Saturday, November 26, 2022


 At the Rose


The Rose Art Museum at Brandeis University, circa 2010.  A more or less conventional exhibit displayed in a single large room.  Except that the floor of the room is made from a special glass-like material.  It cracks and shatters when you walk upon it.  Even if it has already shattered, it shatters still more when you put your weight on it again.

And so, from the center of the room, you are helpless not to contribute to the piece, and to contribute via decomposition.  Art is supposed to create order and meaning out of the natural world, but with every step you add to the ambient entropy.

The experience could be said to foreshadow COVID, insofar as the only way not to take apart the natural order of things was to stay home, not to show up.

But for me the unraveling arrived long before peak pandemic did.

A black woman executive, zaftig and bespectacled, would smile at me, in recognition, at the cafeteria coffee station in One Post Office Square.  When I held the elevator door for her, she would say brightly "Thank you young man!", but by "young man" of course she meant "old man," and it demoralized me.

Gone now.  Not only she but all of the context in which she appeared -- cafeteria, Dominican cashiers, picture windows looking down on the lobby below.

What big deal?  Zoom calls and passwords, endless passwords that must not be repeated.  A new embroidery in place of the old.



Thursday, November 24, 2022

 


The Ultimate "Bit Part" In An Epic Production


A young girl hikes up her skirt and pulls down her drawers, squatting in a small grove to relieve herself, only to be bitten on the butt by a rattlesnake.  In the next shot, she lies beside her grave alongside the Oregon Trail.

It's 1883, and "God doesn't care in the least about us," as we are told by our impossibly beautiful narrator/protaganist.



Tuesday, November 15, 2022

 


A Prayer for Evgeniy Nuzhin


Earlier in 2022, Evgeniy Nuzhin, a man in his 50s, was serving hard time in a Russian prison for a murder that he committed in his youth.  His life took a turn when another Evgeniy, Prigozhin, head of the infamous Wagner group of merceneries, arrived at the prison in a helicopter and encouraged the convicts to join one of his units at the Ukrainian front.  Their reward would be freedom if they survived the war; if not, a reward in rubles would be paid to their family members.

Evgeniy and about 90 others from his penal colony took the bait.  They were given rudimentary training, then flown to an area near the front.  By truck they were taken to an assembly point.  From there, their assignment was to walk or crawl to No Man's Land and to retrieve the bodies of the dead.  It was made clear to these men that any deviation would be met with immediate execution.  Some were shot just for "mouthing off."

Evgeniy worked in these conditions for only a few days before surrendering to the Ukrainians.  According to a long interview that he gave to the Ukrainians from a dungeon-like holding cell, he did this with a view towards joining a Russian legion that is fighting on the side of Ukraine.  According to him, his allegiance was based on who was right and who was wrong in prosecuting the war, but he claimed to have a sister and niece or nephew living in Ukraine as well.  (There are reasons to believe that his allegiance was entirely of convenience.)

Soon after the interview took place, it appears that Evgeniy was kidnapped off the streets of Kiev by Wagner men.  (An alternative theory is that he was given back to the Russians in a prisoner exchange.)  A few days ago, a new video was released, of Evgeniy in Wagner captivity, confessing his betrayal of the Russian cause.  He seems calm as he relates his story, but he must know that there is a reason why the left side of his head has been pressed against a heavy chunk of cement.  And then, nearly mid-sentence, a man behind him crushes his skull with a sledgehammer blow against the cement.  He falls immediately onto his back, and the execution is completed with another hammer blow to the head. Thankfully, miraculously, we don't see a lot of blood, brains or gore.   It all happens too quickly.  

Two things leapt out at me as I watched it:  the depth of depravity of the executioner and the fine, fragile line between "here" and "gone."  (It called to mind an essay that George Orwell wrote, about his own participation, as a policeman in Burma, in the execution by hanging of one of the locals.)  And of course I also thought that it is both a blessing and a curse that the ugliest scenes of contemporary life are brought into our homes courtesy of our precious devices.

Evgeniy would forgive me, I think, that his killing finally inspired a bitter joke, in Russian.   We might say, the Wagner men might say, «Евгений больше не Нужин,» which means "Evgeniy is no longer Nuzhin."  But if only one soft-sounding vowel is substituted in his last name, the expression becomes "Evgeniy is no longer needed."

Even some of the harder-core Russian nationalists were shocked at the cruelty of his killing.  But Prigozhin was not apologetic.  He waxed philosophical about "war being war," noted that more friendly means of execution like the electric chair are not much fun either, and concluded that "a dog must die like a dog."  May the Top Dog and his minions, when all of this is over, also die like dogs.



Monday, November 14, 2022

 


At the Hour of the Wolf Last Night


I invented a new word that does not stand up in the light of day.  It is "cur-tailed."

Perhaps in some other fevered dream I will come across a demon, and I will tell him to his face that he is "cur-tailed."  Demons being the epitome of bad, he will get the bad joke.




Thursday, November 10, 2022

 


Dies Irae


Stanley Kubrick opens "The Shining" with stunning aerial shots of a Volkswagen wending its way through the mountains of the West to the cavernous resort where Jack Torrance, played by Jack Nicholson, will lose his mind.  Kubrick with trademark eccentricity chose for the music to accompany this opening a lesser-known version of the "Dies Irae," the "Day of Wrath."

The Day of Wrath is the Day of Judgment.  But whose judgment is it, and who is doing the judging?  By the end of the film, during which Jack rampages against his own wife and son, it seems clear that Jack is the instrument of judgment, not its object.  We are asked to ask of ourselves why the Wrath would be turned against the innocent, as it often is.

A recent study summarizes the results of serious medical research into the phenomenon of the "life review" during near death experiences.  A large number of people who were revived via CPR after complete heart failure reported having gone through the life review.  (Most of these people died permanently, as it were, soon after they were brought back from the heart stoppage.)

Somehow the laws of time are violated during the phenomenon, insofar as people report that their whole lives flash before them in what to the medical professionals is a matter of minutes.  

The purpose, or one purpose, of the review seems to be to allow the person in distress to evaluate the effect of his or her behavior on others, from the point of view of the other.  This makes one regret the bad things that one has done, but it seems that one does not fall into paroxysms of guilt, but rather has new empathy for the self as well as the others.

We know how Jack's life ends.  He is hopelessly lost in a winter maze, having failed to capture and kill his son.  He gives up on finding his way out of the maze, perhaps out of exhaustion, and he freezes solid in a sitting position, with his eyes open.  The culminating expression on his face illustrates rampage, not fear or regret.  (How many takes did Kubrick force upon Nicholson to achieve this one iconic shot?)

Jack's rage was triggered by his wife's invasion of the space in which he indulged his increasingly lurid literary ambitions on an old mechanical typewriter -- "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy."  As the light was going out, his personal light, he did not forgive those who had trespassed against him.  And thus, perhaps, he consigned himself to Hell.



Saturday, November 5, 2022

 


Word of the Day


It is "ecstatic."  Not ecstatic as you would be if you were to win the Powerball, or if you had just thrown your hat in the air at the close of graduation ceremonies at West Point.  Ecstatic, rather, as St. Joan of Arc demonstrated herself to be on the pyre.

It's a very similar concept to "passion" -- not bodice-ripper passion but the Passion most classically of Christ -- a suffering, physical and emotional, so intense that it melds into a new form of bliss, and a new awareness.

In my life I have witnessed three people, all dear to me, as they passed through the "active dying" process.

