What makes a man start fires?: Wahlverwandtschaften Elective Affinities

In a recent NYTimes opinion piece, a correspondent, Richard Fausset, tried to get to the root of the matter that many of us in the States, indeed the world, are wondering about. Within, he made note of the album by the Minutemen, the Southern California punk group, “What Makes a Man Start Fires?” minutemenAlso referenced was the term Rosebud, and this article and all that follows are attempts to reconcile libertarian politic tenets and their place in politics. Also relevant, in the Atlantic by Luke O’Brien, a similar article looked at another individual whose choices in life exclude many from it. What troubles us is that so many of our neighbors, citizens, voters and proponents of alternative viewpoints, hold viewpoints that seem either nonsensical, dangerous, selfish, bigoted, you name it.

In my most recent blog, I used the German term Wahlverwandtschaften in the context of how that term asked questions about the source of actions. As it is so often the case with these German words, there’s an attempt to associate several actions in one word: choice, adherence, association, institutions, entities. Another attempt at explaining its meaning is elective affinities. The point of the phrase for me is to ask the question, when related to the human mind, “Where is his Rosebud?”

This is another metaphorical reference from the Orson Welles film, Citizen Kane, whose purpose beyond art was to ask why Hearst was such a difficultCitizen-Kane-Welles-Podium individual. This is a relevant question when one considers how much power the newspaper giant wielded in early 20th century America. We are asking the same question about Trump, about those who voted for him and why they support libertarian ideology, often thinking what is best for me and ignoring those who live outside of that short radius centered on their navels.

All societies, though, have addressed this issue. Our tribal instincts relate to the question, our use of language link to it, our birthplace relates to the question and our DNA also contributes profoundly to the question….and the answer. Asking that question begs an answer. What answer you want begs that you ask the right question (for your own purposes?). That would assume some sort of assessment, which gets us back to education. Societies teach their citizens to adhere to expectations that are complementary to the society’s effective functioning. The question is, what does the individual citizen derive from following those expectations? Or, is the society offering the most beneficial atmosphere for its citizens or only for its own perpetuation?

Consider this comment, often espoused by sociologists to give a little guidance to the direction of this discussion and what the role of an individual is within a group:“CULTURE IS WHAT MAKES US DIFFERENT FROM ANIMALS” alluding to the evolutionary survivalist goals of any animal and one would be justified in querying libertarians as to whether this was a central tenet in their paradigm.

Of course, as you speak of culture, that gets us into anthropology and history, two of my favorite pastimes. Recent history, the one involving the advent of the World Wide Web and all that it has done in influencing our lives, from digitization, to AI, to blogging, even. How have these contributed to the discussion and also, are they a part of the “elective affinities” hooking up our thoughts to our deeds to our souls?

In the United States today, following on from the opening paragraph about White Nationalists, Neo-Nazis, 4Chan users or any of the various extremists who are calling for some exclusion of “the other” from their lives, it is paramount that we understand their thoughts and aspirations. I have long been focused on the rising interest in libertarianism over the past couple of decades, though the rugged-individual has been a feature of American life from before the time Plymouth Rock was offended. We need to be constantly on the alert and must always winnow the chaff from the important concepts and lessons American individualism and protection of citizens’ rights offer us.

When an individual exerts her labor to gain some end, sets up shop or domicile to plant literal or personal roots, or wonders what his neighbor might be doing that could be a disadvantage to himself, then the sparks of libertarianism are furnished flint. But, what does that individual owe his neighbor? That is the question. I am dubious of the motives of many of the followers of the previous groups stated or implied in the preceding paragraph. If your individual thoughts and desires land you in a group that lights torches, professes hate and swings a club, I am against you. If you want to talk about what is fair in sharing, then we can enter the arena of discussion, though.

While libertarian philosophy is founded on a loose embracing of “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” and “what I have earned is mine”, anthropological explorations will always delve into how communities, ancient and modern, share their resources, maintain what is in use and look to the future to see what the impact any of its decisions will have on their descendants’ community. Simplistic libertarian thinking can only be deemed selfish if these other factors are not included.

Related to this discussion, consider this diversion by another blog that looks at culture and offers various quotes, opinions and attitudes.

Let’s pick the date 2011 for discussion. In this article about 4chan, this is the year they were outed. This comes from a study done at MIT. Most of us don’t even know about this world that exists outside of our Venn Diagram. Original_Guy_Fawks_mask_from_V_for_Vendetta_(5400848923)The film, V for Vendetta, with Natalie Portman from 2004 will bring us the mask for Anonymous. The 4chan users still think they are supporting values that are worthwhile, but that is where more discussion is needed. They are discussing only within their strange culture online and occasionally now come out into public. When they do, it is now for values that somehow attach themselves to Trumplike values. We should be worried. Also, should we take serious any individual who makes his ideas know wearing a mask or hiding behind some other anonymous personae. Such statements do not invite discussion and resolution; they are really only bumper sticker statements without the car attached to them.

If you can connect the attempts in the early 20th century worldwide to espouse progressive platforms and have society solve its problems through socialist values, to the whole 20th century conflict between capitalism and socialism, and look at the links below, it will consume a bit of time and, I think, give you some food for thought. Take a look at Fight Club again when you get a chance, and be sure to see this documentary about Anonymous when you can find the time.

Another disturbing article from 2014 that connects these thoughts about the undereducated, unemployed male worker its a harbinger of the Trump election and a lens on the world we find ourselves in today, where so many individuals with white heritage from Europe are reacting to the world the see subsuming them. A great article about culture in the barrios that explains the development of apartheid in America, which again can be traced back to the transhumance of our population from the 1890s onward, when the South (or a significant portion of it) moved to the North and many foreigners came in huge numbers to alter our cultural landscape in many, many ways, in my opinion for the positive.

Recently, I saw the 2011 film Margin Call that offers a great soliloquy by Paul Bettany when he’s in the car with a lesser associate. Libertarians will view this and have much the same anger “normal people” have, though they may embrace it and act upon it in a different manner. What is certain is that any culture that comes under economic strain is one that is in danger and it better by founded on principles the populace can embrace, can depend upon and from which hope can be offered. Otherwise, we are all going to fall prey to the character played by Jeff Daniels in Godless. Have we already?

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Iran or Persia?: What does America know about this wonderful country?

A couple of years ago, when wandering through my social media friends’ posts on Facebook, I came across one that involved an exchange between former students. I guess the perpetual teacher in me was kindled, which led to me writing to one of them in support of her position in the online discussion. It involved an Iranian student (actually, I do not know what passport or passports Leila holds at this time due to her own personal history, much of it linked to what America has done to her country) and, I believe with my faulty recollection, the other former student was American. You may think it problematic that I chose to support the Iranian student over the American one, but I have always felt guilty for what the States has done in so many areas of the world. This is a feeling that is mitigated by the pride I have in the efforts of many Americans to spread this country’s ideals and to share its wealth, humor, music, compassion, friendship, charity, liberalism and myriad other beneficial gifts to the world. Many, many are the times when we have had unsolicited expressions of gratitude offered to Mary and me, and sometimes by individuals we have only met briefly in passing having spent perhaps only an hour or so, for what they feel has given by us to them or they feel we have done for the world. What is possible, what is perceived and what is reality are always open to interpretation. What constitutes impact on individuals and their societies is within the purview of historians. By reading their work, it allows us to learn from the past and therefore possibly positively influence the future.

If you will indulge this blog’s intent, we first need to understand that Iran used to be the Persian Empire, which, in the past couple of millennia, Persia_600adhas evolved in dual roles of serving as the Shiite Islamic center of the world and continuing as the Persian cultural giant that it is. Sometimes these roles converge and often they are explicitly at odds with each other. Indeed, Shiism, like any religion, has its doctrine, its leaders and serious divisions in how the principles of its doctrine are to be interpreted and followed. In the past four decades, The Islamic Republic of Iran is a country that has often been directly at odds with the foreign policy objectives of the United States. This opposition exhibited by Iran, it could be easily argued from reading a bit of history, was well-earned by American actions. Yet, within the country of Iran, the Persian citizens who live there (and now in many other locations throughout the world) have a great admiration towards Americans, and even more towards American values and its culture. Their film, music, humor, humanism, culinary exploits and other elements found in the descriptions of any culture are similar in many ways to our own. Also, most Iranians are well-versed in American cultural offerings, often recounting their favorites in ways that would embarrass the comparison with an individual who was born in the States.

I would like to connect that email to Leila, sent more than two years ago, with a NYTimes post found in today’s paper and then expand the conversation to opining on what has transpired between Iran and its neighbors, and how often the United States has been instrumental in either implementing foreign policy decisions for its own preferred outcome or has been inadvertently the guilty party through instigating a negative causatum, both for the US and Iran. (A good book on that topic is by Robert Fisk, The Great War for Civilization) Also, the author of the Times article, Thomas Erdbrink, is someone that I feel all of us would be better off reading and following.  As an addendum to my own thoughts, I freely admit that his views may be more useful and powerful, for, as a Dutchman who has spent more than a decade in Iran, married to an Iranian and trying to bridge the cultural and historical enmity that has transpired over the past couple of hundred years between Iran and the rest of the world, his finger is feeling the pulse much more strongly and he can be trusted as an honest broker. Iran is not, as George W. Bush and The Donald characterize it, an Evil entity. It’s complicated and we, the States, bear so much responsibility in the complicated nature of why it is as it is. Therefore, we can also take responsibility for aspiring to and hopefully contributing to a positive causatum.

