“Here I Am” :  “inviting Unpremeditated Surprises” Thoughts on Philip Roth

LINUS AND SALLY MISTAKE SNOOPY FOR THE GREAT PUMPKIN

The Great Pumpkin and/or The Great Conceit?  This blog may be just another piece of support for the tired wisdom that there are few things more dangerous (or tedious) than a retiree with a typewriter. The Great Pumpkin was Schulz’ attempt to view the absurdity in myth, possibly in dogma, and to show that we often need to have something outside of ourselves to lean on. Schulz and Roth had two distinct approaches to the same issue.

roth

Philip Roth:  “I am who I don’t pretend to be.”

Our friend George Draper is in many ways responsible for this blog. I serve this up as a defense. What can one do but look out over the horizon and conjure up those items of meaning and pluck those that are most prized and ponder them, whether they exist in one’s reality or the chalets of his mind. What George did was send an email about our mutual love of the craft of language as it was practiced in the recent film, Darkest Hour, about Churchill, which ended with his famous speech in Parliament about “defending on the beaches, etc”. At that moment, the British Army was being rescued from Dunkirk with the assistance of Operation Dynamo- a collection of brave civilians in their “Little Ships”, the British Navy, the RAF and and some even more heroic French soldiers who fought to the death to protect the exit of the 330,000 souls. The film ends with a wonderful line Halifax delivers to a nearby companion, “He marshaled the English language and sent it in to battle”.

The Great Conceit? I am fully aware of my attempts at using this very language to get at what ever alights in my craw at any particular moment. Another tessera has been flung at me and here I go. George ended his email with a link to a recent article in the NYTimes about Philip Roth, whose work is being brought to life in another of those miracles of modern technology brought on by the collision and collusion of Cable TV, the Internet and often some Jewish-American writer- The Serial, an umpteen part story delivered on your favorite media platform. David Simon, the creator of “The Wire,” is making a six-part mini-series of Roth’s “The Plot Against America.”

The article, though, was my great distraction. Of course I know who Philip Roth is. But, to know. In Spanish there is conocer and saber. One is “know of” and the other is “to know”. I primarily know of Roth and am not sure how much I can know him, though that is my failing as a reader. This blog could be imagined as an individual going through a museum show at the Met from all that I have researched in the past day or so. Roth’s work has been collected for this one temporary show for the museum’s walls. It is not all of his work, for Roth is not like Vermeer, instead producing work like Rubens and they are everywhere now. Only some can be displayed in this show. I enter the Met, probably securing the lapel sticker by paying the most meager of offerings to save a bit of dash….very Shylock of me, and wander the exhibit armed with only scant knowledge of Roth and more curious than complicit with the man’s knowledge and command of the language. What I see, though, astounds me and leaves me wanting more. I have had a spiritual and uplifting experience. But, know that this is an experience a child might have in his coming of age era. I am a child in intellect when compared to what is found in the show and armed with only a yearning for understanding, something Roth might say, “the naiveté of the child whose faith surpasseth dogma”

What followed is a couple days of sorting through Rothisms, Roth links, conversations with Mary, conversations with my mind. The result is this collection of thoughts, lifted excerpts from articles and an assortment of links. If you suffer them and descend into the tedium of this retiree armed with a keyboard and word processor, I hope you enjoy Roth for what you already know about him and are intrigued and surprised by what is new to you. His is a fabulous life, you must agree, even if you are one of his detractors, of which, I found, there are many.

My thoughts will necessarily be supplemented by those whose command of the language is greater and more interesting than mine. It will be difficult to separate them at times and they will be shamelessly “borrowed” by me in the course of the writing. The blog will therefore start with my thoughts, transition into thoughts on Roth by experts in his field and then end with Roth’s own words. There are links at the end or within to all the sources I’ve used. This exercise was satisfying on so many levels, as I have always been fascinated and intimidated by writers and their aplomb with weaving words, though even more appreciative of their ability to capture thoughts, concepts, moments, visions, experiences, whatever and hand them over to me to plug into my very own synapses and commit them to my own mental imagery. How long they remain is the question. One that Roth himself pondered throughout his life and one that is central to all our conditions. Indeed, because he felt his capacity waning, he stopped writing novels in 2012. I fully understand why he stopped writing, just as I came to understand why Hemingway blew his brains out (He did not shoot himself in the heart, which would have killed him just as surely, and, if Roth wants to kill a character, he breaks his jaw)

Portnoy is perhaps the quintessential ‘early Roth’ character. We Americans share a conceit that the rest of the world both envies and abhors. Our quest as a nation is one that builds a shrine to individualism. What is admirable and abhorrent about that, though, is that it gives each person license to be an individual and to be naive. Roth also feels that we have allowed persons into power that have subjugated our goals and focused us on the material and the mundane. He also has been prescient in his writing and the article I linked above is scathing on the H.L. Mencken World we now live in with Trump. Such fabulous use of adjectives for the man and his cronies.

Roth is the consummate individual, but he is also Jewish. He is also American. He is also from New Jersey and New York City. His navel is one that cannot escape those facts, even though his views apply to every nook and cranny of the urban and suburban life in America. His characters must first have been exposed to that life.

So, for me, the historian, the fascination is with the cultural and historical context of Roth as a man and writer, and my attempt to understand him at his word and within my understanding of the America he grew up in, one that closely parallels some of my own, though he had a head start in years by more than a decade and a head start in intellect by more than many, many points on the IQ scale. My own conceit as an American is that I think it would be interesting to have a conversation with him in the living room, knowing that he really shouldn’t be there in reality, but that I’m worth it. We Americans have a poor sense of seeing the big picture…we love the view from our navel. So did Roth, it seems, but what a navel.

The Twentieth Century was not kind to the Jews, though in some circles it has been called the Jewish Century, a conceit or an approbation? Jews have been diminished in number in that century, forced to emigrate from their homelands and have chosen either America or Israel in the Post War in general to pursue their individual quests. Much of Twentieth Century history is defined by this fact. Even much of the impetus for the actions and words of the White Supremacists at Charlottesville engendered anti-Semitism along with racism. In America, in its pockets of bigotry, stupidity and recalcitrance, those Americans, all of whom have some historical family record of immigration, we see disdain for the ideas that challenge their small worlds. Roth challenged it, he viewed it, exposed it and wove his magical words in doing so. What a marvel.

That Jewish culture, in spite of the institutional and concerted attacks on it in the 20th century, has given so much to the world in the last century. Some of my blogs have attested to that fact and we need only list a few individuals here to confirm this statement: Entertainers, Musicians, Intellectuals and leaders in Science, Philosophy and Law. Our love of all the Simon work from The Wire mentioned in the NYTimes article and everything he did afterwards is added to that list and anything Aaron Sorkin does, with his recent Maggie’s Game benefitting from both his writing and directing was enjoyed greatly by Mary and me. Even the recent Cable program, Comedians in Cars Drinking Coffee, with Jerry Seinfeld interviewing colleagues of his craft demonstrating how important the viewpoint of anyone who spends their life focusing on the minutia of society and who can make us laugh at a very tiny incident.

Roth, observer and comic, is an example. In Roth’s “The Conversion of the Jews,” it is Hebrew school that serves as the unlikely venue for the sacramental act. Rabbi Binder tries to inculcate Jewish skepticism of Christian dogma in the minds of pre–Bar Mitzvah boys who would rather be outside playing baseball. One little boy, however, is listening, and when the Rabbi emphasizes the absurdity of Immaculate Conception, Ozzie Freedman objects: “If God could create the heaven and the earth in six days, and He could pick the six days He wanted right out of nowhere, why couldn’t He let a woman have a baby without having intercourse?” Rabbi Binder accuses Ozzie of impertinence and summons his mother to a meeting. At the next class, Ozzie tries to coax Rabbi Binder’s theology into a more capacious place: “ ‘Then, Itz,’ ” he tells his friend, “ ‘then he starts talking in that voice like a statue, real slow and deep, and he says that I better think over what I said about the Lord …’ Ozzie leaned his body towards Itzie. ‘Itz, I thought it over for a solid hour, and now I’m convinced God could do it.’ ” Finally, when all his scholastic strategies have been exhausted, Ozzie shouts at Rabbi Binder: “You don’t know anything about God!” for which he gets a smack on the face—and runs up to the roof of the school. At the denouement, when all the congregation—his fellow Hebrew school pupils, Rabbi Binder, Yakov Blotnik, the janitor with the mark of Auschwitz on his arm, his mother and the municipal fire department—are assembled in the courtyard below to see if he will jump; when his mother shouts up to him, “Ozzie, come down. Don’t be a martyr, my baby” and the pupils chant in chorus, “be a Martin, be a Martin!” Ozzie forces everyone to their knees. He has them proclaim the following doxology: “Tell me you believe God can do Anything.” Then: “Tell me you believe God can make a child without intercourse.” And finally, the catechism: “You should never hit anybody about God.”

No one took advantage of the comic opportunities of self-invention, of unencumbered encounters with the ambient cultures, more than Philip Roth. Even when Nathan Zuckerman is the anchor, his longevity embraces many twentieth-century Jewish incarnations, among them the young writer serving his apprenticeship at the feet of a Great Arbiter of the Great Books and falling in love with the woman he presumes to be the Greatest Martyr of all ( Jewish) time, Anne Frank ( The Ghost Writer); the brash young writer nearly crushed by the titans of literary criticism ( The Anatomy Lesson); and the “secret sharer” and recorder of another man’s drama ( The Human Stain). Finally, in Exit, Ghost, Nathan, himself aged and physically compromised, is reunited, briefly, with his “Anne Frank” (Amy Bellette) who is even more heir than he to the depredations of the flesh. There are other characters who tip over from impersonators into impostors—in the comic mode (“Philip Roth” in Operation Shylock) and in the tragic mode (Coleman Silk in The Human Stain). “My hero,” the Real Philip Roth explains to Hermione Lee, “has to be in a state of vivid transformation or radical displacement. ‘I am not what I am—I am, if anything, what I am not.’ … Nathan Zuckerman is an act. It’s all the art of impersonation, isn’t it? That’s the fundamental novelistic gift. … Concocting a half-imaginary existence out of the actual drama of my life is my life. There has to be some pleasure in this job, and that’s it. To go around in disguise.”

Or….Roth was a committed fan of Kafka. Kafka wrote, “The meaning of life is that it stops.” Is this Roth in a nutshell. What a wonderful seed he has planted from whatever nut tree he came from.

Roth, the anti-everyman…the everyman represents all of us. Roth wrote of the dangers of this, but every culture needs an everyman to set up the paradigm, to give us guidance, to make sense of the world. But, in America, land of the individual, this is obstructed or denied on many levels. Roth is an individual seeking to understand and expose the everyman.

In the first decades and again in the late middle decades of the twentieth century, Jewish-accented prose converged with the “scrupulous fidelity to the blizzard of specific data that is a personal life” and with the comedy of American self-invention to affirm what is also profoundly modern (in the sense of being perpetually in-the-moment): America as by definition the embodiment of “the new.” In the preface to his republished classic, The Puritan Origins of the American Self, Sacvan Bercovitch wrote: “The newness of this New World defied, indeed reversed, the common-sense meaning of new. … [In other colonial histories, one finds] that New France, New Spain, and New Amsterdam were new in the sense of replica, imitation, or offspring. Even when they condemned the effects of conquest, they promoted the social structures and belief systems of the ‘parent country.’ [Cotton] Mather, on the contrary, describes a venture destined to supersede a corrupt Old World. … His New England opens a new stage in world history.”

