fast and slow molecules. . . Starting from a uniform-temperature system, the demon had created a temperature gradient—making one side cold and the other side hot. . . This temperature gradient could now be used to do work if a little turbine could be placed in the demon’s door.”

The analogy of a demon is not, of course, to be taken literally. James Maxwell was a brilliant physicist whose work paralleled Einstein’s. His use of the hypothetical creature is merely a literary device to communicate the function of an unidentified catalyst that makes something constructive happen in an environment in which (theoretically) nothing can happen.

Obviously something did happen, back in the days of universe origin, or we wouldn’t be here. Nothing would be here, if the problem had not been solved. Someone, demon or otherwise, must have worked it out.

Rene Descartes, a mathematician who lived in the 1600’s, had stumbled upon the same dilemma. He had posited the idea of a Prime Mover, which seemed pretty logical at the time.

Still does, if you ask me.

An original cause (as in cause in effect), that caused everything else to happen, big bang blah blah etc. and so forth and so on.

But what diligent mathematicians and scientists neglected to mention was that the problem had long ago been solved by a mysterious entity who had been so erroneously represented by the so-called Church: God.

Not a demon, but God. The demons were the created beings who tried to pull rank on the Creator, YWHeh.

Therefore, in order to now— in the 21st-century— give credit where credit is due . . .

MaxwellDemon

I say it was a notable accomplishment what YWHeh did, when he solved the problem of the missing link, way back in time. And he said so.

He said it was good— in the first chapter of his bestseller, Genesis.

It was good when He separated light from darkness. Genesis 1:4:

“God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness.”

This “separation” function is no chance development. It needed to happen. It’s no coincidence that Maxwell’s demon and Creator YWHeh both are depicted as having “separated” something from something else. . .  The Separator’s accomplishment was functionally something like Maxwell’s presumed demon’s task of separating molecules into two different energy levels in order to create

“a temperature difference between the chambers without expending work, thus seemingly violating the second law.”

The 2nd Law of Thermodynamics is the law that YWHeh seems to have broken when he started the ball of the universe rolling. But it didn’t matter if he broke that “Law” because he set up the whole kitnkiboodle anyway, back in the Day. That 2nd Law of Thermodynamics was an idea that we came up to try and explain it all. It wasn’t something that YWHeh declared when he declared Let there be light and so forth and so on.

On Day 1 (whatever that means to you) the Prime Mover separated light from darkness, and the rest is history.

Not bad for a day’s work, YHWeh. Keep up the good work.

Glass Chimera 

The Beginning and the End

June 15, 2018

To go with the flow, or to go against it—that is the question.

Whether ’tis nobler to nurture the notion that mankind was innocent in some presumed condition of noble savagery—or to accept traditional religion that pronounces us guilty of offenses against Nature or against God.

If we are, or were, indeed, noble savages in our beginnings, why should we have taken on the disciplines and restrictions of religion—doctrines that judge us culpable of sin and thus in need of repair, salvation, or some kind of evolving perfection yet to be realized?

Hawaiians, for instance, who were alive here on the island of Kauai (I am wondering, as I write this on Kauai in 2018)—those Hawaiians who lived here in 1778 when Captain James Cook suddenly showed up with his fancy ship and his threatening weaponry, his magical gadgets, highly-trained crew, impressive use of language and documents, his tailored clothing and highly developed European culture—those relatively primitive people who first saw Capt. Cook’s two ships sail up to the mouth of the Waimea River . . .

CaptCook

Why should they have accepted his intrusion into their simple, primitive life?

To go with the flow, or to go against it—that was their question.

Would they go with the “arc of history” or resist it?

Did they eventually accept highly developed European culture to replace their traditional tribal existence? Did they accede to it out of submission, or out of necessity, or out of attraction to the new fancy stuff they saw? Were they conquered? Or were they taken by the hand and brought gently, Christian-like, into 18th-century civilization, and ultimately into 19th, 20th and 21st-century lifestyle?

Look around Hawaii today. What do you think?

They accepted it.