To continue, the following paragraph/excerpt is a part of the email to Leila extracted to give context to my 2014 exchange with her. It contains far too much information to expand upon here, and it expects and implies far too much for most readers to ingest without already having some strong personal involvement in and understanding of the issues described. Leila, who has become a proponent of bridging divides herself, was easily the better armed with information about the Near East, as her family’s stories have taught her much about the history of all of Iran’s neighbors, the other major players in the region, and how much the United States is often the master of the loom, through its shedding, picking and battening, of Iran’s history carpet, I suppose I was offering her an apology from my country as a whole for our involvement in much related to Iran’s 20th century events. I was also moving more firmly from the teacher/student relationship established in the late 80s, when I taught Leila in class and chaperoned her and dozens of other students on trips to Italy, to an adult friend in current admiration of this special young woman. Even today, I still connect her present self in my memory to that sophomore girl, whom, upon opening the door at a somewhat tardy hour with an innocent smile to greet me, I on my last rounds as teacher/chaperone at the hotel (in Milan I think). I had to remind Leila and the others in the room to keep the laughter to a lower level and to turn in and get to sleep. Both Leilas were/are priceless.

email excerpt, picked up part way into the email: ….With the advent of Zionism in the late 19th century in Europe (much of it fomented by the Dreyfus Trial in France and Theodor Herzl of Austrian-Hungarian history fame), many European Jews wished to get their homeland back, obviously looking to the original homeland as the best choice. Many rabbis and emissaries, with a few serious individuals who moved to Palestine on their own when it was under Turkish control, went to the area to look at the viability of founding a state. Their original forays found that the situation was far too complicated to think they could purchase, encroach, control or in any way succeed in setting up a state. Their recommendations after a few decades of attempts, inquiries and negotiations left them abandoning an official move, though some Jews came to join the Sabras who had been there for centuries and centuries, and who were allowed to stay by the authorities and Arab neighbors, who by and large lived with the Jews in harmony (their numbers were small and they were a contributing faction and offered no huge threat to the indigenous Arab majority).

When the First World War and Allenby took over Palestine and the British started their interference (contrary to T.E. Lawrence’s hopes as Lawrence of Arabia that the land be given to the Arabs to rule- as he thought was promised to him by British authorities for his agreement to get involved. He fought hard at the Versailles Treaty talks to make sure the Arabs were represented in this option), the British and French really got things wrong, in my opinion, as they took over the area of the Middle East as much as a colony, rather than the euphemistic  “Mandate” the League of Nations gave them. The Sykes-Picot Line set up at the end of WWI is the one ISIS is trying to erase at present, for instance. The Balfour Declaration gave hope to those Zionists from the 19th century and started a serious quest for statehood in the 20th century that was not given too much credence internationally until Hitler’s Germany caused all the problems in Europe. It’s funny how history gets abused by those who don’t read it very well. The numbers of refugees from WWII were staggering, and the UN and Jewish movement allowed for the creation of a Two-State solution without clear support for or control of how that was supposed to happen. The 1948 War is the result and that is where the problems really got heated up and started down the road to our present predicament. That is where that first map, called Palestine, led to MSNBC’s apology for their misrepresentation, but it is really a small mistake in some ways (and would still lead to the same message if they showed the UN’s version of their map at the time of its hope for the 2 State solution), with about a 50-50 distribution of land between the two groups. With the Arabs losing that war and most of the Palestinians and surrounding Arab countries not recognizing the UN solution with an Israeli state in the first place, the de facto map was that Israel started its status as an occupying country from that day forward. The real issue and problem dates from then, based on those specifics.

From 1948 the Israelis have had a checkered road towards dealing with their Arab problem. The most conservative Jews want it all, including the Temple (The Dome of the Rock (Arabic: قبة الصخرة , translit.: Qubbat Al-Sakhrah, Hebrew : כיפת הסלע , translit.: Kipat Hasela) even calling this spot by a particular name gets an historian into trouble) Mount. I have taught conservative Christians in the States who support this option, as they want the original Temple rebuilt so that it can bring on the Rapture. Thankfully there are more moderate and even some fabulously liberal Jewish Israelis and moderate Christians in the States who feel that they are handling this issue horribly.  These moderate Jews want to live in peace and harmony in the Levant and that continuing to take land beyond the 1967 borders is not going to lead to a viable solution in their opinion. The history between 1948 and 1967 is troubling enough, but since 1967 maps are fairly accurate if they are labeled with the intention of who wants the land shown on the maps. Those conservatives in Israel are not satisfied with even the far right map (referring to an MSNBC presentation I am reacting to in this email), they might even want a Trumpian solution with all Arabs forced out of “Isreal” and Jerusalem completely under Jewish control, even the Dome of the Rock. That is never discussed, especially on Fox News, here in the States.

Then there’s Iran. If we went back through the same decades, I would have to apologize for the US involvement in your country’s politics, too. I had the pleasure in my last school of talking with Reza Aslan, who was presenting his views on religion to our students. In taking him back to his hotel in my car, we spoke of Iran and Isfahan more than anything, relishing the smells of freshly baked cashews in the Friday Market and how beautiful the city is and our hopes that the two countries might allow tourists to visit back and forth without controversy. I really appreciate his views on religion, politics, culture and history and his voice is really needed here in the States and in the worlds as we move towards some viable solution in the Middle East. The US has not done such a good job overall in the past 70 years and we really need a reasoned approach going forward. (Did you know Aslan’s aunt is the Iranian singer Leila Forouhar?)

Returning to today and this blog, it is interesting to note that, in the two years since this email went out, I have found out even more about Reza Aslan and he has continued his quest, which is what it seems in more of his motivation, to expand the brand Reza Aslan. While he has offered many wonderful perspectives on how, why, when and where regarding the Near East, we must also temper his words and wonder how much of his ego is involved. That information was not assessed by my own sleuthing, but was offered by another wonderful Iranian former student who is also making a major mark in bridge building in the world. We should speak about her exploits, too, and hopefully you can know her work better. I will have to leave that for some future thoughts, though.

This returns us to that NYTimes article today. The message relayed in this article is that, yet again, the United States and particularly its leaders, are tone deaf, misinformed or are disinforming, and are making the situation in the Near East worse. Sad. Here is an excerpt from the article, which claims that this recent activity on the part of the States in denouncing Iran is actually uniting Iranians who would never be allies within the country if not for the Donald. Here is an excerpt from the article that quotes a moderate, Morteza Husseinzadeh, “There are many here like me, who don’t care for the Islamic Republic and its rules,” he said. “But today is about something bigger than that, one of us has been killed. At the same time this American president is breaking our hearts with his rhetoric and threats. We have to choose sides. I choose for my country.” 

Again, more education, exposure and discussion is needed.

Mohammad_Javad_Zarif_reuters_360_7

Iran’s Foreign Minister

This is a country with great potential for good. Ours is also one with that same potential, even though our record in accomplishing good is spotty. The ideas of humanism and universal truths are ones that I espouse and hope you can glean this from these ideas. Nationalistic fervor has not served the world well.

Wahlverwandtschaften :“Daran habe ich gar nicht gedacht” (I hadn’t thought of that)

Wahlverwandtschaften : A term that best applies to Goethe’s story about interpersonal relationships and how the chemistry between individuals is either rationally explored or emotionally unavoidable. Another metaphorical application is the exploration of how people become who they are: is it nature or nurture…or unending quest, that gives us so much rich tapestry to enjoy from its exposition.

 

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Does any city, its people, its history and the blending of incidents and ideas that germinate in it serve to define or create us all to some degree? I’d like to attempt to make that case with the city of Budapest. If you have not traveled in Europe, and even if you have, it is not a city that pops up on the travel plans that often and few individuals could name the prominent architectural offerings, the main museums and the cultural landmarks.Cafe-Frei-2

Yet, for the size of the country, with a population less than the state of North Carolina, it has given much to the world. In fact, some of my most cherished friends are Hungarians now living in North Carolina, for instance, who have taken their own circuitous paths to the present, contributing mightily to their community.Ruszwurm5-kl

It’s language is one of the most complex in existence with ambiguous roots, though it is much appreciated by linguists. In 1840, a professor from Vienna noted, “The structure of the Hungarian language is such that it appears that linguists could have created it with the purpose of incorporating in it every rule, conciseness, melody and clarity and besides all this it avoided any commonness, difficulty in pronunciation and irregularities.” I cannot attest this claim, though I’ll take the experts at their word, something I recommend that individuals in this country return to as soon as possible.

While the Austrian Empire rose to prominence from the 13th century onwards, it subsumed Hungary and took over most of the administration and tax collection in the country. This did not stop the citizens’ fire, though. They continued to produce, to pursue political goals and to fight for autonomy. By 1848, when liberalism and democracy were ideologies spreading throughout Europe, the Hungarians in Budapest orchestrated one of the most liberal uprisings in Europe, only to be crushed by a coalition of aristocrats working for the 18 year old, newly crowned emperor, Franz_Joseph_of_Austria_youngFranz Josef of Austria. His mishandling of the empire is legion in history, and the Hungarians, of all the dozens of nationalities under the thumb of their German-speaking overlords, will have to wait a couple of decades to take advantage of the inter-German feud in 1866 over the territories between Prussia and Austria, as well as that funny northern section of Schleswig-Holstein, to gain some recognition for self-rule. In 1867, Hungary will gain semi-autonomy and the Austrians acquiesce to a position of K und K, where Franz Josef is King of Hungary and Kaiser over the rest of his empire.

The Austrians, though, from Joseph II (the Mozart Emperor) on, were the most tolerant in Europe in regards to religiosity. Franz Joseph, who came to power as that 18 year old in 1848, granted religious equality to Jews in the empire. While there was still anti-Semitism within the populace and Vienna’s mayor at the turn of the 20th century was not as welcoming as possible to Jews, the empire had become a haven to Jews fleeing the pogroms in Russia. Budapest during this time benefitted the most, with its population becoming 30% Jewish by the turn of the century, while Vienna’s hovered at 10%. There is no doubt, though, that the new Jews from the East, fleeing persecution by the Russians, were not as welcomed as the longer established Jews, many converting to Catholicism, who had assimilated into Austrian society over the centuries beforehand.

