Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Nietzsche’s Concept of Eternal Recurrence

"This life as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more; and there will be nothing new in it, but every pain and every joy and every thought and sigh and everything immeasurably small or great in your life must return to you-all in the same succession and sequence-even this spider and this moonlight between the trees, and even this moment and I myself. The eternal hourglass of existence is turned over and over, and you with it, a grain of dust." ~Friedrich Nietzsche

“Do you remember what you told me once? That every passing minute is another chance to turn it all around.” ~ Tom Cruise as David Aames, Vanilla Sky


Some people consider Friedrich Nietzsche one of the most exciting philosophers of all time. Certainly his ideas have been influential and his writing dramatic. And whatever your take on his point of view, the themes he addresses are provoking enough to give us something to gnaw on and make us think. And in the end, to some extent, maybe that was all he intended in a world where people generally just went about their business and accepted the values of the culture they were immersed in.

The quote above addresses one of his original constructs, the idea of life being an eternal recurrence. Christian teaching is not alone in giving weight to the decisions of this life by indicating their significance with regard to eternal outcomes. Nietzsche, on the other hand, chooses to suggest our decisions in this life have weight because how we choose to live today will be replayed over and over again unto eternity.

It’s a very unusual perspective in some respects, a variant on reincarnation, which also has us returning indefinitely, but in differing capacities. Scholars have argued whether the idea is meant as a serious conjecture or a concept to make us more thoughtful about our behavior here and now.

I would suggest that Nietzsche’s sole intent with this concept of eternal recurrence was to get us plugged in to the significance of our acts. His was a brilliant mind, but as far as I am aware he does not offer a supporting argument for the notion proposed. It is a certainty that he understood that even if we ourselves were recurring, our circumstances would not be, for times change, culture changes, history is unfolding all around us.

This theme of eternal recurrence is echoed in Cameron Crowe’s film Vanilla Sky. Once one grasps the film’s premise, the viewer is like Theseus following Ariadne’s thread to find his way through the labyrinth. In the film, David Aames is unaware that he is experiencing this “eternal recurrence”, but only knows that something is terribly wrong. The climactic scene on the rooftop brings a number of historically significant philosophical questions to the surface.

Of Nietzsche, we know that his ideas went on to influence innumerable existential philosophers and lay the groundwork for postmodern explorers. He lived passionately, a philosopher whose roots were less grounded in reason (the dominant theme of the Rennaissance and modern rationalism) and drawn more from the Dionysian, the experiential and the irrational.

While living in Italy, Nietzsche had a nervous breakdown while witnessing a man beating a horse. Embracing the horse, whose suffering was more than he could bear, Nietzsche fell apart and spent the last ten years of his life in a broken state.

Nietzsche’s writings are challenging to put your mind around in part because he did not believe it necessary to have a systematic, rational viewpoint. More than once he declares his distrust of systematizers. In this regard he may have foreshadowed the postmodernists who do not find it necessary to be altogether consistent in their own views. He may have even suggested that atttempts to be consistent are a waste of time.

What matters, he asserted, is not getting everything figured out, but experiencing our lives as fully as possible and becoming all we’re meant to be. “The present moment is all, so let us make the best use of it and of ourselves.” With that I would agree; the truth is true wherever it is found.

The two photos on this page are of the house where Nietzche lived in Turin, at via Carlo Albierto 6, when he had his nervous breakdown and of the plaque stating that Nietzsche lived there. In 1861Turin was the first capital of united Italy. The capital later moved to Florence and ultimately to Rome.

I painted the portrait featuring Nietzsche’s famous mustache, above right, this past weekend.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

No Place Like Home, If You Live In Italy

“Making mental connections is our most crucial learning tool, the essence of human intelligence; to forge links; to go beyond the given; to see patterns, relationships, context” ~Marilyn Ferguson

When I wrote my Architectural Reflections last week I was essentially commenting on how it was once church structures that were dominant in cities but that the new structures in which we invested our imaginations were symbols of commerce (New York skyscrapers) or of excess (Vegas casinos.) What I did not talk much about is the history that is contained in the buildings themselves.

I am thinking this morning of European architecture, especially Rennaissance era buildings into which so much human creativity and imagination has been poured. The trigger for this was an email from our friend Mario Monasterolo, a historian in Northern Italy. Upon reading Sunday's comments on Pavarotti, Mario sent me these photos from Modena, where Pavarotti's life originated.

What's fascinating is that my father-in-law was there during the war, and described his emotions in response to Modena. Mario took the time to locate the passage from Bud's war memoir, And There Shall Be Wars.

Mario wrote, "Pavarotti was born in Modena; Bud was there and wrote wonderful words!" Then cited these:

"It was nice to go through Modena, a city of over 150.000. There were no old narrow streets here, and there was a really tall 290 foot cathedral. Parma was another city worthy of forfeiting a furlough in order to see... Saving these cities had to have been part of the glory of the war..."
These were scenes that made an impression on a young man from rural Northern Minnesota.

When you do a Google search for the words "European architecture" an astonishing array of images is now at your fingertips, courtesy the Internet. Some people have loved Italian architecture so much that they wanted to bring it home with them to America. In fact, that is exactly what John Ringling, youngest of the Ringling brothers did, purchasing a fifteenth century opera house from a village outside Venice, dismantling and reassembling it in its entirety in Sarasota, Florida.

With so much history on every street, in every villa and vista, it's no wonder that people like Mario Monasterolo have developed a passion for making connections with the past, bringing it to life in the present so we can enrich our futures.

Thanks, Mario, for these images and all the rest.

