Stumbling Through Life: Pericles, Greece and Sending the Second Boat. Can We Expect Our Second Boat Soon?

Recently when finishing the shopping at the local supermarket and heading for the door, I passed a box of books that the market provided for customers to freely drop off books they no long need or, for those like me passing by and seeing an interesting one, to pick up a title. Most of them were from the “most seen” list, books that have been popular, easy-reading fiction that rarely catch my eye. But, in the line of about twenty-five books in the box was one by John Lewis Gaddis, On Grand Strategy, published 2018.

gaddisJohn Lewis Gaddis is a professor of History at Yale, the author of “The United States and the Origins of the Cold War,” “Strategies of Containment,” “The Long Peace,” “The Landscape of History,” “Surprise, Security, and the American Experience” and “The Cold War: A New History.” His “George F. Kennan: An American Life” won the 2012 Pulitzer Prize in biography. I have read the majority of his opus and his work was critical to IB students on the Twentieth Century history sections. His writing is concise, focusing on rational analysis of events and leaders in the context of the time period, aspiring to build causal explanations that follow logical arguments, and built on the premise that man’s actions can be explained. I would be interested to have him analyze the current state of politics in America, as it seems so illogical on many levels, given that an irrational narcissist is sitting in the Oval Office. I will use this most recent book, On Grand Strategy, which, though coming out this year, unfortunately makes no mention of Mr. Trump (perhaps he, like most historians, wants to give some distance of time to allow for all the documents and the proper context to present themselves). It does look at events and individuals from the Golden Age of Greece, to Napoleon, through the Civil War and to Vietnam to explain his theses, which are the necessary elements, developed from rational processes needed by leaders to attain success for their plans or policies. There is a   video of a symposium discussion of the book’s contents with Gaddis in this link.

In the first part of the book, where he covers the 5th century B.C. in Greece- the invasion of that land by the Persians under the leadership of Xerxes, the building of Athens’ walls afterwards and the ensuing war with Sparta, the Delian League, and the demise of Athenian greatness that followed– I found much to ponder in today’s world, and therefore my title to this blog. I had not had the Delian League on my mind of late, but I have often thought, especially during my teaching career spanning forty years, that the United States was acting much like Greece had during that earlier time. Even recently those thoughts again arose in my conscience, as the US delegation discussing the support for mothers’ milk as the best option for new borns was torpedoed and the US used aggressive bullying to bring any country that resisted in line. Athens mishandled their democracy, their philosophy and their allies through the Delian League, and I always thought we were heading in the same direction at the end of Cold War. In the Twenty-First Century, we have not learned the necessary lessons, I fear, and perhaps we are entering the End Game the Athenians also did not anticipate. In stumbling across Mr. Gaddis, I can return to this thought. It seems even more pertinent to today’s discussion since November of 2016 and our handling of allies, bombastic demands of “the other” and inability to see the future with clear vision.

To follow Gaddis and me, let me set up some analogies and causal tools he used in the book. After opening the book with the description of Xerxes’ huge folly in inadequately understanding the invasion of Greece (he was avenging his father’s defeat at Marathon just a little over a decade earlier with somewhere between 150,000 and a million and a half men), Gaddis continues with an introduction of Isaiah Berlin, a Twentieth Century Philosopher/Historian from Oxford who had escaped communism and Stalin’s Russia after witnessing, at the age of eight, the Russian Revolution. Berlin loved the Greek poet Archilochus of Paros, using his fragment quote from a poem, “the fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.”  He later turned this fragment into a book on philosophy called, The Hedgehog and the Fox.

To summarize, a hedgehog is a person who is committed to a specific ideology, or to a theme, or to a position that has been researched, consumed or culturally assimilated, all of which afterwards it is difficult to accept alternate positions. These individuals are passionate in the defense of their ideas and can often hold an audience and elicit followers. The fox, on the other hand, weighs the situation, looks at the various options open to him, analyzes, evaluates and ranks his choices as best as possible, and is willing to choose the lesser of two evils or the better of two mutually exclusive goods. He is pragmatic and sometimes is evasive in committal. Often his pedantic nature can lose an audience, even though his advice is worthwhile.

Gaddis sited a study done by an American political psychologist, Philip E. Tetlock, who compiled over 27000 “predictions” about politics made by think tanks, professors, governments, institutions, and the media from the late 1980s until the early 2000s: the experts. These were grouped as either foxes or hedgehogs by the very experts who self-identified themselves as either based on Berlin’s criteria. After ascertaining the validity of each’s predictions in corresponding to the actual outcome in politics, surprisingly it was found the hedgehogs were as valuable as having a blind ape throw darts at a target. Conversely, the foxes were surprisingly adept at getting it right. It did not matter as to their ideology, liberalism or conservatism, or any other potential bias. It mattered as to methodology and being open to options. It turns out the social sciences, those involving the outcomes from men’s minds and hearts, are unreliable in predicting or opining based on deductive methods that fit into grand schemes. Analysis and critical thinking require being open to as many variables as possible.

To quote Gaddis here: “Tetlock’s hedgehogs, in contrast, shunned self-deprecation and brushed aside criticism. Aggressively deploying big explanations, they displayed a “bristly impatience with those who ‘do not get it’.” When the intellectual holes they dug got too deep, they’d simply dig deeper. They became ‘prisoners of their preconceptions,” trapped in cycles of self-congratulation. These played well as sound bites, but bore little relationship to what subsequently occurred. Oh how we desperately need some foxes in Washington, D.C. at this point, as the hedgehogs are everywhere and are burning down the state. 

Xerxes was a hedgehog, too. He did not take into account the huge size of his army perhaps being a disadvantage; or that the Spartans’ ability to hold a small pass and to die to a man doing it would have an adverse effect on his schedule and on his army’s morale; or that simply getting into Athens and burning the temple would not force the Athenians’ hand; or that his huge navy and rowers were no match for a group of sailors not simply fighting for pay, but for their homeland . Those are not an exhaustive list of his mistakes as outlined by Gaddis, either. He utilizes pages 10 through 14 in the book to explain them.

It would be my hope to emulate F. Scott Fitzgerald’s description, also found in the book, of first-rate intelligence when confronted with difficult issues. He felt this person has “the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still have the ability to function.” Gaddis points out the Berlin also illuminated this issue. He felt that ordinary experience is filled with “ends equally ultimate…, the realization of some of which must inevitably involve the sacrifice of others.” Sometimes two desired “goods” are mutually exclusive and unattainable and you have to choose. We often resolve this by stretching out our ambitions over time. Berlin also felt people could be both foxes and hedgehogs, and were better functioning if they understood this.

I am more of a fox in my approach to ideas and knowledge, almost agnostic in comprehending and proclaiming what I know. I do know that holding two opposing thoughts in one’s head is useful, as well as confounding. But, unlike the Javier Bardem character in No Country For Old Men, I am aware that you cannot absolve yourself of your moral responsibilities by flipping a quarter to make decisions. Any decision made, using history and contemporary context, must have a moral compass. A compass that is aware of the Darwinian nature of man, the need for fairness to oneself as well as the community, and one that focuses on long term implications that survive long after the decision is made are all paramount in the final act. Piggy banks, painting your house, changing the oil in a car, eating well, attending to your appearance and such, all deal with this arrangement with the future. Then, just like the Javier Bardem character, shit happens you did not and could not plan.

Political and military leaders have the same choices, though theirs involve more people and sometimes a shorter time frame. Elections in a democracy have consequences. Look at Mitch McConnell and his dissembling and duplicitousness regarding Supreme Court justice choices. His morality is completely subservient to his choice of power. November of 2018 could be disastrous for him, just as November of 2016 gave him the opening he had stalled for in his pursuit of power earlier. Now, in 2018, he is acting totally against the logic that he offered in 2016. Military leaders act defensively or offensively. The choice of action is often dictated from the opposition, as it was after Pearl Harbor, or the attack on Poland by the NAZIs, or by the invasion of South Korea by the North in 1950 when Truman and Acheson seemed to say their wall of defense excluded the Asian territories, other than the Japanese, Taiwanese and Philippine islands. Various factors forced Truman to reconsider that wall once Stalin okayed the invasion of South Korea by Kim. How strange we are still prosecuting the results of that decision nearly seventy years later. It has not be resolved, either militarily or politically.

thuyc-1024x657After Xerxes was defeated by the Athenians at the Battle of Salamis and their following victories, the Greeks settled into a period of calm, though they still feared the possibility of a return Persian assault. Athens built up their walls again, rebuilt the Parthenon in all its glory, and disturbed the Spartans with these policies. This was a time of Pericles, Athens’ Golden Age. Gaddis explores him from the hedgehog and fox perspective, brilliantly analyzing the decisions that were exemplary of a Grand Strategy from the good moral mind of a fox, while also exploring the hedgehog nature of Pericles’ demise and poor decision-making as Athens built up the Delian League.

The Delian League was a group of city-states which, unable to afford the size of navy necessary to protect them from an invasion, depended on the alliance with Athens and their navy to ward off any threat. Of course, the Spartans did not have wall and felt their army was enough to protect their interests, so they were not part of the League. Other Greek states were also outside of the treat area, like those in Sicily and those in western Italy, known as Magna Graecia. These would present problems for Athens that were not resolved well. (Again, think to Trump’s comments about decrying the scant payments made from our allies in their defense by the United States)

What followed was the Peloponnesian War, from 431 to 404 BC. The analogy of a tiger and a shark, or an elephant and a whale, is used to describe the prosecution of the war: the Spartan army versus the Athenian navy. Unable to engage each other with their strong points. While each city-state had a distinct advantage in one phase of military power, it would seem strategically aligning to present a impregnable threat to invasion would have been advisable. But this would have relied on trust, something in very short supply in the Greek psyche. As Gaddis put it, “a quality with strikingly shallow roots in the character of all Greeks”.

In looking at the long term- in this case Gaddis was assessing the post-Xerxes Greece of Sparta and Athens- he felt Sparta, with its strong army had not altered the disposition of what they always were. But, Athens, once they built the long walls to enclose Athens and Piraeus, their port, they were giving up their agrarian roots. If invaded, the surrounding territory would be razed, either by the Greeks in retreat or the invaders as retribution, and everyone would withdraw into the walled city to wait out the threat. The expense of a navy required much communal financing and personal sacrifice towards its maintenance-far more than the simple army of a hoplite soldier. And, the Greeks would have to develop trade and relationships with those “barbarians” (a Greek word), allowing them to inhabit the city in great numbers along the way. Immigration without citizenship followed.