Roth exploited the permission granted his own generation, defined by Remnick as “steeped in America, in its freedom and talk, its energies and superabundance.”

Movements for sexual liberation, civil rights, higher socioeconomic mobility, and gender equality each begot its own fair share of challenges and paradoxes. In response to the moral respectability that American Jews embodied in their postwar milieu, and considering the myriad social forces put into flux by the turbulence of the ’60s, Portnoy’s Complaint took a different approach. Avishai observes, “Here was a book that seemed to say you don’t have to be this respectful. I’m going to tell you about the repellent side, or at least about a man who is in a struggle with the repellent.”   the virtues and perils of assimilation, the tension between personal and collective identity, and the ethical dilemmas emerging from these struggles—have shown themselves to be “latent in any bourgeois decade.”

In contrast to Augustine, Portnoy flips religion on its head, bemoaning its seemingly diametric and insurmountable expectations with a provocative if sincere forthrightness largely unseen beforehand in postwar American literature.

He satirized the speech-intoxicated, God-saturated idiom of urban and suburban humans who happened to be Jews meeting the speech-intoxicated, God-saturated idiom of urban and suburban humans who happened not to be Jews.

Isaac Bashevis Singer, who had had his own English debut in 1953 through Saul Bellow’s masterful translations, was the poster child for what Roth was not doing. In an interview for The Paris Review in 1968, Singer both dismissed and reinforced the conundrum: “To me there are only Yiddish writers, Hebrew writers, English writers, Spanish writers. The whole idea of a Jewish writer, or a Catholic writer, is kind of far-fetched to me. But if you forced me to admit that there is such a thing as a Jewish writer, I would say that he would have to be a man [sic! ] really immersed in Jewishness, who knows Hebrew, Yiddish, the Talmud, the Midrash, the Hasidic literature, the Cabbala, and so forth. … If in addition he writes about Jews and Jewish life, perhaps then we can call him a Jewish writer, whatever language he writes in. Of course, we can also call him just a writer.”

“only in America” is the question of identity up for grabs. And, one might add, only in America can that transaction be carried out in the comic mode.

http://www.tabletmag.com/jewish-arts-and-culture/219373/in-defense-of-philip-roth

By the novel’s conclusion, it remains unclear how far Zeno has progressed in his “treatment.” His final entry presages humanity’s return to health, but only through a simultaneously unspeakable and sublime catastrophe: “There will be an enormous explosion that no one will hear, and the earth, once again a nebula, will wander through the heavens, freed of parasites and sickness.”

The license was in the first place verbal (and here again the parallels with Irish orality and transgressive speech are inviting) and in the second, comic—what David Remnick calls “verbal robustness, people talking, being terrifically funny.” In an earlier interview, with Hermione Lee (1984), Roth referred to Nathan Zuckerman, the narrator /character who appears in many of Roth’s fictions and has often been identified as the author’s alter ego. “Zuckerman’s struggle with Jewishness and Jewish criticism is seen in the context of his comical career as an American writer, ousted by his family, alienated from his fans, and finally at odds with his own nerve endings,” Roth said. “The Jewish quality of books like mine doesn’t really reside in their subject matter. … It’s a kind of sensibility that makes, say, The Anatomy Lesson Jewish, if anything does: the nervousness, the excitability, the arguing, the dramatizing, the indignation, the obsessiveness, the touchiness, the playacting—above all the talking. The talking and the shouting. … The book won’t shut up … won’t leave you alone. I knew what I was doing when I broke Zuckerman’s jaw. For a Jew a broken jaw is a terrible tragedy. It was to avoid this that so many of us went into teaching rather than prizefighting.”

Acts of Impersonation

“I am an American, Newark born,” is the way a Philip Roth character might have paraphrased Augie March’s inaugural leap onto the literary stage in the eponymous novel by Saul Bellow. But these authors, like most of their characters, are also Americans, Jewish-born. What multiple particularities enabled and what Roth realized to the fullest was not a clash of identities but an amalgamation of cultural possibilities. American identity emerged in the second and third postwar decades as a meeting ground of cultures that were themselves in flux—although the process began, of course, well before World War II. “America, I love you. If I didn’t hear an accent every day, I’d think I was in a foreign country,” says Molly Goldberg in her own Yiddish-and-Bronx-accented speech, which was amplified from 1929 to 1946 through hundreds of thousands of Philcos in homes like that of Herman and Bess Roth. When Augie appeared in 1953, paving the way for Eli (the fanatic), Neil (the romantic), Sgt. Nathan (defender of the faith), Ozzie (the theologian), Epstein (the philanderer), and finally Alex (the neurotic), American identity was already being performed in fiction as a series of hyphenated but nonessentialized possibilities: Jewish-American, Italian-American, Chinese-American, and Spanish-American. (African-American has taken longer, and indelible traces of the ongoing struggle are exposed in Roth’s late novel, The Human Stain, which preceded Barack Obama’s election by only eight years.) But this process depended on two other forces that had converged in the years of Roth’s apprenticeship: the reaffirmation of an American landscape that had been deeply affected, but not physically devastated, by World War II, and the reclamation of an heirloomed Jewish comedy.

http://www.tabletmag.com/jewish-arts-and-culture/219373/in-defense-of-philip-roth

`

From here on out in the blog is a collection of thoughts written or spoken in interviews by Roth himself……..

Whoever looks for the writer’s thinking in the words and thoughts of his characters is looking in the wrong direction. Seeking out a writer’s “thoughts” violates the richness of the mixture that is the very hallmark of the novel. The thought of the novelist that matters most is the thought that makes him a novelist.

The thought of the writer lies in his choice of an aspect of reality previously unexamined in the way that he conducts an examination. The thought of the writer is embedded everywhere in the course of the novel’s action. The thought of the writer is figured invisibly in the elaborate pattern — in the newly emerging constellation of imagined things — that is the architecture of the book: what Aristotle called simply “the arrangement of the parts,” the “matter of size and order.” The thought of the novel is embodied in the moral focus of the novel. The tool with which the novelist thinks is the scrupulosity of his style. Here, in all this, lies whatever magnitude his thought may have.

The novel, then, is in itself his mental world. A novelist is not a tiny cog in the great wheel of human thought. He is a tiny cog in the great wheel of imaginative literature. Finis.

living beyond the limits of discretion and taste and blaspheming against the decent

kiln of antagonism, unable and unwilling to hide anything

Joe sweetly summed it up in just 10 words. “I did the best I could with what I had.”

men with their share of peculiarities who are neither mired in weakness nor made of stone and who, almost inevitably, are bowed by blurred moral vision, real and imaginary culpability, conflicting allegiances, urgent desires, uncontrollable longings, unworkable love, the culprit passion, the erotic trance, rage, self-division, betrayal, drastic loss, vestiges of innocence, fits of bitterness, lunatic entanglements, consequential misjudgment, understanding overwhelmed, protracted pain, false accusation, unremitting strife, illness, exhaustion, estrangement, derangement, aging, dying and, repeatedly, inescapable harm, the rude touch of the terrible surprise — unshrinking men stunned by the life one is defenseless against, including especially history: the unforeseen that is constantly recurring as the current moment.

Can you think of an ideology capable of corrective self-satire

And surely the fact that writers really don’t mean a goddamn thing to nine-tenths of the population doesn’t hurt. It’s inebriating.

The young especially live according to beliefs that are thought up for them by the society’s most unthinking people and by the businesses least impeded by innocent ends. Ingeniously as their parents and teachers may attempt to protect the young from being drawn, to their detriment, into the moronic amusement park that is now universal, the preponderance of the power is not with them.

Very little truthfulness anywhere, antagonism everywhere, so much calculated to disgust, the gigantic hypocrisies, no holding fierce passions at bay, the ordinary viciousness you can see just by pressing the remote, explosive weapons in the hands of creeps, the gloomy tabulation of unspeakable violent events, the unceasing despoliation of the biosphere for profit, surveillance overkill that will come back to haunt us, great concentrations of wealth financing the most undemocratic malevolents around, science illiterates still fighting the Scopes trial 89 years on, economic inequities the size of the Ritz, indebtedness on everyone’s tail, families not knowing how bad things can get, money being squeezed out of every last thing — that frenzy — and (by no means new) government hardly by the people through representative democracy but rather by the great financial interests, the old American plutocracy worse than ever.

This is not some quiet little corner of the world.

80th birthday celebration, March 19, 2013 In my defense … I should insert here that remembering objects as mundane as a bicycle basket was a not insignificant part of my vocation. The deal worked out for me as a novelist was that I should continuously rummage around in memory for thousands and thousands of just such things. Unlikely as it may seem, a passion for local specificity—the expansive engagement, something close to fascination, with a seemingly familiar, even innocuous, object like a lady’s kid glove or a butcher shop chicken or a gold-star flag or a Hamilton wristwatch … [-a passion] for the hypnotic materiality of the world one is in, is all but at the heart of the task to which every American novelist has been enjoined since Herman Melville and his whale and Mark Twain and his river: to discover the most arresting, evocative verbal depiction for every last American thing. Without strong representation of the thing—animate or inanimate—without the crucial representation of what is real, there is nothing. … It is from a scrupulous fidelity to the blizzard of specific data that is a personal life, it is from the force of its uncompromising particularity, from its physicalness, that the realistic novel, the insatiable realistic novel with its multitude of realities, derives its ruthless intimacy.

Take a look at how one author looks at the compendium of Roth’s work in this article and why Roth stopped writing…http://www.tabletmag.com/jewish-arts-and-culture/books/116513/is-roth-really-done

http://www.tabletmag.com/jewish-arts-and-culture/books/97617/portnoy’s-complaint-in-analysis

http://www.nytimes.com/books/98/10/11/specials/roth-great.html

http://www.tabletmag.com/scroll/174041/philip-roth-will-appear-on-the-colbert-report

http://www.tabletmag.com/scroll/146230/a-few-good-roths

Advertisements

One of the Best Bookshops in the World-The Power of the Word: Chinese Communism and Books in Today’s World a Little Over Fifty Years Since the Cultural Revolution

20090603-tank-cole-1000pxSince the late 70s, China has been shifting its paradigm, opening up to capitalism while trying to resist humanism, individualism and democracy. Up until the 70s, China was subjected to the Cultural Revolution. Mao had used his own understanding of culture, history and Western intellect to foment drastic change on a scale the world has seen before on a smaller scale and sometimes, like with the Killing Fields of Pol Pot, much more devastating ferocity.  Economics got the best of the CCP and Deng Xiaoping instituted great change in the management of the economy that led to growth and some movement of population, both physically from poorer regions to areas in need of factory labor and also upwardly through society. There occurred great disparity in wealth that is still increasing and also implementation of a one-child policy that was also another of history’s great social experiments. Tiananmen Square was the action and reaction that led to a clamp down in progressive intellectual thinking. The government has been trying to manage how the country’s population learns since that time. It still does not like dissidents or diversity in its citizenry’s thinking.

