Vietnam

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The first episode of Ken Burns’s series on Vietnam came on last night. I was pretty fascinated at details of the history, but not too surprised at the general outline. I wasn’t around when the war began, but became aware of it in the early sixties, when it began alarming a number of adults around me.

By now I think it’s generally accepted that Vietnam was a bad mistake for our country to make, which didn’t stop us from making it again. One of the talking heads in the movie says that it was part of the end of colonialism, which in retrospect seems pretty obvious, but at the time was confused with the problem of Communism, about which there was a wave of paranoia. The movie quotes a letter Ho Chi Minh sent to President Eisenhower, saying that the Vietnamese wanted the same things Americans did, and that he shouldn’t take the Communist aspect of Vietnam’s politics too seriously.

It’s curious that Eisenhower’s diary is quoted as saying he didn’t believe a war could be won in that theater, but he assisted the French, who were trying to get their colony back, anyway. First he sent supplies, then helped pay for the war, eventually up to 80% of the cost. After the battle of Dien Bien Phu the French left entirely, and the USA stayed on.

The battle of Dien Bien Phu is an example of how the Vietnamese were underestimated by their Western opponents. The French commander, says the movie, set the battle up on purpose to destroy the North Vietnamese army (Vietnam had separated into north and south at this time), but the commander set up the base in a valley, and apparently didn’t even try to keep the Vietnamese from taking a superior position in the surrounding hills. The army managed to put numerous artillery pieces in place and camouflage them. By the end of the battle, the French had lost 8,000 out of 11,000 troops, and the commander had committed suicide. The Vietnamese had lost three times that number, but realized they could beat anyone trying to reconquer their country.

The situations aren’t exactly parallel, but that battle reminds me of what the Russians did to beat the Germans in World War II. It wasn’t just that the USSR was a huge country, and inhospitable, but that the Russians were willing to suffer immense numbers of casualties to win. Besides Vietnam being a small country, the situation differed in the Vietnamese fighting a primarily guerrilla war, though that was also an important part of the war in Russia. But the Russians fought many more conventional battles than the Vietnamese. The Vietnamese only committed to conventional fighting when they were sure they could win.

John F. Kennedy was in Vietnam in 1951 and didn’t buy the story the French were peddling about their ability to subdue the rebels. He told constituents later that unless the USA could convince the people there that we were as interested in justice and their independence as they, we wouldn’t be able to prevail against them. At some point, he changed his mind, and the first episode didn’t clearly explain why.

Ho Chi Minh was portrayed in the first episode as being determined, but relatively moderate. Others in the politburo were more radical, ruthlessly purging opponents, even people who had fought with the Viet Minh. Burns points out, though, that they were no more brutal than the French.

In the 1950s, when the USA became involved in the war, there was considerable paranoia about Communism, and it’s quite true that Communists often didn’t behave very nicely. Our country entered the war to try to make sure that Communism didn’t spread further into Southeast Asia from China. We had already fought in Korea (where China assisted the North Koreans at great cost), and were unable to salvage more than a draw. So there was some legitimate concern, but there was also not enough thought about an important question: why would any country be attracted to Communism?

It took over in Russia because the Czarist government became ineffective. It wasn’t what most probably wanted, but the Bolsheviks managed to impose themselves.

In China it was because of ineffective government too, as well as a legacy of colonialism. Foreigners, including the USA, had been meddling in the affairs of the country, and few people liked that. In Vietnam it was very simply colonialism: the French had invaded the country and put the natives to work without much respect for their wishes or abilities. Since our country too has a history of being a colony and rebelling so we could manage our own affairs, it’s a question why we couldn’t understand and assist another country who wanted exactly the same thing as we. A question, but not a very mysterious one.

Burns gives us a clue in the first episode, in which he has a clip of Richard Nixon trying to explain the domino theory. China is just to the north of the countries of the peninsula, North Vietnam has a Communist government, there’s concern about Laos and Cambodia too, and if they fall, Malaya, with its tin and rubber would be at risk. Nixon may not have meant to say it, but that gives the game away: we want raw materials and cheap labor from those countries, and it’s more convenient for them to be dominated by a Western nation.

