There was something universally silly about the film The Last Samurai. It was a story that could have easily enough been told by an all Japanese cast and the foreign nature of Tom Cruise’s character, while providing the opportunity for contrast with the Japanese cast and setting, seemed like a third wheel on the audience’s attempt to take in the experience of the last Samurais.
While discussing the film with my good friend Jon Twitch (who is from the other side of the political spectrum of me), we both found it rather disturbing. He broadened my horizons by pointing out that even Dances With Wolves could seem like a whitewashing of events in American history as far as it attempted to capture native American life, and to do so felt the need to insert a relatable white figure into the cast. Touche. But there was something different about Dances in the sense that Lt. John Dunbar (Kevin Costner) was central in ways besides merely his interaction with the native Americans. In a very real sense the story did focus on the horrors he suffered in war and the ‘journey westward.’ But nonetheless it does tell something that one of the more popular films ever about native Americans is understood through the eyes of a white hero.
I had also felt that the accusations of The Revenant being a whitewashed telling of native American experience were unfounded. To me, clearly, the purpose of the film was a complex plot of man against nature and man against man, and the unique perspective of DiCaprio’s character was meant to crisscross into a lot of powerful stories from the beginning.
Whitewashing is back in the spotlight with the film The Great Wall which is oddly enough being directed by a Chinese native and features two Chinese stars who have a lot to benefit. I think that while whitewashing is a relevant narrative for the Western world we forget that in the age of globalization one of the goals of these films is to bring together as many stars from divers backgrounds as possible to increase the market share of the film when it goes to China or other places. Never underestimate the willingness of Koreans to see films for the mere presence of a single Korean actor or even there simply being Korean text (such as Moon 2009).
It might behoove us to analyze this from the perspective of the bottom line sometimes, more than thinking about it in terms of a nefarious attempt to interject ‘whiteness’ (for lack of a better word) into the film. Not everything comes down to an americentric interpretation of race and ethnic relations. 🙂
But nonetheless… The Last Samurai was disturbing. Perhaps moreso in the fact that it seemed to be such a great film with powerful symbolism.
One of the symbols, of course, is found at the end when Tom Cruise’s character is observing the death beneath the cherry blossoms hints at the parallels between a Samurai and a cherry blossom. This is not something that is cleverly revealed by the film writer Edward Zwick came up with — it is actually a very old concept that was even included in Japanese textbooks from the late Taisho period.
I dug around the internet to try to find out just how old we can take the cherry blossom as the symbol of the Samurai representing their ephemeral nature and willingness to die unselfishly and with great candor… There are references to the fact that the Japanese kamikaze painted cherry blossoms on their aircraft, and we see that the Judo symbol has a cherry blossom on it, We are assured in what appear to be good articles that the symbolism must be quite old, but sadly there is nothing more concrete that I found in my initial searches.
But as the history of Mon is quite old, we can imagine that this does go back deeper into feudal Japan and may be as old as the concept as the Japanese warrior.
Depending on your perspective, it can be a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ thing that there are drastically different canons, doctrines and schools of thought within Buddhism. Some people find it troublesome, but ultimately you could see it as its own manifestation of upaya (skillful means), and right in line with the original Buddhist doctrine. It is worth noting that there is evidence that even after Mahayana had become distinctive there were monasteries where both the Theraveda & Mahayana monks would live side by side.
Unlike Christianity, doctrinal differences generally did not create too many problems. And it is now that we can say it is fortunate for Christians that there is less emphasis on differences in sect and more emphasis on our universal principles.
There are many ways to relieve suffering. There are many ways to conceptualize the world around us. One can make an argument that ‘right view’ is rather narrow, and I’ll even tend to agree with that, but other than upholding the Five Precepts it is hard to be too concerned with people deviating within the general doctrine of Buddhism. Especially on issues of cosmology where we have a rich heritage of deities in some schools, the deification of Buddha in others and a sense of ‘godlessness’ still in some others, there is plenty of room for people to express themselves and practice how they want.
This is the reason that some people can essentially practice Buddhism as a sort of philosophy and others practice it more in the vein of a religion. This is the strength of Buddhism, and is not a weakness.
If we spend too much time trying to narrowly define it or to argue doctrine within it we are missing the very point. The Buddhist and the ecumenical Christian, the academic and the philosopher should rejoice in the plurality of Buddhist thought.
I recently was perusing a forum and saw an interesting paper brought up by the famous website, 23&Me, which specializes in genetic testing. While the famous claim is often made by Americans that they possess some Native American ancestry, it appears that it might not be true.
