Thursday, August 25, 2016

La problemo de esperanto

Vi eble ne scias, sed me estas skribisto.

Estas vera. Por longatempo, mi estis ĵurnalisto por unu gazeto aŭ alia. Lastatempe, mi skribis por retgazeto en urbeto proksime mia urbo. Skribo ne estas nur laboro (aŭ verko, se oni preferas) por mi. Skribo estas kiel mi adoradas Dion; estas kiel mi vivas.

Antaŭ deksep aŭ dekok jaroj, mi ekkomencis skribi romanon kun helpo de mia amiko. Iam, mi demandis de mia edzino se ŝi legvolis ĝin kaj konigi al mi sian opinon. Nu, ŝi legis, kaj ŝi konigis. Ŝi ne konigis al mi se ŝi pensis ke la libro bonas aŭ malbonas; anstataŭe, ŝi konigis al mi ĉiun eraron, kiun ŝi vidis.

Ni nekorekte literumis vorton; ŝi konigis. Ni uzis la malkorektan interpunkcian signon; ŝi konigis. Kiel ŝi pensis pri la rekonto, ŝi ne konigis. Diru min: kiun tiu signifas? Ĉu la rakonto malbonegas, kaj tiuj eraroj estis la plebona parto? Ĉu ŝia ĉefĝojo estis la eraroj, kiujn ŝi trovis? Ŝia helpo ne helpemas.

Mi neniam petis al ŝi legi mian verkon denove.

Mi ĵus pensis pri tiu, post kelka retparolado kun aliaj Esperantparolantaj.

Kiel aliaj parolantoj de la lingvo, mi ŝatas la lingvon. Mi eklernis Esperanton antaŭ preskaŭ sep jaroj, kaj ofte mi diras al aliaj personoj pri la lingvo. Mi diras al ili pri la facileco de Esperanto; la belaj sonoj, kiun la lingvo havas; la uzemeco de lingvo kiu estas por la tuta mundo; kaj aliaj kialoj por lerni kaj paroli la lingvon.

Sed kelkfojej, ŝajnas ke la plegranda problemo, kiun Esperanto havas, ne estas la malkorektaj ideoj kiun neparolantoj havas, sed la parolantoj.

Pleparto de Esperantparolantoj estas bonegaj personoj. Ili konas tiun interesan lingvon; kaj por ili, tiu lingvo estas ponto inter ili kaj aliuloj. Oni povas paroli Tagalogo kaj parolas aliajn Filipinanojn, sed kiam oni ankaŭ konas Esperanto, oni ekpovas diri kun Japanianoj, Italianoj, Usanoj kaj multaj aliaj -- per nur unu lingvo.

Mi ŝategas renkonti tiujn personojn, rete aŭ alie. Tiu estas la celo, estas kial ni lernas ajnan lingvojn. Ni ĝojas koni aliajn personojn, kaj lingvo estas la strato sur kiu ni devas promeni, se ni volas koni ilin. Lingvo estas pri komunikado. Per lingvoj, ni konigas sin per dirante la rakontojn de niaj vivoj. Kiam tiu konigo okazas, la lingvo funkcias kiel devas. Per tiu konigo kaj tiu komunikado, ni lernas kaj ni lernigas al aliaj. Ni aldonas al ĉiu alia, kaj ni fariĝas plie da homo.

Tro da fojoj, ni forgesis tiun. Mi estas ano de pluraj esperantgrupoj, kaj tro ofte mi vidas dum paroladoj fariĝas pri nur Esperanto; alie, oni skribos pri temo amita, kaj respondantoj skribos nur mencii erarojn, kiel la koniganto forgesis uzi la akusitavon aŭ malkorekte literumis vorton. Tre belajn, interesajn paraladojn ni havas!

Unue, ni devas konfesi, neniu volas lerni kiel paroli lingvon por paroli nur pri tiu lingvo. Kaj ni ankaŭ devas konfesi ke ni lernas lingvoj per uzi. Ni lerni novajn vortojn kiam ni renkontas ilin en parolon aŭ dum legi, kaj per uzi ilin. Ni venku tiun problemon per havi plibonajn paroladojn. Ni konigu nian rakontojn al alia, ni havu diskutojn pri scio, pri niaj landoj, pri vivo. Ni havas belan lingvon, ni uzu!