They went with the flow. One thing we know for sure about the so-called primitive Hawaiians of 1778: they knew how to go with the flow. They were here on this remote island in the middle of earth’s largest ocean, long before we technolified haoles were here, and they had arrived here at some earlier time because they knew how to make “the flow” of this life and the Pacific Ocean work for them.

So now, 2018, it is what it is. Hawaii, like every other place in our modern world, is what it is. Some may lament the demise of noble savagery that has been the result of Captain Cook’s intrusion into this paradisical (though deadly if you don’t know what you’re doing) island. Others may celebrate the entrance of the Hawaiians into modern life.

Some may come and some may go.

Captain Cook came. He left and came back again. The beginning of Captain James Cook’s Hawaii experience happened when his crew sailed their two ships to the mouth of the Waimea River— a river that flowed from mile-high Waialeale crater down to sea level at the southwest shore of Kauai.

Waimea1

He died in 1779, shot dead by an Hawaiian on the Big Island of Hawaii, at the other end of this island archipelago. His sudden demise came in the midst of dispute between some of his own crew members and the natives of Hawaii.

Many have lived and died since that time.

Two days ago, up on the other end of Kauai island, the northeast end, at a strand called Larsen’s Beach, we witnessed the life-end of another person, a contemporary. The man was a traveler from Pennsylvania. He had been snorkeling at a reef in unpredictable waters when the Ocean took hold of him.

A little while later, his flippers floated to shore. After we had witnessed a team of chance beach visitors (us), and then a couple of jet-skiing lifeguards from some other nearby beach, and then EMT guys flown in on a “bird,”—after we had witnessed all this collective noble attempt to coax life back into the snorkeler’s breathless lungs and heart, we saw his neon-green flippers float back to shore.

Flipper

Maybe he was going with the flow; maybe he was going against it; maybe he was fighting against the current, or maybe he was just going with that flow of life and death that eventually captures us all.

In my case, that flow will, in the long run, take me to death, and then resurrected life, as was demonstrated by Jesus.

Am I really going with the flow, you may ask, in joining the historical current of the Christian faith into which I was born?

Or am I going against the rational flow by subscribing to such an incredible prospect as life after death?

God only knows.

King of Soul

Feeding the Birds and the People

June 8, 2018

While staying on Kauai, Hawaii, I have been observing a cardinal every morning. This beautiflul red bird has lighted upon the deckrail, shortly after each sunrise each day. His visits demonstrate a boldness on his part to venture into areas of human domain. But that boldness is tempered with a shyness by which he promptly flys away as soon as I make any movement in his direction.

Comparing these bird encounters with similar episodes at our home in the Carolina Blue Ridge, I surmise a personality trait that seems to be characteristic of the cardinal breed. It’s probably my imagination that the  colorful creature has some comprehension of his special status among the kingdom of the birds. He seems to understand  (or so it seems to me) that this human is fascinated by his flashy appearance; he also knows that his bright profile is, in some settings, a liability, because the bright red makes it easier for nearby predators to catch sight of him and perhaps eat him.

However, Mr. Cardinal’s skittishness did not interfere this morning with my continuing attempts to capture a pic of him. I was pleased this morning to find that the different physical arrangement here in Hawaii have made it possible for me to snap the pic.

FeedCardnl

My Christian perspective on life in this world prompts me to accompany this amazing  (to me) photo with a scriptural reference. Here’s the first one I thought of, in the words of Jesus:

“Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?”

In this case, I, human, am representing the heavenly Father in dropping those cereal crumbs onto the deckrail for our scarlet friend.

Meanwhile, feeling satisfied that I have managed to capture, here in Hawaii, that flighty image of the bright cardinal which I could never manage to obtain back home, I’ll cast another crumb of interest in here for you to nibble on.

Before Mr. Cardinal visited this morning, I was continuing my read of Edward Joesting’s excellent book on Kauai, Kauai: The Separate Kingdom.   

https://www.amazon.com/Kauai-Separate-Edward-Joesting-III/dp/0824811623/

In chapter 7, Mr. Joesting reports on the beginnings of commercial agriculture on the island of Kauai. The earliest enterprises were initiated by a trio of American business partners who were working with Hawaiian leaders with assistance from Christian missionaries who had arrived in the 1820’s.

