Musings of a teacher

Sunday, October 05, 2014

Happy Yom Kippur!

Not really: Yom Kippur is the Jewish Day of Atonement, when you stand before God and He sees you, really sees you, not normally a "happy" experience.  Before the last (second) Jewish temple in Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE., the temple contained a physical space for the Yom Kippur meeting with God: the "Holy of Holies," in which a high priest or (according to some traditions) a common person who represented everyone, entered the space, where this person would be joined by God. Today, at least before we fight World War III to get the space back, we must conceptualize that space, and each Jew is supposed to enter it on Yom Kippur to confront, or be confronted by God.

Imagine how it would be to stand in an enclosed space the size of a closet, no one in there with you except God.  Clearly an intense experience.  To add to the intensity, Jews must fast for 24 hours, the duration of Yom Kippur.  I have made the decision not to fast, because I see the holiday as a meditative one, and I can't meditate when I have a headache and can't think of anything but a grilled Reuben. Further, I'm not sure that being in the presence of God (defined here as any force affecting human life that we can neither see nor understand) requires mortification of the flesh.  I find guidance in the Book of Genesis where Jacob struggles all night with the angel of God.  In the morning the angel proclaims that Jacob's name will now be "Israel," meaning, "He who struggles with God and prevails."  In my personal Yom Kippur meeting with God, I don't seek to "prevail, " but to make contact, to communicate, laying bare my weaknesses and mistakes, and my strengths, and then, as in a conversation, awaiting a response.  Mortification may ensue, but that's not my job.

Yom Kippur comes one week after Rosh Hashonah, the Jewish new year.  As noted in the previous essay on this blog ("Happy Jewish new year!"), my wife and I celebrated Rosh Hashona at our Reform temple in L.A., but planned to observe Yom Kippur in the Twin Cities, the morning service at the Orthodox temple in St. Paul where we were married, the evening service at my sister-in-law's Conservative temple in Minneapolis.  So here I sit in a St. Paul Caribou Coffee the day after Yom Kippur, enjoying the 40 degree early fall outside (it's 105 in L.A.), recounting my experiences yesterday.

In the morning, my father-in-law, Max, my brother-in-law Steven and I, with my wife Susan and her mother Edith, set off for their Orthodox temple in St. Paul.  I describe us separated by gender because the temple experience described us so.  On arrival, Max, Steven and I entered the sanctuary, where I saw the Lubavitcher rabbi who married me and Susan 43 years ago, standing at one of several podiums before a prayer book, chanting and rocking back and forth in a form of physically expressive prayer called "davening," scores of men around him absorbed in similar fashion, creating a soothing cacaphony of recitation.

I took note of the gender screen at the back of the sanctuary, actually a wooden partition topped with tinted glass through which I could see all the women- daughters, mothers, sisters, wives- wearing hats (as the men wear kippahs) and watching the mens' service intently.  I was surprised, because in my memories of the segregated women I see them talking and laughing, basking (as I wrote in "Happy Jewish new year") in a secret knowledge that Judaism, if not human culture in general, is female driven and directed. But Susan told me that my new impression was correct: the women were fascinated by the men's service and watched it quietly for the many hours duration.   I found this revision in my understanding so surprising as to be almost disorienting.  The "war of the sexes," as we used to jokingly call it, does not seem a joke anymore, but, at least in certain arenas, a real war for dominance and redefinition.  Yet here these women sit, many of them younger, reverently watching the men monopolize spirituality.  I don't think this precludes their having a female world of irony and revisionist history, but it's startling enough to see, anywhere in the modern world, a seeming acceptance of patriarchy.  Susan, who normally views patriarchy as the failed experiment it increasingly appears to be, explained that the experience behind the partition was comforting: viewing the men, not as megalomaniac, but humbled, joining with each other in common search for sense in the universe, with entire extended families together in the small building, youngest to oldest, set to come together in a communal meal at sundown.

In the sanctuary, my memories of freedom of movement and expression and family togetherness were confirmed. Young boys davened or horsed around with each other amongst the men, accepted both as spiritual and childlike.  How often do you see that?  A little girl wandered in to try to tickle her praying brother.  I expected some sort of outrage, but she stayed for a long time, her father clearly happy to see her.