Monday, September 28, 2009

SHORT STORY MONDAY

This is a very short story about the origin of the blues. It was inspired by Mark Twain's Diaries of Adam and Eve. I only recently learned that Twain only wrote Adam's diary initially, but then wrote Eve's thirty years later. Or vice versa. The two were blended eventually and you can purchase it at Amazon.

BLUE

Blue began when the world was new, but not so new as the very beginning. The original world was black and white. Eventually, God decided that color should be added to His wonderful creation.

In an effort to protect His integrity (He had already declared all things good) He broke white light up into sections and called it color. This was how the color blue came into being.

At first, Adam and Eve were so enamored by their new experiences with color that they never even thought about why the world was originally created in black and white. But after a while, when they had settled into their new technicolor paradise, they began to wonder. "Why did God originally create the world in black and white? Was He trying to withhold something from us?"

It was at this point that they doubted God’s goodness. Was He really concerned for their best interest? What was the point in making a black and white world if He had been capable of making color right from the start? Had the black and white version of the world been a mistake? Does God really know what He's doing?

Such questionings, it would appear, led directly to Eve's being seduced by the serpent. (Though it may have been that forbidden Red apples are more enticing than forbidden black and white ones.)

After the Fall, Adam and Eve became acutely aware of why God had been so reluctant to give them a full-spectrum technicolored world.

As a result of the apple incident, Adam and Eve were banished from Paradise forever, which put them both in quite a bad mood. Adam sank into a depression. The following evening, (a time of day which he also blamed on his significant other) he lay on his back feeling particularly mournful and low. As he lay staring at the deepening twilight sky it entered his mind to compose a poem, soon to be published in an early anthology called Man's First Poems, Volume One. The poem was rather inferior in quality, but still maintains its historical significance. Whether it was the color of the sky he was trying to name, or the feeling he was analyzing at that moment in time, the word has forever become associated with grief and sadness.

This is the true origin of the blues.

EDNOTE: Unless otherwise noted, the paintings and illustrations on my blog are my work alone and available for sale. If you see something here that makes you say, "I gotta have it," be sure to let me know and we can negotiate a price. Feel free to click on images to enlarge.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Pavarotti, Nessun Dorma and the Meaning of Wow

"A thing of beauty is a joy forever." ~John Keats

I was in a conversation recently with some people talking about the question, "When was the last time you cried?" and at the moment I couldn't remember. It's harder for men, I think, and though the release of a good bawl feels good, it doesn't seem like something you make happen at will.

And you know how it is when you can't remember where you put something or you can't remember a name, so it was that I left that conversation trying to remember... when did I cry last, a really good cry?

A few days passed and it came to me. A number of years ago I was listening to a CD in my car, to this song by Pavarotti, Nessun Dorma. There is something powerfully emotional about beauty.

That Pavarotti was a sensation is an understatement. One only needs to recite the accollades of his career, spanning from 1961 to two years ago this month. Perhaps his Guinness Book of World Records for Most Curtain Calls can be seen as telling. 165!

Of the song itself, the title means "None Shall Sleep." It is an aria from the final act of Puccini's opera Turandot. In the opera, Turandot is a beautiful but cold hearted princess. Her beauty is such many a man has desired her, but to win her heart they must answer three questions or be beheaded. It's a high risk game to fall in love with a beautiful cold-heart maiden.

The one who sings it is Calaf, "the unknown prince." Calaf has answered the questions but she recoils at the thought of marrying him. Calaf' puts a riddle to her... she has to guess his name by dawn. If she succeeds, she may behead him. If she fails, she must marry him.

Against this backdrop we hear the theme music rise... and Pavarotti sings.

Nessun dorma

Nessun dorma! Nessun dorma!
Tu pure, o Principessa,
nella tua fredda stanza
guardi le stelle che tremano
d`amore e di speranza!

Ma il mio mistero è chiuso in me,
il nome mio nessun sapr"!
No, no, sulla tua bocca lo dirò,
quando la luce splender"!
Ed il mio bacio scioglier"
il silenzio che ti fa mia!

Dilegua, o notte! Tramontate, stelle!
Tramontate, stelle! All`alba vincerò!
Vincerò! Vincerò!

Here is a YouTube video of Pavarotti performing this fabulous piece. I found it especially amusing that it has Spanish subtitles. The English translation follows.




Nessun dorma

No man will sleep! No man will sleep!
You too, oh Princess,
in your virginal room,
watch the stairs
trembling with love and hope!

But my secret lies hidden within me,
no-one shall discover my name!
Oh no, I will reveal it only on your lips
when daylight shines forth!
And my kiss shall break
the silence that makes you mine!

Depart, oh night! Set, you stars!
Set, you stars! At dawn I shall win!
I shall win! I shall win!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Lack of Civility Gives Us Something To Talk About

Anyone with an ear half open to D.C. politics is aware that Representative Wilson behaved badly when he shouted “You lie!” during a recent speech by President Obama earlier this month. What most people do not comment on, because we forget our history, is that Representative Wilson was not the first congressman from South Carolina to behave badly on the floor of Congress.

In May 1856 South Carolina Rep. Preston Brooks demonstrated less than model behavior by assaulting Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner with a cane while he sat in the Senate Chamber. The beating was so severe that Sumner was blinded by his own blood and passed out whereupon the South Carolina representative continued to beat him.

When the Wilson story first broke what got my attention was the implication that this, rude behavior, was something new. In the back of my mind there is a U.S. News and World Report article from the 1980’s about America’s “epidemic of rudeness.” If you do a Google search on the phrase “epidemic of rudeness” you’ll find 354,000 web pages on the topic.