Vietnam was divided into north and south largely because Russia and China didn’t want to fight anyone at that time. Without the backing of those countries, Vietnam couldn’t fight, so Ho Chi Minh had to agree to the division. The French and whoever didn’t like the Communists had to leave the north, and the Viet Minh were to leave the south. Ngo Dinh Diem, who was from the north, became the president of the south. Like Ho Chi Minh, he hated the French, but he also hated the Communists, who had put him in prison and killed two of his relatives by burying them alive. When he took over he became adept at maneuvering the USA, which knew that if a promised election were held, Ho Chi Minh would win. Because Ho was a Communist, our country was stuck with Diem, and we wanted to set up a “legitimate” government in the south, and not have Communists dominate the whole country. But the South Vietnamese weren’t happy with that. There were radicals left there to oppose the Diem government, and they were being badly treated, so the North decided to do everything they could to help get rid of Diem.

That’s about where the first episode stopped. The USA in the mid to late fifties has been supplying the South Vietnamese army and sending military advisers there, but hasn’t yet begun sending troops in any number. Burns points out that the advisers are getting the South Vietnamese army ready for conventional warfare, but that North Vietnam has no interest in fighting a conventional war.

I was reminded of a newsletter I used to receive in my early teens. I don’t recall the name or author of it, but I remember him drawing (not with great facility) cartoons of Jesus looking sad. He also pointed out that the United States has been more inclined to support dictatorships than democracies in its history, in contrast to our own history and stated ideals. Vietnam was the first war in which those practices came back to bite us. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the last.

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Liberals vs Fascists

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It was between 25 and 30 years ago that one of my acquaintances told me he thought Adolph Hitler was a liberal. I was totally taken aback, and didn’t say anything because I didn’t know WHAT to say. Now I think that opinion comes from propaganda, but a lot of people would disagree.

What can be pointed to as liberal in what Hitler did? Innovation in propaganda? Even if that’s valid, he was greatly influenced in that department by American advertising. What else is there?

Many people blame most of the bad things that happened in the past century or so on liberalism. I disagree. Of course liberals are as guilty of failing to live up to their ideals as anyone, and I think that failure is probably responsible for much dislike, but I subscribe to psychiatrist Wilhelm Reich’s view of the political spectrum: that it relates to sexual health, and that there are both conservative and liberal extremists whose behavior is very similar, and whom Reich considered to be sexually unhealthy.

His view was that since sex is a very sensitive subject for most people, children are often trained to repress sexual feelings. Repression isn’t just a mental or emotional thing, but is manifested physically in chronically clenched muscles which physically hold sexual feelings in. Nobody can totally repress such feelings, but when their muscles are chronically tight in large parts of the body the sexual feelings that are able to escape have some sadism to them. Sexually repressed people are those who foment the most violence, Reich thought, and devised methods of treatment to help people feel more comfortable with their sexuality.

One of these methods was to manually loosen the muscles of various parts of the body. He had some notable success with those methods, as did Dr. Ellsworth Baker, one of his students. Unfortunately, publicity about his methods was often negative, so few if any practice his treatment now.

In the last few decades it’s become popular in some circles to blame liberals for all extremism, which isn’t exactly an objective view. It has been liberals who have worked for civil rights of all kinds, and rarely conservatives. The people who lynched black people in the 19th and 20th century weren’t liberals. They were people using violence to prevent another group claiming its rights. Conservatism is usually defending the status quo, or trying to return us to a golden age. Liberals (at their best) work for a golden age in the future. Their version doesn’t usually include violence–unless it’s by extremists.

Communism as practiced in Russia (and later elsewhere) was certainly extreme. Many people identify it with socialism; actually, it was only the most extreme form of socialism. After all, socialism can’t be THAT bad. It has worked very well for wealthy people, as witness the bail-outs of the banks and other industries after the 2008 recession. In other words, from the conservative point of view, if Robin Hood takes from the poor and gives to the rich, that’s fine. It’s only the opposite that’s evil.

We’re seeing this distorted view lately with the “alt-left” being blamed for the violence at Charlottesville and other places. As one of my Facebook friends told me, when people come to protests carrying baseball bats and dressed in protective gear, they’re obviously looking for violence. I pointed out to him that this included the right-wingers who had also shown up for the protest, at least in Charlottesville.

This raises a question: do conservatives believe in the right to defend one’s self? For everybody? Or only for some? There was already some question whether conservatives would be comfortable with black people openly carrying guns as some whites do. I haven’t viewed any videos of the Charlottesville protests, and haven’t read anything much about other such recent events, but one article quoted people from Charlottesville who attended without weapons or other protection and were conducting themselves nonviolently as giving credit to “alt-left” people who stood with them as preventing them from being killed or badly hurt. Of course the right-wing propaganda makers portray them as starting the trouble, but the nonviolent protesters there deny that. Considering also that when people speak of terrorists in this country they usually mean Muslims, even though right-wingers have allegedly committed more terrorist attacks, I get the distinct impression that violence by one end of the political spectrum is considered perfectly fine, while violence by the other is to be condemned.

