Just the Four of Us…the Four Selves We All Embody: Shakespeare’s Version

much ado for web

One of my favorite lessons in class in nearly every year of my teaching from the Vienna days onward was to tempt the students to think of who they were in the context of their relationship to society. Each of us is an individual arriving in her own culture armed with the protection of parents and the assorted genetics to get us started, either a few rungs up the ladder of opportunity or a few rungs down based on how our DNA is configured in our mutant selves and also what our parents had accomplished prior to our births.

Our four selves: In the lesson about what that high school student thought of himself in the context of family, friends and other contemporaries with whom he came into contact in his community, I challenged them to think about how much nature and nurture were involved and why this conundrum follows mankind through all humanity’s existence. Yet, each of us are benefitted with how our own culture’s interpretation is thrust upon us at an early age to insist on defining our actions, while our own abilities to reason fights against this very existential eventuality. Some cave to societal pressure, while others resist, rebel or lead society in other directions of thinking and away from the conventions that impel most others to stay in line. In the lesson I suggested that each of us are four individuals in one and that we each only truly know three of ourselves.

We have two prsonal personae coming from us at we interact with our world, Number One is that which only we know in our minds, though sometimes we act on our impulses to exhibit actions that we only know about in private, letting a little of our private self out into the light of day. We may not admit to the motivation of the action, would never confess our thoughts, and often deny what some may perceive of us as untrue. Often, these ideas and actions may only be struggled with, sometimes for a lifetime, solo. Number Two is the personal attempt by each of us to portray ourselves to the outside world. We might love it if our own image of ourselves matched exactly what everyone thought us to be, though that is rarely the case.Telling people what we actually think is something we weigh throughout our lives and the most important audience we have in that exercise are those closest to us with whom we come into contact most frequently. It is they who react to us, interact with us, give us our support, hear our jokes, endure our thoughts and opinions, and buy (or not) our bull. If we deliver bull, then we are not being honest, are we. How honest does society allow us to be? There are always those social conventions that confine us, sometimes leading us to little white lies, not being true to ourselves or others in many cases.

For most of us in our lifetimes that community probably doesn’t exceed a couple thousand individuals, though many more thousands can have access to our public persona and can sometimes be exposed to our public expressions through our words or actions even though we may not have directed our actions specifically at them. The examples of road rage witnessed by another driver, or your opinion of a texting driver, seeing a person talking to herself, or witnessing an argument that has nothing to do with you, all give impressions that are sometimes incomplete. Some individuals garner more attention and a wider audience, and can both benefit and suffer the consequences of those public offerings. Think of Jimmy Carter’s Jimmy-Carter-Playboyfamous admission that in his opinion he had sinned by thinking about other females in an “inappropriate” way, though he never acted upon it. It is strange in today’s world of fake news, denials, #Metoo and all manner of individuals “coming out” with long held personal knowledge, to now look back at his interview in 1976  in Playboy of all places, Carter admitted that “I’ve looked on a lot of women with lust. I’ve committed adultery in my heart many times.” He temporarily dropped fifteen points in polling for admitting in public what he thought in private (a process that was taught to him in his own culturally religious and moral world into which he was reborn as a Southern Baptist and remains so to this day). Juxtapose that with our own times, 42 years later, and it almost seems a comical assertion that shouldn’t have been as provocative as it came out at that time from this gentleman of culture and community involvement. Today we are in the #Metoo moment for some males’ actions that were in public, though the audience was usual one other person and the performance was too often a one way communication that had no opportunity for repudiation by her (or him). Those who are now in the crosshairs of public condemnation of the #Metoo thinking have always been there and are society’s dilemma….what do we do about actions that only have two people in the community in which they occurred, when allegedly one person’s private thoughts we thrust upon another.

Numbers Three and Four   That brings me to the other two personae we are, our public selves discussed by those who “know” us personally in some way. Number Three involves the ways we ourself “think and believe” how the public perceives us to be. We get public pronouncements in facial expressions, welcomed laughter, positive reinforcement for a statement made, comments, letters, thumbs up on Facebook, emails back, birthday wishes and all manner of displays showing us how others perceive us. At different times in our lives, the audience who gives back such information changes. Our parents are first and foremost the initiators of our image in the world to our mind, followed by siblings, then peers, then teachers, spouses, then other individuals with whom we identify and emulate their actions and ideas. This Third is the public persona we project to gain acceptance, to sell our thoughts and actions to gain some standing in society. There are many conventions in a wide variety of cultures that expect us to behave in a particular way and there are many forms of control that attempt to keep us in line with what society thinks at that time in history is proper and right (and in many societies there are different groups with which we identify that have more influence over us and some groups that we leave alone, even though we heartily disagree with their life paradigm).  Finally, all of us have that Number Four example. In Number Four we are perceived by our immediate outside, intimate and wider, world and we make an impression on someone, often in a way that they do not feel comfortable being honest about what they perceive of us. Usually, only part of that impression the world feels comfortable relating to us is sent back to us in some manner to tell us what they think of us. But, I would opine in this Fourth Case case that we often do not get to know what people fully think of us, as we may never know what is said about us between acquaintances of ours in private. Others may have and share comments on how we parent, interact with our spouses, comment about ghosts, talk about politics, slurp our food, rise to anger too easily, dress in public or feel about all manner of subjects, etc.

The #Metoo movement has formed because some individual male used his power to accost a female in an intimate public space that was unwanted and she had no way to influence effectively the advances made upon her space. I always told fourteen year old boys that I would give them each individual latitude to act in public in most instances, but would be very nervous if they had three other male fourteen year old friends accompanying them in their audience and egging them on in some adolescent ritual. Testosterone is its own personal projector. But, we hope we know what that persona is that we each project to the people around us in its entirety, even that that is seldom the case. Of course, when we are embarrassed or have time to reflect on how poorly a conversation went, when we lost it, rose in emotion, we may think we suffered a poor impression made. We usually want the public to like us, sometimes fear us, hopefully accept us, respect us or give us something…money, power, friendship, knowledge, affirmation, love or other things. We project that persona willingly in most cases and with premeditation. Sometimes we are spontaneous…or impaired, when we project an unacceptable action or utterance. The recipients of those public expressions will register them in their own minds, maybe even discuss them with friends and family, thereby establishing another persona representing the individual in a community in which you do not reside. These individuals talk about you and establish their own description of who you are. Historians have the charge of trying to extract any individual from the past based on whatever recorded evidence is available and offering the result of the research to the public to digest. How well this is presented determines whether that version is going to stick, as well as how on the mark it may be. Of course, later cultures may reinterpret, revise and decide differently about who this individual was based on the historical/cultural context of the time in which it was researched and reported. Also, what evidence the historian chooses to present in importance flavors the view we get of the historical figure. Human nature is such a wonderful entity, isn’t it.

Image result for much ado about nothingShakespeare also thought of these four individuals and sometimes developed stories in his plays to explore from the audience’s perspective how these four personae could be viewed. He might have several people on stage for the audience to view, during which the public actions of each actor was evident to all in the audience. For instance, in Much Ado About Nothing, when Claudio speaks to Benedick about his secret thoughts of love for Hero, Claudio is giving his trusted friend knowledge he fears no one else may understand. He hopes it is received well by his trusted friend. Benedick is his sounding board and he enters into the Third person persona to tell Claudio exactly what he thinks, a small sample of the public that Claudio hopes will be much wider in its acceptance of his love for Hero. Benedick, though, will had entered into the Fourth person persona in order to trick Claudio into going where his mind already was, even though he resisted the thoughts. It was in a “noting”, a moment of gossip delivered about someone without his knowledge that the term “nothing” deals with in the title phrase.

In Shakespeare’s time “nothing” would have been pronounced “noting” and what this meant is that you, the audience, were allowed to indulge in the actions of eavesdropping, of “noting” publicly what was going on between two people or more in their gossip, or just one individual alone with his or her thoughts on stage which were provided to you to give away this actor’s private thoughts in his or her Jimmy Carter moments. Yet, Shakespeare in this play also took on that fourth dimension of the four individuals….what do the rest of them think of me? Yet, he twisted it in such a humorous way as to allow the audience in to show us that the actors who were to tell the individual what they thought of them knew that the object of their opinions was going to overhear their judgments, their “notings”. The two most important recipients of these judgments, these lessons, were Beatrice and Benedick. As the play begins, the two are introduced as disliking each other from because of some undescribed past issue. These are two individuals who demonstrate they have purposely honed the public personae to show a brash and defensive nature, impervious to or in control of the intentions of the opposite gender towards them. Their bluster is publicly proclaimed throughout the introductions and deep into the play, only to be disarmed by their friends, who decide to enter into a ploy to disarm the two and get them to fall in love. The friends’ on two separate encounters, one with Benedick and two of his male friends to Benedick (who is hiding in the garden, though the pair is fully aware of his presence, discussing how Beatrice loves Benedick) and the other with Beatrice and two of her female friends( again knowing of her presence within earshot of their discussion, where they comment on how Benedict loves Beatrice). From the moment each hears this about the other, the play shifts. We have that wonderful moment when the second persona we have, the one we know only to ourselves and do not project to the public, is put on full display to the audience when Beatrice has ten lines to think of what the future might be like with Benedick.