It appeared to me that the magic of orthodox Judaism is that, for those it fits, many modern obstructions to family life are transcended. The need for men to think and feel like men; their need to be loved by women even though they think and feel like men; the reciprocal need of women; the need for adults and children to be "on the same page," to see the same world and agree on what they see: these treasures, so hard to come by in the "real world," seem to magically arrive, at least once a year, for orthodox Jewry.

Further notes: doctrinally, I could find no major distinctions between the orthodox and other Jewish denominations.  I did note an indifference to architecture.  The temple is an unremarkable structure on a residential street, the sanctuary all dry wall and plaster, even the Ark of the Torah a simple plywood cabinet.

Which brings me to the Conservative temple in St. Louis Park (a suburb of Minneapolis) where we attended evening services.  This temple was architecture intensive: visible from many blocks away, its imposingly arced and thrusting spire enveloped in a huge stained glass window which, from within, rises above the altar, beautifully illuminated by the setting sun.  Women, of course, were everywhere, sitting with the men, standing and singing on the bema, though the rabbis were men.  A final note: Conservative services entail considerably more mortification of the flesh than do Orthodox, with long periods of motionless standing (one such period lasting about a half hour).

Today we relax and re-enter the secular world, later this afternoon mediated by art at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. Will I be able to meet God there in other ways?  Stay tuned.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Happy Jewish new year!

Or, Shanah Tovah!  Sundown, Friday, 9/26, marked the end of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year.  It is now the year 5775, meaning that it's been 5,775 years since God created the universe and us.  Thus Rosh Hashanah is not in doctrinal conflict with the Christian new year, which indicates that 2,014 years have passed since the life of Jesus.

Of course, we don't choose religions based on our own calculations of when things happened.  The typical religious adherent is not an astrophysicist with a personally derived figure for the age of the universe.  We let the idea that the universe is less than six thousand years old slide by; we're interested more in the rest of the message.

The essence of Rosh Hashanah is that the closing of the old year, and the opening of the new, entail an accounting of things, a thinking about loose ends- especially involving people.  To this end, I wrote a college friend I hadn't spoken to in a while, telling him I wanted him to remain in my "book of life" in the new year.  He replied that he would.

Rosh Hashanah is part of an extended period of several weeks called the High Holy Days that culminate in Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, which begins at sundown tonight (Friday, 10/3), and concludes at sundown tomorrow, when people fast and visualize themselves standing before God.  The experience is expected to be wrenching, as God sees into your every part, and judges what He sees.

The High Holy Days are a catharsis, a way to deal with questions of self-worth, of human limitation.  It's interesting that synagogue attendance approaches 100% of congregants for the High Holy Days, which is the only time that many Jews attend services.  Attention Madison Avenue: Pain sells.

This year my wife and I will be celebrating the High Holy Days in two different ways.  We celebrated Rosh Hashanah at our Reform temple in L.A., "reform" indicating a loosening of ritual (dress codes, types of music, use of English as well as Hebrew), rather than doctrinal differences, and next week we'll be in St. Paul for Yom Kippur services at the orthodox temple my in-laws attend, where my wife and I were married 43 years ago.

That wedding was a big deal for my family, which had turned secular, on my dad's side, since my paternal great grandfather was killed in a pogrom in his village south of Kiev.  He had refused to interrupt Shabbat prayers and hide in the fields with the rest of the family (including my 10 year old grandfather), and so was cut down.  My grandfather, who with his mother and one brother emigrated to America, showed his reaction to his father's sacrifice by saying things like, "When you're dead, you're dead."  My parents, though they taught us that we were definitively Jewish, continued a secular tradition, eschewing all ritual, including observance of Jewish holidays and bar mitzvahs for their three sons.  Only my maternal grandmother was not happy with this (when I was 12 she defiantly took me to Yom Kippur services at her Hollywood temple, while the rest of the family went shopping).

