The ramblings of an Eternal Student of Life     
. . . still studying and learning how to live
 
 
Wednesday, August 23, 2017
Current Affairs ... History ...

I’ve been pondering the terrible incident that took place earlier this month in Charlottesville, VA, when radical white nationalist groups (including neo-Nazis and the KKK) gathered to protest the planned removal of the monument statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. There are plenty of terrible things to say about the radical right (or “alt-right” in modern terms) and the violence that it fomented, violence which led to the death by automotive terrorism of a young woman who was part of the crowds that came to Charlottesville to counter-protest the radical right. And since there have been plenty of writers and commentators who have already expressed those things in ways that are much more cogent and eloquent than I can, I will pretty much leave untouched the tragic events that transpired in the home of Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, and in more recent times, writer William Faulkner and pop-singer Dave Matthews.

What I would like to ponder a bit further is the issue of removing statues, monuments and other symbols relating to the Civil War and the Confederate movement of the 1860s. In quite a few towns in the South and also further north, local community activism has led to the removal of Confederate flags along with a wide variety of statues and monuments relating to the Confederacy. The City Council of Charlottesville had recently approved the removal of Robert E. Lee and Traveler (his horse) from the downtown pedestal where they stood since 1924, although the actual removal has been delayed by a lawsuit. There doesn’t seem to be any set plan as to where the Charlottesville statue will wind up, but other cities have moved similar statues to museums.

Although I completely agree that General Lee and other tributes to the Confederacy need to be removed from pedestalled places of honor on public grounds, I do hope that these artifacts will be preserved and made available to the public, although in a context where the great sufferings that were at the heart of the conflict (i.e., the institution of slavery) can be balanced with the “southern pride” aspects of the rebellion. The terrible nature of slavery must remain at the forefront  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 12:17 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Monday, July 10, 2017
History ...

In my last post, I outlined why I got interested in the American Civil War. Today, as something of a johnny-come-lately Civil War buff, let me start out by saying some things about July 3, 1863, the date that is famous in Civil War annals for the Union victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg. Not many people are aware that there was also a third major military and political thing going on in the Civil War at that time. Too bad that it is overshadowed by Gettysburg and Vicksburg, because it is really very interesting, and is just as relevant to the ultimate course of the War as those events were.

Basically, I am talking about the Union campaigns in Eastern Tennessee and Northern Georgia, which stretched between June and November, 1863. Interestingly, the people of the Appalachian hill and mountain country in those states were generally pro-Union. They were clearly not slavery abolitionists, as they were just as racist as any plantation owner. But they couldn’t put big plantations in their narrow valleys, and thus didn’t depend on cotton, tobacco and slavery for their economic livelihood. They were small farmers and lumberers and miners who wanted access to the northern cities to sell their wares. So, a lot of people in those regions maintained their contacts with Washington after Tennessee joined the Confederacy, and they weren’t all that happy about being ruled by “the rebels”. They were anxious for Lincoln to send the Union army down to their region so as to get “Old Glory” flying over them again in lieu of the “Stars and Bars”.

However, through 1862 and early 1863, the Union army had a lot of other things to do. Finally, in mid-63, Lincoln and General Halleck decided to direct General William Rosencrans and his Army of the Cumberland towards middle Tennessee, with orders to push Braxton Bragg and his Confederate forces out of that state. Rosencrans took a long time to get started, but by June he was pushing Bragg’s troops southeastward out of  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 1:43 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Tuesday, July 4, 2017
History ... Personal Reflections ...

The Fourth of July is one of the few American holidays that celebrates the history of the nation. Yes, Thanksgiving and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day certainly have strong historical roots; and yes, there is Lincoln’s Birthday and President’s Day. But Independence Day focuses squarely on a momentous historical event, i.e. the signing and adoption of the Declaration of Independence, the document that proclaimed the end of colonization and the beginning of a new nation upon the North American continent.

For those interested in Civil War history, the Fourth is also a momentous time. On July 3, 1863, two big battlefield events marked a turning point in the War, and heralded the beginning of the end of the nation’s division. On that day in 1863, the Confederate Army suffered a punishing defeat during its second attempt to invade the North, i.e. the bloodbath at Cemetery Ridge in Gettysburg, PA popularly known as “Pickett’s Charge” (even though Pickett was only one of the three generals leading the charge). Also, after a long Union campaign to re-gain control of the Mississippi River, General U.S. Grant successfully concluded a long and costly assault on the strategic river city of Vicksburg, Mississippi.