Long about 1835, some Americans leased a large tract of land from Kauikeaouli (Kamehameha III) Kaikioewa, the governor of Kauai.

What fascinates me about this development in Hawaiian history is the changes in motivation that Hawaiian working people found themselves adopting in response to the new capitalistic farms.

On page 131 of his book, Edward Joesting wrote:

“In agreement with the philosophy of the missionaries, the lease stipulated that native laborers be encouraged to work on the land. For this right the company would pay to the king and the governor twenty-five cents per month for each man. And it was further stated that each worker would be paid a satisfactory wage and be exempted from all taxation. This taxation had taken the form of labor performed for the chiefs and such other contributions as the chiefs wished to impose.”

As agriculture and business later developed in Kauai during the next twenty years or so, what this arrangement amounted to, economically and sociologically, was this:

Whatever ancient cultural motivations that had traditionally compelled Hawaiian working folk to labor for their tribe and their chiefs—these motivations were being supplanted by new incentives, directly related to 19th-century agricultural scales and practices, and modern, capitalistic business.

On page 132, Edward Joesing wrote:

“The idea of Hawaiians working for an employer who paid them wages, which could be disposed of as the earner saw fit, suddenly introduced a concept of independence that was not easily understood by the commoners and was feared by the chiefs. Adding to the independence of the commoners was the fact that the commoners no longer had to pay taxes to the chiefs. It was more than the average islander could comprehend. There was nothing in their history, no precedent, no legend, that could be used to bridge the gap. . .

On occasion the workers went through the motions of caring for the fields, accomplishing practically nothing. The plantation manager was beside himself (mad). He did not know the Hawaiians still could not comprehend the fact that their wages and the things they bought with them would be their own posessions and coud not appropriated at will by the chiefs.”

My rationale for combining these two different encounters—one with a fresh understanding of historical changes in 1830’s Kauai, and the other with a visiting cardinal this morning—my reasoning may not be entirely clear to you; it’s not even so clear to me, except it has something to do with this quote from a gospel:

“Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?”

FieldHawaii

King of Soul

Puff and Jackie Paper

June 5, 2018

For many, many years I have wondered about Peter Yarrow’s mention of “a land called Honah Lee,” in that silly old song he wrote about a dragon named Puff.

Just yesterday I was wondering as I wandered along the shoreline of Hanalei Bay, Kauai, Hawaii.

While vacationing on the north shore of Kauai I had been feeling a little constricted by the touristy setup there. It was obstructing my sense of adventure.

So, busting out of conventionality, so stealthily did I violate the boundaries of tourist propriety by launching into an unauthorized jungle trek.

Jungle2

Past the condos and the pool and the shuffleboard court and the boats-for-rent and the obligatory paraphenalia of predictable recreation, I stepped stealthily into a kapu area of overgrown, untended wild Hawaiian hoohah!

Through broadleaf wild flora damp with recent rain I did venture, stooping beneath gangly trees, tromping around some ancient black volcanic boulders and fearlessly bounding over others, I hazarded the uncharted course I had serendipitously set for myself, plodding along the secret shore, and footprinting wet brown sand, I splashed forth  through shallow wavelets along the neglected eastern edge of Hanalei Bay.  This untamed pocket of Hawaiian paradise has somehow proliferated between two resortified developments of American flimflam.

’T’was then the dragon entered my mind:

“Puff the magic dragon lived by the sea,

and frolicked in the autumn mists of a land called Hanah Lee.”

Here was I, perchance, sauntering adventurously through the last wild boundary of Hanalei Bay, maybe a little like the legendary Puff in that old classic Peter, Paul and Mary song:

   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z15pxWUXvLY

Within the deep recesses of Baby Boomer recall, Puff the Magic Dragon still yet  blows through, across an ocean of imagination. Can you hear the tale?

“Little Jackie Paper loved that rascal Puff

and brought him strings and sealing wax and other fancy stuff.

Together they would travel on a boat with billowed sail;

Jackie kept a lookout perched on Puff’s gigantic tail.”

