Growing Up In Guantanamo Bay

My first professionally published essay, about growing up in Cuba is now up!

There was this story that all of the American kids who lived on GTMO knew—the Cubans didn’t map their minefields. We’d heard it from someone’s brother, who’d heard it from one of the Marines stationed along the fence line, who’d seen it with their own eyes. Prisoners were marched out of a gate on the Cuban side and into the no-man’s land between one country and another until . . . Boom!

Continue reading at The Establishment

The Colonial Offspring Theory of International Relations

I was reminded me of an observation I had recently, that the colonial offspring of Great Britain are like poorly raised children.

You have Canada, the good natured quiet child, who grew up to be a productive member of society, with a steady job and colorful hobbies that it pursues in it’s well-managed spare time. The only bad thing to say about Canada is that it has a rocky relationship with its angry gay son, Quebec. Also, it lets it’s siblings take advantage of it, especially America.

Australia is the neglected middle child. Extremely creative and rebellious in its youth, it’s trying to pull its life together and sort out its issues. It means well but it’s troubled past and a stubborn streak often gets in the way of progress. Will eventually sober up and get its shit together, but not for lack of America constantly trying to tempt it into ill-advised quasi-criminal situations with the promise of making a fast buck and having a good time.

New Zeland is Australia’s much-ignored twin. It ran off to become a sheep farmer and is unregarded by the rest of the family. Secretly, it is thankful for this.

America was the favored son, and it took advantage of this privilege for all it’s worth, becoming famous as a child prodigy. Having squandered much of that youthful potential, America has grown up into a drunken lout with a violent streak. It’s widely known to have recently knocked over several gas stations to pay for its drug habit, but knows it will never be arrested because of who its’ parents are, and its extensive gun collection. Has several ill-regarded and much ignored colonial offspring of its own, in the form of a half dozen protectorates acquired from numerous ill-advised imperialist relationships with neighboring developing nations, whom it treats shabbily, if it acknowledges the past relationship at all. Will either self-imolate in a spectacular orgy of drug-fueled violence, or recover after a reluctant international community stages an intervention and a court-mandated 12 step program that will most likely turn it into one of those insufferable Jesus freaks.

India became an emancipated minor and despite concerns, has done a lot of growing up recently, after it spent a few years running away to itself to explore its spiritual side. This has made it vulnerable to exploitation by America, but it knows when to keep it’s distance. Has a lot of big plans for the future and is working with a lot of creative, influential friends and relations to make its dreams come true. look for big things from India.

Hong Kong was the unplanned, late-life surprise baby that was unwanted. Though mostly ignored by its siblings, it can take care of itself, having grown up around China all these years.

At the next reunion, Great Britain will be politely conciliatory, ingratiating, and indulgent but will still fawn over America and mostly ignore everyone else. Still it will try and get a fiver out of Canada, and succeed.

The Very First Friday the 13th

The Knights Templar were an unusual order in that they were not merely knights but monks as well. Founded by Hugh de Paynes in 1118 as a charitable order, the Knights took up residence in the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem, and dedicated themselves to protecting pilgrims who ventured to the Holy land during the Crusades. They became wealthy, which made them envied, and branched out into the money lending business, which made them powerful, so much so that Pope Innocent II granted them immunity from excommunication. But with power comes politics. When they started to build their own castles in Europe and cart around their treasure in a private fleet of ships, to and from secret ports, they became more than envied by the kings of Europe. They became feared. Especially by King Philip “The Fair” of France.

On Friday the 13th 1307, 123 members of the Knights of the Temple of Solomon, including Grand master Jacque de Molay, were arrested and subjected to torture until they confessed to a number of crimes. These included: blasphemy, black magic, homosexuality, heresy, spitting on the crucifix and idolatry. Specifically, worshipping a severed head.