History is against the CCP, as you probably imagine. Modern technology and the simple fact that all humans thirst for knowledge, and with quenching that thirst comes awareness. Expanding awareness is what makes all of us better, though the pressure it brings for acceptance and change are both profound and can be radical to the status quo. Enter into Chinese society the seeds of change- books and access to knowledge. Many Chinese travel, as I am sure you have probably run across couples or groups wandering the American countryside and cities seeking out our sights and Western offerings. They are among the most numerous of our colleges’ freshman and post-graduate entries into higher education, comprising fully a third of all foreign students in our colleges and universities, as well as many attending our secondary schools for better preparation for tertiary education. The upward trend has been buffeted by the Trump election, as you can understand, and there is a question of how much impact this foreign enrollment has on admissions policies in our elite schools that needs further discussion and understanding. But, that is only a small portion of the wider question (for another blog) about what to do about our country’s costs of educating our citizens.

When arising one recent morning, I clicked on the television to the PBS station to find I had fortuitously started a program from the largest broadcasting station out of Japan that was being carried by PBS (another issue of national importance and what is of value in viewership- another future blog). What I found in this broadcast was a story about a fairly new bookstore found in Guangzhou, formerly Canton, in China. Enjoy the video by accessing this link. It was the most heartening half hour I had spent in some time and resulted in this particular musing.

The genesis of this blog is the connecting of that 1960s Chinese history, recent world economic events and the story of a young man who decided to leave his poor region of China a travel as much and as far as he could with the funds he had before ending up opening this store. His story is but one of millions of examples of young adults who travel from their birthplaces to find new ideas, new cultures, new hopes and plans. This form of education is among the most valuable any human can engage in. His travels took him to Taiwan, one of our former homes and one we loved, both for its culture, but more for its wonderful people. They are open, friendly and have their pulse on the modern world. We likened Taipei to both the representative city of the 51st US state in many ways, as well as being a modern, positive representation of Blade Runner.

The young man of this story is Liu Erxi. Liu ErxiOnce he left his poor province, his skills, drive and intellect landed him a job as an architect for a few years. But, he was not satisfied with that life and decided to travel. This took him on a long journey around the island of Taiwan, covering the ground on foot with a back pack. What he found from the people was positive acceptance, gracious assistance and warm hospitality all along the way. He also visited a book store in Taipei that is open 24 hours and attracts a huge following. His life plan fell into place from that trip. He wanted to engage with the world as well as the Taiwanese had treated him.

He returned to China with the hope of opening a book store. This was improbable, though, as the downturn after 2009 had witnessed the closure of many bookstores. Liu Erxi was determined though and took to the Internet and Crowdfunding for support. He found his idea was indeed very appealing to the Chinese public and quickly raised $140,000 to start his dream. 1200 bookshopLiu found a old building in Guangzhou and started to construct a modern store with warm wood features throughout. Within, he designed a kitchen, some dormitory beds for short stays and many safe spaces throughout the establishment where community could take place or anyone could sit and read in quiet. All you had to do was buy a drink (hot lemon tea is free) and you could stay as long as you wished.

His policy and philosophy for business are mainly to offer an opportunity for individuals to come into contact with books, to make enough profit to stay viable enough to keep the doors open and to welcome anyone, especially the disadvantaged and those at the bottom of the economic pyramid into his business. Being open 24 hours a day allows for differing marketing options and after midnight to offer special programs or for presenting discussions, lectures or lessons on important social issues. Having Chinese young adults talk about topics of dating and sex is novel in China, as these topics are never covered in traditional education.

The business interviews one of the customers each day to get their impressions and then post a summary and to date they have nearly a thousand interviews in their video library. There are large postits taped along the walls and stairs to allow customers to make comments and offer their thoughts to future customers. Liu hires people with disabilities who love the store and love their jobs. He welcomes anyone who loves books into the store and, if you book ahead, he will allow you to stay overnight if you are a backpacker.

Historically, books have been a danger to any repressive regimes. Censorship and control of information is paramount for dictatorships. China, a one-party system, has allowed much to infiltrate the economy and cultural opportunities of its society, and its citizens have now traveled throughout the world and studied in various countries without restrictions. But, the Chinese Communist Party does not want to lose power and the activities and freedom enjoyed in Bookstore 1200 are catnip to individualism and progressive ideas. Its titles continue to expand and it seems there are disappoints ahead for the store’s model. I wonder how the Guangzhou inhabitants will react to any restrictions on the present policies at the store. For the present, though, the atmosphere present in this establishment would be the envy of any entrepreneur.

14595808_1341932302492397_6878106112271743311_n17264210_1461757423858082_6047172774605762405_n

Enjoy the other links below related to this blog….

https://www3.nhk.or.jp/nhkworld/en/vod/asiainsight/2022191/

https://www.facebook.com/youthchina/photos/a.1667893260128330.1073741826.1660021917582131/1768339040083751/?type=3

https://travelbetweenthepages.com/2017/03/27/24-hour-bookshop/

https://america.cgtn.com/2017/12/08/crowdfunding-bookstore-china-online

http://theyellowhouseintheu.blogspot.com/2016/05/1200-bookshop.html

http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/china/2014-07/10/content_17712589.htm

https://www.retailnews.asia/chinese-bookstores-rank-among-worlds-coolest/

https://skive.it/scanner/guangzhou/Top-3-bookstores-in-Tianhe-District-Guangzhou.html

http://wgno.com/2015/08/04/worlds-coolest-bookstores/

https://www3.nhk.or.jp/nhkworld/en/live/

سَاحِل = Coastal: Let’s connect the dots between Franklin in 1968 and Taraji in 2018 Happy MLK

Today is Martin Luther King  Jr. Day. For this country this year, it is one that will be more divisive than normal. With Trump causing yet another debacle stir with shithole comments, triggering racial attitudinal support from many in his base and condemnation from most everybody else throughout the world, this country needs more focus than ever to fight against this insidious part of human nature.

In 1968, Charles Schulz took action, with some persistent prodding from Harriet Glickman, to bring the issue of race before the entire nation in his comic strip. King had recently been shot and killed in Memphis and the country’s race relations were raw. Ms. Glickman wrote to Schulz suggesting a black character for the Peanuts strip and that the time was right. Schulz thought not, but was convinced by her and by his own internal temperament over a few weeks’ time and two letters from Ms. Glickman. By July 31st,  Franklin was introduced to the Peanuts strip.

Franklin-1Of course, this addition did not go over well in the South. How can you have a black kid in THIS cartoon strip, and on a beach with white kids to boot. Beaches were de facto segregated in many places even though the Civil Rights laws were in place. There were complaints, threats and such from some readers, but Schulz said he would quit writing the strip if the character were removed and Franklin stayed a part of the cartoon family for the next four-plus decades.

prefranklinfirst-franklins-loThe Peanuts strip has had books written about it and Charles Schulz’s impact on the sociological and philosophical character of this country is indisputable. History has been trying to parse his work within the context of the times in which they were written, but you cannot disagree that he was the voice of reason, even if his message to kids was stark and cautious about the future. Happy endings were not his forte.

schulzvvSo, 2018. We’ve had Wonder Woman, the first black super hero, #MeToo morphing into Time’s Up, Shithole and a persistent percentage of Trump supporters in the teens percentages that will support him even when he shoots someone dead. This is reality. But, as evidenced by 5th graders hearing a story from an elderly couple brought to their classroom to learn about civil rights issues from the 50s and their being denied a hotel stay for their honeymoon because of their color and those students writing letters to right the wrong, we can educate.

If we can get a cartoonist of color to introduce a new character into American media, be it on YouTube, the papers, Cable TV or somewhere where everyone can get at it, who should the new character be? What gender, what race, what educational disposition and career should he/she carry into public battle?

I propose that some talented cartoonist come up with a figure named Taraji. It means hope or faith, which we need a tremendous amount of at present. The relevance of this name to me is threefold. It is a name with African roots, coming from the Swahili language that has millions of users in eastern Africa, originating along the coast and having spread into the Congo in the west, down to Tanzania and up to the horn of Africa on the eastern coast. Also, it is gender neutral, being acceptable for a boy or girl’s name. And its connection to Arabic, African and American culture is a salve for us in America we desperately need at this moment.

It seems the character should be female, probably black, hopefully spunky, persistent, calm and intelligent, though also inclusive and funny. Sort of a black Natalie Portman in Léon. click on this LINK and image a young female of color with this disposition….leon

https://qz.com/571393/the-sweet-story-behind-peanuts-groundbreaking-first-black-character/

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/a/ae/Maeneo_penye_wasemaji_wa_Kiswahili.png

https://www.omniglot.com/writing/swahili.htm

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/a/ae/Maeneo_penye_wasemaji_wa_Kiswahili.png

http://cartoonician.com/crossing-the-color-line-in-black-and-white-franklin-in-peanuts/2/

2018 Is it different now? (Updated to include the Atlantic Article) What moniker or taxonomy do you choose?: Is it possible that you are different from the you who would have been born a hundred years ago-or even from your five year old self? But, take consolation in that at least your Googling is not your neighbor’s Googling. Plus the reference to and comparison between the Trump and McCarthy similarities. Have you no decency?

linkedThere have been historical changes over more than a century in the methods and technologies of how those individuals in business and politics who want to know what you think get that information from and about you. We are now in a smaller, linked world.  But, every individual in American society over the past century or so has also been impacted by historical changes, potentially making each individual different in basic ways from his/her predecessor. Thoughts on this are twofold, then. How do events, technology and methods for portraying the outside world in various media change over time as they bombard each individual through her five senses? And, how does that historical individual, the generic human, change based on this bombardment. Of course, this is a nature or nurture argument at heart and related to evolution in general. But what examples can we focus on to explore this for a bit of time?

In deliberating on these thoughts, it pulls any author in two directions, either looking at society’s changes or analyzing the generic individual living within that society. (This begs the further complicating question of what makes a society, which is also a moving target based on many factors) As each of us is anything but generic and wholly invested in our own well-being, how do each of us view our own personal changes over the time period of our life. If you’ve walked the path of MaineMusings for a few pages, you have come to understand that much of my appreciating my own life is the accomplishments and disappointments brought upon the world by the human race.

I have really come to savor those moments when I can look at a new thought, poem, narrative, image, figure or film, as examples, and understand it (or not, therefore triggering a combination of frustration, admiration, admonition and possibly leading to some form of homage) within the personal context I have in my mental rolodex of understandings. When a synapse takes place, that joy can sometimes lead to spontaneous tears, or sometimes euphoria is replaced with much frustration, founded on a lifetime’s efforts at figuring out what is going on and asking why does it have to be the way it is.

jonathan_carrollOur good friend Jonathan Carroll from our Vienna days, a personal era when many of life’s earlier examples stamped their mental impressions on Mary and me with such strong indelibility that those synapses seem to be the girders of synapses, is often mentally referenced within me when trying to understand the human condition. Jonathan has written over twenty books and his genre is one that he alone seems to occupy. He is a unique thinker who had also gathered a collection of synaptic bouquets that, to me, was intriguing, daunting and impressive. Thanks, Jonathan.

Of course, it pointed out to me that I had been running a race to collect information and that I was in the outside lane, looking ahead to the Jonathan Carrolls of the world and wondering why they were ahead. Were they faster, did they start from another starting point, how did they understand it better, differently and describe it so much more easily and articulate their thoughts so well. I still remember seeing the name, Camus, in a text in the office and pronouncing it as a dumb American, which was much of who I was at the time not having read anything about existentialism at the time. Jonathan calmly corrected me and told me a bit of Albert’s work in the process. Little did I know at the time of the existential threat that would be dominating all of our lives as the century progressed.