Once upon a time, when there was as yet no jet-plane, no cruise-boat, no trans-Pacific ocean liner. . . long, long ago while approaching an island far, far away, during an age in which the only transport to these remote islands of Hawaii was by sailing ship. . .

“Little Jackie Paper loved that rascal Puff,

and brought him (from highly developed, civilized countries far, far away) “strings and sealing wax and other fancy stuff.”

Do kids these days even know about strings and sealing wax? This is ancient legend stuff. I mean, who uses strings and ceiling wax these days? Who folds an envelope and closes it and then affixes the back flap with a buttoned string and a blob of richly-colored wax impressed with a regal insignia?

Nobody I know of. You?

These were communicative implements of a by-gone age, when persons of certain authority or rank used strings and ceiling wax to assure a remote recipient that the letter or parcel being hand-delivered had originated with the accredited sender.

Such strings and sealing wax were used in centuries long gone, when mighty sailing ships voyaged halfway around the globe from London or Lisbon or Boston or some such port of great commerce.

Those majestic ocean-going vessels would arrive with pomp and fanfare at many  an exotic destination along the way, where fabled creatures inhabited magical shores, places where a fast-industrializing world had only recently managed to  impose  its rigid demands of productivity, efficiency and conformity on clueless, unsuspecting noble savages such as Hawaiians were when all this commercializing globalization had only just begun.

Puff the Dragon was the quintessential  wild uncivilized creature of old; he held sway over that formerly vast, untamed region where primeval legends prevailed, as yet unspoiled by modern mediocrity, a time and place where magic and myth, not capitalizing pragmatism, still reigned supreme.

So, in the 1950’s-60’s televised commercialized USA where young Baby Boomer imaginations ran wild with the likes of Mickey and Minnie and Davy Crockett and the Jetsons and the Flintstones . . .

Little Jackie Paper, the nascent civilized child, found Puff among his privileged playthings. And letting his imagination run wild, he frolicked with Puff in the autumn mists of a land called Honah Lee.

For a few years, he made play of Puff— until young Jackie decided to move on to bigger and better pursuits . . . baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and Chevrolet, Elvis and the Beatles, Mustangs and Volkswagens,  Lost in Space and lost in purple haze,  caught up in fantasy and privileged college days, gathered up in protests and rockfests and counterculture forays, and eventually outgrowing even all that stuff and finally picking up the better “toys” of governments and companies and  corporations . . .

“A dragon lives forever; not so little boys.

painted wings and giant’s rings make way for other toys.

One grey night it happened; Jackie Paper came no more,

and Puff that magic dragon ceased his fearless roar.”

Surely we now understand this about Peter Yarrow’s classic song of forsaken childhood innocence: In the end, Puff ceased his roar because . . .

Jackie ceased his playing. The roaring voice that had bellowed was not Puff’s at all; it was young Jackie’s intonation of Puff’s imagined roar.

Remembering this old tune while trudging along Hanalei bay. . . dredges up old memories.  My feeling is that the quaint longevity of this simple song slips up from beneath the surface of a sea deeper  than mere child’s play.

It is a longing for the past; it is a vague recollection from our collective vault of  wishes and dreams; it is a pining away for a former age of mankind, a time when the people who were in charge of things were benevolent and empathetic, a Camelot time before the brouhaha of democracy, a Shangri-La time before the anarchy of revolutions, before the abuses of communism. . . a simpler, Arcadia time before everything got so complicated and leaders were not so self-infatuated, a time when . . .

“Noble kings and princes would bow whenever they came;

pirate ships would lower their flags when Puff roared out his name.”

  King of Soul

Tall Tales of Hawaii

June 1, 2018

The islands of Hawaii are the very tippy-tops of huge volcanoes that erupted from the ocean floor a long, long time ago. So while each one appears to be a small island, they are in fact all very high volcanic mountains surrounded by water that is a couple of miles deep.

How this happened is a funny story.

Several geologic ages ago, ole mother earth began spewing out a gargantuan pile of molten lava through a hot spot in the Pacific ocean floor. Solidifying as it piled upward during eons of  time, the great magma pile finally popped up above sea level and became the island of Kauai.

