Poland’s Tribute to the Sesquicentennial of the Declaration of Independence.
James Paul Zaworski
I was perusing the Library of Congress website yesterday, and I came upon this book, dedicated by the people and country of Poland in 1926, to the people and country of the United Stated of America on the 150th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.
It is an altogether historical, fitting, and touching national gesture from one country to another, from one people to another.
As a historian and anthropologist, and as a second generation Polish-American, I was touched personally, and professionally. Though I am only half-Polish by ancestry, my father’s influence on me, and my family, tended to have us identify much more with the Polish half, culturally and ethnically, than the other half of my family (American going back three hundred years of British and Dutch stock).
Historically and culturally speaking, Poland is a country at the crossroads. Despite being, geographically and culturally speaking, between the two, dominant powers of Germany and Russia, and despite being partitioned three times between Russia, Prussia, and Austro-Hungary, finally ceasing to exist as a political entity in 1795, the Polish people, language, and culture remained.
Poland, as a political entity, was re-forged in 1919, after World War I. It would only remain viable for 20 years in this regard, before the “fourth partition” between Nazi Germany and Communist Russia.
Then ensued World War II, where Poland lost effectively 33% of its population, much of its land, and then had to suffer the indignity of being a Soviet satellite state until 1991.
In light of the historical context, this dedication and declaration in 1926 is even more poignant and meaningful. Poland, declaring its admiration and dedication to the ideas of liberty, democracy, and freedom and rule by the people, openly did so and presented these 13 volumes to President Calvin Coolidge in 1926.
My question is this: did this fall on deaf ears in the United States at that time? It would only be 13 years from this event to the German invasion of Poland. America’s neutrality let the Polish people down.
It would take the full mobilization of the United States after Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941, and full participation in the war to defeat Germany. But again, Poland was let down. Hand over in a de facto meeting at Yalta, Poland, and most of Eastern Europe, was put under the Soviet sphere of influence.
The fall of the Berlin Wall and the subsequent fall of all communist regimes, finally gave Poland the freedom it admired, and so desired, declared and dedicated in 1926 in this document.
In the first pages of the declaration, the Polish heroes who fought for American freedom are mentioned: Thaddeus Kosciusko and Casimir Pulaski.
Today, Poland is part of NATO, has a western style democracy, and also has a thriving economy in the former Warsaw Pact/Soviet bloc. The ties with the United States are stronger than ever.
We need to remember history, so that we can allow this document to be remembered to help bind our two nations together even more closely, for the present and for the future.
Originally published on my regular blog: http://jameszaworski.blogspot.com/2012/04/poland-stribute-to-sesquicentennial-of.html
Proselytizing Christians in China Suck.
You know, I was raised as a Roman Catholic Christian. I don't practice, nor believe, in the tenets of Christianity any more, and perhaps this was due to my studies in anthropology and history. Studying comparative religions in my anthropology studies, I learned that religion works essentially as a mirror. In that mirror, you should see reflected back your culture, it's norms, values, traditions, morality, etc. That's fine. The religion, when functioning in harmony with the culture will tend to change as the culture changes. However, when one codifies, that is, writes down and "concretizes", these doctrines as part of religious laws, then we have a situation where the religion does not change, even when the society or culture in general may undergo change, and even significant change, over time. At this point, we have what is called a "disconnect".
When I read the Gnostic Gospels, those discovered at Nag Hammadi, Egypt, in the 1940s, and finally translated form the original Coptic, I realized that there was no one "true" aspect of what was considered to be "Christian truth". This was, for all intents and purposes, a whole other sect of early Christianity, that had a different interpretation of the life of this Jesus character, and essentially said that the resurrection of the Christ was metaphorical, symbolic, and an expression of the transcendence of our experience as humans, as we have to "die" to our "nature", and "rise again", to a new consciousness and reality. It appeared that this sect was not in step with the "orthodox" early Christianity. The literal resurrection of Christ, the basis of all current Christian traditions and beliefs, and the foundation of the whole religion of over 1 billion people worldwide, seems to have been "invented" for a political power play!
It all just reinforced my suspicions and ideas that religion is just another way to justify power, within the cultural context. The Gnostic Gospels really put the nail in the coffin for me once and for all, in terms of having any "faith" in organized religion.