La alia afero, pri kiu mi skribis, ankaŭ estas problemo. Se oni petas helpon, diras rakonton, aŭ alie provas paroli kun aliuloj, estas nek saĝaj nek amuza por koncentri pri gramatikerartoj. Estas malĝentila. Se oni komprenas la senson de la vortoj de la alia persono, tiam komunikado okazas. Feliĉu, kaj ne diru neniun pri la eraroj kiujn vi vidas.

Bonus se ĉiuj memoras kiel estis kiam ni eklernis. Ĉiu lingvo prezentas defiojn por la novlernanto, inkluzivante Esperanto. Neniu ŝatas korektiti tuta la tempo. Se oni estas la instruisto, oni devas korekti la eraron, sed alie, estas bona por diri neniun, aŭ eble parolas kun la persono kaj uzas la korektan vorton, aŭ milde korektas la eraron per ekzemplo. Tiu estas plibona kaj pli ĝentila.

Esperanto esperas fariĝi la lingvon internacian de paco, sed gramatiknazioj estas gramatiknazioj en ajna lingvo. Iam, iu esperantisto tiel korektos gramatikon de alia, kaj komencigos la unua milito inter esperantlandoj.


Aŭtorajto © 2016 de David Learn. Uzita per permeso

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Trovi la kanonon

Mi ŝategas Asteriks, sed la heroa Gaŭlo originale estis
skribita en la franca.
Kiu estas nia literatura kanono?

Mia dirvolo estas tiel: Se mi volas flui en la franca, mi devas koni la skribon de Viktoro Hugo; se la rusan, la librojn de Dostoevsky kaj Tolstoj; kaj la anglan, la teatraĵoj de Viljam Ŝekspiro.

Mi scias ke estas skriboj originalaj en Esperanto, sed ŝajnas ke pleparto estas pri la lingvo, kaj estas skribitaj por novaj lernantoj. Kiam mi trovis librojn por malnovaj parolantoj, ili estas tradukitoj el aliaj lingvoj, kiel "La Bona Arbo" aŭ "La Mastro de la Ringo." Tiu-ĉi estas mia spero.

Do, mi demandas al ĉiuj: Kiujn librojn vi trovas en Esperanto kiuj estas bonaj por legi? Kiuj skriboj kaptas la speron de esperantparolantoj kaj nia kulturo? Kiu estas nia kanono? Ĉu estas?

imagaj amikoj

Mi iam aŭdis rakanton, pri knabino kiu havis imagan amikon. Mi diritas, ke la rakanto estas vera. La knabino diris ŝiajn gepatrojn, ke la amiko estis dirinta ŝin ke la amiko loĝis interne la planko de sia dormĉambro.

"Interesa," pensis la gepatroj de la knabino, sed ili demandis, "Kaj kial via amiko loĝas en la planko?"

"Ŝi diris al mi, ke viro metis ŝin tie," la knabino respondis.

Interesas rakonto, ĉu? Nu, tago sekvas tagon, kaj tempo pasis. Iam la knabino fariĝis virinon, kaj iris kolegion. Ŝiaj gepatroj decidis ŝanĝi ŝian dormĉambron. Unue ili forigis la meblojn, poste ili forigis la tapiŝon. Sed poste ili forigis la plankotabulojn por fari riparojn, ili bezonis telefoni la policajn.

Sube la tabulojn estis kadavro de knabino.

ne respekto

Mia frato Blejr neniam respektitas, ne eĉ kiam li falas el aŭto.

​Antaŭ 43 jaroj, mia familio loĝis en Forest Hills, urbeto ekster Pittsburgh. Blejr havis amikon, Akti, kiu patrino havis kabrioleto. Somertage, ŝi ofris kondukis la aŭton malrapide dum ni sidas sur la dorsoj de la seĝoj, por nia amuzo. (Mi aĝis 2 jarojn; Blejr kaj Akti aĝis 6 jarojn; kaj nia alia frato, Vilĉo aĝis 4 jarojn.)