If you watch the recent PBS video presented by Helen Hunt in which she analyzes the methodology, narrative, morals, gender issues and opportunities found in the play to look at human nature, at the 28’30” portion of the video you can see an example of how Shakespeare dealt with that Number One type individual who only talks to herself about her true self’s main beliefs, while keeping one’s inner self secret from the world. This example from Much Ado About Nothing devises the theatrical technique of breaking through what is known as the Fourth Wall. Most theater and cinema presentations accept that the audience are voyeurs, sometimes let into the narrative in a way that even the characters in the story may not be aware. Most of the time it is understood that one never actually breaks that wall, does not look the audience in the eye. Artists, too, like Titian understood the concept. For instance, in Titian’s Pesaro Altar in the Franciscan church in Venice, where he was commissioned by the family to paint a narrative that included the family, its triumphs and its commitment to the order and to the faith all in one, Titian paints the youngest male heir looking out into the audience, fully aware of its presence. Stunning.

In the Globe production, though, the Fourth Wall is breached in a special way as explained by Eve in the video. She knows she has only ten lines, alone on stage, to deliver her feelings and how they have now changed about Benedick. In those ten lines she admits the change, dreams of their future and commits to it. But, how does one make that profound change available to the audience and to demonstrate their import in more than delivering the lines? She was unsure until she caught the eye of one of the audience members, a young gal in the Groundlings at the front, next to the stage. At that moment the Fourth Wall was irrelevant, or perhaps more important in that it was going to be breached in this special way. Eve clasped hands with her partner now in delivering these lines and allows the audience in on her mind’s ways in one of the most spectacular moments in theater, when an actor knows she figuratively, and literally in this case, touched the audience.


minute 24 for gulling scenes

minute 28:30 with Beatrice (Eve Best) breaking the 4th wall to speak of her 1st self to the audience



Amanda Stenberg (Updated Oct 12 to include a PBS segment), Welcome to My World: Smorgasbord of Youth, Quirky, Principled, Nonbinary, Smart, Multi-Cultural, Black, White, Wise, Dating the Same Sex and Using Her Voice for Good….as viewed by a Creaky Old Codger


Updated on October 12th to include a wonderful segment on The Hate U Give

In looking at today’s world, where #Metoo, Black Lives Matter, Make Trouble, and the hundreds of other Progressive organizations and institutions there are to disseminate and advocate for the many issues facing the nation and world today, it is always wonderful to see that the baton is going to be passed onwards and that someone from the next generation is going to tell it straight. The baton of truth is always passed (even if those who are offended or maligned will always seek revision) and the giants of the past always offer their shoulders when needed, even though today’s youth seem to have traction of their own and can do quite nicely with their own attempts to navigate the detritus, dysfunction, distractions and disasters that hint at looming dystopia. Recently I came across someone who is still in her teens (until October 23rd) and quite capable of telling it like it is. Thank you Ms. Stenberg for your efforts on that front.

The difference between virtual and real is her craft, though she has made many efforts to bring the real and the current into our world of late. The historian is most comfortable when he refers readers backwards, with many of my attempts personally and on blogs quests for the 19th century, prior to the time when the various social media platforms allowed us to derail, defuse or confuse much of our minds’ foci. I still believe it is better to have the mind construct sentences through cursive application of pen to paper. In other words, that seeing something in hard copy is preferable to on a screen, made of glass or whatever type of “plastic” that has replaced glass as we now view our world through TN, VA, IPS, PLS or AHVA screens. And, for me it is preferable to experience the actual rather than virtual, to be sitting in a concert hall rather than hearing a recorded performance through earbuds or even the great variety of quality “headphones” (let’s not even dig into the issues of the variety of digital downloading available and the software that delivers that sound).

Amandla (requiring an autocorrect, of course, to type) Stenberg (ditto) is someone you may have had the pleasure of viewing on one of those screens, but that is not a given unless you are a Hunger Games fan. Named for the Zulu and Xhosa word for “power,” it seems she is living up to that namesake. She is a mixed race young woman who has been acting since the age of five, has an African-American mother and a Danish father (her paternal grandmother had Greenlandic Inuit ancestry), and lives and grew up in LA. It was therefore at a relatively young age that she experienced, perceived and realized her own complicated world by traveling each day from the poorer side of the freeway where she lived to the other side of the freeway where she went to school in the wealthier, white, Westwood community. At some early age, she understood her sexuality, as well, and came out publicly a couple of years ago as non-binary. The best chance that hero-14766-1070960403you’ve seen her as an actor is as Rue, in The Hunger Games, for which she was rewarded with recognition and fame, and also some racist reactions by some of the readers of the books series publicum.

One can also postulate that Amandla experienced racial confrontations much of the time while she was growing up in her Los Angeles world, though this is more problematic to articulate in this current world that has been labeled post-racial or other things. Now that she is a young adult, living in her lofty nineteenth year, she has also come out, defending her sexual preferences much as she has embraced her ethnicity. She is presently dating Mikaela Straus, aka King Princess. King Princess grew up in Brooklyn and is the great, great grand daughter of the cofounder of Macy’s Department Store, who died in the sinking of the Titanic and is also a force of her own. Go girls.

king princess

Amanda seriously entered the acting world with the film Colombiana in 2012. Her life experiences have taught her much and I applaud her efforts to use her platform in the public to do good and speak her mind, to address the real. It is a voice and a mind worth accessing. She champions causes that are often marginalized. Her perspectives on race, gender, community, police brutality and bias are all worthwhile and well-delivered. I recommend this article to read, which has all the necessary links to take you further into her voice and opinions about the issues that are most precious to her at this time.

I was especially impressed with the decision she made to turn down a role in Black Panther because she felt her skin tone was not dark enough. That is a mature and selfless thought if ever there was one, given the huge success of the film in monetary and cultural terms. While she made the choice of avoiding the role because of skin hue, that issue has and is one she addresses daily in her biracial, and nonbinary world. Her two most recent films, Everything, Everything and The Hate U Give, are also statements and carefully chosen to fit in with who she is and about how to navigate today’s world. Everything, Everything for me is a good title, repeating a word twice. So many youth in today’s world experience two worlds, a virtual one and the real one, often blurring the responsibility to distinguish which is which. This film exposes this conceit.

In The Hate U Give, Sternberg plays the lead role. It is one that has also created some controversy, for which Sternberg certainly has the best perspective. How black is black, and who is black. This is a strange question to be asked in many ways. It seems like the problematic question that motivated Hitler in in his anti-Semitism, when he wanted to call a Jew a Jew, but also confounded any attempts at defining who actually was a Jew. Stenberg addressed this criticism, of who is black and she appreciates the problem. Yet, the movie is based on a novel and the main character is really paralleling the life Stenberg herself lived. The author of the novel, Angie Thomas has her own thoughts about what the character looked like in her mind, as does the illustrator of the book’s cover. Though I have yet to read the novel or see the movie, both of which are on my list, I feel Stenberg must be the best choice for many reasons based on her background and issues she so much wants to air. Again, we are all mutants and are becoming ever more so everyday. If you haven’t followed this link, I recommend it to finish off where Stenberg is in life as of this writing. Congrats to her on what she has accomplished thus far.



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Our Better Angels: Lincoln’s Words and the Supreme Court selection of Kavanaugh

The recent hubbub that has arisen due to the exposure of Dr. Blasey Ford has taken the republic on a wild ride. As of this moment (Sunday morning, the 23rd), it is now determined that the two versions of ‘truth’ will be aired on the coming Thursday before the Senate Judiciary Committee and the two individuals involved in this “she said, he said” conundrum will have their day before the public. They will take an oath, before God, to tell the truth. The republic has lined up on its two sides and there are not too many angels in the room as it is transpiring. But, we will surely be looking for which is the better angel and it is right that we wish the individuals sitting on our highest court are closest to the angels in their intellect, aspirations and wisdom. As it is told in the Holy Books, Let There Be Light. (This blog was updated with an article from The Atlantic referring to the importance of Sarah Palin’s entry into the dialogue (or diatribe) of the nation’s politics)

In the past decade, the reference to angels has returned with a vengeance. What are its historical usages, at least as far as human nature is concerned? The most obvious usage and most widely known and referenced is from Lincoln’s First Inaugural Address, in 1861 as the nation was facing the possibility of open civil war. That war would occur and take the lives of more than 600,000 citizens and leave a scar that has not healed to his day.

abraham_lincoln_loc_photoIn that address, there is some interesting history. The giant intellect of Abraham Lincoln did not work alone. It is a wonderful example of the historical evidence of giants standing on the shoulders of giants, and of the magnanimous nature of Lincoln. In drafting his speech, Lincoln asked his Secretary of State, William Seward, for advice. In the last paragraph Seward makes some notes, even scratching out some thoughts and leaving those corrections on his final draft he gave the president. I have excerpted a section from a website about the incident here to give proper context (I will also vary the color of excerpts herein to distinguish sources):

As Abraham Lincoln prepared to take charge of a deeply divided nation in March 1861, he asked several of his closest associates, including his secretary of state to be William Seward, to read his planned inaugural address, and give him their thoughts.

Seward sent Lincoln a new ending that considerably softened Lincoln’s original conclusion (“Shall it be peace or sword?”), and which instead poetically invoked “the mystic chords” that bind all Americans together in shared destiny:

The mystic chords which proceeding from so many battle-fields and so many patriot graves pass through all the hearts and all the hearths in this broad continent of ours will yet again harmonize in their ancient music when breathed upon by the guardian angel of the nation.