Why Budapest is also a good choice exemplar is due to the concept of Wahlverwandtschaften. This complex German word/phrase basically means the conflict between responsibility and passion, or more literally, “Elective Affinities.” While related to chemical properties, specifically the tendency of some chemicals to choose to join with another, but not some others, also slips into the human condition of what happens between people, mostly from the opposite sex, when relationships develop. Head over heart and visa versa cannot be easily predicted. Should we consider the stature of the Gymnasium education system in Hungary, the strong support for culture and education among Hungarians, especially those of Jewish heritage, or is there some other factor that makes them unique? Back to Budapest for examples….

If we look at those individuals of the Jewish faith in Budapest during the first half of the 20th century, they are some of the most significant contributors to world history and to the strange blend that always impacts the entire world in this time period, usually without the vast majority having any idea of the import of the contributions. There are others, too. Here is a short collection:

Leo Szilard    Edward Teller     Eugene Wigner      John von Neumann         Arthur Koestler       Robert Capa         Andre Kertesz            Alexander Korda         Michael Curtiz        Károly Lotz      Bertalan Székely    Géza Mészöly       Mihály Munkácsy  János Vaszary        Pál Szinyei Merse   Tivadar Csontváry Kosztka    József Rippl-Rónai   István Csók    Béla Iványi-Grünwald   Endre Kabos      Edward Teller     Sandor Vegh

My favorite account of this contribution came from Kati Marton, an American journalist whose martonown life has been a rich tapestry of woven overlaps from world history. Martin’s own roots are deeply bound to Budapest and she did not know the whole of her own story until she started pulling on the weave. She has been married three times. Her first husband was Carroll Wetzel, a retired international investment banker from Philadelphia. Her second husband was ABC News anchor Peter Jennings; Jennings and Marton had two children together before divorcing in 1993. Her third husband was diplomat Richard Holbrooke, from 1995 until his death in December 2010, frequently traveling with him during his diplomatic missions in the former Yugoslavia and in the Middle East. She wrote about their love and recovering from his death in her 2012 memoir Paris: A Love Story. These experiences alone would have given her the special perspective on the world’s woven fabric, to be sure.

But, as she traveled through life, picking up greater understanding for the world and her own history in it, she found out, quite accidentally, that she was of Jewish heritage. Marton wrote her first book on Raoul Wallenberg, who as a Swedish diplomat in Budapest had saved thousands of Jews during the last months of World War II. A woman who was rescued by Wallenberg told her, “Unfortunately, Wallenberg arrived too late for your maternal grandparents.” Marton was shocked. She was raised Roman Catholic, and was told her grandparents died in an Allied bombing raid. This knowledge took Marton on further journeys that has led to greater appreciation and love for her own Budapest heritage that had already been truly strong to that point.

A later book records this love of Hungary, called The Great Escape: Nine Jews Who Fled Hitler and Changed the World. In this book the stories of physicists Leo Szilard, Edward Teller, Eugene Wigner and John von Neumann; the author Arthur Koestler; the photographers Robert Capa and Andre Kertesz; and the filmmakers Alexander Korda and Michael Curtiz are told.

With Hungary’s relatively small population, it has given the world, and the States, much: Vitamin C, ball point pens, a cube puzzle played by millions, holograms, the Model T, quantum mechanics, the Pulitzer Prize, the Atomic Bomb, Tony Curtis, Jerry Seinfeld and George Soros, to name a few.

In looking into this blog’s characters, I have a few fun stories to relate that points out the importance of Budapest to the individuals who had to leave it and who became aliens in another country for the remainder of their lives. They always pined for their original home and its influence on their lives was constant in their own pursuits of work. Thankfully, we had the records of their achievements and stories, as we have also enjoyed their contributions. Here are a few.

einstien-slizard2-300x227When a young student in his twenties and already attracting the attention of the university’s great minds, Leo Szilárd was at a lecture by Albert Einstein where he disagreed with something just pronounced, “But, Herr Professor, what you have just said is nonsense” – and he was right. So impressed were the faculty at the Berlin university, that Szilárd was marked from then on for greatness. He did not disappoint.

In later years, Szilárd came up with the concept of how a nuclear reaction could occur. This had been something that was on his mind ever since he read H.G.Wells’ The World Set Free, where Wells first imagined a uranium-based hand grenade that “would continue to explode indefinitely.” Szilárd’s mind immediately went into action and he contemplated this possibility for years. He would come up with a clear thought of how it could happen in, what my friend and physicist, Joe McEvoy, often recounts happens with great scientists, a Eureka moment. Joe, while visiting Rome, went to his own favorite Eureka moment spot that involved Enrico Fermi. For Fermi, it was watching the dripping of water into a fountain in Rome that allowed him to work on the idea of water slowing down fast neutrons for nuclear fission reactions. The fountain was recently restored and made a national monument. Fermi, married to a Jewish, also left Europe because of Fascism and ended up a central figure working on the Manhattan Project.

Szilárd’s moment came at a traffic light on the corner of Southampton Road in London shortly after attending a conference in which the presenter said that it would be impossible to break open the energy of atoms as visualized in H.G. Wells’ fictional account. This irked him to no end.  The account is found in this link and it is highly recommended for its insight into Szilárd’s story about the traffic light, but also about his personality and achievements. He was an irascible sort, as evidenced by him taking on Einstein at that lecture as just one example. But, an event more important meeting with Einstein took place that changed the world forever. This meeting led to the quote from this blog’s title, “Daran habe ich gar nicht gedacht.”

Again, Szilárd impressed Einstein, now many years later and no longer a student, but an equal to Einstein in the world of physics. In the late 1930s, Szilárd and Eugene Wigner met with Einstein to tell him what he, Wigner and Fermi had just concluded. They were worried about the danger of atomic power and that it could lead to an actual bomb being constructed. Einstein had not considered that possibility until then, hence his comment after listening to their explanation. Szilárd and Wigner’s letter was then penned with Einstein for them all to sign. A letter was first sent to the Queen of Belgium, a friend of Einstein’s and another to FDR through a mutual friend. Their efforts prompted the USA into research and development that will result in our constructing the bomb first. Szilárd Casablancawill rue that project for the rest of his life, though, and will work for a peaceful world after the bomb was dropped on Japan. As we know, this act remains controversial to this day and Szilárd is one of the detractors concerning the decision to use it this way.

Another wonderful wartime figure from Budapest is Michael Curtiz. He fled Budapest in the 20s as the new government that took over when independence from Austria was granted after WW One turned to the right and towards persecuting Jews. He worked on countless films in Hollywood. One is on the list of cinema lovers’ most favorites, Casablanca. Rick’s, the restaurant in which the film is set, is based on his favorite Budapest cafe, The New York. Many of the extras in the film were actually Hungarian exiles, most of Jewish extract, who had also fled Fascism and Nazism. These European exiles were extras or played minor roles (in addition to leading actors Paul Henried, Conrad Veidt and Peter Lorre.) Incidentally, character actor Peter Lorre also had Hungarian roots. Above everything positive about this film, we can thank Curtiz for the casting choices. The studio wanted Ronald Reagan and Anne Sheridan in the lead roles! His place in history is assured for this choice alone. Enjoy this recent clip from CBS celebrating the 75th Anniversary of its filming.

Another Hungarian with ties to a camera was Robert Capa. His story is like following a movie or reading a Hemingway novel. Indeed, he and Hemingway spent time in the same places. While born with the name Friedman, in his early 20s he and his girlfriend at the time decided to take on made up names with Hollywood sounding hooks to get easier exposure and opportunities for publishing their photos. It worked, though his ruse was found out by the papers and the decision was made to keep the new names even though they it was no longer needed. He eventually became an American citizen, another great immigrant story. His photos from the Spanish Civil War, the Chinese photos of the 30s and the ones while embedded with the American forces in World War Two, starting with being the only photographer with the first wave into Omaha Beach, have influenced all photojournalists who followed. Even Stephen Spielberg, when filming Private Ryan, hoped his Omaha Beach sequence could measure up to Capa’s portrayal of the event. Unfortunately, of the hundreds of photos taken that day, only a few survive. A technician in England mishandled the development and most were lost to history. It is highly recommended when you have time to watch the documentary of his life. It is like watching a film itself. Arthur Koestler during an expedition to Arctic Russia on the <i>Graf Zeppelin</i>, which he covered as a journalist, July 1931 It is also recommended to look through some of his photos online offered through the photography studio founded by him and Henri Cartier-Bresson and others, Magnum Photos.

The most fabulous Hungarian photographer,

 

in my opinion, was Andre Kertesz. Here’s a selection, but do spend a little time reading about his profound influence on photojournalism and the photographic world in which he ran. His work is found in museums throughout the world.

Of course, we can’t leave Arthur Koestler off the list and his story is one that is useful as a both a mid-century milestone of caution about leftist politics and a lifetime of writing to attack fascism and the exclusive nationalism it fostered. In his 1940 novel “Darkness at Noon” and in other writing, Mr. Koestler was one of the first prominent intellectuals of the period to declare that the Utopia dreamed of by the left had turned into a nightmare. His intellect continues to be among the giants of the century, even though his chauvinism and sexism are legion, and his troubling exit from life gives one pause. Still, even his and his wife’s joint suicide are worth discussing.

If we only had “Darkness at Noon” to represent Koestler’s life, it would be enough. It’s own story, written in fits and starts, thought of initially in German by Koestler, we now know his intentions to have it published in German through a Swiss publishing house. But, events at the time forced him into writing it in English, though his skills and command of language were not what they would be by the end of World War Two and through his exposure gained by living in England. The English version was born through translation by his girlfriend at the time, Daphne Hardy, an English lass with German language skills. So, it was published initially in English and was his first book in the language.  For decades the Germans were not very impressed with his earlier German work and thinking, and only give him credit as an English writer. For those friends who have a second language skill, or more, and understand the difficulty of getting a good translation of an original, Koestler’s story is one of the most fascinating in history.

