Sunday, December 31, 2006

A Note in Passing - Compare and Contrast

Flags across the world’s most powerful nation fly at half mast; America celebrates the life of President Gerald Ford in the soft sadness of his passing. Again and again I have heard variation on the following theme from the talking heads that people the media. “We thought he was wrong at the time, but now we see how his great courage enabled right action.” Gerald Ford picked up the burden of a wounded America, not for self aggrandizement or to feed his ambitions, but out of a sense of duty to the people he had served all his life. Ford was a warrior, a scholar, a law giver, and an Eagle Scout. By pardoning Richard Nixon he gave the malicious media the means to spin the mindless against him, but he healed the nation. Shorn of power and office, President Ford spent thirty more years in the service of America and passed in peace, respected by all, having made the world better by his life.

The trap door fell away, foul mouthed and bitter to the end, Saddam Hussein, dropped into hell with a snap of his neck. Hussein lived a life motivated by selfishness and ravenous ambition. He murdered millions, and caused misery to many millions more. He leaves behind a legacy of hate and division that could well ruin a country. Only courage and much sorrow will heal the scares his life inflected on the world. He too, in the end, was shorn of office and power, his life reduced to a putrid blight on justice and peace, his deeds inspiring only suffering and hate.

There could be no more striking proof of the difference between good and evil than the lives and deaths of these two men. Compare and contrast their lives in these words:

Courage – rage

Service – selfishness

Unifier – divider

Heal - hurt

Sacrifice – sieze

Honor – disdain

Peace – torment

Forgiveness – bitterness

Save – destroy

Justice – tyranny

Freedom – slavery

Righteousness – wickedness.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Twas the Night before Christmas

“What was all the Genocide in Rwanda all about anyway?” my sweet daughter asked. The family was crowded into our cozy family room, the lights winking on the tree. It was a typical Christmas Eve at our house.

I was ready to explain colonialism, the exploitation of tribalism by manipulative Europeans, the collapse of Western dominance, the resurgence of ancient hatreds exaggerated by generations of European exploitation and rivalry.

But my son, majoring in anthropology and languages at the University, said he knew all about it. Ever ready to learn the truth I deferred to him. He prefaced his exposé by pointing out that he had the scoop right from Paul Rusesabagin, the heroic hotel manager on whose life the book and movie Hotel Rwanda was based. Rusesabagin had been visiting Weber State and told the story.

My son’s thumbnail synopsis ran something like this: There had been no distinction between Hutu and Tutsis before the arrival of the Belgians. All these people lived together in peace and spoke a common language. It was the Belgians who, by measuring noses and publishing racial identity cards, created the entire mess. According to our report, Rusesabagin had claimed that “Hutu” and “Tutsi” were even words invented by the Belgians.

I began to smell a rat, not my son, but hero with an agenda. I mentioned that it reminded me of that famous non-Indian American, Ward Churchill, who routinely portrays pre-Columbian America as a virtual paradise of peace until the white man arrived to murder and corrupt the innocence.

My skepticism about Rusesabagin was not received without challenge by the young idealist in the overstuffed chair. He was ready with a barrage of questions of his own. Where did I get my facts? How didI know it wasn't my old-fashioned history lectures that were flawed? Why should we doubt the testimony of a man who actually lived there and experienced the genocide in Rwanda and who had acted to save many by his courage?

A quick check of history reveals that the original people of what would become Rwanda were the Twa, the people I grew up calling pygmies. The Hutu arrived in the area some thousands of years ago and proceeded to all but annihilate the Twa; the few survivors fled to the deep forest to survive. As recently as the 15th century the Tutsis arrived in Rwanda to subjugate the Hutu in a sort of serfdom where the Tutsis remained herdsmen; dominant over their vegetable growing predecessors. A sort of replay of Cain and Able, with plenty of jealously and murder to come.