Some theories suggest that the head was ornamental, either brass or wood, either with two faces or just one, maybe female, maybe male, possibly with four legs. Other stories suggest that the head was none other than that of John the Baptist and, if the stars were right, would speak in an oracular voice, predicting events cosmic and miniscule. Still others suggested that it was not a head at all, that this particular story was merely Inquisitor’s mythologizing, that in fact the Templars had worshipped a small black doll that was an idol of a devil named Baphomet.*

In 1314 Jacque de Molay renounced his confession, declaring that the various charges were erroneous and extracted under duress of torture, especially the charges of Black Magic. For his honesty, he was burned at the stake and the Order of the Knights Templar were disbanded. As the flames licked his boots, Jacque de Molay cursed the Pope and the King of France, inviting them to join him in death within the year. Pope Clement V died one month later and King Philip IV, seven months after that.

Most historians regard the allegations of Satanism and idolatry as trumped up charges by a jealous royalty in order to seize the wealth of the Templars. Very few have anything to say on the happenstance of the predicted deaths of the Pope and king of France, other than vague allusions and nervous jokes.

Baphomet may actually be a name for Sophia, used in the Atbash CipherSophia, in Gnosticism, is the Godess of Wisdom, often seen as the female counterpart to either God or the companion of Christ.

Crime and Punishment

While doing some research this morning, I came across this fascinating story about Russian poet and Novelist, Boris Pasternak, and his best known work, Doctor Zhivago:

After his own novel was denied publication by the journal Novy Mir, Pasternak arranged for Doctor Zhivago to be smuggled abroad by Sir Isaiah Berlin. In 1957, the novel was printed by the multi-billionaire Italian publisher, Giangiacomo Feltrinelli. To the outrage of the Politburo, the novel became an instant sensation throughout the non-Communist world. As retaliation for his role in Doctor Zhivago’s publication, Feltrinelli was expelled in disgrace from the Italian Communist Party.

[…] The first English translation of Doctor Zhivago was hastily produced by Max Hayward and Manya Harari in order to coincide with Pasternak’s Nobel victory. It was released in August 1958, and remained the only edition available for more than fifty years.

Between 1958 and 1959, the English language edition spent 26 weeks at the top of The New York Times’ bestseller list. Although none of his Soviet critics had the chance to read the proscribed novel, several officials of the Writer’s Union publicly demanded, “kick the pig out of our kitchen-garden,” i.e., expel Pasternak from the USSR. This led to a humorous Russian saying, “I did not read Pasternak, but I condemn him”.

Meanwhile, as the novel topped international bestseller lists, the British MI6 and the American CIA commenced an operation to ensure that Doctor Zhivago was correctly submitted to the Nobel Committee. This was done because it was known that a Nobel Prize for Boris Pasternak would seriously harm the international credibility of the Soviet Union. As a result, British and American operatives intercepted and photographed a manuscript of the novel and secretly printed a small number of books in the Russian language. These were submitted to the Nobel Committee’s surprised judges just ahead of the deadline.

Spies waging a covert cultural war with literature, using the Nobel Committee as a proxy agent. I’m not sure what form it will take, but that is going into a future novel, somehow.

Then on Sunday, The Most Awkward Church Service Ever

So apparently tomorrow is the rapture. Except that of course it’s not. The world is no more likely to end tomorrow than it was on any of the few hundred previous times it was predicted.

The thing that pisses me off about all this Rapture nonsense isn’t the theology. I really don’t care about how good or bad the theological arguments are for the Rapture. Theology is just another brand of fantasy. Arguing the good or bad of it is like arguing over which version of the D&D players Handbook is more accurate (4th Edition, bitches!).

The rapture isn’t theology at all. It’s folklore, invented by Evangelicals in the 19th century. It didn’t even enter mainstream Christianity as a concept until the 1970s and then only because of the rise of Christian-themed entertainment. It could be argued that the only reason the Rapture as a concept is known at all by anybody buy historians of obscure American religious sects is because of Hal Lindsey’s book, the Late Great Planet Earth, in which he predicted that the Rapture would happen in… 1988.

