An Evening Stroll and a Bit of History

I had to take a day off of work because I have (again) sprained my fingers when working on my current project. So I decided that not working one-two days is better than pushing through the pain and risk even longer and worse effects.

If I get the project to work, I will make a post about it, but so far it is only frustration and failures. So I have also decided to go for a walk whilst I think about things and how to solve the problems that I have encountered. I did not take my camera with me, but I snapped a few pictures with my phone and here they are.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

This year’s wet and cold summer was very good for one thing – grass. The meadows surrounding our town have been mown for third time. This time they did not dry hay, for that the weather is not sufficiently warm and dry anymore, even on a sunny day. So they have wrapped the still-wet grass in these huge plastic-covered bales where it will ferment a bit before being fed to livestock in the winter. This has become quite popular in last years and some years they do not harvest dry hay at all. This year they did, two harvests of hay and one of this fermented plastic-wrapped thingy.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

I live in a very windy area, which has downsides. The wide-spread meadows surrounding my house sitting near the top of a hill mean that in winter, my house is fully exposed to frequent western winds, which significantly affects my heating bill. One upside is that this area is suitable for windmills, so there are several on the opposite side of the town. Here you can see one of those windmills, standing still because there was no wind today evening. It is quite far away. In fact, the whole town is between me and that windmill, only you cannot see it because 90% of the town is in a valley, with a few dozen houses scattered around it in meadows.

This peculiar layout of a town is not a result of deliberate planning, it is an accident of history. The town was a fairly big industrial center in its peak time pre-WW2, with over 15.000 inhabitants. A lot of the land that is pastures/meadows today was inhabited in those times (although it was still a bit scattered, essentially town surrounded by homesteads, each with a garden and a few patches of field). But after WW2 the original German inhabitants were deported and the communist regime had no interest to really resettle an area this close to the German border, so only a few thousand people came in, from other parts of former Czechoslovakia. Including my family which originates from the Giant Mountains.

In the cadaster maps, there are still patches of land that are marked as “building plot” or “pathway plot” that are a part of a continuous meadow today. In fact, my garden consists of two garden plots and a pathway that does not exist for over fifty years now. Because after not repopulating the area, the communist regime had most of the empty buildings demolished and the gardens and pathways were usually plowed into the fields whenever possible. In some areas, there remains a testament to these former pathways, like three huge sycamores behind my house, which are all that remain from an alleyway. Thus my house, originally one in a reasonably long street became one of two stranded in the middle of a meadow, completely exposed to west winds. My father tells me that even the path leading to our house was almost plowed over, he intervened with the tractor driver and had to talk some common sense into him so he leaves at least one path to each of the still inhabited houses.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

My attempts at snapping a shot of kestrel hovering above the grass bales were unsuccessful, who would have thought that tiny camera lens with no zoom won’t be suitable for bird watching. But I did snap a picture of an airplane leaving behind it the poisonous track of mind-controlling chemicals, a chemtrail!!11!. Ever since I was a kid I have been somewhat fascinated by these. I do, in fact, remember asking my father what they are as a kid on an evening similar to this one. He gave me a reasonably good explanation given that there was no internet back then and that he has no higher education.

Slavic Saturday

Today again a little crossover with the Behind the Iron Curtain series.


Jan Hus and Jan Žižka are to this day considered great figures of Czech history. Even the communist regime venerated these two men to a great degree, so much so that it was during this regime that one of the largest bronze equestrian statues in the world was made to commemorate Jan Žižka in 1950. And movies were made about both. Today, we also have a national holiday on the day Jan Hus was burned at the stake.

We were taught in school that Jan Hus was a great reformer who has challenged and criticized the corruption within the catholic church, and that was true. We were taught that he has sparked a national movement that has fought against the hegemony of said corrupt, hypocritical, and oppressive church, and that was also true. However what was ignored was that he also sparked a fanatical religious movement that was not solely inspired by a desire for a better and juster society, but also by a merely different interpretation of holy writ.

As for Žižka, he was and is considered to be one of the greatest Czech warriors there was, and perhaps in history, as this short video suggests.