In the one case, a case of brain cancer, he had been in a coma for some days, but there was, and I witnessed, a classic instance of "terminal lucidity," as he opened his eyes and spoke to my sister when he should not have been able to speak.

The second case was the terminal illness of that same sister.  She also became comatose, unexpectedly, as a consequence of an uncontrolled infection.  Before she lost consciousness she expected to recover; after she lost consciousness there was no hint, as far as I know, of her inner state.

The last case was a slow progression to death via cancer that metastasized to the bone.  He was, very close to the end, still able to hear, and even to speak from time to time with great difficulty, as if momentarily forcing himself to the surface while drowning.  It is in this case that I speculate that there may have been moments of such ecstacy.

Why does it matter?  It matters because it may offer a glimpse of our fate, a fate that notwithstanding the Complexity of It All resonates with the old time religion, with the man of constant sorrow who will meet us on God's golden shore, and with Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Levon Helm who, during a long respite from throat cancer, sang with gospel-choir fervor that "the sun's gonna shine through the shadows when I go away!"



Tuesday, November 1, 2022

 


That Secret Space


Just this Halloween, a friend/former co-worker, let's call her "Dee Dee," quite young, sent me a photograph of herself and her husband in costume for a party.  He was dressed as a Pan American liquor cart from the 1930's, she as an aviatrix of the same period.  Of his outfit we could say that if you can't tell what it's supposed to be, it fails.  She, on the other hand, looked stylish and smart, having gone for authenticity and sporting high-waisted khaki pants and an expensive dark leather jacket.

But last night I dreamt that I shared the photo with my brother and my sister on some kind of Zoom call, and that both said, independently, the very same words upon seeing it -- "She's beautiful!"  This sent me into a mild panic, for in the technology of the dream, there was a "hot mic" phenomenon, according to which Dee Dee might overhear any words of the call that referred to her.  If this were to happen, what was said, even though spontaneously and not by me, might be ascribed to me because of my close association with my siblings, and the mere ascription might be characterized as per se harassment.

In the dream world, then, such things could be thought but not said, or if said, they had to be said in a Secret Space that grew more closeted as one aged.  The secrecy of the space was a kind of acid that eroded the surface sinews of my heart.



Thursday, October 27, 2022

 


Best to Leave It at That


That every one of the personal crusades in the course of my life has been quixotic -- the opponent's breast and the tip of my spear fading into a common opaque fog.



Wednesday, October 19, 2022

 


Moment of Contact


Just watch the damned film.  Please.



Saturday, October 15, 2022

 


The Modern Philosopher's Dilemma


There are, let us say, ten incompatible paths.  The choice of any one of them, as in quantum theory, forecloses all of the others.

A path implies a goal of course.  We choose our path based largely on how congenial we find its teleology to be, socially, culturally, ethically.  The path may be:

  • Hindu
  • Buddhist
  • Taoist
  • Mosaic
  • Mohammedan
  • Pantheist
  • Christian
  • Secular Humanist
  • Purely Materialistic
  • Indigenous in its Origin
The late "tears in the veil," studied carefully, imply that each of these teleologies is wrong because anthropomorphic.  

We insist that Renaissance paintings of God reigning over His heavens are purely "metaphorical."  We think that the Sumerians must have been idiots because they thought that the Sun God could get angry.  

But even the modern materialist takes as his or her model a view of the universe that puts us at the center, psychically if not geographically.  (The "fact" that a wave resolves to a particle only on human observation continues to upset the apple cart of materialism.  No one believes that the wave will resolve to a point if Alexa follows our command to look at it.)  The materialist takes comfort, as much as the Holy Roller on his deathbed, in the susceptibility of all things to our ultimate understanding.  Her Heavenly Reward will be an obituary in the New York Times that confirms to the world that she helped to illuminate our path -- the only true path -- towards a richer understanding of the heavens.

But the tearing of the veil, in multiple places and with increasing urgency, rends all of this asunder.  For us to "figure things out" will be as impossible as for a dog to discover and embrace Jesus as his Savior.  And there is nothing in what we have learned so far that implies any particular benevolence towards us, that we are a Chosen People, that God sees us as his children.

This is a hard lesson at the tail end of life, when one wants to get one's house in order for Judgment Day, however it may be envisioned.  We might as well ask "What will be the fate of this particular well-intentioned bacterium on Judgment Day?"


Wednesday, October 12, 2022

 


"May the Angels Lead You Into Paradise! ..."


"... May the martyrs come to welcome you and the blah blah blah blah ...!"

Thus two screechy-voiced women of a certain age, invisible in the balcony, escorted the "faithful departed" from the dingy lower church of St. John the Evangelist to the gates of heaven in 1960 -- a heaven where everything was ideal to the point of perfection, including the music.



Monday, October 10, 2022

 


1,000 Years in Purgatory


And your punishment, according to the paperwork I have here, is to sing karaoke of Wayne Newton's "Red Roses for a Blue Lady."  Continuously.  For 1,000 years.



Friday, October 7, 2022

 


On A Comma Watch


Things appear now, unadorned by layers of interpretation.

A stick of pepperoni at Wegman's.  The deep folds of a purple pepper, photographed by Georgia O'Keefe in black and white many years ago.  The sands of an oversized hourglass, interrupted at the base of the top funnel by a damp, dead kitchen moth.  (Time has stopped for him.)  

The Vikings escaping in haste across the sea from whence they came.

All "unsettling," you may be permitted to say.



Tuesday, October 4, 2022

 


Freud's Mistake


The Depth of My Sorrows.  The Many Sources of My Sorrows.

A good old-fashioned psychotherapist could make it his mission to uncover them, using me as his instrument.  What possible other instrument could he have?

But to me it would feel as if he had grabbed me by the scruff of the neck, plunged my face into a 50-gallon drum filled to the brim with brackish, icy-cold water.  What good would this do me?  

(Gasping for air, gasping for breath.)

With all the will in the world

Diving for Dear Life

When I could be Diving for Pearls.



 


Just Like My Own Mother


Hanging our laundry out to dry on the back porch.  Recorded dutifully by the Bell & Howell handheld.  Trying too hard and too long to cling to her beauty.  And as a consequence losing her dignity, become a laughingstock in fact.

The Black Diva.

Diana (less Supremes) Ross.



Wednesday, September 28, 2022

 


Yes That Nobel Laureate in Literature


Bob Dylan did his best work, it can be argued, very early in his career, when he was still in his twenties.

Lay down your weary tune

Lay down.

Lay down the songs you strum,

And rest yourself 'neath the strength of strains

No voice can hope to hum.



 


When I Was Young


And more specifically, when I had just completed my schooling and was living on my own for the first time, I used to wish fervently that I would find my true love on one of my weekly trips to the laundromat.  I knew that if she appeared, I would be too shy to approach her, but maybe she would approach me, with a question about laundry detergents let us say, and one thing would lead to another.

In the event, I never spied her there.  All I saw was my underwear in the dryer going round and round and round.



Monday, September 26, 2022

 


Halloween The Year Round


Years ago, when I was in my thirties, we bought an "old man" Halloween mask in anticipation of a party.  It was a big hit because of an eerie realism.  That realism was enhanced by three things:  a fringe of grey hair around the scalp; deep-sunken eye sockets from inside of which one's real eyes, however nice, would appear penetrating and sinister; and a hinged jaw that allowed the old man realistically to talk as you talked.  For years after the party, we would secrete the mask somewhere in our house and spring it from behind at close range on some unsuspecting victim, which always drew a big laugh from the witnesses, if not from the victim.

