Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Redemption of Christopher Columbus: oh, what might have been


A week or so ago, I was sailing around on the internet & happened upon a wonderful book titled “Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus” by Orson Scott Card, and thought I’d share my discovery with the world! 

What’s that?  The book’s been out there for years already as it was published in 1997?  Doesn’t matter—let the record show that I discovered it.  No one would’ve known of it’s existence until I came along & wrote about it here, save for a few hundred thousand science fiction readers, but what do they know?  They’re not like us, they don’t count!  In fact, let’s just enslave those damn nerds & ship ‘em off to Parts Unknown! 

Okay, you can see where I’m going here (and I’m not alone in my feelings about the man who is responsible for the extinction of the Taino Indians and a slave trade that lasted for centuries—ask any Native American what he thinks of Columbus).  But I have to admit that because of this remarkable ‘what-if’ tale, I’m able to see things a bit more in their historical perspective.

Set sometime in the near future, the story goes back & forth from historical drama in the 15th century (where we learn of Columbus’ origins) to the present, where there is an academic organization known as ‘Pastwatch’.  Technology has developed where computer monitors (called Tru-Sites) are used to look back thru time, for the study of past civilizations and their origins.  

There are people who devote their entire lives to studying one ancient society, or even one historical figure.  (A Muslim named Kemal is a celebrity Pastwatcher, an expert of ancient weather patterns who ascertained not only the origins & sinking of Atlantis, but that Noah--known by his people as Noag, and his ark existed.) 

But this book focuses on a Pastwatcher named Tagiri, an African woman who has made it her life’s work to understand the origins of slavery.  Years of careful study have led her to one man:  Christopher Columbus, who was ultimately responsible for the African & American continents colonization by Europe, and the death and enslavement of millions of their native peoples for several centuries.

So when it’s discovered that scientists may be able to do more than just observe past events, and actually travel backwards in time, Tagiri wants to devise a way to prevent Columbus’ “discovery”.  Her colleagues are shocked; aren’t you afraid of how it will alter our present?

Tagiri says “History is not our prelude; we can’t justify the pain & suffering of people in the past because everything turned out well by the time we came along.  When we believed we could not go back in time & make changes, we could be excused for shedding a tear for them & going on with our happy lives.  But once we know we can go back & help, if we let their suffering go on, this is no golden age we live in.”  

She makes a good argument.  And as the story progresses, Tagiri wonders two things:  what really compelled Columbus to make that historical voyage in the first place, and why is Pastwatch allowing her to proceed with her plans?  The answers to both are startling.  

.         .         .

I don’t know what they teach about Columbus in classrooms today;  I’m from the generation that learned he was a great explorer, looking only for a faster route to the Far East for gold & spices when he discovered the “New World” instead.  In fact, when he arrived & the Tainos befriended him, Columbus wrote this about them in his report to Queen Isabella:  "So tractable, so peaceable, are these people, that I swear to your Majesties there is not in the world a better nation. They love their neighbors as themselves, and their discourse is ever sweet and gentle, and accompanied with a smile; and though it is true that they are naked, yet their manners are decorous and praiseworthy."

He then declared them the property of Spain, ordered their enslavement & began shipping them back to Europe.  The ones who were allowed to remain were forced to mine for gold—and tortured & murdered if they resisted.  In 4 years, a hundred thousand Tainos were dead.

Where was I going with this?  I was wanting to say something in his defense, but it’s lost on me.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Ladies fair I bring to you, lavender with spikes of blue


I just wanted to share something small here.  It may not be of a lot of interest to the world out there, but something occurred last night that gave me much to think about.

Last night I had a dream about my mom; I dreamt I was sitting on the couch at the farmhouse, wondering why I was there & how I’d gotten there.

My mom came out of my parents bedroom (which was off the livingroom, the door at the foot of the upstairs) looking very young and very beautiful, like she did when I was just a kid.  She was all dressed up.  I said “Mom do you have to go?” and she said “Yes honey, I’m going to a wedding.”   And that was it; I woke up.

When I awoke, I laid there for a couple minutes, missing her but savoring the memory of seeing her again, even if it was only in a dream.  Mom’s been gone for over seven years now, taken too soon by cancer, and not a day goes by that I don’t think of her.  It’s no secret how much I miss her still.  We all do.

I chalked up the dream to my niece Drew, to be honest.  She recently sent me her senior photo (Drew graduated from high school this week) and I was struck by her resemblance to Mom, something this young woman’s heard time & time again from all of us.  I guessed seeing this picture, I was especially reminded of it (and of Mom).


Drew’s senior photo; she sure has grown into a beautiful young woman—she also had a special bond with Mom (Nana)

Anyway—as I moved about today, walking to the market and the hardware store, I got to thinking about that dream, Mom telling me she was going to a wedding, and for some reason a particular memory came to mind, where Mom was a matron-of-honor at a wedding back in August 1970. 