There’s plenty more propaganda like that. One article says an antifa organization advertised for protesters, especially young women. I hope that’s not true, but whether or not, it suggests that lefties are less sincere than righties. Though I don’t see being sincerely violent and racist as being a particularly good thing.

Another says that antifa are organized and have plans for a revolution. The irony of this one is being put out by teaparty.org. As if THEY aren’t organized and calling for some kind of revolution.

I hear now that antifa is now officially considered a “gang”, at least in California, where they (or some of them) have allegedly indulged in violence and looting. I HOPE this means that only violent antifa members will be prosecuted, and that right-wing violence will also be stringently policed. Propagandists are trying to prevent the latter, though.

But if the antifa, “alt-left”, or anyone else tries to keep neoNazis, white supremacists, or anyone else from speaking their minds, as they have the constitutional right to do, they’ll be playing right into the hands of the right-wing bigots who would gladly do the same to them. That’s a rather foolish strategy, possibly being pursued by people unable to predict long-term consequences.

There are a lot of us who don’t like fascism, and want to do what we can to prevent it at a time when it seems a large minority (including some in high office) want to encourage it. But to be effective, we have to be smart. Fighting them violently will only turn us into the equivalent of them, which propagandists are already trying to say we are. Let’s behave better than that.

The Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 60s was effective in large part because they planned carefully and were STRICTLY nonviolent. That meant their protesters often got maimed or killed, but it made clear who they were and who their tormentors were. Maybe that’s what we liberals (and especially WHITE liberals) need to do.

 

