Saturday, January 02, 2010

Happy New Year, Happy New Decade

One of the first morning of our wonderful new decade I offer a prayer that we take a giant step forward to the "future" that we all dream is right around the corner. A bright and beautiful future full of the hope that so many have promised us. That all of us continue our little Band of Travelers as we continue on our mythic quest to find the truth in our own hearts and those of the fellow companions on this journey that we have each decided to take as we step out the door and onto the road to a new decade

My morning started with 3 hours of sleep and a red wine and champagne hangover of epic proportions. Those of you who are parents or pet owners know that these little creatures could care less about the above facts. So here I am after two cups of coffee and letting dogs in and out about 10 times already and letting birds out of their cages to quiet them down. All the little and big children in my family are still happily snoozing away. At first I was so totally pissed off that I always feel like Atlas holding the whole damn world on my shoulders, why the hell couldn't I sleep, so I angrily made coffee, slammed the dishwasher shut, stomped up stairs and not a damn soul even noticed. After some little voice inside of me said, hey wait a minute, do you really want to start your New year like this? Being pissed and angry and mad at the world. Well, no I said to myself.

So I decided to walk to places unknown and listen to myself and see where I ended up. So here I go.....................

Starting the New year learning that Peter Jackson is now Sir Peter Jackson and has started film work on his rendtion of that beloved novel which always enthralls me with with wonder The Hobbit.

The theme of the Hobbit is that these little folk are much more than meets the eye, I am hooked already, how about you?

"More Than Meets the Eye"
Tolkien never precisely invokes this old cliché, but it aptly summarizes his characters' experience of Bilbo Baggins, and Bilbo's experience of himself. Bilbo is an unlikely hero, but from the outset of the adventure Gandalf knows that the little hobbit has it within him to be more than even he imagines-and Gandalf says so on more than one occasion! The other characters' growing knowledge of Bilbo, and Bilbo's deepening awareness of himself, signals the theme of self-knowledge that forms the heart of any mythic quest tale.

Greed and Pride
As mentioned in the Analyses and the Metaphor Analysis, the theme of the dangers of too much pride and of greed runs throughout The Hobbit. Thorin, who ultimately loses his life because of stubborn commitment to ancestral pride and overmuch desire for his family treasure, serves as a cautionary tale. Furthermore, the broken relationships between men, elves, and dwarves at the end of the book warn readers today of how greed and pride can damage the social fabric.

Readers may wish to consider the question of "What is moral?" in the context of The Hobbit. After all, the hero of the story is a burglar who, at various points, conceals the truth from his friends, doesn't quite "play fair" in a riddle contest, and steals the one part of the treasure that Thorin most desires. Do ends always or even often justify the means? Is Bilbo consistently obeying a larger and greater good? How might the theme of morality interact with the theme of "More Than Meets the Eye," discussed above?

Engagement and Withdrawal
As the discussion of the Shire as a metaphor above indicates, The Hobbit concerns itself with questions of when and how to engage with the wider world. While "Bag End" is not bad-indeed, Tolkien presents Bilbo's home as quite a comfortable place (as in the novel's celebrated opening lines)-it is not the sum total of the "wide world" (to use Gandalf's phrase) either. Like Bilbo, we all must discover our place in the wide world, even if it end up being a "small" one (but, caveat lector: consider once more the theme of "More Than Meets the Eye"-what is "small," and who decides?).

History Haunts Us
Tolkien draws on the vast, personal mythology which he had been creating for years in The Hobbit-to a lesser degree than he does in The Lord of the Rings, to be sure, but the past is still very much present: for Thorin, for the Wood-elves, for the Master and the people of Esgaroth, for Bard, and even for Bilbo, who must reconcile the "Baggins" and "Took" sides of his personality. Readers should ponder the questions: How aware am I of my personal and social history? Does that history affect me largely for good or for ill?-for it is, of course, possible that it may do both. To what extent should we respect and learn from the past, and to what extent should we let it be past

Continuing onward, serendipity which I always find can show one the way home sends me here to read this..........

A Ripple of Hope from the Past

By Lisa Pease
December 31, 2009

Editor’s Note: The first year of Barack Obama’s presidency has been shaped by pressure from Washington’s political/media establishment to continue many of George W. Bush’s foreign and domestic policies – and by Obama’s own caution in making significant changes.

In this New Year’s essay, Lisa Pease suggests that Obama stop reacting to the fulminations of Dick Cheney and instead lend an ear to the wise counsel of Robert F. Kennedy:

Former Vice President Dick Cheney has decried President Barack Obama for not taking a more belligerent tone against terrorism, accusing him of making Americans less safe when he “pretends we aren’t at war with terrorists.” But Obama is not Dick Cheney, and thank goodness.

I think Obama understands that words of war do not inspire fear in the enemy. They often simply create new enemies.

I hope Obama instead heeds the lesson of these words, said by Robert Kennedy in South Africa some 43 years ago:

“Everywhere, new technology and communications bring men and nations closer together, the concerns of one inevitably becoming the concerns of all. And our new closeness is stripping away the false masks, the illusion of difference which is at the root of injustice and hate and war.