 Lincoln accepted Seward’s new closing paragraph, but made a small, yet extraordinarily significant, change in his words. Crossing out Seward’s phrase “the guardian angel of the nation,” Lincoln wrote in the words we now all remember: “the better angels of our nature.”

In another posting on the web, Dr. Gene Griessman pondered the connection of Seward (or Lincoln) to Barnaby Rudge and Dickens, and then even further back to the Bard and his reference in Othello when Gratiano, a nobleman from Venice, commented that Othello had pushed away his better angels when giving in to jealously and deciding to murder Desdemona. Here is his excerpt:

In 1861, before his inauguration,  Lincoln showed a draft of what he intended to say to William Seward, his Secretary of State.  Seward recommended that Lincoln conclude with conciliatory words, and sketched out a few sentences for Lincoln to consider.

Seward’s rough draft, which has been preserved, contains the expression “better angel.”  Twenty years earlier, in 1841, Charles Dickens had used “our better angels” in his novel “Barnaby Rudge.” There is no evidence that Lincoln  read Dickens, but Seward did.

Lincoln read Seward’s rough draft in which Seward had scratched out the words”better angel” and substituted in their place “guardian angel of the nation.” Lincoln then turned Seward’s discarded two words into the memorable expression “better angels of our nature.”

The quotation from Dickens is below.   I like the entire quotation very much, not just because it contains the germ of a concept that Abraham Lincoln immortalized, but because of its wise and spiritual insight.

“The thoughts of worldly men are for ever regulated by a moral law of gravitation, which, like the physical one, holds them down to earth. The bright glory of day, and the silent wonders of a starlit night, appeal to their minds in vain. There are no signs in the sun, or in the moon, or in the stars, for their reading. They are like some wise men, who, learning to know each planet by its Latin name, have quite forgotten such small heavenly constellations as Charity, Forbearance, Universal Love, and Mercy, although they shine by night and day so brightly that the blind may see them; and who, looking upward at the spangled sky, see nothing there but the reflection of their own great wisdom and book-learning…

“It is curious to imagine these people of the world, busy in thought, turning their eyes towards the countless spheres that shine above us, and making them reflect the only images their minds contain…So do the shadows of our own desires stand between us and our better angels, and thus their brightness is eclipsed. (italics added)

One final comment.  Shakespeare used the words “better angel” in “Othello,” and we know for certain that Lincoln had read “Othello.”    The expression is used in a remark made by Gratiano, a nobleman from Venice, after the death of Desdemona to describe enlightened and restrained human impulses.  Gratiano speaks of pushing away the ‘better angel” which would hold him back from taking bloody revenge on Othello.  http://whatyousay.com/a-quotation-you-can-use-in-writing-charles-dickens-and-abraham-lincoln/  “The Better Angels Of Our Nature”  How Charles Dickens Influenced Abraham Lincoln
by Gene Griessman, Ph.D.

Here is the final version Lincoln used in the address:

“We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

Now that you have the context of the “better angels” usage, let’s bring this phrase back into the present historical context. In the past decade it has been referenced more frequently and its provenance was explored as in the above excerpts, between the years 2009 and 2012. What brought out this exploration, and have we properly evaluated the meanings contained in the phrase? There is some disparity in how this transpired.

The most obvious references came in several places; Steven Pinker in his historical/cultural book on psychology, The Better Angels of our Nature. This in many ways is a companion book to earlier works, especially The Blank State, in which Pinker strongly defends his support for nature over nurture. In The Better Angels book, Pinker opines that violence in the world, in spite of the current turn towards a more populist and selfish demurring, is actually decreasing significantly. He has taken much flack, as is the nature of opining on the human condition in the social sciences at any time. It is also a discipline that has been much politicized. I have taken the liberty of excerpted from Pinker’s website some question and answers to clarify his own position on the meaning and intent of his book’s purpose and to utilize his words for my own position on the meaning of the words “The Better Angels”. I have chosen the color dark red to present Pinker’s words in order to better distinguish all the different excerpts I have utilized. They are extensive and are found at the end of this blog.

Another book that used Better Angels was in The Caveman Logic, written by Hank Davis. It was used as a chapter heading when he wrote his book in 2009. It was overridden in importance by Pinker’s book, when he used it as a title phrase in 2011. Here is an excerpt from an article he wrote in Scientific American at the time. Davis clearly refers to each person’s angels available to her or him to weigh in decision-making (It is in the color blue to distinguish it from other excerpts):

I have always understood the phrase to mean that under certain conditions we should go beyond what comes easily or naturally. Whether in thought or action, we should dig more deeply into ourselves and think or act in a way that is somehow more highly evolved or enlightened. By definition this will not come easily. For some it will not come at all.

And, most recently, John Meacham, in his new book on The Soul of America: The Battle for our Better Angels, he once again returns to Lincoln’s words. All of these have prompted my exploration of the phrase. They are all related to modern politics.

Recently we have mourned the passing of John McCain. His own demons and angels have wrought their influence on this republic and we are still either reeling or are a bit relieved from the choices he made in his political life as a consequence. When we look at the choices of the Republican Party over the past few decades, I believe it is impossible to avoid declaiming their choices for this republic. Why do I inveigh against their choices. Let’s make a list:

~Nixon’s Southern Strategy of pushing racism to gather the Southern White Male vote

~Reagan’s claim that “government is the problem”, and his actions and inactions related to LGTB and AIDS, plus his strong anti-New Deal policies

~George W Bush and his misuse of facts and the truth and our continuing debacle in the intractable Middle Eastern quagmire

~and John McCain for his unleashing of Sarah Palin.

Sarah Palin is the reason the Better Angels references began to appear on our political scene. Her complete ineptitude as a competent politician was/is an affront to this nation’s reputation. That she made millions from her efforts is a major troubling issue I have with her. It is also those 35% of individuals, citizens who vote, that remain stubbornly behind their Willful Wall of Ignorance and still, to this day, give her words credence. They remain, in my opinion, a major obstacle to the demeanor of world peace, environmental health and proper discourse in seeking solution to all societies’ ills.

But we must explore the phrase, Better Angels. Here is what is necessary in this examination. Better is a relative term, associated with phrases on either side of its relativity; worse, worst or best. One would have to then determine if there a different levels of angels. And, is it necessary, as this could also be a metaphorical argument…some people have trouble with entering into an argument like this if they have suspicions about the actual existence of angels. Entering into any semantics and logical construction would break down immediately if this were the case. Yet, the intellectual giants in the examples of Shakespeare, Dickens, Lincoln, Seward, Meecham and others use the term.

000 9 angels

As it is believed by most faithful that there are levels of angels, then any discussion of angels must include the distinctions describing their purposes and intents. There are good angels and fallen angels, interpreted differently, by the way, in Judaism, Christianity and Islam (see links below). The spiritual world is different from the real world. According to Rabbi Steinsaltz:

Human existence is thus dual in nature, partaking of both matter and spirit. Furthermore, in the World of Action, the spiritual is largely subordinate to the material, to the extent that physical objects and the laws of nature are the basis of reality and determine its nature. The spiritual life almost exclusively derives from and acts upon this substrate.

In the recent expositions invoking the term, angel, then, each author plays with the term. Our “better angels” to Pinker, an atheist, allows him to deal with the tenets of evolution and how our mind deals with the real world through rational means. For Davis, in his book, he too looks at this issue of angels from the evolutionary perspective, asking how the relatively recent cave man has evolved into modern man and what part of this earlier being resides in us all. For Meachem, his intellectual exercise utilizes the terms ‘angel’ and ‘soul’ both from the religious and metaphorical perspectives.

Again, depending on your use of the term ‘man’ either as an individual entity or as a collective term for any portion of human beings as a community, with laws, traditions and history describing each community as a unique feature in the whole of human existence, these ‘better angels’ are the ones we look to for guidance.




Read more: http://budiansky.blogspot.com/2016/06/the-worse-angels-of-our-nature.html#ixzz5RjR1h3um


From Steven Pinker’s webpage:

No, the whole point of The Blank Slate was that the equation between a belief in human nature and fatalism about the human condition was spurious. Human nature is a complex system with many components.  It comprises mental faculties that lead us to violence, but it also faculties that pull us away from violence, such as empathy, self-control, and a sense of fairness

How and why has it become clearer?

Though I have always had a vague sense that a scientific understanding of human nature was compatible with a robust secular morality, it was only through the intellectual influence of my wife, the philosopher and novelist Rebecca Newberger Goldstein, that I understood the logic connecting them. She explained to me how morality can be grounded in rationality, and how secular humanism is just a modern term for the world view that grew out of the Age of Reason and the Enlightenment (in particular, she argues, from the ideas of Spinoza). To the extent that the decline of violence has been driven by ideas, it’s this set of ideas, which I call Enlightenment humanism (pp. 180–183), which has driven it, and it offers the closest thing we have to a unified theory of the decline of violence (pp. 694–696).   

Wasn’t the spread of Christianity the main historical force that drove down violence? Jesus preached love, peace, and forgiveness. The Spanish missionaries eliminated human sacrifice in Latin America. Abolitionism in the 19th century, and the Civil Rights movement in the 20th, were inspired by the morality of Christianity and led by Christian ministers. The two world wars show what happens when people depart from the teachings of Christianity. 