Of course, his race was one that was also different than mine, therefore an example of the ongoing human condition. But, I wanted to train for his race a bit, too. One of Jonathan’s thoughts, coming to the surface of one of our Kaffeehaus conversations we so much enjoyed, was that each individual is really many individuals. Baby Fred is not teenage Fred, and the thirty-something Fred is not either of them, leading to the old man Fred, who is yet again another. Such thinking is evident in the unique approach he takes in his writing of literature, as well as in the teaching of literature. He understood the many genres in literature, but was most interested in being unique in his views. He understood that we each signed our letters and checks and carried the same Social Security number throughout our lives and those are the markers that society counts on to identify us, but, are we the same John Doe that signed that letter at age eight as the one who is going to sign a future letter at age eighty? Of course yes and no. How does that question get addressed?

That has always been my own individual problem. As I have run this race, I am constantly pulled into different lanes, different races and have found it most exciting when I left the arena and went to a new culture to find a completely (though somehow intrinsically related to mine) different race. If it was scientific, artistic, linguistic, athletic, architectural or exhibits any skill that seems understandable, it intrigued and motivated me to sample it. That has left me a master of few things as a result, but still casting my net over a large area. The curse and blessing of current technology is allowing us to cast that net very far and very fast to allow us greater and greater satisfactions along with the accompanying frustrations, too. Much can be accomplished from the couch, though I do not believe it is ultimately beneficial to pursue life from this perspective.

Over the past couple of years, I find myself wondering about the new youths in our society, the ones who will take over the next rung of history. As we look at different generations in history, I became convinced their mind was becoming hardwired differently than my own. My own sample, then, is one that includes me, trying to remember that Jonathan Carroll admonition/accusation that we may not be what we seem and that we can be something different than what we think/believe/know we are. Perhaps there are many ‘mes’ to contend with over a lifetime.

How can we know? What is the label we would personally stamp on each of us if we had to actually fill out the form and make the choice? I know some of us take great consolation in being labeled, as it absolves us of responsibilities. We are only acting as we should, we have cohorts in our group, we are the ultimate victim. Would, should we cringe at the thought of being pigeon-holed into such a grouping? It is happening, though, whether we like it our not.

Politicians, marketers, friends, individuals antagonistic to our paradigms, as well as automatons-claiming or at least seeking metacognition, are looking at us and putting us into categories regardless of our understanding or awareness of this fact. Do we comply? Google, one such automaton using our information to categorize us, gathers all our searches and then starts to guide or guess what we might like-your internet ads are different than mine. If I now search using a word or phrase and my neighbor types in an identical word or phrase, we will come up with different results based on who were are in Google’s algorithm. The system knows me differently than it knows my neighbor.

Up to this point in the blog, we have been dealing with generalities in order to attend to classification. Classification takes specific factors and measures them against the evidence and then puts something or someone into a category, a neat metaphorical moniker. Our politics has devolved into a world of columns into which voters are placed based on who or what they support. As I write, another example of the idiocy of the world Trump has unleashed is at hand. He is now in his “Shithole Nations” phase of the presidency, classifying a whole lot of countries, all of them brown or black majority countries, and deemed them unworthy of American immigration policy. Again, he is being labeled a racist. If you are from Haiti or Nigeria according to him, you are not welcome here. I wonder what Hakeem Olajuwon now thinks of President Trump a year later? What will be the FINAL STRAW? The Atlantic Magazine thinks it is time. James Fallows lists the possibilities of salvaging decency for history among pairs of Republican senators. He states there need only be two senators to defect to the Democrats to allow for a movement to curtail and investigate Trump and put him in his place through the actions of that legislative branch. Look the the list he offers.

For purposes of this blog, though, I know Trump is a racist. But still it seems nearly 30% of the country does not believe that. How could this be so, the facts are there for everyone? Are they racists themselves and therefore not accepting of my truth? Is that a different perspective and understanding than a person a century or so ago might have had? Are we different, of course, but how and what does that mean to our culture and society and what will we become based on that conclusion? I have not found a pundit that makes me satisfied at his/her answer. I would think we, as a nation, would repudiate the racist option and I hope we do in November. But, who “knows”? Everyone is looking at the polls and their own sources to find out that answer. Take a look at all the links at the end to compare Trump’s approval with McCarthy in the early 50s. Even after McCarthy was repudiated and disowned, there were still hundreds of thousands of Americans on the wrong side of history living out their lives with their beliefs. Is this even a useful tact to follow? Yet, the fall in McCarthy’s popularity freed enough Republicans to end his run and led to a Senate censure. Trump could also be at least censured, if perhaps even more done to stop his damage to the republic. History will take note of those who did not make that judgment.

Returning this blog to that initial question was “what you thought about labels”. Will looking at this paradigm help us figure out our country going forward? For instance, are you a baby boomer, a millennial, generation X, Y or Z, a GI generation, a Silent, generation I? If we do fit into these categories, why is the most important, what does it mean? As you are reading this, you are on the Internet, which brings you into digital classification generalizations. Marketers are using the platforms on the Internet or your phone to reach you, to mine your information and to find out what interests you. So are political parties, and perhaps someone in Russia.

You may or may not know and use the benefits of the following: Facebook, Email, Messaging, App use, the Cloud, Snapchat, BuzzFeed, Pinterest, Reddit, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and others, but anyone wanting power or money certainly knows how to access and use them and are hoping to get at who you are when you use any one of these platforms.

As an historian, the intriguing questions for me are to compare and contrast information dissemination and consumption in the past with those available today. What factors must we consider in looking at the issue? There are many more sources for news today when compared to earlier in the century. Some are visual with images and text, some add sound and animation/motion. What IS news is certainly an factor: Facebook is under scrutiny and an attack by some in power because of its ability to change the very nature of our minds, culture and country.

Now geography and what is the news are important factors, though one’s predisposition on thoughts, feelings and beliefs has always influenced how anyone processes information. Because of the computer age, algorithms determine far more now than in the past, therefore the classification of Generation I or the iGeneration. But, with all of these factors, what is the main issue a person grasps to inform his/her choices and beliefs; if faced with choices within the many factors of an issue, what factor rises to the top.

What is an issue we can throw out there for you to consider historically: let’s use race again in a follow up to the other shitholes out there. It is endemic in American politics and economics and has been from the founding of the country. Consider this excerpt from a recent NYTimes article by Charles Blow to take us back to a couple of generations ago. “As President Lyndon B. Johnson said in the 1960s to a young Bill Moyers: “If you can convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll empty his pockets for you.” Is the present Republican Party parsing into what it is based on the power of money. Of all the issues important to its members, are they caving to a racist in order to keep power? Will they pay for it? The one intermittent poll we can use is voting, but is even this final polling truthful, reliable? We really don’t know in today’s world. But, in November many of us will use its results to determine what this country is, means, stands for and where it wishes to go. History will measure us again and historians will start analyzing and describing what has been happening. But, trust me, many Americans will be living an alternate existence as they do now and that will be problematic. Consider this change in how we classify and categorize opinions and labels from a generation ago.

In the personal-interview era of the Truman and Eisenhower presidencies, just a few organizations, notably Gallup and Harris, had the facilities and national field staffs to conduct public opinion polls for news organizations. ct-truman-defeats-dewey-1948-flashback-perspec-1113-md-20161111.jpgLook at how wrong some of the newspapers were in tracking opinion in 1948. At that time, there were many people on the coasts with telephones, few with televisions and the local newspaper and radio stations were the disseminators of information for the majority of the country.

Returning to the Johnson era again: In “The Powers That Be,” David Halberstam reports a warning from outgoing president Lyndon B. Johnson to incoming vice president Spiro T. Agnew: “[W]e have in this country two television networks, NBC and CBS. We have two newsmagazines, Newsweek and Time. We have two wire services, AP and UPI. We have two pollsters, Gallup and Harris. We have two big newspapers: the Washington Post and the New York Times. They are all so damned big they think they own the country.” (David Halberstam, The Powers That Be (New York: Knopf, 1979), 596.)  Indeed, when Walter Cronkite opined that the war was lost, Johnson knew his goose was cooked.

From the Johnson era forward we have added hundreds of stations, lost newspapers, added blogs and other platforms and have each retreated into our niches to address the world as it unfolds. There now seems to be thousands of classifications available to the marketers, who are pigeonholing us by the click, and we are heading for that world where we enter a car with no steering wheel, plug in the destination, are bombarded with options along the route for stops to buy products that an algorithm determines we would be interested in, and will be sorting through the dozen or so “favorites” we’ve “chosen” on our drop down menu on the car’s computer panel occupying the place where the personal controls used to be. Perhaps the best way to think about public opinion at that time and its relationship to politics and policymaking is that the American public is typically short on facts in spite of having access to more than ever in history, but often long on judgment. (2009 pew research article)

 

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/politics/wp/2017/05/01/trump-is-viewed-more-negatively-now-than-joe-mccarthy-after-the-army-hearings/?utm_term=.6dabce5b49fd

https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/07/donald-trump-joseph-mccarthy/399056/

https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2018/01/the-voters-abandoning-donald-trump/550247/

 

 

 

#MeToo Two: What is the question on the mind of the woman in the window? Does she have enough in life?

feminism paintingWomen in all societies (with the exception of the Amazonians in Wonder Women) have always been struggling for the proper voice. With this past year being compared to 1992, when that year was declared the “Year of the Woman”, we now have the opportunity, yet again, to embrace the moment and offer clear and open discussions that will allow all of us to engage in a meaningful resolution to the issue of sexual harassment. But, what is involved in me saying “but”?

Unpacking this first paragraph involves history, legality, locality, gender, economics, power and authority. What do we want as an outcome, especially when the “we” is one that has so many constituents in the Venn Diagram of overlapping desires for an outcome. It is a fact that the human race is a collection of mutants, though humans have such a propensity for tribalising all manner of issues, be it from a gender, religious, economic, ethnic or racial perspective, that many in their own groups will even deny their genetic heritages and that they are a mutant. History is, after all, a story of the conflicts brought out by these perceived differences and the movement since the Western Enlightenment to describe universal human rights is the antidote to this thinking. The Second World War was to a huge degree, especially with Naziism and Japanese elitism, much to do with ethnic differences. The rise of nationalism throughout the world in the past several years is another troubling indicator of diverse approaches to knowledge. Obviously we have not been on an even, upward trajectory in pursuing universal rights and gender is a basic conflict/resolution factor of the human condition.

The #MeToo Movement of late, triggered by the Harvey Weinstein outing and covered by me in several blogs prior to this, as well as countless sharings on my FB page, has necessarily brought out all sides in the discussion. Recently, the august actress Meryl Streep has been both supported and pilloried for her views and she has just commented on her assessment of what it means to her and where she thinks the argument at present is and where it could go. The voices coming out, many by women, have stated their positions and that harassment and predation must stop. Agreed. But how to go about it?

