Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Children of Hunger

There is a basic element in the story of the group of people called the Vikings.  That is, need is what drove the Vikings to discover.  But it also is why they armed themselves, and were so fierce in battle.  Which leads me to wonder, if the fierce men and women of northern Europe had been quite warm, with wool sweaters, and full, with bellies filled full of fish, lamb, cheese, and milk, would they have bothered to explore their world?  Would they have made an effort to conquer the lands nearby, or far away if they were able to be as fruitful as possible at home?

I am not suggesting this in a modern day, oh the Vikings were so evil or mean or naughty sense.  I am a historian by training/education.  I am looking at their actions and find what they did amazing.  But what I am thinking, is, would any famously growing and spreading people who explored and discovered still have done so, had they not had to do so?

I've met a number of people who have suggested that the path of the future, the path we know as history, would be vastly different if the Vikings had colonized North America successfully.  The suggestion is that they were less interested in dealing with the aborigine people, and so they'd have essentially co-existed instead of attempted to either conquer or assimilate the indigine.   I am rather uncertain this would have been the case.  Using Greenland as the example of cultural non collision is not truly a model for the Vikings, even as it was A model.  It was a small segment of a population.  North America was huge compared to Greenland.  Suggesting that the Vikings would have acted similarly is just too much guesswork.  As it is, we don't know.

I am not suggesting I do know the answer.  I don't.  I find the question to be very interesting and it applies to the Mongols as well as the Vikings.  If you could be fat and comfortable, why go out of your house and raise hell?  Unless you like doing that.  And maybe therein is the question that is the real question to ask.  Did the Vikings and Mongols and other raider cultures do so because they needed to, or was it part of their cultural sense of self to attack and conquer other tribes or people groups?

Read More about the Vikings By Me Here

Friday, October 17, 2014

Literary Comfort Food

As a person who loves to read, and loves to collect books the taking off of a weekend to read a book is a moment, a sacrosanct time that is used for reflection and recovery.

I've been fortunate in life to come upon a number of books that move me.  But, more than that, books have caused me to grow mentally, spiritually as well as causing me to become enlightened, and find myself comforted.  Through books I can escape, learn to be a hero, become wise, understand my fears, and go outside of myself and grow from the experience.

Books are a ticket to move from this lifetime to many other lifetimes.  You can travel without ever moving, you can fight a war against horrible monsters, and never be hit.  Truth can be learned, and you can grow, without being the one to pay the painful cost in flesh and blood.

Group 1, Uplifting and Enlightenment

I adore the legends and lore of King Arthur, of the world of Medieval Europe, and of mythic adventures.  Heroism and courage are all I need to give me strength to overcome the obstacles in my path.  Le Morte D'Arthur, Beowulf, Le Petit Prince and Instant Replay all fit in this comfort food group.

Group 2, Metaphysical, Metaphors, Myth

Sometimes the truth, no matter how important it is, cannot be swallowed whole and without help to digest.  For me the biggest truths in life that I could not break down and understand were cracked apart by Albert Camus, and Soren Kierkegaard.  They allowed me to see that even if existence is absurd, that we are called to bring meaning to it through our attention to morals, courage, honesty, and faith.  Albert Camus saved me, in many ways in the dark days on either side of the loss of my mother.  Edmund Spenser's Faerie Queen and Kafka's Metamorphosis were mythic and powerful works that allowed me to see outside of the political and reality worlds I lived in.  And they continue to spark new ways to look at those worlds for me.

Group 3, History and Paths towards the Truth

As a person who has a primary interest in Asian and specifically Japanese military history those works are well known to me and I don't actually revisit them as comfort food.  I read them over and again to dig deeper, not to revisit and explore, but to plant my flag further in and discover new lands.  But in the ancient world I have only the fondest memories of teachers like Ron Marchese from UMDuluth, and learning things that fired my soul.  His words, his knowledge and wisdom fired my spirit to move further than I'd ever have gone.  Peter Green's works on Alexander and the Greco-Persian Wars is amazing, and if I had the money I'd buy every friend copies.  I adore them.  Between Past and the Present is important.  It explains how the past has been hijacked by morons of the present to further idiot causes such as Afrocentrism, and other factless arguments.  Xenophon's Anabasis has long provided me with inspiration.  Against long odds the Greeks accomplished impossible things.  And I grow with every reading.

Group 4, Speculative Fiction

The books shown are some of the authors who fire my imagination, but there are many others.  I am in the debt of them, and this entry is the shortest because I so often speak of it, it should be obvious, the depths of my love and dedication for those works and creative talents.  However, I will say, wherever these authors took me, however I was moved, they did so in a fashion that made me want to come back, again and again.

You might well think, the lists offered to this point are all sentimental choices, offered with little thought and basically random choice and irrational ways of choosing.  I get told I am irrational from many people, for many different reasons.  Truth to tell, I don't actually care.  I wish I could be beloved and thought a genius, of course.  Who doesn't want that.  But having said that, the only truly emotional choice is the final group of books, those written by author Alan Dean Foster.  I began reading his work 40 years ago when my leg was broken and I was in a cast, laying upon a bed, in summer, in my room.  His works kept my mind entertained, and I was deeply comforted by his style, and his way of taking you across galaxies, yet still finding your way back home.  He is one of my very favorite authors, still.  

