On: “Is Bernie Sanders a Socialist?”

William Blum, (and then) Manuel García, Jr.

On Feb 5, 2016, Bill Blum (BBlum6@aol.com) wrote:

Anti-Empire Report, February 5, 2016

Blum’s discussion of Sanders, in the above, was published by Counter Punch:

Is Bernie Sanders a “Socialist”?



“It appears that the German and Japanese people only relinquished their imperial culture and mindset when they were bombed back to the stone age during World War II. Something similar may be the only cure for the same pathology that is embedded into the very social fabric of the United States.” [Bill Blum]

This is the essential fact that I came to long ago. I think this a universal truth, like “power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” It is probably embedded in our genetic coding. Richard Dawkins’ book “The Selfish Gene” would lead you to that realization.

Ambrose Bierce wrote “Politics, n. strife of interests masquerading as a contest of principles.” After having read Dawkins, one could put the adjective “selfish” in front of “interests” in Bierce’s definition, though it is a bit redundant.

On your earlier points about short memory and/or attention span in public political speech, John Kenneth Galbraith said: “Nothing is so admirable in politics as a short memory.” In his day this was understood to be irony.

I found the writings of Toni Judt (1948-2010) to be the clearest on the use to the labels “socialist” versus “social democrat,” and the value of applying that political approach in the U.S. (the closest to it now in the U.S. is Bernie).

Judt was a historian of the 20th century, he grew up in a Jewish Marxist Eastern European family that emigrated to England, and he benefited from post WWII English socialism to become a university scholar and writer, eventually teaching at NYU. Judt was superb.

If the insights and attitudes that Judt represented could become mainstream in this country then it wouldn’t require a WWII-type holocaust to reorient the U.S. social fabric.

Kind regards,


Hi Manuel,

I found the writings of Toni Judt to be the clearest on the use to the labels “socialist” versus “social democrat,” and the value of applying that political approach in the U.S. (the closest to it now in the U.S. is Bernie). [MG,Jr.]

He’s the closest to what? An example of the uncertainty surrounding the two concepts?



Judt’s point is that the word “socialist” is too prejudiced in the American public mind (from decades of anti-communist propaganda) as equal to “communist” = “bad” = dictatorial = enslaving. Rather than fruitlessly trying to correct this imprinted misrepresentation, Judt believed American style “social democrats” should use that label, and emphasize their preference for popular democracy (as opposed to Citizens’ United style corporate “democracy” = oligarchy), which was aimed for social benefit.

The social democracy that reigned in Western Europe from 1945 to 1975 was demonstrably the most successful form of socialism ever practiced, where it is clearly understood that it was a “compromise,” it was capitalism restrained by socialist goals.

The fundamental point here is that political pragmatism motivated by socialist ideals has been proven to work for the good of many millions of people for at least three decades: “social democracy.” On the other hand, the imposition of ideological purity on populations (in the name of a higher and future good) was a failure that has poisoned the words “communist” and “socialist” in billions of minds around the world.

The quibbling by comfortable armchair leftists about whether Bernie Sanders is a “real” socialist or not is just silly. He is obviously a social democrat of the classic European post WWII mold, and that is by far the best alternative now realistically available to the American electorate.

“In a land without sheep, a goat is a prized possession.”

Manuel Garcia, Jr.


My comments above are also my response to the articles below (also from 5 February 2016).

When Chivalry Fails: St. Bernard and the Machine

Is a “Socialist” Really Unelectable? The Potential Significance of the Sanders Campaign


In Conclusion:

Hillary Clinton is the past, she is the candidate of the people who run the country (the parasites of the status quo).

Bernie Sanders is the candidate of the people who are the country, and of the generation that will be the country for the next three to four decades.

Bernie Sanders has accomplished what no leftist and ultra-leftist organization, big or small, has been able to do since at least the presidential campaign of George McGovern, and probably since the Great Depression: motivate millions of Americans to become politically active for a socialist agenda (an agenda of “social democracy”).

The carping by ideologues to the orthodox far left from Sanders only highlights how far removed from reality they remain, where reality in this case means having any significant impact on the pubic political consciousness, and any practical effect in causing some substantive improvement in the lives of the American people.