The 1960's excited my inner Ukrainian's need for disorder, but it really was too disorderly.  After all the conventional sacraments- career, marriage, family and middle-class life- had been scornfully discarded, there was nothing left.  The orthodoxy and structure of my wife's family seemed like a balm.  I liked their "Lubavitcher" temple in St. Paul, which was surprising in its freedom of expression.  First of all, women are separated from men, in an ostensibly rather insulting fashion: the men are in the temple proper, where praying and relating to God happen.  Such activities are, apparently, not the domain of women, who are segregated behind a screen and tend to congregate in the kitchen.  Why did I like this?  I didn't at first, because it seemed a statement that spirituality is essentially male, that women's place is in earthly pursuits like cooking.  That would be a pretty outrageous idea all right, but it's not the idea of the women of the temple.  Spirits are high behind the screen, as the women share their views about male egotism and self-importance, laughing happily in the knowledge that they are actually running the whole show, including the spiritual part.

Regarding the men on their side of the screen, their form of prayer is considerably freer than in Reform temples, where congregants are restricted to their seats until told to stand, where all recitation is simultaneous and directed from the bema.  In an orthodox service, men stand and read in solitary fashion, engaged in "davening," a form of prayer involving physical expression of ecstatic visions.  Small children also experience quite a bit of freedom, and are allowed to swarm through the congregants and onto the bema.

To give our reform temple its due, its experimentation with music has led to some beautiful sounds which very much enhance the services.

Next week I will file a full report on my Yom Kippur experience at the Lubavitcher temple in St. Paul, as well as my wife's experience from behind the screen.  One thing I will be watching for is expression of political matters.  I was somewhat surprised to find that there was little mention of this summer's Gaza/Israeli war at Rosh Hashanah services.  That war is front and center in my mind as I consider the new year, but possibly it's too disturbing and unsettled to emphasize at what has become a family celebration.  We'll see if that's the case at the Lubavitcher temple.

Shanah Tova!

Friday, September 12, 2014

Obama's ISIS news conference

I have a great idea for a science fiction screenplay (like most teachers, I think about screenplays a lot), but rather than write it and fling it into the meat-grinder of hope, I'll post a synopsis here, so my readers can appreciate it without pop-corn:

                          Return to the Planet of the Humans

On an unstable planet in the Crainial Cluster, creatures called "humans" have progressed from a few thousand perishing and panicked progenitors to planet-wide domination- though they have not yet dominated themselves- with a speed many times faster than the ambient evolution.  At the time of the story, the most recent human civilization to achieve financial and military superiority over its neighbors has developed a conscience and wants to do good, so it elects a liberal icon as leader who promises peace but brings what they fondly term "world war."  This world war serves in turn as a cover for the expression of advanced technologies some of the humans have been working on, entailing abilities to recreate their own species from the molecular level and to re-create their planet.  The humans, as usual, never knew what hit them.  The End

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Joe Biden- be quiet!

It's not that I disagree that we need to stop ISIS- in the wake of the murders of two American hostages, of course we need to stop ISIS- it is dominated by sociopaths who have no business on the world stage. What, then, is wrong with Vice President Biden howling to the nation that we will follow the perps to "the gates of Hell!"?

What's wrong with Biden's demagogic outburst is that it is designed to preempt our mood, inserting lust for revenge as the default sentiment.   That might have been helpful when we needed to mobilize the troops, but we're not going to get rid of ISIS with troops.  That job will be done by a few technicians who are already motivated and focused.  There is no need for the VP to lead the rest of us in frenzied celebration of our inner homicidal chimpanzee.  We can take care of the business of war without worshipping it.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Robin Williams

Why is Robin Williams's suicide so upsetting to so many people?  I look into myself and find that I too am more upset by his suicide than I have been by others.  Maybe the effect comes from Williams' ability to project into any kind of person, so that just about everyone has been moved or cheered by him (for me the moment came when Williams explained why comedy worked to start his career but acting did not: "I'd be auditioning for Hamlet and go, 'To be or not...line?'").

It is just this effect, the identification with the suicide, that makes people angry at suicides.  How could they do this to us?, we wonder.  How could they seem to suggest suicide?