Jesus deserves credit for stigmatizing revenge, one of the main motives for violence over the course of human history. But things started going downhill in 312 when Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire, and the historical facts are not consistent with the claim that Christianity since then has been a force for nonviolence:

The Crusaders perpetrated a century of genocides that murdered a million people, equivalent as a proportion of the world’s population at the time to the Nazi holocaust.

Shortly afterwards, the Cathars of southern France were exterminated in another Crusader genocide because they had embraced the Albigensian heresy.

The Inquisition, according to Rummel, killed 350,000 people.

Martin Luther’s rant against the Jews is barely distinguishable from the writings of Hitler. 

The three founders of Protestantism, Luther, Calvin, and Henry VIII, had thousands of heretics burned at the stake, as they and their followers took Jesus literally when he said, “If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.”

 Following the biblical injunction, “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live,” Christians killed 60,000-100,000 accused witches in the European witchhunts.

The European Wars of Religion had death rates that were double that of World War I and that were in the range of World War II in Europe.

Christian conquistadors massacred and enslaved native Americans in vast numbers, and perhaps twenty million were killed in all (not counting unintentional epidemics) by the European settlement of the Americas.

 World War I, as I recall, was a war fought mostly by Christians against Christians. As for World War II and its associated horrors, see my answer to the previous question.  https://stevenpinker.com/pages/frequently-asked-questions-about-better-angels-our-nature-why-violence-has-declined 


Hear my prayer, O heavenly Father,

Ere I lay me down to sleep;

Bid Thy angels, pure and holy,

Round my bed their vigil keep.

My sins are heavy, but Thy mercy

Far outweighs them, every one;

Down before Thy cross I cast them,

Trusting in Thy help alone.

Keep me through this night of peril

Underneath its boundless shade;

Take me to Thy rest, I pray Thee,

When my pilgrimage is made.

None shall measure out Thy patience

By the span of human thought;

None shall bound the tender mercies

Which Thy Holy Son has bought.

Pardon all my past transgressions,

Give me strength for days to come;

Guide and guard me with Thy blessing

Till Thy angels bid me home. 

Charles Dickens 

Yom Kippur and  “The Memory Chalet”: The Staff of Disillusionment and Unhallowed

Before even turning 20 I had become, been and ceased to be a Zionist, a Marxist and a communitarian settler:…  the words of Tony Judt from his book, The Memory Chalet.

Tony Judt.jpgAs we (actually more specifically the world’s Jews) look upon the arrival of Yom Kippur, each of us can/should appreciate the quality of what we each have available to us every day and make the best of it. That is the point, isn’t it; if you are aware of the ultimate act, then you can better approach the profundity, the passion and the joy of having all the moments leading up to it. For whatever reason the countless contemplators of eons gone by on the final act, the Greek kind, the Buddhist kind, the Taoist kind, the Moslem kind, the Christian kind, the Jewish kind, etc., we are better off as spouses, neighbors, parents, children and citizens when we do.

Tony Judt, one of my favorite individuals ever and holding an honored notch on my “staff of disillusionment and unhallowed” of those who have died before their time when there are so many a true God should rather take to spare the rest of us, was diagnosed with ALS, Lou Gehrig’s disease, and, against his usual judgement (before, when he had a seemingly unlimited supply of days in front of him), took the advice of friends and editors and wrote a biography of sorts. It is called The Memory Chalet. Anything he ever wrote is worthwhile, though.

He was confined to a bed for the remainder of his life, but his mind was as sharp as it had been since he arduously and articulately honed and developed it during his wonderful, purposeful life. Though mostly agnostic, if I understand the person he finally became, Mr. Judt was one of the prime candidates the “God” envisioned by all those countless contemplators of yore had in mind for how to live a life well.  I would like to think also those atheistic proponents like Heraclitus, Lucretius, Marx, Nietzsche, Satre, Daniel Dennett, Christopher Hitchens, et al also surely thought about in the absence of an afterlife thought. Each of us must be aware of what we do each day and how it impacts that list- spouses, neighbors, parents, children and citizens- but also how it impacts us personally.

Whether you are Jewish or not, I recommend a few links to enjoy the day of Yom Kippur and celebrate the wonderful life, too, of Mr. Judt. There is this one, this one, this one and this one.  Enjoy your Day of Atonement

World’s Hot Spots: Not the Climate Change Ones, but Foci for Change- Past, Present and Future

empty simulacrum of what was   OR  deracinate and extirpate?  OR  Nouveau Modèle

Paris, Berlin, New York, Silicon Valley, Florence, Shanghai, Mosel, Luang Prabang, Ankor Wat, Kabul, Athens, Moscow, Yaśodharapura (Khmer: យសោធរបុ), Los Angeles, Canberra, Easter Island…….or some other place on today’s world map will be the most important harbinger for change in this new century. Where will it be and what will be the change that comes?

Gravure BayonThe cities listed have been at one time important crucibles incubating great change or assimilating many ideas and individuals where a great cultural society emerged or were constructs of conceit or disappeared because of some societal misuse and abuse. Is there at present a hot spot on the earth to which we should be looking, either for clues of demise or for signs that something grand is on the horizon. Where is the next incubator of/for change that will catch the world’s eye and pull us/it into a new paradigm? Will that place and the ideas that emanate from it deracinate and extirpate the society and culture that previously existed and overcome all obstacles in its wake? Or will the Nouveau Modèle grow out of the myriad options already presented us and simply claim a portion of the ideas, inventions and incidents as supreme, and could human nature not so simply redefine itself but imitate and morph as we move into the next “Era” historians and sociologists will later define and describe? 

It’s hard to avoid the thought that we are surely in a vortex of history, not pulled centripetally or centrifugally, but perhaps by entropy, and one might be forgiven for hoping there is something else, something in the very nature of humans that is going to correct the path and move us towards a more Utopian option, and move away from populism, fear and authoritarianism. There are no guarantees in history and it has not always been moving in positive directions. 

That the 20th century chose a few visions, a few philosophies, a few systems and then put them into conflict to see which would survive is clearly evident from simple reflection. What came out of the European capitals of Berlin, London, St. Petersburg, Vienna, Beijing and Paris in that century dominated the world, with Washington, D.C. and New York the beneficiaries of many in their mutual destruction and decline. London was perhaps most responsible for the concept of empire and putting its cultural mark on a huge hunk of the world up until that time; Berlin for muscling into the game with its technology, sociological perspectives and genius- both for good and ill; St. Petersburg for its efforts to recreate empty simulacra of the theocratic/political system set up by the first Romanovs- with Lenin successfully deracinating the whole lot and the Bolsheviks letting loose the ideas of Marx in their own particular way; Vienna royalty attempting to build on Paris, Berlin and London and losing their jobs and properties in the process; and Paris offering the Petri Dish of All Time in artistic expression in the alleys of Montmartre, the banks of the Seine or the new galleries and exhibitions that broke off from the official government-endorsed options after 1880.  

It was in Paris that the West’s artists turned to gain their Mecca-like artistic inspiration, though other satellite cities occasionally and significantly offered competitively fresh ideas like Die Brucke, Die Blaue Reiter, Art Nouveau, Dadaism and Futurism. Yet, no place for the fifty years between 1870 and 1920 brought to the world’s art scene what Paris did. Into the City of Light came ideas from Japan, which altered the West’s perspectives for all time. This was added to the already considerable influence the Chinese had offered those who were curious. The French incursions into the Magreb, North Africa, as well as West Africa, brought distinct cultural flavors artists that were added to the mix by additional ideas from Polynesia by Gaugin. Out of all of these movements, ideas and individuals, though, the supreme artist who devoured knowledge, techniques, friends, women and ideas and brought this mix to his work was Picasso. When he put all of his experience into a work, perhaps the one we must appreciate most is the work that art historians claim changed the art world the most, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon. 

800px-Les_Demoiselles_d'AvignonThroughout the Twentieth Century other hotspots drew great thinkers together in various places around the world. Often, though, the assemblage occurred because of government support and programs. The NAZIs, Bolsheviks and even the United States brought great thinkers, usually scientists, together to develop inventions, often for the purposes of war or espionage. Of course, the technologies developed and the scientific knowledge gained translated to public life easily and fomented great changes in the ways people lived. Think of what NASA has done to improve our lives beyond the Space Race and all that we have learned about the universe in the past fifty years. Of course, the concentration of minds in Houston and Cape Canaveral had more to do with politics than their natural places in history.

If we look back at the world’s hotspots that affected great change in the paradigms of world culture and politics in the Twentieth Century-  Moscow, New York, Berlin, Washington, D.C., Beijing, Tokyo, Hanoi, San Jose, Redmond, Cern, Kabul, or wherever Al Qaeda called home (a real danger for future nations to gauge threats to their national goals)- who is going to be the next Tim Berners-Lee or Osama Bin Laden, who will have the greatest impact on the greatest number of the world’s citizens. Will it be a builder, a destroyer or the savviest capitalist on the planet who creates something we all want, but don’t need, but everyone has to have? Steve Jobs sort of combined all three aspects in his company, but will the next big idea create opportunity, confine us into a smaller personal world, or lead to destruction of all that is of value?