I am become the old man mask.  Not often, but often enough, an incident will occur in public that makes it plain to me that that is how I now "present" in the world, sometimes to the point of eliciting a startle reflex when, for example, I look up from a menu at my waitress for the first time, or open the door of a men's room and bump into a stranger.

This is, of course, socially isolating.  

There are two ways of coping with it.  One is to proceed in defiance, to insist on acting in accordance with the younger, inner self.  And indeed over a period of time the spell usually can be broken.  If I take a 12-week course, not via Zoom but in person, by the fourth week or so the phenomenon will have largely passed, which is not to say that stereotypes of age won't be flung about, some legitimately.  (Nearly every stereotype has roots in generalizations that are accurate.)

And there are people on the other side who escape the other side of the syndrome via a gentle and open nature.  They serve out the milk of human kindness to everyone.  (Speaking of stereotypes, nurses by virtue of their calling often so serve it out.  And beyond that the phenomenon is partly culturally determined.  I found that when I was in Ireland I was accepted by strangers more readily than I am here, in one-on-one encounters with strangers that is.)  In this respect as in others, the milk of human kindness heals; it is very welcome.

The other way of coping is to find sanctuary somewhere where one is by choice physically isolated from others, like Quasimodo in his bell tower, Bigfoot in his dense forest.  It's lonely in the sanctuary, but one does not have to compensate constantly for wearing the mask.

And modern technology can serve as a "counter-mask" of youth that one can attempt to present to the world from within one's sanctuary.  One can toy with the task of trying to appear of indeterminate age on one's Twitter or Facebook account.  And if it works, it's liberating.  (For it to work, best to avoid posts that ask the reader if s/he can identify a roller skate key, or the button on the floor of a car that was used in the distant past to control the car's high beams.)  And yes, this very blog itself serves as such a counter-mask.

One person comes to mind as having bravely and with great energy employed both coping mechanisms.  His debilitating mask was not the old man's mask; it was far more terrible even than that.  His name was Stephen Hawking.  He seemed to have little or no self-consciousness about appearing in public in all of his grotesquerie, communicating in his inhuman, computer-animated voice.  And of course, from behind the counter-mask of print, he wowed the world, or perhaps better to say that he wowed two worlds -- the scientific world, in the most esteemed of peer-reviewed journals, and the popular world.  (A Brief History of Time sat atop the New York Times bestseller list for a year or more if I am not mistaken.)

With or without role models, one grows weary behind the mask.  And the weariness has physical consequences.  And so, we experience a vicious cycle that does not end, if it ends at all, until the time of molting, when we leave the weary mask behind for good.




Saturday, September 24, 2022

 


It's a Big Late-Life Sin


To project one's own impending private apocalypse onto the world at large.  This may be the syndrome driving Vladimir Putin into further perfidy at a cost of countless lives.



Monday, September 19, 2022

 


Orwell Would Insist


He would insist that this most awful evidence of cruelty not be hidden or suppressed.  Let every man and woman choose to see it or not, with fair warning, but if to see it, never to see it with prurient interest, because that itself would be a disgrace.

"Cargo 200" is Russian military slang for the bodies of the military dead that must be transported, not necessarily home in the case of the Russians because the very existence of the bodies is within Russia a politically inconvenient truth.

"Telegram" is a knock-off of Twitter, popular in Russia and Eastern Europe, but with more liberal boundaries, in terms of both length of posts and tolerance for controversial content, than Twitter.

And so the Telegram channel called "Cargo 200" brings us news of Russian casualties, but also news about the Ukrainian War in general, from a pro-Ukrainian point of view.

Yesterday there were posts about the newly-discovered graves of hundreds of slaughtered Ukrainians, most of them civilians, outside Izyum.  One was a photo of the exhumed body of a man, already badly decomposed.  The caption said that his scrotum had been cut off, and once having been told that, one can only say that the photo seems incontrovertible.  And the castration was by no means "surgical," if that implies care to do a limited amount of damage; rather, it appears that it was done with a hunting knife or a bayonet and with a maximum amount of violence, whether the poor man was dead or alive when it happened.

For those who have followed this war closely, expert commentary has acquainted us with new turns of phrase, turns of phrase often drawn from the schools of the military arts.  One is "the point of culmination."  One might think that this is the point of ultimate victory for the winning side, but it is not.  It is the point at which one's resources to prosecute an attack or an entire campaign have reached exhaustion, or near enough to exhaustion that further progress is impossible, at least in the near term.

The Russians have reached their point of culmination.  Their army is broken.  In the absence of a negotiated withdrawal, they will be forced to slink back to their vast homeland.  The recriminations there will be ugly.  The Russian Federation itself may splinter to such an extent that Russia as a political entity is left with a scale, in terms of GDP and conventional military might, equivalent to that of Italy or Spain.  And the path from here to there may be very fraught, because the Russians do not seem able to accept their reduced weight in the world with equanimity.

This war that no one predicted, taken together with the pandemic that was predicted merely as an abstraction, not as a real thing, and also looming "cosmic" developments to which we have been conditioned to turn a blind eye, seem to me to signal a culmination of sorts on a grand scale.  The paradigm has been exhausted.  It's not the End of History per se, but rather the end of history as a reliable pointer towards the future.  It's not that "les jeux sont faits," but that all bets are off.




Friday, September 16, 2022

 


No Need To Look It Up


There simply must be an episode of "The Simpsons" in which Homer re-enacts Keir Dullea in "2001: A Space Odyssey."  He lies on his back, on a bed of French Provincial, in a bright, cold light.   He struggles to lift his forearm so as to point his pudgy forefinger at the black monolith that stands beyond his feet.  He struggles to mutter a final "D'oh!", now the trigger-word for his reincarnation.

To be an old man is to be unable to shed the shadow of the black monolith.  The monolith holds the Secret.  It holds it to itself; its very shape signals impregnable opacity.

Sarcasm was the hallmark of the great, the unclassifiable, the one-and-only Mose Allison, percussive pianist and songwriter, who passed about six years ago now.  But from time to time, especially towards the end, he abandoned the signature sarcasm for something deeper and more universal:

No one can say he's made the most of life.

No man can tell what comes with dying.

The Fires of Spring remain the toast of life.

Each man in time a crucifying...

Each man his time for crucifying.

The doctors and even the hospice workers no doubt soon will be authorized to prescribe hallucinogens, to ease the terror of transition.  And so Homer and Mose, locked in a jiu-jitsu embrace, will flit across my screen, fighting for what the fancy people would call "ontological supremacy."



Friday, September 9, 2022

 


A Blemish Becomes a Blessing


When beheld by the beloved one.



Tuesday, September 6, 2022

 


Vera, Nadyezhda, Lyubov


The Three Sisters of the New Testament.  Faith, Hope, Love.

What if they did not perish, but rather they were bound back-to-back-to-back, with strong duct tape, and abducted by the djinn, the machine elves, the tricksters and the reptilians, all acting in concert, so that our path to salvation were cut off?

In that case we would have no recourse but to put aside our differences and to raise an army capable of bringing back the status quo ante.  But to put aside our differences and to raise such an army, we would need -- you guessed it -- Faith, Hope and Love.



Monday, September 5, 2022

 


If Dreams Had Names


It might be called "Bleak House."