This does not mean that I don't respect religion, and am not interested in it. It is endlessly fascinating to me, is part of how I was raised, and was a big part of my life for a time, in my youth. But essentially, I am an agnostic, the opposite of the "Gnostics", who "knew". I "don't know", and so cannot be an "atheist", for I cannot prove, or disprove, that which cannot be proved, that is "god", the transcendent, whose attempt mythology and folklore and religion attempt to explain. To "explain the unexplainable" in language that is idiomatic, figurative, and metaphorical, is complicated, and is what religions are all about, though we get stuck with the "myth" instead of the "meaning or message" of the myth.
Now, I am a university professor in Macau, and have been working and living in Asia for the past seven years. I'm an anthropologist, historian, and also archaeologist as well.
I came to China to learn more about, and experience, this ancient civilization and this important modern, and developing society that was undergoing some changes. I came here with great responsibility as a teacher, not to tell my students what to think, or even how to think. That is up to them to do.
At times, in the past five years of teaching in mainland China, I have come across Chinese Christians, converts, as it were. They encounter me, and think that I am a practicing Christian, just because I am a foreigner. I am not. In the PRC, practicing Christianity openly, in a non-sanctioned, non-state supported church, is not a good thing to do.
I avoided these Chinese Christians like the plague when in mainland China, in part because I didn't want any trouble from authorities, and in part because I am not Christian, and don't want to be part of this "group".
One day, a rather persistent convert followed me from the subway to the bus to my stop with his bible, and kept proclaiming "jesus this" and "jesus that" to me in English. I disagreed with him, tried to move to another chair, and was only puppy dogged by this guy. When I got off at my stop, he did too, and informed me that his "church", had a "congregation" every week in the Tiley Building in Nan Shan, Shenzhen. He invited me to come, I declined. He told me how these "white haired foreigners from America", had "shown him the truth". They were Evangelical Christians.
How dare you! You come to China, prey upon people (likely getting them into trouble), and try to say "my culture is better than your culture"! How dare you!
The audacity! The small mindedness! The ethnocentrism!!!!!! You think your culture is better than another, and your religion is better than another?????
Tonight, one of my students asked me some questions after class. She told me that her high school English teacher was a Christian, and that this person told the students that "Christianity" was better than Chinese culture! So, this English teacher came to China to convert 14-year old kids!! So, prey upon the vulnerable, try to convert the uncertain, and do underhanded things to get the converts and in the process, totally mess with someone's life, their psyche, and their head. You think you helped these kids? You sent them into shock, questioning who they are, where they belong, and told them that their parents are all wrong, and that you are right.
I asked my student if she felt pressure and unease as a result of this, and she said yes. She further told me that her friends, Christians, were pressuring her to convert. Peer pressure. I asked her if she felt comfortable about it, and she said no. She cannot make herself believe, and doesn't like this kind of thing.
I, as her teacher and her friend, and as one who does not want to influence her to give in or resist, merely asked her what she wants to do. She said she doesn't want to do this. I said, ok. She asked me if I was Christian, and I told her that I used to be. She asked me why, and I told her. But I told her also that I respect the religion. I did not dissuade her. I did not persuade her. She is 19, and can make up her own mind.
I am a cultural relativist, which means, I do not want to impose my culture upon another, and will not judge another culture, or member of another culture, based on my culture. It is the opposite of what most people do, which is ethnocentrism. This is the value judgments that one makes about another culture, based on the norms and values of his own culture. Of course, the latter is a very natural thing to do, and the former is difficult to do. But it takes a great deal of cultural awareness, self reflection, and questioning of one's own culture, values, beliefs, norms, etc. to be effective at the former, and no one can truly escape one's own culture completely, in terms of world view.
But, it made me angry. How dare these Christians who come to Asia, and try to convert students! That is not your job, and it is not what you have been hired for! If you are teaching English, you have no right to convert students to Christianity! Okay, you can talk about the religion, and talk about its holidays, and why they are important to Christians, but that is not the same as preaching the religion, making value judgments, and trying to make converts!
So, proselytizing Christians in China, and elsewhere, you suck.
That is my personal, and professional opinion.
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It was July, 2004. I was very, very overweight at the time. I was also unhappily married. My master's degree was still yet to be achieved, and I needed a break. My divorce was looming, and the writing was on the wall.
To get away, I took a trip "out west" with my sister and my niece to surprise her son and big brother (respectively), in Grand Teton National Park. My nephew, Ray, was with the boy scouts, and went on this big camping field trip.