Over vast periods of time, one pile after another eventually rose above sea level to become a new Hawaiian island.    The molten  lava flows were being extruded from earth’s inner parts because of very high heat way down underground. This extreme hotness is always being generated somewhere down there, by mega-friction between between our planet’s internal moving parts. Every now and then the resultant outward pressure overwhelms all the surrounding crud. Molten rock then bursts through and gets spewed out through whatever weak spot or fissure it can find.

Volcanoes, we call them. This process is how the eight islands of Hawaii were formed.

If you look at a map of the Hawaiian archipelago, you’ll see that the islands are all strung out in a geographical chain. This is because, as each volcanic mass was slowly mounting upwards, the bottom of the ocean was, at the same time, taking its own sweet time sliding along sideways. Consequently, each volcanic tower became an island in a different location.

Although we are not generally aware of it, our earth’s outer layer is divided into several giant mega-slabs. These vast tectonic “plates” (as scientists call them) are always shifting. Only seismologists and geologists can  track these planetary developments; technicians have hyper-sensitive seismologic equipment that detects the changes and documents them.

So that’s how we know about all this stuff. We have people somewhere all the time keeping tabs on the incremental, though massive, shifting of our planetary home.

Way, way down deep beneath Pacific waters, a very gradual but steady long-term northwesterly movement of the vast Pacific “plate”  determined in what geographical arrangement the Hawaiian islands got placed. A  generally southeast-toward-northwest sliding, over time, thus established a southeast-to-northwest configuration of the Hawaiian islands chain.

Each island pile is an extrusion of earth’s internal processes. These planetary developments are actually happening beneath our civilization all the time, although we are rarely aware of them. Every now and then ole mother earth makes her inner workings known by spurting out a fresh load of melted stuff.

LavaFlow

Volcanoes, we call them.

The latest  is happening now on the biggest, newest Hawaiian island, which shares its name with the whole group—Hawaii, the “big island.” You may have heard about this new volcano; it’s called Kilauea. Video reports of its activity have lately been all over the web and other media.

At Kilauea

I’ve been to Kilauea, and seen the bright molten lava as it was sloshing down its deep crater hole in the ground. But that visit was a few years ago.

This morning, I woke up in a breezy dwelling on the absolute other end of these strung-out islands.

Here on Kauai, I spend part of my morning reading a very good book about this island, Edward Joesting’s Kauai: The Separate KIngdom.

  https://www.amazon.com/Kauai-Separate-Edward-Joesting-III/dp/0824811623/

This scholastic work has opened my eyes to some fascinating history of this oldest Hawaiian outcropping.

The ancient storytellers here seem to have had a sense that their beautiful islands share a common origin.

Long before we had sophisticated seismology equipment to track planetary changes, we humans had ancient storytellers, people like Moses, Josephus, Homer, Confucius, Herodotus, and many others.

Today I’m reading about some ancient storytellers of Hawaii. In his book, Mr. Joesting writes of native legends that go way back in Hawaiian time.

  It seems to me that some of the ancient storytellers must have felt a tribal urge to somehow, through tall tales, bring their islands back together as one.

This is Hercules and Paul Bunyan-type tall tales, Hawaiian version.   

Edward cites the legend of the demigod named “Maui”— not the island of Maui, but the mythical deity whose name that island bears. As a sort of early comic-book hero, Maui did some amazing feats.

Edward Joesting provides this mythical account, on page 7 of his book:

“The demigod Maui, among his various escapades, chose to draw all the islands together into one land mass. To do this he had to catch a giant fish called Luehu, but the fish avoided all of Maui’s efforts.”

(Long story short, after Maui had managed to snap the big fish on a line . . .)

“Luehu pulled Maui and his canoe around the Hawaiian islands, wrapping the fishline around the islands and drawing them together with great strength. The only two islands that actually touched were Kauai and Oahu (even they are the two farthest apart).”

(But Maui’s project was complicated. He had eight brothers who were helping him with this unique angling expedition.(Talk about a fish story!) As it happened. . . at one point in their super striving to keep the fish Luehe on the line, the brothers got distracted by—I’m not making this up— the sight of a beautiful woman.  She must have been the first Miss Hawaii, quite an extraordinary femme fatale. Because the sight of her caused Maui’s eight brothers to lose their concentration for the matter at hand . . .)