Hatred

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We don’t love each other. That’s what this presidential campaign is about, as far as I can tell. Maybe it’s not much different from past campaigns, though it feels more extreme. Liberals hate conservatives and conservatives hate liberals. Majorities hate minorities and minorities return the favor. All this is counter-productive because we have real problems it would be nice to solve, but because we hate each other, we won’t.
Some of the problems are exactly because we don’t love each other. If we can’t love the people in our own country, we can’t very well love the rest of the world either, and our lack of love produces its own reaction. 9/11 was horrible enough, but we only understood we had been attacked, not why. We couldn’t understand that the power of our nation and its various representatives had injured many others, even if power and wealth hadn’t by themselves made us a target. I recently read that the so-called War on Terror had killed some 13 million. My initial response is that the number sounds inflated, but I think we can trust that whatever the number it is a grotesquely unbalanced response to an incident that killed some 3,000 people. On some level we know that, and hate Muslims because we know they have reason to hate us.
And not just Muslims. We have mistreated native Americans and blacks since our ancestors arrived here. They don’t have much reason to love us either, and we hate them for having tempted us to victimize them.
Relations between rich and poor are much the same. Hatred and fear are in control. Each would just as soon eliminate the other. Liberals and conservatives the same. Each side hates and fears the elites that exercise and monopolize power. Since each side seeks power, they accurately observe that the other wishes to dictate to them. Which will try to stop first?
We didn’t try to stop with our own country either. We exported violence. We took much of Mexico’s territory away, then relieved the Spanish of the remains of their empire. If we had really believed in democracy we would have let their former colonies be free to pursue their own way, but we retained control of them. We built armed forces to interfere in other countries to take their natural resources. Many nations have little reason to love us.
Of course many nations would have done the same to us, if they could. Just as Christians conquered Europe and the Americas,and colonized much of the rest of the world, Muslims conquered much of Asia, Africa, and Europe. Eventually they were driven from Europe, but some would like to conquer it again. Those who fear Muslims think that’s what all of them want to do. Because that’s what they would like to do themselves.
If nothing else, we ought to be able to agree that fear and hatred produce violence. It seems obvious that the best way to treat others is by the Golden Rule, but instead we generally do violence to anyone we don’t understand. Consider Africa.
In the twelfth century Timbuktoo was far larger and more civilized than London. It had a large library and produced the world’s first encyclopedia. It also produced tremendous amounts of gold. It wasn’t the only large city in Africa. There were others, and a number of civilized nations. But from almost the beginning of the sixteenth century Europeans began kidnapping people and bringing them to the New World to be slaves. That enterprise wrecked Africa, culminating, according to the article I read recently, in the English destroying about a hundred African cities by the end of the nineteenth century. I doubt the English acted alone.
Actually, culminating is the wrong word, as it implies that the process doesn’t continue. I also recently read that millions have died in the Congo almost silently, as far as publicity in the media goes, because minerals there are used in cellphones. Africans now perform grotesque acts like forcing children to be soldiers. Not all of that is our fault, but if our ancestors hadn’t engaged in the slave trade, things might be different there, as elsewhere.
Not that we’ve treated people in our own country much better. Besides the native Americans and blacks, Southerners still hate Northerners, still feeling like a conquered nation, and are cordially hated in return. Few who victimize are willing to acknowledge that they deserve to be hated, and to ask forgiveness. Those of us who enjoy the wealth this nation has generated by taking advantage of others are complicit. We fear to ask the next logical question: how should we make up for what our ancestors did and what representatives of our nation continue to do?
It isn’t impossible for humans to forgive, especially if those who violently took advantage sincerely regret and try to make up for what they did. In Africa in particular, in countries like South Africa and Rwanda, Truth and Reconciliation groups try to undo the bitterness that violence caused. Of course these groups are as subject to corruption as any other human enterprise, but that seems like the sort of thing that best makes sense if we wish to leave a secure world for our children and grandchildren to live in.
Humans aren’t the only ones who can forgive. Nature has been very forgiving, but may be on the verge of allowing us to take the consequences of our behavior. Science tells us that our behavior is interfering with the very processes that keep us alive. We prefer not to believe that. Climate change has become a political football that prevents us from addressing the problems we have. If human responsibility for global warming is false (I happen to believe it’s true) there are plenty of other things we do that are stupid and short-sighted.
We pump all kinds of chemicals into the environment. Some of these chemicals leached lead from pipes in Flint, Michigan recently, causing large amounts of lead poisoning. Insecticides don’t poison only insects, but also crops and water. Artificial fertilizers poison water too. So does mining. So does fracking.
Fracking provides an example of our choice between pure water and power literally. Oil and natural gas obtained by hydraulic fracturing for much less than the kind of oil production common during most of the twentieth century is very convenient in the short term. But it pollutes massive amounts of water and causes earthquakes when the wastewater is injected back into the ground. There were places in the world that were going to run out of water in the 21st century anyway (Los Angeles is probably one, along with the Arab peninsula); we’re making sure it happens more quickly and widely. Fracking is a very bad idea, but it’s too convenient to renounce.
In the Amazon region gold is being mined illegally on a massive scale (it’s gold and diamonds in Africa). Indigenous peoples there get run over and decimated. What is arguably even worse is that the forest is being logged, destroying habitat for many animals and plants there. The forest is a natural resource which, once destroyed, will be gone forever. As we destroy the forest we destroy the trees and plants which filter carbon dioxide from the air and replace it with oxygen. Leaving the forest alone could help address the imbalance of CO2 and oxygen which arguably drives climate change. We humans prefer to profit immediately and not concern ourselves with the viability of our planet.
Plastics are a product we hardly even notice, but which are used in almost every product we manufacture. It’s another example of the convenience of oil hydrocarbons, from which it is made, being convenient in the short term, but not in the long. The problem with plastics is that they don’t biodegrade. That means they eventually fill up the landscape and ocean interfering with natural processes and killing plants and animals. Another example of our mistreating our planet. I think we will begin to see that it’s also an example of the mills of God grinding slow, but most exceedingly fine when we have more and more ecological catastrophes. Nature is adaptable and accommodating, but there are limits, and when these are passed we will begin to experience consequences. I would prefer not to experience them. I doubt I have that choice much longer.
It’s a shame we don’t know how to love. We may not live much longer because of that.