La rajdo amuzis por 
ĉiuj ni, sed kiam la patrino de Akti turnis la ĉirkaŭe angulo, Blejr elfalis dum ni rigardis.

Poste 2 a
ŭ 3 minutoj, la aŭto alvenis ĉe nia domo, kaj ĉiuj ni eliris el la aŭto.

"Kie estas Blejr?" mia patrino demandis.

"Ho, li falis 
ĉe la angulo," Vilĉo diris, kaj ni iris en la domon por glaciaĵo.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

the library serpent

Imagination, it may said, is the spark that sets the soul on fire. When children have had their minds filled with wonder and imagination, they grow into adults with a desire to know, to understand and to make. They do revolutonary things that change the world forever, like discover gravity, invent fire, or cure AIDS. It's a sacred duty of every parent to see that spark lit and to fan it into flame whenever possible.

So yesterday, as we headed over to friends' house for dinner, I told my youngest daughter just how amazing, how epic and how utterly mythic the city library is. In many ways it is the embodiment of the Elder Edda and all its stories of the Norse gods.

"Did you know there's a giant snake who lives at the library?" I told her. "He's called the Ouroboros. He's so big that he goes all the way around the foundation of the library, and he devours his own tail."

"Really?" she asked. "Why don't I ever see him?"

"Ah, well, he's an underground sort of snake," I said. I briefly considered explaining that the snake makes books fall off the shelves in the library when he moves, but decided against it. "He stays in the ground and doesn't bother anyone."

Middle Daughter, who has exprienced this thing herself in the past, merely sat in her chair and listened without comment as the whopper grew ever larger.

"Does he ever come up?"

"Well," I said, recalling the great battle between Thor and Jormangandur at the end of Walt Simonson's run on "The Mighty Thor," "there is going to come a day when he'll rise up out of the ground and threaten the children's room. The entire library will begin to shake, and the librarians will spring to action."

"What happens then?"

"Well,the library staff will make sure the children and all the other adults will get out, and the children's librarian will grab a hammer they keep safe for that day, and she'll go out and fight the Ouroboros. For nine days they will battle, until she finally kills it. Then she'll take nine steps, and" -- I hesitated, because Thor dies from Jormangandur's poison breath, and I wouldn't wish that on any of the librarians we've had, even the unpleasant one from a few years ago, but something has to happen! -- "and she'll collapse and need to go to the hospital in an ambulance."

Thank goodness there are two hospitals in the city, not that far from the library.

"When is all this going to happen?" she asked.

"Ah," I said, "no one knows. They keep the hammer nearby, and train every new children's librarian in how to use it, in case it happens while they're there." I paused, and then after a moment's inspiration, I grounded the story once more in something she knew: "That's why the library is closed on Sundays in the summer. So the children's library staff can train with the magic hammer."

Concerned that she might be worried for herself or the other children who use the library, I reminded Youngest that none of the children would be in danger during the battle, since the library staff will have got everyone safely out of the building and to a safe distance. Maybe they'll be at the sustainable foods co-op across the street, eating vegan cookies or something. She was a little concerned when I mentiond that the library would collapse in the fight, but relieved when I also shared that there would be an even better one built to replace it. (She also suggested that any books that were checked-out at the time the library was destroyed would be hers to keep, since there would be no records left of who had borrowed what. I confess I had no answer to that.)

The story went over well. Youngest was impressed by the idea of a giant, tail-eating serpent that circles the foundation of the library, and she was especially impressed by the hammer.

So impressed, in fact, that when we came to the library today, she asked the children's librarian if she could see it.

Friday, July 29, 2016

on abortion

Well, that didn't take long.