The Civil War would go on for another year and ten months after this day, and would yet impose a great amount of death and destruction. But from this point on, the Union pretty much gained the initiative; it no longer spent most of its resources reacting to Confederate military thrusts (in ways that were often bungled and ineffective). In 1864, the War was pretty much a matter of attrition for the Union. Grant’s bloody Overland Campaign in Virginia and Sherman’s destructive “March to the Sea”  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:15 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
 
 
Saturday, May 6, 2017
History ... Religion ...

My middle-age years were a time when I had become interested in various topics and personalities having to do with science, history, society and religious spirituality. Once I picked up such an interest, I would usually dig in by buying and (eventually) reading a handful of books, and maybe one or two Great Course audio/video lectures from the Teaching Company. When the Internet became widely available in the last few years of the 20th Century, I supplemented my research with web-site searches. I even occasionally found someone else who is also interested in the subject and exchange notes on it.

But after a few years, I usually moved on from a particular subject and took up another topic. One of the topics that I explored for awhile in the late 1990’s regarded James the “brother of Jesus”. I had previously become interested in the “Historical Jesus” movement of the early 1990’s, and had soaked up a fair amount of information on what the scholars knew or were speculating about the life of Jesus of Nazareth, along with the social, cultural and historical background of his home turf, i.e. ancient Palestine in the early Roman Empire. One of the major aims of historical Jesus research is to come up with a portrait of Jesus that is not inspired by any particular religious viewpoint, but instead “lets the chips fall where they may” by using standard historical and sociological research techniques.

(Unfortunately, too much of what was presented to the public as “historical” research on Jesus in the 1990s and 2000s was in fact driven by anti-religious motivation; there was an apparent desire to prove that Jesus had not only failed to perform miracles or rise from the dead, but that his teachings and motivations were not primarily religious or spiritual but were more philosophical or political. These views were hardly any more objective than the standard religious interpretations of Jesus. John Dominic Crossan was a notable  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 1:50 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Saturday, April 8, 2017
History ... Psychology ... Society ...

I recently heard an interesting report on NPR about some research being done on the psychological importance of ritual. A University of Toronto PhD student named Nicholas Hobson teamed up with some professors to examine what the practice of ritual does to the mind, especially in terms of how we relate to others. One question that Hobson and company addressed was the difference in how we relate to those who share our rituals versus those who don’t.

But first, Hobson set out how important ritual is to the human race:

. . . rituals are ubiquitous around the world. Whenever you see a behavior that occurs in different places, different times, among people who have had no contact with one another, it tells you there’s something in that behavior that’s likely woven into the hardware of the mind.

So, ritual may be more than an idea that we pick up from our ancestors; it might be part of the human genetic endowment! It certainly is interesting to see how similar rituals are for people from all over the world.

You can often find world-wide rituals focused on a similar theme. A big focal point for many public rituals is the winter solstice, i.e. the point in the year when the days are darkest, but will soon stop getting darker and getting more light (this is December in the northern hemisphere, June in the southern hemisphere). Back in November, the Teaching Company put out a catalog that had some nice info about winter solstice rituals in the northern hemisphere. The Teaching Company will mail you scads of catalogs  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 1:54 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Sunday, March 5, 2017
History ... Politics ... Society ...

It looks as if the Baby Boomers, the rebellious youth of the 1960’s who were going to change the world in favor of peace, pot and microdot, the politicized generation that shut Lyndon Johnson and the Vietnam War down, have in their old age joined another revolution. But not the one that you might have expected. Once upon a time, “revolution” belonged to John Lennon. Today it’s the opening motif for the Sean Hannity Show.

An NBC News/ WSJ Poll from last week said that 52 percent of Baby Boomers approved of the job President Trump is doing, while 58 percent of Millennials disapproved. Regarding Trump’s temporary travel ban, 54 percent of Boomers said it is a necessary safeguard against terrorism, while 59 percent of Millennials said that it’s not. On the Affordable Care Act, 47 percent of Boomers said that it is a bad idea, while 48 percent of Millennials said that it’s good.

Now, if only Millennials voted in the same proportions as Boomers, Trump might right now be but a footnote to American history. But they don’t. An early estimate says that about 55% of eligible Millennials voted in November, 2016, versus around 70% for Boomers.

Still, Millennials can be a paradoxical lot, just as much  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 9:21 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Saturday, October 1, 2016
Economics/Business ... History ... Public Policy ... Society ...