Saturday, October 11, 2014

The Spoonman in the Tower? No.

There are people who argue that guns are a tool.  In the right hands they can save a life, and in the wrong hands, either those with evil intent or untrained or accidental circumstance, they can take a life. There are people who argue that spoons and forks, and thimbles are all tools as well.  And that no matter the intent, people almost never die from their misuse.

I am not a person who thinks guns can be removed from American society.  And I do not believe, necessarily that they should be.  Limited yes.  Absolutely I believe that there should not be a complete freedom of kind, and number.  But I believe that there is a reason the United States has had almost 200 years of unchecked freedom, and almost 200 years since the last foreign incursion into our land.  I don't believe a lot of the myths created or fed by the National Rifle Association, but, I refuse to consider it all blather in the absence of proof of some of it.  And I surely don't think the worst stories you hear, are necessarily the norm.  In fact, the reason they are on the news is because they are outside of the norm and are an "event".  Bad things happen and we hear of them, that is how news happens.

Most of the rest of the world fears an armed populace, with good reason.  Without the constitutional right to keep firearms by the citizens the government might well choose to govern more often by force, than by rule of law, and by electoral choice. Perhaps not, but, it is clear that Americans believe in some form of gun rights, with more guns in the hands of citizens than there are citizens. 

Having said all this, following the assassination of John F. Kennedy the laws of acquiring firearms were changed, strengthened, made more difficult to get through inspections of the postal authorities.  All to make certain a nut couldn't do what we were told Lee Harvey Oswald had done.

Charles Whitman was a modestly well performing US marine who scored somewhat well as a rifleman on the shooting range.  He was dealing with a number of stresses, the need to succeed to show his father he was worthy, to make his mother proud, to support his wife, and for his future family and children.  After his first and successful enlistment he reentered the military to become an officer, took some university courses.

Whitman was returned to active duty when his grades did not merit his continued scholarship and attendance.  University of Texas at Austin Mechanical Engineering was by no means an easy field of study, and while Whitman was likely bright, his path seemed to be taking him away from school.  That is until the US Marine Corps after a number of incidents ended his service with a dishonorable discharge.

While in school and afterward he began having headaches that were undiagnosed as to the cause.  In his diary he recorded that he had begun hearing voices, feeling urges, and for some reason, he believed, something, somehow, just wasn't right.

His life was crashing down upon him.  His discharge and failure in both university and the Marines were not the only issue he faced.  His father who played a very demanding role in Whitman's mind, announced a split with a possible divorce with Whitman's mother.  Soon, Whitman beat/hit his own wife. In his diary he wrote how hateful he felt towards both himself for hitting his wife, and towards his father for reasons he did not altogether understand.  He began to see a psychiatrist who recognized that Whitman had issues but, it was really too late. When his parents divorced/split, his mother came to live with the Whitmans.   And soon the stress of everything seemed too much.  And Whitman began hearing voices, feeling urges to ascend to the top of the tower "Stand off any army" from the top.

August 1, 1966 he broke.  Mentally he could not go on. He packed a military trunk with ammo, food, and weapons, dressed in camouflage, and went to the tower at University of Texas at Austin.
Whitman had first however, killed his wife, and mother.   He immediately killed 3 people in the entrance and foyer areas, and blocked off the observation deck.  He then dragged his trunk with his equipment, and for 6 hours or so, he rained death upon any person he saw below.  He shot and killed 16 people, and wounded 32.  He controlled the ground beneath him until two lawmen from Austin cornered him and one shot him, Ramiro Martinez and Houston McCoy.

America was in shock.  Guns were blamed, society was blamed. Youth were blamed.  But what you have is a young man who wasn't evil, he was drugged and irrational, unable to stop himself from doing what he recognized as wrong.  He was mentally ill, and perhaps more.  The problem in America is often not the tools of the killers, it is that we do not see the killers amongst us.  Perhaps that is one of the costs of freedom.  I do not know.  I truly do not.

Point 1

An often underplayed issue for the Whitman event is, was he addicted to Dexedrine?  It is very possible that he was addicted, and there is documented use.  If he was addicted, his rational sense could have been deeply affected.  Lack of sleep, which is a common, even hoped for effect, is a result from use, and in most addicts, there is a hazed over look in the eyes, as if they have become zombies, as a result of lack of sleep.