“Only earthbound man still clings to the dark and poisoning superstition that his world is bounded by the nearest hill, his universe ended at river shore, his common humanity enclosed in the tight circle of those who share his town and views and the color of his skin.

“It is your job, the task of the young people of this world, to strip the last remnants of that ancient, cruel belief from the civilization of man.”

Today, the “cause” is “anti-terrorism.” Yesterday, it was “anti-communism.” And always, despite the overt rhetoric, the covert goal has always been resources. Oil in Iran and farmland in Guatemala in the 1950s. Minerals in Cuba, Indonesia and Congo in the 1960s. Oil in Iraq and Somalia. Perhaps a pipeline through Afghanistan.

But there is another path, and Robert Kennedy expressed it in South Africa in 1966.

“Is this all that we believe in? Anti-communism? Is that all that we stand for in our own countries and our own hearts?”

RFK continued:  “Is that all that we’re fighting in Vietnam about? Is that what we’re helping and assisting other countries around the globe about – because we don’t want them to be taken over by communism – that is our only philosophy? Anti-communism? 

“I think we stand for something. I think we stand for something positive.” He then asserted what that positive was:

 “What is it that we stand for? We stand for human freedom. We stand for human dignity. We stand for ending discrimination, and ending hunger.”

He expressed what his close associate and frequent speechwriter Adam Walinsky said was a “constant refrain” in his life: “… we stand for extending the cause of freedom and justice all over the globe. That’s why I think we’ve attracted other people – those who’ve had a difficult time in their own lives – to come and follow the banner of the United States, not just because we’re anti-communists, but because we stand for something.”

Is Anti-Terrorism Enough?

As Walinsky noted in a new documentary, this theme will continue to come up “constantly now as we deal with the question of terrorism.” Are we going to stand only for anti-terrorism, or for something greater?

I recently stumbled across this remarkable documentary in the course of my research on the life and death of Robert Kennedy. Hunter College professors Larry Shore, a former South African resident, and Tami Gold, an award-winning documentarian, have put together a film on one of the most remarkable events from Robert Kennedy’s life, his visit to South Africa in 1966.

Their one-hour documentary, “RFK in the Land of Apartheid: A Ripple of Hope,” is currently appearing at film festivals and private events. Track its progress from the filmmakers’ Web site, and see it if you get the chance. 

This well-made film includes some never-before-seen footage from Robert Kennedy’s historic trip, as well as interviews with people who were there at the time, adding new information on Kennedy’s journey to the record.

There are some moving and stunning photos of Kennedy reaching out to the crowds in Soweto. As one newspaper’s headline said, “He renewed our courage.” Kennedy gave the people of South Africa a gift they sorely needed: hope, the power of possibility.

The film opens with several young black South African men (born about after 1966) who are named “Kennedy” in his honor, and then cuts to Robert Kennedy’s arrival.

Shots of “Whites Only” signs and tales from South Africans who were not interested in politics, but had politics forced upon them through apartheid, remind us of how recently people were obscenely and cruelly discriminated against solely because of the color of their skin.

The National Union of South African Students (NUSAS) held a yearly “Day of Affirmation,” a day focused on academic and human freedom. The organization was nonracial, not associated with a particular political party, and opposed to apartheid.

The leaders reached out to Robert Kennedy, serving at that time as the Junior Senator from New York, and asked if he’d be interested in speaking in South Africa, “because,” as one former member recalled, “he captured the idealism, the passion, of young people all over the world.”

Ted Kennedy appears in the film to note that Robert, who had already fought several battles for civil rights while serving as Attorney General in his brother’s administration, was drawn to the invitation, sensing in the students the same passion for justice he had witnessed in the civil rights movement in the United States. 

Politically, this was not a winning issue for him. He already had the support of the African-American population at home, so there was little to be gained there. Many Americans neither knew nor cared what happened in such a distant place. And of course, Wall Street had numerous investments in South Africa. 

In addition, anti-apartheid activists were routinely labeled “communists” despite the fact that communism only very rarely played a role in the anti-apartheid movement.

Right Thing to Do

But for Robert Kennedy, it was simply the right thing to do, the natural extension of his efforts to broaden civil rights at home. He was doing it because he wanted to learn about it for himself, and he wanted to speak out against apartheid.

It was the kind of thing politicians almost never do – a simple and good thing, without any tangible reward at the end. He was undeniably, as the students noted in their welcoming song, a “jolly good fella, which nobody can deny.”

When Kennedy arrived at the airport, there was a “whites” area and a “non-whites” area. Kennedy chose to go to the non-whites area.

As one person commented, his landing was almost like someone from outer space, so far was he from their reality. Here was a prominent person the whole world knew of, coming to speak to all the people there, not just the power-brokers. Participants recalled the incredible exhilaration they felt upon seeing him.

Robert Kennedy’s own education in the civil rights movement had been slow, but steady. He credited the students he met along the way with educating him.