According to this paper, it is believed that native American ancestry among European-Americans occurs the most in North Dakota & Louisiana, and here it measures to roughly 4% of the population possessing at least 2% Native American DNA; when the threshold is lessened to 1%, it reaches 8% in Louisiana, but there is no otherwise significant rise… The same paper stated that roughly 1.4% of European-Americans carry African genetic ancestry, and that it is naturally most high in places like South Carolina and, again Louisiana. That number jumps dramatically when the threshold is lowered to 1%, and in some states it reaches nearly 10% of the population, But, on average, it is somewhere between 1 & 3% of all European Americans that carry African American ancestry.
Nearly all of this information comes from Page 11 of The Report.
I did not go into the analysis of Latino & African-American populations because it was largely what we expected: Latinos being a large mix, though perhaps more white than we think in specific populations, but by and large, the average Latino in the US being 65% European. Likewise, the average African American is 24% European. The Latino percentage of European seems somewhat surprising, but I anticipated the number for African Americans.
Some of the conclusions we can make:
– Most of the people who claim to be part Native American are probably not.
– Many of the people who claim to be part Native American, especially in the South, are perpetuating a family myth that was started to probably hide their African slave ancestry.
– Ironically though not surprisingly, it is the traditionally more racist states that have white people who are more likely to possess African-American ancestry.
I would love to see more information on these sorts of things in the future.
Sexual politics has become a thing dominating modern politics for the last two decades. The irony is that modern man seems to always complain about the lack of privacy that we enjoy, yet at the same time these issues are pressured to become public affairs. There are massive attempts to manipulate public opinion and to force certain agendas down our throats and so, it is with some degree of regret, that I find myself in the world of people commenting on the highly personal.
It is, no doubt, a victory of misguided or nefarious forces to turn the highly private into the highly public, and to shift discussion towards a decidedly individual topic. But, nonetheless, we must present our opinions respectfully when it is relevant, and stand up for our positions.
Some quotations form James Kalb I caught off of a great Tweeter’s feed:
"Those who say sexual love is 'bigger than both of us' are more right than they know." http://t.co/yI409Ivhsz
— Wagner Clemente Soto (@wcsoto) October 14, 2014
The message here is one that should be rather clear… That to some degree our sexuality does have greater ramifications, and thereby it isn’t some pleasant choice that we make, but it is rather always bearing a large impact on those around us.
Perhaps it could, in some universe, be a private affair, but that is certainly not our universe, and it is certainly not even the will of those who actively engage in sexual politics who attempt to tie everything back to an issue of our individual sexualities.
And it is to them that the suggestion ought to be made that the choices which we make as people do have large impacts on everyone that is around us. Thus, we see why there has always been an attachment to conservative viewpoints on the sexuality of people — to avoid the more pervasive, negative impacts that sexuality can have upon vast numbers of people.
The notion is simple, and something that nearly all of us understand intuitively: to avoid problems and confusions over things we limit the scope of people allowed to use them. Not because we hate people, but because we understand that mistakes are regularly made and the more that people are involved in them the more confusing the situations become, and the greater risk of disaster exists.
Thus: sexuality, regardless of what we want, is ideally restricted to the confines of monogamous relationships that are public and officiously sanctioned.
Love is, as they say, ironically larger than just you or me, it is larger than just any single couple or any single set of desires or preferences, but because of those far ranging impacts, it is something that ought to be minimalized and played down whenever possible.
And it is likewise important to remember that the basis of things that we choose ought not be to obtain pleasure or personal gratification, but ought to likewise be aimed at having a positive impact on those around us. And that such choices are a superior reflection on ourselves when we prioritize a greater social harmony over a personal indulgence.
It is precisely for reasons like these that I have given up alcohol.
I don’t think any of these statements should be treated as controversial, but God knows, even when speaking in the least offensive terms possible, it is common for fault to be found in any words on the topic.
We are shocked by the number of young people from Western backgrounds joining ISIS, we tell ourselves. Often times these are the sons and daughters of immigrants from Muslim states, and somehow this lessens the impact of the blow… We are able through these stories to further other the Muslims living among us, and we are able to somehow ascribe to them all some nefarious, radical Islam that is working against us. But I think many of us, still, are not that shocked, and we are reluctant to admit that there is more going on than what is seen at the surface.
Part of the confusing story runs below:
Dozens of French teenagers, including a young Jewish girl, have fled the country to join Islamic State militants fighting in Syria and Iraq, French intelligence has revealed.