Kirsten Gillibrand, as the Junior Senator from New York, has recently weighed in and some of us, I included, are troubled by her black and white assessment of the issue. Also, her strong-handed approach is central to the resignation of Al Franken, which is problematic, too, for me. Here is a portion of the NYTimes article about this issue: We owe it to our children to “offer clarity,’’ she wrote, to be spared “explaining the gradations between sexual assault, sexual harassment and unwelcome groping.” Mr. Franken, Ms. Gillibrand reasoned, would provide this clarity if he forfeited his right to an ethics investigation and stepped down, a gesture that would signal that “any kind of mistreatment of women in our society isn’t acceptable.”  It’s her use of the phrase “any kind of mistreatment of women in our society isn’t acceptable”…it shouldn’t be gender specific and what is mistreatment (harassment and worse) and what should be done to correct the situation? Was Franken a victim of principles or politics, was he treated fairly, will this come back to bite the Democrats? Also, after a lifetime of seeing Charlie Rose expose, expand and enrich, what is the true story of this man’s persona, private and public, and does he have a different worth than Matt Lauer, Harvey Weinstein or Donald Trump? How should each be properly discussed and then remembered in history?

There are many approaches on tap today: The religious views on gender equality, the male chauvinists whose beliefs are always difficult to disarm, extreme female feminists who denounce male privilege in all manner, transgender issues and those who live that life or support them, males who devote significant time to feminists issues and those others who want to do what is right, but want more discussion, more rule of law, more tolerance and an open society that allows for respected diversity on gender issues. How do we proceed from here, post-Weinstein?

My own feelings are that the Weinsteins of the world, for their horrible use of power to dominate those beneath them, especially in the case of sexual harassment, predation and attack, should suffer legally, economically and socially. May Harvey Weinstein lose millions in punishment, spend time in jail and suffer shame and humiliation for the rest of his life: his crimes are both criminal and civil in nature. This probably will happen, but he is only one example. The legal process, in acting against him and holding him responsible, will act as the proper deterrent for others. His will be an easy case to adjudicate, there is overwhelming evidence and numerous witnesses and enablers to be called as witnesses at any trial. But, because this kind of transgression often takes place in private, between two people, there is much to the ‘he said, she said” conundrum found in prosecution. Any prosecution can involves both or either criminal and civil law: there are laws on the books on both the federal and state levels, though these are often associated with the workplace, and often only related to businesses with a specific number of employees. Then, each state has its own approach and we have the conflict of states’ rights versus federal jurisdiction (an issue presently being aired in this administration with marijuana laws). Take a look at the links at the bottom in order to distinguish between the many definitions.

What will need to happen, and here I agree with Meryl Streep, is for all the various voices to be aired, responsible people to discuss options and then hopefully the proper authorities setting up guidelines and legally functioning methods to deal with any infractions. It will be messy, but hopefully one that is on a progressive, equality-based trajectory.

On the 5th of this week, Daphne Merkel wrote an article about exactly where we are leading into the Globe’s expected actions and comments (the publishing of this blog was a day before the Globe Presentations and we now know that this night was a superb celebration of the issue with many exquisite declarations and speeches carrying the torch further down the historical path), though, and is not sure where we’ll head next. I agree with the article’s arguments almost entirely, as it points out what I, too, would call excesses, addresses the potential pitfalls, again in accord with my thoughts, and counsels caution on many facets of this movement. Merkel, too, wants justice for the victims of Spacey and Weinstein and that such individuals suffer a justified fate in the courts and in society, but hopes for more constraint related to those individuals whose transgressions need more deliberation. She was not at all happy with some decisions that came close to ones championed by religious zealots. The author calls for appreciating nuance in most gender communication experiences, that people need reasonable social latitudes to comfortably court in public and private, not legal restraints on their minds. Most of the time, simple, honest communication between those involved is the recommendation. That has always had awkward implications tied to it for various reasons when two individuals may have divergent expectations for any relationship that may develop. Great literature is founded on this very principle.

What will complicate any hoped for trajectory is the diversity of opinion, the tribal nature of dissemination and consumption of “news” and the basic issue of sexual hormones in the species in the first place. We have moved beyond the animal stages in most instances between the sexes, but not in all (many American television shows seem to choose Neanderthal and an unrepentant Beast over a more complex adult). How two individuals get together for purposes of acting on sexual impulses will always need to be explored by the next generation. How that generation learns the lesson will be based on what is there from before, but also what is tempering the view based on what has been added.

Technology has complicated this. Broader exposure to alternative possibilities and even the expanding definition of gender and support for differences have complicated this. Narrow-mindedness will always resist ideas that are not within historical norms. Can a girl flirt with a guy, but not visa versa? Must neither flirt? What is a flirt? When and where should it be taught? How would anyone get from first, to second and around the bases? Has Sheldon Cooper been an effective teacher? Who is our present Charles Shulz? I’d love to have a great discussion about all of these questions.

I have welcomed the increased exposure females have been given in Hollywood, in directors’ roles, acting roles, storyline, etc. Wonder Woman, Lady Bird, Brooklyn, anything with Alicia Vikander, all of Streep’s roles and what is also happening on Cable and OnAir television are all heartening. Beauty and the Beast was intriguing for a musical, and I enjoyed that Belle’s character was literature, eager to teach and was a strong character. But, is the new movie by Del Toro, The Shape of Water, our new Beauty and the Beast? Mary and I preferred the French 2o14 version (please, in the original language with subtitles) for its sumptuousness, devotion to the original adaptations from the 18th and 18th centuries and the more modern European treatment and symbolistic metaphors embedded in their story, in spite of it being trashed in America. There are many good lessons out there. Unfortunately, there are many competing, less advantageous positions, too, for those who want to feed on that tripe.

Keep in mind that we’ve had moments in the past, some within our lifetimes to embrace change. 1992 was the Year of the Woman because of the publicity of the Anita Hill Hearings. If Joe Biden runs for president, we will here much more about that year later this year. In 1995, when the Republicans took over control of the House and Senate and Republican Senator Packwood, a vocal proponent of women’s issues was accused of sexual harassment, changes in Congress seemed to take place. With Newt Gingrich of all ironic individuals in charge, a method of dealing with sexual harassment was enacted in Congress that passed with nearly unanimous support and is in effect to this day. Yet, we will surely hear more about that decision and the people involved in its enactment as more public exposure is called for in the process of #MeToo unfolding.

More recently regarding that oversight group: “It was a system set up in 1995,” California Democrat Jackie Speier recently complained, “to protect the harasser. We say zero tolerance, but I don’t believe that we put our money where our mouths are.” In a 2016 survey by Congressional Quarterly, four out of 10 women reported that they saw sexual harassment as a problem in Congress while one in six had personally been victimized.

Past societal norms could be discussed from the Post-War to present day. What do you feel about the Lucy and Charlie Brown football interaction episodes? How did Charles Schulz deal with gender issues in all the many issues he addressed? From a recent article about this topic: “Reading any of the Peanuts comic strips, you would in no way think of Charles Schulz as a social crusader. Yet within his strips you see a startling amount of progressive social issues, including civil rights and gender equality, handled in such a way as to make them part of everyday life. While he never once mentioned LGBT issues, he did present a blueprint for to how to tackle those types of issues with integrity.       The all too common joke is that Peppermint Patty and her gal pal Marcie are in a homosexual relationship, but that speaks more to our society’s juvenile treatment of sexuality and relationships and our misguided understanding of gender roles. What we fail to miss when reading Peanuts, something I missed until just this year, is that Schulz didn’t create Peppermint Patty just for her quirky tomboyish behavior, although she makes an interesting romantic foil for Charlie Brown, but because he believed strongly in gender equality, particularly in sports.       Schulz was a sports fanatic. Baseball, tennis, ice skating and hockey were among some of his favorites. He was also a big supporter of Title IX, the portion of the of the Education Amendments of 1972 that says (in part): “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity.”schultz

In looking at the list of genre for children’s books, I was intrigued to find a wide variety of genres, but little on the nature of how boys and girls should interact. Recently, another female noticed the same dearth and took it upon herself to write one, though its initial purpose is satire and an adult audience. She read from it on Jimmy Kimmel’s Show. Perhaps we really need to consider many media platforms to deal with this issue for children from the ages of five upwards, and especially for those teenage years. There have been some really good coming of age stories that need to get more traction and distribution.

Then, programs like Mad Men and The Good Wife might have to need to continue their work. It’s not like there aren’t options for these issues to be properly aired. Take the one in this YouTube about an important Mad Men episode. 3-8-joan-and-peggy-elevatorIt involves Joan and Peggy. Excerpt from a Slate article: On paper, I’m all for Peggy’s position. Peggy is right: You’ve got to intervene and send a clear message. On the other hand, Joan is also right. Joan is somebody who for many years has been denied opportunities, and she’s always had to go by circuitous routes.    I’ve always wondered what the writers of Mad Men were thinking when they set up some of these situations. Are they trying to highlight how much things have changed since the 1960s when the show was set? Are they making a commentary about how little things have changed? That even though we don’t smoke or drink in the workplace anymore, some of the things that we associate with these long-ago times still persist.

That Mad Men’s creator, Matthew Weiner, has had his own issues with sexual harassment that have not been fully resolved.

As this is #MeToo Two, I can imagine returning to this topic with relish in the next few weeks and months. It is a watershed moment, as they say in history…….

Look at the links below to see how the courts and legislators have dealt with defining Sexual Harassment.  

https://definitions.uslegal.com/h/harassment/

https://definitions.uslegal.com/s/sexual-harassment/

http://www.cnn.com/2017/11/14/politics/house-sexual-harassment-hearing/index.html

Wow, 2017 in the rear view mirror!

2017

This year, for the two of us, has been a very interesting year. As we see it out in the next bit of time, we will enjoy the process of contemplating the blessings we have enjoyed. For all of you who have been part of our lives and have added to our warm memories, we are so grateful to you for being part of the mosaic. mosaic for blogI often mentioned the metaphor of a mosaic when teaching, as any individual seems to be her own artisan, breaking little colored ceramic pieces into myriad colors, seeking the proper hue for one’s current understanding of life’s picture, trying to figure out where it should be placed, all the while unsure of the final image. After more than seventy years, this simulacrum is attaining a clearer focus, one leaning towards a

Common_kingfisher,_October_2015,_Osaka_X.jpg

Halcyon:Kingfisher

 halcyon denouement.

How much do we control that image’s construction? I would like to think a significant amount, but, that is the story to be found in some future (or past?) blog. My penchant for epistemology is always blurring my own vision and it is sometimes preferable to let things flow, to listen to the wind, view the sea smoke, hear the crunch, tinkle and other chimes of the day on the way to the best wafting of scents one can ever remember. We have had our fair share. This past year has added so many.

My own tesserae seem to be coalescing around an image that points to one that has less and less motion. I think that is a good thing, for which I am finding satisfaction, maybe even resolution. We are nearing the anniversary of our reconciliation and assuaging of our common goals, the placing of all that we love, physically, metaphorically and spiritually, in one place. This does not mean that we are pigeon-holing our experiences, far from it. What we have found, though, is that it is enough much of the time on which to rely. Anything outside of the mosaic is a premium, sort of like having your Regal Card ring up a free movie, giving you a bonus experience. It has been a good year in spite of the obvious distractions. We truly hope yours, too, has been blessed, and, from the time we have spent dipping into your lives through the available social media reflections, we’ve viewed your many moments for which all of us can be thankful.

Some thoughts: Enjoyment in watching the recent Kennedy Center Awards, Norman Lear is such a blessing. How much he has guided us with his wit, moral compass and prodding. I agree with his moniker…a good belly laugh is spiritual. We need to make a belly laugh one of our most important tesserae as we place another piece in the mosaic this coming year.