“At that moment Luehu escaped from Maui’s line and the two islands drifted back to their original positions.

The legendary hero Maui returned to Wailua (on east shore of Kauai). His brothers had disobeyed his orders, and so he turned them into stone and sank them in the mouth of the (Wailua) river. The eight boulders remain there still.”

Now here’s the ancient tall-tale evidence that corroborates the geological, volcanic facts mentioned earlier in this blog: According to the legend abpit fearless leader Maui . . .

“At Kaena Point (on Oahu) there is a rock called Pohaku o Kauai, Rock of Kauai. It was a piece of Kauai that became stuck on Oahu when the two islands touched.”

So there you have it: the two islands of Kauai and Oahu shared a very important rock, which goes to show you . . .

These two islands— Kauai and Oahu— surely were generated from the same volcano! Either that, or they share a very big fish-tale. Take your pick which.

Glass Chimera 

What about that old battlefield?

May 28, 2018

In chapter 27 of my 2014 novel, Smoke, we find a young American, Philip, and an old Frenchman, Mel, conversing as they approach a battlefield in Belgium, a place called Flanders Field. The year is 1937;  in the last week of World War I, Philip’s father had died on that battlefield in 1918. Here’s the scene:

Something about the spring air, the mists at the edges of the fields, the lush, lowland foliage, the shadowy light, lijdt het licht het donk’re licht, something was moving deeply inside of him. “Mel?”

“Yes?”

“How could this place have been a battlefield for a world war?”

The old Frenchman cast his eyes on the passing landscape, and seemed to join Philip in this musing. He answered slowly, “War is a terrible thing, an ugly thing. I did not fight in the war; I had already served my military duty, long before the Archduke was assassinated in Sarajevo and the whole damn world flew apart, like shrapnel. But I had many friends who fought here, and back there, where we just came from in my France, back there at the Somme, the Marne, Amiens. Our soldiers drove the Germans back across their fortified lines, the Hindenberg line they called it. By summer of 1918 the Germans were in full retreat, although it took them a hell of a long time, and rivers of spilt blood, to admit it. And so it all ended here. Those trenches, over there in France, that had been held and occupied for two hellish years by both armies, those muddy hellholes were finally left behind, vacated, and afterward . . . filled up again with the soil of France and Flanders and Belgium, and green grass was planted where warfare had formerly blasted its way out of the dark human soul and the dark humus of lowland dirt and now we see that grass, trimmed, manicured and growing so tidily around those rows of white crosses out there, most of them with some soldier’s name carved on them, many just unknown, anonymous, and how could this have happened? You might as well ask how could. . . a grain of sand get stuck in an oyster? And how could that oyster, in retaliation against that rough, alien irritant, then generate a pearl—such a beautiful thing, lustrous and white—coming forth in response to a small, alien presence that had taken up unwelcomed residence inside the creature’s own domain? The answer, my friend, is floating in the sea, blowing in the wind, growing green and strong from soil that once ran red with men’s blood.”

But today, this Memorial Day, 2018, we honor not only the war dead of that First “Great War” of the 20th century. We honor all those who have given their “last full measure of devotion” to a nation that has always stood, and hopefully always will stand, for freedom and justice.

Here’s another phase of our 242-year national history with brave souls to ponder, Vietnam:

VNMem

King of Soul

The Deep

May 26, 2018

As we grow older in this world, we gain a deeper understanding of  what is going on here. But it can be discouraging. In many ways, what we find is not pretty, and it makes no sense.

The disconnect between the way the world is and the way we think it should be becomes an existential crisis for those of us who are sensitive to such issues.

Attached to this dilemma we find a long historical trail of people attempting to deal with the problem. Along that path we find tragedy, depression, pathos, melancholia, despair, existential crisis, schizophrenia and a myriad of other assorted travesties.

But there’s a favorable output that sometimes arises through this conundrum. It’s called art.

And music, and literature.