I hadn't yet dealt with some of the issues that complicated my life at that point, but was dealing with them, whether they be personal, academic or professional. However, to get peace of mind, this trip was a perfect opportunity to do so.
Traveling to "the west" was a family tradition that began with my parents, particularly my father. For many summer vacations, we would visit the mountains of the west, starting with the Black Hills of South Dakota, as well as the Rockies of Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho, Montana and New Mexico and Arizona. This love of the mountains has always lured we Illinoisans, from the flat land to the diverse and wonderful land of "the west".
The Great Plains was always, for us flat landers, more flat land. That was then. I was six, or seven, or ten years old. In the thirty years that elapsed, I learned to appreciate the biological, ecological, historical, cultural and geological aspects of the Great Plains, though we blew through them at eighty miles an hour, as my sister drove the Ford Explorer to "make good time".
Regardless, our objective was Grand Teton National Park, up a place called "Death Canyon" to the campground where the boy would be. We arrived there, and the trail head parking lot had the vehicle from Illinois, complete with The Boy Scout logo on it, and indeed, the boy in question's tell-tale fanny pack with Darth Vader on it, Harry Potter, and also Frodo. We were in the right place.
We hiked up the trail, some 10 km up and back. I was fat. Fat boy James. 125 kg of bigness. My back was killing me. I messed up and left the sister and niece behind. There were no mobile phones, and the signal was impossible. I got up to the campground. It was abandoned. I was too late. The troop had decamped and had gone to another site.
Unknown to me, other members, the scout leader in question who had the keys to the van, descended (I didn't know him from Adam, and talked with him at the scenic overlook). My sister gave me holy hell when I finally descended!
But, my back was killing me. I was a chub fuck! After the chiding, and the scolding and the cursing and arguing back and forth, the yelling too, and the threats of leaving me there and "F. U.", I got back into the car, and we did rendezvous with nephew Ray. Then we were to drive back to firstly the Black Hills, where my sister and her husband have land, and then back home.
Well, my back was shot, even though the exercise had done my body some good. But, I couldn't sit in one place and begged to be allowed to fly back home, to Chicago.
We booked the tickets from Rapid City and I was to fly to Chicago. The route was circuitous, as this story is. I was to fly to Denver, and then wait for a while and then on to Chicago.
But, it was not meant to be, cherie!
Which leads me to my main point: I got stuck in the airport in Denver. Why? It was raining, and raining, and it was a situation of record rainfall for that place and that time. So, the flight to Chicago took me southwest from Rapid City about 500 miles, and further away from my destination. They allowed us to land, but they didn't allow us to fly to Chicago!
So, I was stuck there in the Denver Airport. I tried to escape. I wanted to rent a car. My credit cards were so maxed out that I couldn't do it! So, there I was, stuck in the airport. I was not alone; thousands of stranded travelers were with me.
I was there for an indefinite period of time. It turned out to be thirty-six hours!
Okay, try to bunk on the floor, or, if you were lucky, a bench in an airport. The announcements are loud, and they come often. People go back and forth, and talk. You end up drifting off finally, in an eerily and uneasy, sleep.
It was in such a state, after about thirty hours that I drifted in and out of sleep.
I found a bench (I appropriated one when some poor bastard went to the bathroom and took his shit with him and didn't return for ten or fifteen minutes), and staked it out. I crashed out. Sleep was inevitable and also possible!
I woke after something like five and a half hours of fit full sleep. When I did wake, the slug-like form that I had noticed before I slept was on the phone, a mobile phone. That was rather less common in 2004. I awoke, and listened to the conversation, as she sat up. She was talking to her manager, and talking about someone she met, and after her phone conversation, I introduced myself to her.
We talked for a few minutes, and it was nice. She had to leave because the planes were leaving. Sasha Butterfly had her guitar with her, and she made an impression on me.
I wrote a poem about this experience. I never published it before. However, I just found it in my old hard drive from my computer from that time.
I publish it here now:
James Paul Zaworski
Dozing drearily in the Denver airport I woke,
To hear an angel as she spoke,
A kindred spirit perhaps,
Young but wise…
Yet a powerful spirit in disguise.
Meeting Sasha Butterfly made my day--
A lovely real person, kind in every way.
My parting wish to Sasha was this (but I’m sure she knew):
That is, to know herself and follow her bliss.
We shook hands and introduced ourselves
and then she left in haste, to catch her flight
and I smiled quietly, thinking she will be alright.