As Jorge Semprún (1923-2011) learned from an old communist wise man, when they were both imprisoned in the Buchenwald concentration camp, dialectical materialism “is the art and technique of always landing on your feet.” The criticisms of Sanders by leftist ideologues strikes me as a nervous dance in which the authors are trying to arrive at positions they can later point to as justified by the subsequent course of events (“I told you so.”). But, as they haven’t a clue as to what that course of events will be, they are either nervously equivocal and prolix, or stridently sarcastic to cloak that nervousness: will they land on their feet?

The hundreds of millions of Americans who work for a living, struggle to raise families, and desperately want a fairer political economy that is not a myriad of interlocking rip-offs that feed off of them are showing themselves ready to listen to the message of Bernie Sanders. They are not concerned with leftist orthodoxy and ideological purity, they want pragmatic social democracy now. Also, they have zero interest in the nuanced critiques of avocational leftists who are anxious to land on the feet, whatever happens.

From Son Cubano to Cowboy Rumba

I just love the sound of the musical instrument the tres in traditional Cuban music, the son de Oriente.

Pancho Amat: Cuba’s Tresero Mayor

Tresero: Pepito Domingo

Hear how elegantly the tres is played in the following performances (El Carretero, Bachata Rosa, Lágrimas Negras) by the trio Son del Patio (all wonderful musicians). ¡Arriba guajiro!

Tresero: Ernesto Luis Gil

For the guitaristas among you who may be intrigued by the tres, here is a tutorial:

How to play Lágrimas Negras on the Tres Cubano

Lágrimas Negras has come a long way since Miguel Matamoros wrote it in 1925. Here is a live version (from 2015) at the Bodeguita del Medio (where I ate a lunch — moros y cristianos — in 1959/1960), in La Habana, Cuba. If you like flute playing, and a mixed group of instrumentalists and singers, you will enjoy this.

Lágrimas Negras – La Bodeguita del Medio en La Habana, Cuba – Grupo Manantial

This group is fronted by three sensational young women performers (instrumental and vocal), and backed by a bunch of old guys (who know what they’re doing) on guitars and bongos.

The following selection has a wonderful flute solo. Don’t you think the young flute students you know would be captivated by it?

Chan Chan – Grupo Manantial – Bodeguita del Medio – La Habana, Cuba

Grupo Manantial has six instrumentalists and six singers — with only six people. If you like writing songs for bands, you might find it interesting to think about how these songs were arranged.

Bailando con Grupo Manantial (short version)

Bailando con Grupo Manantial (longer version — on a different day)

I very highly recommend the book, Cuba and its Music, by Ned Sublette (Chicago Review Press, 2004). You can read numerous reviews of this book at the Amazon site (link below).

Cuba and its Music is a great book. It shows how the music of Africa came to be the basis of popular music worldwide: brought west by the slave trade; preserved, mixed and transformed (by absorbing Western influences, and evolving over time) despite oppression; and how it radiated from Cuba throughout the hemisphere. This book is filled with insights and connections, here are two:

The sarabande dance form that appears as movements in suites by composers like Johann Sebastian Bach and George Frideric Handel was an influence in Europe of what was originally an African rhythmic form associated with the god/deity/archetype Zarabanda.

Handel – Sarabande (1703-1706)

Miguelito Valdés – Zarabanda (1967)

The seeds of New Orleans music came from Havana (in the mid-late 18th century). The American rhythm and blues (R&B) song “Louis Louis,” by Chuck Berry, is basically a cha-cha-cha.

The True Lyrics to Louie Louie (by The Kingsmen)

/ cha-cha-cha – cha-cha / cha-cha-cha – cha-cha / cha-cha-cha – cha-cha /

Ned Sublette is quite an amazing person. “Ned Sublette (born 1951 in Lubbock, Texas) is an American composer, musician, record producer, musicologist, and author. Sublette studied Spanish Classical Guitar with Hector Garcia at the University of New Mexico and with Emilio Pujol in Spain. He studied composition with Kenneth Gaburo at the University of California, San Diego. He grew up in Portales, New Mexico, moved to New York City in 1976, and has worked with John Cage, LaMonte Young, Glenn Branca, and Peter Gordon.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ned_Sublette)

The following is a performance by Ned Sublette of a song he wrote, and which has been covered by Willie Nelson, among others.