No. What really irritates me about all this Rapture talk is that it is a cognitive brake. If you believe in the Rapture, than you don’t have to worry about the mortgage or how your kids are going to afford college or what will happen if you loose your job and can’t find another one right away. It means you don’t have to waste brain space fretting over global warming or the revolution in Libya or the Fukashima Exclusion Zone or the rising price of gas, the GOP trying to take away your health care, or the hundred and one other things you could and should be thinking about. If the Rapture happens, then none of those things matter. So you think about the rapture and hope and pray about that and you ignore all the real problems that need your attention.

Believing int he rapture makes you lazy. It’s a distraction. And we’ve got enough of those without having to invent new ones. And this one has the potential to embaress a lot of people. As Tom Tomorrow put it,

Remember, anyone left on Earth after Saturday is by definition a godless sinner, no matter what they may claim.

Tomorrow is Saturday, and by all likelihood, it will be a nice day out. So enjoy your weekend because on Monday, it’s back to work. We’ve got a world to save and we need every able bodied mind working on the problem.

Cities in the Dust

At the new York review of Books, a lament for the disappearing library:

All across the United States, large and small cities are closing public libraries or curtailing their hours of operations. Detroit, I read a few days ago, may close all of its branches and Denver half of its own: decisions that will undoubtedly put hundreds of its employees out of work. When you count the families all over this country who don’t have computers or can’t afford Internet connections and rely on the ones in libraries to look for jobs, the consequences will be even more dire. People everywhere are unhappy about these closings, and so are mayors making the hard decisions. But with roads and streets left in disrepair, teachers, policemen and firemen being laid off, and politicians in both parties pledging never to raise taxes, no matter what happens to our quality of life, the outlook is bleak.“The greatest nation on earth,” as we still call ourselves, no longer has the political will to arrest its visible and precipitous decline and save the institutions on which the workings of our democracy depend.

The University where I work is one of the few places in the US that still has one of the old Carnegie Libraries on campus. It’s no longer a library of course, hasn’t been in years. But it’s a reminder of a different era, when America’s wealthy still believed in the social contract. Back then, a sure fire philanthropic gesture was to spend a few bucks and open a public library. Andrew Carnegie, for all his faults, was a big advocate of libraries at the turn of the 20th century. At the time of his death in 1919, almost half the libraries in the United states had been built with grants form the Carnegie Foundation.

Imagine the Koch Bros. using their vast fortune to build libraries, or anything at all. America’s wealthy upper class doesn’t create any more. They tear down. Rend. Destroy. Before our elite fell sway to the cult of Rand, they gave at least a pitance back to the country that allowed them to become stinking rich in the first place. Some did it out of the quaint old notion of Christian Charity (imagine, charitable Christians! They’d be run out of the pews in our era of the Prosperity Gospel) while others did it out of a sense of fairness and justice.You give back to the community that helped make you. This idea is dismissed as “Socialism” now. As if calling it something that smells vaguely of Eastern Germany makes it intrinsically evil.

Funny to think that Andrew Carnegie, Steel Baron and second richest man in history, would be called a howling Commie by Republicans today, dismissed like that nefarious class traitor, George Soros. And by funny, I mean sad.

When I was little, we all thought that if the USA ever fell (as monumental an IF as there ever was), it would be due to Soviet missile strikes, an alien invasion or the heat death of the universe. But when great nations fall, they don’t always crash and burn from the machinations of jelous rivals. Sometimes they just wither away when their ruling class decides that the cost of maintaining civilization cuts too much into their own profits.

I have no doubt that America will continue to be a nation for many decades to come. Maybe even centuries. But it will not be the great beacon it once was, just another twilight power, coasting on momentum, a tarnished reputation and the fond memories of what it once was.

Link via Morgan Meis at 3QD.