Prince

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Of all the prominent people who have died in the last few months, the one that most shocked me was Prince. Not because I was a huge fan, though I always respected his talents and achievements, but because 57 just seemed too young to die. Not as bad as 27, the age at which Jimi Hendrix and several other musicians died in the late sixties, but still too soon. Reading about him shows that he was even more talented than I knew.
Not only was he a great guitarist, but a great drummer and keyboard player too. He and his musician friends got into the habit of constant practice very early, and he seems to have continued that most of his life.
Not only was he a great instrumentalist, but a great songwriter too. According to the Rolling Stone article, he wrote a song a day for many years. No doubt he didn’t just write, but laid down the tracks too, something he was able to do from before he got his first record contract. The article said he would stay up days at a time and not even eat (he never looked fat–this may be part of the reason why), and quoted him as commenting that when the body realizes it’s not going to get anything the sensation of hunger goes away.
Although he could lay tracks down all by himself, he also put together good bands. I remember seeing a concert film built around his Sign of the Times album, which I found pretty impressive. It turns out not to have been an actual concert, though it seems to have been shot mostly live.
Besides being a great artist, he inspired and supported a lot of other artists, mostly musicians, and mostly African-Americans. Nature had generously given him talents most people can only imagine having. He was generous in his turn, giving people time and attention to help them rise to their potential.
He also listened to a variety of music. James Brown every black musician of that time listened to. One person commented that Prince didn’t just listen to Brown’s greatest hits, though, but to his later music too, some of which he rearranged into songs of his own. I wouldn’t have suspected that Joni Mitchell was one of his favorite musicians to listen to, or that Carlos Santana had influenced his guitar playing even more than Jimi Hendrix, if he hadn’t said so. I saw the video of George Harrison’s While My Guitar Gently Weeps (from more than a decade ago, I think) which he performed after Harrison’s death with Tom Petty and Harrison’s son Dhani. The main body of the song is pretty lugubrious, but at the end Prince takes a solo and tears it up. He finishes, tosses the guitar up in the air, and walks away. I was pretty amazed.
With all his accomplishments, there were hints that he wasn’t too happy. Not because he was particularly unfriendly, according to much testimony, since he threw parties and had after-concert jams, but the Rolling Stone article at least insinuated that he also isolated himself, and that he had abandonment issues after his father threw him out of his apartment in his early teens. Perhaps he feared that if he became too close to musicians in his bands he would be hurt if they left. The insinuation became more plausible when I found out he’d been married twice (I don’t think he publicized it much) and that neither had worked out. After the last one the article said that he’d shut down a large portion of the Paisley Park complex he’d built near Minneapolis. He had had a studio which he’d kept staffed so he could record any time he wanted, but he got rid of the staff and operated it himself when he wanted.
His refusal to eat for days at a time signals possible deep unhappiness too. Anorexia is always a serious problem (possibly even more for males), though it also signifies a powerful will, which Prince obviously had. He seems to have channeled his unhappiness into motivating himself to achieve. To his credit, he certainly did that. It sounds as if there are hundreds of hours of tape in his vaults, at least some of which may be released at some point.
Together with all this, came rumors that he was (or had been) addicted to Percocet. Although he apparently had been very against drugs, he’d been introduced to this one after having double hip replacements, the result of dancing in high-heeled shoes, supposedly. Opioid drugs can be temporary cures for psychic as well as physical pain. The possibility of his addiction and unhappiness was amplified when the results of his autopsy were announced: an accidental overdose of Fentanyl.
Fentanyl is another opioid drug. I’m familiar with it from the nursing home I worked in, where it comes usually in patches that are placed on skin and changed every three days. I don’t know if anyone can definitively say that any overdose is “accidental”, except if the overdose is small. I guess this one was.
I just think it’s a shame that someone who accomplished so much should have been unhappy enough to be tempted by a narcotic. But even those who seem most to be positive forces also experience pain, and sometimes it’s really bad pain. Maybe that’s what Prince experienced. I still wish he’d stayed around longer to produce more great music.