Ned Sublette – Cowboys Are Frequently Secretly

Next is Ned Sublette’s brilliant “Cowboy Rumba” merengue-conga version of a country-and-western classic.

Ned Sublette – Ghost Riders in the Sky

For comparison, here is the original version sung by Burl Ives (I still have Burl Ives 45’s from the 1950s — in yellow vinyl!).

Burl Ives – The original recording of Ghost Riders In The Sky (1949)

In this next number, Ned Sublette is backed by NG La Banda (“Cowboy Rumba” about booze). I understand this song. (Forget the video, just close your eyes and feel the music.)

Feelin’ No Pain ~ Ned Sublette

Next, some avant garde music by Ned Sublette with the Persuasions — “yes, those Persuasions (!)”:

Ned Sublette – There is no light at the end of the tunnel (silver and red)

Finally, just Ned and his guitar:

Between Piety and Desire – Ned Sublette

I could never have imagined that I would learn so much about the land of my father, and the times of my parents and grandparents, from a lanky Texan (who became a Cowboy Rumba Nuyorquino).

Our popular rhythm-based music of today is the continuation of the survival of that part of Africa which has experienced an over 500 year diaspora; Cuba is music (as nowhere else on Earth); and music is miraculous, a sweet cradle for the soul.

“En esta cuna nací, y en esta cuna me voy a morír.”

Música Cubana en Santiago de Cuba (Documental: Cuba es Música)


Nine Articles on Bernie Sanders

Politics, n. strife of interests masquerading as a contest of principles.

You can fool too many of the people too much of the time.

Politics is not the art of the possible. It consists in choosing between the disastrous and the unpalatable.

The secret of a demagogue is to make himself as stupid as his audience so that they believe they are as clever as he is.

When I was a boy I was told that anybody can become President; I’m beginning to believe it.

The articles, by others, which I list here all appeared in Counter Punch in January 2016. My reactions to these articles were written in 2015, and are listed further down. I like Bernie Sanders.

January 21, 2016
Purple Map Could be Bernie’s Map
by Leticia Cortez
[Cortez gives a straightforward description of why “working” Americans (the masses of “proles”, and the grunts of the “outer party”) have a liking for Bernie and don’t trust Hillary: she is a tool of Wall Street and the for-profit prison industry (slavery!), and Bernie is opposed to both. It’s very clear why the bloated parasites want to divert public attention from Bernie (and are failing as Rall shows).]

January 20, 2016
Bernie Sanders and the Failure of Propaganda
by Ted Rall
[Rall clicks off all the times/events/aspects of how the public is largely ignoring the minders of the public mind as regards Bernie: the failure of apparatchik propaganda. Sanders is the choice of the working (struggling) people of America, except for the angst-ridden knuckle-headed pasty-faced bigots grieving over their loss of relevancy to American life, the chumps Trump is conning to feed his gargantuan narcissism.]

January 19, 2016
With the Specter of Clinton Looming: Rethinking Bernie
by Andrew Levine
[A self-important academic political expert windbag takes forever to say he missed the bus regarding Bernie. But it is remotely possible all his early criticisms and negative anticipations about Bernie could turn out to occur, he wistfully concedes. An example of being blinded by Hillary-phobia within an opaque ego-bubble.]

Also, Dave Lindorff and John V. Walsh have written on Bernie, in CP on the 19th. But, I don’t pay attention to them. Between the 4th and 19th of January 2016 there were a few other articles of complaint, using Bernie to express the dislikes, disapprovals and negative anticipations of the authors. I didn’t find insight in any of these.

January 4, 2016
Bernie Sanders vs. the Corporatocracy
by Richard W. Behan
[Behan clearly explains the whole point of the Bernie Sanders campaign, and the popular political movement it is growing. “It’s the economy, stupid.”]