I feel a sort of anger, or disappointment that Williams didn't leave a note, with perhaps some hopeful thought, some indication that he's not mad at us, that it's not our fault, and maybe a reference to what a good life he had.  

A common theme in suicide notes is aging.  The notes of younger people speak of despair of the moment, with the subtext that, after the pain of youth, rather than some reward for perseverance, there is just a black hole of decrepitude and painful death (per the bumper sticker, "Life sucks, then you die").  In the notes of older people, there is often a reaction to the arrival of that decrepitude.  I found a clip of Williams talking about his recent heart surgery.  Unlike almost every other available footage of him, he was not "on," but appeared sober and humbled, and he talked about being humbled.  Did the prospect of old age do him in?  It's a meaningful question for me, as I am five years older than Williams, and my hip replacement last year, though mild in the panoply of surgical ordeals, was still plenty humbling.  Thus I am searching for my answer to Williams' suicide.

We have no answer to old age.  Some people commit suicide because they can't get a career going, or because someone left them, or because the world looks dark and uncaring.  All of these things can be handled if events take a good turn, but old age cannot be handled.  It's going to happen whether you've been lucky in life or not, whether you played by the rules or not, whether you've been loved or not.

That's not enough, of course, to explain suicide- if it were, then everyone would commit suicide, and most people, obviously, do not.  What's the difference between people who commit suicide and people who don't?

The difference may boil down to one's view of the world.  If it is dark, hopeless and doomed, well then, that on top of growing old would be a tough proposition.  Is there something about the timing of Williams' death that has hit us so hard?  Does the world look particularly hopeless at this time?

I'd say that it does.  The turn to war, or what seems an imminent turn to war throughout the world, is appalling, though no one should be surprised by it.  You could see it coming the moment World War II ended, but now that it's here, looming around us like old age, it's scant comfort to say it was predictable.

What gets me, and I wonder if this got Williams too, is the utter stupidity of what is happening, the lack of human leadership in our own fate.  Are war and general mayhem the best we can come up with, even now with all our capabilities?  Is our future history going to be the same as our past: cycles of prosperity, competition, boredom, anger, war and death, followed by a dark age, followed by a new cycle pre-doomed to be fatally flawed itself, or will the biotech and cybernetic revolutions stabilize us at last?  It's hard to know what to wish for amongst such choices.

Particularly upsetting to me is the Gaza/Israeli war, because I am a Jew.  I've never before felt such an implosion of values, such paradoxes.  Robin Williams' suicide has brought home to me the need for things to make sense.  This babel, this jumble of narratives is not acceptable!  I spent last month with my wife on a European art tour, thinking about Gaza the whole time.  The trip gave me some perspective and a voice.  The next essay on this blog is the result.  I hope it is meaningful for the reader.

RIP, Robin Williams.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Tourism, narrative and the Gaza/Israeli war

Part I part of this essay reviews experiences and thoughts inspired by an art tour of the Netherlands (with side trips to Belgium and London) that my wife and I took this summer ('14).  Part II recounts a theory of social narratives with a perspective on the Israeli/Gaza war.  Part III is a short conclusion.

Part I.  The art tour

Our tour was lead by the wise and knowledgeable art historian JP Thornton.  Its focus was northern-European masters of the last five hundred years.  The focus on art was overlaid with news of war, which was continual from the morning we assembled in the Tom Bradley Terminal at Los Angeles International Airport for our departure.  One week earlier, a civilian Malaysian airliner, originating from Amsterdam- our destination that day- had been shot down in an apparent act of war over the Ukraine.  We spoke little of it, but it was on everyone's mind.

It was fitting that our quest began in Amsterdam, the center of a culture unique in the world, encompassing unusual extremes of good and bad, which the Dutch juggle continuously and very well.

The Dutch first appear in history as a Germanic tribe, the Batavians, under threat from the Roman Empire.  With great foresight, political organization and skill, they chose a swampy land deemed undesirable by the Romans (and difficult to attack), drained it and over a thousand years became a rich and powerful country.