Creativity comes to individuals and each person’s power to offer her ideas to the world is different. Picasso was recognized for his genius, but he played the game by his own rules, leaving in his wake most personal acquaintances. Other great minds gained the support of powerful governments and the world listened. Some hid in caves and plotted how to change the world. Each person with a great idea has initially had to wrestle with how to get his idea’s germ fed and out to a wider audience. The great artists, powerful political figures, innovative entrepreneurs and inventive geniuses, whether thinking in a garage, cave or government office, have altered us in their own ways. Yet, not all great ideas actually lead towards improvement, but only have to offer the originator of the idea a path towards what he personally thinks is the world we all should be living in or the contraption that will make our world more facile or enjoyable or productive. History shows it sometimes hiccups and produces great tragedy. What is good for one is not necessarily the idea we should all embrace.

One of the great writers of the 20th century, William Faulkner, had his own take on what was most important to his craft of writing and he certainly was instrumental in looking at a new way to express ideas and narrative on the printed page. Faulkner’s ambition was to create difference, to find the novel, both as a noun and adjective. He was willing to go to great lengths to even destroy the past or other individuals in this quest. A quote from him about the price he was willing to pay to create great art is interesting, “If a writer has to rob his mother, he will not hesitate; the ‘Ode on a Grecian Urn’ is worth any number of old ladies.” Think about that when evaluating the gains and losses of the 20th Century. That strange blend of the importance of one individual and the common good is always an interesting topic.





Hal versus AlphaZero: Perhaps Wall-E should have been written by Ray Bradbury


To finish off a Ray Bradbury quote for context about his personality and purpose: “I don’t need to be vindicated, and I don’t want attention. I never question. I never ask anyone else’s opinion. They don’t count.”    we might add, “He, too, doesn’t count anymore.”  Data is now the most important commodity to control in today’s world. Computers, AI, are evolving and now making many of the important decisions in society. The future?

headerNow WALL·E    To start with this blog, let me point out that it is nearly impossible with the intelligence and technology available to most of us at this time to correctly spell WALL·E. WALL-E is different than WALL·E  Try to type WALL·E. But, that is part of my thinking in this blog, trying to cover technology, intelligence, economics and productivity, history, ethics and political leadership, and systems that attempt to utilize them. Where are we heading? Whew. 

Those who know the film WALL·E understand its message and maybe the following quote from Bradbury establishes that his thinking did have something to do with the message in WALL·E, which was the dangers of environmental danger due to humans and that we humans  are eventually going to be the victims of our own misuse and abuse. The quote from Bradbury, “That’s my function, and it should be the function of every science fiction writer around. To offer hope. To name the problem and then offer the solution.”



“And I do, all the time.” WALL·E really only offered the hope of some emotional value, with a nod to evolutionary prowess in overcoming the junkyard the human race had made of the earth. But, alternatively his message with Fahrenheit 451 was the dangers of television and technology taking creativity and the quest for intelligence away from humans. Are we going the right direction? What direction are we going?

In the short term, the focus of the blog was initiated by current frustrations of how we, and specifically American inhabitants, are going to be able to weather the current state of dysfunction. In looking through the myriad positions taken on what is fact, how we should approach a problem, or even what is a problem, I have culled through the lists of the best 100 Liberal or Conservative Websites, looked at feeds on Facebook that include even some individuals whom I personally know and who I thought would have better thought-processing abilities, and attempted to gather useful factual evidence. It was my hope that a pattern, a possible solution or idea on which I could hang my hat would appear. I was disillusioned, dissuaded…….disappointed. 

What are the issues that you fear in America of late? Historians can always take the present context and drive it deep into history for comparison. Those who are content to be oblivious to the past and simply live in the present just want to understand today, and possibility attempt to control tomorrow. Here are my issues, questions and problems I find so troubling and perhaps absent of solutions. The key to understanding the short term and possible long term could be understood by examining this Blog Prompt/Title. Hal is the computer from 2001: A Space Odyssey. In that film, can you believe it…from 1968, the computer HAL had taken over the spaceship. It was between it and the human, Dave. Dave had to end its control. AlphaZero is a computing program/machine developed by a British company, DeepMind, which was recently acquired by Google. We may now be to the point, only 50 years on, where computers are impossible to disconnect, are making too many decisions, and that disconnecting them would either be too disruptive to continuing life in this modern world or that AI is actually going to eventually be in control and will shunt us into a WALL·E-type existence. Times are a changin’

The issues for America are relevant because of this country’s power, but it is Jingoistic and arrogant of Americans to think they are great. They are not, only part of a whole, but they can do great good and great harm, and have. The issues addressed in the above paragraphs are ones that are pertinent in discussing the future- the future of the world and of mankind. What brought me to Hal and AlphaZero was a recent article in the Atlantic by Yuval Noah Harari, haririan historian and philosopher at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. In the article he offers that we may be heading towards a future populated by groups of individuals fearing irrelevancy, with large classes of citizens rendered useless. He continues to opine that AI could favor dictators and could claim all authority in decision-making in the future. To excerpt part of the article for illumination and reference:

In 2018 the common person feels increasingly irrelevant. Lots of mysterious terms are bandied about excitedly in ted Talks, at government think tanks, and at high-tech conferences—globalization, blockchain, genetic engineering, AI, machine learning—and common people, both men and women, may well suspect that none of these terms is about them.

His previous books, Sapiens and Homo Deus, have been touted by Obama, Gates and Zuckerberg. Within his article,Harari pointed out that AlphaZero recently defeated the Stockfish 8 program in a game of Chess, winning 28 out of 100 games, ending in a tie in the other 72, never losing. Also, it learned the game of chess on its own, and in four hours. Now, you must understand computing time and four hours today is like four years probably only a decade or two ago. Time and computers in human terms is what this is all about.Why-Technology-Favors-TyrannyIt was in 1997 the a computer first defeated the best player in the world, and today computers will always beat the best. Yet, I must point out that, if you dig a bit deeper, Hariri’s characterizations and description of how the two distinct computer systems performed was not worthy of someone who should have appreciated and collected data from a wider perspective and also be fully aware of nuanced factors in the celebrated outcome that mitigates its very value. If you read this article, you can see that computing power, time involved and other factors call into question the scientific validity of the claims made by AlphaZero and Harari’s simplistic broadcast of them. 

exmachinaTo provoke further thought on your part and as an introduction to him, consider this quote he offers, “History began when humans invented gods – and will end when humans become gods.” Is he one of our next gurus, or another conceit? He recently spoke on CBS This Morning about his new book, 21 Lessons for the 21st Century. In it, as we look ahead, he speaks to the need for better curriculum in school, awareness that each individual worker needs to be nimble in his mind, psychologically and creatively, to be able to adapt to the pace of change. He asserts that computers that can self learn creatio ex nihilo will present the human race with opportunities, dangers and changes that will make the world very different in a very short period of time. To quote from his website about the history of changes to society and what is happening now:  Unfortunately, history makes no concessions. If the future of humanity is decided in your absence, because you are too busy feeding and clothing your kids – you and they will not be exempt from the consequences. This is very unfair; but who said history was fair?”

If Ray Bradbury understood the implications and computing power of AlphaZero, would his treatment of message in the film WALL·E have shifted away from the environment, away from evolution and focused on the dangers of AI and how it might end up as demons similar to the ones Will Smith feared in the film I Robot. Are we killing ourselves? That is the right question. To end up on a hopeful note, the robots, unlike the two WALL·E and EVE in the film who shared emotional and amorous bonding, would have to be controlled, outsmarted by humans, in the way we have outsmarted all other animate objects on earth….we would need to kill them in some way. Unfortunately, we don’t always assess the collateral damage of our destruction, which AI could anticipate and perhaps would also present intuitive responses for our actions through their learning ex nihilo. 

Let’s conclude with some alternate thoughts about WALL·E, which looked at where we were going to be 700 years from now. If we shift the emphasis away from the environmental disaster occurring prior to the film’s opening (obviously a clear threat to us all) and think how technology may have intervened to alter society in disruptive, dysfunctional ways, would the Ark-like spaceship with obese humans be something very different in the Bradbury F 451 version? Would it be more like the humans mined for battery power as in The Matrix? or perhaps more like Ex Machina, Mad Max, Metropolis, Blade Runner, Gattaca, Minority Report, Children of Men, The Hunger Games.  Or, would all creativity be gone, with only ideas, inventions and interfaces which were accepted by the algorithms of programs allowed or only accepted in our programs of utilization? Would there be a large, irrelevant portion of humanity kept in docile obsolescence? Is it inevitable that a tyrant, a class system and empires must return? Do we really need Hobbes’ Leviathan? Be ready…. Not a very Bradburyian conclusion, is it….










The Rise of Women: Pulling for Their Apogee

The past couple of years have seen the assertion of the rights of women become much more public, more vocal, more persuasive and more powerful. For me, it has been most welcomed. I have even opined that I would be ecstatic if the November election returned 435 women to the House of Representatives, with nearly all of them new. Once powerful men who had abused the opposite gender have, in the past couple of years, been called out for their transgressions and most have fallen from power, some into obscurity, and many held accountable in the courts. As Meryl Streep commented as it was happening, there will be reactions and confrontations from misogynists, and even more rational individuals. Some abuses from the female side were inevitable, but the message and the need to change were evident for a long time and the process is continual and in need of comprehension.