Over the ensuing decades, as Sparta and Athens danced the circle towards war, smaller skirmishes brought the interests of the two giants into conflict. One, in 428, brought the island of Lesbos into the mix. Athens was allied to them through the League, but the high cost and the distaste the islanders felt against Athens led them to repudiate their allegiance and to seek help from Sparta. The Athenians, fearing that inaction would lead to further problems elsewhere, blockaded the port city, Mytilene. These inhabitants sought help from Sparta, who promised it but did ultimately not supply any. The following summer the city capitulated to Athens. The Athenian assembly, headed by Cleon, feared further defections, so they accepted Cleon’s recommendations that the men be slaughtered and the women and children sold into slavery. They sent a trireme to notify the Myltilenians of these orders.

After the ship sailed, the assembly had second thoughts. It was pointed out by some citizens that the Athenian empire was a free community. If a person was free and felt oppressed, of course they would revolt. Why was it useful to kill someone whose life would be useful to Athens. The assembly voted again and narrowly decided to halt the first order. A second ship was sent to overtake the first. The first plowed along slowly, as Thucydides writes, “upon so horrid an errand.” The second, plied with ale and barley cakes, ate while they rowed and slept only when relieved by another rower. They gladly made haste to prevent the horror. The second boat arrived just in time, even though the first boat had just arrived and delivered the message. No massacre took place, though.

When Melos, a longtime Spartan colony which had remained neutrality in the Peloponnesian War, was approached by Athens to submit to Athenian dominion, the Melians asked why. The Athenians told them “the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.” The Melians refused, hoping the world would see that this is not how things worked and that Sparta would send aid- it seemed Athens should be shamed into the right course. They were disappointed on both counts, eventually surrendered and were slaughtered to a man and the women and children sold into slavery. The city was repopulated with Athenians. The Athenians, in their prosecution of the Peloponnesian War under Pericles and the later handling of Melos, have been discussed and sometimes judged by historians. They were acting as hedgehogs at this time, for sure.

Gaddis believes that the democratic habits of deal making, compromise and tolerance served the United States well when it came to holding the Western coalition together during the Cold War (beginning dates are debated, but from the 1940s until 1990). Today  Europe and much of the world is as it is thanks in large part to the Marshall Plan and NATO, and the policies of containment. I am hoping there is some symbolic sending out of a second ship, a second November election two years later in other words, to save the democratic reputation of America. If anyone asks for a portion of ale and barley cakes, please give them some.

Gaddis also says that “Fear, after all, can be genuine without being rational. And as Sigmund Freud once pointed out, even paranoids can have real enemies.” We have too many fearful citizens fed by Fox News behind their Willful Wall of Ignorance. I know I am an enemy of a most irrational, paranoid man.

https://www.commentarymagazine.com/articles/the-long-peace-by-john-lewis-gaddis/ 

https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2018/apr/30/book-review-on-grand-strategy-by-john-lewis-gaddis/

https://archive.nytimes.com/www.nytimes.com/books/97/05/25/reviews/970525.25mcmillt.html?scp=179&sq=george%2520kennan&st=Search  

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David Brooks, Again….???: Now He Thinks He Knows What a Conservative Is, I Beg To Differ

david-brooksIn Brooks’ most recent opinion piece in the New York Times, he attempts to define the background of historical Conservatism, then morph that into today’s Trump voters as being Conservatives, and then attack Trump as not being a Conservative. His background on Conservative, in my opinion, is sketchy. I do not believe he is anywhere in the room in analyzing and putting his stethoscope on the right body politic, as his attempt to link voters and the goals of the GOP to Conservatism of the ilk he describes in the first part. These two conflations do not mash for me. Then, Trump.  Trump, I agree with Brooks, is no Conservative. But, he is dealing with the GOP in such a way as to cow them and keep them in line. He has done much for their causes, while at the same time destroying much of our Conservative and Liberal values which have articulated our nation’s policies for these past centuries. Where do we begin….

He early on asks two questions that I feel are inadequately addressed: Where do conservative loyalties lie? How can we serve those loyalties in these circumstances? Brooks’ attempts to paint the Conservative agenda historically would lead one to believe they are all pollyannas, smiling from their dinner tables and pews and singing Kumbaya. No, they are presently a combination of many things: Libertarians, Hobbesians, Burkeians, Capitalists, Evangelicals, Racists, Underemployed Rural Laborers, and many people fed up with the system that has developed in Washington, D.C. that ignores the American little man. The issues driving all of these vary from security, to right to life, to plutocracy, to White Supremacy, to Christian moral dominance, to Isolationism, to States’ Rights. The Venn Diagram that includes all of these does not exist. What did exist is a disdain for Hillary Clinton and a lack of education in too many to vote for what is fair for all and best for their own individual welfare in the option. Poor access to good knowledge is the prime problem in this country, one that is missed on David and not addressed in this piece. It may never be based on the status of politics at present, for it serves some individuals to maintain a low standard of national understanding of the issues in order for them to remain in power.

Leviathan_by_Thomas_HobbesIf you look at the Hobbes model of Conservatism, one that David Brooks has discussed in the past, even likening Obama to this model, you recognize more of what is espoused in the Conservative base today. Hobbes felt individual man was always in a constant state of warfare against his fellow man and needed a strong state and leader to keep him in check. It is not new to Brooks, though his continued attempts at being a psychologists have gotten him into trouble in the past, and are continuing into the present, it seems. It is clear to me that the fear mongering began by the GOP from the Reagan era forward has taken root and those roots are deep into the body and soul of American politics today. It may be impossible to do a simple root canal to eradicate them, as they now reach into the very brain of the nation. If you use Limbaugh, Beck, Alex Jones, Buchanan and the host of other politicians and pundits too spread fear and the need of a strong military and police, then many will claim to be victim of a weak and spineless government and vote authoritarian. trump_leviathan_djIt is not Trump’s fault that he exploited this field of play. Trump is playing mostly to that base, many of whom are not true Conservatives of the economic or plutocratic sense. Evangelicals have taken Trump’s power to appoint as preeminent in their desire to strengthen their values within the federal government. They are loathe to accept much else he is doing, but take this one caveat and stick with him. The Beltway Republicans have been eviscerated by Trump and they are the ones working hard to claw back into power. It is these leaders, those who formerly firmly held the reins in the GOP, who are most at odds with the direction of the party at present. They now risk irrelevance for decades to come if something is not done soon. 

It appears we are looking at a midterm election that will ask the electorate to either accept or repudiate Trump on all state levels. I fear the system is not pliable enough to measure the full-throated power of the opposition to Trump, and perhaps there really is a significant and sufficient majority of this country that actually feels his words, deeds and policies are to their liking. I hope not. 

Brooks quoted Roger Scruton in his piece, “The question of which comes first, liberty or order, was to divide liberals from conservatives for the next 200 years.” in referencing the origin of the division of power and goals in American politics. Brooks continued, “The practical upshot is that conservatives have always placed tremendous emphasis on the sacred space where individuals are formed. This space is populated by institutions like the family, religion, the local community, the local culture, the arts, the schools, literature and the manners that govern everyday life. 

Individuals being formed? GOP individuals? If you are a Latina kid, raised in a Catholic background, speaking more Spanish than English, does the GOP value her? If so, what must be said of recent comments and actions related to their plight on the Southern border and their being ignored and diminished in nearly every GOP-controlled state education system? The institutions he has listed like local culture, the arts, the schools, and literature, have all either been starved, cut, curtailed, criticized or censored by too many voices in the GOP. This takes away your right to govern or to at least claim they are important to you. And, where are the cultures of the Islamic immigrants of the past three decades, those of the South and East Asian communities that have arrived over the past two generations, the Africans who have fled the upheavals found there since the 1960s when the colonial/imperialist systems that dominated fell to revolutions or reality? We have changed our genetic nature within the time period since World War Two, just as we did in the influxes of peoples from Europe in the late 19th century (even as other regions’ emigrants were restricted). We have always been a country with a template to offer guidance and support to new comers and to those citizens adjusting to the changes in technology that impact family, religion, local community and local culture. Change is always accompanying, and sometimes irrevocably altering, traditions. How they survive is the nature of this arrangement. If the template is secure, those new ideas, new citizens and new gadgets will fit into the new America.

Brooks opined that George W. Bush’s “compassionate conservatism” and, in Britain, David Cameron’s Big Society conservatism fizzled because of naked capitalism. They never took hold, so they never fizzled. It seems they were slogan fig leafs that did not adhere. Naked capitalism consumes its young. It is not interested in those values, and in this I agree with Brooks. It is a government’s job to regulate that simple goal of profit and to add values to the concept of economic exchange. Even Adam Smith’s Invisible Hand controlled his market. It was a Christian hand, though. I don’t know what a Christian looks like anymore based on what I’ve seen in the Trump Era. I agree that “radical individualism” is doing harm. It is the Ayn Rand type of individualism that is deeply engrained in Paul Ryan and Rand Paul, as well as many in the Tea Party. The Republican Party is in trouble…….. or is it?  That seems to be the simple question.

Who Is Sarah Huckabee Sanders?: Would You, Should You, Can You Ask Her to Leave Your Business? History will have a fine time sorting this one out.

sandersEver since the comedy act, Sean Spicer, left the White House Press Secretary’s job to be replaced by Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the world has been exposed to her handling of the POTUS’s actions, tweets and comments. While many of Trump’s White House staff have either been fired, resigned or indicted, Sanders continues, along with some other very suspect individuals, to support the feckless, often insupportable policies of this man.

The recent incident, where she was asked to leave an restaurant, called the Red Hen, in Lexington, Virginia, has brought out voices of derision and support across media. Stephanie Wilkinson, the owner, told the Washington Post Sanders had already been served when she approached the press secretary and asked her to step outside. “I was babbling a little, but I got my point across in a polite and direct fashion…”  “I explained that the restaurant has certain standards that I feel it has to uphold, such as honesty and compassion and cooperation. I said, ‘I’d like to ask you to leave.’” Sanders, Wilkinson said, replied: “That’s fine. I’ll go.” The press secretary walked out and others at her table followed. Wilkinson said: “They offered to pay. I said, ‘No. It’s on the house.’”