Hillary Clinton hadn't even finished accepting the Democratic nomination for the presidency when I started seeing comments like "Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party kill babies." It put me in mind of a time a few years ago when conservative blogger Matt Walsh wrote a post that began, "Killing babies is wrong. If we can't agree on that, there's no way we'll ever agree on anything." At the time, I had started to write a response, "Women are more than just vehicles for giving birth," or something similar; but I gave up.

For one thing, Walsh's contempt for liberalism and vewpoints other than his own is palpable, and his disregard for women whose situations he will never experience were just too much to deal with. I had other things to worry about. And for another thing, I realized Walsh would never listen to anything I had to say, let alone think about it. His absolute certainty of his own convictions is his greatest strength and his greatest tragedy as a human.

I'll never get through to the Matt Walshes of the blogosphere, but most people I know are at least willing to consider another viewpoint, even if they know going in that they'll disagree at the end. If you're one of those people, and you're inclined to think of abortion as either murder or as killing babies, this post is for you. Please keep in mind that it's coming from someone who considered himself to be pro-life for years.

Yes, I changed my position on abortion, for reasons that I will express here and in later posts.

I'll start by saying that the rather hardline position I've encountered from many people opposd to abortion rights is actually a relatively new and unconservative thing. It was only in the 19th century that Karl Ernst von Baer first observed an ovum through a microscope, and not until 1876 that Oscar Hertwig observed fertilizaton occuring in sea urchins.

Until that point, the notion that life began at conception was an alien concept to human morality. No one knew a woman was pregnant until she had announced it to the community, and she didn't know it herself until had felt the quickening of the fetus in her belly. Women could miss periods for any number of reasons: poor nutrition and health among them.

As a result, for thousands of years in nearly every culture, it was completely acceptable for women to induce miscarriages. The song "Scarborough Fair" existed in part to tell jilted young women how to prepare a douche that would induce one. (You didn't think it was a love song, did you?)

Still, we live in the 21st century, and our knowledge can't help but shape our morality. We know now that biological life begins around the time of conception. Within a few hours of fertilization, the initial zygote begins to divide, it begins to consume and to expend energy, and it begins to grow. There's no denying that the blastula, as it is now known, is biologically alive; but counting this as the start of a person's life is still driven more by convenience than by medical science.

I'm not trying to have it both ways here; let me illustrate.

Let's imagine that a woman -- we'll call her Christie -- is ovulating, and she has sex with her boyfriend or her husband. (We'll assume it's her husband.) Sometime after they have sex, his sperm reach her ovum, and succesfully fertilize it. It's a biological miracle. Christie is pregnant and going to have a baby!

Well, no. Probably not. Of every 100 ova that are successfully fertilized, only about 68 actually implant in the uterus. That means for every 100 women in Christie's situation, 32 of those supposed children don't make it. Some of them disintegrate in their mother's fallopian tubes on their way to the uterus; and others just fail to implant, and are never heard from again. This is a completely natural part of the process.

Four weeks later, only 42 percent of those 100 fertilized ova are still alive, at the stage they are considered embryos. In another four weeks, only 35 have reached the point that they are considered fetuses. The other seven all spontaeously miscarried, and it's entirely possible the woman didn't even notice. By the time all is said and done, only three in 10 actually make it through the entire course of pregnancy and are born. The odds are thoroughly stacked against Christie having that baby we thought we saw.

If we truly believe that life begins at conception, and human life is sacrosanct, then we should be expending a lot more effort trying to save the seven in 10 that don't make it that far. But we don't. Why not? Is it that we don't believe that life is sacrosanct, or that we're indifferent to the deaths of 70 percent of embryos? Or maybe the start of life is just as hard to pinpoint as definitively as the end of it is.

Death, like life, seems like it should be easy to point to and define as well. One minute you're alive, then you're not. You're living, or you're dead. Cut and dry.

Unfortunately, the point of death is something else that people have argued about for thousands of years. In many premodern societies, people would delay burying a body because they believed the soul could return within a window of a few days and the presumed deceased would be revealed only to have swooned. In 19th-century England, there were enough alarming stories of people who had been buried alive while presumed dead, that the graves of the wealthy often were equipped with apparatus so that the wrongly interred could alert gravetenders to their plight and be rescued.