Another thought: Mary and I just watched a program on Polish synagogues from the 17th and 18th centuries called, Raise the Roof. It is highly, highly recommended, but to fit in with this writing, I want to refer to what the college program leader discussed in the film. He was the head of an architectural program at an American university that ended up reconstructing a synagogue from photos, research and the very determined work done by dozens upon dozens of students over several summers who traveled to a field in remote central Europe and later to Warsaw to finish the job. Their accomplishment is now possible to view in Warsaw, in the museum constructed on the site of the Warsaw Ghetto-it is truly astounding and worth someone’s tessera…it has been added to ours.

This teacher had three universal truths he never spoke of in their entirety together. To paraphrase: Learn to love to work, for once you love to work you will never work another day in your life; Learn to love to learn, for once you love learning your life will be filled with wonderment; Learn to love to give, for when you learn to give the world and everything in it is yours. Another three tesserae for my mosaic.

One of our favorite mutual memories from long ago that is a anchor tessera that gets compared to the many new ones of the last year is a walk home from the opera in Vienna nearly four decades ago. It had snowed heavily throughout the day and was continuing through and after the performance that evening. It had not stopped the city, but had slowed it to a crawl. Workmen were out late at night maintaining the Strassenbahn rails to allow the cars to carry on. As we came out into the absolutely quiet, still night air for our walk across the 1st Bezirk to our home on the Wasagasse, huge snowflakes continued their quiet assault on every procumbent surface, leaving the city outlined in a bold white with the ground a deep, soft blanket. akkordeonThat walk home has been solace for more than half our lives and is referenced when we are reminded of all things good. This past two weeks have offered us many views to rival that night.

A fall walk in the vineyards of Alsace, a meal in the same region at the Auberge de l’Ill and shopping anywhere there is a long-necked Alsatian Riesling option in the bin in front of us connects all those earlier memories every time. Opening the door to our kitchen to greet the neighbors, the visitors from Georgia, Tennessee and North Carolina visiting us this summer and fall, our return trip on the Stephen Taber this year with the Walkers to book end the one last year with the Barretts, the annual Vienna reunion with Edie, the Drapers and Barrs-with the addition of the Dawsons this year and their daughter, Mackenzie and husband, North, and son, Finn, at a later time on a trip to Belfast, the mail person and our quick exchanges, rekindling our relationships with the many people in Northeast Harbor at our little summer business, the visit with Allison, John and the kids there as well, meeting Hank Jordan on the island and his wonderful stories of his lifetime in the village, seeing Sandra King, Pat Conroy’s wife, in Ellsworth for a catch up, anyone who allows us the opportunity to engage in the outside world, each and every one of these have been part of the events from the year that pad our good memories…it always makes us happy. There were more than the usual share of good feelings this year. Our business took us to Brooklyn and Manhattan which always is a treat to reunite with old friends and we are just about to return in a short while…can’t wait.

Our internal world at 13 Mountain Street has been among the biggest of joys of 2017. Here, we have finally sorted our books and placed them in their new homes, which, after too many years of allowing them to lie fallow in their respective boxes, we found we needed so many more shelf feet of space to allow them to remain. That was its own project during the year. Now, we have even opened the jackets and perused their contents. That joy of reading by the window has been supplemented by our frequent walks down the block to the 1928 Camden Library. It was added to in the 90s by removing the adjoining hillside, Camden, Maine - October 19,2013building a whole new section under the original building in order to preserve it and then replacing the hill. It is truly a community center where we have heard great presentations and utilized their texts, audio books and videos. The much anticipated and repeated promise regarding the library has been realized, too, to sit in their comfy chairs that look at over the bay window while we peruse the periodicals with no schedule pulling us away during the day.

Using the kitchen to its fullest was another joy. In Belfast, the town to our north, is an excellent co-op that has dozens upon dozens of loose product bins from which we pull the respective levers to deliver portions of Dutch Cacao powder, organic rolled oats and coconut shavings for making granola, Basmati rice, various nuts, King Arthur whole wheat baking flour and such. There are all manner of loose ingredients for health, seasoning or scents. In the area we have about a half dozen coffee roasting operations, with Coffee On The Porch being one of our top choices when we look through our options and after having made our own sampling tasting of them all. Our local slaughter house, Curtis Meats, is one of those rare options in rural areas, a place where small farmers and ranches bring their cattle, hogs, lambs and such to be delivered to the public behind a small glass case full of the apportioned servings with wonderful local family helpers exchanging stories with their wares. As usual in Camden, any errand that you had anticipated taking ten minutes or so turns into a visit three or four times longer when you factor in the chatting time.

The Penobscot Bay continues to give us the backdrop we seek and the nearness to a body of water that we determined long ago was central to our happiness. The harbors, inlets, precipices along the shore, the mountains meeting the sea, all serve as destinations either in the early morning or just before sunset when the light is the most welcoming and filled with life. It matters not the season, though spring, fall and winter have equal claims to our love of the area. Summer is the high season in Maine, so no complaints about being here then, either, other than 40 million visitors also come across the line to swell our 1 million inhabitants count.cartoon

As we leave the detritus of 2017 where it deserves to be and look forward to better decisions, better options and new individuals of honor and deserved valor in the news, here’s hoping yours is the very best for you personally. Come visit.

#MeToo : History’s Heroines in Art and Life

Artemisia_Gentileschi_-_Judith_Beheading_Holofernes_-_WGA8563

In the 21st Century, we are becoming focused on gender equality in a way that feminists of the past could only hope for…the public is acting now in such a way that change is occurring at a breakneck speed, with all that that implies and all the fumbles that can occur. Are Minnie Driver and Kirsten Gillibrand the voices that need support, or are we looking for someone other than them to articulate the way forward? In basketball, one of the great coaches, John Wooden, used to say, “be quick, but don’t hurry.”

The turmoil begs for some form of discussion. My suggestion is that we use history for our guide. There, women have been pushed to the background, considered property and objects for much of history in the Western world, with the other cultures dealing with even more repressive expectations for the feminine sex. The States has been a beacon for much of what the humanists in the world hopes for for a long time until now. Our reputation, both for our domestic citizens but also for the world’s citizens, is at stake. So, the figures in history to our rescue. If we look at the 17th century figure of Artemisia Gentileschi, I feel we have an excellent metaphorical model with whom to work. The above painting can serve as her best moniker for feminism, too. Symbols can be such a powerful talisman.

In an earlier blog about a week ago, I wrote of major events occurring that changed the paradigm of society throughout history and I posed the possibility that we are in such a episode in history today. Sometimes these events are not realized at the time and are evaluated by history in a different light. There are various factors catalyzing us today, but gender issues are taking up a significant part of our cultural oxygen at present. One event that has had a significant impact on us in the past few months, one that is still unraveling the social fabric and one also with which we have not come to a comfortable resolution, is the Harvey Weinstein debacle and the fall out from it. This event has already begun its evaluation by history. Of course, the Trump presidency has spawned much of this discussion, for which perhaps this is the only example for which we can thank him for this exposure. The Resistance Movement and the color pink are welcome arrivals that are surely making America greater, though he may be a bit uneasy with taking the credit. Don’t expect a tweet on this subject….

The Founding Fathers knew of feminism as an issue and their language in the Constitution has been used to advance equality on all levels. After World War One, the right to vote for all American women and feminism had a tremendous boost in society’s discussion. Mary and I recently watched a film called, Only Yesterday. Filmed in pre-code Hollywood, it was based on Stephan Zweig and other sources and covered a woman’s life through flashbacks. It dealt with premarital sex, equality, socialism, and women as objects. Probably its most emphatic message was the use of individuals on the lower ranks of society by those in privilege. Our present discussion on these is not new, nor are they at a point of resolution. How we deal with them are important, though.

Since the postwar in America, this country faced an even more heightened struggle with feminism, even with how to define it. From the 60s forward the feminist movement has splintered, spiked and sputtered. For many of us, the most recent conflagration caused by Weinstein and the other resulting exposures of other male perpetrators has been both welcomed as well as evaluated for its intense reactions. So far, the best bull horns for the process are the Late Night and Cable Comedy hosts, most of whom are men and clearly unhappy with the state of the union. How can we forward a meaningful discussion of the issue for society that involves us all and seeks to limit the polarization that allows us to stay in our cocoons of knowledge and beliefs. Of course, there will always be those individuals and groups who remain outside of this process, though one must argue that it is the Constitutional process being expressed and that the social, political and legal processes in our American system endemically must support a reasoned decision about what is acceptable in gender relationships going forward.

It is exciting for me when an unexpected synapse occurs and two or more ideas are married. This happened recently when viewing a program in French with subtitles. It was called, Artistes femmes, à la force du pinceau or, its English title, Women Painters: Who Were They. The documentary was filmed by Manuelle Blanc, a French film maker. It is found on Amazon Prime. It covers the significant female painters from the time of the Renaissance up through the 20th century, with a nod to French female painters in the 19th century in particular for that era (now there are some real feminists!). This program encapsulated the problems women have suffered throughout history in gaining acceptance in society, and most especially women painters, and the vast forces released by society to shackle women when they broke free of male expectations. Indeed, often it was other women who supported the male dictates against unruly feminists and pushed back against gender equality arguments that would have given them more freedoms.

At the end of the blog, I’ll include a few of the paintings from the program as enticement and also to indicate the quality of the work presented. But, for the purpose of this blog, let’s concentrate on Artemisia Gentileschi, the creator of that featured painting. Hers is a story that lends itself so well to the current Weinstein saga and she has been the subject of her own controversy in 20th century interpretations by earlier historians of this age, portraying her as victim, fabulous artist and at times a slut.

She was an important figure in the early 17th century and belongs to the Baroque Era. Her image and legacy are still under scrutiny, which is why I find her story admirable and exemplary: she suffered rape, a trial, torture, humiliation and a judgment in her favor, even though the perpetrator was not punished with severity (there are competing historical accounts even of the punishment) and her stature in society was forever judged by this one incident of predation. The judgment of public opinion is always one that is quick and often ill-aimed, even though once released can be fatal.

Beyond her immediate seventeenth-century context, Gentileschi has, among all the pre-modern women artists, given us some of the most elegant and emotional representations of Baroque art. Yet, for the centuries after her death many of her paintings were attributed to males and much of her life was forgotten. The giant at the time was Caravaggio, whom she knew, appreciated and emulated. Her mother is buried in St. Maria del Popolo in Rome, just under the Caravaggio Conversion of St. Paul. Artemisia would have studied this and others as she learned from his example, even while as a young girl when she visited her mother’s sarcophagus. She even surpassed him on occasion, especially in the painting I would like to offer you as metaphor for her life, Judith and Holofernes. The two examples, one painted by Caravaggio in 1598 and the other some two decades later, follow:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

In our own time there has been an attempt to resurrect Artemisia, though even in our own society this has even met with controversy.  Note that some biographers judged her fairly harshly at the beginning of the 20th century, when men were men and in control of the scribbling of history.  Try to imagine her struggle in 16th century Italy when popes had mistresses, Machiavelli was the rage, you could be murdered for you religion (oh, we can imagine that today, can’t we) and a women’s place was in the home. A woman of stature would only be out in public dressed in her finest and with an accompanying servant to announce her stature but to also remain prudent. In spite of this, though, there are some fantastic examples of women leading in politics and royal circles and societies, even though they, too, had to suffer much scrutiny and opposition. Look at this link to see Artemisia’s other work: scroll down to the list.