The Belgians arrived in the 19th century and found things divided. They chose to exploit the division to their advantage. Their alliance with the Tutsis assured the power and position of both against the more numerous Hutu people.

The unbelievable slaughter of the late twentieth century, observed but not interrupted by either the U. N. or the Clinton administration, can trace its origins to many roots; but Rusesabagin’s explanation, which seeks to place all the blame on the evils of Colonialism, is troubling. Which is more demeaning to the Hutu and the Tutsis; that they allowed their already existing hatred for each other to be manipulated by the Belgians and then, once turned lose by the collapse of Western paternalism, proceeded to hate and murder each other once again? Or what seems an even more demeaning scenario that Rusesabagin suggests? That the Belgians were able, in less than one hundred years of dominance, to create artificial lines of separation and train the "natives" to hate each other without reason or history, like so many trained apes, who sought to destroy each other once the trainers had abandoned them to their mindless monkey business.

“What was all the Genocide in Rwanda all about anyway?” It seems a fitting topic for Christmas Eve contemplation.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Apocalypto - A Movie Review

I went to Mel Gibson’s movie Apocalypto, on Saturday, and I am very glad I did. It took the long lonely ride home from Logan to sort it out, but I now declare it the best movie I’ve seen in a long, long time. Five stars – that’s on a scale of one to four! There was great violence, as there was in the world Gibson sought to portray, but none of it was gratuitous. Like the beauty of the jungle, man’s inhumanity to man, could only reveal its full potency if portrayed realistically.

What make’s Gibson’s movie a success?

First - he made us care about the characters. The first scenes of the film immerse us in a pre-Columbian world where family and friends bring happiness to each other and so to us; where success is measure by the care one gives one’s family. The ways are different but the goal is eternally the same. When the monster of religious insanity crashes down on Jaguar Paw and his beautiful family, it is as if they had come for our own. Though I have never been in a Central American Jungle, never experienced the life here depicted, and although I had to read all their words in the subtitles, I felt I knew, even was one of, the people in the story. Gibson did this within minutes; what a master.

Secondly - beauty; Gibson’s baroque masterpiece brings the struggles and terrors of a village of people in custom and dress so beyond our taste and experience that it is at first shocking, to the level of high art. Art that is moving as it crashes into one’s senses, art that is inspired by the power of its truth. As we get to know them, we are inspired by the physical appearance of the actors, the characters that people Gibson’s creation. And as we see their beauty the wonder of their humanity is overpowering. Jaguar Paw (Rudy Youngblood) is beautiful, as are his wife and son. The beautiful children shown throughout the movie give visual testimony of the link between the good, the beautiful and the true. Gibson understands the magic of the physically beautiful and is not afraid to conjure with it.

Thirdly, Gibson allows, or rather the history he portrays allows, a clear line to be drawn between good and evil. There is no justification of the irrational murder of tens of thousands of innocents to appease the mindless sun. In the Mayan/Aztec monster cultures Gibson reveals there is nothing redemptive. Gibson has finally found Hitler’s equal in the Jungles of Mezzo America. On the other hand, the primal drive of family love, to care for wife and child and honor parents are simply and powerfully presented and stand in redemptive contrast to the hollow and murderous ceremonies of false and unreasoning religion.

Finally, Gibson’s movie speaks to universal truth. The sacrifice of the sacred king abused to its most egregious and profane extent by the misled mindlessness of the murder cult of the Mayan religion. The sacrifice of the sacred king shown at its most true and beautiful as a father struggles for his family, as friend sacrifices all for friend, as love motivates the miracle. Gibson ties masterfully into great literature and portrays scenes from great books in ways movie makers attempting to present the entire stories have failed. When the little girl pronounces the doom of the Mayan corruption, one expects her description of “he who brings the jaguar” to end with her intoning, “Because he is the Kwisatz Haderach!” When Jaguar Paw runs out onto the beach, the savages with their sharpened sticks in hot pursuit; it is perfectly natural to find Golding’s “adults” at hand. The struggle of right against wrong, the even deeper story of the struggle between truth and falsehood drive this movie, this piece of art, set in an ancient culture, into the struggles of the 21st century, into the epoch struggle of all men.