I was a young man, just recently out of college.  It was mid-morning of New Year's Day.  I had spent the eve of the day drinking heavily with friends.  That was the usual attempt at manufacturing conviviality and, as usual, it had failed.  I did not connect with anyone, and I was left with a hangover and only faceless memories of the party.

I had not lived in or even seen my family home in some time, but it was clear that I was to be left to live there indefinitely from the start of the new year for lack of alternatives, for lack of funds.

My parents expected me home no later than 2AM.  I had not phoned them to tell them that I would be late.  They would be worried.  I felt guilty about this.  They were old and rather fragile emotionally.

And so I trudged up Cottage Park Road in Winthrop with my sister Denise at my side.  (She had not been at the party and she was soon to disappear from the dream.)  We both remarked that all of the houses on the street had changed, not only to become more ramshackle, but also in fundamental, structural ways, but without recourse to anything that could be called "renovations" or "updating."  Our own house now presented from the street, on our right near the top of the hill, as a big rambling farmhouse with an "Addams Family" demeanor.

In the event, my parents were nowhere to be found inside the house, but it was teeming with Irish immigrant relatives, mostly distant, who appeared to be squatting there for as long as they would be tolerated.  They were dirty and ill-dressed.  They spoke either Irish or an impenetrable English.  

I first encountered the relations in the bathroom area, which was eccentric in the extreme.  As everywhere in the house, the walls were stained a dark brown.  The room was shaped in a circle roughly ten foot across; it had no square walls.  Within the circle was a second, tiny circle in which there were two toilets, back to back and separated only by a low wall.  In fact, the walls of the inner circle were in such disrepair that I could catch glimpses of parts of two women who were "doing their business" back to back.  

The rest of us waited impatiently for our turn.  There were probably six of us in the larger room.  I was more or less pressed, face to face, with two fairly young Irishmen in particular.  Both had what I took to be pencil moustaches, but on closer examination they turned out to be matching thin streaks of dirt on the upper lip.

This was the penultimate scene.  In the last, I was standing in the living room of the house.  Everyone else -- ten or so -- was seated on the floor.  This was what passed for a holiday party it seemed, but there were no refreshments; there was only heavily muted conversation.  Everyone ignored me but for one bespectacled woman in her thirties sitting nearly at my feet, who openly welcomed me.  I said "hello to everybody" in so many words, but no one else responded or even looked my way.  I was, I suppose, the master of the house in my parents' absence, but I was all but invisible nevertheless among the squatters.



Saturday, September 3, 2022

 


A Separate Reality


No, not Castaneda's, but my own in which, on August 15 of this year, one louver from the left-hand, louvered door of the cabinet that resides below the stove in the galley of my modest motoryacht pierced my gut, in the fine tradition of naval battle in the Age of Napoleon, when splinters killed more seamen than did cannon fire directly.

I bled out semi-conscious.  A bottle of Cabernet shattered on its shelf above me, and the wine and the blood ran together into the bilge and onto the boat's robust propeller shaft, which later complicated the preparation for her salvage auction, including most critically the communications around it.

Two questions.  Where did this other soul go?  And why?  What purpose could it have served?

It seems that that soul evaporated into my own, but I believe that it might be accessed again via the right kind of hypnosis, rightly administered.  An odd synchronicity in this with the post that I last wrote, a week or so before the boat exploded.

The "why?"  Maybe for one so prone to feeling helpless before and defeated by one's fate, it was useful, for once, to see what invincibility feels like, so as to round things out.  But of course that only makes sense if Someone is paying attention.



Tuesday, August 9, 2022

 


An Idea in Germination


That spirit consumes spirit, just as flesh consumes flesh.  The Eucharist, ayahuasca, demonic possession.

Monday, August 8, 2022

 


A Forced and Inauthentic Smile


And beyond that, a sharp intake of breath before responding.   The sharp intake of breath always signaled anxiety.  It might be anxiety about anything. Perhaps she was making a professional sales pitch and someone raised a challenging question for which there was no non-awkward, non-self-serving answer.

In my case, the anxiety was almost always a signal that I was coming dangerously close to the line that separates mundane friendship from intimacy.  It was like the old Lord Buckley sketch, where the protagonist comes upon a desirable woman by the side of the road.  "Hey baby, it's YOU and ME, BEHIND THE TREE!!"  The young lady replies "But that would be GOIN' AGAINST NATURE!!!!" 

Except, of course, that if Tom Brady were making the proposition, nature would find a way to accommodate it.

I don't cast blame on her.  She was waiting on a Prince Charming.  An imposter appeared and ruined everything.  She had to go back to rock bottom, and crawl her way out of it.  This she did courageously.  But there was no place for me, alas, in this, except as a sympathetic bystander and a chronicler of the train wreck.  In the end she got tired of me even in this reduced and forgettable role.



Sunday, August 7, 2022

 


Disclosure Is All But Upon Us


The wave is breaking; the momentum is clear.

  • Garry Nolan
  • Chris Mellon
  • Brandon Fugal
  • George Knapp
  • Ross Coulthart
  • Bryce Zabel
  • Kirsten Gillibrand
  • Mike Gallagher
  • Travis Taylor
  • Eric Weinstein
  • Michio Kaku
  • Whitley Strieber
  • Jacques Vallee
  • Diane Pasulka
  • Jeremy Corbell
  • James Fox
  • David Fravor
  • Ryan Graves
  • Robert Salas
  • Richard Dolan
  • Kevin Knuth
Are they all crazy?  Are they all lying?

The optimists say that this will bring us together.  The pessimists say that, in extremis, every man and every woman will try to save him/herself.




Thursday, August 4, 2022

 


An Incomplete List of Those Who Will Soon Be Forgotten, If They Are Not Already


  • Mort Sahl
  • Skitch Henderson
  • Carmen Miranda
  • Mother Theresa
  • Jack London
  • Dave Garraway
  • Isaac Jogues
  • Rico Petrocelli
  • Cookie Gilchrist
  • Edie Gorme
  • Jacques Cousteau
  • Winslow Homer
  • Gabby Hayes
  • Cab Callaway
  • Bishop Fulton J. Sheen
  • Candace Bergen
  • Charlie McCarthy


Sunday, July 31, 2022

 


A Most Abstract Dream


Both the fate of my ship and the fate of the Ukrainians somehow hung in the balance.

My charge was to complete a Japanese spiritual ritual that was supposed to replicate an old myth in which the Spirit of Water, as the highest of the natural elements, defeated all of the lesser ones.

I knew that my performance of this ritual would be feeble because of my relative cultural ignorance and my lack of experience, but I also knew that the performance would be accepted because of the sincerity, the seriousness of purpose, with which it was offered.



Thursday, July 28, 2022

 


You Are In the Netherworld


But only as a temporary parking place.  You are male, unalterably it seems (not that there's anything wrong with that).

In your next return trip, your trial will be to cope with fame without allowing your fame to go to your head.  You will be given a choice among four incarnations only:  (1) Franklin Delano Roosevelt; (2) Antonio Carlos Jobim; (3) Duke Ellington; and (4) Thomas Edison.

Whom will you pick and why?



Tuesday, July 19, 2022

 


It Seems a Paradox


That at this moment of maximum frailty, of maximum existential dread even, she would ask for the power to bless all creatures great and small, all men and women great and small in particular.

But she is an instrument of the blessing, not the ultimate hand behind it.  She is blessed with the power to bless.  It is one of the ways in which the humble are exalted.  (Father Zosima in Karamazov of course comes to mind.)