January 1, 2016
Bernie vs. Hillary: the Real “Clash of Civilizations”?
by Patrick Walker
[Walker describes how Hillary Clinton is the candidate of the climate-destroying corporatocracy, and Bernie is politically America’s best hope for “climate justice.”]


My answers to the above articles were written in 2015:
on Bernie (first two-and-a-half),
and Trump (last one-and-a-half).

Bernie Versus The Con Job
11 December 2015
[On voting: Bernie (the people’s choice) versus Hillary (plutocracy’s choice).]

Between Slavery and Socialism in America Today

10 November 2015
[The economic reality (99% vs. 1%), and why Bernie matters.]

Populist Dimorphism: Trump and Sanders
17 August 2015
[The failure of elite propaganda, inevitable given a chronically failed economy for “us.”]

The Trump Surge and the American Psyche
24 July 2015
[The delights of bigots’ liberation.]



A Lifetime of Heartbeats

“I believe every human has a finite number of heartbeats. I don’t intend to waste any of mine running around doing exercises.”
– Neil Armstrong (5 August 1930 – 25 August 2012) (1)

There are 86,400 seconds/day, and 31.536 million seconds/year (365 days).

The normal resting adult human heart rate ranges from 60 to 100 beats-per-minute (bpm). Slow heartbeat rates of about 40-50 bpm during sleep are common and considered normal. Medically, heart rates of 50 to 60 bpm in apparently healthy people are taken as a good sign needing no further attention, while heart rates above 80 bpm may be due to some otherwise undetected unhealthy condition, if not caused by stimulants like caffeine, or bursts of exercise. The maximum heart rate a person can safely experience during bursts of strenuous activity decreases with age, being about 180-200 bpm for people in their 20s, 175-190 bpm for people in their 30s, 170-185 bpm for people in their 40s, 165-175 bpm for people in their 50s, 155-170 bpm for people in their 60s, and 145-160 bpm for people in their 70s. A human lifespan that is not prematurely interrupted may experience up to 3.5 billion heartbeats, or even more. (2)

Let us define a characteristic average heart rate, which we shall call the Armstrong Heart Rate (AHR) in honor of Neil Armstrong: test pilot, aeronautical engineer, university professor, and the astronaut who was the first human to step onto the surface of the Moon. Assume as typical an average heart rate of 66+2/3 bpm during three quarters of every day (18 hours), which includes periods of “calm” and periods of “activity” and “stress.” We assume that sleep occupies one quarter of every day (6 hours) with an average heart rate of 40 bpm. The daily average with these assumptions is

AHR = [3/4 x (66+2/3)] + (1/4 x 40) = 50 + 10 = 60 bpm = 1 bps (beats per second).

A human with a heart rate equal to 1 bps will experience 31.536 million heartbeats per year. Given this average heart rate, the total number of heartbeats over periods of time would be as follows.

Longevity - Heartbeat (table)Neil Armstrong’s lifetime of 82 years and 20 days experienced an estimated 2.58768 billion heartbeats.

The United States is listed 38th and ranked 34th among nations as regards average life expectancy. The overall life expectancy in the United States is 79 years. The U.S. is ranked 37th for male life expectancy, which averages 76 years, and it is ranked 36th for female life expectancy, which averages 81 years. (3)

By our AHR model of average heart rate, the average US male lifespan includes 2.396736 billion heartbeats, and the average US female lifespan includes 2.554416 billion heartbeats. The overall average (79 years) is 2.4913344 billion heartbeats.

So, the average US lifetime is one of about 2.5 billion heartbeats, assuming the typical heart rate is the AHR, which we defined as 1 bps.

Of course, heart rate can and will vary over the course of a lifetime, and human variability is wide, so in reality heart rates both above and below the AHR model will occur in the population. The AHR model helps us visualize the order of magnitude of total heartbeats experienced in a human lifetime.

The heartbeats per lifetime for a wide variety of non-human mammals ranges between 0.53-1.5 billion heartbeats; and is 2.17 billion for chickens that live 15 years, and 2.21 billion for humans that live 70 years. (4)

Since many animal species experience lifespans of about 1 billion heartbeats, we can think of them as “dying in our 30s.”