He wrote the original story of Rubashov in German during the late 30s, starting in Paris and nearly finished in southern France just as Russia and Germany were signing the Ribbentrop-Molotov Non-Agression Pact. Because of Koestler’s strong communist views, when he returned to Paris he was arrested as a Soviet spy. Eventually gaining release, he continued work on the German version, while Hardy feverishly translated it into English, even as he finished the original one. The invasion of France in May of 1940 put even more haste in their work and life’s decisions, with Hardy traveling to London on her British passport and Koestler joining the Foreign Legion to avoid a second arrest. Read this article if you want to find the end of this story’s fascinating twists and turns.

Koestler’s life before then, like so many others of Jewish extraction, has so many chapters it is hard to fathom living it, let alone how much his ideas would impact the world in the Post War.  As a journalist in the 30s he was in the Middle East, Paris, Berlin and Spain during the Civil War and had already built up a lifetime’s stories. He was imprisoned in Spain, from whence his “Spanish Testament” novel came. When “Darkness at Noon” came out in French in the post war, it is credited with contributing decisively to the defeat of the French Communist Party in the 1946 election. The ideas of communism were further attacked in America during the McCarthy era of the late 40s and early 50s and socialist approaches to governance have been derided on this side of the water until only recently. Koestler, though shaken by the negative representation evident in too many attempts at socialist solutions, always supported the liberal defense of the individual over the fascist exclusion of “the other.” It would do us well to explore the 1848 to 1990 iterations of this ideology as it wound its way through the minds of individuals and the streets of the world’s cities and government buildings in its attempt at altering political outcomes and to see when socialism’s better angels surfaced and survived.

Exploring these individuals and the Magyar culture and the bones of Budapest that created them from this scant population of some ten million, where it was possible that any dozen of them might have met at a Budapest cafe, or had been to a gathering in Paris, or London, or Hollywood in their exile, it fascinates me to compare them and their contributions to the factions that are presently popping up from their spawning in various cultures and cities today. I most cases, it is an easy choice to prefer what the lives from Budapest have left us to enjoy (and to hopefully responsibly manage). Again, it’s education and an appreciation of history that gives us a better perspective.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=We1BYHqwc6Q

https://welovebudapest.com/en/toplists/10-famous-painters-of-hungarian-art-history/

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/w3cswbz2

http://www.nytimes.com/2006/10/07/books/07mart.html

http://www.nytimes.com/2006/12/31/books/review/Leiter.t.html

Doomsday Men: the Real Dr Strangelove and the Dream of the Superweapon by PD Smith

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/non_fictionreviews/3666206/But-Herr-Einstein-thats-nonsense.html

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/12/28/books/28book.html

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QKsCmeuPA9o  Cafe

http://sprudge.com/budapest-hungary-coffee-guide-66362.html

called kávé, presszókávé, or fekete

Driving in Lanes/ The World’s MegaSuperFreeway Offers Many Routes

To use the metaphor of automobiles to represent the self and lanes to represent the direction life proceeds, imagine all of history coming out of lanes. Of course, if we go back far enough, we are on foot and there are not too many of us. Here, in the long ago prehistory, we get into trouble already with the metaphor, as there are many descriptions for what the lane or path looks like, who is in the path with you, when and where the road started and what propels you to the next destination. The current scientific explanation is the DNA Eve who came out of Central Africa a couple hundred thousand years ago. Some believe the Biblical account that is some 5000+ years in age for the beginning of man. These competing descriptions are part of our current problems and create issues that impact political, economic, ethical and scientific decisions all over the world. Religion and science have been uneasy travelers along their own paths since man, whatever that term means in the distant, distant past, first started to understand the concepts of hope, the ‘other’ and time.

Some of you with Western religious roots may accept Genesis, the Garden and the Fall, which claims to put each and every one of us on that road without exception. With this view, those original inhabitants grew to a few families, then a few tribes and then Pieter_Bruegel_the_Elder_The_Tower_of_Babeldivisions within the tribes about the understanding of speed in the path, acceptable companionship along the way, the direction one should take at a crossroads, etc. Stories were shared, individuals claimed authority over the truth and, once they built up kingdoms, a king held sway over the security and legal system which controlled society as well as the consensus view of truth. As this was prehistoric, there were no written accounts: records were laboriously kept through oral traditions. There was a centralized authority that kept track of the stories and for various reasons authenticated the story and prohibited any diverse positions regarding its telling.

Of course, geographically there are people by this time in many other areas of the world and the early Western stories of origins came from tribes who had no knowledge of these myriad societies that were developing their own tangle of lanes and direction about how each perambulator was making his or her way down the path of their life. I won’t spend any time here delving into these competing and contradictory explanations, as you each, with varying degrees of understanding, already be aware of them and can quickly envision the lanes of life descriptions for each on your own.

Staying in the West, we find a small group of Old Testament individuals surviving with their stories somewhere in the vicinity of the Eastern Mediterranean (even here we have diversion in the story with groups from the Old Testament going to various areas, yet those in Israel will claim supreme authority based on the construction of The Temple. Yet, there were many societies who had abandoned that lane and took a different path (according to the Western Old Testament storytellers), breaking ties with the earlier path and forgetting the world from which they came. These were all in the vicinity of the Near East, though, from the Western perspective.

A couple thousand years ago we had the complicating factors of one of the individuals from the Old Testament group, on his own lane, from his own family, claiming he was the fulfillment of the story about truth within his group and that he was the Messiah foretold in the stories. Not too many people believed him and his group at that time was not very powerful in regards to controlling the truth. The Romans actually had far more power at that time in the region and kept the Old Testament society pretty well under their control, co-administering the region through the keepers of The Temple and the client king, Herod. In the time after the death of Jesus, we immediately see a diversion in the paths of those Christians, but for the West, we need only follow Paul and Peter, which gets us to Rome and later Roman Catholicism.

In the first five hundred years of this Western New Testament history, Rome is still a pagan metropolis. Yet Christianity will progress from underground to above ground and then to the only acceptable religion in the empire by the time the Roman Empire dissolves. There will also be competing versions of the understanding of claims to truth about the New Testament and what is also valid from the Old Testament during this time, which adds many lanes to the pursuit of life for European individuals. But, we will, for simplicity’s sake, stay only with the Western European Roman Catholic lanes, as there are always more than one and history is never so simple as to allow only one choice. Those other lanes of religious enquiry that blossom in the eastern portion of Europe, as well as the Old Testament Jewish views presented in a very different context and text, will eventually make their way onto American soil at a later date and will be pertinent to the discussion later in this piece.

Still, somewhere within this evolving Roman/European world, a few individuals survived with their truth and over time the persistence and exclusivity required of the adherents to Christianity held sway. Yet, with only a limited amount of historical research, you would find the Medieval world of Christians completely foreign to the world you understand today. The practices, beliefs and social conventions supported by this religious community would in large measure fall outside the norm of legal expectations in today’s world. Yet, many claim to be beholden to this world for the tentacles it holds upon the present world. The paintings and churches from this era hold a deep meaning for many, even though I suspect none of us would comprehend a day’s life in a Medieval village on countless levels. We have rationalized and idealized this world to the point of non-recognition.

For many unrelated reasons this lifestyle was first threatened and eventually subsumed by values, inventions, wars, sicknesses, great economic volatility, redistribution of populations and a renewed appreciation of an earlier world of philosophy. Like any society, it cherry picked what it found useful from the progenitors and left what was untoward or radical out of their focus. But, with all the opportunities for change, the traditional views could not repeal the altering of the world. In fact, this is the 500 year anniversary of one of the most profound changes in world view in the West, the year Martin Luther tacked up his 95 Theses on the church door on All Hallows Eve in order to provoke discussion on the following morn. Many Americans today owe their religious convictions to this first protest attempt. These are still classified as Protestants, though what the protest was about and how keenly the present congregation is adhering to the establishment ideals of their faith is another interesting question to pose.

That challenge by Luther altered everything in Europe. From his challenge of the centralized, and in his view corrupt, control of man’s understanding of God, the Roman domination was severed. From this date on the challenge would be successful in many other areas, even though there will be bloody, destructive and relentless religious wars for two centuries. Therefore, it would not be one new lane to offer a new, better alternative to Roman Catholicism, but hundreds of new paths popping up over the next five centuries, each claiming their clarity and sovereignty over the divine. Throughout Europe there will be many religious leaders with their ‘truth’ which is unassailable to each leader and his followers. The lanes continue to splinter, split and grow in new directions, but each did not want its adherents to take any off ramps. Each new sect will construct barriers to exploration, though each is changed as time and place amends the new adherents’ understanding of The Word.  If you look at the American versions that have matured in the past two centuries and try to find overlap with that Medieval individual’s version of Christianity, or even that 17th or 18th century version of the originator of the contemporary sect, you would have very little inside that overlap of the two Venn Diagrams. Calvin in Geneva and Presbyterians in Davidson, North Carolina, have little in common, in my opinion.

In addition to the disparity in religious views, the major factor to consider in the West since the 18th century is the impact of science and economics on the development of paradigms that describe and drive societal decisions and actions. Humanism coming out of the Reformation, plus acceptance of scientific reasoning to explore, understand and seek solutions to man’s problems has only grown over the past two-plus centuries. Atheism continues to grow, agnosticism is acceptable for most and the ones who claim religious affiliation in the States is a shrinking list. Yet, over the past generation or two the diversity of religious thinking increases dramatically.

In the United States, we now have burgeoning populations of Jews, Moslems, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists and such, and these each have their own disparity in how they approach their faiths and how each emphasizes the message conveyed to the congregation as to what is important to lead a good life and follow an acceptable path to salvation or enlightenment. There are religious wars ongoing today within and between these groups throughout the world. So, here we are, looking at thousands of options for world views, hundreds of thousands of platforms to articulate those views and each of us, if we wish to, now in a position to choose a path, get on it. There, we can find someone else who will support those views and lock in and block out any other exposure that might challenge one’s paradigm. Many choose this option, unfortunately.