For centuries, someone who had drowned was considered dead, full stop. That changed with the discovery of artificial respiration. Now swimmers caught in the undertow can be rescued and brought back in a dramatic moment where once they would have been written off. Cardiac arrest is another ending once considered definitive, but thanks to CPR, people have been brought back from the point of death in those situations as well. Modern medicine even has removed and replaced people's hearts.

Nowadays, we consider death to be final once a person's higher brain waves cease. Now if that's the point at which we consider life to end, it makes sense that it's also the point at which we consider life to begin. Those higher brain functions and the connections that make them possible occur after the sixth month of pregnany, or around the start of the third trimester.

So let's suppose we have a mutual friend who is clinically brain dead. Doctors can keep him alive indefinitely. His heart will continue to beat. His lungs will continue to breathe. There may even be involuntary muscle movements on his face that we will interpret as signs of consciousness. But the EEG tells a painful truth: There is no one there. He will never wake up, he will never recover. Ethicistis agree, it is time to remove him from life support and let his body expire so that his family and friends can move on with their lives.

Now on the flip side of that we have a fetus three months into pregnancy. This fetus has no higher brain functions yet, and while it may have a stimulus-response reaction to an abortion, science has shown repeatedly that the fetus is incapable of experiencing pain until around the start of the third trimester.

So how would abortion be a moral evil at this point? The fetus is alive in the same strict biological sense that our hypothetical friend is, but the fetus can feel pain no more than he could, can process what is happening no more than he could, and is just as incapable of surviving independently as he would be.

Now you may argue that the fetus has human potential, and I would agree with you. That's why I'd say abortion is not a Good Thing, and why I think that most who favor abortion rights would agree.

But there can be compelling reasons for women to have an abortion, something the Supreme Court recognized in its landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, and I will not sit on the seat of judgment and presume to know their situation better than they; nor will I sit and compel desparate women to risk their lives to have an unsafe and illegal abortion when a safe and legal one could be available.

No one wants to see abortions administered. It's more a matter of "Should a woman have the right to make that decision if she wants to?" and "At what point does that right lapse?"

Monday, July 25, 2016

micronauts

I've long maintained that I never would have read Dostoevsky for the fun of it if I hadn't discovered comic books as a child, in particular one comic that was based on a toy line.


​Published from 1979 to 1986 by Marvel Comics, "Micronauts" was the creation of comic book writer Bill Mantlo, and was based on a line of toys that children could take apart and put back together in new configurations. Mantlo was known primarily for writing quickly, not well; but he did produce some stuff that was magical, at least to a young reader. Every now and then I still feel the magic when I remember those stories.

The first 12 issues of the original Micronauts series was part of that magic. The first issue joined the story more than halfway through, as Commander Arcturus Rann returned to his homeworld after the thousand years he had been exploring the Microverse equivalent of deep space.

That initial story had some pretty horrific stuff, like the body banks, where Baron Karza would take his enemies and critics and genetically or surgically alter them into monsters. It had mystery, represented in the persons of the Time Travelers and the enigmatic shadow priests and their unstated purposes. And it had adventure, as the core group of Micronauts banded together in a multispecies proto-Guardians of the Galaxy mix that included a princess, a king, a space explorer and a master thief. And because it was a Marvel property, they found themselves on earth and interacting from time to time with superheroes who literally towered over them. (When they arrived on Earth, the Micronauts were about 4 inches tall, the same size as the toys they were based on.)

After that initial 12-issue story had run its course, either Mantlo's collaborators changed or he simply had no idea what to do. The stories from there on weren't nearly as inspired, and essentially involved setting up for the return of the evil Baron Karza (now allied with Hydra), defeating Baron Karza; and then setting up for the return of Baron Karza one more time so there could be a final showdown between him and the Micronauts.

Somewhere in there, Mantlo managed one of hig big cliches of killing the entire supporting cast in a battle meant to show how ruthless the bad guys were. He did the same thing in "Rom: Spaceknight," and it wouldn't surprise me if he did it in "Spectactular Spider-man" while he was writing that.