NBA Championship

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Please forgive me while I gloat a little while. Last season the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors met to decide the NBA title. The Warriors eventually prevailed, but I said at the time I thought they were lucky. Kevin Love, one of the Cavaliers’ better players had been hurt in a previous series and couldn’t play. Kyrie Irving, their other star, was hurt in the first game against the Warriors, and was unable to retur Cleveland played well enough to win the first game of the series (but didn’t), then won the next two. At that point though, the Warriors’ superior depth began wearing the Cavaliers down, and they won the final three games pretty easily. But this season was different.
Yes, the Warriors set a record by winning 73 out of 82 regular season games, mostly with the greatest of ease, but the playoffs were different. Before meeting Cleveland the Oklahoma City Thunder gave them a lot of trouble, jumping out to a 3-1 lead. Golden State came back and won, but they were probably tired entering the Cleveland series. It didn’t show though in the first four games, of which the Warriors won three. I began watching with the fifth game, which is where the series began turning around.
It’s not unusual for teammates to score twenty or more points apiece. Thirty apiece is less common, but by no means unheard of. But forty points apiece IS virtually unheard of. That’s what James and Irving did to Golden State in the fifth game, which was at Golden State. One observer said he thought that Golden State expected to win that game easily, and weren’t able to adjust when they didn’t.
In the sixth game Irving played well, but not as well as the previous game. James was the transcendent star of the game, scoring some time during the second half eighteen straight points when no one else was scoring for Cleveland. Apparently no one could stop him. He also rebounded, fed teammates for baskets, and blocked shots. The block he made in the seventh game may have been more dramatic because the score was tied at 89 and the game was almost over, but I doubt it was any more skillful than several blocks in game six.
I watched the first half of game seven, then had to go to work, so didn’t get to see much of the second half. It wasn’t like previous games, in which the Cavaliers got off to a big lead and won. The game apparently was close just about all the way to the end. Kyrie Irving hit a three to give Cleveland the lead, and that was when LeBron made the block so many people are talking about to preserve the lead. James ended by leading both teams in scoring, rebounds, assists, blocks, and maybe steals. Not many players have dominated the way he did in this series.
He had led Cleveland to the finals once before, but they simply didn’t have the talent then to compete. He then decided to go to Miami, a decision I didn’t care for, but could understand. He knew what kind of level he was playing on, and wanted to win championships. He won two out of four times there, and evidently learned what it takes for a team to win on the NBA level, seeing both what succeeded and what failed. His return to Cleveland took me by surprise, though.
Some commentators pointed out that his return gave him a lot of power, which is unusual for any athlete, even a professional, to have. That was true, but I think he actually wanted to bring a championship to Cleveland, since he had grown up in that part of Ohio. When he got there Irving was already there (and was probably one of the reasons that persuaded James to return), but there wasn’t a great deal of other talent. More was obtained his first year back, as Cleveland traded its first round pick to get Kevin Love, and management went out and got several role players who contributed. The first season they ran into bad luck, but this year they succeeded.
I remember the last time a Cleveland sports team won a championship. It was in 1964 and I was fifteen. There have been several agonizing near misses since then. At least once the Browns almost won a playoff game, but John Elway took the Denver Bronchoes on a long drive to win. The Cavaliers came close to beating the Chicago Bulls, but Michael Jordan kept that from happening with a basket as time ran out. And the Cleveland Indians went to the World Series twice and lost twice, the second time in extra innings. Their drought wasn’t as long as the Boston Red Sox before 2004 or that of the Chicago Cubs. The difference is that NO Cleveland team won for 52 years. In Boston the Celtics, Bruins, and Patriots all won. In Chicago the Bears, Blackhawks, Bulls, and White Sox all won. The current edition of the Cleveland Browns has never won (the previous team went to Baltimore and became the Ravens), the Indians haven’t won since 1948, and the Cavaliers had never won before this season. Up until the 1960s Cleveland was a pretty important city, but it has become less important since the steel mills left. So having a championship team is a nice thing for the city. It may not contribute anything of economic substance, but it definitely makes Clevelanders (including those of us who are transplants) feel better.
Will the Cavaliers or any other Cleveland team win another championship any time soon? Probably not immediately, but it’s not impossible. The Indians are currently leading their division, but that doesn’t mean they’re a real contender yet. The Browns seem to be lost, so I wouldn’t expect much from them. But while it’s unusual for any team to repeat, I wouldn’t necessarily count the Cavaliers out of the running the next few years. LeBron James is still at his magesterial best, and probably will be for a few more years. He may decide not to stay with the Cavaliers, but I hope he decides that Cleveland is home. He’s now won three championships (although in seven tries), and I’m sure would like to win at least one or two more. Cleveland may not be his best bet for doing that, but it’s not impossible that they’ll stay good for several more seasons. At least I hope so.