We can describe five stages of human life, based on the summation of heartbeats, as follows:

1 billion heartbeats to develop and grow into seasoned adults in three decades (to 31.71 years),

1 billion more heartbeats to experience three decades of productive adult life (to 63.42 years, 2 billion heartbeats),

1/2 billion more heartbeats over the course of 1.5 decades of retirement and denouement (to 79 years, 2.5 billion heartbeats),

a possible bonus of another 1/2 billion heartbeats and 1.5 decades of advanced old age (to 95.13 years, 3 billion heartbeats),

and a very few may experience another 1/2 billion heartbeats to live another 1.5 decades of extreme old age (to 111 years, 3.5 billion heartbeats).

For most of us who manage to avoid the fatal hazards of bad luck and disease, we can expect to experience lifespans of between 2 to 3 billion heartbeats, and most likely about 2.5 billion heartbeats.

The wise thing to do with your heartbeats is to spend the life they sustain on what you enjoy doing.

The only moral constraint (or aspiration) I would put on that enjoyment is: be kind.


[1] Neil Armstrong, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neil_Armstrong

[2] Heart rate, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heart_rate

[3] List of countries by life expectancy, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_life_expectancy

[4] Animal longevity and scale, http://www.sjsu.edu/faculty/watkins/longevity.htm


Job Application

Job Application

I would be good
at watching the quality of morning sun in fall
shift from crystalline horizontal incisiveness
to a near invisibility of diffused blue,
the texture of reality softening
from a pointillist granularity of color and shadow –
razor sharp in its purity –
to a shaded weave of fluid color, lit from within,
alive with the fullness of the universe,
autumn leaves tumbling like petals of amber
dancing across the luminescent blue,
carried by the eddying sighs of a living earth.

I would be good
at watching wispy white feathers of icy cloud
curl in slow vortical whorls,
sailing with majestic grace across the cupola of atmosphere;
and I would be good at telling you
how the rays of evening sun
glance off the salty foam of wavecrests in the Pacific
to warm the pink bellies of creamy pendulous clouds,
an amorous sky rolling its effulgent Rubenesque abundance
over the sprawling darkening body of the earth.

I would be good
at telling you how the droplets of mist
hang in the air between pine boughs and leaves of eucalyptus
in the quiet of the morning
before the rising sun crests the canyon rim
flooding the humid silence with light,
and how the silent swoop of a hawk low in the forest canopy
cores vortices of clarity as its wake,
a clarity that diffuses into misty white opaqueness,
an opacity that evaporates in the light;
and I could tell you about evening’s blanketing fog
pulled westward over the rim of the canyon
dissolving the panorama of clarity
into a hushed proximate blankness of unlit white
punctuated by the resonant whoo-whoo of a pair of owls
flapping noiseless wings to reach invisible perches
in the heavy coolness of descending night.

I would be good
at telling you how the hummingbirds pair,
drilling the noonday light
with a swirling darting weave of whistling clicks,
sprinkling glints of blazing color
as if sparking the very air with a furious friction;
and I could tell you of opalescent clouds,
rim-lit on passing across the sun,
trailing sweeping purple arcs of evaporating rain
that disappear into the clear blue,
only a shadow reaching the ground.

I would be good at all that.
Surely, many would want to hear
how the day’s light progressed,
being shut away in their self-contained preoccupations –
I could remind them,
my words would reach out
like a mother’s arms to a frightened baby,
encompassing it in warming comfort –
connection to the mother.
Surely, in today’s world
there must be a job like this,
the need is so great.
Think of me as the weatherman of the soul.

16 November 2001

Palestine’s Gift of Christmas

(22 December 2009, slightly edited here)

I am no longer religious, however, the season and the way the people I live among express it prompt these reflections.