Some have argued that the Beatitudes of the Sermon on the Mount are mistakenly translated.  It is not "Blessed are the meek" but rather "Beloved are the meek."  Perhaps, in the foundational text, one word captures both meanings, or there is a single meaning that we followers have artificially cloven.  "It comes to the same thing" I want to say.



Friday, July 15, 2022

 


Kotkin and Catalonia


In "Homage to Catalonia," George Orwell tells the fascinating tale of his time in Spain fighting the fascist forces of Franco in the 1930s.  Such service was romanticized by Ernest Hemingway and many others in the West who took up arms. In Orwell's case, he escaped doom twice, which naturally tempered his romanticism.  The first time was conventional -- he took a bullet through the neck and was left at the mercy of dubious Republican medical services.  The second came to pass when he and his wife -- British citizens -- were placed on a list of those to be arrested, not by the "bad guys," but by the same Republican government with which Orwell was allied, a government which, in an echo of the Russian show trials («показательние процессы») then taking place in Moscow, tied the far-left faction under whose banner Orwell was fighting to Leon Trotsky, and fantasized that the far left and the far right were engaged in a giant conspiracy to subvert the global Communist aims of Joseph Stalin, who was supplying much needed arms and other material to the Republic.  In fact, there were many factions allied against the Nationalists in Spain.  Orwell had chosen his, which was called "POUM," almost on a whim.  The Republicans knew that POUM was not conspiring with Franco, but cynicism and desperation led them to cave to Stalin, just as cynicism and desperation led his domestic comrades to point fatal fingers at countless Russian victims of the terror, some of them Stalin's personal friends and life-long fellow travelers.

Thus "Catalonia" helps us to understand what nation-state served as Orwell's model for the nightmare controlling authority he fashioned in "1984."  There was not one model, it's true, but the clear commonality with Soviet Russia led to the suppression of that most famous of Orwell's books in many Western circles.  Orwell never gave up the allegiance to the left that had led him to Spain, but his vision of it was clear.

Stephen Kotkin, in his biography of Stalin, explains how direct was the dictator's hand in orchestrating the events that nearly cost Orwell his freedom and perhaps his life.  Kotkin also points out for us that at the very same time that he was engaged in these machinations, Stalin was exercising veto power over the Reds in China in his capacity as leader of the global Comintern.  Those Communists were wrestling with the question whether to concentrate their efforts against Chiang Kai-Shek's Nationalist government or rather against the imperial designs of the Japanese.  Stalin intervened to save Chiang's life after he was arrested and given over to his great enemy -- Mao Tse-Tung. Kotkin is not given to wild speculation, but he permits himself a tempered speculation that had Stalin not so intervened, Japan's next imperial moves might have been directed against northern China and not against targets in the Eastern and South Pacific, including Pearl Harbor.

Madrid and Barcelona are a long way from Nanking and Tokyo.  Yet this was Stalin's chessboard during the period when, in Kotkin's words, he was "waiting for Hitler," a period we tend to think of as a lull before the real action came into play with the invasion of Poland on Sept 1, 1939 and, more directly for Stalin, Operation Barbarossa in June of 1941.  How then can we reject Kotkin's central premise that Stalin was indeed the "essential man" of the bloody 20th century?



Tuesday, July 12, 2022

 


A Gangster Writ Larger Than All Others


I am immersed in the second volume of Stephen Kotkin's colossal three-volume biography of Joseph Stalin, which is called "Waiting for Hitler."  (The third volume is in development.)

The picture that emerges has much in common with Tony Soprano - an utterly ruthless and ambitious man, but a complex one.  The suicide of his wife and the assassination of his best friend Kirov seemed to affect him deeply.  (The Kirov murder precipitated the great purges of 1936-38.)  He was a genuinely committed Communist, but he feared that a purer form of Communism, inspired by Trotsky, would emerge out of Spain and sweep him away.  (George Orwell was a victim of this high-stakes family squabble.)  He had a very large personal library, and the books were not "for show."

If Russia had been the size of Latvia or Estonia, Stalin arguably would be remembered as a mere Tony Soprano.  What distinguished him was the geographic scale of his playing field, from Finland to Vladivostok and the Black Sea. Seven hundred thousand Russian soldiers were lost just in the encirclement of Kiev early in WWII.  Twenty thousand rail cars were needed to move Russian industrial capacity east of the Urals after Barbarossa.  Millions of peasants died in the forced collectivization and "dekulakization" of the early 1930s.  Millions more were shot by the NKVD, most often victims of paranoia or petty score settling.  Paranoia and petty score settling trickled down from the top.

It is not as if Tony Soprano could have been handed the reins of such an enterprise and ridden the beast for as long, or as effectively, as Stalin did.  Stalin had colossal energy and an iron will on the same scale, as well as, it seems, little or no remorse.  Thus he became the greatest figure of the 20th century.  When he died, his people descended into paroxysms of grief and even panic.  Who could possibly step into his shoes?



Friday, July 8, 2022

 


Her Beauty Shines Bright


It's the incandescent kind.  Grace Kelly, Kim Novak, Ingrid Bergman, Lauren Bacall, Scarlett Johannsen. But it's a burden for her to be seen through such a lens and only such a lens.

Her mind is constructed like a fine old clock.  It cannot help but see the world clearly.  She has read "Chilly Scenes of Winter" and much more.  A change of "attitude" will not Disneyfy the actual world.

She can rest reliably in the cocoon of her husband's arms, as he can rest in hers.  But even then the clouds are sensible, if not seen.  She knows that there is such a thing as a 100-year flood, and that it is highly unlikely that the flood will wait for 99 years before it sweeps the cocoon before it, just as it is highly unlikely for the die to show the number six only on the sixth roll.

And so, from time to time, I pray that she never take matters into her own hands, thinking that it is best to exercise agency if nothing else.


 

Thursday, June 30, 2022

 


A Zen Horror for the 21st Century


An empty mind is not a blissful mind.  An empty mind is ... just empty.

It is like a glass of water from which both glass and water have been removed.  A foundational vibrational hum overlaid with its acoustical opposite, rendering what the Great Ringmaster would characterize as "Silenzio!"



Saturday, June 25, 2022

 


An Illusion of Intimacy


In this brief time of COVID made personal, I am banished to the second bedroom.

The bed is Asian and supremely comfortable if a bit difficult to get up from, given its modest elevation.  In addition to pillows, it has two big bolsters that are covered with a soft and resilient fabric.  The fabric is decorated with Japanese kanji.  What do they mean?

If I place the bolsters between the bed and the wall, and in the night my palm or my forearm falls on one of them, I can convince myself that I am in touch with the living hip of a heretofore unknown slender and sleeping woman, one who radiates a certain warmth in her sleep.  Hips, unlike rib cages for example, don't breathe, but I can even convince myself that the shallow breathing of her lungs reverberates at a remove in the hips, as does her qi, her spirit body.

And thus I am permitted a long and uninterrupted touch -- one that otherwise, at this time, no living creature but my dog might allow me.



Tuesday, June 14, 2022

 


What's for Lunch?


The string theorist Michio Kaku was asked recently to speculate about what alien civilizations might look like, how they might behave.  He answered that very likely at some point in their evolution they killed, and ate what they killed.  How so?  According to Kaku, predatory behavior correlates with intelligence.  The fox is smarter than the bunny.  The bunny need only learn to run away, as fast as it can.  But the fox must learn to strategize the hunt.  Since we know that the aliens must be very smart to get here, they must also have a history of predation.