The restaurant owner expressed no regrets, telling the Post: “I would have done the same thing again. We just felt there are moments in time when people need to live their convictions. This appeared to be one.” Sanders’ father, Mike Huckabee, was less generous in letting his feelings be known and tweeted, “Bigotry. On the menu at Red Hen Restaurant in Lexington VA. Or you can ask for the “Hate Plate”. And appetizers are ‘small plates for small minds’.”  Nicely done from someone who aspired to the presidency. The lack of decorum in communicating thoughts, feelings and opinions in today’s media is most dispiriting. 

Sarah Sanders was tapped by Trump because she is loyal and is able to deflect much of the questioning aimed at her. What is her reasoning behind supporting a president who has lied nearly 3000 times, without remorse, since assuming office? She apparently is happy with his decisions that support her religious views. That he has appointed conservative judges is also important to her. The pragmatism of supporting, in such an duplicitous way, the words and deeds of the president, though, have cost many of Trump’s supporters dearly. Will she be judged likewise by history? She certainly will be judged and is being judged, by her current role in condescension, snide attacks on the Press Corps, duplicitousness, dissembling and even lying. The Press Corps is obviously fed up with dealing with her and getting nothing from their days at the White House other than that monotone wet blanket she is so adept at throwing over the fiery truth.

What is her track record? After Trump sought to discredit Comey and the FBI, Sanders was questioned on a tweet she had sent during the 2016 presidential election that “when you’re attacking FBI agents because you’re under criminal investigation, you’re losing”. After Comey accused Trump of lying about the circumstances in which Comey was dismissed, Sanders defended Trump: “I can definitively say the president is not a liar and I think it’s frankly insulting that question would be asked.”

On June 27, 2017, during a press briefing, Sanders criticized the media, accusing them of spreading “fake news” against Trump. Sanders cited a video created by James O’Keefe (O’Keefe is a fraudulent manipulator of videos to slant the message he wants conveyed in a dishonest way). Although she was unsure of the video’s accuracy, she said “I would encourage everyone in this room and, frankly, everybody across the country to take a look at it.” 

In August 2017, Sanders said President Trump “certainly didn’t dictate” a statement released by Donald Trump Jr. regarding the 2016 Trump Tower meeting with Russians. Sanders also said that President Trump “weighed in, offered suggestion like any father would do.” In January 2018, President Trump’s lawyers wrote to the special counsel investigation that “the President dictated” the statement released by Donald Trump, Jr. In June 2018, Sanders was asked by the media to explain the discrepancy in the statements, but she repeatedly refused to answer the question, saying: “I’m not going to respond to a letter from the president’s outside counsel … We’ve purposefully walled off, and I would refer you to them for comment”, as well as also: “I’m an honest person”

Here is a highly incomplete list of Sanders’ misadventures with the truth:

•August 2, 2017: Said Trump didn’t lie when he claimed the Mexican president called to praise his immigration policies, or when he said leaders from the Boy Scouts of America called to praise a speech he gave at the National Scout Jamboree. (Neither call had occurred.)

•November 1, 2017: Said immigrants entering the United States on diversity visas aren’t vetted. (They are.)

•November 2, 2017: Denied that Trump called the U.S. justice system “a joke.” (Hours earlier, Trump said of the justice system, “What we have right now, it’s a joke and it’s a laughing stock.”)

•February 20, 2018: Said, “The president hasn’t said that Russia didn’t meddle.” (He has.)

•March 27, 2018: Said there has been a citizenship question “included in every census since 1965, with the exception of 2010, when it was removed.” (No citizenship question has appeared on the full census form since 1950.)

Bryan Sanders, her husband, says: “All I know is that Sarah is never going to do anything that violates her conscience… She’s never been asked to do something that violates her conscience.” John Fea, a professor of American History and author of a book on Evangelical support for Trump, says,    “Evangelicals are a people of hope, not of fear.” Sarah Huckabee Sanders has been an advocate of fear, as have many in the GOP for decades. Fea says there are alternative options for Evangelical Christians and points out about a dozen times when they chose poorly in his article. When Sanders had the opportunity to tell of her being asked to leave the restaurant in Virginia, she used the Press Secretary’s Twitter account, an abuse that could be prosecuted- one that was based on power and retribution. It appears she was trying to use her position of power to influence the public in a way that could endanger the business venture of the Red Hen restaurant. This White House flaunts its power in despicable and often illegal ways without any remorse or action taken by the GOP-led Congress to rein it in. Sanders is the Great Enabler for Trump and an example of a poor Christian, in my opinion. What would Fea say about her?

But, was it correct for Ms. Wilkinson to refuse service to anyone? What standards can be allowed by the public, and the courts, to refuse service? Does the Supreme Court need to adjudicate gender, race, religious, civil rights of all kinds, and the political preferences of business owners in deciding whom they feel are acceptable in their places of business? I am uneasy with all manner of discourse and the divisions we have fomented through the debasement of language and the truth. I do not, though, hold the Democrats responsible for this development. I will be one of those judging Sarah Huckabee Sanders long after Trump has faded into the irrelevance he so richly deserves. I would not invite her into my home, but would serve her if she came into our business. I agree with Elijah Cummings. Others have different thoughts on the matter.

Interesting views on this topic, both in print and on video:

https://theslot.jezebel.com/the-complicity-of-sarah-huckabee-sanders-1825597216 

https://vimeo.com/155396614   harvey jones science center, at Sarah Huckabee’s Alma Mater, the same as her father.

https://www.har-bervillage.com/museum-history.html 

https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2018/04/27/sarah-huckabee-sanders-profile-feature-2018-218014

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/jun/23/trump-press-secretary-sarah-sanders-ejected-virginia-restaurant-red-hen-lexington

https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/us-politics/sarah-sanders-red-hen-trump-kicked-out-restaurant-virginia-lexington-white-house-press-secretary-a8413701.html 

Hedy Lamarr: Women’s Movement’s Saddest Victim of the 20th Century?

hedy-lamarrKnown to many as the most beautiful woman in the world, Hedy Lamarr spent most of her years fighting to be the person she really wanted to be, but was constricted by contemporary convention and a male dominance that confined her to a life that was only partially realized. Born Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler on November 9, 1913, in Vienna, Austria, to a wealthy banker father and musician mother, both of Jewish background, she morphed into other characters and took on a new name once she came to Hollywood. A maverick with strong ideas and actions befitting an exciting and interesting woman, she was pigeon-holed into a pinup role throughout her life. She was not happy with that choice in the end.

Recently, a documentary about her life, produced by Susan Sarandon and directed by Alexandra Dean, was aired on PBS. Its title is Bombshell and it gives a fuller description of her life beyond Hollywood, the place where much of her fame arose. The privileges with which she grew up and in a city of the post Great War that was now the capitol of a much reduced republic- after being one of Europe’s grandest empires- saw her family pulled in directions by the new politics of extreme socialism in Vienna, growing nationalism and fascism within Europe, and a very liberal approach to social issues in much of Europe. Vienna was the city of Klimt, Freud and Schnitzler. Jews who had lived for generations in Vienna were more progressive than elsewhere, with many converting to Catholicism to gain favor in society. The delicate balance that had survived generations in Vienna during the empire ruptured after the Great War. In this time, the political atmosphere polarized and stumbled towards civil war in the early 30s. 

In this city and time period, Hedy grew up and became a teenager. She was always precocious and her father gave her great leeway to pursue her interests. As a teenager she became interested in cinema, with Vienna being the home of one of the most influential studios in Europe and the world. While not exhibiting great acting talent, her beautiful looks attracted attention in every corner of the industry and she was given parts in several films. To expand possibilities for herself, she moved to Berlin where she was signed by a Czech director for a film that made her infamous even while still in her teens. It was called Ecstasy in English and contained the first nude scene in cinema, accompanied later in the movie by an orgasm being shown to the audience. It was condemned in many circles including the Pope, banned in the States for a period, though considered an art film by some. Her name was notorious, though, for she was the object of both provocative scenes in the film.

Not long after that film, Hedy returned to Vienna where she met a man some years her senior. His name was Fritz Mandl, also of Jewish extraction, and he was one of the most powerful munitions manufacturers in Europe. She fell in love and began what appeared to be a magical married life with travel, huge homes in the city and country and, at first, no need to pursue her career further. Her husband’s jealous control of her world and his suspicions about her actions, though, made her a prisoner of his whims and her life evolved into one that required her only to show well at his parties and to support him without questioning. That was never going to be the person Hedy could accept. Her biggest revelation concerning her husband was his involvement in supplying the new regimes of Mussolini, Hitler and Franco with the munitions they would need to control their populations and to make plans for further conquests, in the case of Hitler and Mussolini. It was not unusual to have figures like Mussolini at the dinner table after a day’s hunt in the Austrian countryside property, as well as the likes of Freud and other Viennese notables. Hedy fervently despised the Fascist/Nazi ideologies.

She attempted to escape two times before donning a maid’s uniform and having one of her maids stand in for her in her clothing (drugged in her bed to give her time), and riding into freedom on a bicycle with jewelry stuffed into her clothing. She divorced from France and got onto her life, which would be a return to the screen (there are several versions of her escape, and Lamarr’s versions told later in life cannot be deemed completely reliable as she was doing image control by that time). She fled in the late 30s, just before the Anschluss and the introduction of the strong anti-Semitic laws in Austria that were welcomed by the majority of the population. Lamarr’s mother remained in Europe and for several years Hedy used her influence and money to get her out of the region. She first managed to get her to London and finally to America, but not until after the war. Being an arms dealer kept Mandl from the concentration camps. Lamarr never again referred to her Jewish heritage after she left Austria.

lamrrIndeed, her meeting with L. B. Meyer, who was buying up European film talent on the cheap in the late 30s on a swing through Europe at the same time as her escape, convinced her that she needed to be in America. Though he did not offer her enough to satisfy her in their initial meeting, she manipulated the beauty-struck Meyer on the Atlantic crossing on the Normandie she planned to a T. He signed her to a contract she could accept on the Atlantic and he changed her name in the process from Kiesler (too German) to Lamarr (on the suggestion of Mrs. Meyer, who liked a recently deceased actress by the same last name). She got off the ship in New York an instant star.