A few days ago, I attended a Christmas music choral concert in which my young daughter performed. I think a sense of peace would easily be transmitted by the song “Silent Night” even if all intelligible words were stripped from it so it was a pure vocalise devoid of religious ideas. Music has that power, and that magic. Despite the many shortcomings of Christianity, to it’s credit it has spurred the writing of much good music. Listening to Mozart’s “Jubilate Deo,” I realized it might be better to hear all the familiar Christmas songs in Latin, because then our English (or French, German, or Spanish) language minds would, in most cases, be freed of textual and ideological distraction. For example

Personent Hodie – Andrea & Ella
25 December 2014

The concert (not the video above) was hosted by the Mormon Church at its large facility in Oakland, California. The extensive grounds have tall palm trees, an artificial river, and large buildings all festooned with colored lights in a flamboyant display of Christmas decoration that widens the eyes of 10-year-olds; it looks like Oz. My daughter’s group, the San Francisco Girl’s Chorus, had been invited to perform that night as part of a week-long series of free concerts intended to draw in prospective members, as well as to delight the current ones. A very enthusiastic church woman presented me with a brochure describing the concert series and crisply snapped it open while promoting the quality of the week’s line-up. Looking into the blue eyes shining from the weathered face of this energetic, lean and perfectly turned-out woman, I thought of the many Mormons I’d met during my career as a nuclear weapons physicist.

Since Mormons are unlikely to have rambunctious personal histories, are conscientious about pursuing prosperity, and often have good training in administrative and technical fields, they can frequently pass the filters to obtaining high-security US government jobs. I think theirs is the quintessential Yankee religion; a faith of imaginative child-like Wagnerian grandeur, with its creamy, velvety N. C. Wyeth style iconography of a golden-haired blue-eyed Jesus, to inspire its sober, industrious, well-scrubbed, pale-faced people, the inheritors of the Conquest in the North.

I always find it necessary to be patient with enthusiastic Christians, because I know how it is when one has awakened to greater insights and wishes to share, by “saving” others. Christmas tends to be a time of year when such patience needs to be exercised.

Here in the Yankee homeland, where God and the Almighty Dollar are so conflated, a religion is most precisely defined by the Tax Code. Each religion is some mix between feelings of spirituality and a tax-dodge scheme. It is this latter element that motivates churches to fish out new members from among the more “respectable” and “responsible” segments of the population, that is to say people with money. I find it tiresome to be hit-up by the always cheery, always smiling, always “sincere” people on missions, whether implicitly as at the choral concert, or explicitly under the fire of a Jehovah’s Witnesses direct-marketing assault: they knock on doors in targeted zip codes. Overall, I would prefer people to keep their religions private, “zipped up” like their pants as it were.

I realize some will take offense at my criticisms of their religions, but this is of no consequence since I do not advocate legislating discriminatory measures against groups targeted on the basis of personal attributes. I can think and say whatever I like about your religion, or lack of it, and you of mine, so long as we all adhere to the principle of equality under the law, which is enshrined in the Constitution. The purpose of my opinions on other people’s religions is entirely to guide my own life, not to provide excuses for persecuting others. Naturally, I grant everyone else the same privileges of thought, but I also see no allowance for the discrimination against one group because of the religious convictions of another.

This point was contested in California (and other states) this last year, where the more sexually repressed populations of numerous religions righteously exercised that delightful sensation of persecuting people feared as shadows, and seen as opposites and even “unclean,” by the populist political action of banning marriage between homosexuals. Marriage has nothing to do with religion, it is entirely a legal construct that defines the property relationships between the state and: two contracted individuals, their families, and between parents and their children. It happens that homosexual couples (male or female), are just as likely to wish to raise children, to ensure the inheritance and health benefit rights of their loved ones, and to take advantage of the tax deduction for “marriage,” that is to say of paying their income taxes jointly. Why should this matter to heterosexuals, except as a resentment (against “giving away” a financial benefit) brought on by prejudice, envy and greed?

2,500 years ago, Heraclitus wrote that “bigotry is the disease of the religious,” because he must have found enough examples of cruelty and prejudice being justified by religious convictions. It may be more true today. Any honest religious sense would express itself in a charitable and compassionate attitude toward other people, that is to say other “types” of people; and during the month of December in cultures infused with Christianity this is called “Christmas spirit.” Imagine if a real “Christmas spirit” was brought to popular consciousness in North America and Europe, and then focussed onto it’s land of origin, Palestine.