Recently, I have been enjoying our little area of the world where misogynists seem to be outnumbered by the rational beings, or is it that I am siloing and living in it blinkered from its true reality. Though I attempt to give access to a pulse of the country that demonstrates enough factual information to assess fairly, I also admit that I willingly avoid the most egregious and offensive voices that, in my opinion, offer little to me rationally or realistically. But, given that caveat, I will again return to the assertion that the Midcoast is treating us well.

1200px-Sunset_CliffA couple of weeks ago, there was a presentation and public interchange of ideas at the Bay School in Blue Hill, a venue in and of itself that offers a potential slant towards the liberal, as it is a Waldorf School. The community of Blue Hill is both indicative of the coast and currently an anomaly for the political district in which it lies, the 2nd Congressional District of Maine. We only send two representatives to to the House to Washington, D.C.  In the Senate, it is the same, a Republican, Susan Collins, and an Independent, Angus King, who caucuses with the Democrats, representing the state. The Second District is also a good indication of the American electorate in 2016, with many rural, libertarian-minded residents, with a few who are racists. Most of the libertarian thinkers are more like lobstermen and barbers, or out of work lumbermen who would rather be left alone to snowmobile in peace, shoot deer and deal with local issues in their own particular way. All actually make pretty good neighbors. Such is life in America today. 

I’m hoping the event at the Bay School is a harbinger of the present atmosphere surfacing in the States since 2016 and one on which Mary and I can hang our hopes for the remainder of our time in Maine. We have been enjoying our establishing of permanent residency here since putting all our belongings under one roof for the first time in our lives. This enjoyment involves shoveling snow, heading out for an impromptu evening ride to capture the beautiful sunsets, savoring the events and atmosphere of our charming public library……


where I relish the time spent reading periodicals in front of its bay window, or dining with neighbors, attending to our hobbies, etc. Going to an event such as the one at the Bay School happens often throughout the year all along the Midcoast, too, and the comfort and solace derived from such events are the necessary balm required to endure the outside world of late.

Blue Hill is a small town of a few thousand souls, descendants of lobstermen and musicians, year-rounders and summer dwellers, who have made the area home for up to three centuries and many generations, while most have come “from away.” More are electing to stay the whole year to take advantage of the private schools- the Bay School and George Stevens Academy – that also serve as unique public offerings due to the Maine legislative solution that allows local residents to use state money to apply to private tuitions because there is no nearby high school. For residents and tourists alike, there are quality shopping and eating opportunities and only one flashing yellow light to slow your journey through town to regulate traffic flow (there is also a roundabout at the top of the hill on the western side of town that regulates the flow out towards the wonderful grocery store and traffic heading to points south, like Deer Isle). In the summer, Kneisel Hall has a program for young musicians that is second to none. One of my favorite and surely unique artists, Jud Hartmann, has his gallery offering stunning representations of winning-goalEastern Native American narratives and famous figures from the pages of historical accounts. Spending time with him is a joy, which will leave you impressed with this skills as an artist, an understanding of the creating and casting process, and much more aware of the debt we owe to the Native Americans for their wisdom in so many things. 

It was individuals like him who attended the event at the Bay School that night a short while ago when Cecile Roberts was the guest of honor. The hosts were the local independent radio station, WERU (which has an Internet stream I recommend and is also indicative of a large part of the voice emanating from the Midcoast), the local independent bookstore- which is also indicative of nearly every small town on the coast, cecile_richards_the local women’s institution that offers counseling, educational opportunities and health services, and the host was Robert Shetterly, whose organization, Americans Who Tell the Truth, honored her with a portrait. I recommend listening to her speech on the WERU podcast feed. CLICK HERE

The tenor of Ms. Roberts’ talk was to address the issues brought out in her recent book, also a semi-autobiography, Make Trouble. Here are some excerpts from the linked review to give some of her biographical examples of making trouble:

As a sixth grader in Dallas she refused to say the Lord’s Prayer in class. As a junior high schooler in Austin, she wore a black armband to express solidarity with the Moratorium to End the War in Vietnam, infuriating the principal. The rest is history. “Make Trouble” takes us through Richards’s life in activism and politics: Before Planned Parenthood, she had a full and varied career that included union organizing, starting the progressive organization America Votes and working for Nancy Pelosi. But there’s lots more, including loving depictions of family and friends, from the legendary Texas journalist Molly Ivins to her mother, Ann Richards, the “frustrated housewife” who became a beloved governor of Texas.

Richards paints some vivid pictures of life in politics, too. For example, despite misgivings, she reached out to Ivanka Trump after hearing that she might want to help Planned Parenthood. They met at a Trump golf club in New Jersey, where Ivanka and her husband, Jared, offered her a deal: If Planned Parenthood stopped performing abortions, funding for birth control might go up. “Jared and Ivanka were there for one reason: to deliver a political win. In their eyes, if they could stop Planned Parenthood from providing abortions, it would confirm their reputation as savvy dealmakers. It was surreal, essentially being asked to barter away women’s rights for more money.”

robertsWhile she is over sixty, her enthusiasm and energy were those of a young fighter and she offered no quarter to the Millennials who opined that perhaps we were being too strident, too overbearing in our approaches to addressing issues with loud voices, protesting in public and holding marches. She offered that every phone call was critical, every voice at a town hall important and each vote a nail in the coffin to the voices of hate and divisiveness. senate hearingShe backed up her assertions with wonderful examples of individuals, the common woman, who in the past was perhaps interested but not involved who finally became involved. An example she offered was a mother and daughter, whom she met at a rally in Wisconsin attending a rare town hall by Paul Ryan. She asked a pointed question that found her on the national news. This woman was later seen by Richards at a Congressional hearing and she is now running for a seat in the Wisconsin legislature. Note that Emily’s list helped up to a thousand women in earlier elections. This year they have counseled over 40000.


I hope we see much more of Ms. Richards as the takes on the next phase of her Making Trouble. After stepping down from the Planned Parenthood Organization, where she suffered through the five hours of grilling by the House Republicans  and who wanted to legislate and starve the organization out of existence (she pointed out that the citizenry and its support and rallying in contacting Congressional members saved it), she is looking at how best to step into the fray going forward. We wish her the best of luck.

If we return to the 2nd District of Maine, whose boundary is just to our north in Lincolnville Beach near Camden, the Midcoast comprises a good portion of it.This district is the largest east of the Mississippi. It voted for Trump and for Bruce Poliquin to represent the state in Congress in the Presidential election. 2016 was an anomaly. Since establishing the district plan for electoral college selection in 1969, Maine’s second congressional district has voted the same way as the entire state of Maine for every election except 2016. It is a tight race this year. And, we know there will be much mudslinging and claims that violence will occur if the liberal Democrats win back the House. Let’s hope the 2nd returns to normalcy, as can the country.

Every town along the coast is like Blue Hill. Sorrento, Hancock, Ellsworth, Belfast, Lincolnville, Camden, Rockport, Rockland, Damariscotta, Boothbay Harbor, Wiscasset: all have the same constellation of residents; those who live year round making a living from a combination of lobstering, house painting, carpentry and handy manning, snow plowing, basic services, but also younger Millennials moving into the area and working from home as Dot Com professionals, and also seniors choosing the lifestyle of Maine in which to retire. Their political voices are myriad and purple, with our hope that the shade alters from violet towards much more cobalt in hue. 

Mary, by the way, was granted her Irish citizenship this past week. More options for the Millers.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3V2YRZCh84I  part one of Jason Chaffetz




BHL  Who Are You?: “You Tell Me” mais oui

Bernard Henri Lévy  For years a rock star in France, whose intellectuals may secretly lssveysay that he is really not French nor does he understand France, he is the brightest voice in describing what the country is and where it should go. He was born in Algeria and is nominally Jewish, and these are critical in understanding who he is. He is either a Dybbuk or a National Sage, but he does not float by and drop pedals. His confrontations seem more like a hand around one’s throat. He opens the door, makes direct eye contact, and makes you, or the nation, think…and react. What’s not to like.

The real purpose of this blog is at the very bottom, based on his most recent posting in the NYTimes concerning his thoughts on what it is to be human. But, there is much to him besides that is intriguing, maddening and provoking. This is his value, in my opinion.

For the past twenty years of so, I have been intrigued by the writer/philosopher/filmmaker/Dybbuk. I first heard him in the good ol’ days when Charlie Rose was someone whom we all looked up to. That interview was about his just completed film on Bosnia and what happened and needed to happen there. His causes range from this area, to the Magreb, to Afghanistan and Pakistan, to perhaps being the one most responsible for changes in Libya, to his beloved Kurds, to the Palestinian/Israeli conflict, and any other area of difficulty that needs a wise viewpoint for understanding. Note the many times he spoke to Rose. There are 62 search results.



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His is a prolific and widely read author, working and reading in many languages. His most recent book (he has written nearly thirty) is The Genius of Judaism, which I’ve linked here to a review by the Jewish Review of Books. It is also reviewed in the NYTimes and its title is a deliberate conceit bouncing off the title of Chateaubriand’s “The Genius of Christianity.”  The Jewish Review used this to finish up their review,  ‘he recalls the lesson an old, rich, and cultivated Jew of his acquaintance once gave him about how to combat anti-Semitism: “have nicer teeth than they do; get their women to love you . . . Live in castles as big as theirs.” A promise kept.’ 

