Posted in Uncategorized, Writing

About Time And That One Guy Who Sailed in 1492…

I have the day off thanks to Columbus. Probably the only job I’ve ever had that gave me Columbus day off. It isn’t much of a holiday here. Controversial to some, and to others it is a “bank holiday,” or an excuse for some places to close. We have no statues in my town, and do no parades here. I worked for a bank here and I always had to work on Columbus day. So, it is a quasi holiday, it is there, but it isn’t really celebrated, at least not much here.

I realize there are places that do, like New York has a parade, and I read it is a big deal in Puerto Rico. I have Italian heritage. I do not feel especially threatened if they get rid of this holiday. Columbus was born in Italy, he was Italian, but he served Spain, and died in Spain.

He also never set foot on the continent. So, his “discovery of America” if you discount that he thought he found a short cut to India, and that the Vikings as well as the indigenous people were here before him, just never really rang true.

However, I have also read a lot of articles today attributing genocide and all the native populations being decimated by disease and everything that came after Columbus being attributed to him.

The deaths of the Taino people on Hispaniola can be laid at his door. I think it is a stretch to add all the rest to him. He couldn’t have foreseen the small pox epidemic that decimated the north American tribes. He didn’t even set foot here, remember? He thought he was in India the whole time. He would have had no way of knowing the far reaching repercussions his “discovery” would have, and there is no sane way to blame him for all the atrocities that would come later.

He was a guy with three ships who underestimated the size of the world, and shared the mentality of his time that “savages” were lesser men. We can think of that in horror now, but in his day it was quite normal.

Rudyard Kipling of “Just so Stories”  and the “Jungle Book” fame had some writings describing ethnic people in a kind of racist or patronizing way. I still love some of these stories, although his British Imperialism now colors them all in a tainted sort of way. And it was this view of superiority, that Europeans had a god given right to govern the lesser peoples and guide them to being civilized that is so hard to stomach now.

This was a time where people looked to the church for answers, not science. And, it was a debate whether these people had souls or not,  because they weren’t mentioned in the Bible. It was a different time, and to say Columbus and his men were ignorant would be obvious. They knew nothing about these lands, or their people, and made a lot of assumptions. Of course, not knowing anything about germs, and how disease and immune systems work, they would have no idea that they were spreading disease just by coming there.

You cannot assume 21st century morality and science and put it on a person of another era. It is like expecting a cave man to know how to drive a car. People should be examined in context with their time, as the culture they are in will of course, naturally affect their thinking and how they act toward others.

In our current time, we act differently. There is an island, off the coast of India that has an indigenous tribe that has not been directly interacted with except for a handful of times. They want to be left alone and attack on site and the government of India has forbade anyone from going to the island or even within a certain amount of feet of it.

Besides respecting the islanders desire to be left alone, it was also indicated that the decision took into account that any interactions could cause disease and a ravaging of the population, also the language barrier and hostility.

A couple fisherman were killed and dismembered because they drifted too near the island, so the safety of not only the inhabitants but also of the outsiders had to be considered.

Instead of trying to civilize or bring these people to Jesus, it was decided that it was best to just leave them alone. I feel that some people seem to think Columbus could have or should have been capable of making a decision like that without the necessary information that the modern government of India has currently.

This is in fact preposterous. You can’t assume someone from that era can understand how disease works. In addition, the religious culture of the period, you have to bring people to Jesus or they die in eternal torment. It was your duty as a Christian to bring them to Christ if possible. As far as slavery is concerned, there was some that thought the inhabitants did not have souls, so enslaving them was okay.

The Catholic church eventually decided they did indeed have souls and asked the Spanish King to not treat the people harshly and to bring them to Christ.

However, this was decided after Columbus’s voyages and his crew did not always obey him when he implored them to not be too harsh, and it was apparent that none of these native people’s had weapons or a way to protect themselves from the invaders.  Unfortunately, as often happens, the strong destroy the weak.

The Europeans of this age were just as savage if not more so than the islanders.  The islanders were just living their lives and did not ask for any of this.  I feel their pain does deserve to be recognized, and I think our society still has much to learn.