The ceremony was for my mom’s nephew, Milford Fluharty.  Milford aka ‘Spunk’ was Mom’s older sister Lois oldest son.  And technically, my first cousin—though I can’t recall ever meeting him.  Aunt Lois had 5 other kids, a couple who we saw infrequently growing up, though sadly, have not seen or heard from in over 35 years.  As my sister Shawn knows, I’ve often thought it strange, us having no knowledge of the whereabouts of these relations.

When I got home, I did a search online for Milford Fluharty, out of curiosity.  I can’t tell you how surprised I was when this old newspaper article appeared from the archives of the Observer Reporter, dated August 18, 1970; it was the same wedding I’d been thinking about.


I didn’t know Dad gave ‘Sis’ (the bride) away, and I loved how it said the matron of honor (Mom) was ‘attired in lavender’; see photo at bottom of this post

(Click on article for full size, or go to archive here)

I knew my sisters would enjoy seeing this, and was prepared to send it to them when I noticed another link in my search results related to Milford Fluharty.  Surprisingly, it was his obituary.

Even more surprisingly, he passed away just a week ago.  His obituary is here.  Rest in peace, cousin.

.         .         .

As corny as it sounds, I can’t help wondering if that dream last night was my mom’s way of communicating something else to me, which led me to this sad news about her nephew.  I don’t know these people, but perhaps I should try reaching out anyway.  Maybe that’s what Mom would’ve wanted.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Richard Dawson is gone, and I was just thinking of the man yesterday


Earlier tonight I heard that Richard Dawson died.  (He was 79, and died of complications from esophageal cancer; I almost didn’t recognize the recent photo of him.)   Rest in peace, Mr. Dawson.

I don’t mean or want to make light of this man’s passing, but can I share something strange here?  I’m serious, this is a weird coincidence.  I wasn’t exactly a fan of the guy; I never enjoyed ‘Hogans Heroes’ (I know, I know—what’s not to love about inept Nazis) and never got into his long-running gameshow ‘Family Feud’ either; so he didn’t exactly strike a chord with me.

So why did I spend early yesterday watching almost TWO HOURS of Richard Dawson clips??  Well, it started out as something else before things morphed into a Saturday morning ‘Dawson-thon’.   A couple weeks ago, after creating that silly video for my niece Sophia (a couple blogs before) I posted it on YouTube with the caption “Once upon a time there was a bored princess & her mildly retarded uncle…”  and a day or so after it was online, my sister wrote me and asked “Would you mind changing that?  Everytime I see that caption with the word retarded I cringe.”   Not wanting to offend anyone, I went back & bleeped out the “mildly retarded uncle” portion;  but in the days that followed, I couldn’t get this out of my craw.  Why was it so wrong?  

I know, I know—people with Down syndrome (or learning disabled, or mentally challenged people) find the word offensive.  In fact, some doctors & teachers are asking what to use now in place of ‘mentally retarded’ to describe a student or patient that is… well, that.  As for me, I just see a world of difference between shouting “HEY RETARD!” at someone versus using “mildly retarded” to describe myself.  I still feel that way, too.

Maybe it’s just another sign I’m growing old; I think I was more ‘socially aware’ when I was younger.  I remember many years ago, my dad would do this bit where he squinted his eyes, jut out his top teeth and go “Ah so… Confucius say… suki yaki!”  One time as I sat there shaking my head in mock disapproval (I admit—I enjoyed it)  he said “You no rikee my China-man?”  I said “Geez Dad!” and he said “What’d I say now?”   I’m starting to feel that way too.

A short time back, I was telling a couple people I work with about my new neighbor, I said “This African American woman moved into the apartment down the hall from me, I think she just may be the hottest chick I’ve ever seen” and a younger coworker said “Doug!” and I said “what, what?” and she said “Did you have to say African-American?!”  I said “Sorry, should I have said black?  Afro-American?” and she replied “You shouldn’t have specified her race at all!” 

 And just a few weeks ago a gay coworker was showing me his new pinky ring (the guy wears a lot of bling) and I made the mistake of saying “Man, that’s pretty gay”; he let me know right away, it’s a big no-no to use the word gay to describe something that’s “gay stereotypical”.   Dammit, I feel like Archie Bunker here!

Okay, okay--so how does this all tie back to Richard Dawson?  Well, yesterday morning I started a blog about my losing battle with political correctness, and was trying to come up with some examples of what once ‘flew’ in my own lifetime, and wouldn’t get off the ground today, and this old ‘Match Game’ show from the early ‘70s came to mind.  I couldn’t have been older than 11-12 when it aired but it stuck with me thru the years; I think because of the Batman & Robin reference (I owned about a zillion Batman comics at the time). 

Anyway—to be honest I was taken aback.  (I didn’t remember it being quite this bad, I guess a lot HAS changed.)  But as crass as it was, Charles Nelson Reilly & Richard Dawson’s answers still made me laugh out loud—and the next thing I know I’m watching YouTube clips of this show for the rest of the morning.

Sorry for the long ramble—and sorry to anyone I’ve offended, past, present & future.   But in all truthfulness, I wish we could all lighten up a bit!

And rest in peace, Richard.  You’ll be missed. 

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