We were taught about his military successes, especially about the fact that he was able to take a bunch of peasants and merchants and convert them into a fighting force capable of defeating several crusades consisting of professional soldiers who trained in combat from childhood. What we were not taught was that he also burned at stake several dozen of “heretics” who took reinterpreting the scripture way too far for his liking.

To this day there is a lot of people who romanticize Jan Hus, Jan Žižka, and the whole Hussite movement. Perhaps there is some value in that. But I think it is also important to remember that whilst they were somewhat progressive in their times, today they would probably both be considered insufferable religious fanatics. They certainly would not approve of today’s Czech atheism.

Behind the Iron Curtain part 38- Vietnam War

These are my recollections of a life behind the iron curtain. I do not aim to give a perfect and objective evaluation of anything but to share my personal experiences and memories. It will explain why I just cannot get misty-eyed over some ideas on the political left and why I loathe many ideas on the right.


This one will be very short because the regime ended shortly before the Vietnam war was covered in the school curriculum, so we were not told a lot. History lessons in that last year were a bit scattershot, as is expected during a year in which revolution happens. And what little we were told I mostly forgot, except very few things.

Those few things could be summarized thus: The USA tactics and behavior in Vietnam were shown as essentially the same as German tactics and behavior in eastern Europe (edit: in WW2). Scorched earth, civilians massacred, war crimes committed left and right. We were shown short films about how the US forces were the baddies and how their defeat was a victory of good over evil.

It got embedded in my subconscious, but I was also aware that the USA has helped to defeat the Nazis in Europe, including in my hometown. I was unable to shake off this comparison with Nazis and I felt like it should not hold water on closer scrutiny. But it did not get better when I sought information about the conflict on my own, which was still difficult in the following decade with nonexistent internet and the history books being only slowly updated.

It would be a shock if it came quickly, but it was not because the realization came slowly over the years – whether you call it education or indoctrination, what communists said was accurate. The tactics the USA used in Vietnam were those of Nazis, no matter how you try to slice it. The USA probably could not present itself in worse light if they tried and they gave communists an excellent propaganda tool – the best propaganda might not always be one that is solidly backed by facts, it must address emotions first, but it does help if the facts are on your side too.

When I was visiting the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C. in 2000, it felt quite strange. There were people there, looking up their long-dead relatives and acquaintances. As with all war memorials, It felt quite somber and I have remained quiet and respectful as one should. But I could not shake the feeling that this is a memorial to victims of an unjust war and whilst most of the fallen soldiers being remembered were innocent draftees, there were very likely quite a few nasty war criminals with the blood of innocents on their hands among them too. To this day I did not quite figure out what to think about it.

Behind the Iron Curtain part 37- 1st of May

These are my recollections of a life behind the iron curtain. I do not aim to give perfect and objective evaluation of anything, but to share my personal experiences and memories. It will explain why I just cannot get misty eyed over some ideas on the political left and why I loathe many ideas on the right.


One of the central dogmas of the regime was the notion that everything is for the common workers, the laborers, and peasants. Those were deemed not only essential for the proper running of society (not wrong), sometimes to ignoring that intellectuals actually have useful functions too.

The International Worker’s Day was a state holiday, and we were taught at school a bit about the history behind it. Not much, as far as I remember, but the actual reasons behind the holiday were discussed and even in hindsight, most of them were valid then and are valid now.

However, as it is with authoritarian regimes, the good came with the sidedish of the bad and sometimes downright ugly.

1st of May was an official day off of work and school, so officially people were free to spend that day as they choose. In every town and moderately sized village, there was a procession and a speech by some party representative, but attending was not compulsory. In the sense “it is voluntary, but you have to go”.

I did not like the processions that much, because I do not like crowds and loud noises. But I did attend. I do not remember much, only two experiences come to mind at least somewhat vividly.

The first experience was an extremely strong feeling of embarrassment when our local firefighter truck was driving along the procession, shouting propaganda and encouragements for cheering from loudspeakers. I did not like it and even to my socially stunted mind, it was clear that nobody else liked it either. If the day is so glorious, if our country is so great and the party so beloved, why on earth do the people need to be egged on to cheer and shout slogans by an obnoxious a-hole with a megaphone? I did not put it in those words exactly, but those were my feelings.