The British and the United States that came after treated its native peoples horribly. But, I cannot realistically lay that at Columbus’ door. Sure, this all followed his voyage, but, realistically, there is just no way that he could have foreseen all of this. That is a lot of historical anguish to lay at one man’s door. Columbus wasn’t Hitler. He wasn’t even Mussolini.

He was kind of a Charles Lindbergh of his day. By the way, Lindbergh said some awful things about Jewish people. People can do amazing things, and still be jerks. People can do awful things, and still be celebrated for the things they did right.

Should Columbus be celebrated? I am not sure. He did travel a long way in three small ships. I probably couldn’t have done that. In fact, I know I couldn’t back then, being a  woman.  But, that is something. If he hadn’t stumbled onto the islands, someone eventually would have. The Europeans would have landed eventually, bringing their diseases with them. Maybe the name would have been different.

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Posted in Fiction, Life, Writing

Merry Christmas, Happy belated birthday to Philip K Dick and Michael Moorcock, and of course, Humphrey Bogart and any others I may have forgotten —Part 1

Okay, with the title out of the way, this is my belated post that I mentioned I would write. The one where I go on and on about Dick, and mention Moorcock, but mostly talk about Mr. Dick.  I assure you this post is about writing, and ideas, and fantasy and science fiction.

The reason for the Bogart mention, is besides the fact I am a huge fan of his movies, he was also a huge fan of writers and writing. So, I think a happy birthday is definitely in order, besides the old detective genre of movies has definitely affected how Hollywood portrays some of Philip K Dick’s stories. Blade Runner and Total Recall both have a taste of them, Blade Runner especially, has almost a feel of a Maltese Falcon type of feel with the detective/policeman voice over. My brain which is full of associations paused and just thought, ‘Harrison Ford, Blade Runner, Millennium Falcon, Star Wars, Maltese Falcon, Bogart.’ It can be truly wondrous how the brain works as I have recently seen Rogue One, and binged West World, my mind is just full of interesting connections right now.

In fact, Rogue One resurrected Peter Cushing much like an episode of TV did Bogart, to reprise a role. West World owes much in ideas and even its existence to Blade Runner, more than the original West World, which heavily influenced The Terminator which starred Schwarzenegger who starred in Total Recall, which was based on We Can Remember it For You Wholesale by Dick.

My brain is spinning from the universal connections some of these ideas have. To write something that permeates society so deeply and shows up so unexpectedly in so many different ways is I think many writer’s dream. I would say all writers but that begs an arrogance that I don’t possess.

I can’t know what all writer’s want, but I know what I would like. I don’t need fame, money is nice, but being rich has never been a goal of mine except as a child perhaps, but what I do crave is having a sense of permanence. Leaving something behind when I am gone, a deep carving in the rock saying ‘I was here. I lived, and I mattered, and this is what I stood for, this is what was important to me, this is my contribution to society. to my family, to myself, to the world.’

I think from what I have read of Philip K Dick, that he felt similarly. I can’t say the same because I will never know, but from the quotes I found, from the stories I read, he had a deep philosophical bent, which I also like to think I have in my writing, and meaning and legacy seem to have been a big deal. He had an existential streak that I also have, where the meaning of being alive, what it means to be human, what it means to exist was in the background of many of his stories sharing a strong strand of what does it mean to be real, what is reality, another question that I love to deal with. He was so effective at these two questions that I have found them, along with what is true, or the truth,  are the back bone of every story he wrote.

I received as a present a few years back a great book called the Philip K Dick Reader, it has all the short stories in one place. I know I have mentioned this in other posts, but I am a big fan of omnibus volumes.  I had seen the movies, I think Minority Report had come out sometime before I got the book and I expressed a desire to read the story. It always interests me in where adaptations decide to diverge and what they leave out, and add in. I have read Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, and complained throughout the Depp movie  that was based on it because it just shared the name pretty much but not much else, so it is a double edged sword, knowing the actual stories, sometimes it ruins the suspension of disbelief that is required to make it real.