On the day she left for Syria, Sahra strode along the train platform with two bulky schoolbags slung over her shoulder. In a grainy image caught on security camera, the French teen tucks her hair into a headscarf.
Just two months earlier and a two-hour drive away, Nora, also a teen girl, had embarked on a similar journey in similar clothes. Her brother later learned she’d been leaving the house every day in jeans and a pullover, then changing into a full-body veil.
Neither had ever set foot on an airplane. Yet both journeys were planned with the precision of a seasoned traveler and expert in deception, from Sahra’s ticket for the March 11 Marseille-Istanbul flight, to Nora’s secret Facebook account and overnight crash pad in Paris.
The teenagers travelling to join ISIS come from all walks of life, and although most are first and second generation immigrants from Muslim countries, many come from white French backgrounds.
Despite ISIS repeatedly expressing of deep hatred of Jews, there was even a Jewish girl, according to a security official who spoke anonymously because rules forbid him to discuss open investigations.
What brings teenagers raised in largely moderate homes and a Jewish girl to the ranks of ISIS?
The Daily Mail would have you believe that there are incredible recruiting networks that are able to pull in the youth through brainwashing, but let’s be frank with ourselves… It may be easy to convince a few, random loners to leave their homes, but certainly there is something else at work here when we are seeing Western youths measured in the hundreds (if not thousands) turning their backs on our societies and exiting.
The fact is that there is something else that pushes them away from our society, and takes away all desire for the children of Muslim immigrants to assimilate, and it is something that many of us Western kids felt even in our youths as non-Muslims.
There is a stench of decay — a stench particularly present among the youth, who are the most vulnerable to the promotions of pop culture. Drug abuse, sexual indulgence and materialism are always things that strike hard when we are younger and their grip on us loosens as we age and become more mature — one cannot help but imagine that such an influence, as it has increased in America & Europe and is veritably being promoted through pop culture, has had a profound affect on the psychology of young people. Thus, radical rebellions against this are popping up, and some are even going so far as to join ISIS.
This is something that is ultimately predictable, and has been predicted, by historians before us. The idea that when there is a cultural decay within the society, and the values of it slip away, the society gains more friction and more division, as well as becomes weak and splintered. One portion of the society indulges in drugs, another in sex, another in alcohol ,another in food and gluttony; and as the individual stands alone against the burgeoning swell of forces around them, they seek out cults and radical expressions to affirm some sense of meaning.
There is no graspable identity to being Canadian, American, French or Australian anymore, and there is no sense of mission or purpose. What there is, though, is a profound sense of meaninglessness that comes from being left to one’s own devices in a society that believes in liberty and diversity, and in this vacuum only a sense of indulgence and materialism has become prominent.
There really is no surprise that people would choose to not be Canadian, American, etc., and would rather choose to be something that is a strong manifestation of identity or meaning, and for some people this involves membership in a subculture and still for others it has meant even going so far as to join radical organizations like ISIS. Ironic though it may be, one of the things that propels forward both the far right groups throughout USA & Europe is the same that popularizes Islamic extremism.
The phenomena is only going to continue and worsen until the time where a major cultural overhaul and reevaluation occurs in the soul of Western civilization.
All we can really do is sit and wait. But let’s not be surprised…
Given a choice between being a 21 year old regular Parisian, Londoner or New Yorker whose existence consists of empty materialism, drug abuse, sex and ‘seeking mammon,’ or being a person with a mission, a cause, and a purpose… What would you choose?
Some can find meaning through the military or their Church group, but for some the postmodern society is so repellent that only those subcultures which are extreme rebellions can offer up any solace.
The lesson is: when we give no sense of great meaning or cultural identity to our youth they are bound to seek it out elsewhere, and in an expression that might be upsetting.
Yesterday I was out at a cafe with a good friend and we contemplated the distressing nature of fear of animals… we found it rather distressing that there are many modern peoples with a fear or antipathy towards animals, or people who even just view animals as somehow ‘out of place.’ I fear that this might even be a growing phenomena for young people around the world today.
All of human history, until the last 100 years, has been characterized by the overwhelming majority of people being close & intimate with a variety of domesticated animals. And just to give a shout out to our veg friends: in some instances the labor & proximity with these animals did not even involve a meat based diet, but the animals were in better circumstances than any factory farm and were used merely for their byproducts like milk or eggs, a la Hindu or Buddhist communities…
Point being: our agrarian or maritime communities were incredibly dependent on the living creatures around them, and in their daily lives there was a close proximity to a variety of animals, whether wild or domesticated.