Balance

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Magic (not sleight of hand) is a nice subject for fantasy novels. Is it anything more than fantasy? Humans have believed in it for a very long time, and it might be argued that magic was the beginning of science: a way to look at the world and make use of its energies.
Magic and religion are closely related. One of my high school teachers said that magic was a way to compel spiritual powers to do what you wanted, rather than just asking. This was certainly true of the pagan religions of the Middle East, Greece, and Rome, all of which had started out as fertility religions. Ancient people were very concerned with fertility so their crops would grow and and they would have plenty of children.
Dion Fortune was a member of a magic organization, The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, which was founded in England in the second half of the 19th century, and included a couple of well-known writers, Algernon Blackwood and W.B. Yeats. Fortune’s membership was later, but she was a pretty good writer herself. She wrote several novels about various situations in which the characters practice magic. Should we take her depiction of it literally? Anyone interested will have to decide for themselves, but I think that may just have been what she intended.
Fertility religion is magic on a fairly crude, though organized level. It includes sacrifice, often of humans to begin with, subsequently of animals, to please the gods, who were seen as being capricious and not caring about humans. Pleasing them was a survival technique. Natural disasters were nothing to laugh about.
Fertility religions also included sex, which was closely associated with crops growing well. In Greece (as well as other places) the Sacred King impregnated the Goddess (impersonated by her priestess) to ensure the land’s fertility. Sometimes all adults in the community joined in too.
The magic portrayed in Fortune’s novels is on a more sophisticated level. They too speak of sexuality, but more as one of the fundamental principles of life. In Moon Magic the narrator claims to be much older than she appears, and to have been the veteran of many lives. She is a priestess of Isis, and sees her mission as to bring new and positive things to human life, and she does so through ceremonial magic performed with a man who, though an outstanding doctor, has had a stunted emotional life. Their activities are healing for him, and leave him ready to seek a deeper marriage than he’d had with his dead wife.
Another novel has a character with great vitality and magical ability, but little conscience, who hires a “secretary” whom he actually uses as a medium so he can observe magical techniques which others in the magical organization refuse to teach him. Fortune characterizes this as black magic, as he’s using his abilities strictly for his own benefit.
But he begins to care for the girl he’s been using, and it seems that they have had many previous lives in which they’ve formed a bond. He has always been inclined to black magic. She has never. He has intellect but not heart. She has heart but little intellect. Each needs the other for balance.
Balance is always tricky. The ancient Greeks said, Nothing too much, as well as, Know thyself. Neither is easy.
Part of balance, I think, is to be aware there is a limit to what any of us know. This point seems obscure to ideologues. Materialists seem to believe there is nothing but what our sense perceive, which means no God and no magic. A wider and deeper perspective suggests there may be materials we’re not aware of, and forces too.
One tenet of organized Christianity (other religions too, but Christianity is the one I’m familiar with) is that there’s a correct way to believe. But there are many flavors of Christianity, often with conflicting beliefs. Bart D. Ehrman, a scholar who writes about Christianity and the Bible, points out that we now know there were many flavors of Christianity in ancient times too, with even more wildly different beliefs. So what the Fundamentalists are actually saying is that you and I are supposed to believe what they tell us to believe, and that they will impose their beliefs on the rest of us if they can.
For many of us this is an unsatisfactory sort of religion. One aspect of paganism in the Greek and Roman part of the ancient world was that it was tolerant, for the most part. Some didn’t like Jews. Greeks slaughtered Jewish citizens of Alexandria at one point, but usually accommodation was made. Since the early Christians, like the Jews, refused to worship the Greek or Roman gods, they were considered atheists, and sometimes persecuted. Not nearly as much as the pagans were later persecuted by Christians, though, once Christianity became the official religion of Rome.
Pagan religions in the region around the Mediterranean sea were pretty similar, which was noted by the Greeks and Romans, who saw correspondences between the gods and goddesses of various areas conquered. That made it easy for the conquered people to worship Greek and Roman gods because they were really the same as the locals, just with different names. Jews and Christians were stiff-necked about that, earning them the reputation of being unpatriotic.
But, as with any religion, popular beliefs were not the same as for those who really understood the religion. A religion with any validity must reflect the structure of reality, and the Greek and Roman pantheons embodied male and female, a very fundamental basis of this world.
Fortune’s fiction is based on the interaction between male and female, and she has different situations in the novels. As noted above, one has the male as intellectually dominant, but needing the emotions of the female to balance him and to keep him from being entirely self-serving.
Another novel features an ex-soldier down on his luck who is called on to help a young woman being preyed on by a black magician. The woman is more sophisticated than the man, but less stable. The two again balance each other.
Two other novels concern a woman who considers herself a priestess of Isis, having long ago been such a priestess in Egypt. Moon Magic, mentioned above, has her on a mission to bring more balance into human life in general, in terms of marriage and sexuality. For this, she needs a man to cooperate with her, and finds one in the doctor. They don’t actually have sex themselves; what they’re trying to accomplish is more subtle and difficult to understand than that, more to do with the difference but equality between the two genders, and the actual roles each can play, which are only superficially stereotypical. The Sea Priestess is very similar in aim and structure, the main difference being that it’s told from the male point of view, while Moon Magic has a female narrator.
Such books won’t be interesting to everyone. You would have to be open to the idea of real magic existing, and that the Christian view of things, while not untrue, doesn’t contain all truth. One can believe in a variety of spiritual powers as various manifestations of one god, rather than limiting God and considering any other spiritual power as being demonic. Fortune calls Isis Veiled the manifestation of nature. Isis Unveiled is thus the spiritual version of nature. Isis needs Osiris, just as he needs her. Reality depends on the cooperation of the two basic forces, rather than one trying to take power over the other.
But power is so important to us that men try to take women captive, and are intimidated by strong ones. Women also try to captivate men, so they will be physically protected. When there is nothing more to relationship than this, the two sexes live in poverty. Sexuality is a tremendously powerful force, and it’s hard to understand to what extent and in what way it is involved in love. Because it is so powerful we fear and try to control it. Discipline is certainly needed to protect men, women, and especially children, but suppression and over-indulgence are two sides of a very nasty coin. Sex must not be overemphasized, but at the same time given room to be free in.
Balance is Dion Fortune’s primary message, as is true of all wisdom.