But, with Dick, even when it diverges, it is like the essence, the reason behind the story creeps in. Hollywood cannot get rid of the message, it is in too deep. Total Recall is a good example. It has a lot of 80’s action movie and heavy cussing in it, it is a Verhoeven film more than a Dick story, by far. But the thing is, the actual story is so short and I can honestly say they needed to add more to the plot to make it work. It couldn’t be faithfully adapted into a two hour movie, and that is largely the case with Dick’s work.

In the end, the story has an ambiguous ending, you can’t definitively say whether he actually was a secret agent that went to Mars, or whether he was a vegetable at the vacation place, you can interpret it either way, and the movie stayed true to that. Both interpretations work which makes you question what is real, which is the question behind the story, and the movie itself, despite all the explosions and distractions that were added to make it flashy.

Minority Report I felt was mostly true to the story, I expected it to be further removed honestly because that is the trend with Dick’s work, and in general. The movie Adaptation deals with this quite well, actually. Basically it is a writer’s job and purpose to create, to recreate another person’s dream and be totally faithful to it is hard, because in the end we all want to create something new. It is a struggle because is any idea new, then becomes a question in of itself.

I also binge watched season two of The Man In the High Castle. This is an amazon show, so if you have prime it is easy to watch because you have all ready paid for it in a sense by being a member. You don’t have to buy it again, or pay for it and it is all out there to watch, no waiting each week for an episode to air. I didn’t quite enjoy season 1, so I wasn’t eagerly awaiting season 2. In fact, I only watched it because it came out around Mr Dick’s birthday, so I felt like maybe I should at least see it. And, you know what, season 2 was actually very very good.

It even had some Dick-ish themes going along in the background. What is reality? What is the truth? What is good what is evil? Can doing a horrible deed end up being the right thing to do? I haven’t read The Man in the High Castle, unfortunately, I have heard that the series diverges a great deal, and that isn’t surprising. But, I can say, that I felt the message behind it, the feeling, the questions in the background, are true to his work. So, the writers kept that in. I am starting to wonder if it is possible to remove this quality from his stories, as even the most crazy adaptation has it insidiously there, somewhere in the background, you just can’t remove it.

Back to Blade Runner, because it also isn’t a particular faithful adaptation. I have read Do Androids Dream of Electronic Sheep?, it is a great story. Much like We Can Remember it For You Wholesale, it is short, and I can see the need to add much to the plot to make it a full length film. Dick loved Blade Runner, and saw it as an improvement on his story. The fact that it didn’t replicate his story didn’t seem to bother him, he in fact was honored that the creative team managed to spin this story out of his own. Ultimately, the question behind both stories remain, what does it mean to  be human? What does it mean to be alive? West World the TV show deals with the same questions as well as the movie AI, which was based on a Brian Aldiss story, which I have also read.

Yes, the movie again departs heavily from the source, but it is also a series of short vignettes. So, of course it would diverge by necessity.Aldiss was annoyed by the merging of his story with the story of Pinocchio, but again, Pinocchio deals with what it means to be human, to be real, what makes him a puppet and how he eventually becomes a real boy. When there are no more real boys, will the close approximation of one be a real one as it is the most real one in existence?

The same questions are asked and the story of the other, and how we treat who we regard as the other is dealt with similarly. Whoever is considered less than is seen as a threat, and ultimately considered disposable. The African slaves are an example of this in real life, the American Indians, the Australian aborigines, anytime someone is considered the ‘Less Than’ by others they are treated horribly and sometimes eradicated as a perceived threat. We are threatened by things we cannot understand, and robots, computers, androids are good representations of this fear, of this irrational destructiveness we have toward the unknown or the misunderstood of the perceived ‘Less Than.’

We can use science fiction to look at these problems in a way that gets around any programming we may have received in our lives. You can have false beliefs toward a whole group of people than watch someone mistreat a robot on a TV show or in a book, and just maybe it can open your mind, and cause you to question the very belief that you think of as reality even though what you witnessed on TV or in a book is outlandish and far from real.

By taking it out of reality, it allows us as people to question reality. By being supremely unreal and untrue, we can learn real truth.I feel that Dick knew that, and played on that in his works. A Scanner Darkly deals directly with what is real, perceived reality versus a definitive reality. I think what is real is one of fiction’s greatest questions and it can be asked in so many interesting ways.