I’ll not get into the specifics of it; but we discern, threaded through our long, strung-out history, an overwhelming human opus of emotional and soulful profundity. It  has been woven through the sad, dysfunctional and tragic tapestry of our apocryphal struggle for meaning. It has been sounded forth and sculpted continuously even as our very survival is perpetually  called into question.

The depth of this existential crisis is expressed by the poet when he desperately cried out:

“O my God, my soul is in despair within me;

therefore I remember you from the land of the Jordan,

and the peaks of Hermon, from Mount Mizar.

Deep calls unto deep at the sound of your waterfalls;

all your breakers and your waves have rolled over me.”

From the mountaintops of human awareness, and from the turbulence of many wanderous shore epiphanies, we homo sapiens somehow manage to  bring forth as offerings a cornucopia of creative endeavors; they are birthed in desperation, and they are often borne in desperate attempts to somehow attain hope.

You catch a hearing of that struggle to which I allude, in this music, composed in Spain in 1939 by Jaoquin Rodrigo:

  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e9RS4biqyAc

You can catch a glimpse of it in Picasso’s mural, composed in Spain in 1937, after the Luftwaffe bombing of Guernica:

  GuernicaPic

But in my exploration of these matters, the most profound expression of the pathos curse is manifested in the life of one person who, by his laborious struggle, imparted the purest and most enduring message of love ever etched upon the parchment of human history; but his great gift was rejected through our judgmental travesty: a sentence of crucifixion.

ChristCruc

Yet out of that most extreme humiliation there arose an even greater opus of creative, persistent love : resurrection.

If you can even believe it.

Smoke

The Prescience and Presumption of Karl Marx

May 17, 2018

If you take the time to read Marx and Engels’ Communist Manifesto, you may be surprised at how accurate is their assessment of the 19th century industrializing world.

Before Marx and Engels were born, back in the last quarter of the 18th-century, the world witnessed two major revolutions, the American one in 1776. and the French version in 1789.

These two major historical uprisings evolved very differently, although they had both originated conceptually with the Enlightenment ideas of Liberty, Equality and Justice.

Here in the USA, all we had to do was eject King George III and his soldiers. We sent them packin’ back to the old country, England. Then we had what appeared  to be a virgin continent 4000 miles wide populated by indigenous tribes who had not yet been industrially developed.

In France it was a very different story. The newfound revolutionaries, after decapitating old monarchs and killing off their privileged network of landed royalty, still found their mob-enforced movement dragged down by a thousand-year-old heavy baggage of entrenched, fortified autocratic economy.

I can simplify an explanation the difference between the American and French Revolutions for you this way:

In France, the whole revolutionary process got a lot bloodier, more vicious, and it took a hell of a lot longer time to play out.

A few years after the revolting peasants decapitated Louis XVI and his queen Marie Antoinette, Napolean came along, took charge of the debilitated French state and rearranged everything. Later, after he went down, France  was in disarray for the next century, trapped in a revolving door of revolutionary fervor, anarchy, stubborn monarchists and a world that was changing faster than you can say “modernizing industry.”

Into this cauldron of overheating European political and mechanizing discontent, Karl Marx was born in 1818.

KarlMarx

Although the young communist was of German birth, his entrance to this world came in Trier, a town very near the French border.

Karl was a very smart guy. During the time of his educated, idealistic youth, he noticed and publicly identified many trends of modernizing industry and economics that were rapidly industrializing Europe and  eventually the entire world. Things were changing faster than a speeding locomotive.

Within all those changes, Marx identified a new socio-economic class that was establishing itself as the new people in-charge, after the fall of the French monarchy (the first of many monarchies that would be destroyed in coming years). This new, rising class of merchants, managers and craftsmen he called the “bourgeoisie.”

In his eerily prescient analysis of that emerging upper-middle class, Marx also hit on a description of  what we would later call ‘globalization,” Marx wrote:

“The bourgeoisie, by the rapid improvements of all instruments of production, (and) by the immensely facilitated means of communication, draws (sucks) all– even the most barbarian– nations into civilization. The cheap prices of its (the bourgeois’) commodities are the heavy artillery with which it batters down all Chinese walls, (and) with which it forces ‘the barbarians’ intensely obstinate hatred of foreigners to capitulate. It compels all nations, on pain of extinction, to adopt the bourgeois  mode of production; it compels them to introduce what it calls civilization into their midst, i.e., to become bourgeois themselves. In one word, it creates a world after its own image.”