The second experience was the chastising of one of my classmates who was not a member of Pionýr and whose family did not attend the parade one year. In a small town, this did not go unnoticed and our class teacher did call him out publicly during class for this. There were no other repercussions other than the public shaming, but I did not enjoy seeing that at all.

In both of these instances, I have subconsciously sensed a deep disconnect between the messaging we get and the true state of affairs. That cognitive dissonance was not particularly strong, but it was there and it was nagging. When the regime finally fell, a lot of the things that did not make sense to me as a child started to make sense later.

Later in life, I was surprised that much of what I have been taught to see as “Capitalist countries” also celebrate the holiday, oftentimes including the parades and speeches, but without the voluntary compulsory nature. I am afraid that in my mind this holiday will always be tainted, as it is in the minds of many of my generation.

The Art of …

… history, by Benjamin West.

Today’s painting is interactive thanks to Jason Farago of the New York Times and his piece titled “The Myth of North America in one painting.” It’s a fascinating look at the history behind West’s 1770 painting The Death of General Wolfe, and why certain design choices were made. The battle the painting depicts on The Plains of Abraham is highly significant to Canada’s founding and is taught as part of our school curriculum. There were also implications for America’s founding, though, and I’m curious about how, or if, this battle is taught to American children.

Here is the link to the interactive painting at NYT, and below is the static image of the painting itself.

The Death of General Wolfe, 1770, Benjamin West. Static image from Wikipedia.

Behind the Iron Curtain part 36 – Revolutions

These are my recollections of a life behind the iron curtain. I do not aim to give a perfect and objective evaluation of anything but to share my personal experiences and memories. It will explain why I just cannot get misty-eyed over some ideas on the political left and why I loathe many ideas on the right.


We were taught at school that Marx got one thing in his philosophy wrong and that it had to be corrected by Lenin – the idea of gradual societal progress over time. A violent revolution, we were told, is necessary to defeat the evils of capitalism and institute socialism, just as it happened in Tzarist Russia after WWI and in our country after WWII. After that glorious revolution, we can go back to gradual societal progress over time and the glorious, completely fair, and egalitarian communism will come. Eventually.

When communism did not come any closer after nearly one generation, people became restless. It was not exactly an attempt at revolution, there was no violence, and no attempt at actually overthrowing the regime, only an attempt at reforming it and making it better. But this cry for humanizing the regime that was supposed to care about human welfare did not suit well the powers that be in Moscow and the attempt was quelled by force. The Czech Republic was invaded and tanks from USSR, Poland, Hungaria, and Bulgaria rolled through the streets. It worked, but not as planned – the plan was to put up a facade that people do not want any reforms and that soviet-style socialism is wanted, as demonstrated by people welcoming the invaders as liberators. But weeks-long protests against the invasion put this idea quickly to sleep and what remained was subduing the population by brute force.

A year later, a young philosophy student Jan Palach has set himself ablaze in protest of this. He did not want the ideas that led to the push for humane socialism to die, he wanted the occupants to leave the country and in lieu of other options, he decided for protest by self-harm. I cannot say I condone his approach, but his goal was undeniably noble. He died, he became a martyr, but nothing much changed.

Fast forward another generation.

I was just a school kid during the times of the Velvet Revolution in the fall of 1989, in my last year of elementary school. I knew nothing about the things that happened short of a decade before I was born. I had no idea who Jan Palach is, I had no idea that we were still occupied by Soviet Army, and because I have lived in the countryside with no connectin to big cities, I had no idea that civil unrest is brewing for almost a year already. But it was. The boil of social unrest was swelling, unseen by many but clearly visible by others until it burst.

For me, the whole thing was an incomprehensible mess. I did not understand what is happening. Suddenly I heard on the news that peacefully protesting students were beaten to a pulp by police – a thing that only evil capitalists do to protesters, surely! And then the whole thing happened really quickly – and before the school year was over, before the next summer holiday, we had suddenly a different political regime and I had to learn that a lot of what I knew about how the world functions was bullcrap.