As we left the theater I discussed the film with my son and a best friend. My son’s family is exactly like Jaguar Paw’s. He has a tiny son and a second about to be born. He was quiet and reflective, the parallel to his beloved family and lives the movie had portrayed too close for words. It was my other young friend, who also defends and cares for his family with all the love, devotion, and courage of Jaguar Paw, whose wise words brought out three powerful and universal truths. His first words were, “How wonderful to live in a land of law, a land where law protects us from the evil of others.”

He them went on to point out how the movie had instructed us that evil must be faced. We cannot run from it, it will always flood to the limits that it is allowed to flow. The folly of those who would distance themselves from the false religion driven mass murderers of today, who would run into the woods and hope that evil will pass them by, will in due time be forced to face it. It will come for their families.

Finally, my friend had seen most clearly a moment in the film that had not yet coalesced for me. He related the moment where Jaguar Paw realizes that he must fight, although the odds are terrible and he is weary and wounded; the words of his father come to him, and he resolves not to be afraid. He takes the war for the survival of his family and for his way of life to his enemy; he becomes the hero, a brown, tattooed, and bare chested Achilles in the Jungles of the Yucatan.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Get Out of Africa!

Last Saturday a week, I attended the African Dance program presented by my son and daughter’s USU African Dance Class. Scheduling challenges had relegated the performance to a few minutes duration before a Contra Dance in the converted gym of one of those old three story elementary schools, in Logan.

The first to enter were the drummers, it seems Africans have no other musical instruments. All were white skinned men, some old, some younger, with costumes reminiscent of Bill Cosby’s Afro centric period. Most had long hair done up in Rastafarian dreadlocks like the Jamaican witchdoctor from *Predator Two*. Their drums were hourglass shaped wooden tubes, larger but otherwise exactly like the Thai drum I had bought at the bazaar held at the Buddhist temple here in Layton; goat skin tied down with nylon cord.

The lead drummer addressed the audience; I couldn’t really call it a crowd, as at least half present were our family, or friends from camp. The drummer said some things about the drumming. I believe he previewed the upcoming dances and thanked all for attending. One comment did stick in my memory, he claimed that all music began in Africa, as did human life, and that Africa is the source of all culture.

“Ya like the Parthenon!’ I wanted to yell, but didn’t. I was playing with my grandsons.
The roar of the drums began.

After several false starts the beat enticed the dancers down the ramp from back stage to fill the floor, a small basketball court. One boy, my son, and three lines of young women, including the “professor”. My son assures me this instructor has actually been to Africa and learned the authentic dances.

As I watched the interesting gyrations, the room throbbing to the repetitive cadence of the drums, I was reminded of Elizabeth Taylor’s triumphant parade in the movie *Cleopatra*. I have never understood what possessed the director of that Hollywood marvel to insert the Watusi into the show. After ten minuets of very athletic and somewhat erotic bouncing, swaying, weaving, and jumping, the drums paused and we were invited to join in for a final shake and shimmy. I played with my grandson.

As the African Dance Class and its drummers beat a hurried retreat to make room for the violins and guitars of the Contra dance band, I kept thinking I’d seen it all before. Then it came to me; O.A. Indian dancing. Mahonri’s painted face – half black, half white -, Scott Hinrichs in full head dress, the Leaping Lemhi, David Maughan’s fire hoop, Paul Harris making balls, Doug Hopper’s bare chest, Jody in baggy leather pants, Trent’s Vigil Ceremony the night the bear came, tee pees in the mountains, Chingachgook and Uncas, secret ceremonies underneath the stars of Heaven.