In his history of the decline and fall of the Roman Empire (1776), Edward Gibbon wrote: “Phoenicia and Palestine will for ever live in the memory of mankind; since America, as well as Europe, has received letters from the one, and religion from the other.” Today, Palestine suffers under an Israeli assault that is in every way like the “Indian Wars” carried out across the United States in the 19th century, to “clear the land” for “progress.” Apologists for this land-theft and population displacement will issue very heated and very convoluted arguments to justify the continuing expansion of Israel, really the continuing invasion and colonization of Palestine by the Israeli Zionists. But we can dismiss all of that, the verbiage of decades, with the clear understanding that what is happening in Palestine is the simple and cruel consequence of an overwhelming force of arms. The Palestinians find themselves in the same situation as the Arawaks and Tainos of 500 years ago: a more powerful and technically advanced European-origined people covet their land. It is ironic that the Christian West that supports this “Indian War” against the Palestinians derives so much of its mythology from a religion born in Palestine.

The Palestinians are historically unlucky for four reasons: 1) theirs is a small, weak, poor and disorganized nation, 2) the Christian mythology of the powerful Western military powers works to obscure the reality of the Palestinian situation, and dull sympathy to it, in too many Western minds, 3) the history of crimes by fascists against European Jews in the 1930s and 1940s is skillfully exploited by Israeli public relations organizations, to badger Western public opinion and sow it with guilt, so as to extract money and acquiescence to Israeli aggression and land-theft, and finally 4) the natural disinclination of any individual or nation to sacrifice his and its comfort to protest, let alone fight against, the exploitation of a foreign people; the reality that most people not directly affected are willing to ignore the elimination of another “tribe.” They will say “how sad” or “how unfair” but they will allow the “Indians” to die out, without acting.

During the Christmas Season, we in the West tell many stories about Jesus Christ, and sing many songs about peace, salvation, giving, “a child is born” and “Christmas spirit,” to brighten the depth of winter and add some emotional warmth to a chilly world. But, this seems to have little practical effect when it comes to countering the Israeli aggression in Palestine. Here in the West, we have our Christmas parties, our Santa Claus for the delight of the children (and of course our commercial ambitions), a seasonal excuse to hear music or go to the ballet, our family get-togethers and dinner feasts, winter sports and church assemblies. Putting Christian charity into practice is an entirely different story, the whole point of our attitude is to give a seasonal nod of thanks for our blessings, and let somebody else get crucified for them. It’s easier if you don’t look and they’re “heathens.”

A few days ago, I finished reading W. Somerset Maugham’s novel “The Painted Veil,” about an unfaithful British colonial wife, a superficial young woman who unexpectedly finds herself in the midst of a cholera epidemic in southern China in the 1920s. Her husband, a bacteriologist and M.D., is leading the public health effort, and she is instructed and awakened by observing the responses of the different types of human character caught up in this awful reality with her, and by how the existing racist and class social constructs casts each of them. In going out for walks it becomes necessary to learn to ignore the cadavers of natives, which sometimes collect outside against the wall of the colonial residential compound. Doesn’t this sound like the attitude of many of us in the Imperial heartlands, when watching the TV evening news broadcasts where a mention of “Gaza” or “peace process” might occur?

To discuss Palestine at Christmastime, here in the U.S. or in Europe, is to highlight the hypocrisy of so much “statecraft.” Israel was bombing Palestine and Lebanon during the last Christmas season, remember?

I have a personal Christmas story involving Palestinians. About seven years ago on New Year’s Day, I was driving my family to visit my parents, who lived almost two hours away; this was to be our “Christmas” get-together. Suddenly, the car gave out a metallic bang, then immediately the entire drive-train felt and sounded like a rapidly spinning barrel of bolts. I veered off the highway at an exit that was fortunately nearby, and coasted downhill along the exit lane, onto a street, and within a few hundred meters into a service station.

Being a holiday, I had little expectation of much help. I met the owner inside the small office, and asked for a quick evaluation of the car’s mechanical state, and recommendations. With me were my wife, my two older children and my young daughter who was about 3 years old; we were halfway between home and my parents’ house. It was quickly evident that the transmission had broken, and this could not be repaired soon. I commented that I felt like Joseph trying to take his family to Bethlehem, that my donkey had given out, and I might now have to find a manger for the night. The owner quickly perked up and asked: “Have you been to Bethlehem?” No I had not. He had, he was Palestinian and his relatives worked as the mechanics. He thought I might also have been Palestinian because I have a “swarthy Mediterranean appearance” (as one upscale paleface in New York put it years ago).