While this is contrary to humanism and scientific logic, it is precisely what is occurring in the world, let alone the United States. True, some countries can control the paradigm and legislate and police their citizens in horrifyingly constrictive ways. But, each of these countries is fully aware of the losing game they are playing and know that the individual will find ways to gain access to another lane’s views. While 1984 and A Brave New World are still relevant, the true danger is something else. It is not a polyglot world where many views are coexisting uneasily that we seem to be facing.

What I hear and see when I venture outside of my lane here in America is sometimes horrifying. When I find another voice, it is one of exclusion and attack. When listening to a Talk Radio host, sometimes on a religious broadcast or with a Right Wing host, or when I venture on to Breitbart or even more the more extreme StormFront sites, it is difficult for me to reconcile what is being broadcast or posted with my own paradigm, much as I would like to have that conversation. Many, surely the vast majority of these alternative sites, as the Internet is the most egregious of the perpetrators of disinformation, misinformation, biases and propaganda, do not invite discussion, only blind following. One only has to listen for a few minutes to hear or see the message being dictated, the listeners expected to react, to accept and to act as the presenter wants. There is no discussion, only pontificating, destroying any opposing viewpoint in the most malicious way. There is little attempt to unwrap an issue in a way that allows for all factors to be considered. For various reasons, the platform is only a lane, with a guardian assigned to that lane’s guardrails to prevent exiting once one has entered.

My view now is that for many individuals a public persona is aired by them for economic purposes: in order to earn a living one has to figure out how to interact without alienation. But, what was once a private view, perhaps even kept from a family member because it was problematic, is now becoming exposed in circles where the holder of the view can seek support, gain acceptance, lock into a view that goes unchallenged. That so many individuals thought it acceptable to air their views publicly in Charlottesville is a glaring and disturbing example. From this lane, this individual will not allow an alternate voice with which to reason through the problem in search of understanding and solutions. This disallows the necessary airing of the problem, disallows looking at how many factors may be involved in understanding the issue: the economic, ethical, religious, political, aesthetic, human rights, environmental and other important considerations needed to be explored to find out what is most significant for the circumstances faced at that time.

It may be the transgressions carried out by many institutions, individuals, businesses and politicians in the past twenty to thirty years are now at their tipping point. The election of Trump was an backlash, some think, to the abuses of these entities perpetrated on the American public for whatever gain each entity was seeking. If it was a backlash, we can hope for a correction to occur. Will it be a further siloing and strengthening of the lanes in which we travel to the alienation of other options, or will the 2018 midterm elections signify a rejection of small-mindedness and this alienation. The world has grown smaller and will continue to shrink due to the internet. It can be a useful change or a dangerous one, but, regardless, change is inevitable. Educating the populace and accommodating the diversity is the best way to increase the country’s chances of survival.

This will mean we all need to continually change lanes, sometimes take an offramp to a new place, find out how someone else is viewing the world from their lane. If you find the new place threatening, so be it, but, you will know it is there, can engage with the other individuals and hopefully participate in the communal exercise necessary for any citizenry to flourish or even for it to survive.

https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2017/11/the-nationalists-delusion/546356/

White and Black: My Letter to Ta Nehisi Coates and my younger self

In the past year or more, I have been introduced ta-nehisi-coates-nina-subinto the work of Ta Nehisi Coates. This exposure was tardy on my part, which is unfortunately the pattern my life has followed on race issues in America where, though aware of the basic issues, my own understanding of the depth of the problem was always seen from my position of white privilege. My own California exposure in the 50s and 60s, either from within the lens of my family or through my own individual lens trying to make sense of the world as I came of age, was not what I now wished it would have been. As I look back upon that youth and later from my Baby Boomer’s aging eyes, I do wish I had been more attentive and had also participated more in correcting the situation. Mr. Coates has become a sensation in the past several years for his ability to frame the issue of race in historical and personal terms. I was first aware when he wrote the article in 2014 in the Atlantic expressing the moral necessity of the United States to make reparations to the black community for several hundred years of racial policies that, in the article’s thesis, have not adequately addressed the issue. This year, I truly enjoyed his audio book, read by the author himself, that was a letter to his then teenage son about the lessons all black fathers must impart to their sons in America, though this was a specific story about his own personal black history pegged against his father’s history and the emerging, current racial history his son was experiencing. For Coates, it was a story of some progress, but overall was a profound condemnation of this country’s racial profile.

In another recent letter, former NFL player Ryan O’Callaghan, recently coming out as gay, read a letter on CBS to his younger self. In that letter, he explains that all will eventually turn out well, even though much of that life will be tormented and filled with self-loathing, doubt and plans for suicide. These feelings were constant even as he enjoyed success in football throughout school, university and in the pros. In another letter from Peggy Whitson,  American female astronaut who owns our the record for being in space for the longest time, she basically wrote a biographical letter to her younger self. In it she had only one plea to do a bit better earlier, by stepping up to the role model she should have embraced more effectively and  earlier.

In the vein of writing a letter to one’s younger self and with the focus the history of race in America as told from a person who has not had to suffer one day of prejudice based on race, it is my desire to address thoughts that have been with me throughout my life, but with the main emphasis as that of a plea to that younger self that serves as an admission of disappointment in how that life transpired vis-a-vis race in America. Race is an issue that, the more I research it, am exposed to it and understand it, the less satisfied I am with myself in handling it as racial speed bumps interrupted my journey. I have befriended many individuals of color or in the minority in this country, one in Vienna whom I consider to be among my closest of friends. Yet, I now realize that I missed too many opportunities to engage in my community in so many instances.

When Greg Popovich spoke out recently about how whites have no clue what it means to live in a world of white privilege, he was reacting to the American society that is now splintering due to race-bating, populist rhetoric and releasing the Kraken of white supremacy that had been pushed under the seas of sensibility for much of my life. Now we see too often what too many in this country feel, believe and say about race, exposing their hatred and ignorance, and often without remorse and never with contrition. Indeed, we have a slimy leader who does not lead, who dissembles and divides as policy, almost always speaking to his hateful white base that is thankfully shrinking. His own racist comments and efforts to thrust racial issues into the political arena have met with far too much success, though, in my opinion. He is the symptom of our problem, not the cause, and it is our responsibility, through all the public avenues available, to refute and condemn all rhetoric that allows anyone to diminish another human’s existence based on the differing DNA we all carry. Though some of us are blessed with a more fortunate construction of this string (but not because of one’s epidermis), no one can claim theirs is superior for political or preferential purposes.

So, starting with David Miller, the 10 year old living in Alexandria, Virginia, while your father worked for the Marine Corps at Henderson Hall, the Headquarters for the Marines, and Mr. Coates, current spokesperson for the black race in America, here is my letter to the two of you. It will be addressed to the younger self of varying ages, but it is also an admission to others.

Your parents came from a simple rural background, growing up in Appalachia mining for coal on Miller’s Creek in Kentucky. It was a wonderful community of good people who dealt with that society as honestly as they could, even though I now understand it better and it has been referenced in J. D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy for others to comprehend. Yet, my immediate family is not uneducated, nor unemployed, even if many of them do support the politics coming out of these roots. Some of this family is still in Pikeville, some took the Hillbilly Highway to Detroit, some lived in rural Ohio, some have relocated to Florida from their initial life in Ohio to escape the cold, and some followed my parents to California. it was, for all to them, a white world, but the basic tenets of humanism were always practiced in their households.

You probably recognized that inherent suspicion of anyone “other’, whether it was someone who practiced another religion, spoke a different language, dressed differently or had different skin tones, but it was not the practice in the Miller household to debase anyone directly. Yours was the instruction to keep to yourself, make no waves, keep your head down and get on with your personal responsibility. My note to you now six decades later is to read more, ask more questions, see that you are aware of such things reported in the news, even if you are only a child. Coming of age has responsibilities, ones that should make the individual better aware of the world’s issues and pitfalls, to offer him protection from those who could do him harm. But, also it expects the individual in assuming his adulthood to become a better member of his community, offering sustenance and betterment through participation and offerings. All religions have these expectations and these lessons were implicit in the Miller family.

Yet, the explicit nature of that world was not so apparent in your family as events unfolded in the 50s and 60s. Conversations about the news of the world did not frequent the dinner table discussions. It would be useful to be aware of those incidents and decisions made in the country that are of the most paramount, to take the day’s events and digest them through the family lens. Yet, though my parents are complicit in creating who you are, you realized at probably this age, that you were the one responsible for who you would be. You need to hone the necessary tools earlier and use them with more force.

At the time of the Brown vs the Board of Education decision by the Supreme Court in 1954, you did not know of its import when it took place, and you as an eight year old can be forgiven that deficiency. Now, in this year, 1956, many Southern Congressmen, in reaction to the Supreme Court decision, have adopted the “Southern Manifesto” that expresses the desire to maintain a strict interpretation of the Constitution and to allow states to apply social constructions that give no special rights to any one group. We are still dealing with this sentiment all these years later. You should begin your education now. You are ten. It is not too early. You see the inequities, you just haven’t understood the profound depth of what they mean.