And suddenly I learned about all the things that were kept from school curricula – the deaths and torture in the name of the greater good, the lies and deception, and the fact that it all did not lead to a better life anyway. Those were not easy times – and I was lucky to live in a country where the armed forces were not given orders to use violence and the revolution was allowed to happen without bloodshed. Hearing about armed conflicts in other countries, and for example seeing Ceaucescu being shot to death was not cathartic or satisfying, it was only terrifying.

I do not like revolutions much. They might be necessary from time to time, but they are not pretty, they are not glorious and they do not lead to instant improvements. Not even the milder ones.

If You Need a Gun, You Are Not Free

I peeked into the Trumpverse a bit and what I saw was unsurprising, but it surprised me anyway. I did not go to Breitbart or some similar far-right downright fascist propaganda sites. I just went to a YouTube channel that I had a reason to believe will have a high percentage of Trumpists in its following and I looked at comments under the only one video about recent politics the channel is hosting. I did not linger for too long, I did not even watch the whole video, just a few minutes and a few comments sufficed. This tiny window into the mind of a regular trumpist was informative, although I do not know what can be done with that information if anything.

From where I stand, Trumpism is just a new flavor of fascism. It is about the government controlling people, dictating what they can and cannot do with their private lives, in their private homes, sometimes even with their own bodies.

From where at least some Trumpists stay, the opposite is superficially true. They think that Biden is a socialist and that he is going to try and control them and take their personal freedoms. Their position with regard to him is the same as the position of leftists is in regard to Trump. And they despair and fear for their future after Biden’s win just as leftists despaired and feared for their future four years ago.

The problem seems not to be whether one values freedom, but what one considers to be freedom. Due to the main focus of the site I was visiting, there was a strong bias towards one uniquely American thing – guns, guns, guns. They see the right to own guns as the most important freedom one of them all, and they think that by having guns they are safeguarding all their other freedoms against a potential governmental overreach.

Which is, of course, bullshit. In modern times any uprising in which the government’s armed forces do not join in with the people is doomed to fail. Rifles, handguns, and knives are no match for tanks, rockets, and drones. But they really, really believe their fantasy that the right to have guns keeps them free and that is why they are/were voting for Trump and Republicans. They fear Biden is going to confiscate their guns and thus, by proxy, take away all their freedoms.

I do not believe these people can be reasoned with, but it seems to me they are overlooking one important aspect. If they need a gun to feel safe from an imminent governmental overreach, then they already are not free. Not only are they shackled by an unreasonable fear of something they would be powerless to oppose if it happened anyway, but they also keep the whole society in shackles of another fear – of random mass shootings, of armed militias going berserk, of random gun accidents. And if their fear of governmental overreach necessitating armed opposition were justified, then the government is already completely dysfunctional.

I lived my whole life in a society without guns, and a third of that life in a totalitarian regime. Fear of random stranger shooting up a school or a workplace never was on my radar, indeed I did not even know such things exist on the scale they do in the USA well into my thirties. And when the totalitarian regime fell, it was not because people took arms and stormed the whatever, it fell because the armed forces refused to shoot unarmed citizens and/or the top brass were hesitant to give such orders (personal anecdotes and historian descriptions vary). Having more guns in that situation would not make a difference except turning the Velvet Revolution into a Scarlet Revolution. I am not saying that armed revolutions are not sometimes necessary, or that they neer worked, but I am saying they do not work as these people imagine them.

But as far as I could see, the gut-wrenching fear and despair at Biden win were genuine. They really think that socialism means the state is going to get them, shackle them, and ruin their country. They really, honestly believe that Republicans and Trump were and are doing a good job, for them personally and for the American people as a whole.

Guns and abortins, these two issues are the only ones that matter to them. And only Republicans give them what they want.

And I am at a loss how to mend divides soo deeply entrenched in society. How do you snap someone out of a whole life of propaganda?