Transgender People and Restrooms

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There’s a lot of fuss about the recently passed North Carolina law to prevent transgender people from using bathrooms that don’t match their original biological gender. I have my suspicions as to why, but could be wrong. Let me know if you agree or disagree.
The objection to allowing transgender people use any bathroom they please seems to be that they might be sexual predators looking to mistreat women and girls. Such a thing is probably possible, but is there any history of it having happened? So far I haven’t heard of any.
I read an article earlier tonight saying there seem to be more teens interested in changing gender than there used to be. The article did include a teen who said that there had always been people who wanted to change, but hadn’t felt safe in saying so. That particular desire is alien to me. I always felt that my sexual orientation matched my gender, and never felt any urge to change it. That makes me wonder just why people do feel uncomfortable with the gender they were born with. Is that discomfort something that came about during their childhoods, or is it something they were born with? Would any of them be able to definitively say? Or is there a way to prove it?
My opinion, for whatever it is worth, is that the North Carolina law is an encouragement for people to discriminate against LGBT people, especially since it bans localities from legislating anti-discrimination ordinances. My guess is this is because many people equate transgender people with homosexuals, and many people still fear and hate homosexuals, whom they also equate with pedophiles.
One excuse for that is that the Old Testament calls homosexuality an abomination. It also calls eating shellfish an abomination, as well as pork, and (I’m told) more often than homosexuality, but that apparently makes no difference to those who hate the practice. Their dislike is visceral rather than rational.
My personal feeling about homosexuality is the assumption I came to early in my teens: I never felt I had any choice about my sexual orientation, so I assumed that those attracted to people of their own sex also had little or none. If this is the case, then what my meditation teacher said is valid: Our sexuality is given, and our choice is to deal with it more or less honorably.
There are, of course, bisexuals, which means they do have some degree of choice. Transgender people also have clearly made choices, if surgery and/or hormone therapy are involved. Why exactly do people wish to make such choices?
Camille Paglia, in her book, Sexual Personae, analyzes the work of a number of great writers who seem to have identified with the sex opposite to theirs. This seems, in many cases, to have caused them great distress. I suggest that transgender people must have great discomfort with their original gender to go to so much trouble to change it.
There seems to have been, at about the time that Christianity began, a general anti-sexual feeling, and idea that sexuality itself was evil. The Gnostics, at least some of whom were Christian, believed (at least some of them) that this world was in itself evil, and that one ought to try to escape it to the world of spirit. Sexuality they thought to be one of the things that kept people attached to this world. One friend summarized for me his opinion about the effects of abstention on the early Christians: it made them mean. There are those who currently claim to be Christian who might also be considered mean.
So dislike of transgender and homosexual people may be a sort of shorthand for dislike of sex in general, and a willingness to persecute anyone who engages in sex in ways that some disapprove of. It doesn’t take into account how gay or transgender people may feel, but finds them to be suitable targets for hatred. Hatred may be exactly the political point of this law.
One friend in North Carolina makes the point that transgender people have probably been using restrooms for the gender they’ve acquired for years without anyone even noticing. To force them to use restrooms intended for their original gender might well expose them to assault. People who hate will assault whomever they hate. So will perverts, and I don’t want ANYONE to be more vulnerable: women, children, or transgender people.