In my last post, I discussed the notion of a “political economy” and reviewed some very insightful thoughts by political journalist John Judis, which seek to explain the rise of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump in economic terms. In a nutshell, Judis feels that both Sanders and Trump represent different points on the same underlying wave of populist dissatisfaction with our nation’s current political economy. Just what is this “economy” that so many people are dissatisfied with? It’s a high-tech version of what we called “Reaganomics” back when it was introduced in the early 1980s, with various modifications and adjustments made during the presidency of Bill Clinton. As such, I call it the “Reagan-Clinton1” political economy, although Judis gives it the more academically acceptable tag of “market liberalism” (not to be confused with political liberalism, which largely detests Reaganomics).

Many other pundits have explained the rise of Trump in terms of racism, perhaps a backlash against the ascent of Barack Obama. They admit that many of Trump’s largely white supporters have experienced tough economic times, but contend that the motivations behind Trump’s ascendancy largely reflect the fact that minorities have gained power, and that whites are increasingly anxious about this. Certain pundits, however, (e.g. David Roberts and Derek Thompson) also contend that this racial resentment has an economic component, a racial selfishness reflecting the belief that whites are no longer automatically first in line when it comes to reaping the benefits of the system.

My question is whether the political responses to Reaganomics from the black community and its leaders have in any way fed into the white racial anxieties that Trump seems to have drawn much of his support from.

Ironically, a look at some income statistics spanning the past 40 years indicates that in the aggregate, whites  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 4:33 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Tuesday, July 5, 2016
Current Affairs ... Foreign Relations/World Affairs ... History ...

I was listening to the Sunday political shows as usual, and many of the GOP politicians and pro-Republican commentators continued their standing criticism of the Obama administration for not using the phrase “radical Islam” (or “radical Islamic terrorism“). Recently, President Obama shot back at his critics, making his case for not publicly associating Islam with the violence and killing that ISIL and other terrorists who claim Islamic inspiration are doing.

In a nutshell, the President is trying to say that the terrorists are wrong in that they are not a legitimate part of the Islamic tradition. I sympathize with what Obama is trying to do through his cautious phrasing; but then again, Obama himself is not a Muslim (despite the efforts of many right-wing nuts to paint him as one), nor is he an Islamic scholar. I agree that it is good for the President to communicate to the vast majority of peaceful and patriotic Muslims in our nation and throughout the world that “we know you are better than that”. However, in choosing one’s words so as to make that implication, aren’t you also acknowledging those who believe that there IS a problem inherent to Islam as it presently exists, and that it is responsible for the rising levels of jihadist-inspired violence?

There are other thoughtful commentators who take the position that although the great majority of Muslims do not support and generally oppose jihadist violence, perhaps they are not doing enough to discourage and stop those who become radicalized. Instead of having US government officials say in effect that terrorism is not a legitimate religious practice for those of the Islamic faith, perhaps we need  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 7:20 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Thursday, May 19, 2016
History ... Photo ... Society ...

“What’s this?”, you of a younger persuasion might ask upon viewing this picture. Why, this is what the 1960’s looked like! (The 1970’s too, but they were kind of depressing for being mostly a lethargic, warmed-over version of the 1960s.) These here are the remains of honest-to-goodness phone booths! Yes, once upon a time, people in public places depended upon coin-operated telephones to stay in touch with the world. And “Ma Bell”, which is what we lovingly called the AT&T telephone monopoly back then, generously provided its patrons with a glass-enclosed private area (a “phone booth”) with a small seat (which you can see here) and a little desk surface just beneath the phone box.  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 9:32 am       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Saturday, May 7, 2016
History ... Spirituality ...

Here’s a bit of East meets West. Genesis, the first book of the Hebrew Torah, has a line that was favored by the industrial-era European and Euro-American entrepreneurs who exploited the riches of the natural world so as to provide the human species (well, the better-off portion of that species) with vast amounts of wealth and comfort. That line is found at Genesis 1:26. I’m going to quote the line from the plain-vanilla New Revised Standard Version of the Bible:

Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”

This line was probably written by the Torah’s Priestly source sometime in the 6th Century BCE in ancient Israel.

So, this writing reflected the mindset of a very early Jewish tribal tradition on the far eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea. But over the many centuries of Euro-Mediterranean history, the Torah was co-opted by the westward and northwardly expanding Christian religion, which integrated the Pentateuch into the Christian Bible; it thus became part of the heritage of Europe. Once science and technology started to revolutionize  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 12:27 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
 
 
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