The Dutch were pioneers in banking and investment, and their eye for commerce continues today with the startlingly open Red Light District and marijuana “coffee shops,” which attract tourism of all ages and serve to make prostitution and marijuana use (relatively benign in the spectrum of human vice) safer.

This is the country that saved much of world Jewry by inviting in the Sephardic Jews of Spain after they were threatened with extinction by the Spanish Inquisition, a process that included formal expulsion in 1492 (an easy date to remember).  The Netherlands placed a smart bet on the Jews- the collaboration brought prosperity.

Our travel group had chosen the lens of art through which to view history and politics.  JP planned an itinerary that led us directly to the 17th Century Dutch “Golden Age," with masters like Rembrandt and Rubens, where we beheld a culture that, unlike most around it, valued beauty that could extend to “commoners,” real looking countryside, and even, in the case of Breughal and Bosch (of the geographically superimposed Flemish tribe) to the inner processes of the human psyche, in ways missing from conventionally prized classical art.

The Dutch have their problematic side, of course.  Their aggressive colonialism contributed greatly to the inequality and chaos of today’s Indonesia and South Africa.  Our stimulating and informative French/Dutch tour guide, Marie, told us that the throngs of Arab and African immigrants now arriving throughout western Europe want to take back what they perceive was stolen from them, and they see the old European colonial cultures as their rightful "candy store."  I know the feeling: When the Spanish expelled the Jews, ostensibly a result of Spanish preference for Catholicism, what they really wanted was to steal Jewish property and cancel Jewish debt.  I've fantasied about whether the Jews, as some sort of coherent body of creditors, could wouldn't work for me, though: my ancestors were Azhkenazi, from the Ukraine and Eastern Europe, who had nothing to do with Spain.   Damn!

As we ponder today's precarious world and assess its viability, the selfish and short sighted aspects of colonialism are undeniably culpable, but there are cracks in contemporary civilization that require scrutiny.  Marie pointed out to us the highly destructive subway project in Amsterdam,  featuring cranes and piles of dirt that have been congesting the canals and streets for ten years, costing billions of dollars and achieving no subway, as the medieval houses along the construction zones tilt ominously from the undermining of their soggy foundations.  Such depredation of the past is familiar to people in Los Angeles, where "the past" is in short supply anyway, but it was shocking to see in old Europe.  The long lived, art-based ancient civilizations like the Mayan and Egyptian knew a secret we are forgetting: beautiful cultures last longer than ugly ones.  

We noticed too, in the three countries on our itinerary, an inability to fix seemingly fixable problems, like those involving traffic flow.  In Amsterdam, due to an infatuation with bicycle transportation in the ‘70’s, it can be life threatening to cross a sidewalk to the curb, because on many streets a throughway for bikes occupies half the sidewalk, on the curbside, with no clear understanding of right of way, so that crossing a street involves, not just waiting for a green “Walk” signal, but agility in navigating the sidewalks on either side.  Hundreds of injuries a year occur from this ill-thought out system (a lady in our group was struck by a bike as she stepped from the bus to the curb), with no apparent attempt to figure it out.

We like to fret about foreign invasion, drought and famine, but it is the inability to solve everyday problems that dooms a civilization- the wars are just a distraction from the crumbling structures within.

Part II.  Narratives of war

To call wars a distraction may seem counter-intuitive, but that is my contention.  War was certainly a distraction on our art tour, as the news was dominated by Gaza and Israeli.  Many of our group were Jewish, and a lively discussion of the events in Gaza persisted among the art discussions.  Marie and JP shared their opinions too, so that we had a dual identity of art tour and political discussion group.  There was much to ponder regarding conflicting narratives, in particular as Jewish passengers shared stories from "alternative" news sources, often with unfamiliar names.  These stories gave meaning to apparently missing elements in the mainstream news articles, filling gaps in the narrative.