The very symbolism and language used by our ancestors was one that was colored with animals & nature.
The fact that now there are modern children with unrealistic perspectives on animals, and even sometimes fear of dogs they find to be ‘big,’ is something that I find sad. I think it is a grave disservice to children that they do not grow up in an environment where they have been able to spend time positively with animals — whether as pets or adventures into nature where they come into closer contact. I do sympathize with people who have concerns about the humanity of keeping pets, naturally, but these people get a pass in the sense that it is their very concern for the well being of creatures that has influenced their decision making — and such a process will, no doubt, leave a relatively positive perception of animals to the people around them that they influence…
I remember a Star Trek episode where the children on the Enteprise, during class, were playing with puppies and a variety of animals, as in the future it was seemed to still be incredibly important for children to develop appreciation and proximity to animals. Similarly, I’d support any curriculum that could facilitate familiarizing children with animals & giving them positive experiences from which to grow themselves into being less fearful and more conscious of the animals around them.
We need to take great pains to ground ourselves… To be more humble, to be more kind; to be more considerate of others, and to be practiced in our high moral standards…
A big part of that is to also be compassionate and kind to animals, and to pass that on to others, and perhaps this is something that even affects us more deeply than we initially consider it to.
A lot of people are interested in getting into podcasts but the sheer number of podcasts is daunting, and finding the right podcast & approach to it is sometimes difficult — below is the best information I can provide after about 4-5 years of listening to podcasts. Feel free to skim t his & jump around.
First, PODCAST APP: iTunes does the trick. But, my favorite app ever for podcasts has been Player.FM. The categories are neatly divided, and without paying a single dime you can subscribe up to like 15 podcasts I think it is, and set it to automatically download onto your device whenever connected to WiFi, etc. Of course, you can also go back to old episodes of podcasts, ‘pin’ them (mark them as of interest) and they will download for later use.
I actually emailed the developer once with a question and got a response within the hour, which struck me as amazing.
The only issue with this is not due to the app but due to the fact that sometimes when you are downloading a podcast that was originally uploaded in like, 2012, the downloads are prohibitively slow or unavailable.
Now, here are the podcasts I highly recommend:
(Note: For some of the chronologically organized history podcasts it is smart to listen to them somewhat in order; sometimes the really old episodes from years ago are very hard to download, so maybe just start 10 episodes back from the most recent and push forward.)
(Also note, the only podcasts listed here are all very professional and I have zero issues with their info. None of this is conspiracy, and when opinions or conjecture are given, they are careful to present it as opinion / conjecture.)
History According to Bob: Bob is a History professor and has great credentials; he seems to focus largely on military history, but he never gives just the military background, but it is clear that this is his Bread & Butter. He is very unique because he usually covers three topics at a time, often making 1 update per week on each topic; for instance, he is now covering Carthage, the Mexican-American War & WWI.
He does an absolutely fabulous job on describing battles, and he is always great at telling you what each military was composed of, and often times, what soldiers were armed with. Amazing detail in the battles. Episodes usually 10 minutes.
In Our Time (with Melvyn Bragg): Official production of BBC, episodes have 4 guests, always they are professors; they cover a specific historical event, a specific idea, or a specific person, and they do everything from ‘the Crusades’ to ‘Positivism’ to ‘A history of Commuting,’ etc. They are usually very, very balanced and well made, and the experts aren’t afraid to argue from time to time. Melvyn Bragg is terrific because he doesn’t let bias get in the way. Episodes are about 40 minutes; they usually end up having like a new episode every week over the course of 5-6 months, and then they have zero material for the rest of the year (just like a TV show). Feel free to browse the archives and pick out stuff to download.
There is a separate podcast listed as the IOT: Archive from the BBC that has all of the older episodes available for download; find your favorite topics and listen, I recommend.
Stuff You Missed In History Class: hosted two women and quite popular; they tend to cover history within the last few hundred years; they also do one specific event or one specific person, and jump around. Often times, they are little known events or people that had large impacts. They do not do much military history, and they go out of their way to cover stories of Women & Minorities, which is refreshing. Their episodes tend to be about 20-40 minutes, sometimes divided into parts.
The downside is that they have short advertisements.
I sometimes skip them if I am not interested in the topic, but I find myself pleasantly surprised even when I think I won’t be interested.