That Artesia became a painter was primarily because her father was a successful painter. This was true for most female artists prior to the 19th century. By her teenage years it was obvious to him that she had phenomenal talent. The work below, completed before her seventeenth birthday, demonstrates her abilities with oil. ArtemisiaGentileschi-Susanna-and-the-Elders-1610In the early 1600s artists, mostly because of the influence of Caravaggio, were utilizing perspective in a new way, with the subjects placed off-center and dramatic angles used to direct the viewer through the painting. Her father felt she would benefit from lessons from an accomplished artist who understood this new technique and in town there was a colleague, Agostino Tassi, with whom he worked on fresco commissions. Tassi was an artist employed by the pope and nobility in Rome and was considered a great painter in his time, often doing ceilings that were so realistic in their troupe l’oeil illusions. Artemisia’s father employed Tassi to tutor the seventeen year old Artemisia in perspective painting.

During their lessons Tassi seduced and raped Artemisia, though the accounts of the incident that came from the ensuing trial are different from the accuser and accused’s perspectives, as you can surely appreciate from today’s post-Weinstein examples of controversial renditions of events presented in competing and alternative universes on the various media platforms. At that time, the relationships between men and women were not what they are today, which you can also surely appreciate. Historians therefore need to take into context much when they attempt to recount earlier incidents as do readers. That women had a very limited voice in the 17th century is a given. But, if a virgin was deflowered it was legally considered rape and could be prosecuted.

What we today need to understand in looking at the trial is that Artemisia’s father brought suit because of lost honor and that his daughter, a family possession, was dishonored, thereby dishonoring the family. Her father’s reputation was more important to him than satisfying the honor of his daughter.  For Artemisia, once it was established that she had been violated, her reputation was sullied and marriage was the only solution. Tassi did everything in his power to paint her as a harlot and some contemporary writers have taken his side in writing about the personality of Artesia Gentileschi. There have been more recently been books written and a movie made on her life, and these accounts also differ on their approach to her life, her personality and the all important trial. The transcript is still available and was used in her biography by Mary Garrard in 1998. I offer them as yet another example of how difficult the issue of women’s rights, gender equality and sexual harassment and predation are to explore. We have much further to go in this human rights issue, as is revealed on a daily basis by work at the NYTimes and others.

Before going further with this blog, perhaps you might have time to view the differing accounts of Gentileschi’s life offered in writing and film. At the very bottom is also the video produced and narrated by Michael Palin, of Monty Python fame, who has spent the last three decades illuminating and enriching our knowledge through his documentary projects. The one of Artemisia is especially wonderful, covering the trial, her work, travels, family and lifetime issues.

The main focus of the blog is the linking of her most famous work, the painting of Judith and Holofernes, with the current #MeToo movement and suggesting that perhaps the movement should embrace this image and wear the T-shirts that are now available with the painting’s image imprinted on the front. It would be a dramatic statement to be sure.

The story of Judith and Holofernes comes from the Old Testament. Artists have treated this subject throughout history, but usually to portray the heroic and selfless actions of Judith in helping her people overcome a formidable foe. She was to seduce the leader, get him drunk and execute him. Here are examples from her time and before….

But, for Gentileschi, she used the theme for her own personal reasons related to the trial. It was painted immediately after the almost year-long trial experience and you can appreciate she had some very powerful emotions tied up with the rape, trial, her torture and outcome. Caravaggio had also painted the subject and she had her own twist to portraying the event.

The most provocative analysis of the painting came from Waldemar Januszczak in his 2014 series on the Baroque. His take in relating it to the outcome of the trial is that the composition is the metaphorical decapitation of male power. He looks at the arms of Holofernes and offers them as legs representing a torso of a woman and the head coming out of a womb, a unique look at the work. But, the work is without equal for its portrayal of a gruesome decapitation. Judith and her maid dispassionately complete the act with self-satisfying looks on their faces. Holofernes’ blood spouts onto the white coverlet with vicious ferocity. The Baroque is well-represented by the work of this young woman in her early twenties.  She will paint several more paintings on this theme immediately following the original decapitation. The metaphor seems fairly clear.

 

 

As we move forward with our own resolution to the gender issues of 2017 that have come to light with the assistance of the Access Hollywood Tape and the Weinstein Outing, we need to continue looking for our own heroes in this day. There are many from both genders giving us grace, articulation of the issue and possibilities for moving forward for all of us in America. I look forward to all these wonderful voices’ gifts.

Other female artists, in the examples below from the 19th century….

 

 

 

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Other wonderful links on Artemisia and other women artists (start with Palin’s film):

 

https://www.artble.com/artists/berthe_morisot/more_information/critical_reception

https://books.google.com/books?id=amDoDQAAQBAJ&pg=PT99&lpg=PT99&dq=morisot+defended+by+pissaro&source=bl&ots=yOgzNicYZu&sig=JWZnIppeEu0qdQKvVPXAMJheDP0&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjNtNuj9ZjYAhUJ7oMKHfLKDMQQ6AEITDAL#v=onepage&q=morisot%20defended%20by%20pissaro&f=false

https://www.redbubble.com/people/niceaesthetics/works/21130813-judith-slaying-holofernes-by-artemisia-gentileschi?p=womens-relaxed-fit

https://books.google.com/books?id=K-nALLkKkw0C&pg=PA264&lpg=PA264&dq=%22lascivious+and+precocious+girl%22+(Rudolf+and+Margot+Wittkower)&source=bl&ots=fbkZd_rIzP&sig=hugYG_O71HOYn29SZNmEcaMsBgU&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwj7w5DiwJvYAhWFOyYKHRiqCFUQ6AEIQzAK#v=onepage&q=%22lascivious%20and%20precocious%20girl%22%20(Rudolf%20and%20Margot%20Wittkower)&f=false

http://www.collegeart.org/pdf/artbulletin/Art%20Bulletin%20Vol%2072%20Vol%203%20Pollock.pdf

https://www.brooklynmuseum.org/eascfa/dinner_party/place_settings/artemisia_gentileschi

http://www.arthistoryarchive.com/arthistory/baroque/Artemisia-Gentileschi.html

https://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0691002851/windweavwebandwi/

http://www.webwinds.com/artemisia/trial.htm

http://members.efn.org/~acd/Artemisia.html  inaccuracies in the film

http://www.nytimes.com/1998/05/03/movies/drawn-to-a-story-of-art-and-rape.html

https://broadly.vice.com/en_us/article/ypa7bk/the-17th-century-painter-and-rape-victim-who-specialized-in-revenge-fantasy

https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/monarchy-enlightenment/baroque-art1/baroque-italy/v/gentileschi-judith

Fuck That Gator! BuzzFeed Article: Part 2 on American Culture

So, the title is out in the open. I don’t feel too embarrassed. If our president can choose salty language with which to utter his thoughts, I, too, can get crusty. If you have read the article, you have found “it’s complicated”. What seems obvious at first glance becomes something else the more you are informed. Thank heavens. If you haven’t read the article and are intrigued enough to invest more time, click on the above link and dive in. My own take after reading the article is that Tommie is an example of what is wrong with many citizens in America: they are too independent of the group, too lax in their appreciation for community expectations and their actions impact us and their own welfares on so many levels. Though, of all the things described in the article, his voting record and interest in politics were not covered. I suspect he is not part of the electorate. That is a good thing, actually. Would you agree?

I read the article with my own biases, but wanted to evaluate it based on it being considered for a prize in journalism. Where does it merit this accolade and what is the point of the article? First of all, it must inform. Does it need to entertain us? Should it tell us what to think about the collected information contained therein? Does it answer in the affirmative to any of these questions? If yes, it is diminished as a journalistic example of news.

So, what does it do? It tells you that a young man, drunk (how drunk? unknown. No test was administered to the corpse), comes out of a bar shortly after 2 AM. He is known at the bar and they have his welfare in mind. He decides, along with his female companion, to jump in the adjoining bayou to swim. The barmaid, who knows there have been alligators recently seen in the vicinity (because of that the owner has posted no swimming signs explicitly mentioning alligators), warns him off and pleads with him to desist. To no avail, though. Soon after jumping in he is attacked and his companion is nearby. She seeks help, 911 is called and help arrives in minutes, followed by Game Wardens, also notified in the process. He is not found immediately. It is claimed that the last thing he said to the barmaid, warning him of the danger and of alligators…..”Fuck That Gator!. (It could be argued that this is where editorializing took place…should there be an exclamation point?) There are competing ideas about this version from his family.

The lead for the article is, Tommie Woodward yelled, “Fuck that gator!” just before he was killed by one in Texas, and his death instantly became a national joke. For his family, grieving means having to rescue the person from the punchline. Okay, his death was a national joke. He was in Texas. His family wanted the public to know more than this about Tommie. But, what else follows? The character description of Tommie in the second paragraph paints him as a bit bullheaded, but others in the area had even swum with alligators in the bayou, which mitigated the threat to some degree, apparently, in Tommie or the author’s minds. We find out later in the article, though, there was real danger lurking that night in the bayou’s waters. The bartender, after trying to dissuade Tommie, went back to her duties. Our first impression of Tommie is that he is cruisin’ for a bruisin’ and he would have earned any he received. He was warned. But….

According to the next paragraph, the female companion immediately saw the gator and warned Tommie, who yelled his tombstone epitaph for all in earshot to hear. Turns out not too many heard as you read further. Did he? The companion, once he was attacked, ventured in and was told not to, after which she went inside for help. The barmaid came out with a flashlight and found Tommie after some few minutes, but he was pulled down and eventually disappeared in this first part of the incident. He was not found until two hours later. What do we, should we, think about Tommie at this time?

The next paragraph tells us this is the first death in Texas by alligator since 1836, but, more ironically and with some interesting wording (are we being entertained), the reference to the unfortunate contrast between the two deaths in that one occurred prior to television and social media on the internet. Because a lot of people took issue with Tommie’s character, his family, especially his sister, wanted everyone to know he was a person who was talented, enthusiastic, loved his nephew, worked hard and played hard in the outdoors. She said, “I was severely pissed off at a lot of people that I’ve never met before,” his sister” “I was mad at everybody.” We can all get behind her feelings after reading something on the internet, especially if it was disparaging your baby brother.

The next paragraph is a short one: But no one was affected like Brian was.

brianThe article immediately shifts from present tense to the description of the past tense when the author met Tommie’s twin brother, Brian.

The following many paragraphs that describe Brian are important. They describe his work ethic, what he thinks about wealth, employment opportunities and pay, what his skills at work are, his thoughts on rules, how much he drinks and what he can eat. He loves his mom. Is this informative? Important? What do you think so far…are you changing your original judgment? Also, how many beers are in a case? I found this a problematic question, but there is a near consensus on the number.

After the characterization of Brian is complete, the article returns to Tommie’s death and the official responses by the First Responders. It is here that the article gives the reader a more complete representation of what actually happened, the competing versions, the libertarian/mavericks who became involved, the legal ramifications and explanations for why the gator was dangerous at this particular time and who ended up killing the culprit that had drowned Tommie.

Once all of the information is provided, we, the more reasonable, find that the public reactions were too hasty, the legal response to the alligator’s killer reasoned and that, with full knowledge by all involved, even the deceased Tommie, there would be a very different version of this story.