Point 2

Some people have argued about another issue that plays a large role, did the brain tumor that Whitman had, and that he suggested he had in his suicide note, play a role in his moral reasoning and ability to make choices?  The human brain is still not sufficiently mapped to know, but rather than toss it out and say "the fucker is evil" as so many have, I'd suggest, most people don't feel like there is something in their brain, most don't hear voices, and most don't ascend a tower and hold off an army, evil or not.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Hungry for the Future

Considering the intertwined fates of starvation (resources) and population (mouths to feed) causes my heart to break.  I am not a vegetarian, though I should be.  I am not a groovy hippie living off the grid, although I would save lives I suppose, I am luddite, without life skills, who does all he is able by writing.  I don't have gadgets outside of my computer and my crappy cell phone.  But I am fully aware without the advancements of modernity I'd have died four or five times prior, due to various abilities to fight cancer and other achievements.  I'd never have met the people that allowed me to write and thereby become published.  I'd have been an overnight security guy reading comics til he was 35 years old, obese, and seriously unhappy with his existence. 

I am not crapping upon modernity.  Modernity has created a better world in ways, expanded life expectancies, better lives with many diseases crushed, and fresh water and technical advancements in countries that had never seen such things.  The struggle for resources had been hard, and now had become slightly better. But life became better, and with that, more people had babies, and the demand upon the resources became even greater than before. Without the developments of the Green revolution the world uptick in population would have been a very hungry one.  Instead, enormous strides were taken.   And with those strides, population once again grew.  Like dog chasing tail, the cycle rose endlessly, but there is, of course, a finite end waiting, when the dog bites down successfully. 

Borrowed from Wikipedia's entry on Overpopulation

"Human overpopulation occurs if the number of people in a group exceeds the carrying capacity of a region occupied by that group. Overpopulation can further be viewed, in a long term perspective, as existing when a population can't be maintained without the rapid depletion of non-renewable resources or without the degradation of the capacity of the environment to give support to the population. "

Borrowed from Wikipedia's entry on Famine

"A famine is a widespread scarcity of food, caused by several factors including crop failure, population unbalance, or government policies. This phenomenon is usually accompanied or followed by regional malnutrition, starvation, epidemic, and increased mortality. Nearly every continent in the world has experienced a period of famine throughout history. Some countries, particularly in sub-Sahara Africa, continue to have extreme cases of famine."

When we consider the world before us, it is natural to think of how we add to it by populating it.  Our children will inherit the world, so we must think we are contributing something good? Yes?  Or are we having children because we think the world will solve its own problems, and that we had kids like someone else might have a cold.  Accidents happen, right?  But however we view children, our viewpoint does have an effect upon our future.  How we leave our footprint behind us, is important. It matters in terms of consumption of resources, adding to the mouths to feed, solving problems, creating answers, all matter in terms of how we contribute to the future.

There are modern ways to look at the world.  There are socialistic models, capitalist models, communist, liberation theological models, and others, all showing very nice charts and quotes, like the quotes I'll share soon.  But I am not teaching a class, who gives a shit about who said what about the damn thing, what we need to know is, what causes famines, and why are we worried it could get worse?  What does overpopulation have to do with this?  Right?

Thomas Malthus wrote:  "The power of population is so superior to the power of the earth to produce subsistence for man, that premature death must in some shape or other visit the human race. The vices of mankind are active and able ministers of depopulation. They are the precursors in the great army of destruction, and often finish the dreadful work themselves. But should they fail in this war of extermination, sickly seasons, epidemics, pestilence, and plague advance in terrific array, and sweep off their thousands and tens of thousands. Should success be still incomplete, gigantic inevitable famine stalks in the rear, and with one mighty blow levels the population with the food of the world."

Malthus is said to not have believed that humans would reach the epic apocalyptic end of complete disaster.   That humans we understand their issues and would halt unchecked growth by whatever means necessary.  I am uncertain if humans could stop it, so I am somewhat skeptical if what Malthus is said to have believed is true.

Aldous Huxley wrote:  “The Humanity of men and women is inversely proportional to their Numbers. A Crowd is no more human than an Avalanche or a Whirlwind. A rabble of men and women stands lower in the scale of moral and intellectual being than a herd of Swine or of Jackals.”

The above quote isn't immediately about overpopulation, in that, it speaks of the will and rabble of the crowds being more or less the capricious whims of those at the front of the pack.  But, in many ways that is exactly what overpopulation is about.  Unless someone with power is persuasive and means to change how people behave, in private, with their sexual partners, the earth population might reach a peak where the only end point is a crash of resources and an enormous and equal crash of dead from starvation.

Throughout  history it has been proven that food has been used as a weapon.  In the 20th Century even, within the last 50 years even, food has been used to crush the soul of rebellion, and to destroy families, and to maintain power by governments.  I am not writing this as a Leftist, or Rightist.  I believe that famine and food politics is an issue that goes far beyond petty dominions of power.  This is about humanity survival, and the future.



 Politically induced Famine in UKRAINE


I don't mean to say children, and people are bad.  Because I don't think that.  But I do think that when humans reproduce without an idea how to provide for their children, that poses a problem, and the assumption that society will care for their child or children is not an answer, or, won't be for long.   I suggest we listen to all forms of information and use all voices to inform our choices.  Killing our self isn't the answer, but what happens when there is one meal, and 20 hungry guests?