One editorial on Wilson’s behavior seemed to justify it by saying the Democrats did it, too, when they booed remarks by President Bush during a speech in 2005. Since when is my bad behavior justified because someone else behaved badly?

There were so many good articles on this topic that I wanted to cite, but will limit it to two. The first is from a website assembled by the Rude Busters.

Let’s face it: the Golden Rule is tarnished...
Common courtesy doesn’t exist anymore. Civility, manners, and politeness are nostalgic memories. We’re more mean-spirited than ever.


At concerts, in the air, in supermarkets, in business dealings, at sporting events, everywhere, people are selfish, angry, rude and crude (doctors are even being cited for rudeness in malpractice suits). And former President Clinton convened the National Commission on Civic Renewal, after citing a “toxic atmosphere of cynicism" back in 1997.

The media has been taking notice of our bad manners and bad attitudes and some of the statistics, insights and suggestions are politely offered here for you to access:

In a July 18, 2000 report, researchers confirm we’re in the midst of an anger and rudeness epidemic. “Going postal” – there’s even a catchphrase for our hostility and uncivil behavior. This USA Today piece by Karen S. Peterson helps us understand what contributes to today’s short tempers....

Reuben Navarette, Jr. in a CNN commentary wrote:

There are many people out there, in all walks of life, who think they're more significant than they really are. Plagued with an exaggerated sense of self-importance, they feel entitled to do whatever they want, whenever they want to do it no matter whom it hurts.

The self-centered rarely think about the consequences because they're too busy claiming what they see as their rightful place in the spotlight. And when they're criticized for letting their narcissism get the best of them and face the wrath of their colleagues or the disapproval of their fans, they might apologize. But, even then, they often don't do a very good job of it because their heart's not in it.


Dylan's lines from his song License to Kill (Infidels, 1983) reference this pervasive narcissism.

"Now he worships at an altar of a stagnant pool
And when he sees his reflection, he's fulfilled
Oh, man is opposed to fair play
He wants it all and he wants it his way."


And his later Oh Mercy album likewise reiterates the theme with a song titled "The Disease of Conceit." This is at the root of our bad behavior.

What I like about the Rude Busters article cited above is that instead of just pointing fingers at culprits out in the public square they bring it back down to our own level. I can't change what Joe Wilson did or even how he behaves tomorrow, but I can own what I say and do today in my own sphere.

Rudeness takes many forms. And many people practice downright rudeness daily. So here’s something to keep in mind: a rude encounter is remembered for a lifetime. Let’s think about how we want to be remembered -- and maybe try to be worth remembering.
I agree.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Q

"Imagine what a harmonious world it could be if every single person, both young and old shared a little of what he is good at doing." ~Quincy Jones

79 Grammy nominations, 27 Grammys… yet still not entirely a household name. What’s with that?

When Michael Jackson’s Thriller hit the scene, it might have been Jackson’s name on the marquee, but without doubt Quincy Jones, his producer/arranger, helped put him there. In fact, his whole career has been one of cheerfully adjusting the spotlights that shone on other performers, to put them in their best light.

We all remember the charity performance of superstars assembled for “We Are The World”, but few recall that it was Quincy Jones who produced and arranged the assemblage of superegos, and made it work. Who among us does not recall the shocking In Cold Blood, yet few know that Jones produced the score that set the tone.

Q, The Autobiography of Quincy Jones, is an anecdotally rich portrait of a creative genius and good natured soul who made good in America against heavy odds. If you want an inside look at the black experience mid-century, read Q. If you want an ringside seat as the jazz scene came to full flower, read Q. If you want up close and personal stories about what it takes to rise above circumstances and achieve success beyond one's dreams, this book reveals that, too.

I only have one Frank Sinatra CD, the Quincy Jones produced L.A. Is My Lady. The arrangements are stellar, making it possible for the elder statesman crooner to shine. Jones is the catalyst, setting the stage, the mood, the lights, never drawing attention to himself but serving to make every moment count. I was listening to it last as I tried my hand at painting the pictures of Jones here.

Here’s a little serendipitous note: the night before I was watching Rear Window, the Hitchcock thriller starring Jimmy Stewart and Grace Kelly. Few know that it was Princess Grace (Kelly) who introduced Quincy Jones to Frank Sinatra in 1958 in Monaco.

In the fifties Jones played with nearly all the greats, from Lionel Hampton to Dizzy Gillespie, Count Basie, Duke Ellington and Ray Charles. The second half of that serendipitous note is that I am currently watching Ray, the biographic overview of one amazing musician, and in an early scene the two cross paths in Seattle.

It’s a brief encounter here in the film, but in the book , Jones makes it out to be a significant moment for him. His desire is to make music, but to some extent he’s unsure of his prospects. Suddenly, this blind kid (and Ray was just a kid, not even 16) shows up in town, having crossed the country from Alabama, knowing no one, yet establishing himself in a foreign community. At this Quincy Jones wondered what was holding him back.

Quincy Jones has been part of our lives in ways we didn't even know. Today, let’s give a big hand to da man. Thank you, Quincy Jones, wherever you are, for your perpetual optimism and style.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Five Minutes with Keith Erickson

I can't even recall the first time I met Keith Erickson. He is a quiet force who doesn't draw attention to himself. Yet somehow he's drawn together a team of extraordinarily smart people, wizards of programming and technical understanding. Erickson is president of Saturn Systems, a Duluth firm with a growing influence. Four centuries ago they might have been burned at the stake because of the magic they can perform, though today it's with code rather than incantations.

Erickson arrived in Duluth at age five and evidently stayed for the duration, picking up a Bachelor of Computer Engineering at UMD in 1987. After bagging his Masters of Science, Electrical & Computer Engineering at the University of Iowa in '89 he returned to Duluth and began his career.

