Optimism: How Bout a Laugh

SANYO DIGITAL CAMERAIf, like me and millions of other people, you feel a bit discombobulated of late, do you wonder about the following? Is this nation really that sad, misinformed and off track? Is history related to humanism heading into a downward slide (again)? Am I wasting so, so much time looking at anything that mocks, counters, exposes or denigrates all of the Trump presidency-(I did enjoy those examples on the Grammys)? Are there enough positive incidents in the day, the week, the month to give us all some form of hope? Then I am suggesting a few links, thoughts and people to follow to give you a little hope in this New Year, the year 2018, the year in which we are all harboring so much hope. Have a laugh, a read, get a few facts, some truth, and saddle up for an antidote to the other side.

bill-and-melinda-gates-optimism-opinion-exlarge-169So, how bad is it? Bill Gates seems to be pondering the same topic, as is Steven Pinker, one of Gates’ favorites. Here is an blog post about his thoughts. Gates has been a figure for hope in the past couple of decades, at least since the time when he got married to Melinda, and with the couple’s collaboration with Warren Buffett. As recently as this January, Buffet again stated his optimistic view for America’s economic future. Perhaps we can link change in men to the time when a female came along to temper their masculine hormonal actions. Think of all the decisions, institutions, ideas and causes the Gates have spawned, financed and led since their marriage. Warren Buffett’s entire personal philosophy is based on self and positivity, so somewhere there must have been a good mom or wife. Then, looking  forward to the #MeToo, to Time’s Up, to the 26,000 females becoming involved in the electoral process, that has to be a signal of optimism. Speaking of Bill Gates, he was offered the opportunity to edit an edition of Time magazine, which is all about optimism. There is even the opportunity to read it with Augmented Reality. Then there are those laughs…

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cars

Recently, Mary and I binged on the Seinfeld Netflix series, Comedians in Cars Drinking Coffee. Having been absent from television options throughout all of his run during the 90s, and not particularly enthralled with the reruns, we have not been particularly high on Seinfeld humor. But, the premise of having a comedian speak to another comedian about the components of humor and their own experiences and ideas about what works and what doesn’t was most enjoyable. To have Seinfeld and his love of cars enhance the program with his descriptions and thoughts about some of the classics in the Post War world automotive history was a bonus. A great introduction is this conversation with John Oliver. And, if you miss humor in the White House, then enjoy the segment he did with Obama, too. There is sound evidence that laughing will make you live longer.

The most optimistic film we’ve seen in years, we saw last night. If you are a Guillermo Del Toro fan, then there need be no introduction necessary. If you need more information or just another dose, enjoy this interview. His adult fairy tale about an outcast and an alien creature stems from his own dreaming from the age of six, when he fantasized about a river creature from the Blue Lagoon and thought a happy ending would be more interesting. Mary and I were enthralled by Del Toro’s imagery, story and ability to offer an optimistic vision of love and inclusion, with a bit of humor thrown in. Look for all of his symbolism and homage to his love of cinema throughout. I find it particularly fitting that this individual, a Latino from Mexico, is offering a wonderful antidote to the nativism and anger in many in this country. Also, another wonderful, engaging and compassionate role for Richard Jenkins. Optimism overall from very simple gestures.

Have a good day….where’s that next laugh coming from? Full or Empty is important in that thought.

half full

https://www.gatesnotes.com/Books/Enlightenment-Now

https://www.gatesfoundation.org/Who-We-Are/General-Information/History

https://www.cnn.com/2017/02/14/opinions/how-warren-taught-us-optimism-gates-opinion/index.html

http://time.com/5084021/optimism-ar/

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-buffett-essay/warren-buffett-proclaims-optimism-for-americas-financial-future-idUSKBN1ET1Y7

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Exploring the World of Now and Then:  Carpe Diem- کارپه دیم and Omar Khayam- عمر خیام and the World of Opium

omarHumans are a perplexing species. Though animals are capable of gorging, it is unclear if they are capable of becoming addicted in their natural habitat. We humans, though, have figured out how to trigger pleasurable feelings in a variety of ways, many of which involve an active intellectual involvement with the actions that initiate these feelings, but, we have also figured out how to game the system and trigger hormones that can take our voluntary involvement out of the loop.

The hormones, most critically dopamine, but also serotonin, epinephrine and cortisol, enhance certain mental chemical reactions to the factors involved in taking in the environment around us through our senses and organs. These can come from laughter released after a humorous event, or those of us who gain satisfaction from a dangerous activity, or from being rewarded for a physical exertion or success- whether publicly or privately experienced, or from sex,  or eating, or viewing something extraordinarily beautiful-or terrifying, or for receiving positive feelings of success from an action viewed by your family, friends and intermediaries in your personal and public networks. Then, the  21st century has opened up with some strange new addictions (consider Facebook, Messaging, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter and Tumblr), while some very old ones are making their rounds again, having rarely subsided at any time since humans discovered their properties. While there have been periods of waning and crests of excesses, Opiates are now back with a vengeance.