During the turbulent 1840’s, Marx labored with his associate Friedrich Engels to describe and evaluate these historical changes. Together they devised a fix for the world’s problem of a new bourgeois upper-class cruelly exploiting proletarian workers. Thus the Communist Manifesto developed. In 1848, they published the first version of their hot-off-the-press world-changing document. Here’s one part of their assessment of a rapidly industrializing 18th-century Europe:

“Modern industry has converted the little workshop of the patriarchal master into the great factory of the industrial capitalist. Masses of laborers, crowded into the factory, are organized like soldiers. As privates of the industrial army they are placed under the command of a perfect hierarchy of officers and sergeants. Not only are they slaves of the bourgeois class, and of the bourgeois State; they are daily and hourly enslaved by the machine, by the overlooker, and above all, by the individual bourgeois manufacturer himself.”

Marx and Engels identified the disruptive attributes of a new, capitalizing economic steamroller of modern industrialization. They foresaw its accompanying alienation, which would, it seemed, forever confound the proletarian working classes  in Europe, Russia and eventually every nation in the world. In the Communist Manifesto of 1848, Marx and Engels wrote:

“The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionizing the instruments of production, and thereby the relations of production, and with them the whole relations of society. . . Constant revolutionizing of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones. All fixed fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away; all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face, with sober senses, his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind.”

The dynamic theorizing duo, Marx and Engels, had figured out that very disruptive bourgeois-imposed changes were in store for humanity. Little did they realize that the revolutionary, ostensibly corrective measures they would soon be positing would be ultimately just as disruptive, if not more-so, than the maelstrom of rapidly escalating industrialism that was fast overtaking 19th-century Europe.

Marx and Engels went on to concoct an elaborate prescription to fix the world and thus deliver us from the ravages of modern capitalism and its dehumanizing industrialization.

If you look at the implementation of their communist doctrine as it has evolved in the last  century and a half, you may be dismayed at how brutally the zealous proponents of Marxist communism (Stalin, Mao, Ho Chi Minh, Pol Pot et al) screwed up the original idealized vision for world communism.

Which goes to show that the best-laid plans of mice and men are generally worked out in programs and institutions very different from their original visions and versions.

Later, when Socialists came along, attempting to reconcile the old System of autocratic Europe with a perpetually revolutionizing Communist big-fix, Marx pooh-poohed the wimpish compromisers, remarking . . .

“. . . Socialism, however, (does not) understand the (necessary) abolition of the bourgeois relations of production, an abolition that can be effected only by a revolution.”

So here’s my question for Karl and Fred:

Hey, since you did identify  the extremely disruptive, debilitating bourgeois rearrangement of a capitalist, 19th-century world,   would your proposed communist remedy  be less disruptive and crippling than the total, ongoing revolution that a communist fix would require?

I think not.

Furthermore, if subsequent history is any indicator, the changes in human activity that would be necessary to manifest a communist society as idealized by Marx and Engels—such changes would require constant correction, and therefore perpetual revolution.

Doesn’t sound very beneficial, from a human standpoint.

Furthermore, this writer would suggest:

Since your theorized systems for world improvement dictate that the revolutionizing proletariat must cast aside their “opiate” of religion, and thus deny the presence and power of “God” . . .

it would seem that many of the simpleminded 21st-century religious proletariat workers out there in flyover country or Manchester or Italy or wherever—they might rise up and reject the technocratic decrees of their elitist deep-state Marx-inspired EU overlords.

I know you wanta write them present-day uncooperative proles off as “alt-right” and reactionary, but it seems to me they are the same “proletarian” workers that Marx and Engels thought they had identified as the future vanguard of true communism.

Apparently they have something else in mind than technocrat-generated statism, maybe just a “leave us alone” revolution.

King of Soul