When I was a boy and well into my young manhood, I was very active in the Order of the Arrow (O.A.), and honor fraternity within the Boy Scouts. One of the aims of the O. A. is the preservation of American Indian culture and traditions. A Point of interest, Boy Scouting – still the world’s largest youth organization – had its beginning in the emulation of American Indian culture. Baden Powell with his South African wood beads was a rather late joiner to the program.

When I was a boy, to enable me to join in the ceremonies, my mother made me an “Indian” costume out of burlap sacks. Other than putting the fringe on backward, so that it stuck up along the top of my arms rather than hanging down, I thought the outfit a right on stunner. Never much of a dancer, I couldn’t even master the box waltz back in MIA, I spent my Indian days building fires and reciting lines in the woods.

As a Professional Scouter my activities with the O.A. were second only to Camp in degree of pleasure obtained and commitment given. Many of the young men I worked with spent a great deal of money and endless hours of their time authenticating, constructing and decorating buckskin Indian shirts, loin cloths and leggings, and working on the even more elaborate feather covered “fancy dance” costumes. Along the way they learned about a noble culture and invested a good deal of heart and imagination, their souls, into becoming part of it. Imagine our frustration when the PC backlash began to build against white boys “playing” Indian.

There had been hints of this strange bigotry years earlier. Once on a field trip to the site of the Bear River Massacre, my USU Professor of American Indian History had thrown a little cold water on my love for Seton’s Indians when she said that Boy Scouts using Indian symbols, ceremonies, and costumes was considered inappropriate. It seemed too silly a prejudice to give credence to at the time. I had a staff member, blond with a handsome face and muscles; he looked like Peter Pan dancing with Tiger Lily’s band as high chief, or like Hiawatha’s friend Mondamin. However, as the years went by memos and directives began to come out from the National Council and the National Lodge recognizing, if not acquiescing to the mounting pressure of some on the BSA to curtail its usurpation of Indian traditions.

It had long bothered me that the Federal Government had restricted eagle feather ownership to “real” Indians, but to see even the BSA begin to draw a line between “whites” who admired and copied Indian traditions and “reds” who had a natural right to this culture.

I am not as connected to the O.A. as I once was, but I do not sense in their present activities the burning passion and pride in Indian culture that my young friends once possessed. The entire view point seems to have shifted from one of proud, even amorous immersion, to a somewhat embarrassed and uncomfortable observation from the side lines. Even more discouraging is the “You white people keep your hands off Indian customs, traditions, artifacts, and culture” attitude that has developed among some Indian and among many white University professors, such as erstwhile wanabe Indian and full time bigot, Ward Churchill.

I look back with some nostalgia to the day when the two most culturally immersed Indians I knew were Red Tail and Lone Wolf. Racially they were both white men; Red Tail with long blond braids wrapped in otter fur, Lone Wolf looking like Dustin Hoffman with a button nose. They both lived in teepees up Teton Canyon, and spent their time collecting and brain tanning hides off the road killed deer they gathered from the local highways and building authentic costumes, reading up on Indian traditions, and perfuming themselves with sage brush smoke.

Once, Red Tail convinced me to loan him my station wagon to take a bunch of white Indian camp staff members to the Sun Dance at Fort Hall Reservation. It was raining “cats and dogs” when they left camp; the clouds stretching unbroken to the western horizon. But they had faith. The rain at Treasure Mountain did not let up all day, but the Indian boys returned late that night. They had a miracle to tell. All swore that when it came time for the Sun Dance the clouds over Fort Hall opened and the sun shown till the ceremony was complete. It seems the Great Spirit doesn’t, or at least didn’t, check the skin color of his worshipers.

For generations, my camp crew has performed the Maori Hucka at the flag ceremonies. It was taught to me by a friend who had gone to New Zealand on a Mormon mission. It had never occurred to me that screaming and gesticulation to a South Pacific beat might be a culture crime, but recently I was told that the BYU football team was under onus for allowing white players to Hucka, and I was warned to be careful.