The owner was very nice, he understood my problem because he, too, was a family man. So, within an hour we had concluded a contract to have my car repaired at his shop (it would take weeks since a rebuilt transmission had to be acquired and shipped) and we were on our way. We arrived at my parents house a little late but in style, in a Mercedes Benz 280 SEL 4.5 sedan. This car was loaned to me, not rented, at the Palestinian’s insistence (“You don’t have to rent a car, I have a car for you. It’s my wife’s old car, she has a new one”).

The repair job would be expensive enough (and it’s held up since). During our stay at the service station (while the mechanics were investigating), my family walked next door to a little convenience store and bought snacks, and the older children played with the baby, to keep her occupied. The Palestinian and I chatted about — what else? — our families, our origins. He was very pleasant and low key, he knew he would make money on the repair job, and yet he was completely conscious of the human dimensions of my situation, and of our similarities: we were both “Josephs,” trying to move our families in safety.

He had a lot of cars on his lot, and he picked out one of the very best for us. I enjoyed the use of that Mercedes for a month, it had style, comfort, room and pep, but that big V8 engine sure gulped gasoline. I could see why he had retired it. Still, I wish I had one again. A month later I picked up our car, returned his, paid our bill, and didn’t see the Palestinian again. Last year, I stopped in to see the station, but it was gone, a new business development occupied the site; nobody knew about any previous gas station. I always think of that Palestinian around Christmas and New Year’s, and whenever I hear the word “Bethlehem.”

One cannot draw any grand international political conclusions out of isolated personal interactions. However, one can be reminded by such interactions that labels, like “Palestinian” or “Iranian” (another story for another time) are not just abstract elements of larger political concepts; they are first and foremost people, most of them good, ordinary, everyday people just like most of “us.” Remembering THAT is the absolute first step to any plan, any action to stop the bombings, the aggression, the land-theft, and the killings in the lands of “Phoenicia and Palestine,” which “will for ever live in the memory of mankind.”

So, in response to any inquiries about my religion, as well as to the Christian sentiments of the season, let me quote myself (from a 2004 essay) to challenge others to try this for religion:

God, let me experience life without thought of profit, preference or death.

Let me know justice, by allowing me to experience the consequences of my acts as others experience them.

Let me know You for what You are: the life in all, the knower, the known and the unknown.

Let me be curious without fear of thought.

Let me be expressive without thought of fear.

Let me be forgiving, an instrument of compassion.

Let me be alert, an instrument of knowledge.

Let me be humane, an instrument of peace.

Let me know truth.

Let me be grateful.


“Palestine’s Gift of Christmas” was originally published at Counter Punch on 22 December 2009.


Photos by MG,Jr. at Flickr

I have begun posting my photos online at Flickr. These photos appear serially as a chronological “photostream” in one page of my photo blog at Flickr. However, I like them best grouped into albums, and the link shown at the bottom takes you directly to my album-listing webpage at Flickr (you can get to my “photostream,” “favorites” and other Flickr pages from there). Once an album is selected and open, click the slideshow button (arrow in upper right) for nice full-screen viewing at a good pace.

Flickr is another social media website, like WordPress, YouTube and Facebook, so I leave it to you to wrestle with the navigation there. I decided to post my photos at Flickr because it allows for public access viewing (anonymity for you) and because it functions quite well (and is very popular with photographers).

Finally, Flickr has informed me that my photos (and presence) at Flickr are considered “safe,” which is to say there are no nude women (or men), no: cruelty, disgust, repulsion or sex (well). I rant and rave often enough in my writings, but in my photography I seek engaging color and action, a sunny sense of enjoyment, a sense of tranquility, and a satisfying appreciation of reality. I enjoy taking photos.

Manuel Garcia, Jr. (“juanfulanogarcia”) at Flickr