Portland – Required Reading

A lot is happening in Portland, and Big Media reports are often unreliable or outright false. Our very own Crip Dyke at Pervert Justice has been on the ground risking her health and well-being to report the reality of the situation to us. This morning her report, Still a step away from Pinkerton’s, but it’s badis especially gut-wrenching, and it should be required reading. Please, if you haven’t already, head on over and share your support.

For some perspective on the reference to Pinkerton’s, Marcus at Stderr shares a historical look at labour protests in the U.S. with an essay titled How to Riot. It’s an in-depth look at the history of how the American government has handled civil unrest, and it’s frightening.

To round out your reading, I recommend Iris Vander Pluym at Death to Squirrels, whose essay A.G.Barr: Crip Dyke is a “violent rioter and anarchist” hijacking the Portland Protests, brings some insight into why what Crip Dyke is doing is so vitally important. The American government is lying to the public, and it is the on-sight reports from citizen journalists that tell the real story.

I share my thanks to all of these voices for the clarity they bring to a complicated issue.

Crip Dyke, please stay safe.

 

Rediscovering the Words of Frederick Douglass

Library sciences have come a long way since the days of card catalogues and racks of periodicals. Most records are now kept digitally, and many historical records have been converted to digital files. It’s because of all those digital files that historian Scott Sandage was able to track down the full copy of Frederick Douglass’ words regarding a monument in Lincoln Park that should be removed.

The statue in Lincoln Park, known as the Emancipation Memorial, depicts the 16th president beside a Black man who, depending on how you see the piece, is either kneeling or rising. It’s supposed to commemorate the end of slavery—but in any interpretation, the Black man is physically lower than Lincoln himself, leading critics to see the statue as a paean to Lincoln’s generosity, and not a testament to Black Americans’ own roles in their liberation. “Statues teach history,” says Glenn Foster, an activist with the Freedom Neighborhood, who wants to see the statue removed. The Black man in this statue “is in a very submissive position,” he says, adding that that’s not “respectful to our community, or to anyone in general.

As The Wall Street Journal reported, two historians, Scott Sandage of Carnegie Mellon University and Jonathan White of Christopher Newport University, were recently debating what ought to be done with the statue, and they wanted to know whether the social reformer and statesman Douglass had, in fact, criticized it directly. Douglass died in 1895, but posthumous reports of his comments on the subject have been circulating since 1916, when a book stated that he had been critical of the statue at its unveiling. In his prepared speech for the event, Douglass challenged the nascent Lincoln mythology, calling him “preeminently the white man’s president …,” but it wasn’t clear whether, in an alleged aside, he also criticized the new statue itself. The two scholars disagreed over the account’s reliability, so Sandage set out to more firmly establish the abolitionist’s position.

It was Douglass’s ability to turn a phrase that helped the historian finally locate the relevant text. It had been reported that Douglas had referred to the black man on the memorial as “couchant.”

Using “couchant” as the keyword in his search—and experimenting with a few combinations of other words—Sandage identified three newspapers that ran the entirety of a letter Douglass wrote about the statue, a few days after speaking at its dedication. “Admirable as is the monument by Mr. Ball in Lincoln park [sic],” writes Douglass, “it does not, as it seems to me, tell the whole truth …” He credits Lincoln for following through on emancipation, but adds that “the negro was made a citizen” by “President U.S. Grant,” under whose administration the Fifteenth Amendment was ratified. (In theory, the Amendment enfranchised Black men with the right to vote. Of course, enforcement of that right has been a long-standing issue.) He concludes by suggesting that “[t]here is room in Lincoln park for another monument,” and that that space ought to be filled out with works that could help complete the historical picture.

NEWSPAPERS.COM, COURTESY SCOTT SANDAGE / PUBLIC DOMAIN

 

Sandage and White have proposed an “emancipation group” of statues to fill out the park and note that it would not affect the reputation of Lincoln one bit to remove the existing monument, as there is another more significant tribute to Lincoln nearby. There are other proposals for the park from leaders in the black community, and you can read the full story at Atlas Obscura.

Law and Order Are Not Intrinsically Good Things

Trump likes to refer to himself as the president of “Law And Order” these days and his sycophants in the Geezers Only  Party repeat those three words as a mantra. And their voters, presumably, lap it up as a chant worth following, as if those words represent something intrinsically good.