The way Hollywood used Lamar (and other females) would have and does rankle the #Metoo movement. Lamarr’s often responses would have been supported by all the actresses today. Today’s actors have successfully asserted themselves in today’s world with similar confrontations, where instead Hedy was branded, controlled and forced into submission by the Studio system. She ended up frustrated with her looks as her defining feature, though she also succumbed to their appeal through countless plastic surgeries for the rest of her life. She did not go out in public in her later life because of the poor transformation. The blessing and curse of her beauty was only too aware in Lamarr’s consciousness.

These links from the NYTimes, Vanity Fair and PBS give a clearer expanded story about her life, though they conflict on some points. With the recent documentary expanding on the quiet genius she possessed, with the focus on her wartime efforts to assist the navy in hunting down German ships, particularly submarines that could be hunting down the eventual ship carrying her mother across to America, she patented an idea she came up with playing with ideas at home after filming at the studio all day. Her relationship to Howard Hughes so impressed him with her thoughts, designs and potential that he provided her with instruments and support for whatever she came up with during this time. On Aug. 11, 1942, United States Patent No. 2,292,387 was granted to Lamarr and a colleague, George Antheil, for their design. But persuading the Navy to take it seriously proved insurmountable. Pentagon bureaucracy, coupled with the fact that the design’s co-inventor was a movie star, resulted in their idea being ignored. Hedy’s folly may have been in assuming men in government might overcome their prejudice that a beautiful woman could not have brains and imagination. But she lived to see similar versions of her invention be put into common practice, and in 1997, Hedy Lamarr, at the age of 82, and George Antheil (posthumously) were honored with the Pioneer Award by the Electronic Frontier Foundation. She would not come out in public and it was her son who accepted it on her behalf. She did call in the middle of the ceremony, though, embarrassingly.

The video clips of interviews with Sarandon and Dean, or just with Dean, and the one looking back to the appearance of Lamarr on the Griffin Show in the 1960s are most illuminating. Griffin had several guests, centrally Woody Allen. Allen’s comments expose him as the rightful target of the #Metoo movement today and his comments are despicable and not deserving of Lamarr, who fields them in the weary acceptance she had by then adopted for everything that was lobbed her way as the figure of beauty without brains. She was treated as an object and that was all. Griffin was only interested in exposing the elicit side of her biography and would not accept that her “autobiography”, which she disowned when it was published, was not the version of her life that she accepted. 

She died not quite penniless, but certainly not enjoying the stature of the a star, with the respect she deserved. Recent attempts at rehabilitation have improved her image and she may eventually get the credit for her frustrated involvement in the #Metoo movement before it actually came into existence. Let’s hope so. More links and videos below…..

https://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/18/books/review/hedys-folly-by-richard-rhodes-book-review.html?module=ArrowsNav&contentCollection=Sunday%20Book%20Review&action=keypress&region=FixedLeft&pgtype=article

https://www.pbs.org/video/interview-director-alexandra-dean-jv58lo/ 

https://www.vanityfair.com/hollywood/2017/04/hedy-lamarr-documentary-clip

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=px3Z7XTgudQ 

http://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/bombshell-hedy-lamarr-story-film/9906/

http://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/bombshell-hedy-lamarr-story-full-film/10248/ 

https://www.netflix.com/watch/80189827?trackId=14277281&tctx=0%2C0%2C94386c29-ce87-4fe9-a829-4915e95e0173-27815220%2C%2C

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P2ILXKGK0VQ

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fvZBNSxuSuo   background history

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=muYlAsUDibE  griffin allen 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nBkJhS0u83A sarandon

https://womenandhollywood.com/tribeca-2017-women-directors-meet-alexandra-dean-bombshell-the-hedy-lamarr-story-29cd30827353/ 

https://www.thehairpin.com/2013/08/scandals-of-classic-hollywood-the-ecstasy-of-hedy-lamarr/ 

https://youtu.be/tQhsZg54jFg

https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/films/features/hedy-lamarr-bombshell-documentary-inventor-movies-biography-a8246371.html

https://www.encyclopedia.com/women/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/lamarr-hedy-1913-2000 

Incredibles Two: Was Incredible, Too

ii2It has been fourteen years, can you imagine that, since we were treated to Pixar and Brad Bird’s wonderful animated feature film, The Incredibles. Brad Bird was brilliant in the first installment in portraying a wonderful family of superheroes, reluctant, even restricted from utilizing their super power skills in a world that did not accept, promote or reward those who were different and who could offer services that mere mortals could not. So much was there a protection of mundane, of the normal, of that which did not excel in that world, that we understood the very nature of the human capacity for less than one can, for aspiring to inadequate. We were left in wonder and also wondering why we were victims to the system.

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After preparing for this film, and this blog, I looked into how the professional critics have reviewed the film. As I am both a Pixar and Brad Bird fan, I tend to dismiss criticism of the collaboration involving Bird, even those who trashed his Tomorrowland film offering. If an animated film is to attract adults and kids, give meaningful messages to both, and to entertain all along the way, I say this man knows what he is doing. Then, there’s the comment on art’s ability, in this case digital animation, to impress and wow. Pixar is a leader and they have taken some pains to wander through the story and pause to enjoy the color, the movement, the setting, all composed of billions of pixels- and no use of reality through actually filming it- to allow us to enjoy their craft and to feel good about the world in which we actually do live. So far, it has set a record for Pixar in this weekend opening take, and post-viewing marks from the audience give it an A+. We see the film this afternoon, which means this is my thoughts on it to now, with an amended version of this blog adding my post-film thoughts at the end of this blog. Lane-Incredibles-2The first film, for us as well as so many other loving fans, evoked excitement, wonder, humor, great messages and left us wanting more. Here we are. In the meantime, Bird has been analyzed for his approach and messages, with some even feeling he was channeling Ayn Rand. I personally think not, if only for the fact that I don’t believe there are any heroes in an Ayn Rand world, let alone super heroes. Bird might support self-reliance, but his humanism surfaces throughout his messages. Rand would have us walk over bodies in the street. None of the heroes in the Parr family would ignore his/her fellow man in trouble. Their family issues are much like ours, their egos, gender issues, adolescent issues, preteen issues, are translate to any family, except that they must deal with powers beyond our normal limits.32cbdafc-c15f-4487-af15-95adbf606fa3-screen-shot-2018-02-15-at-104211-am I can’t wait to see what Bird’s messages are in this iteration. Critics mention adolescent issues as Violet, loving her powers of invisibility and protection from the outside world under an impenetrable dome (all teenagers can identify with these), is dealing with boy issues and her new found courage to use her young approaching adulthood for the service of good in the community. Bird is no fan of politicians. A quote found along the way..  “Politicians,” someone laments, “don’t understand people who do something good because it’s right.” Another message in the film will satisfy the #Metoo movement, as Helen is the main figure who fights crime, with Bob being the at-home parent raising the kids. He finds the job demanding, which is good, and the methods used to expose and support the superhero Helen in the public arena will send a message up your spine. screen-shot-2018-04-13-at-8-50-11-am-e1528724891426If you caught this blog on Tuesday, it ends here. But, since we saw it this afternoon, my thoughts about the storyline and messages are more substantial as I continue on from here.

Two relationships or issues illustrate what is most interesting about the film to me. As you know from the last film, Jack Jack has powers that are substantial. But, we don’t know what they are- indeed, they are revealed to Jack Jack most accidentally and he is not sure what they are let alone how to control them. By the end of the film, we only know for sure that Jack Jack knows who his family members are, but he is an infant in his amoral stage. Nothing highlights this better than the incident when he stumbles across a raccoon who is rummaging through the family’s trashcans one night. As Jack Jack has learned to work the television remote, his late night viewing at one time brings him to a show with a masked criminal, someone obviously bad. Jack Jack views the raccoon through the window, sees the black coloring masking its eyes, and shifts into attack mode assuming the raccoon to be a criminal, too. The raccoon is smart enough to know that this is not a major threat, or should not be one. Oh is he in for a surprise.

In one of the humorous episodes in the film, this raccoon encounter, for me, also served up one of Bird’s major themes. Here we have man against nature. Man, the infant, is amoral and does not understand what his actions can do, nor does Jack Jack have any conscience about this fact. He simply is in the moment and acting to control the immediate. He is not concerned other than to dominate and show more power than the animal. His powers allow him this conceit. The raccoon is ravaged, defeated and abused, no dissimilarly to man acting in his shortsighted ways to much of nature. The metaphor could be taken simply and literally, or you could be most comfortable making this bigger case.

Another message/metaphor arises out of the narrative around the main villain, the Screenslayer. This individual has the power to numb the human senses and to have individuals fall prey to the spell of the media, or the screen. Once you lock into the image, you will do what is determined by the screen’s message. No one is immune to the power once the glasses are placed over your eyes or you see the message broadcast from a screen. Bird obviously loves gadgetry and the digital world, and works for Pixar, which makes it living using screens. Here he seems like Eisenhower, the military leader who had seen it all in warfare warning of the dangers of being fooled into supporting the false god of the military/industrial complex.

Bird’s worlds are populated by kind humans and a few villains seeking to exhibit power or greed at the expense of the community. Government does not seem to have the answer to confine and restrict the villains’ actions. Superheroes could, but they are forces that are both misunderstood and threatening to the apparatus of government. Rather than utilize a power for good, Bird’s government bumbles through a systemic attempt to regulate and control that which is not really part of government’s purview. The person who best exemplifies how power can be effectively wielded in Bird’s world is the billionaire entrepreneur and media mogul, Winston Deaver. He demonstrates his commitment to his ideals and the methods he feels are most useful in the Bird world to spread the message; he promotes the ideas and individuals through the screen.

The mundane world of mere human endeavor takes over the first third of the movie, which almost becomes numbing. Soon, though, events ratchet up the action, the speed of movement, the intrigue and the complexity of the plot. Once you pass the half way point, there are shifts aplenty to set up vignettes that entertain and move the narrative forward at the same time. Enjoy this one and you’ll leave the cinema hoping you don’t have to wait another fourteen years for the next one.

https://www.newyorker.com/culture/culture-desk/incredibles-2-reviewed-a-sequel-in-the-shadow-of-a-masterwork

http://www.vulture.com/2018/06/what-do-objectivist-ayn-rand-fans-think-of-the-incredibles.html

 

 

David Brooks’ Personalism: Is he really admitting, finally, that he is a socialist?