This brings me to a strange connections for this blog: human intelligence, pleasure, drugs……and history. For this writing, I will only go back to the 11th century, though the Greeks and Romans were famous for much debauchery, some of it surely involving addictive behaviors and drugs. Interestingly, the Bible does not condemn drugs or speak to addiction directly, but does condemn drunkenness. But opiates were available during the time of Homer and before, and have been part of much of the world’s communities since the Arab traders introduced them to others along their trade routes. It is this drug that has pricked my fancy afresh.

preraphIn the 10 and 11th centuries, in Persia, lived the individual, Omar Khayyam, who lived in the city of Neyshabur, in Khorasan Province, which lay on the Silk Road. Little is known about his life, but what we do know is that he was brilliant, excelled in mathematics, astronomy and philosophy, and in his offerings he wrote poetry. The Rubiyat are poetic stanzas of four lines each. Over the centuries they have been passed on and, in the last three or four centuries, Western involvement in the Middle East has brought them to the attention of Europe. Here we see a strange and unwarranted connection between this man and the use of opium.

peacockOmar Khayyam enjoyed life and his poetry speaks of the universality of the spirit, the oneness of God, but that enjoying life for its pleasures was a high goal for each individual. Adding to the discussions of Epicurus, Omar Khayyam spoke to imbibing with fine meals and sampling wines and other forms of drink with alcohol. His personal philosophy appears to support living for the moment, enjoying an intellectual understanding of what is consumed- with all the senses, and to respect unity through diversity. His important work in astronomy allowed him to devise the Iranian calendar, which is still in use today. Khayyam’s work in mathematics, especially in the area of algebraic equations and understanding, is groundbreaking. But, his Rubiayat- the rubai is a Persian form of verse, rubaiyat is plural- is what many of the West wanted to learn. The Rubiyat are poetic stanzas of four lines each, with the 1st, 2nd and 4th line endings rhyming. Of course, they were written in Farsi, which offered an obstacle for those who had an interest in their meaning, both literally and metaphorically.  A sample from the 19th century in English….

No one has seen Heaven or Hell, O heart of mine; 

Who, say you, has come from that realm, O heart of mine?

Our hopes and fears are pinned to that to which,

Save a name and notion, we can naught else assign.

rubiatThe English involvement in Persia coincided with their initial movement into colonization and empire and, by the late 18th and early 19th centuries, with the Romantic Movement. Many Romantic poets were fascinated with the Orient and wrote of this in their work, with Samuel Taylor Coleridge the most prominent among them. By the mid-19th century and the rise of Historicism, another figure, Edward Fitzgerald (aka FitzOmar), offered his now controversial translation of the work to the world in 1859. Again, the rhyming pattern of a quatrain, usually A-A-B-A in Farsi, would not easily allow word choices in English to correlate to the same Farsi words and allow for an easy translated solution. Yet, his work became a sensation. It led to fabulous reproductions, the most famous and expensive going down with the Titanic.

 

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Out of this preoccupation came clubs, books, images, even toothpaste in Omar’s name. There is still an Omar Khayyam Club in London to this day that was begun in the early 20th century.  A part of this enthusiasm, from Coleridge onwards, was the use of opium, which was not apparent in the Rubiyat. For some it was through Laudanum, of which one can find a recipe on the Internet today. The 19th century saw the Opium Wars in China, which were a disgraceful part of English history. Today, again, opium, China and the United States have become connected in a recent focus in the continuing drug usage and economic and diplomatic wars between countries.

While the lessons of Omar Khayyam, with his brilliance and advice of seizing the day, or enjoying a reasoned repose are left out of most current drug users in America, the use of drugs associated their connection to the Orient are still a danger. With the present administration errantly, in my opinion, focusing on a physical wall to deal with immigration and drugs in a way that will appeal to a less-than-educated base, many of the drugs are coming through the US Postal system from China. And, it would seem that many of the recipients are ones who could easily be voting for Mr. Trump and his zealots in the GOP.

To wrap up the thinking here, which began with the connections of human intelligence, pleasure, drugs……and history, we dipped into Persia, Imperial England and ended up in a post box in the United States. As usual, the solution and goal is to educate. Many a good hormone was released with a good book, film or music score. کارپه دیم

me parn

 

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

LINUS AND SALLY MISTAKE SNOOPY FOR THE GREAT PUMPKIN

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

roth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Acts of Impersonation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

kiln of antagonism, unable and unwilling to hide anything

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is not some quiet little corner of the world.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

14595808_1341932302492397_6878106112271743311_n17264210_1461757423858082_6047172774605762405_n

Enjoy the other links below related to this blog….

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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