For Justice Lewis Brandeis, the formation of citizens capable of self-government was an end even higher than distributive justice. He wrote:
"It's absolutely essential in order that men may develop that they be properly fed and properly housed, and that they have proper opportunities for education and recreation. We cannot reach our goal without these things. But we may have these things and be a nation of slaves." _________________________________________________________
8:00 to 9:00 PM Talk about Obama speech; what he might say, should say, could say.
9:00 to 10:00 PM Obama speech.
10:00 to 11:00 PM Talk about Obama speech: what he did say, what he should have said, what he didn't say.
This waste of time, this misuse of mind, this is what passes for serious discussion leading to an informed public? I don't think so.
Howard Zinn died today. America is a poorer nation for his passing. If you have never heard of him, don't vote anymore. Stay home. The rest of us will be better off. _________________________________________________________
At the top of My Blog List (to the left) is a site called About Last Night, an intelligent and literate site that I go to often to see what the provider, Terry Teachout, has to offer. Today, in a post called A Great Actor Reads, it has the recorded voice of Charles Laughton reading for an audience . Please check it out. In the first one, he reads from Jack Kerouac's book The Dharma Bums. I was struck by how much the reading reminded me of the Dylan Thomas poem Fern Hill. What a voice Laughton had! ____________________________________________________________
While rummaging through my desk drawer this morning, I found a tag from a tea bag that I had removed and saved some months ago because I found it humorous. The following is printed on the tag:
"Don't let it end like this. Tell them I said something." Pancho Villa, last words (1877-1923)
Poor Pancho. I recall how, in the long ago past, one would see or read the 'last words' of famous people in any number of places: books, magazines, newspapers, etc. Was it the mystery or fear of death that made people hover at deathbeds waiting for some sign that the dying person could see ahead to the other world? Perhaps they expected a tidy summing up of the dying person's life experiences and they might be given some wisdom, a rule for life. But I can't recall seeing the last words of anyone who had died since, say, 1950. I wonder why. My guess is either they die so quickly they don't have a chance to speak, or they are so filled up with pain-killing drugs that the mind and speech organs won't work. Poor Pancho. Had a chance but was at a loss for words. ________________________________________________________________________________________
It is official. The Nigerian jihadist who attempted to blow explosives on a jet liner on Christmas Day has been officially charged with attempted murder using a Weapon of Mass Destruction, said WMD being a piece of explosive hidden in his briefs. This term, WMD, needs some explanation, some definition. What constitutes a mass killing? Is it six? 600? 6000? 6,000,000? What constitutes a Weapon of Mass Destruction? An atomic bomb? Poison Gas? 12 ounces of explosive? The attack on the World Trade Center killed just under 3000 people. What was the weapon there? Was it the airplane? The jet fuel? The terrorists? When we invaded Iraq to find weapons of mass destruction, what were we looking for? A shoe bomber appears and travellers have to remove their shoes. An underwear bomber appears but people don't have to remove their underwear. Do you get my point? I'm confused. I don't have any answers to the questions above because I am confused. So are the people who are in charge of our security. Does that make you feel safe? ____________________________________________________________
Today compassion is not thought of as an inherent quality of the human spirit, an inner resource with us always, and used to make the world more amenable. No. today, compassion is a quantifiable possession that we own in quantities of less or more (depending on our genes) and which we dole out sometimes when we find a suitable party for its application, preferably tax deductible. Today, compassion is synonymous with charity. ___________________________________________________________
A few weeks ago, I purchased a used book, The Life of Galileo by Bertolt Brecht. The softcover book was published in London in 1964 by Methuen & Co Ltd. The cover is a photograph from a scene in the play which shows Galileo (played by Laughton) with his hands clasped behind his head as he sits conversing with a pupil sitting at a telescope. Until now, I was unaware that Charles Laughton had performed any Brechtian dramas. (Mea culpa) It was interesting to find the book contains Author's Notes on the play which comment on the message, on the best production of the play, and on Laughton's contribution. There is one paragraph in the Notes titled Laughton's Galileo and I reproduce it here:
"The novelty of Galileo in his day was brought out by Laughton letting him gaze with a stranger's eyes at the world around him, as if it were something requiring an explanation. His laughing observation of the monks in te Collegium Romanum made fossils of them. Here, incidentally, he displayed pleasure in their primitive argumentation. "A few people raised objections to L. delivering the first-scene speech about the new astronomy with his torso bare; they said the public might be confused by hearing such inrtellectual utterances from a half-naked man. But just that very mixture of spiritual and physical interested L. 'Galileo's physical pleasure', when the boy rubbed his back, was transmuted into intellectual creativeness. Thus L. emphasised that Galileo is once more enjoying his wine when, in Scene 9, he hears that the reactionary Pope lies dying. His relaxed way of walking up and down, and the play of his hands in his breeches pockets when planning new researches, verged on the shocking. Whenever Galileo is in a creative mood, L. displayed a contradictory mixture of aggressiveness and defenseless softness and vulnerability."