Over the years I have always enjoyed David Brooks for his kind words and thoughtful approaches to solutions to social and political problems facing the world. Often, though, I am frustrated with him due to either a simplistic approach in his column to a complex issue, or for his incomplete thesis in dealing with the issue where he leaves out critical factors to consider. Yesterday he has offered us ideas about a philosophy that became popular at the turn of the last century which leaves me in a new place of consideration for David. Is he now so frustrated with the world of Trump and the status of the economy in America with its polarized class system creeping ever more to its respective poles that he has caved in and has become a Bernie supporter?Bernie-Sanders-Dokey-Hotey-sm

In his NYTimes opinion piece, Brooks describes a part of his take on the philosophy of Personalism. In the piece he shows concern for the profit motive of liberal capitalism and the autocratic expectations for the individual in communism. He also believes personalism will allow society to treat each individual with dignity if we recognize that, “Every human encounter is a meeting of equals. Doing community service isn’t about saving the poor; it’s a meeting of absolute equals as both seek to change and grow.”

This statement alone gave me pause. The very term, “community service” expects an individual to invest time, effort and perhaps money or some form of exchange of goods to allow one person to meet another to allow each to “seek to change and grow.” What change does he expect from any effort offered and what growth is beneficial? He says it is not “about saving the poor.” Of course it is, especially in Personalism. If you are involved in a community service project, it is to assist some other person who needs assistance in some way. I do not picture an educated, and skilled person devoting his time to assist a wealthy person who could purchase those needed skills or access to knowledge without him. Why would either enter into such an arrangement? Community service gives those in need food, access to education or services they cannot afford, or time and labor to ameliorate an unequal social situation some citizens or individuals find themselves in, hopefully temporarily  (for for some it may be a permanent situation). Society is not fair in its dispersion of money, domiciles, education, access and opportunities.

What Personalists believed a hundred years ago is that there is a spiritual element to society and the world. They are mostly socialists in their belief in solutions for the disparity found in the economy. Brooks states, for him, that “Personalists believe that people are “open wholes.” They find their perfection in communion with other whole persons. The crucial questions in life are not “what” questions — what do I do? They are “who” questions — who do I follow, who do I serve, who do I love?”  With this specific selection and interpretation of Personalism, Brooks calls for a social and political “adjustment” to American thinking. He believes that if we understand all humans to be unique, to be spiritually integral to the whole of community, that a fair engaging of ideas and actions will lead to a fair outcome. “Who do I follow, who do I serve and who do I love” are all three questions begging for explanation and answering. Who does he think we should engage with in the power structure of politics? 

We already have a Constitution that gives strong outlines of that arrangement. It is unlikely to change. The Founding Fathers thought long and hard on these same questions. Their limited democracy of the 1780s was not the end game, but their wording of who and how allowed us to move towards more equality for women, for blacks, for LGBT individuals, but not so much for the poor. We have allowed the political system to ignore our country’s infrastructure on a federal level to the point of relegating us to Third World Status in many areas. The Supreme Court recently made it difficult for the poor to follow anyone that could help them, serve (work) in any way that allowed for a satisfactory living wage that supported upward economic movement and that supported planning for a safe future, and love is not on the menu in American politics today.  And, we all understand the term “It’s the economy, stupid” when assessing political goals. Only, many Trumpites are voting in ways that weaken their economic outcomes and this is the real tragedy in American politics.

Margarita Mooney of Princeton Theological Seminary has written that personalism is a middle way between authoritarian collectivism and radical individualism. The former subsumes the individual within the collective. The latter uses the group to serve the interests of the self. Unfettered capitalism, or the system when it has insufficient regulation, fails us regularly with deep depressions or even occasional recessions in output. Over the last generation and more the world’s economy has not been fair to many. Brooks still calls himself a Republican, but hates much of what it is doing. When will he accept that the Reaganism of the 80s failed in critical areas, the Bushes did not improve the model, and whatever is happening now is lethal to not only the economy of the “whole” he champions, of those Personalist humans of integrity he pines for, and yet he is still attempting to sit on the right hand side of any podium. 

Other Personalists define their beliefs much more broadly, looking at spiritualism (often Catholicism), socialism and democracy to lead the way. Schmeising quotes Maurin as saying “the foundation of the economy should be the ‘person, not profit.’” (p. 23) If this is truly the case, then Citizens United would never have considered a corporation a “person” as their whole purpose for existing in America is to gain quarterly profits. This is unreconcilable in any logical treatment. David is one who has lamented the Republican Party’s political sloth, its duplicitous use of power and two-sides-of-the-mouth utterances, and its direction. The only stand left for him to make as I see it, is to admit socialism, as the Catholics and the Personalists of the late 19th century and prewar 20th century described it as they reacted to the damage the Industrial Age and its Giants of Industry wreaked on society, in its democratic and philosophical form, supported by educational paradigms that the schools, universities and media espouse, is what will correct our present course and lead to a fairer world where all individuals can bow to the god in the other individuals in their community. I think he will vote Democratic in November and afterwards.

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/14/opinion/personalism-philosophy-collectivism-fragmentation.html 

https://cjd.org/1999/08/01/emmanuel-mounier-personalism-and-the-catholic-worker-movement/

https://books.google.fr/books?id=3qpqCqbuYAIC&pg=PA142&lpg=PA142&dq=charles+peguy+the+revolution+is+moral+or+not+at+all&source=bl&ots=RC2PK71o_o&sig=zpt29B29YIPk-omPXLlFDn4NbTc&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjc_5Oa-dTbAhXEuhQKHS-MAzIQ6AEINTAD#v=onepage&q=charles%20peguy%20the%20revolution%20is%20moral%20or%20not%20at%20all&f=false

 

“Death is nothing: I only passed in the room next door.

I am me. You are you.

What I was for you, I still am.

Give me the name you always gave me.

Talk to me as you always have, do not use a different tone.

Do not look solemn or sad.

Keep laughing about what made us laugh together.

Pray, smile, think of me, pray for me.

May my name be pronounced at home as it has always been, without any emphasis, without a trace of shadow.

Life means all that it ever was. The string is not cut.

Why should I be out of your mind just because I’m out of sight?

I’m not far, just on the other side of the road. ”

« La mort n’est rien : je suis seulement passé, dans la pièce à côté.

Je suis moi. Vous êtes vous.

Ce que j’étais pour vous, je le suis toujours.

Donnez-moi le nom que vous m’avez toujours donné.

Parlez-moi comme vous l’avez toujours fait, n’employez pas un ton différent.

Ne prenez pas un air solennel ou triste.

Continuez à rire de ce qui nous faisait rire ensemble.

Priez, souriez, pensez à moi, priez pour moi.

Que mon nom soit prononcé à la maison comme il l’a toujours été, sans emphase d’aucune sorte, sans une trace d’ombre.

La vie signifie tout ce qu’elle a toujours été. Le fil n’est pas coupé.

Pourquoi serais-je hors de vos pensées, simplement parce que je suis hors de votre vue ?

Je ne suis pas loin, juste de l’autre côté du chemin. » 

https://www.newcriterion.com/issues/2001/11/charles-pacguy 

The place of expertise in society: Love those experts; love those Jacks-of-all-Trades

All societies value experts and expertise. Over time, the need for different kinds of experts has changed significantly. Herein, though, it is the question of today’s valuing of expertise, how it is accomplished, who determines its value and the outcomes associated with using it for assessment, how long a person maintains her expertise and whether the person who is or is not an expert experiences life’s adventures in primarily different ways.

How do you add up life’s experiences? Are they a linear string of incidents, the composite of which is the whole of who you are? Sounds simple, fits in with a Western concept of time. It might even allow one to think that an individual could control the string, looking at the events that had occurred and then attempting to plan for those that would arrive next. A person could anticipate having the accumulative outcomes of events to become better and better as expertise increased in the understanding of life’s bumps. We know, though, there are many obstacles to such control and dozens of philosophies offering contrary positions on how and why things go bump in the night.

Yet, expertise as a concept and definition is much prized and worth discussing. How does someone obtain expertise and what status should that person have who is an expert in some field? Or, is it possibly more useful or perhaps preferable to oneself and to her community to be a jack of all trades, a Renaissance man, or a person possessing EQ- Emotional Quotient, rather than expertise? Is the opportunity to become an expert the prized choice for which it is valued, where the time, effort and skills development to be classified as such are justified? The bait society places in front of aspiring experts can lead one to a life full of accomplishments and awards, not to mention substantial remuneration. We love experts. It is unthinkable to consider having a brain or heart surgeon not have expertise, or have someone assess something that involves risk or a threatening outcome without having a clear understanding of the complexities involved. There is no substitute, even though, as medicine is evolving and all social sciences are biased by human emotions or predispositions often held by an expert. The Social Sciences- Economics, psychology, philosophy, anthropology, geography, political science, education  and history- all involve such biases and cannot offer simple deductible truths, only supported theses. Indeed, we have experts that strongly disagree as to the cause and effect relationships within their own disciplines. When is the expert needed and to be trusted, and why should we only accept the bias that suits us is often a conflicting option with such expertise.

Still, can we offer another path. One that is open to many choices, to a bevy of interests, none of which are mastered, but allow us to become more informed and to enjoy that process. With the introduction to all the many subjects, topics, time periods and perspectives, it is possible that we can learn more, can understanding each discipline as best as possible, leading to better understanding of our own lives. So many things to appreciate, so much to learn, so much to master, so little time. The bain of one’s thinking, how can we do it all. What is the value of the citizen, the neighbor, the friend, the tax payer, who pursues multiple interests, myriad disciplines and the continuous searching and expanding of his knowledge? Are these not extremely valuable citizens? An expert can sway opinion solely by her authority, while the polyglot and consumer of much is aware of the dichotomies, the disparate positions and multiple options, and will continue to ask, to seek and to appreciate the need for an expert, but apply critical analysis to satisfy any acceptance of a choice. These people are needed, in addition to the expert, to offer support- financially, politically and culturally- to the advancement of all ideas, or all ideologies. 

For those of you entering the lane of life’s early route choices, just finishing university or college and thinking about the next decisions you will need to follow, this is critical to understand. Though it is not insignificant for those of us coming towards the last offramp, too, as it seems we never get the answer to all the questions in the time we are given.