They do not.

Laws can be, and quite often are, impractical, counter-productive, or downright immoral and wrong. Lawful behavior is only as good as the laws that it follows, and unlawful behavior is only as bad as the laws it breaks are good. The order that ensues from enforcement of laws is in this regard completely value-neutral. It has no moral property in itself, it only reflects that of the legal system that has brought it into existence.

To anyone who yearns for Law and Order and not paying particular attention to what kind of Law and what kind of Order, I would like to put forth following points for consideration:

  • In the former USSR and indeed the whole Eastern Bloc order was rigorously enforced and kept by harsh punishments against anyone who disobeyed the law.  And if that is too far in the past for you, today’s China has plenty of laws too, and oh boy do the police keep order there. I could also Godwin it here and say Nazi Germany has had many laws about what can and cannot be done by whom and to whom and its orderliness was quite proverbial, with some quite fancy police departments enforcing said laws.
  • The people who cry for “Law and Order” in USA today are often those who bemoan the dangers of Communism and Socialism and whatnot.

Draw from that any conclusions you want.

Behind the Iron Curtain part 35 – The Elusive Socialism

These are my recollections of a life behind the iron curtain. I do not aim to give a perfect and objective evaluation of anything but to share my personal experiences and memories. It will explain why I just cannot get misty-eyed over some ideas on the political left and why I loathe many ideas on the right.


At school we were constantly reminded that we are living in a socialist country that takes great care of its people, and where everything belongs to everybody. However, one of my schoolmates has once said “If you read the definition of socialism in a dictionary, you realize we are not actually living in socialism”. Which is a pretty deep insight for someone under thirteen. But was he right?

The blaring of propaganda was constant, overt as well as covert, and it all was poised to inform us about all the ills the societies to the west of us suffer (most of which were, even in hindsight, spot-on) and all the wondrous technological and social advancements that the USSR has made over its competitors (which were, in hindsight, grossly oversold). But the system never got rid of several things that it has criticized. Like private property and money-based economics. Which has left it with the pesky problem of ownership of the means of productions, which I have addressed partially in the past. I have seen this named “state-run capitalism” in comments on FtB, which is a term that I have always found a bit peculiar.

And this was the base of my schoolmate’s argument. The people do not own the means of production, the state does. The people do not have a say in how the fruits of their labor get distributed and used, the communist party does that. And thus the society is not truly socialist and equal, because there are still social strata, only not divided by the personal wealth, but by the status within the ruling party structure. After which this stratification got, of course, cemented by personal wealth too, since the party top brass were not too shy about accruing for themselves a bigger piece of the pie than the rest has got, as it always happens.

But did this make the country “not socialist”? I personally do not think so. It was still definitively a state whose policies were leftist and, at least on paper, aimed at the common good. But the peons were expected to shut up and work their asses off for their masters under the guise of working for the greater good, with the promise that the socialist paradise is just around the corner, if not for them, then for their children for sure. And its arrival was postponed for nearly two generations before the system finally collapsed. Any and all actual progress, both social and technological, was made only extremely slowly, because every criticism implying that the current course is perhaps not ideal, however mildly stated, could have dire consequences for the person making it.

The people have learned this lesson the hard way before I was even thought of, in spring 1968. That year the Czechoslovak communist party underwent a widely popular reform and started “Socialism with human face” politics, which has kept the socialist part of the party agenda but has intended to make away with authoritarianism. The USSR did not like it and invaded us. The top czechoslovak politicians were forced to sign a treaty literally at gunpoint and that was the end of any and all attempts at making their version of socialism viable in the long term. Because the “socialism” was not what was problematic with the regime’s politics, the “authoritarianism” was.

But since those two were (and arguably still are) inseparable in the minds of the communist parties of greatest socialist states in history, it is no wonder they are inseparable in many people’s minds both in the west and east to this very day too. Thus the leftist politics of the sixties has built an invisible iron curtain in our colective consciousness between socialism and freedom. And tearing that one down seems more difficult than the real one.