(Is this true as a general proposition?  Is the alligator smarter than the faun that it pulls beneath the water and drowns?)

The subtext of the remark is clear.



Wednesday, June 8, 2022

 


An Inference of Immortality


The prevailing view for more than 100 years has been that we are solely material beings, that consciousness is nothing more than the software that runs the computers between our ears.

An opposing view is beginning to make a comeback, as has been noted before in this space.  See, for example, the philosopher Bernardo Kastrup, who argues from economy of explanation that consciousness is primary.

At the same time, as has also been noted in this space, the Nimitz Encounter compels us to take seriously the idea that we are not alone in the universe.  And, once we have stepped onto the moving walkway of UFO/UAP exploration, we know not where to get off, and we are led inexorably into high strangeness.  Something like the Hollywood Wolfman popularized by Lon Chaney in the 1940s may be lying in wait for your chihuahua.

Jacques Vallee and others argue convincingly that the "embodied" high strange phenomena are actually one, shape-shifting phenomenon -- the "greys," the "reptilians," the skinwalkers, the little people of Ireland, the ayahuasca elves, the Ladies of Fatima and Lourdes, the pilots of airships who knocked on doors in the Midwest circa 1900, when there were no airships at all of the natural sort in North America.

Most, but not all, of the various creatures have been clothed.  The clothing may be austere, more wetsuit than Brooks Brothers, as in the case of the greys, or it may be elaborate, like the robes of Our Lady.

In a material world, even one in which we are not alone, someone must make the clothes worn by all sentient beings.  Lacking proof of any kind to back me up, I insist that there are no factories where the high-strange clothes are made; the idea is far more preposterous than the existence of the beings themselves.  Thus, the higher intelligence must be able to substantiate the clothing as it were, just as it substantiates the creature itself.  The leprechauns dancing around the fire did not buy their cute little suits off the rack.

And if the uniforms are substantiated at will, it is a good bet that everything else regarded as material is likewise a projection from consciousness.  And if everything material is a projection from consciousness, then it is also a good bet that our consciousness survives the disintegration of our bodies.  "In what form?" you may ask. 

Who knows?  We may, in good time, have to rub elbows with some pretty nasty manifestations of the spirit, just as predicted by the Tibetan Book of the Dead.

We live in a time, the more one thinks about it, of the Magnification of the Mystery.



Saturday, May 28, 2022

 


Aboard American Enterprise in the Summer of 1982


Then the last of the former US Lines freighters still operating, now in the hands of a dubious Greek "enterprise" thinly connected with Aristotle Onassis, whose yacht Christina featured barstools made from the foreskins of whales.

We had neither barstools nor bars, and I being "before the mast," I wouldn't have been allowed to frequent them in any case.  Our itinerary was from Southampton to Suez, but a meandering path it was, and the captain never explained why so.  The cargo taken off in the various places was in crates well suited to ammo, but they also could have been full of lace undies for all I knew or even cared.

The Bay of Biscay only a few days in lived up to its fearsome reputation.  A wicked gale and a lee shore pinned us off of La Rochelle, that ancient French naval station, for three days.  " I never get sick," I always said, but I got mighty sick.  One cup of noodle soup was all in those three days, plus lots of water.  But I kept up my duties for what you might call "cultural" reasons.  Which is to say that my shipmates would have called me a candy ass if I hadn't.

On a midnight to four watch during those three days I had to go up on the foredeck to tie down a fluttering tarp covering one of our lifeboats, assisted in the task by my friend Jerome.  Later that same evening, in the tweendecks, a big pipe wrench, not well secured, dropped about six feet onto his right foot, breaking some bones and also some skin.  A couple days later it turned gangrenous.  Our medic, hardly a doctor even in his own mind, had to cut it all off, both rotten and potentially so, and Jerome's "forefoot," as we say of some of the headsails, went overboard with the inedible chef's scraps left over from that evening's dinner.  After that, in bars in Barcelona and elsewhere, Jerome, who was only five foot eight on a good day, and I being quite tall, would tell the girls that I had "half a foot on him" ha ha.

The morning of the fourth day dawned mostly clear with some scudding clouds, still a heavy swell and a west wind down to about 20 knots.  We steered 260 degs magnetic and made about six knots when in normal conditions we might have made ten.

I could not fail to be impressed by the Rock when we got there two days later, but when we got past it, still, initially, with a heavy following swell, I thought about physics experiments explained to me by Mr. Forrestal in my junior year, which is to say four years before -- you know, the ones that prove that light is a wave as well as a particle.  The wave passes through a narrow aperture and then "diffuses" into  pretty and complex patterns.  So it seemed to be with us even though the aperture in question -- the Strait of Gibraltar -- was eight miles wide.  Things thereafter were confused but much calmer.  I myself was confused but much calmer.

From west to east in the Med that summer was like a journey passing backwards through time.  Barcelona, Marseilles, Algiers, Malta, Genoa, Athens, Beirut, Alexandria and Suez.  

When in port, I tried to defy the stereotype of the "tar."  Girls yes; whores no.  Booze yes; throwing up in the streets no.  No belligerence for the sake of belligerence. Lots of museums and solo architectural walking tours, about which no shanties have yet been sung as far as I know.

In Suez I collected my pay and caught a bus to Port Said and thence a ferry to Athens.  After a few days there it was beyond by ferry to Hydra, where there was a girl and coincidentally a place where one could, in general, live forever without regret.  I made my living there for five wonderful years by the good graces of her family.  She died in 1987 at age 26, in the sea.  Perhaps my fault but I don't think so.  After that I could no longer live there without regret.  In part out of nostalgia I took passage back to New York in early 1988 as a passenger on a bulk carrier from Algiers.

In many respects everything else in my life has been an afterthought.



Monday, May 16, 2022

 



The Spirit of Lincoln Lachrymose at Luhansk


Lincoln's supreme rhetorical trick at Gettysburg was to honor the dead of both sides without appearing to honor the Confederate cause.  (The cemetery dedicated that day was, to be sure, reserved for the Union dead.)  He needed to do this in the interest of healing the country, in the spirit of holding "malice toward none."  But at the same time and at his command, his best generals, Grant and Sherman, poured Union men into the maw of death unflinchingly, with eyes open for the later, greater good.

Perhaps it's too late ever to welcome the Russian people back into the fold of normal nations.  They have not progressed, it seems, beyond the delusions that sustained them under communism, the pitiful falling back on «у нас лучше» -- "we have it better" -- despite a mountain of evidence to the contrary.  But this does not mean that we should not join in mourning most of their dead, the 20,000 or so young men who were poured into the maw of death in an entirely pointless and criminal cause that was not even revealed to them until the day of the ill-fated invasion.



Sunday, May 8, 2022

 


Alone Together


When, at the Hour of the Wolf, I survey my own private landscape -- the world inhabited by my closest friends and relations -- what I see with nary an exception is spiritual impoverishment, brave people putting on brave faces.

But hasn't it always been so?  Lives of quiet desperation, the portents of Yeats' Second Coming? 

No, we've ground our civilization down into a new place that is, as never before, devoid of meaning.  It's as if we are all living in a little house on the prairie, biding our time until the Apaches, or a 100-year wind, rise to wipe the prairie pristine again.