He's not only a really fine man, he's also a Dylan fan, so he get's high marks from my corner of the world. I asked if he'd let me pick his brains for a few minutes related to entrepreneurialism and technology today.

EN: When did you first become interested in computers, programming and technology? Who or what were your influences?
KE: I was always interested in electronics and technology, as far back as Junior High. The first time I considered programming was in about 1982 when a friend loaned me a Timex Sinclair computer to experiment with. My first real experience with computer programming and device control was through my experiences with the Computer Engineering program at UMD (1984 - 1987).

EN: Not everyone has an entrepreneurial mindset. What were the drivers that led you to take this kind of risk and start your own tech business?
KE: After living in Southern California for two years following graduate school, my wife and I decided to return to Duluth in 1990 to raise our young family. I was fortunate to have worked for a small defense contractor in Santa Barbara that was amenable to allowing me to contract with them, for a time, after I moved back to Duluth. This was definitely a risky move as my initial contract was only worth $7500 and there were very few technology jobs in Duluth in the early 1990s to seek if the contracting gig didn’t work out. However, with the support of my wife, our families, and colleagues in Santa Barbara, I was able to make it work, gradually increasing the scope of the business over the next several years. This was well before routine Internet communication was standardized, and the arrangement required significant travel.

EN: How many employees do you have?
KE: 28; 21 in Duluth and 7 in Charleston, SC. Also 3 full-time contractors.

EN: What is the key to attracting smart, talented people?
KE: Provide a positive, ethical business culture, do not micromanage your employees, respect their expertise and abilities and demand respect in return, pay competitive wages, offer interesting and challenging work, be willing to delegate responsibility. Above all, have the confidence to surround yourself with people smarter than you.

EN: How has the current economic meltdown affected your business?
KE: Surprisingly, it has actually had a positive effect on our business. Our focus on rural outsourcing and technical excellence has allowed us to position ourselves as a lower cost alternative to metro area consulting firms. At the same time, it has allowed us to communicate a message a technical excellence and customer service not available from foreign outsourcing firms. Finally, the current economic situation has provided us with a strong pool of high caliber job seekers. Two years ago, it was very difficult to find qualified personnel; today, the situation is reversed. So to summarize, the current economic meltdown has helped us obtain new customers due to our marketing efforts; at the same time, we are better able to service these new clients because of readily available technical talent. As a result, we have been experiencing growth during this time of national economic difficulties.

EN: Saturn Systems is a software and engineering technology firm in Duluth MN on the cusp of the trend toward rural outsourcing. What does “rural outsourcing” mean and why is it popular?
KE: "Rural outsourcing" describes a contracting arrangement whereby companies outsource certain work (in our case, IT and software engineering) to small contracting firms located outside of major US metropolitan areas. Saturn Systems is one of the leading rural firms in the country. We have actually been performing this service for our entire existence - it is only recently, however, that it has been given a name. We also refer to this business model as "Offshore to the North shore" (our regional tag line) and "Outsource to America" (our national tag line, trademarked in MN).

I wouldn't say rural outsourcing is 'popular'; only because it is still very much small scale. Most rural outsourcing firms are smaller than Saturn. A rural outsourcing firm needs to be able to attract professionals that want to live in the area, and the rural location needs to provide top qualify educational opportunities. While Duluth definitely fits the bill, most other ‘rural’ locations throughout the country do not.

EN: Do you have a personal life philosophy?
KE: It varies, depending on which Dylan song I'm listening to at the time.

EN: Favorite book of the past year?
KE: "Playing for Pizza" by John Grisham.

EN: That's pretty funny. I enjoyed it, too, and wrote about it here.

To all: If interested in more information about Saturn Systems here's where to find it.
Thanks, Keith, for your time and willingness to share. It's all good.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Internal Time Consciuosness

Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past.
~ T.S. Eliot, Burnt Norton


This morning, as with so many others, I woke a few minutes before my alarm. Yesterday, when I woke there were eight seconds left on my alarm and I marvelled at this strange and fascinating phenomenon of time consciousness and our internal clocks.

Today it brought to mind one of my philosophy professors at Ohio University, Dr. Mikunis. The first essay we studied was Kierkegaard and the Leap of Faith. I remember sitting at a table dissecting the concept with Dr. M and other students.

My second year at O.U., this being 1971, I lived in the co-ed Experimental Dorm on the South Green. I believe it was an attempt by the school to pander to the laxity of the times while simultaneously devising a way to keep students in school in order to collect tuition. (Speculation.) One feature of the Experimental Dorm was this: students could develop their own class curricula if they could get a professor to sign on as sponsor.

There was a certain seriousness among some student/professor relationships in this regard, though I remember some professors would nod an O.K. to anything proposed. The class I developed, with eight or ten peers, was a class on dreams. Each week one of us was to present a paper on dreams and dreaming from a different point of view. One student presented Freud, another presented Edgar Cayce, etc. We even brought a guest presenter from Washington, D.C. one week. The last class Dr. Mikunis presented his views.

Dreams had always been a fascination for me from my earliest years. In seventh grade I decided to start a "dream diary." It seemed that my dream life was more interesting than my day-to-day existence, and less predictable. I remember my first recorded dream had Tim Conway in it, from a TV show that was popular at the time.

All the way through high school I kept up with this diary, extensively developing the ability to recall up to four or five complete dream sequences.... not at first, but over time.

Dr. M changed all that. He presented to us the ideas of Husserl and phenomenology in such a manner that it seemed my dream life was no longer relevant. What is relevant, he said, is the "now" experience. My dreams last night were part of the past by the next morning, hence they had no importance.