The Power of Faith

I’d never heard of the Rajneeshee Commune. Turns out, there’s a reason for that:

In a nearly unbelievable chapter of Oregon history, a guru from India gathered 2,000 followers to live on a remote eastern Oregon ranch. The dream collapsed 25 years ago amid attempted murders, criminal charges and deportations.

But the whole story was never made public. With first-ever access to government files, and some participants willing to talk for the first time, it’s clear things were far worse than we realized.

What follows is an inside look — based on witness statements, grand jury transcripts, police reports, court records and fresh interviews — at how Rajneesh leaders tried to skirt land-use and immigration laws only to have their schemes collapse to the point they decided killing Oregonians was the only way to save their religious utopia.

It’s a chronicle of madness, religion and death. Good morning!

Part 1 of 5.

Link via Warren Ellis.

A Brief History of Manned Space Flight

Cyrano De Bergerac was the first man to visit the moon. When he arrived, he found a young Chinese woman named Chang’e who was witty, intelligent and fond of wine. They had a brief but passionate affair. Cyrano eventually tired of life on the Moon and one morning, climbed back into his hot air balloon and put the thing into reverse. He left a note pinned to Chang’e’s pillow but there is no record of what he wrote. It was beautiful and passionate and utterly cold, no doubt. Several months layer, Chang’e gave birth to a rabbit. Things work differently in Outer Space.

The rabbit, while the first animal in space, was not the last. The United States and the Soviet Union both spent inordinate amounts of rocket fuel placing dogs, mice, rats, chinchillas, iguanas, turantulas, several colonies of ants and assorted birds (mostly parrots) into orbit at a rate that you just wouldn’t believe. On at least one occasion, the United States launched a capsule stuffed with three thousand eight hundred and fifty two speckled guinea pigs, just to see if they could. Then there were the primates. For whatever reason, all the Chimpanzees sent into space returned with their intelligence greatly augmented and full of a desire to conquer mankind. This fact was kept secret form the general public until 2000, when, due to clerical error, one of these maniacal super chimps was accidentally elected president of the United States.

Yuri Gagarin
, the first man to orbit planet Earth (who was not entirely fictional) was reportedly to have said from his space capsule,”Well, here I am in heaven and I don’t see any God.” This anecdote was made up by Khrushchev and attributed to Gagarin, who was far more popular than the Russian Premiere. Unfortunately, Gagarin died just a few years later when his jet encounter foul weather and crashed.

There is no weather, foul or fair in heaven. No God either. Just stars and infinity. Enough room for everyone. Planets and comets. Fountains of methane. Hurricanes bigger than the planet Earth. Black Holes. Giant clouds of sparkling light that give birth to stars. Wonders greater than can be conceived of here, at the bottom of our little well. We look up through our narrow opening and dream of the moon, of Chinese girls and rabbits, lovers who fly to heaven in hot air balloons and heroes who ride smoking rockets into a sky that never ends.

Tonight is Yuri’s Night.

Raise a glass in honor of the the first man in space.

And pour a little on the ground for Laika.

HCR 4ever!

So we have health Care Reform! Yippee! I have the same advice for President Obama that I did when he was elected: Congrats! Now don’t fuck this up.

As to the substance of the bill… Meh. It ain’t what I, in my socialist heart of hearts would really want. That would be medicare for all. We’re still a ways away form that. Not that this minor step in the right direction has stopped the Tea Baggers from unleashing their furious furry of furiousness all over themselves and apparently, some Democrats windows.

The interesting thing about the Tea Baggers, besides their inability to take five seconds to Google that name, is they are probably the first revolutionary movement in the history of the world who are vehemently for the status quo.

They want absolutely NO change! And they want it now!

If incrimental pro-corporate health care reform done with complete transparency and governmental oversight strikes them as runaway Marxist tyranny, it’ll be fun to see what they make of actual dramatic reform (“Repeal No Child Left Behind?!? Satanist!”). And by fun I mean scarry.