Are there two such creative artists today as these two? And, if there were, would they collaborate in translation and production to mount such a play briefly in two cities only? And would the play be about the world and life and man instead of personal problems or family issues? Call me nostalgic, but I don't think so.
"Every time I hear a political speech or I read those of our leaders, I am horrified at having, for years, heard nothing which sounded human. It is always the same words telling the same lies. And the fact that men accept this, that the people's anger has not destroyed these hollow clowns, strikes me as proof that men attribute no importance to the way they are governed."
Albert Camus _____________________________________________________________
Something brought the memory of Charles Laughton to my mind the other day. I remembered being charmed and instructed by his readings which were popular in the fifties. He was a superb actor as can be seen in the following video. This clip is from a 1948 Hollywood movie called "On Our Merry Way". Hard to believe, but this scene was cut from the movie. In fact, I understand that all his work was removed from this particular film as not fitting the story theme. Fortunately, the cuts were saved for our enjoyment today.
The following were taken from the weekly flyer of the Publix supermarket some years ago:
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So many choices; so little time. ________________________________________________________
I at last discovered that there was in me an invincible summer." Albert Camus
January 4, 2010 was the fiftieth anniversary of the death of Albert Camus, French author and winner of the Nobel prize for literature two years earlier. I still feel the shock I felt when I heard the news and I remember exactly where and when I heard it. I had been employed since September 1959 as a construction laborer working on a project called Sterling Forest Gardens in Tuxedo, NY. It was noon, lunch time, and I was sitting in the front passenger seat of Tommy Niesolowski's Chevy sedan. Tommy was in the driver's seat and had just turned the car radio on. We were opening our brown lunch bags and Tommy was talking away about something when I heard the radio newsman say 'Albert Camus' and my mind zeroed in to hear 'was killed yesterday in a single car accident while returning to Paris'. There were one or two more references to Camus which I missed as my mind drifted off to ponder the loss, deal with the feeling of sadness. Over the years, I have reread the books of Camus more than any other author. When a reader feels that an author is speaking directly to him (or her), that author has made a connection, has written well. I sensed his decency and courage, his virility, and tried as best I could to emulate him. My favorite piece is the short essay "Return To Tipasa". I have read it or parts of it scores of times. I read it as Christians will read the 23rd psalm.
Just when you think you have some basic understanding of how things work and what holds the world together, you come across this and Whoa! - there just might be an alternate universe.
"The action for an //-dimensional supermembrane contains a chiral Wess-Zumino-Witten model coupling to the E8 super-Yang-Mills theory on the end-of-the-world 9-brane. It is demonstrated that this boundary string theory is dictated both by gauge invariance and by kappa symmetry"
from a paper by Martin Cederwall Institute for Theoretical Physics, Goteborg University, Goteborg, Sweden _______________________________________________________
I keep trying to find modern fiction readable and keep finding disappointment. For example:
Tree of Smoke, by Denis Johnson. This book won the National Book award and I cannot figure why. It is the most poorly written novel that I have read in a long time. Ugly sentence construction. Faulty syntax. Catatonic description. And a theme so tiresome and overworked, one feels like a losing participant in a contest to see who can consume the most hotdogs in one hour.
Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close, by Jonathan Safran Foer. Excellent title because, when finished reading, I felt as if I had just watched 18 hours of television nonstop. There wasn't enough wine in the house to restore my equilibrium, so I went to bed, hoping sleep would clear my mind. It helped.
This is the last part of a longer poem called A Dialogue Of Self And Soul, by William Butler Yeats, the great Irish Poet. Seems fitting for the start of a New Year.
Myself: A living man is blind and drinks his drop. What matter if the ditches are impure? What matter if I live it all once more? Endure that toil of growing up; The ignominy of boyhood; the distress of boyhood changing into man; The unfinished man and his pain Brought face to face with his own clumsiness;
The finished man among his enemies? - How in the name of Heaven can he escape That defiling and disfigured shape The mirror of malicious eyes Casts upon his eyes until at last He thinks that shape must be his shape? And what's the good of an escape If honour find him in the wintry blast?
I am content to live it all again And yet again, if it be life to pitch Into the frog spawn of a blind man's ditch, A blind man battering blind men; Or into that most fecund ditch of all, The folly that man does Or must suffer, if he woos A proud woman not kindred of his soul.
I am content to follow to its source Every event in action or in thought; Measure the lot; forgive myself the lot! When such as I cast out remorse So great a sweetness flows into the breast We must laugh and we must sing, We are blest by everything, Everything we look upon is blest.
New Years Day and time to make resolutions, they say. I can only renew (re-resolve?) my resolution of several years standing:
to try to be more approachable to overtures from strangers.
For example, while moving through the checkout line at the supermarket a few weeks ago, I heard a woman's voice ask "Excuse me, sir, are those pomegranates?" (I had two pomegranates on the conveyor in the middle of other supplies.) I turned to see a woman of my generation (my age?) and I said "Yes, they are." "I haven't seen a pomegranate tree in 70 years", she said looking straight at me. The word 'tree' opened a curious tangent but I didn't follow. "The fruits appear only at Christmas", I said. "I'll have to get some", she replied. "Don't wait too long", I said, "They are starting to go soft." "Well", she said, "I don't have time to go back today." Driving home, I realized that, after checking out, I should have handed one of the pomegrantes to this woman and bid her enjoy it. Twas the season, after all, and it might have made both of us feel good. Instead I berated my self for being a self-absorbed ass. Perhaps I can't change. For almost as long as I can remember, when a stranger approaches me to speak, my first reaction is either What does this person want? or What is this person going to do? Apprehension always short circuits my responses and my thinking, and so I fail either to address the needs of the other or to leave the moment satisfied with my conduct. There have been scores, perhaps hundreds of such failed connections. One that has been haunting me lately occured in the Fifties on the campus of the University I was attending. A girl who often seemed to be alone (I had noticed her before) approached me on the sidewalk and, clutching her books to her chest, asked me if I would like to have coffee with her. (She may have asked me because I was alone on campus, always.) No, no", I said, "No thanks", and started to turn away. "Oh, please", she said, "Please. Have a coffee with me." I felt her air of desperation, I saw the rising fear of rejection in her eyes, but I was unable to respond like a normal human. "I'm sorry", I said, "but I can't." and I turned away. I am not absolved from guilt when I report that I was an emotional vacuum at that time. Nature, we know, doesn't like a vacuum, and two or three days later I had a breakdown, followed by a second one the following week. Subsequently, I abandoned the University a day or two later, never to return to Mount Oread. So, here I am, an old man on a rainy night regretting this sin against life and hope. There are methods other than the physical that can injure or kill a person. ______________________________________________________________________________________