Truth is, Husserl's concepts about phenomenology and the consciousness of time are difficult to grasp and might have been misunderstood. As I review some of Husserl's ideas today, I note the concept of retention, that things may be past but are retained in the present by our memory and consciousness, and may thus have present relevance after all. If this were not so, nothing we experience, including the understanding of a basic sentence, would make any sense. This sentence that I am writing making sense only in the context of the fuller blog entry here, which if you lived totally in the now, the only thing you would know is the very last word word word word what whoa where go uhmmm now

None of this explains what time is or what dreams are, or why when I go to Las Vegas my internal clock is still on Central Standard Time so that I wake at 4:00 a.m. no matter what time I crashed the night before.

Husserl's writing is a bit dense, so for more on Edmund Husserl's musings on The Phenomenology of Internal Time Consciousness this is a good starting point. I'd share more on this, but I've run out of time!

Remember, today is the first day of the rest of your life. Make the most of your present as you prepare for the future.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Irving Kristol, RIP

“If you're not a liberal at twenty you have no heart, if you're not a conservative at forty you have no brain.” ~Winston Churchill

I’m trying to make a few remarks about Irving Kristol who passed away this past week. Kristol is one of the pre-eminent names in the neo-conservative movement. Some went so far as to call him the Godfather of Neoconservatism.

It should be noted that conservatism is not a homogeneous worldview. There are numerous subgroups within the conservative perspective, chief of these being neoconservatives, theoconservative and paleoconservatives. Pat Buchanan is representative of the latter, a view that desires to return to the Founding Fathers in all their Constitutional glory, to maintain or reinvigorate his interpretation of the worldview that was dominant during that time. Even the theoconservatives are split between the Neuhaus intellectuals and the report card politics of the Religious Right.

Irving Kristol was from neither of these camps. Rather, he was global in his thinking, and conservative by dint of having been immersed in liberal idealism he could not stomach the bi-products of these idealists, chiefly exemplified in Stalinism and later the Sixties radicalism of the New Left

Adam Bernstein’ s Washington Post obituary/tribute to Kristol began in this manner: Irving Kristol, 89, a forceful essayist, editor and university professor who became the leading architect of neoconservatism, which he called a political and intellectual movement for disaffected ex-liberals, like himself, who had been "mugged by reality," died Friday at Capital Hospice in Arlington County.

Kristol himself had been a Troskyite in his youth and a believer in the socialist dream. (I myself liked Leon Trotsky for a spell while in Junior High School because my first name is likewise Leon, which led me to do an essay on his life at the time.)

I find it interesting that many significant voices in the conservative movement were once liberal and socialists. Kristol and neoconservative Norman Podhoretz cited George Orwell’s disaffection with communism as a start point for this movement. (Much more can be said in that regard.) In point of fact, many people who came late to political awareness with regard to beltway politics had no idea that some of the leading conservative voices during the Reagan era, such as Jeanne Kirkpatrick and William J. Bennett, had once been liberals.

Citing Bernstein again, Mr. Kristol and many of his followers were dubbed neoconservatives. It was a term introduced by social critic Michael Harrington to describe the rightward turn of onetime liberals such as Mr. Kristol, whose extraordinary political odyssey had taken him from Depression-era socialist to anticommunist Cold Warrior and Vietnam War hawk.

Although Harrington's use of the term neoconservative was not intended as a compliment, Mr. Kristol embraced the name and became its widely accepted godfather. An Esquire magazine cover story on him in 1979 helped legitimize Mr. Kristol as the leader of a full-fledged movement, even as he downplayed the idea that such a formal faction existed.

Despite the move from left to write of many influential writers and thinkers this past century, the Churchill quote at the beginning of this article is not entirely accurate. There are writers and thinkers whose "mugging by reality" drove them right to left. I think here of David Brock, author of Blinded by the Right, who was a conservative insider during the Clinton years.

Essentially history is ever in the making. Whoever wields power at the moment has an opportunity to influence. That influence can attract or repel based on the consequences of actions and ideas. The part that Winston got right is that things do not forever remain the same, and neither do people.

Monday, September 21, 2009

CyberLink • Version 4.0

SHORT STORY MONDAY

"Technology... is a queer thing. It brings you great gifts with one hand, and it stabs you in the back with the other." ~C.P. Snow

Today's story is another incomplete nub of an idea from my files. The original was developed in the mid-1990's, long before the Matrix series of films, but after the emergence of the World Wide Web. I was influenced, in part, by William Gibson's Mona Lisa Overdrive. Like the story Golem Terrorists of two weeks ago, it is but a beginning, a setup. Based on the reference to the slumping economy, I must have updated a few details in a re-write possibly around 2002 or so.


CyberLink • Version 4.0

From its inception, the WEB Interlock Corp. sparked headlines. A front page story in the Wall Street Journal announced the departure of West, Ellison and Bierce from Microsoft in August ’98. Cover stories in the computer mags filled in the details. Cutting edge software was the name of the game. The charismatic William West masterminded the coup, knowing fully the attention WEB Interlock would gain by combining Rath Ellison’s visionary technosis with the hyper-psychic creativity of Mason Bierce.

WEB Interlock became the first to develop a primitive form of the Hyperlock Central Series. Hyperlock Central gave users a direct eyegate capability via the patch refractory system, allowing Game Players direct graphics capabilities without the use of a terminal. Photos of the introverted Bierce and a cosmic looking Ellison appeared on the covers of Newsweek, TIME, and a half dozen other consumer magazines. William West had likewise become a fixture in the news.
Then the troubles began. It was the usual conflict between marketing and R&D. A slumping economy after the turn of the century and overly aggressive marketing goals brought internal strife to the company, with discordant accusations focusing chiefly on the reluctance, or inability, of Ellison and Bierce to bring new products to the marketplace in a timely manner.