There was a second "Micronauts" series launched immediately after the first series was canceled, written by Peter Gillis, as Marvel experimented with the emerging market of direct sales and comic shops. It was deeper philosophically, breaking new ground, and eschewing interaction with the rest of the Marvel Universe. Unfortunately, from what I understand, the licensing agreement between Marvel and the Mego Corp., which had created the Micronauts line of toys, expired, and Marvel canceled the series. I read once that a third attempt series was commissioned, and the first issue even had gone to press, but licensing fell through and they had to pulp it.

Marvel has done a few other comics featuring the characters that Marvel created for the series and owns the rights to, including a "Bug" standalone that I have never read, and appearances by a few others in different comics. I have vague memories of noticing that Jackson Guice gave the Micronauts characters uncredited background cameos in an issue of "New Mutants" that featured the Starjammers, but I can't even remember for certain which characters were there.

All I can recall for certain is that the actual story involved Ilyana Rasputin, who had accidentally teleported herself to another galaxy and was about to be auctioned off as a slave. Professor X happened to notice her as he, Corsair and the other Starjammers just happened to be there.

Was "Micronauts" great comic book literature? It's not as essential as "Persepolis," nor as imaginative as "Kingdom Come," but speaking as someone who discovered the series in the 1980s, I stand by my original assessment: It had magic.

Thanks. Bill.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

life in the desert

The Taklamakan Desert may be the most hostile place on the planet to live.

By day the sun hangs overhead like a hot coal that burns the eyes and the skin, and scorches the earth below the traveler's feet. There is no water to be found, and sand dunes stretch in every direction. At the end of the desert lies another desert. The Taklamakan's name may come from the Turkish phrase “The place of ruins.” When he set a story there in 1992, Neil Gaiman offered a more picturesque name: If-You-Go-In-You-Won't-Come-Out-Again.

The worst part of the Taklamakan is its winds. During the summer temperatures pass 100 degrees, and during the winter, they can drop below zero. During the spring, as the ground begins to warm, the air begins to move and gale winds arise with the force of a hurricane. Sand and dust blow and fill the air, creating a fog of dirt that reaches heights of 13,000 feet.

In these conditions, the sky can get so dark that visibility is imaginary. Your only hope of survival is to stay together, and your only hope of staying together is to affix bells to the camels and to one another so that you can hear how close you are to one another. The sand dunes constantly rearrange themselves, so your only hope of staying on your path is to set up a sign each night before you go to sleep so you can be sure to continue in the same direction when you waken in the morning.

Try to imagine living in those conditions. Try to imagine crossing a desert like that. The Taklamakan is a no man's land. It is a nowhere that lies between two places, an empty space that no one claims for their own. If you go in, you won't come out again.

Deserts come in all degrees and varieties. Far to the north are deserts where rain never falls and plants struggle to grow, but the ground is cold and frozen year-round. There are deserts where rains come often enough for cacti to grow and to bloom, and even for trees and animals to grow that have adapted to the climate.

Other deserts used to be green and fair, until men came and felled the trees and overgrazed their flocks until there was nothing left but wasteland. These deserts may be among the worst. Their desolation bears silent witness to the violence we have done to the land and to ourselves because we refuse to see what we are doing.

And then there are the deserts we make of our own societies, spiritual wastelands where we strip away justice and allow those with power to wield it with only a pretense of accountability. Executives loot the pensions of their workers and never face jail time or admit their wrongdoing. Government officials cut support for the needy and refuse to require a living wage. Power exists to serve the powerful and not the powerless.

In this desert, the victims of police violence are legion. Philando Castile. Alton Sterling. Walter Scott. Tamir Rice. John Crawford. Eric Garner. Michael Brown. The list of names is too long. It goes back too far to remember, and it joins the names of others martyred to white fears of a black country. James Byrd. Emmett Till. Greenwood, Okla.