History is written not only after events, but before.  I learned this when I lived near UCLA in the '70's, in the years leading up to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979.  I would read the L.A. Times in the morning, then walk to the research library and read the English edition of Pravda.  What I found was that each story in Pravda that involved the Soviet Union in conflict with Afghani peoples was re-written with an antithetical narrative in the Times.  In Pravda, Soviet forces were depicted assisting Afghani victims of Afghani oppressors, while in the Times those same "victims" became barbaric monsters doing unspeakable things to their "victims," the erstwhile "oppressors".  Both accounts sounded convincing, and there was no way to tell which was true.  The narratives presented in the mainstream press of each country were almost universally accepted by its citizens as truth, while the narratives of the other country were either unknown or perceived as blatant lies.

The fallout from such manipulated hostility can persist for years, and it persists today as the Afghan fighters we armed and supported against the Soviets developed, after we left, into the Taliban.

There is nothing new in the practice of manipulating news to stimulate warlike emotions in the populace.  Before invading Poland, Hitler proclaimed that, "Germans in Poland are persecuted with a bloody terror and are driven from their homes."  This view was supported by his loyal media, and the German people clove obediently to it.  Of course the allies' narrative was that Hitler attacked Poland because he was a homicidal megalomaniac bent on empire.  Although I view the latter narrative as the more likely, my point is that narratives drive wars, and narratives are unreliable.  Thus, while we read that Ukrainian separatists cruelly shot down the Malaysian airliner, Russians read that no one knows who shot the plane down and that the whole thing is a plot to destabilize the Ukraine and turn it against Russia.  The truth?  Who knows?  All we know for sure is that we are being manipulated by narratives.  

In this context I come to my reaction, as a Jew, to the Gaza/Israeli war.  What am I to make of the stories about Israeli jets blowing up hospitals and homes?  In a poignant twist, a stream of stories about Israeli attacks on Gaza appeared on the day we visited the Anne Frank House and toured the old Jewish neighborhood of Amsterdam, which had existed for five hundred years, since the Spanish expulsion.  The Nazi army rounded up all the men, women and children in this neighborhood and sent them to camps where they attempted to kill them all.  How could they do this?  Because in the Nazi narrative the Jews were a powerful force that threatened to destroy Germany.  Roaming the old neighborhood lined with plaques and museums about the horror, I was reminded of why, since I first studied World War II, I have believed that the Jews need a state.  When I use the term "state," I mean a powerful state, one with military force, so that when the next Hitler comes, and there always seems to be a next Hitler, the Jews, instead of walking like sheep to the slaughter, can turn on the aggressors and bring them down.  It's a natural response, is it not?  And is there not some truth to it?

But it was here, in this Dutch neighborhood evoking the humiliation and death of Jews without a state, that we read stories of the current Jewish state and its actions in Gaza.  Something seemed missing in the narrative.  Would Israel bomb refugee centers without a supporting narrative?  It seemed impossible, and indeed there was more narrative to be found.  We received a steady diet of it from members of the group who were finding stories on their tablets and mobile phones: Civilians in Gaza are instructed by Hamas to claim militant casualties as civilian, grossly inflating the civilian death count. The tunnels were purposely built close to civilian areas so that attacking them would kill civilians and provide propaganda coups for Hamas.  Why bomb the tunnels and provide Hamas with the propaganda?  Because the tunnels in Gaza extended far into Israel, under Israeli towns, where they were filled with powerful explosives which were to be detonated during the High Holy Days in September, when Israeli families come together, killing up to 50,000 Israeli men, women and children, in an attack meant to dwarf 9/11.  What is the Hamas narrative?  Well, of course, it is that none of this is true.  Which narrative is the truth?  How should I know?

What, then, are we supposed to believe?  The answer is clear: We are supposed to believe the narrative of whatever group we are a member of.

Such thoughts did not resolve the problem for me, but they did relieve the burden of wondering if Israel is the moral monster, while Hamas is the virtuous victim.  Hamas deserves every bit of the world-wide condemnation that Israel is currently receiving- because of the narrative it is writing.  After the killing of the three Israeli boys that inflamed Jews around the world and ostensibly started the war, all eyes turned to Hamas for its comment.  That comment was that, while Hamas had not ordered the killings, it condoned them. There was no reported protest to this statement.  What can be gleaned from this is that Hamas' constituency, the people of Gaza- or at least the Hamas supporters among them- accept killing of Israeli children as part of their narrative, because that narrative depicts all Jews as evil and deserving of death.  That is not a morally convincing narrative to me, so at the very least, although I do not hold up Israel's behavior as blameless,  I reject the Manichean dichotomy of "Israel bad/Hamas good."  And with the loss of this distinction, I retain my conviction that the state of Israel has as much moral right to exist as any of the other flawed nations of this earth.  