Egyptian History Podcast: Hosted by a very smart Egyptologist; really funny guy. His voice is often dull, but he is entertaining. He is thorough and all of his sources are academic. I highly trust his material. He’s been at it for 2 years, and isn’t even nearly done with ancient Egypt, and has even said he might even do this up until modern Egyptian history, which would just be astounding. Podcast is usually over 15 and under 30 minutes.
British History Podcast: the host is probably the most colorful of all of the “____ History Podcasts,” and his academic rigor is unprecedented. Every podcast is thorough and scrapes the bottom of the barrel of ‘what we know’ about the period. He sometimes adds sound effects which make me chuckle, and the only annoying part is sometimes he does a several minute pitch for becoming a supporter. He also has episodes which focus on the everyday lives of people at this time and takes great pains to get that information. Episodes tend to be 20-30 minutes. Chronological order.
Byzantine History Podcast: Great host, great content. Just like BHP, he is honest, rigorous and extremely devoted to the topic, often covering only one Emperor or event at a time. Episodes tend to be 20-30 minutes. he goes into some interesting theological details sometimes. Chronological order.
Ottoman History Podcast: This is very unique in the sense that it is not in chronological order, and the content focuses on doing interviews with Grad Students or Professors who are experts in a very specific topic. Sometimes it is about a famous historical event, but often times it has a sociological aspect, with content like ‘Ottoman Prisons.’ It is unpredictable, but I have really enjoyed a lot of the episodes. They tend to run a little longer at around 40-50 minutes.
They once randomly put up an episode in Turkish. Needless to say, I have no idea what that was about, but do not be totally shocked if that happens; though like every other podcast is english and you do not have to have any knowledge of Turkish at all.
There are two Roman History Podcasts; I forget which one is good, but one was VERY seminal and inspired Egyptian History podcast. Find that one. There are various other ____ History Podcasts I have never listened to but plan to do so, but do check those out and let me know if they are good.
Islam: Hands down the best English language podcast on Islam is BBM (formerly, ILM [Islamic Learning Materials], now called Being A Better Muslim). The host, Muttaqi Ismail, is entertaining and very knowledgeable, and he puts a lot of work into the podcast. He often covers very specific, historic and theological topics, but sometimes he also does a podcast just about something like ‘marriage,’ and while you might think to skip this because you are not a Muslim or think it is just going to be a sermon, don’t. The guy will undoubtedly cover various Islamic views on marriage, and he will base all of his opinions on the Quran and the Haddiths.
It’s a great source of info, IMO. Episodes tend to be nearly an hour long, and tend to come out once every week or 2.
BTW, Muttaqi Ismail is a moderate Muslim, perhaps a little more conservative, but definitely not radical. He is also an African-American that was born and raised as a Sunni Muslim and went to an Islamic school in West Africa as a teenager. He is married and has 3 sons, I believe, and a daughter I think. He speaks from a very personal perspective and engages the audience very much, so this background information, if you do not know it, is relevant to his perspectives.
Daily Audio Bible is the only podcast you’ll ever need if you want to hear the Bible. It is hosted by Brian Hardin who has an amazing voice & delivery, and it truly releases a 25-40 minute episode every single day. If you want the Bible in your life, this is THE podcast. Covers a portion of Old Testament, New Testament, Psalms and a Proverb every day; his analysis is, of course, Christian. There is a prayer line at the end of each episode with prayer requests.
Brian Hardin is an ordained Anglican minister, but was adorned in Uganda during some missionary work he did there; he regularly organizes trips to Israel in addition to touring and missionary work. He is a family man and lives in Tennessee. His wife Jill sometimes hosts the show when he is sick or otherwise preoccupied.
There are several other good podcasts that cover Christian theology & history; I do not listen to these much, but they often are very specific.
Research Religion does hour long episodes often dealing with contemporary religious issues; I rarely listen to it but the material is sometimes great, and its always hosted by experts.
PBS News Hour delivers good, reliable podcasts, but some filler and boring stuff, too. Often times 5-10 minutes. I skip half the episodes that do not interst me.
BBC Radio 4 Today is pretty good for this, too, same vein. I skip half of the episodes.
War Podcast Feed (made by RN Drive, out of Australia; sometimes just billed as “RN: War” or some variant); the best and most thorough on current events regarding warfare. They usually have very up to date reports on conflicts, and often have good experts. The show itself seems to be a bit Left Wing but they balance this by often having right wing guests.
Keep in mind with current events podcasts, some of these are literally irrelevant after 12-18 hours. You gotta listen while its hot.
I still haven’t found exactly the right mix of current events / news that I want, and perhaps I will look for more in the future and let you know, but overall those ones listed are good.