Justice denied fuels anger, and as violence begets violence the body count begins to rise, and the voice of God rises in reprimand. “What have you done?” he asks, as he has since the first story was told. “The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground.”

In the desert we rally to support a man who ridicules the disabled while he belittles and savages women. We rush to elect a man who lies outrageously, encourages violence, and incites hatred of Muslims and Jews, Mexicans and blacks.

In this desert, our nation's most avowedly religious Christians support this man, while we make a tremendous point of displaying our piety around the flagpole and at the National Mall, and everywhere we go. We shout our faith to the heavens, but heaven is a place that demands justice first and foremost.

From the book of Amos:

“I hate, I despise your feasts,
    and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.
Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and cereal offerings,
    I will not accept them,
and the peace offerings of your fatted beasts
    I will not look upon.
Take away from me the noise of your songs;
    to the melody of your harps I will not listen.
But let justice roll down like waters,
    and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
Justice. That word sounds threatening, but it doesn't need to. What is it that makes the Taklamakan so dangerous? It's not the wind, or the sand, or the soft geography. It's not even the sun. It's the lack of water.

The Taklamakan lives in the shadow of the Himalayas, mountains so tall that they block rain clouds from ever reaching the Taklamakan or the rest of the Gobi Desert region. About an inch-and-a-half of precipitation gathers in the West, and less than half an inch in the East. Even cacti find the Taklamakan too extreme. Most of the area is barren.

Most, but not all. Even that inhospitable desert comes to life where the water rolls down. Around the edges of the desert region are river valleys and deltas, and places where the groundwater comes close enough to the surface to ease the oppression of the desert sun. Herds of gazelles run free through these open spaces, and wild boars live among the river valleys, where even wolves and foxes hunt.

Justice is not a force of destruction. It is an agent of renewal. Where the river flows through the desert, trees put down roots. They grow fruit when it's the season, and even in the summer heat their leaves do not wither. The trees that line the river provide shade for the weary, the grass along the river is easy on the feet, and there is food to eat.

In the desert, an oasis like this is a place to rest, to recover, to heal and to stay a while, perhaps even to put down roots of our own. The justice of God is a shelter in our society, a place where black lives matter as much as white lives, where everyone is welcome to be themselves, and where no one is viewed with suspicion because of race or color.

Here in our desert, Sunday morning remains the most segregated hour of the week. Perhaps we don't know the burdens people of color face in our society because too often we still haven't taken the time to let them share, nor believed them when they've told us.

Hate evil, and love good; establish justice in the gate.

Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

Let it begin with me.



Copyright 2016 by David Learn. Used with permission.


Tuesday, July 19, 2016

breaking it down for steven king

Steven King has an interesting question.

King, R-Iowa, was part of an MSNBC panel discussion on Monday afternoon, hosted by Chris Hayes, along with Charles Pierce, a writer for Esquire; and reporter April Ryan. Discussion turned to the predominantly white makeup of the Republican Party, and King objected. The problem? He's tired of this whole “old white people business.”

“I’d ask you to go back through history and figure out, where are these contributions that have been made by these other categories of people that you are talking about?” King asked. “Where did any other subgroup of people contribute more to civilization?”

“Than white people?” Hayes asked.

“Than Western civilization itself that’s rooted in Western Europe, Eastern Europe and the United States of America, and every place where the footprint of Christianity settled the world,” King said. “That’s all of Western civilization.”

Hayes cut off the discussion immediately, undoubtedly hoping to stop an ugly discussion before it grew even uglier. (He since has conceded that he might have made the wrong decision.) But let's give King some credit. He has tried to initiate an important discussion on race in our country. What noteworthy contributions have non-whites made to the United States, to the West and to human civilization in general? It's only fair to ask.

For starters – and this is an easy one – black labor powered the engine of the North American economy for about two centuries. Black slavery began in 1619 when colonials brought African slaves to Virginia to work the plantation fields, but it was really in the 1660s that slavery grew and hardened into a hereditary institution in which blacks would work, and whites would reap the benefits of that labor.