As I left the African dance program, walking through the playground turned parking lot, I looked up to the white topped towers of the Logan temple. They were bathed in electric light. Christmas music played on the CD in the car. I wondered at the roots of ceremony and music all around me and wondered how long it would be before the PC police would stop an athletic and rhythm driven, but painfully white, professor of African dance from contaminating African traditions by teaching dance to white kids in a snow covered Utah valley? I wondered when the drummers will be asked to shed their Nehru Jackets and multicolored Eisenhower caps and comb out the dreadlocks because the skin beneath them was not properly colored by some accident of DNA.

In the face of this silliness I feel to call for a new consciousness, a realization that all cultures past belong equally to all peoples of the present. Let’s recognize that pluralism and cosmopolitan lives are only feared by fanatics and fools. Let’s rejoice in our common humanity and choose our cultures by our interests, not our ancestors.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Frankenstein’s Lawyer

In justice’ battle against repression, Davis County’s high school boundaries fight is a small but instructive tussle. Years of planning, millions in expenses, ten weeks of dedicated and open consideration, produced fair and workable recommendations to be presented in open meetings to the School Board. This is a system, used many many times in many many school boundary changes in counties throughout the state for many many years, but now, Attorney Randy Edward’s claims that the process is against the law. His accusation is at best un-established in court, and in fact totally false. On a technical extrapolation of the Utah Open and Public Meetings Act, Edwards shopped judge Allphin to slap an injunction on the presentation of the boundary recommendations to the School Board. It is ironic that now the “technical” observance of the law allows a single consultant to make submissions to the School Board. Thus Randy Edwards and judge Allphin have created the very monster in fact they sought to slay in fiction. Of course Edwards is enraged by the School Board’s use of this technicality. (A typical neo-lib ploy - “we can cheat but you can’t!”) It is the pompous pretense of the “stop the boundary change” mob that makes Randy’s actions all the more monstrous. His pretended indignation and bogus accusations of lawlessness are repugnant. The simple fact is that he doesn’t want his daughter to go to Viewmont High School. He and his neighbors are school boundary bigots and they have sharked up a judge to “legally lynch” Davis County.

Clarence Thomas referred to the false and political charges stitched together to prevent his conformation as “Legal Lynching”. When the law turns to a fiend set on murdering justice, it becomes a terrible monster.

I have never read Mary Shelly’s book, (Mia Copa) but I don’t believe Dr. F intended to create a monster. The community’s stupidity and bigotry surely added to the disaster – but in the end the creature became a threat. For discussions sake I reference the child killing, master murdering, ugliness of the movies. In the image of that “Frankenstein” I reverence other rotting monstrosities that have been created by legalist fiend factories.

Consider the disaster of Utah’s Legacy Highway; held up for ten years and tens of millions of dollars to satisfy a lawyer’s monstrous hubris.

Consider the boundless resources of Alaska’s North Slope, monstrously withheld from our nation; while soaring energy prices deepen the suffering of poverty, stifle economic growth, and fills the war chests of terrorists.

In Bountiful Utah, a rotting lawyer calls for the release of a murder because policemen, responding to a request to check on the welfare of a woman, found her body stuffed in a freezer. Because the police found the corpse before they had a search warrant, the murderous son, who stuffed the body in his mother’s own freezer, may be freed to prey on society again.

Remember Al Gore’s putrid performance after the 2000 presidential election.

Now in a fiendish exhibition legal monstrosity, lawyers mob the Supreme Court, seeking to force the government to regulate C O2 emissions. We’re soon to be taxed for breathing!

And what about Ramsey Clark? Once the Attorney General of the United States, who has taken his perverse hatred of America to Baghdad seeking to question the legitimacy of the Constitution of Iraq in order to place a monster once more in power there.

When the law turns destructive of those people and institutions it was made to serve, when it begins to decay; our response probably should not be to march to the castle with torches and ropes but we should surely question the integrity of those who misapply their skills to make monsters.