You will find that it is difficult to defend this manifesto, as will one of its authors, Sam Ervin. Its tenets are basically to support the continuation of Jim Crow Laws with all that this implies. Some years later, when James Meredith was becoming history at Mississippi, you understood the basics. It was not a topic that came up with your friends, though. You should initiate this discussion. It’s 1962. You have grown up a bit, but certainly haven’t come of age, yet. As a sophomore in high school, you have been devouring the game of basketball for three of four years now. The coach notices you and you are having fast success beyond your maturity to understand the mental side of the game, which is your present Achilles’ Heel. You will find you are entering a sport that will eventually be dominated by black athletes. Did you follow USF when they became the first NCAA team to go undefeated and win the NCAA Championship? I can’t remember if you did. You certainly appreciate what Bill Russell has been doing in the NBA with the Celtics. You are playing all over town in San Diego with the high school team and are exposed to black basketball culture in the southeast part of the city. This has been your opening for addressing racism. Again, ask more questions, become more frustrated that the Lincoln area of Southeast San Diego is the segregated black area of San Diego, an affront to the name of the 16th president.

It is not lost on your older self that Alabama’s football team in 2017 is nearly all black, while its 1963 team and coach were not and those individuals did not have the bravery to stand against the Southern system of segregation at that time. What public voice did they raise against George Wallace when he tried to prevent the integration of Alabama? A young teenager like you should have asked that question. In 1963, Martin Luther King delivers his I Have A Dream speech.  He is speaking to the nation, but you have not heard nor taken to heart his sentence within the speech: “We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there ‘is’ such a thing as being too late. This is no time for apathy or complacency. This is a time for vigorous and positive action.”

 

 

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Your world is school, a few friends and a lot of basketball. Girls have become interested in you at school and you venture shyly into dating. But, one of the most important American historical figures has just spoken of the need to become involved, to understand your nation, and you have lost that opportunity. From your world to this date, race, for you means ‘you’ and the ‘other’ in society. You should seek an understanding of the ‘other’s’ world. Race can only be an issue if you think of anyone as the other. You have responsibilities here, always.

Notice that the signatories of the manifesto are all from Southern states where racial divisions extended to bathrooms, drinking fountains, schools, means of transportation, eating establishments, sports teams, hotels and such. Were you to look just a little deeper, hopefully you would be affronted by this practice at the age of ten. or fifteen, and ask questions of the adults in your life to explain why it is occurring. I know you would have seen Nat King Cole hosting the first black variety show on television. What did your parents say about it? You did not ask it at that time, which is why I am writing this letter now. Look at the covers of Time magazine from 1956, why are there no black leaders? Have you heard Rosa Parks’ name, yet? Did you notice the absence of blacks and Latinos in your life?

The 60s are critical in understanding American history. Many of the most important decisions and incidents related to race in the States occurred in this short and turbulent decade. It is also the decade when you grew into adulthood. While you handled yourself with some integrity overall, you were not a complete citizen. In looking at the important events from today’s perspective and understanding what they meant to the country as they were occurring, you could not describe their import as they were actually occurring. Indeed, some of them passed by your existence at the time without even making an imprint. This should be remedied. In the return to the States in 2006 after teaching overseas, I will visit the museum in Charlotte which commemorates the lunch counter sit ins of the early 60s. This was a massive incident you should know. You should have been more involved in discussing the implications of the efforts the Freedom Riders and those individuals who braved the system or who sat on a white department store stool and asked to be served.

Upon graduation from high school, San Diego State offers you a scholarship and your exposure continues gradually to racial issues on the court and with the players from other sports, especially the school’s football players. Working in the summer with black football players gives you a somewhat skewed view of the culture, as they are athletes first in your eyes and secondarily black. They respect your athletic talent and you are given a welcomed entry into the family of college athletes, many of whom are black. You enjoy the camaraderie, though your exchanges are based on athletic respect and almost never are issues of race brought to the fore in conversations. You are aware of the Black Panthers, the Nation of Islam and Malcolm X, but you have not sought an adequate malcolmxunderstanding of their cause, for why they feel they need to separate from the United States. You don’t understand what is behind the black power movement, or that a Southern sheriff had killed Jimmy Lee Jackson in Alabama. This led to the March to the Pettus Bridge and the later Selma March. This is one of the most profound eras in American history, one during which you lived and which will define future approaches to racial issues in America. You were absent, even though you are now of voting age. You see images on television, but do not seek newspaper accounts, read the words of James Baldwin or any other black author, and you have only had a few discussions with some black friends about race. Your most successful venture is the mixed race couple, the black husband who has befriended you, where you discuss the issues of race from their perspective and you are open to this being accepted as the norm. But, you will not be aware of the Loving vs Virginia Supreme Court ruling at the time it was decided in 1967.  At this point, though, it is only your intellectual acceptance and not your civic involvement in racial issues that gets you anywhere with racial issues. You are aware of changes LBJ made in the Civil Rights Era, though these did not change your life and you did not celebrate them, as momentous as they were. You are aware of the death of James Meredith, of the Alabama racial issues, the Los Angeles riots and the unrest and frustration blacks experienced with treatment at the hands of government agencies. Take greater stock in those issues. They are important.

After your final season at State, you started AAU ball almost immediately. The team was made up of a collection of college players from the area. Most of these were black players, the majority from USD, where Phil Woolpert of USF and Bill Russell fame ended his career. It was then that I got to know Bernie Bickerstaff, Ted Fields and Lem Lemons better. Lem was the nephew of Meadowlark and Bernie would go on to work with the NBA, eventually taking over as head coach. I saw Bernie when we moved to Charlotte some years ago and said hi, but I was always bothered by my absence from their black experience, even though I spent hours in a car, on the court and just palling around with them.

I recall to this day the time in  April of 1968, driving to a game, I in the middle in the back seat and the only white in the car. On the radio the announcement came that King had been shot. It was devastating and I said something mild in reaction, I’m sure. I can’t remember what at this point. But, the other four were crushed. They spoke to each other and were deferential to me, but it was not a shared experience. I wish I could tell you now to be the full citizen of this country and to have embraced that tragedy as they did. That year was a horrible one for tragedies and the country was not handling any of them particularly well. That year is populated with racial incident after racial confrontation throughout the country. In California, the college campuses are abuzz with the issues of race. These are in your neighborhood. You watch it as a bystander, though you do have many strong opinions about the world they are engaging in. Find some group to join to express those interests and put them to use.

You were drafted by the NBA that year, but you were not ready for the business of basketball as it was practiced by the San Diego Rockets. You were introduced to some wonderful figures in the NBA world; Stu Lantz, Calvin Murphy, Jim Barnett, Pat Riley and Don Kojis. They would come out to Helix to play during the off season and it was a stunning time for basketball in San Diego. That Pat Riley was involved in NCAA Championship game in 1966, playing for Kentucky and Adolph Rupp and against an all-black team from Texas Western, is one that you let get by you at the time. You knew Pat well enough to talk about the game, but you didn’t realize the importance of the game as a social statement . To hear later that Pat went to the opposing team’s locker room after the game to congratulate them makes me like him even more than I did before. He has been a class act in basketball for his whole life. He was only a couple years older than you, but you would have done well to have breathed some of his air of maturity and awareness.

When you went overseas, that is the time when you began to understand the world and race a bit better. The black player of the London YMCA professional team was from the States and had a great perspective on life. Wilbert Olinde, a UCLA grad who played in Germany gave you an added perspective and you knew him from his high school days in San Diego, too. The biggest opportunity you had though, was the time in Vienna. There the relationships with Mike Maloy and Bernard Stackhouse Mike Maloygave you the best understanding of life in the black lane.

Mike was the product of fist clenched, arm in the air confrontation, coming out of Bed Stuy and playing ball for tiny Davidson in de facto segregated North Carolina: He very much was of the vein of thinking that loved Tommie Smith and John Carlos and their defiance at the Olympics and I suspect approached life with his boundless humor and strong opinions always. While you were leaning towards support of the raised fists, it made you a bit uncomfortable. You, at that time, did not have the courage like the white medalist on the third podium, Peter Norman of Australia. tommie-smith-john-carlos-san-jos-state-university-statue2a-thumbHe wears the OPHR badge in support of their protest. It will cost him dearly in Australia, but he was proud of that moment throughout his lifetime. He does not have to write a letter to his younger self. There are statues of Carlos and Smith on the San Jose Campus today: the world has caught up to them. You’re committed to the sentiment behind the statue today, but, again, you’re a bit late.

Related to Mike Maloy’s story and life, it was then, shortly after he left school in Davidson and went into the ABA, that Charlotte, just a few miles to the south of his little college town, became the poster city of busing and desegregation ordered by the Supreme Court. When I arrived there in the early part of this century knowing Mike as I did, I was astounded by the smallness and provincial attitudes at that time of Davidson and was intrigued by the city that Charlotte had become. I worked at an independent school that had opened in 1941 and was wholly white at the time. It now has a ‘diversity’ administrator, the first black head master in the South and works towards full integration in its lame way. There are several other independent schools in Charlotte, all opening shortly after the 1973 court case as white flight schools. Such a shameful decision that has been followed by nearly every city in the country.  The solution to the racial issues in America must begin in all of our schools.

Imagine the world Mike faced in Bedford Stuyvesant, his frustration with the South of the late 1960s where he graced the cover of Sports Illustrated for his efforts, and his joyful confrontation of that world in the way that he had of disarming his opposition both on the court and off. When I got a haircut one weekend in Davidson at the only remaining barber shop (in Mike’s day there were two, both run by blacks, but one was for blacks and one was for whites). As it was a Saturday, one of the barbers was an eighty-some-odd year old black barber who, I found out, had previously worked at the blacks only shop. After a couple of minutes in the chair, I leaned further towards my thoughts of whether he might have known Mike and fell into the question and asked it out loud. At that point, the haircut stopped for a bit while the visions of Mike and his stories filled the gentleman’s head. The rest of the shop’s barbers, all black, either chimed in or listened attentively as he spoke. Mike was different, he said. It was difficult for the Davidson black to comprehend Mike’s attitude and approach. He would go into a bar frequented by KKK drinkers, go to the wrong side of the tracks, visit everyone and laugh and hug. He confronted the issue directly. It must have made him very sad. For all the huge personality Mike possessed, I think he was truly a sad man, a misunderstood man, a man whose potential was not fully appreciated or taken advantage of by the communities in which he lived. I had good talks with Mike while in Vienna, but he died too soon. I wish I had asked more, appreciated more. Ask him more when you see him, my younger-though-somehat-older self.