Ellison’s concerns for safety and proper testing of the dynamic new technologies were perpetually dismissed by West.

“We’re missing opportunities! We’re losing ground!” the red-faced West shouted at his twin development heads. He ignored the rising popularity of such games as DaggerBlade and FlexoSpike, knowing that for WEB, innovative pioneer technologies were all that mattered. His fame required this single narcotic.

Ellison felt betrayed by the accusations. No one could say for certain what Bierce was thinking.

Then the unthinkable happened. A Korean company released its NerveLink program, a patchcord device that enabled a direct spinal linkup with the Net. The total package included a variety of games as well as business and military applications. While the programs and games were uniquely Korean, every other NerveLink capability was identical to research designs Bierce had been developing for more than a decade. Two weeks later, Mason Bierce packed his brain with enough chemicals to eliminate all of pre-history and died of a cerebral implosion.

The effect on Rath Ellison was this: while he remained an active and visionary force in the direction of WEB Interlock’s R & D efforts, he adopted a passive aggressive posture in regards to interdepartmental politicking. If the company wished to damage its long-term credibility by rushing products to the market and taking absurd, unnecessary risks, Ellison after stating his position but once would retreat to permanent silence. “The spirit of Bierce is in control here,” he observed in one of his more lucid moments. “W.E.B Interlock has determined to self-destruct.”

Ready or not, by the end of the year Ellison gave West what he wanted. The ultimate, as far as technology was concerned. "It's called BioShell Dropout," Ellison said.
It promised even more than NerveLink. It enabled user's to drop themselves into the Matrix. There were certain problems in the initial phase of development. Users who dropped out of their bodies often never came back, lost in Cyberspace. As luck should have it, the key to success proved to be found in the mythological story of Theseus, who entered the labyrinth to kill the Minotaur, and returned, saved by Ariadne's thread. The missing ingredient, for which W.E.B. Interlock immediately purchased universal Patent and Trademark Rights, was a product called "Ariadne's Thread."

All would have been well, but for the ten to fifteen guinea pigs who had been dropped into the Matrix and left for dead. Disembodied entities, conscious minds in Cyberspace, eager to return to the flesh and bloodness of the living, but locked out -- or locked in, depending on your point of view. Nine of these banded together to form a dark constellation of terror within the Net, wreaking havoc and performing all kinds of villainy until it be possible to gain their release. [The others who disappeared in the Net were never heard from again, and for this reason it is unknown exactly how many there originally were. The Nine we know because they identified themselves as The Desperadoes of Orion and released their names via obituaries which were repeatedly dropped into e-mail slots in all the major newspapers, with entirely fake life histories, addresses, etc, but the same names... Over and over again they kept up this charade of dying.]

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?
A small collection of original stories which I have penned can be found here at my personal website.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Oh Mercy

It doesn't take much hanging out at Ennyman's Territory to recognize that Ennyman, yours truly, is a consummate Dylan fan. I was first introduced to Dylan by Ed Hilliker on a school bus, a long, long time ago. Thank you, Ed. In more recent times, my Saturday's tend to be orchestrated around listening to the Dylan Hour on KUMD, our local public radio station, hosted by serious Dylan fans with expansive collections and knowledge of this significant artist.

One thing Dylan has done with remarkable success is to avoid being pinned down to a genre or style. His art is ever changing as are his influences. It's almost as if he goes out of his way to make sure his work is innovative and new. His concerts, too, involve creative expression every night. It is not a formula show. Even his backup band is uncertain where he'll take them next. Their aim is simply to hang on and utilize their skills to make the show as best as it can be, wherever he leads them.

Currently, one of the albums I have been giving a lot of play time to is Oh Mercy. After a pair of weaker albums in the late seventies, Dylan came back with one of his best, the 1979 five star Oh Mercy, an album as close to perfection as it gets. Reviewer David Bowling wrote, "I can think of five or so better Dylan albums than Oh Mercy but not ten, which is high praise given the quality of his catalogue." You can read Bowling's full review here.

Rolling Stone was also happy to give the album its five star praise. "The thematic context for Oh Mercy is defined in 'Political World,' a churning rocker stricken with anxiety and despair, and 'Everything Is Broken,' a rollicking catalog of psychic dislocation. The cultural breakdowns chronicled in those songs are mirrored on a more personal level in the dreamy ballads 'Most of the Time,' a love song of taunting regret in Dylan's characteristic manner, and the self-examining 'What Good Am I?'"

If you're looking for something new to add to your catalog, try Oh Mercy.

Political World

We live in a political world,
Love don't have any place.
We're living in times where men commit crimes
And crime don't have a face

We live in a political world,
Icicles hanging down,
Wedding bells ring and angels sing,
clouds cover up the ground.

We live in a political world,
Wisdom is thrown into jail,
It rots in a cell, misguided as hell
Leaving no one to pick up a trail.

We live in a political world
Where mercy walks the plank,
Life is in mirrors, death disappears
Up the steps into the nearest bank.

We live in a political world
Where courage is a thing of the past
Houses are haunted, children are unwanted
The next day could be your last.

We live in a political world.
The one we can see and can feel
But there's no one to check, it's all a stacked deck,
We all know for sure that it's real.

We live in a political world
In the cities of lonesome fear,
Little by little you turn in the middle
But you're never sure why you're here.

We live in a political world
Under the microscope,
You can travel anywhere and hang yourself there
You always got more than enough rope.