For the next two centuries, blacks would receive only the barest compensation for labor that consumed their every waking hour for six days a week, while their stolen wages fattened the wealth of the white families that owned the labor camps where they toiled. (In our genteel way, we call these “plantations.”) It's safe to say that without stolen labor artificially suppressing the price of cotton, the American economy never would have been as powerful as it was by the time of the Civil War.

But I'm sure that King is tired of hearing about slavery, so let's not dwell on that. We'll also overlook the cultural contributions of black performers such as Sidney Poitier, Paul Robeson, Diana Ross and Louis Armstrong; the very existence of jazz music and spirituals that have been mainstays in church or around campfires for generations, such as “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” and “Michael, Row the Boat Ashore”; and cultural icons like Bugs Bunny, largely derived from Gullah stories of Brer Rabbit.

We also should discount the contribution of the black and Chinese laborers who built the railways out West. I'm sure King wouldn't count that as significant, since anybody could have built railroads or paved roads. The real movers and shakers were the tycoons who owned the businesses and who received millions of dollars from the efforts of these laborers. God's eyes are on the workers, but it's the wealthy who matter to us.

Should we focus on people like Daniel Hale Williams, the first person to successfully complete open heart surgery? Williams was black, but perhaps he won't count for King, because Williams only pioneered a new lifesaving procedure in medicine and didn't actually discover a new field of medicine. Other such inventions and innovations include blood banks, the refrigerator, the electric trolley, the dust pan, the comb, the mop, the brush, the clothes dryer, the lawn mower, traffic signals, the pen and the pencil sharpener.

Still, these are mere inventions, King might object. That Kenmore refrigerator is important, and you miss it when it stops working in the heat of the summer, but that's not as foundational to civilization as the very notion of democracy.

Alas, it is not. So let's look at the foundations, and see where they lie.

Agriculture began around 9,000 BCE far from Europe, in the fertile crescent, where farmers started to raise wheat and barley; and around 8,000 BCE in South America, with the first potato farmers. Cultivating crops may mark the start of human civilization, since agriculture allows formerly nomadic people to settle down and begin to see one spot of land as home.

As agriculture improves, the land begins to support more people in smaller areas. Cities are about as foundational to civilization as we can get, and the first known cities were nowhere in Western Europe, Eastern Europe or the United States. The oldest cities arose in ancient Sumer, around 7500 BCE. Writing first appeared around 3200 BCE, in Sumeria and in Egypt. China developed its first writing around 1200 BCE.

There was approximately nothing going on in Europe at this time. Greece was in decline and had entered a period called the Greek Dark Ages, and everything else we've learned of the rest of Europe we've had to deduce from graves.

Back to those ancient cities. Living in close proximity to one another often gives rise to other innovations. With space at a premium, there is a need to stack people atop one another more efficiently.  So architecture also may be said to have originated in Sumer, along with government and means of records-keeping.

That also means that economies (and economics) began in Sumer, although money wouldn't come along for several centuries. Lydia, a city-state located in present-day Turkey, generally is credited with minting the first coins in the seventh century BCE, but it was the Tang Dynasty of China that gets credit for inventing paper currency in 740 BCE.

King also claims credit on behalf of Christianity, for its contributions to Western civilization. It's worth remembering that Christianity isn't actually a European or Western religion. It began in the East, and embraces many Eastern ideals such as the union of body and spirit, and judging a man on his actions rather than on his words. The gospel was preached in Africa before it reached Europe, and the biggest churches today are in Asia, not the United States. How anyone could link this to white people is beyond me.

So, there you have it, Mr. King. I'm no historian, but while I'll agree that European and American societies have gifted the world with tremendous literature, music, art, philosophy, science and God knows what else, I'm not sure there is any basis to your claim that we've done more than any other race, color or ethnicity. Discount the black contribution to America, and you erase America. Discount Africa and Asia, and you've just erased human history.

Tired of this whole “old white people business?” Then come on out and join the rest of the human race, Mr. King. There's a whole lot going on out here, and you don't want to miss out.


Copyright © 2016 by David Learn. Used with permission.