We recently visited with a foot and ankle surgeon who lives in the town of Bordeaux, someone who had completed thirteen years of medical education and training to get to where he is, which is one of the world’s foremost experts in his profession. Yet, even though he is at the top of his game, he must continue his education as the field’s options, technical approaches and understandings still evolve. He is one of the very best of a small selection of doctors who comprise this grouping of podiatrists. He is a specialist in foot and ankle surgery, capable of correcting very complex chronic issues with this very unique part of the human anatomy. I offer this profession as an example, as expertise is what we are exploring, and he is an expert. The foot and ankle contain 26 bones (One-quarter of the bones in the human body are in the feet.); 33 joints; more than 100 muscles, tendons and ligaments; and a network of blood vessels, nerves, skin, and soft tissue. Also, of all the areas of the body humans use and abuse, this area takes as much or more bad treatment than just about any other area. Yet, it does not have organs that fall prey to cancer or result in life-threatening conditions, though the various bones, like any other bone, can become cancerous. One rarely dies from a bad foot.

In the field of medicine, where you can be an orderly, a nurse, a GP, a Urologist, a Heart Surgeon, a Neurologist or an Oncologist, the level of expertise is defined differently.  In other professions, time, education and skills are needed to claim expertise, too. Those that apply themselves in the various professions whom are considered experts reap the benefits and stature obtained through being assessed as one. There are experts in assessing the value of antiques, or stocks and bonds, artworks or any other article made by man using tools, valuable materials and skills. Expertise is applied to those who are experts in the cyber world and the machines needed to navigate its mysterious and miraculous offerings. All of these expertises require something like the 10,000 hours that are honored as a yardstick of practicum. It is also understood that some individuals are better than others, perhaps because of some genetic click, passion or competitive factor. What makes a person an expert?

We reward individuals of expertise on a much higher degree of compensation, which we normally all accept. How much more and why are there differences in remuneration is a useful question, though, as the market in each field is always a moving target, with factors like government involvement, supply and demand, population pressure, cultural biases, and geography playing significant roles. Then, there is that genetic make up of the individual and his own life’s choices that can impact the chances of him succeeding in becoming an expert, as well as the consistency and constancy of his value as an expert. Is there a peak performance in expertise with some professions and individuals? Of course, in sports this is the case. Is it the same in neurology? In cosmology, musicology, playing an instrument and such? Once attaining expert status, are you safe, in other words?

It is impossible to ignore the suicides of Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade this month, two experts in their respective fields, who rose to the heights of success, yet did not have something in their matter to keep them alive and wanting to continue to play the existential game we are all dealt hands in during life. Happiness and the human condition are factors we all negotiate throughout our entire lives. Their expertise may have been a factor in their depression. Or perhaps their awareness of their loss of stature, or significance, and that their relevance was questioned even though they knew they may still be at the top of the game. Van Gogh comes to mind as an expert in viewing, understanding, composing and creating great art. He was rarely understood as a genius and expert in his own time.

Another interesting story was recently offered in the NYTimes related to the Berlin Philharmonic, the conductor Simon Rattle and the bringing together of 101 amateur musicians to play Brahms 1st Symphony under the baton of Rattle in the Berlin Philharmonie Hall. It seemed useful to me in this blog to treat the issue of amateurs aspiring, and in this case rising, to the level of a professional expert for a day. These musicians were evaluated by experts and chosen from thousands to come to Berlin and play one performance. They rehearsed and came together to offer a performance worthy of Brahms, Rattle and Berlin’s Hall. It was most interesting to me that, f you heard the performance, it would have been possible several days later to hear it performed again, in the same hall, conducted by Rattle, but played by the Berlin Philharmonic, populated by some of the world’s expert players on their respective instruments. The article describes the amateur’s experience and perspective. It told of his love of music and how there are differences between an amateur and a professional. It was interesting that these individuals had never been paid for their services as a musician, but, in spite of that, they had, at their various ages (from teenagers to the mid-seventies) practiced long enough to rise to a level worthy of one of the greatest performance venues on earth. But, I wish there would have been a follow up article comparing the two performances. What notches up the outcome when the expert delivers? How diminished was the amateurs’ performance. And, therefore, what is the significance of accepting lesser abilities, skills, knowledge and outcomes in any discipline or profession? This involves so many questions that political science would struggle to resolve.

Therefore, those of us who are not experts, those who labor in smaller ways to chip away at the mosaic of life, the jacks of all trades- the Renaissance ladies who dance, sing, cook, write books, paint, raise families and make wonderful wives- are you as valuable, or more valuable, than the expert to society in many ways ? Is your chance of happiness elevated with a wider exposure to responsibilities and fields of endeavor? The person who can comprehend the forest could claim greater significance than the one who is expert in just a particular tree, or in the species Canis, or who is expert in the Canis Lupus Familiars and one who becomes a veterinarian. We need experts in the forest’s functions such as agronomy, and environmental factors impacting life and the ecosystem, economics and other fields of interest to best utilize and manage our forests. This applies to all geographical, geological and climatological distinctions that we find in the regions throughout the world. An overall understanding of any system’s functioning is critical to its proper understanding and maintenance. This will inevitably lead to a need for and claims of expertise. We benefit from experts on the specific units of a system, as well as those who can comprehend the complete system’s relationship to the Cosmos. The expert’s importance is so obvious to many in these troubled times, but isn’t it interesting that satisfactory answers are truly elusive and even threatened as a result of competing claims.

So, here we are, individuals placed in the Cosmos, who at birth and beyond are given many biased views about how it all works as we move towards maturity and adulthood. We hopefully learn what the Cosmos’ particular sections’ values are, what is important for its functioning, who is important to recognize as the authority and expert within any given field, and how to rank each field, and indeed each of us, in the overall scheme of valuation. It’s interesting that the Native American Indian considered his actions against the seventh generation into the future. What impact would today’s action have on the environment and how would the gods judge and react to those actions?

For all societies, historically we have either altered or destroyed earlier paradigms that offered their own particular biased views of the Cosmos. Over time, we continue to alter the living space for all of us as needs and paradigms change. We can even change the foodstuffs we utilize for sustenance, with all the implications that has or may have on health and genetics. Are we aware of all of the necessary connections within the cosmos to understand it sufficiently given our scant abilities to interpret the signals with only our five senses? What are we missing, leaving out, misinterpreting and what have those potential omissions or mistakes done to the path we, as a whole, have chosen  from our interpretations and utilizations of the world we inhabit? Bon Weekend, as they say here in France.

The following three articles deal with expertise, criticism of skills and how to evaluate quality in one discipline.

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/12/opinion/brahms-the-berlin-philharmonic-and-me.html 

https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1970/09/critics-and-the-public/306381/

https://www.free-ebooks.net/ebook/Beautiful-Time-For-Dancers 

Vincent’s World and Mind: Sorting out the Creative Process

Mary’s written a description about our recent visit to the temporary show of Van Gogh and how the Japanese Ukiyo-E and artistic approaches in late 19th century Paris changed Western Art. It has been a favorite time period and style for me for all of my life, which is not a unique claim, is it. Yet, the past week has brought us a bit further south into the land not dissimilar to what Van Gogh witnessed once he left Paris and traveled by train to Arles in his attempt to find color and Japan in France in 1888. I have collected a few images for the few years of work that reflect the change that occurred in his mind and in his style as a result of this conscious incorporation of the Japanese understanding of color, flattening of the images, high horizons, cropped figures, mysterious or intriguing narratives and diagonal compositions. The comparisons to the Japanese prints and Van Gogh’s work with Japanese intent are therefore most interesting.

It is my hope that you can look at these works and realize the total embracing of the thinking, understanding and conceptual approach Van Gogh accomplished in these three years. It was truly amazing to have the epiphany allowed through the clarity and brilliance employed in the hanging of this show.

vangoghtitleEnjoy.

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2.雲竜打掛の花魁

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The Dog Who Ate Picasso: Everyone’s Life Should Be So Rich, Full, Fun, Fabulous and Long

David Douglas Duncan, wrote a book of photographs based on Picasso’s dog, Lump, who ate an edible work of art Picasso had done for a friend…hence the title of the book and this blog.daviddouglasduncanobituaryfeat-800x420

This week, he died. He was one of the most significant of photographers from the Twentieth Century and was 102 years old. He was born very close to the time of my own dad, was in the Marine Corps as was my dad, was in several places (Quantico, Japan and Okinawa) to which my dad was also stationed and at about the same times. My thoughts slipped into the scant possibility of their lives overlapping in some way. Perhaps they were in the same chow line at some point, were on the same base in Quantico or Japan, or in the same battle at the same time. Indeed, in Quantico as a toddler, I, too, may have shared that same possibility of overlapping space with Duncan as my very early youth until age four were there. Though those possibilities are very small, the small world factors have proven significant many times in my own life. So, who knows.

David Douglas Duncan was a Marine during the conflicts in World War Two and was assigned to photograph the war. He had been a photographer for some years before entering the service and the Corps knew they had a special Marine on their hands. They even designed a special capsule for Duncan attached under the carriage of a Corsair to allow him a better view of aerial combat and operations for his photography. I have seen his work many times in my researching and lesson preparing and probably noted his name along the way. This blog is to acknowledge his work and his life and to raise the glass one last time to a life well-lived.

 

While in the Corps, one of his friends was the young Lieutenant Richard Nixon, who happened to be there when Duncan returned from a patrol. It is the loan photograph of the many I have collected for this blog that is not Duncan’s, but is from the finger or Richard Nixon. He took this shot of Duncan, most likely at his request.

duncan by nixon

David D. Duncan: Photograph by Lt. Richard Nixon

Throughout the Second World War, Duncan carried a weapon even though he was always looking for the photo op, too. I assume Duncan gave Nixon his own camera as he returned to camp to snap the picture.

Duncan knew from an early age that photography was going to be his employer. He entered some of his shots in competitions, winning on occasion and coming to the attention of those who appreciated and needed his eye and understanding, as well as his ability to get close to his subjects, physically and psychologically. This last characteristic, one that not all photographers have, is what was perhaps Duncan’s strong suit. The photo that earned him his initial praise, prize and which attracted attention to him first is this one, netcasterthe Netcaster, taken in the late 1930s.