So, my story of this event is complete.
I Guess I’ll Go Home and Cry in my Sushi.
Well, it finally happened to me (again): culture shock!
I have been living and working outside of the United States since 2005 (except for a year when I worked in archaeology in 2006). I've been in Macau since the end of August, 2011 and had worked and lived in Shenzhen for almost four years and also a year in Japan as well.
This week was a very wonderful week for me. Sunday night was great as I went out on the town. Monday was very very good, with some great classes. Tuesday was even better, as I went out to the Macau Food Festival with two of my colleagues and had a lovely time. Wednesday was also very good.
Then came Thursday. Usually, Thanksgiving comes and goes for me without much notice when I am outside the USA. In Asia, it is difficult to nearly impossible to get a traditional Thanksgiving dinner, or even the ingredients with which to cook it, especially the turkey. I'm usually with my girlfriend on this day, and so am never really alone.
I got to work, and my colleagues all greeted me with the "Happy Thanksgiving". Most of my colleagues are Chinese, and all of my students are Chinese. They know I am American, and throughout the day, I was asked about this holiday, what do people do on this holiday, why is it celebrated and what is it all about. So, as I explained to them that this was essentially a combination of a harvest festival and a family holiday, I began to feel this sinking feeling in my heart. I missed my family.
Then, Deborah, an American colleague in my department, brought pumpkin muffins that she had baked, and shared with all of our colleagues. I gratefully accepted, and the first bite brought the memories flooding back. That did it for me. From that point onward, I was doomed to a day of culture shock.
Despite having two good classes that day, things got worse. I was told, in no uncertain terms, that I would not be able to have the same students that I have now for next semester. The students have bonded very well to me. They even gave me two yellow 'thank you' roses the day before, and one gave me a sweet Guangdong dessert for Thanksgiving.
In addition, another colleague invited me to Zhuhai to go to a Thanksgiving dinner at a restaurant in a hotel, a buffet. I had to decline as going across the border for me takes 2 hours, and for him, five minutes as he has the "e-card", and I am still waiting for mine.
Then, there was an English corner. The theme was Thanksgiving. My colleagues asked me to come, but I again declined. My mood was already low. My heart was sinking.
I told them "No, I'll just go home and cry in my sushi." There is a nice Japanese restaurant near my apartment building, and I go there a couple of times a month.
To go and "cry in my sushi" summed it up: I would have no turkey, no cranberry sauce, no pumpkin pie, and no family with whom to share Thanksgiving. This was the first Thanksgiving I was to spend alone in my whole life!!!
I had a loose plan, to go shopping and perhaps find a supermarket that had some semblance of turkey meat, even deli turkey breast, and maybe make mashed potatoes and gravy. But, as I left school I ended up wanting to walk down and see the Galaxy casino, about a mile away.
I was hungry, and it was 7:30. Across from the Galaxy, there is an Italian restaurant where I dine with an older American colleague on occasion. I was going to go there but thought, "Italian food on Thanksgiving?". Also, I had been there several times, and wanted to see if there was something else that I could try.
There is a Spanish restaurant next to it, and then a Portuguese steak house advertising Angus beef. I chose the latter. It was a mistake.
I ordered a steak, and a bottle of the house wine. The wine came first. It was a robust, hearty red. The plucky little red would cheer me up, I thought. I thought wrong. The more I sipped, the worse I felt, as I thought more about being alone. In the restaurant, there were couples, families coming in and out, little kids running around, and the Portuguese owner, a portly and kindly white haired gentleman, greeting the guests (regulars, obviously), hugging the adorable little girls, and the whole atmosphere was warm and family-like.
I was doomed.
My food came, and it was good. Everything reminded me about home. American-style food all, from the steak fries to the beef and the salad. But it wasn't Thanksgiving food at all!
After I ate, I pulled out my iPod. "Music will cheer me up", I thought. What a stupid thought! On shuffle, each and every song or piece of music that came up reminded me about family. This brother, that sister, my father, my mother, another brother: I couldn't escape it!
"Dessert will make me feel better!", I thought. I ordered a vanilla and chocolate ice cream sundae. It wasn't pumpkin pie. Sweet and delicious, I had a coffee with it. It didn't work!
Now, it was time to go home. I was pretty tipsy from the wine, and just wanted to go home. I went over to the Galaxy to have a look around before I took the free bus down town, and then could walk back to my apartment from there.