For the past several decades, my understanding of our racial history has grown with my own maturation, the maturation of the country and the continual push to address the divisive, unequal situations found in many ethnic minority communities. I firmly believe in the nurture factor with communities and that those communities have been condemned by continued de facto segregation, poor schools, low paying jobs, incarceration, broken families, drug issues and little prospect for success. That brings us full round to Ta Nehisi Coates. I am now finally addressing the scant knowledge I had of black history. In that effort, I cannot excuse either political party for their treatment of blacks for the past two hundred plus years. But, since Truman and the Dixiecrat rebellion, the issue of race has been simmering and pulled between culture and the constant pressuring of the rule of law in the States.

We finally elected a black president in 2008, one of the happiest days in culture and history Mary and I have ever experienced, and that is comparing it to the first democratic election in Taiwan and the jubilation to the citizens on the streets there, the happiness in watching the anemic autos from the DDR chugging through town in Vienna, laden with a life’s hopes and future on the way down the Westautobahn to a new life in the West. These cars had managed to flee East Germany through Czechoslovakia, through Hungary and into Austria on their way back to West Germany and crossing over at Salzburg. That was the easiest and only path without obstacles, so we were treated to many happy East Germans when the wall was falling. Yet, I was happiest celebrating the maturity and fairness of choosing Barack Obama as our president.

It is so sad that his election triggered a rash of racial resentment and that an additional confluence of events brought Donald Trump onto the scene. Since writing this piece over a week ago, Adam Serwer of the Atlantic wrote an excellent and lengthy piece that dissects the racist, white nationalist background still plaguing America’s politics and its very soul. Many factors contributed to this change and the condition in which we now find ourselves; globalization, disparity brought on by the capitalist model, money in politics, allowing the government to subsidize and support Wall Street business and decisions, and many other factors. The entirety of Obama’s tenure was spent by Mary and me in the South. Our time in Charlotte and Sweetwater could not escape the issue of racism, but it was different in the black neighborhoods. The de facto segregation that continues in California, Boston, Chicago and New York is one accomplished by the power of money. In the two southern locations in which we lived, yes, the blacks were segregated. But, they had confronted the issue through the Civil Rights Movement and mostly peaceful marching and sit ins behind Martin Luther King. The federal government had backed the black transformation out of shame. A Southern urban black now has a backbone and is comfortable in his/her skin. Mary and I loved our exchanges in the stores, restaurants and elsewhere with the black inhabitants of Charlotte. We lived Uptown for two years and I rode the bus to work often, starting off at the central station and navigating the black culture that lives on any of the American inner city streets. We miss that most from our time in the South.

I hope the recent resistance to the Trump phenomena and the tromping at the polls this past Tuesday are harbingers of a turnaround in American sentiment. The ugly faces of the emergent alt-right movement, the pride of the KKK members, the ubiquitous groups spouting Nazi hate slogans and wearing their insignias is sickening. Free speech acts in strange ways and the assist to racism given by Fox News, Limbaugh and the other hate mongers needs to be tempered. I hope it gets better. If you ask Coates, though, he is not sure.

More Metaphors: Moving the Bolder of Goodness Forward and Mileage with Failure

One could argue quite successfully today that we are bereft of leadership in some critical areas. Congress and the Legislative branches of our government are exhibiting such a dearth of late that one wonders if stupidity, subterfuge, sophistry, slander and skulking are prerequisites in today’s arena. These are not qualities one seeks out in research on great leaders of the past. The theme of this blog arises out of the Charlie Rose Program, a bit of research, some reviews and criticisms of the authors Charlie interviewed, and a focus on the problem at hand; how does one or a society define (and reward?) leadership?

Leadership assumes an individual who is gifted at focusing a group on a goal which that group wants to follow based on the skills of the leader. That leader can be devious or benevolent, but for the purpose of this blog, the two authors presented believe most strongly in edifying those who take on the challenges of leader for the benefit of the group they champion, in most cases whole nations, though not all of them were elected leaders. What one author explored was the traits of leadership found in failure, but the prime asset necessary to make her list was that the protagonists needed to accept the challenge of leadership for benevolent ends. For the other author, the idea of failure as an opportunity to gain better traction on an ultimate goal was the major premise. Thus, by conflating the discussion of leadership and the importance of failure in attaining insight into being elevated into that worthy stature of a historical leader is what has become interesting to me.

Charlie Rose (arguably one of the leaders in journalistic interviewing) continues giving his gifts to America with his evening programs where he adeptly engages important figures from today’s world in discussing profound and timeless issues facing the human condition. In two recent episodes (actually one is a few years old), Charlie interviews two very different women on their literary contributions which look at the impact of failure on individual growth and how disparate leaders or individuals reacted to failure as a catalyst for action. The women are Nancy Koehn, who has written Forged in Crisis: The Power of Courageous Leadership in Turbulent Times, and Sarah Lewis, who wrote, The Rise: Creativity, the Gift of Failure, and the Search for Mastery in 2014. And, finally, a critique of Ms. Koehn’s book by Jonathan Knee, who wrote his own book on failure, actually.

Both of the female authors opine that the figures they researched and the ideas they forwarded regarding the stress endured in the crucible of extreme pressure found in the protagonists’ circumstances led to each figure surmounting these challenges through failure and doubt that would later define them in history. Each of the ones covered in their narratives had maneuvered their circumstances admirably, rightfully earning their place in history.

For Ms. Koehn, each person she chose, five in all and all from very different walks of life, “Moved the bolder of goodness forward”. Her premise, as well as the one supported by Ms. Lewis, is that we gain the most satisfaction and personal reward, as well as reward from society, by accepting challenge, enduring the circumstances and confronting potential and real failure for the good of community, however large or small that community is. Ms. Lewis was more interested in the nature of failure as a catalyst for progress. While leadership was less critical, the “success” she described in her subjects made these individuals outstanding and therefore leaders in their craft or pursuits. Notice the word, “mastery” as a goal and not success. For Ms. Lewis success is ultimately mastery of the craft or pursuit. Perhaps mastery is another issue and term that will require another blog, but let’s see where this one winds for now.

In order to focus this blog, I used the critique of Ms. Koehn’s book by Jonathan Knee, who is himself an author. His is a unique author in that he writes about business and finance coming from the financial world, a true insider who understands the working of business. His critique about Ms. Koehn’s ability or inability to define leadership qualities has prompted the direction of the blog. To summarize his critique, Mr. Knee felt Ms. Koehn told wonderful and engaging stories, but was strained in her attempt to connect the abilities found in the five individuals she chose to demonstrate leadership in her book. Ms. Koehn used the words of David Foster Wallace, who thought a good leader was one “who can help us overcome the limitations of our own individual laziness and selfishness and weakness and fear and get us to do better, harder things than we can get ourselves to do on our own.” Therein lies our question to judge the success of the goal Ms. Koehn laid out for herself in the dozen years it took to write her book.

If we then look at these three individuals’ concepts, where they look at leadership, failure and assessing why something is successful or not, that allows us to construct some inductive formula for discussion. Whether that formula is applicable along wider lines and cross disciplines is always open to question. Yet, in this case it was intriguing to look at all of these qualities and factors. The one example of Mr. Knee’s writing I chose was his book, Class Clowns: How the Smartest Investors Lost Billions in Education, and was reviewed by The USA Today when it came out. It is useful in weaving the three thoughts, leadership, failure and the goal of benevolence, into each of the three authors’ discussions.

The five figures chosen by Ms. Koehn were Ernest Shackleton, Abraham Lincoln, Rachel Carson, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the abolitionist Frederick Douglass. Mr. Knee, in his review, feels that, while the book is entertainingly readable and useful on many levels, it is “so far-flung that it is never completely clear what precisely is meant by “leadership” for the purposes of the book.” Having not read her book, I can only go by what I heard from her in the interview with Charlie Rose and move forward from there. I find this useful enough based on the David Foster Wallace insertion and her choice of the five individuals.

Shackleton was a driven man, though not a particularly happy one and one might claim not very successful with many of his endeavors. Yet, his leadership in the context of Ms. Koehn’s premise, an his failed expedition, is what we need to explore. To take on an expedition to Antartica is daunting under the best of circumstances and gives even today’s researchers pause when they go there for work. That Shackleton was a vanguard in his quest, taking a crew from coast to coast via the South Pole, is where his leadership skills were tested and will forever be evaluated. While the expedition did not succeed in its original purpose, the adventure that its undertaking put the men through was hellish. That Shackleton had the necessary leadership skills to keep up the spirits, to make the best decisions, to sacrifice himself in many cases for the welfare of his men, is unquestioned. To quote from those who knew him:

For scientific leadership, give me Scott; for swift and efficient travel, Amundsen; but when you are in a hopeless situation, when there seems to be no way out, get on your knees and pray for Shackleton.

Frank Worsley, Shackleton’s captain of the Endurance, wrote this of his leader on the expedition:

Shackleton’s spirits were wonderfully irrepressible considering the heartbreaking reverses he has had to put up with and the frustration of all his hopes for this year at least. One would think he had never a care on his mind & he is the life & soul of half the skylarking and fooling in the ship.

Returning to the grave of “the Boss,” Worsley wrote:

Six years later when looking at Shackleton’s grave and the cairn which we, his comrades, erected to his memory on a wind-swept hill of South Georgia, I meditated on his great deeds. It seemed to me that among all his achievements and triumphs, great as they were, his one failure was the most glorious. By self-sacrifice and throwing his own life into the balance he saved every one of his men – not a life was lost – although at times it had looked unlikely that one could be saved. His outstanding characteristics were his care of, and anxiety for, the lives and well-being of all his men.