Here is a description of the quality that allowed his subjects to trust him and to open up to his lens by Mary Alice Harper, Head of Visual Materials Cataloging at University of Texas, writing about Duncan’s close relationship with Pablo Picasso. “In the fall of 1998, I first met David Douglas Duncan when I was introduced as the archivist who would be caring for his collection (All of his work and writing was given to the University of Texas at Austin and is in the Harry Ransom Center). He turned to me with a gaze that was at once open, inquisitive, respectful, and intense. And in that instant I understood how he gained the trust of all who passed before his lens, from college classmates to his fellow Marines, Mexican fishermen to Saudi royalty, Afghani shepherds to

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Richard Nixon alone composing his acceptance speech after the Republican Convention

American presidential candidates, Hollywood stars, to his Islam assignment

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and on to his lovable hounds,

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Exodus ship arriving in Israel in 1948

to the founding of the state of Israel, and perhaps the most fascinating of all, Pablo Picasso.” 

Another article described him as, “A globe-trotting adventurer sometimes likened to Hemingway, he climbed mountains, crossed jungles and was a deep-sea diver, a marine zoologist, a fisherman, an aerial and undersea photographer, an archaeologist in Mexico and Central America and a connoisseur of Japanese art and culture.” Not a bad description to find as part of one’s obituary. 

When you view photographs, similarly to viewing any art, you need to ask several questions: who is the audience for the picture, who is paying, what is the purpose of snapping the picture-is there a narrative or message, how is the composition developed (or is it later altered after it is captured), is there an emotion captured in the image, is it iconic or unique,what is the photographer’s technical expertise, is there some element of mystery or aspect of the shot that leaves the imagination of the viewer to fill in the missing parts, is the image captured from a unique perspective, and does his subject know of the photographer’s presence when the shot was taken?

Duncan satisfies all of these criteria for assessment, but perhaps what is most obvious as you view them is that often his subject knows he is there and welcomes the conversation with the lens. In the case of Pablo Picasso, it was trust at first sight. Duncan came to his house after calling and explaining that he was a friend of Robert Capa (though Capa had initially hoped to set up a meeting between the two men before his untimely death in Indochina, when he stepped on a landmine, but never did). Picasso’s then girlfriend and later third wife, Jacqueline Roque, took Duncan by the hand and led him upstairs where he found Picasso in the bath. His first of thousands of photographs of Picasso was of him in the bath, with Picasso suggesting the shot would be unique. Duncan, some time later, described the meeting:

She came downstairs, grabbed me by the hand and up we went… into the bathroom, and there he was—cheerily lathering himself, in the tub! It was perfect! Pablo Picasso without much question, the greatest living artist of our century, black eyes dancing, warm and safe and wringing wet, in his bathtub. In went the ring, soap and all. She went on scrubbing his back… which she’d been doing when I arrived. Picasso and I talked in Spanish, she and I in English; I must have seemed naked, too, without my camera so he told me to get it, that the pictures, if I wanted them, might be interesting, since this was one place where no one had ever nailed him. (David Douglas Duncan to Sheila Macauley, February 11, 1956.)picasso

Duncan later had a more expansive description of that first meeting: “[s]omething extremely precious and rare was born in those few minutes of our first meeting. We three became friends, for life. It was that simple.” (The Private World of Pablo Picasso, p. 8). But Duncan became more than just a friend; he became family. And unlike other photographers, including Capa, Lee Miller, and Edward Quinn, Duncan had exclusive, around-the-clock access to Picasso and his world. Between 1956 and 1973, Duncan took more than 11,000 photographs of the artist and his family. Shooting with custom-made Leica M3Ds, Duncan was all but invisible thanks to the unobtrusive click of their shutters. Film shot while Picasso worked on his aquatint series Pepe Illo captures this dynamic perfectly. reflIn this frame, where Picasso’s face is reflected in the copper plate, we see the artist entirely absorbed in his work, seemingly oblivious to the photographer practically breathing down his neck.

In delving into other people’s reactions, articles about Duncan, quotes from him about his process, I was intrigued by a People Magazine article some years ago about an encounter between Duncan and his fellow photographer colleague, Henri Cartier-Bresson, who Duncan had known for decades by then. Duncan recalled a meeting with Cartier-Bresson at a Parisian cafe where Duncan picked up his camera and shot off a roll of Cartier-Bresson with his knowledge and apparent support. Cartier-Bresson, for his whole career a collector of anonymous shots taken without permission, was incensed when Duncan published this collection. What was Duncan’s intent in this particular instance of a photographer and his art? Was this a little different that what he had always done, or was it consistent with what he had done all his life?

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Another quote from Picasso, in discussing the artistic process:  “Duncan … it’s much easier to start than to stop.”

While Picasso could be referring to his own work, it also applies to Duncan specifically, and to the whole artistic expressive encounter universally. The two men were prolific.

From an interview along the way, Duncan gave his early background in education: “But there’s a wonderful museum in Kansas City: The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. They had all sorts of wonderful things. That inspired me. But more than that, I just had the wanderlust. So I went from Kansas City to the University of Arizona and met Byron Cummings, head of the archaeology department and director of the Arizona State Museum. He stirred my interest. I was out of school much of the time in the mountains doing fieldwork on the Mexican-American border. I took a particular interest in Latin American history and Spanish, and one thing led to another. I switched from the University of Arizona to the University of Miami in Coral Gables. I switched to Marine Zoology, and continued studying Spanish. I was in the Everglades half of the time. I did diving all over the Florida Keys. It was a fabulous time.

Duncan summarized his artistic/journalistic goals related to his wartime photography for Life magazine in an interview: 

“I wanted to give the reader something of the visual perspective and feeling of the guy under fire, his apprehensions and sufferings, his tensions and releases, his behavior in the presence of threatening death.”  He became one of the voices speaking out against war, starting from the time he photographed the Korean War, but carrying on into the administration of George W. Bush. Quoted then, as he was describing one of his most iconic pictures, a hooded marine vacantly staring into the distance in December 1950, Duncan became emotional even decades later:  “It was dawn. It was very cold, around -30 degrees, we were hungry, we could no longer talk,” he said at a show of his work at the Visa Pour L’Image festival in Perpignan, France, in 2008. “I’m sorry for crying like this …”      Giving advice to young journalists at the Perpignan festival, he said: “You have cameras. They are political weapons, you have to use them.”

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He was interviewed at his home in Southern France about fifteen years ago, where he has lived with his wife since the 1960s and where he died. The interview is on this link. By far, though, as far as interviews, was the one with BandW Magazine. It covered his war years, his Nikon experience and the fate of his four cameras made by the company specifically for Duncan, the Picasso meeting, his later exploits. It is well worth the time, too.

Other quotes about him: 

“He never showed soldiers as heroes, but as soldiers revolted by the stupidities of war. People who suffer, people who are exhausted and uncomprehending of what they are doing there,” Duncan’s longtime friend Jean-Francois Leroy told the Associated Press.

While in Japan after the war, his first assignment was to photograph the surrender of the Japanese on the deck of the USS Missouri. missouriHe returned again as a photographer for Life Magazine. While there he discovered the stunning quality of Nikkor lenses, called the company and got to meet the owner. From that time on, he was a strong supporter of the lens and made them famous.

From his work at Life, Duncan accumulated enough wealth to choose where he wished most to live. Duncan chose to live in France with his wife, building a home their in the south in the 1960s. With the publication of I Protest, Duncan upset the Conservative Henry Luce. Though Duncan suggested to Luce that he fire him, he kept his job. He would eventually change firms a few years later on his own. Duncan remained close to Picasso until his death, and remained close to Jacqueline

son

Duncan giving his Mercedes to Picasso’s son

and their son afterwards. He worked in the presidential campaigns of LBJ and Nixon, continued work in the theater of war in Vietnam and wrote several books on Picasso. His later life was filled with exhibitions, documenting and donating his work to institutions and universities, and enjoying the good life. May he rest in peace while we continue to enjoy all that he gave us in his rich time on the planet, as well as keep all of his lessons for us in mind.

http://www.hrc.utexas.edu/exhibitions/web/ddd/gallery/ 

https://youtu.be/RvBv8DJ7nnI 

https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/obituaries/david-douglas-duncan-photo-nomad-who-captured-war-and-picasso-dies-at-102/2018/06/07/8b8fb84e-6a93-11e8-9e38-24e693b38637_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.bdd580831e1c 

https://people.com/archive/cheap-shots-vol-56-no-2/?# 

https://books.google.fr/books/about/Lump.html?id=9oJtQgAACAAJ&redir_esc=y 

http://www.hrc.utexas.edu/exhibitions/web/ddd/gallery/beginnings/419.html 

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/07/obituaries/david-douglas-duncan-102-who-photographed-the-reality-of-war-dies.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&clickSource=story-heading&module=second-column-region&region=top-news&WT.nav=top-news 

Wandering and Wondering: New Cities Offer Stories Behind and Beneath Their Surfaces/ “the whole is something else than the sum of its parts”

For two months now, Mary and I have wandered through the streets of London, a dozen or so Irish cities, in Belgium we enjoyed Ghent, Brugge, Antwerp and Mechelen, had a quick, stunning detour to Amsterdam, and are now wondering how the city of Bordeaux has come to be the present city it is, with its layers upon layers of earlier inhabitants dreams and detritus. Bordeaux, like most old cities, built up its layers on top of earlier habitations, used the style of architecture from a period for a time, tore down some of its prized historical architecture when its needs required a different use (sad to say and see), and has made plans to preserve where possible and move forward where the new needs push the inhabitants. It has been a fantastic ride for the two of us to sort through the layers upon layers of dust, individuals, art, architecture, food, footsteps, history and literature we have always loved.  And, now find new topics to pursue based on what we’ve experienced.

You can imagine with the selection of the cities we’ve visited that there was a purpose to their choice on our travel list. What we have come to realize, or to expect and hope for, is that large, busy and crowded is not as pleasant or possible as it once was when we moved ourselves and sometimes dozens of students through the major cities of the world.  Or, took on those same megalopolises as a couple with specific intent and limited time for all that each enclosed within their historical and physical existence as cities. We have chewed on the fiber of many cities as a result, making mental maps of their street contours and cataloguing the memories of great food, enjoyable walks, stunning art and architecture, devouring the historical context of each’s famous inhabitants, savoring the friendly rapport with the natives, and developed an overriding appreciation for differences and similarities of all humans as we’ve imbibed in the culture of those places.