We live in a political world
Turning and a-thrashing about,
As soon as you're awake, you're trained to take
What looks like the easy way out.

We live in a political world
Where peace is not welcome at all,
It's turned away from the door to wander some more
Or put up against the wall.

We live in a political world
Everything is hers or his,
Climb into the frame and shout God's name
But you're never sure what it is.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Four Books On U.S. Grant

From time to time I have been asked why I have this Matthew Brady photo of General Grant on the wall of my office. My ready reply goes something like this. "General Grant's life expresses a number of character qualities from which I get inspiration. He was a model of initiative, purposefulness, determination and creative problem solving. For these reasons, among others, I consider him a hero. I think everyone would benefit from having heroes to inspire and in some ways emulate."

There's one more thing about Grant that I also find inspiring. Before he came into his own, his life was floundering. He appeared to be a loser. For all intents and purposes, he was a loser, failing at everything and gaining for himself a reputation as a person more to be mocked than praised. But in his mid-thirties, when the Civil War split the nation, it afforded the young Grant an opportunity to do that for which he had become ideally suited.... to lead men.

For many years, I likewise floundered. After college I became a security guard for a couple years. Later I went to Mexico where I became a "failed missionary" by leaving at the end of a year instead of the three I'd committed to. For several more years I cast about, feeling a sense of "calling" as a writer but uncertain as to how that would really play out. Interestingly enough, I recently learned that my father privately confided to his sister that he was concerned at one point that he might have to support me the rest of my life. And I am certain that young Ulysses Grant's dad felt precisely the same concern for this loser son who was working in a hardware store for his brother.

For Grant, the skills were in place but the opportunity to utilize all his strengths had been absent. Gratefully, I too came into my own in my thirties and have experience more than two decades of success in advertising, marketing and PR.

The point here is that Grant's peers perceived him in a certain light based on circumstances, but there was much more to the man than met the eye. Furthermore, the trajectory of a life is not a fixed thing. Grant's trajectory changed significantly at a certain point in time, and it propelled him to the White House.

Here are four brief reviews on books about Ulysses Simpson Grant that I have enjoyed over the years.

Ulysses S. Grant, The Unlikely Hero by Michael Korda
Korda's bio of Grant is part of the Eminent Lives series of biographies of significant people For decades Korda had been editor-in-chief for Simon and Schuster, and is a well known essayist, novelist and literary figure. Hence, when I saw the book displayed at B&N, it was immediately placed in my "gotta have it" list.

Korda is an entertaining writer and the book unearths, in a creative manner, many observations and anecdotes about one of my favorite presidents. The book's aim is not to be comprehensive. Rather, Korda offers a thought provoking overview of the man and his achievements.

I've found it to be a thoroughly absorbing read, but do have questions about his repeated assertions regarding Grant's drinking, a theme that is pretty heavily underscored throughout the narrative. Is Korda's portrait accurate on this matter, or is the case built on rumor and innuendo? Stereotypes die hard. Grant was a man who accomplished much but who likewise made his mistakes. Korda's book comes highly recommended for its tight presentation of an interesting and significant man.

The Trial of U.S. Grant by Charles G. Ellington
This book was given to me as a gift by Charles Ellington himself in 1991 and it was a wonderful read. A grad from the Universities of Missouri, Harvard, and California Western, Ellington is (like myself) a USG fan. This book is an exploration of the events in Grant's life in the post-Mexican War period from 1852-1854. These two years in apparently aimless military service left Grant isolated, frustrated and homesick for his wife and two sons, one of whom he had never seen.

Ellington argues that this period of virtual exile was instrumental in developing the strength of character that resulted in Grant's later achievements. The author spent ten years researching the book and it is an excellent contribution to any Grant collection.

Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant by Grant himself
For the 24 hours my wife Susie was in labor with my firstborn son, I was accompanied by this book, the Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant. The origin of this fabulous memoir is a story itself. Grant had served two terms as 18th president of the United States. His finances were handled by a son who had gone into a partnership with another man who swindled them. Thus, the great general and former president was a penniless pauper. Mark Twain recognized that Grant's life would be a very marketable story. The result was a bestselling autobiography that helped Grant to be financially comfortable in his twilight years.

The preface opens thus: "Man proposes and God disposes." There are but few important events in the affairs of men brought about by their own choice.

This is a remarkable observation, and a great start point for a very enlightening read. I've read it twice and have retained many insights from its pages. If you have to choose but one book from this list of four, this is it.

Grant Wins the War, Decision At Vicksburg by James R. Arnold
Of the twenty most brilliant campaigns in military history, more than half were by Napoleon. Only two were conceived and executed by generals in the U.S. Civil War. The first was General Stonewall Jackson's Shenandoah Campaign. The second, Grant's victory at Vicksburg.

James Arnold begins this book by presenting the significance of the battle of Vicksburg. A key to success, whether in war or business, is not simply winning battles but in fighting the right battles. What propelled Grant to fame was not winning victories alone, but recognizing the importance of the objectives he pursued. Vicksburg, in Arnold's estimation, was even more significant than Gettysburg in bringing down the South.
This book focuses specifically on this singular battle, the challenges it presented and the unique strategies which Grant employed to achieve his aims. Arnold writes vividly and with great respect for all involved. Like the others, it is highly recommended, not only to Grant fans but to war buffs of all stripes.
Click on photos to enlarge. The map beneath the books shows the location of Grant's Pass in Oregon.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Honduras: Are We On The Wrong Side?

A month ago I went to a retirement party for a friend and got into a conversation with someone who is intimately connected with Honduras, whose family is still there. Naturally, with Honduras being in the news I had to ask if he could explain what was happening there.