Lincoln is one of the most well-documented individuals in American history and his exploits in leadership, too, go unquestioned, even though he himself often doubted his own abilities to carry out the desired end he sought. Carson fought the clock after her diagnosis for cancer, writing Silent Spring for the purpose of saving the world from the negative effects associated with pesticides. She sacrificed her own welfare and denied any selfishness, laziness and fear, if she ever had any, for sure. Bonhoeffer was out of Germany and safe in America 1n the late 1930s when he decided to go back and face up to Germany’s daemons. He was not sure how he would handle this actual involvement and confrontation prior to returning, but his decisions ultimately led him to involve himself in 1944 with the assassination plot, the July Plot, which ended up in his arrest, incarceration and, finally, his execution just weeks before the liberation of Berlin. All accounts point to a committed pacifist Christian who knew his purpose to the end, which was for the good of God and Germany. I know less of Douglass, other than he was central to the success of the Emancipation Proclamation. A black man speaking consistently to the black cause when too few whites appreciated his arguments. His was leadership par excellence and his cause profound and daunting.

For me, with Knee’s grievance, I believe he did not connect the correct dots. He wrote his book about businessmen getting involved in the task of educating in order to make a profit and calls them “clowns” for their failed efforts. He should have taken the premise of Koehn from David Foster Wallace before researching, analyzing and commenting upon in his work on these “clowns”. The initial problem is that education is not really a business. We have yet to define its purpose fully and clearly for assessment in this country. The product, found in an “successful” student, is measured in myriad ways. Schools and colleges are ranked, touted and referred to in thousands upon thousands of publications for the benefits they instill to the graduate and to the wider community.

Do you want a person who gets the highest salary after graduation, contributes to society in some benevolent way, hones a skill to make him the best at his profession, finds new ideas, cures or inventions, works well with colleagues whatever the expectation, gains insights on life and lifelong skills to allow a pursuit of happiness for him/her, the extended family and the community? What should you invest in; infrastructure, technology, sports teams, great teachers, small class size, maximizing output of data, gaining skills of assessment and discernment? What is a great teacher? Where is the money best spent and to what purposes? Is education a business? Is it the purview and responsibility of the government? What problems then arise if it is? Knee was in the wrong knife fight, I believe, to have evaluated education solely as a business and claiming those who didn’t make money from it were clowns and failures.

The last of the individuals to discuss is Ms. Lewis. Hers is a story seemingly without too many moments of failure. She has the package on all levels and one of her greatest gifts is the ability to fluidly articulate her arguments clearly, lyrically and succinctly. Do view her interview with Charlie if you have not already. She, too, explores Douglass and many others: Samuel F. B. Morse, and J.K. Rowling, for example, feature alongside choreographer Paul Taylor, Nobel Prize-winning physicists Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov, Arctic explorer Ben Saunders, and psychology professor Angela Duckworth. She believes in the existential value of the arts in society, with which I am in complete agreement. For Ms. Lewis, in leadership and life, failure is always a nearby opportunity contributing to the whole of one’s life. For her, those who take advantage of the lessons learned in failing will be the ones who gain some of the skills needed for success. One should not claim victimhood, as this is counterproductive and leaves the person absent in controlling his life.

After all those examples, it is so numbing to see the dearth of great leadership at this point in our history. To rely on Stephen Colbert to cover for us is unfair. Some politician needs to risk failing at this point and help us overcome the limitations of our own individual laziness and selfishness and weakness and fear and get us to do better, harder things than we can get ourselves to do on our own. 

 

 

 

https://www.usatoday.com/story/money/columnist/wolff/2016/11/27/wolff-author-jonathan-knee-class-clowns/94423366/

http://discerninghistory.com/2013/04/ernest-shackleton-last-expedition/

http://educationnext.org/clown-school-review-class-clowns-how-smartest-investors-lost-billions-education-knee-book/

Metáfora 2.0: Laughter..“An und für sich ist uns das Lachen immer nah; trotz allem Jammer unseres Lebens ist ein leises Lachen bei uns gewissermaßen immer zu Hause.” 

Returning to the thoughts of metaphors in science, literature, religion, et al

In thinking about topics, it is sometimes like opening Pandora’s pithos. As I continue my journey down the River of Life, stopping at ports, where some passengers get off and new ones embark, my observations of the conversations that occur expose me to information from some pretty exciting tributaries. Those passengers, in this case authors whom I’ve found on the river of the internet, have been on their own journeys long before I started mine, or have been on concurrent tributaries or even huge rivers that covered mental and physical lands about which I had meager or no knowledge. I love the new exposures.

It is sort of like my palette. Upon birth, my mother introduced me to a narrow option of tastes. Those established their roots in my consciousness, but probably in some other system of memory in my being, too, to which I also react, either voluntarily or involuntarily, as the smell and taste of the food is reintroduced again and again throughout life. Since my arrival, I have either chosen through my own volition or by happenstance to add to that palette. Sometimes the chemistry works; in fact the great majority of the time it does. But, sometimes there is a reaction against the new taste, the new ‘feel’ in my mouth. I have resisted some new tastes consistently and decline them whenever they are represented to me. Yet, I am ever more thankful for the myriad new options that are on the menu. Life’s like a box of chocolates.

That returned me to this blog, as earlier thoughts have been added to in the meantime and those new thoughts are now acting as an introduction to the earlier metaphor blog. For those of you seeing this particular blog for the first time, the whole of it will hopefully arrest your journey long enough for you to continue this distraction from life on your river and allow my trickling thoughts to invade your own for a time. For those getting on again, there will be a deja vu moment that is in fact a virtual return of what you already read…it is not senility rearing its head.

What got me on today’s passage were thoughts of Jews in Hungary, some great writers within that group, an extension to Kafka…where I found out about Josephine’s singing and those pesky mice folk. The story is a wonderful metaphor for society’s inability to discern excellence and worth, even to its own peril and possible demise. Kafka, of course, was the preeminent metaphorical writer. Continuing this morning’s journey took me to P.D. Smith, whose blog is called Kafka’s Mouse. One of his books is called Metaphor and Materiality: German Literature and the World-view of Science 1780-1955.  I am happy for this morning just to have found him and his other books. Take a look at his offerings when you get a chance. Another link took me to Goethe and Die Wahlverwandtschaften. The title is translated as Elective Affinities, itself a metaphor of chemistry and its importance to the human condition. These connections have led me to planting seeds in my Pages feature on the MAC for future blogs. Science and secularism has taken us a long way in the human condition, but which of its accomplishments have been good for us and which have been disastrous and dangerous? When was Josephine singing and we not listening?

p18253_p_v8_aaTo continue with my own take on metaphors, let’s start with cinema. Let’s posit Il Postino, that fabulous film in Italian based on a remake of the 1983 Ardiente Paciencia by Antonio Skarmeta (Il Postino was produced by Miramax). Literally, metaphors all. In Il Postino, the real life Pablo Neruda, a poet from Chile whose political perspectives define an era by his capturing thoughts, feelings and ideas in poems, is cast against a simple man who takes on the job of post man. Neruda, in exile from his native Chile, is living for a time off the coast of Italy on a small island of fishermen. It is brilliant in so many ways, but for the purpose of this blog, for its use of the term, Metáfore. In the film Neruda explains that life is best explained through metaphors, as these simpler constructs make it possible for us to understand complexities in the distilled forms of metaphors.

Literature, religion, science, sports and politics utilize metaphors and all of art is literally metaphorical, with the very discussion of what is art relying on the artist’s ability to create, conflate or amend reality. Indeed, what truly is reality is presented through an artist’s eyes and skills. Business courses counsel on the proper use of metaphors, as there are negative and positive ones in the business world. In the long confluence of using differing forms of language, reasoning and valuing our world, typically through our five senses’ abilities to perceive, we have described this world in myriad ways. The period table in chemistry is a metaphor, as is Big Bang, Cold War, The Word of God, The World is a Stage, differing scientific waves, the number line in math, the world is a machine, emotions of a wrecking ball, Getting to the Show in baseball, You Ain’t Nothin’ But a Hound Dog…..

It is a struggle sometimes to find metaphors to describe our current world. I’ve resorted to the Willful Wall of Ignorance to describe the many individuals, most with very good hopes for a better world and one in which they feel they are best served by being left alone to their own devices, who ignore, disdain or refute the facts that are presented to them. This is done at their peril, but, much more importantly our peril. The Huffington Post had an article on Millennial metaphors. Each era amends and adopts its own metaphors, so we will continue to add to the long list as we evolve.

Another individual who has done a wonderful job of constructing metaphors or similes to describe events, issues and in fact the world, is Thomas Friedman. He also enjoys the play on words to introduce his major themes and issues. His current book is, Thank You For Being Late, which is both a recognition and affirmation of the age old values of personal relationships and the time it takes to contemplate and nurture both ideas and those relationships. His other books, The World is Flat, Longitudes and Attitudes and That Used to Be Us all explore the contemporary world in comparison and contrast to what it was in earlier times. Friedman’s demonstrations of historical context, factual evidence and recognition of the reality of today’s world is not a condemnation, but a plea to understand and an effort to find useful tools to manage the world in which we find ourselves.

 

His recent book was undertaken last year, being completed just as the election concluded. As with many of us, he was taken by surprise at the outcome and needed to look at the book’s purpose in this new world of divisive politics and an unstable, seemingly incompetent president. He has since concluded that the era of Trump is one that needs addressing and he is out in full, speaking to the state of the world. Enjoy the recent interview with the wonderful Charlie Rose for some wonderful ideas, but to finish off these thoughts in the very best and most appropriate way, look at this scene from Il Postino with the use of a tabletop soccer game acting as the metaphor for social clumsiness, aching love and feminine control of the man’s world….

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2011/jul/20/salvador-allende-committed-suicide-autopsy

https://charlierose.com/videos/31104?autoplay=true