This trip was a bit different in that we wanted extended time to get to know areas, choosing  three towns- Westport, Ireland; Brugges, Belgium and Bordeaux, France- for extended stay and the opportunities anticipated in these cities.

The stop in London was purely to see the McEvoys, which is its own experience…with many earlier ones that have enriched our lives for more than forty years now. This last visit was no exception.jpmlarge We also were able to have a reunion with one of our all time favorite students from our Vienna days, Leila Garadaghi. She is now an adult, but looks as beautiful as the day we took her on an Italian trip to Milan lo those many years ago. She is now involved in international policy think tanks, charitable organizations, assisting the Palestinian causes in the Levant but specifically those living inside Israel, and making the difference in the world that we all so much need. It was truly one of the highlights in the trip that has been a trip of a lifetime already.london three

That we sojourned to Ghent, Mechelen and Antwerp, were planned, but only as connecting cities or fill ins with the calendar we were presented and that they met the requirements of manageable size. Amsterdam was a serendipitous choice, one that occurred at the last minute and for which we will ever be grateful the opportunity was there. Still, it proved to be too large for comfort in the ‘moving around’ aspects of its size. We have not had a bad day in eight weeks, even with adding new options to our travel list.

Our three base camps, Westport, Brugges and Bordeaux, have little in common from the surface and their language bases and history, yet we have found the citizens of these municipalities charming, welcoming and warm, even though there are distinctions in how each place conveys those attributes. That is what has struck us most profoundly, it seems the pace of life is different in each, slower, quieter, calmer, more engaging and offering one the time, opportunity and atmosphere to soak in the essences needed. In psychology, there is a term and a school of thought based on understanding a thing, an idea or a lifestyle- the process is called Gestalt. Our minds accept stimuli and try to make sense of them. The sum is the journey, or the journey’s end, that is the question. This trip has been one that has given us much meaning and understanding.

Westport is a town that was split between its Irish roots and the English sovereignty over it for several hundred years. The design, history and cultural basis of the town has much to thank for the English presence. Yet, its recent history has developed on strictly modern Irish roots, with tourism, the manufacturer of Botox and a nod to the Irish roots returning. We found the many pubs inviting, and their music evenings each night, where Irish folk music was featured and friendliness was a free line on their menus, were magical. Perhaps our favorite place was called the University, run by Christy. christyHe previously owned the swank pub, called the Sheebeen, where illegal rotgut was sold in English times before it graduated into Guinness, duck pate and candles on the tables. He now runs a tiny cafe on the town’s main square that has a few tables, coffee or tea in their most simple form, and a few homemade goodies to savor while reposing and taking in the banter. Christy is one of those individuals who knows everyone, they know him, and all topics are on the table and one better be ready to return to shuttlecock, as it is coming back fast and hard….tempered with Irish humor. The calm, easy manner and slow pace suited us well for the two weeks we wondered the northwestern counties of the island. The adage about Irish storytelling and the welcome mat always being out is true. We even had time to search some of Mary’s family roots and were welcomed into the home of Paddy Regan, the Octogenarian who knows everyone within miles of Ballaghaderreen, to get a bit of town history.

Upon heading to Belgium, our planning left an opportunity to stop off in Ghent for two nights before heading on to our two week arrangement in Brugge. DSC_1405Ghent is a university town, but for us and our bent towards history, it held special connections to our Habsburg links in Vienna. The future Charles V von Habsburg was born in Ghent, and it turns out his palace once stood on grounds located only a stone’s throw from our domicile. The canals, art, architecture and, again, slow pace of the town, was an easy transition from Ireland, though the size was much larger than Westport and the added bike and tram traffic kept us much more on our toes than just looking to the right when crossing the street- as was our sole concentration in Ireland. By the time we got to Brugge, where there were more people and no trams, but just about as many bikes, we were all in to the lifestyle of Belgium. DSC_1780We were blessed with great weather overall and venturing out to Knocke and Yrpes enhanced our feelings for the region. We covered history from the medieval times to the First World War in Brugge, giving a special place to our early Northern Renaissance painters who lived and painted in the city. We stopped by the same shops in our neighborhood each day to pick up prepared meals that we could heat up, or cut up or spread for meals and picnics. By the end of the time there, we were photographing the owners of these establishments. We even hit it off with the Burundian/Belgian cab driver, Jerome, who picked us up at the train station. The little rooftop flat we had, with its view over the roofline of the city and the spires of the churches lit at night seen in the distance, cast a wonderful memory for us to take with us.

While there I saw a posting on Facebook by Steve Middlebrook about the temporary show that was currently at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. It was a warm evening when I was perusing online and it kept me up a bit later. In the time I spent looking into what was going on with the show, I had decided I would present the possibility of injecting a whole new junket into our travel plans when Mary woke up the next morning. I even explored train schedules and costs, as well as lodging feasibilities. It meant leaving a couple days early, pushing all the way up to Amsterdam, getting an Airbnb on the fly, booking the tickets to the museum (which is the only way you can secure entry now) and setting off early to allow us to complete our other plans in Belgium. We still had Antwerp and Mechelen, two cities we’d always had on our travel schedule, to visit before flying out from Charleroi to Bordeaux.  

The reason the Van Gogh Show held such an allure was because of the curating decisions associated with the show. It was one of those opportunities and collected paintings one just has to see. For three years, between 1886 and 1888, Van Gogh lived and learned in Paris. By this I mean he became the Vincent we all love because of that time. 3For the previous twenty-plus years, all things Japanois had come to Europe and especially Paris. The Ukiyo-e prints were available in the thousands and all artists of the modern thinking were devouring them. The show used the juxtapositioning of the Japanese prints that influenced Van Gogh with the actual works that resulted from his study of the prints. The chronology, placement, narrative and lighting were absolutely stupendous, everything we had hoped for and in the end was- life changing. Some of the works came from Japan or private ownership and will not be available for viewing again in our lifetimes. I can walk through the entire show in my mind even now. It’s safe to say we were thankful for Steve’s posting, as the knowledge of the show had passed us by when planning earlier in the year.

Returning southward, we stopped off in Antwerp, where Rubens was the draw. It turned out the Cathedral and the quaint downtown matched the appeal of the Rubens world. While resting in the evening and preparing for the next day’s train journey, I wondered how much Jugendstil, or Art Nouveau, was to be found in Antwerp. Up popped a region in southeast Antwerp called Zurenborg. Image result for zurenborgWe still have to do more research on why this particular area found architects, planners and buyers willing to engage and invest in such a distinct choice for their dwellings. Virtually all of the several dozen blocks of one area are of the time period and Art Nouveau style, with a hint of humorous Historicism thrown in. The homes are sometimes lavish, other times approachable to the normal human. Again, the serendipity of the trip worked our favor, as we were finding it difficult to hail a cab in our neighborhood and decided to start walking that direction. It was about two miles away, a hung gamble in timing to get there, find the right place, spend some time seeing the homes and then get back to the flat for check out time and get on to Mechelen to our hotel booking. A short way into it we saw a cab, hailed him, but to no avail. Upon watching him down the road, we noticed a couple blocks on he made a rather difficult and suspect U-turn, came back the other side, another suspect U-turn, and pulled up along side of us. His name was Ahmed, originally from Pakistan. I means highly praised…and we did. We engaged his services for the next hour or so to get us there, show us around, take us back to our flat and then to the train station. It was one of our most enjoyable segments of the trip. We learned of his family, his work, his time in the troubled region of Pakistan, Kashmir, but, most important, he was a wealth of knowledge about the Zurenborg homes and the government relationship with maintaining them to this day.  It was a real treat and we now understand the allure the city has and had to Bob and Pam Schaecher who spent so many years there.

On to Mechelen, to again visit the home of Margaret of Austria, the object of Mary’s thesis topic. We had only a short time there some many years ago when doing some research for Mary’s writing, looking into books and manuscripts at a local library and wandering the town just a bit. Her palace is still there, though only the gardens are open to the public (not this time, though, due to heightened security because to terrorist threats). The time we had for this visit, though again too short, gave us a much better feel for the town. DSC_2773It is small, but a jewel, with great neighborhoods, squares, churches, museums and Gemütlichkeit and Gefühl. It just settled in around us with the right feeling hitting all our senses. Margaret’s palace is right across the road from Margaret of York’s home DSC_2760and their overlap as contemporaries raised many questions that will require some more research. When Charles V, one of my favorite figures in early 16th century history, was born and not yet a king, or for that matter expected to be the man he would become, he lived here through much of his first fifteen years. After that, he was in the charge of Margaret of Austria until he became king, then emperor and on to his troubles with Martin Luther, Sulieman the Magnificent, Henry VIII, Francois I and a couple of Medici popes who were not too friendly to his efforts in Europe, one of them being imprisoned by Charles…but that is another blog. We had a great time is the point.

We are now in Bordeaux, finding one charming surprise after another around every corner. It has stone age roots, Roman ruins and history, a Norman conquest, Medieval and Gothic charm, Renaissance hints, a whole lot of investment in the prosecution and outcomes of the French Revolution, and a troubled stint with trade, slavery and Napoleon, then tremendous growth and change in the colonial period where the port was one of the most important in Europe. It has had a recent resurgence and its wine and links to England through Eleanor of Aquitaine (her first marriage at age fifteen took place at St. Andre Cathedral) have always been a draw for Mary and my historical urges. We love wandering the Arabic quarter of St. Michel, the old town section near St. Pierre, the Roman ruins near the City Park, or just hopping public transport to wander with our weekly pass that cost only $28 for both of us, unlimited on trams and buses. Yesterday we stopped into the local church, St. Seurin, which dates from the early Christian era. They discovered sarcophagi from the 4th through 6th centuries some decades ago and Charlemagne stopped in on one of his travels. It, too, is a jewel. A lunch, when you get a glass of wine, for 3 Euros, it is a St. Emilion!

At the end of this week, we head off to John and Maggie Young, in the town of Pons not too far from here. We are looking forward to catching up, a few laughs, much wine, and stories of their life in England and France split between winter and summer, respectively. We have known them now for the most important part of our lives, the time we have been married. Another chapter is always welcomed.