Returning to the idea that war is a distraction, I don't mean this in the sense that, as one narrative has it, the downing of the Malaysian airliner was a distraction from the Gaza/Israeli war, but in the sense that all the wars on earth, with the hatred of perceived enemies they entail, are distractions from the real enemies of our species.  These enemies include ineptitude at solving the mechanical concerns of civilization, like the traffic problems mentioned above, but they also include, at least potentially- and I realize this requires a new essay- the coming bio-tech and cybernetic revolutions, through which we will recreate our species, redefining everything it has meant to be human for the last two million years.  If we're busy fighting each other, we won't see those revolutions coming, and we won't have a say in how they play out.

Part III.  Conclusion

The trip was a blast!  The company was great and we had a valuable prism for viewing the world.  Hopefully tourism will survive another few decades, so that we can continue to enjoy the balm of travel and the perspective it inspires, as our new history unfolds.


Wednesday, July 16, 2014

$6.99 is too much to pay Time-Warner for a rental

That's what I'm sweating in my living room tonight- I've got the house to myself and I'm looking at this potentially interesting movie but when I see it costs $6.99 I get upset. On the one hand I could spend the evening pondering all the ways we're soon to go extinct: nuclear war, bioterror, climate change, the genetic engineering of our replacements, boredom, anger- but none of this tonight, at least for me, is able to compete with my rage at Time-Warner for charging $6.99 for a movie I don't even know if I'll like. What does it mean, this preference for the passing peeve over the great DOOM? Does it mean that the truth is so sickeningly awful that we can't actually think about it for very long, or....stay with me it because, just maybe, it really is terrible that Time-Warner would charge, well, anything to rent a movie. I already paid the bastards, now they want more for this over-hyped stuff? Before going any further I want to mention- what the reader may well have noted- that I'm using a standard s.o.c. (stream of consciousness) style, and also that I've decided to write, for now, without paragraphs. This last might sound odd from a former English teacher who enforced on generations the solemn duty to write in paragraphs, but it's just the way I feel. I realized I don't always have to give the reader such a blatant signal that I've shifted focus. You, the current reader, can tell already when I shift focus, can't you? Not that I claim to be doing this as a great artist would. As, for instance, Cormac McCarthy did when he stopped using quotation marks, and then he stopped describing his characters' physical selves. The difference between me and McCarthy is that he never said, "Hey, look, I stopped using quotation marks," while I felt the need to announce my experiment, as if in fear of reprimand for breaking rules. That's what happens when you give up fiction and sign-on for the literal, where rules are rules. And when you retire from English teaching, you say to your former students, "Consider this: you have to know about paragraphs before you can stop using them." You have to know about anything to stop doing it, otherwise you don't know what you stopped doing, or why you stopped. This gives an insight into original sin. It's said that we don't have to have bitten the forbidden fruit ourselves to have, more or less, virtually bitten it, and to decide, again, not to bite it. But, as noted, you can't stop doing something unless you are first doing it. The resolution, I think, is that we bite the apple (as popularly conceived) when we first achieve consciousness. Then we see ourselves, what we are made of, our appetites, our actions. Then we see other people, and note similar patterns. Not only does the apple not fall far from the tree, it grows on the tree. In the Wizard of Oz when the apple trees, under the influence of a witch, pick their own apples and throw them at Dorothy et al, they are throwing knowledge at them, packets of understanding that the innocent travelers are not ready for, one of many assaults during their quest that lead Dorothy to choose the drab plains of Kansas over the sensuality and vivid life of choose Auntie Em over the Wicked Witch. I'd like to see a movie about that, but I'm still not sure I'd pay $6.99 for it.