And that’s what made Robert Kennedy so special. He listened, he learned, and he grew. He didn’t choose political expediency. He followed an internal moral compass which he was constantly developing, one which ultimately led him to speak out against racial discrimination in the segregated country of South Africa.

On his way to the University of Cape Town to give his speech, Kennedy stopped to see the president of NUSAS, Ian Robertson.

Shortly before Kennedy’s arrival, the South African government had “banned” Ian Robertson, which meant, among other things, that he could not attend Kennedy’s speech. He was not allowed to meet with more than one person at a time, and could have been sent to jail for five years if he talked to the press. 

Robert Kennedy went to Robertson’s home and asked if the place was bugged, suggesting techniques for disrupting bugging devices. When the surprised Robertson asked Kennedy how he knew about defeating bugs, Kennedy reminded him that he had once been Attorney General.

Kennedy’s speech at the University of Cape Town, given two years to the day before his death, has long been my favorite of all his speeches. His opening is captured forever in this film:

“I came here because of my deep interest and affection for a land settled by the Dutch in the mid-seventeenth century, then taken over by the British, and at last independent; a land in which the native inhabitants were at first subdued, but relations with whom remain a problem to this day; a land which defined itself on a hostile frontier; a land which has tamed rich natural resources through the energetic application of modern technology; a land which once imported slaves, and now must struggle to wipe out the last traces of that former bondage.

“I refer, of course, to the United States of America.” (This twist brought huge laughter from the crowd, which had assumed he was talking about their own country until this line.)

The most famous part of his speech, etched on a stone wall near his grave in Arlington, is also referenced:

“Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”

(You can read his entire speech here. It is inspiring beyond measure. You can also hear him deliver it from the linked page.)

Addressing Apartheid

After Kennedy spoke in Cape Town, his next stop was the all-white pro-apartheid Stellenbosch University. There, his speech took quite a different tone. What if God was black, Kennedy asked the white students, who, surprisingly, gave him a vigorous ovation.

On the last night of the visit to the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, Kennedy gave his strongest speech yet, with words still relevant today giving the struggles in motion all over the African continent:

“There are those who say that the game is not worth the candle – that Africa is too primitive to develop, that its peoples are not ready for freedom and self-government, that violence and chaos are unchangeable. But those who say these things should look to the history of every part and parcel of the human race.

“It was not the black man of Africa who invented and used poison gas or the atomic bomb, who sent six million men and women and children to the gas ovens, and used their bodies as fertilizer. Hitler and Stalin and Tojo were not black men of Africa. And it was not the black men of Africa who bombed and obliterated Rotterdam and Shanghai and Dresden and Hiroshima.”

One of the high points of the trip for Robert Kennedy was meeting Chief Luthuli, who had tried to lead a nonviolent Gandhian resistance to apartheid. But Luthuli, like Robertson, had been banned, and could not organize any more. Robert Kennedy met with him at Luthuli’s home.

Ted Kennedy said that Luthuli made an enormous impression on Robert Kennedy. “My brother described him as one of the inspiring figures of our time. My brother felt that presence about it – it was one of those rare moments where greatness is revealed. Luthuli was always in his mind.”

The film ends with Kennedy’s visit in Soweto, the famously poor ghetto outside of Johannesburg. His visit was a hugely important symbol. The people didn’t have to come into the city to see him. He came out to the country to see them. He went into their homes. He talked to ordinary people.

He wasn’t running for President at this time. He wasn’t running for anything. He just wanted to talk to them, to hear their stories, to learn from them, and to offer them some moral support, and hope. It wasn’t much, and yet it was tremendous. And the reactions of people talking about it, years later, show how lasting the effects of these simple, humane gestures were.

If Obama can reject the push from Cheney to become even more belligerent, more militaristic, if the President can try to continue to listen, and grow, and leave others with renewed hope, then he will have contributed something positive to the world. He will have earned his Nobel prize.

And he’ll have made my very cold night sleeping on the Mall the night before his Inauguration nearly one year ago worth every shiver. 

May the New Year help President Obama, and all of us, turn a kinder corner on the path of our collective history.

As Robert Kennedy said on the Day of Affirmation, “Few will have the greatness to bend history itself, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all those acts will be written the history of this generation.”

Lisa Pease is a historian and writer who specializes in the mysteries of the John F. Kennedy era.

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And then of course there are always the evil orcs and trolls hiding and waiting for that faulty step and then they will be more than happy to truss you up and eat you for dinner.

Those dark villains can be found here

And the trick is learning how little people can defeat them and live happily ever after

The story of the auto thief from Cleveland who discovered 39 dead bodies in Rancho Santa Fe Ca. in March of 1997 in the Heaven’s Gate cult mass suicide is a reflection in a fun house mirror of America's secret history of freakish cults, financial fraud, and the occasional member of the Rockefeller family, all of which helped make possible today's 9.11 cover-up

Now I am taking a deep breath, I'm going to remember how it feels to have men like Robert Kennedy in this world of fakes and greed and immorality. And how little people like me and you can help them lead us to the promised land.

Happy New Year one and all.

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