It is perhaps in this area, as an atheist Jew, that I find him most perplexing. He writes this book to celebrate the Jewish culture, for which I am grateful and in agreement. But, he is a professed Zionist, which gives me pause. His views in support of the present Jewish state are, to me, untenable. I truly feel that the apartheid occurring there is also untenable, though there are scant forces in the world attempting to alter the apartheid state that is there. President Carter was attacked for his comments to that status, and the present president is making matters far worse. The moderates in the Arab world, of which I believe is the majority view, are left outside the conversation of moving towards a peaceful, two-state solution in Israel (I, too, feel there is a significant number os Israeli citizens of Jewish heritage within the country who also support a more reasoned, two-state solution). In this matter, I feel BHL is doing a disservice to history and this solution by confusing Zionism. Zionism is a continuance of the exclusive Jewish needs and obviating the reality of the zero sum solution that has occurred from 1948 onwards, with  only the 1967 lines as a real possibility for the final solution. I do not use the phrase “final solution” lightly here. Everyone should note the profundity of what is happening in Israel. But, back to BHL and his thoughts on humanity….

If you want to know about him as a writer, and a reader, and a lover of literature, you must look at this article from the NYTimes delving into these factors, describing him in these perspectives. You will also get a fabulous reading list from the effort. If you want to know about him and the writing process, then, also from the NYTimes, there is this wonderful article on the process of writing.

Philosopher, publisher, novelist, journalist, filmmaker, defender of causes, libertine, and provocateur, he is somewhere between gadfly and tribal sage, Superman and prophet; we have no equivalent in the United States.” Joan Juliet Buck

He has been vilified by many and today’s #MeToo would have a field day with his take on the opposite sex on many levels. I love the article in the Observer from Jacques Hyzagi from 2015 that describes his new book….”But a better analogy for Mr. Levy’s destiny might very well be François-René de Chateaubriand, the author of the unforgettable Memoirs from Beyond the Grave who had a tumultuous relationship with the diminutive Napoleon and was instrumental in the 1823 French invasion of Spain that led to the restoration of Ferdinand VII. Chateaubriand’s The Genius of Christianity even inspired Mr. Levy to write a fascinating text The Genius of Judaism, treating Judaism not as a religion but as a philosophical system, a guide for living.” Also from Hyzagi’s article, referring to Levy’s third wedding and the difficulty in getting to it, as he was trapped by shelling in the former Yugoslavia as it was breaking up in civil war….”Mr. Lévy was in Sarajevo dodging snipers’ bullets and having tea with Ahmad Shah Massoud in the Panjshir Valley. When he got stuck in Bosnia under Serbian shells, unable to fly to Saint-Paul-de-Vence to marry Eric Rohmer’s égérie Arielle Dombasle, he had President Mitterand send an air force jet to bring him to Provence on time. “Don’t you think that’s why people hate you?” I asked him. “What was I supposed to do? Not get married?” he answered. “Mitterand owed me, I helped him save face in Bosnia. I did so much for the French government, in the name of the French government, that it was really the least they could do to help me fly there.”

He has spent a great deal of time in the company of the Kurds seeking to help them and find his own soul’s roots. Consider this quote from him,  I will enter Nineveh if and when the Peshmerga does. That is another oath.”

On a visit to Jerusalem on the part of the French government in the early 2000s, while meetng with Netanyahu, Sharon and Peres, he told Sharon, “You might win the battle against terrorism, but unless you open up to the Palestinians very quickly, you’ll lose the fundamental war, which is for the security of Israel and justice.

Again, a quote, “I prefer confrontation to ecumenism!

When questioned by an interviewer as a follow-up question, ‘How does one — or you — “leave the path of arrogant men”?   Lévy, “By moving still further into study. By that I mean the study of Jewish texts and the wisdom they contain. That moment will come. And when it does I will leave the path of arrogant men forever.”

What, though, brings us to this blog is that he recently surfaced within The Stone philosophy columns of the NYTimes where the paper has been exploring the nature of being human. Lévy opened his selection with the title, We Are Not Born Human. It is difficult to avoid such a provocation. Of course, there is much to us as a species: whether nature or nurture is more important, are we separate from all other living beings, are we the unique beings who possess self-reflection and understand the concept of a god, and our questions about how all of THIS was created, or the arrogance of believing that a Supreme Being created this all only for our benefit.

But, Lévy’s statement, “We are not born human.” To explain this, you need to insert his next statement where he claims that we uniquely become human through negation. He is also one that, therefore, claims that nurture and therefore place and time affect one’s humanness. He is from France, or more specifically from parents who left French Algeria because of the war of independence carried out by the Algerians against the French when he was a young man and settled in Paris. He still lives there and also calls Morocco home. Vanity Fair, in deference to such a perspective and philosophical force opened one of its columns about him by claiming “Only France could produce a phenomenon like Bernard-Henri Lévy.”

By negation, the examples Lévy offers are the Atheists denial of God, the Christians’ who accept that there is no purpose without God, and the Jews who appreciate him as a good co-worker. We must be part of society, but must negate its ultimate power over us. He states that we must submit to three births to become part of nature and to be human: the first our birth from our mother (time and science may obviate this), the second the transcendence of our physical beings by escaping the natural, physical world, and the third the joining of society. Man does not live alone, none is an island. Yet, Poe, he points out, describes the dangers of the “we” and the possibilities of distress from a nameless hordes. The trolls of the Internet are today’s demons in society. The self needs to appreciate his aloneness.

For Lévy, the being must engage in life, accept her challenges and seek growth. This is the same as what happens when our brain connects a thought: a dendrite stretches out and completes a link that will allow us to recall and use the link in the future. To quote the article in Lévy’s words, “To be human is to preserve, inside oneself, against all forms of social pressure, a place of intimacy and secrecy into which the greater whole cannot set foot. When this sanctuary collapses, machines, zombies and sleepwalkers are sure to follow.  This private power may not be accessible to us at first. We aren’t born human; we become it. Humanity is not a form of being; it is a destiny. It is not a steady state, delivered once and for all, but a process.

Of course, this does not delve into mental illnesses, nor savants, nor genius, nor any nods towards intelligences that are not developed but apparently come hardwired in some humans more so than in others. Consider those who a more spatially aware, can compute better, understand mapping and contours, comprehend movement as an individual or within larger groups, etc. Lévy’s discussion is on a philosophical level for humans in general. Many experts in neurology and psychology could and have called him out for his omissions.

He ends with a recommendation, one that negates the power of society in trapping you and also after admitting that he truly cannot say with certainty that he knows the real meaning of truth: “When we instead commit ourselves to moving forward, to diving into the unknown and embracing our humanity in all its uncertainty, then we embark on a truly beautiful and noble adventure — the very road to freedom. 



















“Nobody cries in a Dior hat, Dick”: The Man Behind “Funny Face” and so much more….



Harper’s Bazaar editor. Carmen Snow, rejected this photocarmel to donen about leigh photo in dior

One of three blogs that speak to art, film, actors, photographers, directors, Hollywood and the Fifties….what’s not to like

As this is part of my trilogy for the releasing of a large blog that is intertwined with the director of the film, it is also a critical link to the photographer Richard Avedon, which is the focus of this blog. The film is based on his life and work, Funny Face, and the blog on Stanley Donen comprise the other two blogs’ content (click on the other two links just above~ Funny Face and Donen).

Richard Avedon was born in New York to a family steeped in fashion. He found an early love of photography and  moved in that direction throughout his school years. At first photographed for the Merchant Marines, but eventually he turned to photographing fashion and took the genre in a whole new direction. His method was to demand emotions and action from his models, often taking them on location and establishing unusual settings for his narratives. Every portrait photographer who came after him was influenced by his ideas.

While at school in Manhattan one of his school mates and good friends was James Baldwin. They kept in touch throughout their lives and brought their ideas into projects involving the two of their expertise. In 1964, in the middle of the Civil Rights issues that were boiling up in America, the two of them put out a book, balavedon.jpgNothing Personal, which did not pull punches with the issues of race. It has recently been reprinted and is discussed in an article in the New Yorker.

The photo at the head of this article, of Dorian Leigh, was taken on a shoot when he worked for Harper’s Bazaar, whose editor was Carmen Snow. She was unimpressed with the emotional tear and did not use the photo. But, he continued to push boundaries and changed photography through his efforts. His photographs were often surreal, provocative and often controversial pictures in which nudity, violence and death featured prominently. Photography emerging as an art form in its own right is largely due to his work and professionalism. His photographs can sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars today and retrospectives of his work in major museums are mounted frequently. His opinions about the art of photography are well-respected. He has said, “The moment an emotion or fact is transformed into a photograph it is no longer a fact but an opinion,” and “There is no such thing as inaccuracy in a photograph. All photographs are accurate. None of them is the truth.”