My opinion is that this article, written by a trained individual who is at the top of his craft, demonstrates that society is best left to the experts and that we should seek to know the full story before we pop off. If we all did that outcomes would be best for the individual using the information and best for all of us….for damned sure. Bring on November’s election options for 2018, please.

@%#! That Gator? What comes First?: Our Founding Fathers Knew/ Part 1

david-brooks-large1The story about the death of a Texan that drew derision and despair. What floats our boats? Anyone tries to figure out how things work around them from the moment they become a rational being at the age of four or five, to maybe a bit later for many of us. Strike that. Rational being? This leans the discussion towards a Western concept of thinking, which, for me, is still a quandary. Being an educator for my profession, I am also a lifelong learner, but can’t escape the opportunity to pose a question for discussion and illumination. So, what floats our boats?

As Americans, we have been seeking this answer with more passion than is historically usual over the past two years. For Mary and me, the enjoyment of seeing how someone from another culture dealt with things- with money, sharing, values, food, crime, etc.- was always illuminating if one paid attention.

One of my very favorite memories is about the time we went on an outing in rural Austria. Mary and I drove out for a winter sojourn of cross country skiing and a meal, end up at a fabulous, simple restaurant to enjoy a meal that was definitely farm to table and only available during that season. Bringing the ingredients for such a meal at another time of the year from South America, Africa or Asia would have been both unreasonable from a cost effective basis, but also from a basis of elementary principles held by the restaurant’s owners, indeed also held by many Austrians… At some point I got up to use the restroom and wash my hands afterwards. In doing so, I took off my watch, at that time a not inexpensive timepiece. I forgot it there. We drove home and were more than an hour in route when I discovered the absence. We turned around and headed back, fearing the worst. Upon anxiously entering the bathroom, there it was. No one had disturbed its rest.

Another Austrian example came when Mike Marinucci’s sister visited for a holiday. Walking one day in the 9th District, she dropped her wallet containing more than $300. Mike sought the proper authorities in the neighborhood to see if it had been found and who put out the official notifications where they were expected, but nothing came of their Viennese quest. When Mike’s sister returned home a week or so later, a package containing the wallet, and the $300 intact, was waiting. There was no return address, only the reminder of honesty engrained in their culture.

These kinds of experiences were reinforced for us in many other countries and, indeed, often in our own country, especially in Maine. Having spent nearly half of our lives outside of America as anonymous ex-pats in the cultures where we lived- save for the very public sphere of the school community in which we worked and served- there is an advantage that comes from not being invested. But, in returning to the States more than a decade ago I have struggled with the investment. If one looked for information to inform investing in the stock market, sometimes they peruse the Dow Jones Average, 30 large, representative companies, whose aggregate values determine daily movement in the Dow Jones. I think we need a discussion about a Cultural Dow Jones Average, with 30 great principles and values to describe us. With this measurement today, I’m looking for my return. I’m trying to analyze our cultural market, see where the dividends will be best realized and what particular niche of the Cultural Dow Jones is worth following. I am not yet sure they are measuring the correct thirty investment options from which our culture should chose to better its values and principles at present, though.

Our Founding Fathers came up with ten options right off the bat, with number one being freedom of speech and all ways to insure that the public was offered clear and representative voices to allow us all to make choices on what the best practice and outcome could be for us, individually and as a group. This amendment, of course, has been dissected since its inception and competing versions of words’ meanings and context are important to understand such a discussion.

My own opinion is that the past two years have been most damaging for our comprehension of expectations around this first amendment. Others have, too. Steven Spielberg felt it important enough that he corralled the skills and talents of some fine actors and sought out a time in our country’s history for his current movie project when the 1st Amendment was also threatened. In early January, The Post will appear on screens in order to expose us to the story and hopefully rekindle feelings in the populace for the supreme importance of both the independence of the press, but support from the public in its mission. Many of us have binged Spotlight, West Wing or Newsroom to find sustenance. We in the country are divided on our thoughts on this topic.

Then, today David Brooks’ column centered on the Sidney Hillman Awards for Journalism. This award comes from a foundation Sidney-Award-Certificate_for-webthat was set up to honor the work of an American who started life here as an immigrant, first being born in Lithuania, which was part of the Russian Empire in the late 19th century when he was born. His work was always for the poor laborer and he championed the policies of FDR and social justice. The awards are given, one annually and the other monthly, to journalists for work on social justice themes and journalistic honesty. Brooks’ first reference in the column was about an article written in BuzzFeed by Thomas Golianopoulos called, “Fuck That Gator”. It is a very long article, one that I had no intention of devoting my Boxing Day morning to reading. But, read it I did. I hope you, too, will imbibe.

What is fabulous about the article is the journalistic rigor with which Golianopoulos attacks his story. What I hope you find and appreciate once at its end is the objective and thorough job he does to set up the story, deal with its many facets, expose all the issues that need to be explored and then give you enough information to have an informed opinion about the individuals and incidents described therein. It is truly fair and balanced, in my opinion. None of this FoxNews/Breitbart dribble that tell you what to think and give you nuicanced, half-truths and non-contextual references to slant the reader to their desired outcomes.

The story, from its title, is intriguing. But, what you will find from reading it is that there is more than meets the eye and, for me, it definitely informs my view of that Dow Jones Cultural measurement of who were are as a country. I have some thoughts about how I reacted to the individuals and incidents and, if you play along, you can look at my thoughts and see if they gained proper traction. End of Part 1

 

Wishing You The Most Beautiful, Joyous and Happiest of Christmases As We Look Forward to An Even Happier New Year

maryWhen one looks back to the blessings of this past year at this very special time, Mary and I have wondered at the life we’ve been given, especially this new one living on the Mid-Coast. Since finally claiming residency in Camden, for the first time in our married lives we have all our earthly possessions under one roof. Of course that means we have six or seven spatulas, a few sets of mixing bowls, perhaps a dozen pairs of scissors, too many electrical and computer connections to fit in a good-sized box, a collection of dishes and crystal, any single piece that we couldn’t possibly part with. We had to build many, many more feet of shelves to make homes for all the dozens of boxes of books we’ve become parents to over the years. We thought we’d pare them down, actually selling about six. But, within minutes of those leaving the house we lamented that choice. All now live under our cocoon and have been threatened with readership at some point.

Sorting through this collection has been a joy, especially the accumulated Christmas items dating from London “boot markets” and the Austrian years where we sorted through thousands of choices at fairs and markts that featured handmade weihnachtsmarkt-sliderworks from the Erzgebirge Region of Saxony to select a “few” ornaments, smokers, pyramids and nutcrackers. Of course, the occasional trip to Italy or France enhanced the collection and then the time in Switzerland only ballooned the offerings a bit more. Finally, we inhabited that land where all great Christmas ornaments originate now, Asia. Our six years in Taipei allowed us to amble through the stalls on the back alleys of the neighborhoods in the older part of town in Taipei, that seemed more an example of a benevolent Blade Runner metropolis, where blown glass figures were offered. These adventures featured the very traditional ornaments that hinted at the Erzgebirge, but sometimes more appealingly tugged us towards the more bizarre ones the could combine Christmas with space aliens, or have Santa riding a 1950s Ford pickup.

We finally pulled the boxes out of the various nooks and crannies into which they had been stuffed over the past twenty-five years and placed them in positions of honor around the house this year. On the mantel IMG_2795we placed the Roman-styled manger Mike Marinucci built for us nearly thirty years ago, surrounded by the creche figures accumulated from years of gifts from our dear Vienna friends. I think my favorite is the elephant. All of them were hand carved at the studio not far from the commissary that used to be located just inside the Gürtel in Wien.

 

 

 

 

Our past Christmases were blessed with trips to the center of London to enjoy the fabulous light shows it offered, to Strasbourg, and also Paris for a strangely secular approach to the holidays there, Rome and its wealth of history surrounding the event and various other locations that produced their own magic. Sometimes, we even came back to Maine for the holiday, enjoying one with Patty and Bob and their young family in New Hampshire.

For several years in Vienna, when we lived on the Wasagasse and our landlord, Dr. Eder, treated us to a trip out to his Schloss in the Wachau. We benefitted from his attempts to thin out his coniferous forest around a small pond. Our apartment on the Wasagasse had ten foot ceilings and we hauled back a 9 foot six inch tree to snuggle into the corner near the street, where we festooned it with flaming wax candles and hung it with all the accumulated ornaments of our fledgling collection. Today we have, with some chagrin, settled on the Chinese tree option, plastic. But there are the advantages that we accept from this choice. Our time with the Walkers and their love of Christmas began in Vienna and was rekindled by our fortunate proximity to Blue Ridge, their new home in Georgia, when we lived in Sweetwater.

Our first year in Taiwan completed a pledge made in Vienna some years before, when Larry Brown, who spent only two years shivering through his European Christmases, told us we needed to share a Christmas with him in Bali. Low and behold only a few years later we actually enjoyed that warm holiday with him in Ubud. We added Allison to the guest list that included Larry, Kathy and Leon. The trip allowed us to add hand carved Balinese Christmas figures to our collection, which also grace areas of the house. To have gamelan music be the holiday fare was special, as it was on other trips to Cambodia and Vietnam at the holidays. That Balinese Christmas was one of our more special holidays. Along with Christmas, then, we viewed and semi-participated in a three-day funeral, complete with a huge pyre, that culminated after a procession of dozens of triple life-sized figures of a bull and gods made of paper flowers.

Our time in Charlotte also allowed us to add to our ornament collection, as they had their form of Christmas markets. The time in North Carolina let us continue Christmas traditions with Paul and Ellie, and the Ahns. Our special time with the Phillips, whom we first met in Lugano and with whom we’d spent earlier Christmases, also continued in North Carolina. In those years, their family grew to six and the Miller family enjoyed many Christmas mornings, sometimes starting at the Phillips’ house at 6 AM in our pjs and robes to be there for the Great Unwrapping. We enjoyed a Minneapolis Christmas with them last year, having stopped to see Rina from AIS, Stephanie from TASIS, and Kathy and Charlie, also from our Vienna days, on the way up and back. The year before that we enjoyed the Bourbon Highway in northern Kentucky, where we learned much history and became great fans of Bourbon Balls. Our Charlotte and Sweetwater days brought us many special new friends whom we hope will part of our Christmases for many years to come. God bless them all.

After all of these years together, all filled with special moments, we, yet again, proclaim this one to be our favorite. Our good friends in Camden have made us so very welcome and we look forward to nurturing theirs and new friendships. Today we are nesting in a warm house full of good cheer, watching the snow come down, threatening to accumulate to six inches today in a wafting, light covering. Later, Bill and Lindsay will come over to continue their visit home from Lausanne. They have had a wonderful time in Europe and we have only scratched the surface in stories from their time there. Today we have to continue with questions regarding their trips to Strasbourg, Bordeaux, several times to Italy and the other regions of Switzerland that are on their doorstep.

Mary and I have loved, really loved, continuing our friendships with all of you through social media. For all its foibles and frustrations, these platforms are a true lifeline. In spite of my wholehearted attempts to get back to the Dickensian world of early Christmas experiences and the simpler life without all the technical distractions we suffer, the opportunity to know you across the miles and years is a true treasure. We wish you the very best in the New Year. God speed. Enjoy the lobster trap Christmas tree.

treelobtrap