Monday, May 2, 2022

 


Hi Strangeness Arrives in "Space Odyssey" Form


The theory is that the contact is interdimensional, not extraterrestrial, and that it takes whatever form it finds propitious, taking into account the cultural sensibility of the time and place, which in turn may bubble up from Jung's "collective unconscious."

In the late 1960's, Arthur C. Clarke and Stanley Kubrick collaborated on their shared fantasy of an alien intelligence embodied not in a spindly, big-headed, black-eyed midget, but in something more unsettling -- a perfectly wrought but perfectly opaque and inscrutable geometric form, appearing on our planet intermittently, at times of great human paradigm shifts.  Their vision was audacious, among other things, because the role played by the black obelisk was akin to that of a pre-Abrahamic god -- the Golden Calf or maybe the fecund Earth Mother whose image was fashioned out of clay -- but stripped of all the meaning that comes with something that can be said to be "representational," be it calf or earth mother or sasquatch or skinwalker.

Seen through the prism (pardon the expression) of later events, it is hard to say whether Clarke and Kubrick's joint vision tapped into a pre-existing zeitgeist or rather helped to create a new one.

In 2009 and 2018, over the Kremlin and the Pentagon respectively, massive pyramids were captured on video hovering perhaps 1000 feet in the air.  They came with no internal or external light source; they appeared to be nearly translucent.  They were about the size of a three- or four-story building.  One, the Pentagon object, seemed to rotate slowly on one axis.

If the "object of the objects" was to intimidate us into more peaceful behavior than we have shown in the last few hundred years, in light, perhaps, of world-historical nuclear developments, then they picked a terribly abstract symbolism for their project.  A ten-armed Shiva wielding fiery swords, or even Godzilla himself breathing propane, would have done better.  But that's really not for us to say.  After all it is not we who are in charge.




Sunday, April 24, 2022

 


Our Symbols, Ourselves


Joe Rogan and Douglas Murray, just this past week, in a free-form conversation of about two and a half hours.

They were not at their best.  The word that comes to mind is "smug."  They congratulated each other, repeatedly, as fellow travelers, on a superior cast of character and a superior cast of conversation.  Because they are fellow travelers, to congratulate the other was to congratulate oneself.

Something in the free-form called to mind for Douglas an English country fair that he had attended.  According to him, these are time-honored and conventional community gatherings, which is not to say that they are not very much enjoyed by young and old alike.  There is ice cream and face painting for the young ones; there may be a little "antiques roadshow" for their parents and grandparents.  And various and sundry other entertainments are sprinkled in.

At this one in particular, there was a Raptor Man and a large bird of prey.  And when the hood came off and the bird was lifted off of the man's gauntlet, he (the bird that is) went off script, circled and picked up and proceeded to eat a small dog, in front of its owner and the children.

Both Joe and Douglas found this scene to be very funny.  But it's worth asking what makes it funny, if indeed it is funny.  It must be that, as in a Monty Python sketch, a wrecking ball has been taken to precious British sensibility.

In Austria, Germany, Lichtenstein, Poland, Romania and Russia, as in the United States, an eagle is a symbol of the state.  Here, in the US, the symbolism may carry over from that of the serpent that preceded the eagle -- "Don't Tread On Me!"  He is the fiercest of birds; he is fearless; he is not to be trifled with; he will withstand all attacks.  And likewise, roughly, in all of those other imperial places.  The eagle was not chosen as a symbol because it is known to feast on carrion like its brother, the vulture.

But the majestic, eagle-eyed fearlessness that we so admire cannot be disentangled from the cruelty, the heartlessness, the absence of mercy that was on display at and disrupted the English country fair.



Saturday, April 16, 2022

 


"It Is Wrong to Speak Ill of the Dead"


I take this old bromide as authorization to speak ill of the living.

Take Mr. K, for example.  We all know that he has an extended circle of admirers, not limited to his family and close friends.  But it may be the case that selfishly he has arranged his life in such a way as to protect himself from stress by means of this Palace Guard.

Beyond that, a non-exhaustive litany:

  • He expresses himself oddly at times.
  • If it is true, as they say, that by the age of 50 every man has the face he deserves, then Mr. K would seem to have collected a lot of frightful karma.  (Perhaps the "K" stands for "karma"?)
  • He is bored to death by little children who are not his own.
  • He finds it nearly impossible to apologize or to admit defeat.
  • His amusement at stupidities often comes across as directed at the speaker rather than at what was just spoken.
  • He has very little physical courage.  He is afraid of mountain tops (and hence of skiing), of waves over his head, of large dogs of unknown disposition, of horses running towards him to get a carrot.
  • When he hears classical music on the radio or on television, he pretends to conduct it, using grandiose hand gestures and whatever lies close to hand that might pass for a baton -- a stick, a fork, a ruler.  No one but he thinks that this is funny.
  • Of the cardinal virtues, he has some Charity, a flickering Faith that is erratic and mercurial, and no Hope that is worth mentioning.
  • He thinks of himself as open-hearted; others think of him as "remote."
  • While he generally is loyal, he seems to keep a secret, cold-hearted tally sheet on everybody, and a truly trivial misstep can be a "tipping point."  Such tipping points most often lead to permanent banishment.
  • He finds it easy to admire women, but most easy to admire women who are young and pretty.
  • He likes to be subversive for its own sake.
  • His tears are kept always in a cistern, contaminated.
  • He is so vain that he probably thinks this list is about him.



Monday, April 11, 2022

 


The Ages of Man


I have reached the stage of life now that might be called "Saddam Hussein Rattles His Cage."  (Whatever else may be said, it is not a time to retreat.)  After that comes a long silence.



Saturday, April 9, 2022

 


Inferring the Artist from the Art


I am troubled that I and my boomer comrades are facing true historical oblivion.

That sort of oblivion can be circumvented via artistic achievement, if the art is art that abides.  If you knew nothing about the man who crafted the statue of Lincoln at his Washington memorial -- Daniel Chester French -- other than the statue itself, you could at least say with confidence that this was a serious man, and one who did not simply wake up one day with a sculptor's artistry at his fingertips; there is no doubt that he had to work at it for a long time.

Music is more ephemeral.  And yet in a way it is more difficult to eradicate from our common history than things made of paint or bronze.  As long as the notes exist on the page somewhere, and the notation itself is not lost to memory, the music will abide.  And likewise, if we know nothing of Bach other than one of his fugues, we do know as well that he had an orderly, even a mathematical, mind.

In the context of immortality of this sort, I can think of two men of the first half of the 20th century, both of whom created a piece of music less than a minute long, but one that is encoded in a million memories, via repetition in happy circumstances.  Yet nothing else is known of the men.

The first piece begins with a snare drum "roll off," indeed, with a roll off so classic that it has come to be heard by some of us drummers as a parody of a roll off.  Then come in the French horns and trumpets, obsessing over a single note.  And  finally, the well-crafted resolution, and all in just eight bars:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XXZp_e1IzKo

When we hear this fanfare even now, like Pavlov's dogs, we sit down and reach for the popcorn, for the movie is about to begin!

The second piece marks not a beginning but an end, the end of a narrative in which, just as in our lives, "the curtain has come down in the middle of the play," with Bugs or Daffy in media res but more or less triumphant --

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0FHEeG_uq5Y

(That's All, Folks!)

And so these two composers, known at least subliminally through their music by two entire generations, have achieved a certain immortality.   What can we say further about them?


Wednesday, March 30, 2022

 


Magnificat


Mary, the Mother of God, said that "my soul magnifies the glory of the Lord."  