The bus brought me to a hotel and I didn't know how to cross the very busy road there. I began to cry. A lovely young Filipina courtesan talked with me. I wasn't interested in what she was selling, but needed some company. She saw that I was crying, and I told her of my ordeal and that I just wanted to cross the road. I gave her 50 Patacas if she would take me across the street. She did, and then gave me a big hug good bye.
I missed my girlfriend, I missed my mother, I missed my family. Who ended up comforting me? A total stranger in a strange land.
I then walked back to my apartment. I was going to call my mother. She didn't answer the phone. She's at my sister's house in Iowa. I don't have my sister's phone number! I had no choice but to go to bed.
Thanksgiving was over.
Dancing on the Tip of a Pin.
Dancing on the Tip of a Pin,
I balance and turn, and spin,
As I turn I smile, and grin,
Only will tell if I win
Every day is a fight,
To do what is good, and right,
Day can become night,
And black can become white
Life can both be,
What you make,
And what you see,
But for your own sake,
You should be free
On the tip of a pin,
Because you may fall off,
And hurt your shin
I have just completed my first full month of teaching in my new university lecturer position in Macau. It is a lovely job, the students are great, my colleagues are kind and thoughtful, and the location is superb! Below are photos from my experience there. The only thing missing is my girlfriend, who works in Shenzhen. I am currently in Shenzhen visiting her, and the first photo is she and I from yesterday, China's National Day. I love you and will miss you, my honey!
--James Paul Zaworsk
Why President Obama Should Be Given a Second Chance.
James Paul Zaworski
I am neither a Democrat nor a Republican in terms of political affiliation or membership. I did vote for Barack H. Obama in the 2008 election because I felt that he espoused the youth, enthusiasm, intelligence, background, intelligence and wherewithal to be the President of the United States of America.
With that said, I have been disappointed in President B. H. Obama’s leadership as President;. The reasons that I will give will define my expectation that resulted in my disappointment with his leadership. Obama is a Constitutional scholar. He appears to be a person who is like myself: an academic. He is willing to fit within a set pattern of allowed Constitutional laws that were set forth in our United States Constitution. As defined, and as restrained, through checks and balances, he knows what he can do and he knows what he can do, constitutionally speaking and not.
President Obama has limited himself, pragmatically, to what he can and cannot do, according to the United States Constitution. He has had a bad inheritance, but not one that is terribly different from his predecessor. The former lacked any thought whatsoever, and the latter didn’t lack this but set boundaries on what he could or could not do, because his lack did not exist in terms of knowledge. One was conscientious; one was not. One wanted water boarding torture; the other did not. One waged war in two countries; the other promised to finish them, but has not appreciably. One left the American economy in a shambles; the other has tried to pick up the pieces, and has not been able to fix it quickly.
The verdict? Obama is the one to blame for two years of not being to fix it. He has lacked the notable leadership of other presidents. He gives great speeches, as David Brooks has said before. He can inspire. But he may be the right man for the job at the wrong time. I don’t mean politically, but personally.
I guess timing is an example, and inexperience that shows. Perhaps a lack of confidence.
President Obama gave a speech at a joint session of Congress. A State of the Union speech. It was the one where he cajoled the Supreme Court on its decision to make corporations equal to individuals. He had said “I’m the President”; as if no one there knew that he was.
This was a bit telling: the President of the United States had to remind everyone that he was the President. “I’m the President”; he said.
Well, what the fuck? We all knew that, whether you were an idiot or a Democrat! Or both! Or, even a Republican!
He dropped the ball on that one for me, and has been wishy-washy on other issues, politically inconcruent, and just in the background while he waits for Congress to do its job.
Well, constitutionally speaking, he is right. He is the leader of the executive branch. He’s not a king or dictator. He can do some things, and the legislative branch can do other things. The judicial branch can do its things too.
Well, Obama has actually done a lot of good things. But has he been a good leader? I say no.
I am disappointed to an extent; but heartened that this is a President who has morals and ethics and follows the Constitutional rules to the letter.
But maybe we need a Clinton or a Reagan; a deal maker and a shady character who is both knowledgeable but charismatic and who can make the deal. Maybe we need a political environment in which the deal can be made. Maybe we need a resolute executive and legislative branch that is less self serving, and more patriotic about bringing the jobs back to America, stop outsourcing jobs, and stop favoring those groups who give money to them.
It’s just a thoug