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Not only did his art border on journalism rather than commercialism, his own private life leaned towards politics. He quit Harper’s Bazaar after facing a storm of criticism over his collaboration with models of color. He left Harpers for Vogue, with whom he signed an unprecedented $1 million contract. By this time, the Avedon “look” was fully established and he remained at Vogue for the next twenty years. In 1969, Avedon’s engagement with contemporary politics, particularly the anti-war movement, inspired him to produce a series of portraits of the anti-war activist group, the Chicago Seven, who had been charged by the federal government with conspiracy and other alleged crimes relating to anti-Vietnam War protests. On the opening night of the exhibition of the photos, students gathered in the room where the work was on display to demonstrate their support for the anti-war movement. In 1971, he traveled to Vietnam as a U.S. war correspondent, participated in an anti-war demonstration at the U.S. Capitol building, and was arrested and jailed for civil disobedience.avedon

Charlie Rose, if you can stand to view his program now, interviewed him and the director of a documentary about his life, Darkness and Light, which came out on American Masters in the 90s.


Doe Avedon Siegel | 1925-2011His life was loosely told in the film Funny Face, with the lead character Dick Avery and Jo the bookish sales girl he discovers in Greenwich Village. His first wife was Dorcus, whose name he shorted to Doe after he found her in a bank and brought her into the fashion world. She shifted to film and, after her divorce from Avedon, worked off and on in Hollywood.

In 1981, Avedon produced another one of his most memorable and controversial portraits. The heralded actress, Nastassja Kinski, at the time best known for her starring role in Roman Polanski’s Academy Award-winning film Tess (1979), posed nude for Avedon. Evidently, the pregnant Nastassja lay on the cold concrete floor of the studio for nearly two hours while an enormous Burmese Python crawled over her body, eventually slithering close enough to stick out its tongue near her ear, providing Avedon with what he felt was the ideal shot. The portrait was printed both in black-and-white (in a limited series) and also in full color as a poster of which over two million copies sold.natashakinskibmp1f6647be4


Avedon’s brash, youthful, and iconoclastic entry into the genre of fashion photography signaled a point of no return: no longer were fashion models frozen in time, statue-like, and imperturbable. Rather, they were living, moving, imperfect beings however beautiful. He imposed simple narratives so that the viewers and consumers could invest as much in a story about a garment (and its model) as the garment itself. His spare portraits, most often in black-and-white, large format, and often blurred in portions, explored a diverse range of themes such as sexuality, violence, and death. The images, whether of celebrities or world leaders or eccentrics were as much about his sitters’ interior lives as hinted at by their external appearances.


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Avedon’s almost ruthless approach to portraiture paved the way for the often disturbing black-and-white, “pseudo-documentary photography” featuring the marginalized and the misfits by his friend, Diane Arbus, the gritty explorations of late 1970s punk culture personalities of Nan Goldin, or the photographs of Herb Ritts, which straddle the boundaries between fashion and fine art.

Funny Face? Naw:  “God kissed her on the cheek and there she was”

A2iii  One of three blogs that speak to art, film, actors, photographers, directors, Hollywood and the Fifties….what’s not to like

titles funny faceIn 1956, the movie industry was tottering between the past, present and future, as the world after the war was changing fast and it was not sure where to look or who was in charge. The film, Funny Face, was looking at all three and is one of those grand incidents when art mimics life on many levels.

leonard gershe

Gershe with Hepburn arriving in Paris


The original story’s songs were crafted by George and Ira Gershwin for a stage piece three decades earlier, in which Astaire was the leading man. Six of the songs are brought forward, but the story is completely changed to suit the biographical story of Richard Avedon, written by his friend, Leonard Gershe.

As this is part of my trilogy for the releasing of a large blog that is intertwined with the director of the film, it is also a critical link to the photographer Richard Avedon, you’ll need to follow the three links to get the full story. The film is based on his life and work, he was a good friend of Stanley Donen, the director, and Avedon photographed Hepburn in her role as a fashion figure in the real world (click on the other two links just above~ Avedon and Donen). hepburn avedonAvedon did many photo sessions with Hepburn for many different magazines and maintained that she was difficult to photograph, “I couldn’t lift her to greater heights. She was already there. I could only record. I could not interpret her. There was no going further than who she was. She paralyzed me. She had achieved in herself the ultimate portrait 

avedon credits for funny faceAvedon was an important cog in creating the film’s homage to fashion. He took the photos for the film, set up the credits to have them look as though you are thumbing through a fashion magazine, and assisted with the set ups of the film’s fashion shoots to make them realistic and to mirror how he would have actually done them.

He was famous for taking to the streets and adding emotion to the models’ portrayals of their threads. Also, several famous models with whom he worked are featured as models in the film, one taking a speaking role at the beginning of the film with her nasal voice from the Queens, which is really her provenance, and reading a comic book, which is also true of Dovima. Others were Suzy Parker and Sunny Harnett.

The film was the first time Hepburn had worked with Astaire. Both were excited for the opportunity and set aside other projects to be able to work with each other. Hepburn was extremely nervous about meeting Astaire, and had been training with a dance coach before she met him to refresh her dormant ballet skills. “I remember he was wearing a yellow shirt, gray flannels, a red scarf knotted around his waist instead of a belt, and the famous feet were clad in soft moccasins and pink socks. He was also wearing that irresistible smile. One look at this most debonair, elegant and distinguished of legends and I could feel myself turn to solid lead, while my heart sank into my two left feet. The suddenly I felt a hand around my waist, and, with his inimitable grace and lightness, Fred literally swept me off my feet. He said, ‘Come on, let’s have a little go together’ and we just danced around together. He just took me and turned me around, or whatever. It was such fun, it was so divine. We were laughing and having fun…”(Harris 138)

Of course, they danced often in the film, but Hepburn, who had trained as a ballerina earlier in life and was not new to dance, had a chance to dance solo in the film, expressing herself in free dance symbolizing the freedoms that were appearing in the world of psychology, philosophy and cultural norms then and that connects to roots in yoga today.  The dance moves were copied by others, even in GAP ads. There’s even a fun story behind the white socks Audrey wore.

funnyface3If you take the time to view the whole film, take in the viewing with the knowledge that there are real life models playing models, that it is an homage to Avedon, as well as based on the careers and mannerisms of Diana Vreeland and Carmen Snow. Snow was Avedon’s editor at Harper’s  Bazaar and several years earlier had not accepted Avedon’s shots of Dorian Leigh in a Dior hat looking wistful. According to accounts, telling him that “Nobody cries in a Dior hat, Dick.” In Funny Face this very scene is restaged and in the film Avery photographs Jo at a train station in long-line grey suit and a velvet hat, with tears in her eyes, and is approved without question. It took him eight years to get his revenge, but Avedon did this one in style.

Diana Vreeland was favorite of Avedon and the film’s character, Prescott, captures her in all her grandeur and mannerisms. Vreeland, the woman Avedon called his “brilliant, crazy aunt”, is shown with her passion for Paris, her boundless energy, her inventiveness with language, including the generous use of the word “pizzazz”, and of course, her eye for talent. Just as Prescott looks at Jo in her boxy tunic and supposedly “funny face” and sees a cover girl, Vreeland favored quirky looks and “personality” in her models. Vreeland was the fashion editor at Harper’s Bazaar when Avedon worked for them some years before. At the time of the filming of Funny Face, Snow was the editor and is thanked in Funny Face’s credits. It is a shame, then, that Vreeland was not pleased by the movie, snipping “Never to be discussed” at an assistant as she exited a screening. Merrill Streep could have delivered that line, too.

avedon funny faceAnother interesting bit of settling a score involved Hepburn. She loved Givenchy and had him design for her all her life. In Sabrina, Hepburn wanted to have him design for her personally for her clothes in the film, but he did not have the time in his schedule at that point to allow her anything other than free choice of the rails of Pret a Porter dresses. The clip that explains their meeting is wonderful. Hepburn felt about Givenchy’s fashion….“His are the only clothes in which I am myself.” She chose a few for Sabrina and wore them in the film, but Edith Head, the film’s costumer, won the Academy Award for Costume Design and did not credit Hubert in any way. In Funny Face this was not the case, even though Edith Head was again chosen as Costume Designer. Hepburn this time had every dress (of style) designed by Givenchy and he got credited in the titles. Isn’t it an interesting thought that the film was nominated for costumes , with both Head and Givenchy on the nomination, but, it lost out to Les Girls. It seems that the fashion industry was on Hollywood’s mind that year and Gene Kelly was still playing against Astaire and using Europe as the backdrop. Other great facts associated with the film were pointed out in an earlier article/homage by the Huffington Post that is fun to peruse. More from Sabrina, too.

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The film has become an art piece that is valued for more than its simple story. It now is a bit of history unto itself, capturing a slice of the fifties that had so many superlatives from the world of film, fashion and fiction dealing with the fast changing nature of the world and offering bolder stories and more troubling social issues for the public to chew on. Funny Face does not ask for a difficult swallow. It gives pink, Givenchy and the Eiffel Tower to the palette. It’s fun to look back at the time and to get into the back lot and stories for a little more fun. When Donen was interviewed in the past decade about his life and was asked about Hepburn, he told the story of his relationship with Billy Wilder and his thoughts on Hepburn…. “Absolutely and I certainly adored her: she was a fabulous and glorious actress. She was really unique. After she had passed away [January 20, 1993, at age 63], Billy Wilder, who has always been one of my best friends, said, ‘What Audrey Hepburn had, you couldn’t teach, you couldn’t even learn it. God kissed her on the cheek and there she was.’ 

Note the photo of the letter written by Wilder after seeing Hepburn for the first time in a screen test for her possible role in the film, Roman Holiday.william-wyler-letter-1951-re-audrey-hepburn

There are other links below to add to this enjoyment.








From a blog