Is this hubris?  Isn't the glory of the Lord infinite without magnification?  How can it be magnified?

And likewise with her role as intercessor-in-chief with respect to her Son.  If a prayer is more likely to be answered, coming from her lips, does this not imply that the love of Jesus for us (without intercession) is ratcheted down from the Infinite Love that He has promised us?

Should these be called "Marian Heresies?"



Tuesday, March 29, 2022

 


"Wittgenstein's Artillery"


In his process, he uses "meta-metaphors" if you please.

Each the layer of an onion.  But he turns them over with such care and close scrutiny as to call to mind string theory, which reveals dimensions heretofore not seen or imagined, because of their proximity.  Each become a landscape unto itself, and each landscape populated with new metaphors that must be mined if the impulse to do philosophy is to be abandoned.

As we follow in his footsteps, we always and repeatedly surmise that there is a solid core at the center -- in other words, that the onion is an avocado, not an onion, in this respect.  And therefore he must show us repeatedly, like dogs being trained to sit on command, that at the center there is nothing, or perhaps nothing but the sound of our own breathing, and only, to be sure, for as long as we have breath to draw.



Monday, March 28, 2022

 


The Primacy of Consciousness, Cont'd


Towards the end of May 1944, a rather simple and smallish crossword puzzle was published in a newspaper in Britain, where a million heavily-armed men and a hundred thousand vehicles were awaiting transport over the English Channel to Normandy.  

Four clues of the puzzle called for the following solutions, respectively:  "OMAHA," "UTAH," "MULBERRY" and "OVERLORD."  "Omaha" and "Utah" were code names for the beaches that the Americans were to attack.  The "Mulberry" would be an enormous artificial harbor attached to the Normandy flats, and over which two and a half million men would pass into France by the time the invasion was over.  "Overlord" was the code name for the invasion itself.

When British intelligence became aware of the puzzle, its creator was hauled in for interrogation, suspected of being a spy for the Germans and tipping them off to invasion-related secrets.  In fact he was nothing of the kind.  He had, it seems, unusually fine-tuned antennae that could pick up powerful things in the zeitgeist.

Dr. Jung would not be at all surprised at this.



 


Be Wary of Literal Translation


In New York City, in the 1960's, an "automat" was a cafeteria where you could lunch on a sandwich and a piece of pie and a cup of coffee, all dispensed from machines, without the annoyance of human intervention.  It was viewed as the height of modernity in the time of the Mad Men.

In Moscow or Petersburg or Rostov-on-Don, an «автомат» is a Kalashnikov, an AK-47 assault rifle.

Marx would say "To each according to his needs."



Tuesday, March 22, 2022

 


Should We Fear May 9?


May 9 is Victory Day, the day that the Russians celebrate their victory over Hitler's Germany in 1945.  It is customary on Victory Day for a major military parade through Red Square to punctuate the holiday, reminding the outside world as well as the Russian populace of the invincibility of what used to be called the Red Army.

What will Russia's most ambitious military venture since WWII look like to Vladimir Putin on, say, May 1 of this year?  If it looks like the debacle that it clearly is, will he feel compelled to radically up the ante by May 9 and, if so, what will that look like?



Monday, March 14, 2022

 


The Best Thing I Can Say


About this, my blog, is that, over time, "it gathers like a coastal shelf."  It accretes that is.

But that language belongs forever to the poet Philip Larkin, and it should be said that he said it in reference to human misery, passed on from man to man, from each generation to the next.



Sunday, March 13, 2022

 


Putin and Rasputin, Lost in a Broken Gavotte


"Poot" in Russian means "path" or "way," so Vladimir Putin might be said to be the "wanderer" or traveller or gypsy.

"Ras" is a prefix that implies taking things apart, disorder, even chaos; so the so-called mad monk Rasputin can be said to have been the disrupter, the one who blew up the path.  And indeed, his "unorthodox" behavior helped to precipitate the revolution, in the eyes of most historians.

"Rasputitsa" means the time of year when the roads are impassible.  The frozen paths of the winter have disintegrated, been taken apart, with the arrival of warmer temperatures and spring rains.  Rasputitsa disrupted the plans of Hitler in 1942; it may disrupt the plans of Putin in 2022.

Like Nicholas and Alexandra, the Tsar Putin has his own Orthodox enablers including the Patriarch Kirill.  In the main they are not devout Christians.  Rather, they participate with the tsar in the propagation of a myth about the Manifest Destiny of Mother Russia; they justify it in part as a reaction to Western decadence.

Now comes a cadre on the American right that also embraces this myth.  We should leave Putin be, they say, because he is far away and because he shares at least our contempt for "wokeness."  The great Russian-born journalist and intellectual Cathy Young cites at least one such who explicitly says that he hates the American Left more than he hates the Russian war criminals.  Through what crazed moral prism must one look to hold such a view?

Putin is finished.  Disease and death, or at least a cage in Lublyanka, must await him when the dust is settled.  But for the Russian people outside the circles of power there must be forgiveness.  This is the only way for them to be re-integrated into the global community, which is in everyone's interest, and it is also the correct moral path, on the simple grounds that if they are to be punished collectively, then he who is without sin should cast the first stone.



Thursday, February 24, 2022

 


The Hinge of History


On Sunday, 27 Aug 1939, a diplomatic defusing of Hitler's threats with respect to Poland was still considered to be possible.  As we know, he would invade five days later.

At 3AM, from New York, E.B. White tried to capture the mood of the whole Western world at that moment:

We sit with diners at the darkened tables in the French cafes, we pedal with the cyclists weekending in the beautiful English countryside, we march alongside the German forces approaching the Polish border, we are a schoolboy slipping on his gas mask to take shelter from the raid that hasn't come, we sit at the elbow of Sir Neville as he presents the message to the British Cabinet ... Hour after hour we experience the debilitating sensation of knowing everything in the world except what we want to know -- as a child who listens endlessly to an adult conversation but cannot get the gist, the one word or phrase that would make all clear... The world is in the odd position of being intellectually opposed to war, spiritually committed to it.  This is the leaden note.  If war comes, it will be war, and no one wants that.  If peace is restored, it will be another arrangement enlarging not simply the German boundary but the Hitler dream.  The world knows it can't win.  Let me whisper I love you while we are dancing and the lights are low.



Monday, February 21, 2022

 


Les Fleurs du Mal


Hanns Ludin was Hitler's ambasssador to Slovakia.  His son Malte made an extraordinary documentary film whose core subject is the ability of people to rationalize evil.  The rationalizers in this case are his own sisters and his mother, all of whom are interviewed at length in the film.  

The historical record makes it quite clear that Hanns was more than complicit in the deportation of thousands of Jews from Slovakia to slave labor and to death camps, but Malte's nephew, Hanns' grandson, somehow grows up with the impression that his grandfather was a "resistance fighter."  A fighter against resistance to the Holocaust I suppose.

One sister is direct in her defense of her father, and bitter at the very making of the film.  The mother and one other sister have developed an almost absurd ability to talk in circles around what he did during the war.  They seem to see themselves as victims of a psychological legacy that was left to them not so much by Hanns as by history.

At the end of the film, Malte interviews an old Jewish man whose family was wiped out under the puppet regime that Hitler installed in Slovakia.  It seems difficult for the two men to make eye contact.  The old man says that "evil is stronger than good."  How so?   "Good is passive.  Evil is active.  Evil is a vacuum."

In what sense is evil a vacuum?  "It is insatiable.  It is never satisfied."