It was a clean and concise summary. Essentially, the properly elected president did not wish to follow the country's own Constitution. The military deposed him not because it was striving for power, but because of the president's unconstitutional behavior. Unfortunately, multinational organizations like the U.N. and O.A.S. want him reinstated.

I just finished watching the film Black Hawk Down, which shows the consequences of a military incursion in Somalia in 1993 in which 19 soldiers and 1000 Somali citizens lost their lives. The film shows the action which took place, but the book details the backdrop. The Somalia situation was this. The country was a wrecked mess run by gangs. The most powerful had been top dog for quite some time, but he was hated and ruthless. The one good thing he did was to unify all the rival gangs in their common hatred of him. They banded together and ousted him.

But this ousted gang leader, who had diplomatic ties to the U.N., persuaded the U.S. to intervene and help him regain his "rightful place." It was a disastrous, ill-conceived response. I highly recommend this book.
Based on my understanding of the situation, we are very possibly doing an instant replay. On Sept 4 it was announced that the U.S. cut off aid to Honduras, which is already one of the poorest countries in the hemisphere. Two letters that I have received from Honduras indicate that the people are in dire straits.

Here's a brief summary of the background on this story.

One of the most amazing features of the United States has been its example of the peaceful transition of power. Right from the start our history has been a role model that is worth noting and quite a contrast to most of history. George Washington, who was nearly godlike in stature, stepped down voluntarily from the equivalent of a throne, the U.S. presidency. Keep in mind there were no term limits in those days.

When our second president John Adams handed power over to Thomas Jefferson, this was the first time in history that power was given voluntarily to an opposing party. These two were adversaries. Adams and Jefferson both lived by the principle of Rex Lex, that is, Law is King. There is something higher than the men and women who run the country.

That tradition has followed us to the present time where ideologically contrary presidents have handed over the baton, or sword, or whatever symbol you'd like to call it, without resorting to guns, hand grenades, etc. If the disrespect shown on the floor of congress last week (Mr. Bush was booed in 2005 on one occasion in a similar vein) is the worst of what we do, well, we're probably not doing too badly.

As for Honduras... Based on a lifetime of reading and certain anecdotal observations from friends and acquaintances over the years, my guess is that there is a divergence of opinion on the matter within the State Department itself, or the Pentagon and the executive branch. Let's pray our leaders make wise decisions and exercise care as they evaluate courses of action.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Miscellaneous Notes From Recent Readings

I am preparing some thoughts about the situation in Honduras but do not have time to give a full weigh-in yet so I will just extract a few items from a jar on one of the shelves of my memory.

1. Eisenhower and Patton, around 1918 or 19, were responsible for training tank commanders for use in war. Eisenhower had wanted to go to the war itself but had been good at training infantry so they kept him home. (He treated it more like football practice than war, and made it more lively.) Well, both Patton and Ike felt that a 3 m.p.h. tank was not good. They wrote letters to every superior officer they could find in Washington saying the tank should not be used to accompany the infantry (hence the slow speed) but rather to disrupt the enemy. They were told in no uncertain terms that if they did not stop writing these letters they would be court martialed. History later demonstrated who was right.

2. The Nazi Blitzkrieg was so swift that France fell in six weeks.

3. On one occasion General Rommel, in his lead tank, was so far ahead of his army as it sped forward that he rode into a French village all by himself without any support. The French forces were fleeing before he got there. The German army was (my memory fails me here) either 35 miles behind or 35 minutes.

4. Whittaker Chambers, editor of Time magazine in the late 1940's, had been a communist in the 30's but Josef Stalin's behavior, eliminating nearly everybody on his own side, led him to flee the Communist party. Chambers had been a conduit of U.S. secrets, getting them transported to the Soviet Union. Alger Hiss was his "inside contact."

5. Chambers became a witness for the prosecution in one of the biggest trials of the century. Hiss had been an aide to FDR and the notion that a communist was so close to the pinnacle of power helped feed the Red Scare of the early Cold War. Hiss had worked in the State Department and was a member of the delegation that accompanied FDR to Yalta in 1945.

6. Hiss lost, and went to jail for perjury. He denied ever having been a spy or communist.

7. Allen Weinstein wrote a book about the case called Perjury. His aim was to prove Hiss was innocent. In researching the book he was able to draw upon previously inaccessible information from the Soviet archives. The inescapable conclusion: Hiss was guilty.

8. For some reason people to this day attempt to proclaim Hiss' innocence. Hiss died in 1996.

9. The country of Rhodesia was named after the guy for whom the Rhodes Scholarship was named. Cecil Rhodes owned diamond mines and was a big believer in Colonialism and the supremacy of the the Anglo-Saxon race, proof that smart people can have stupid ideas. Sadly, such ideas were in vogue for a time. (See Rudyard Kipling's poem White Man's Burden.)

10. Today the once Brit colony of Rhodesia has been broken up into Zimbabwe and Zambia.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Cultural Literacy

We often take so much for granted. This is especially true in our communication. We say something and assume everyone else knows what we’re talking about. The reality is that we are in the midst of a national communication breakdown.

Our American education system can’t be entirely to blame, but it is a contributing factor. Instead of teaching young people to love literature and learning, we “teach to the test” and strive to simply make sure they get a passing grade, even if they learn nothing. Sure, there are exceptional teachers, but all too often the pressures are there for outcomes and not real learning.

E.D. Hirsch, Jr. wrote an important book called Cultural Literacy which addresses this theme. The subtitle is What Every American Needs To Know. Hirsch argues that there is certain knowledge that is fundamental in order to function in our modern society. When writers write and politicians speak, there is a background to their words. Without understanding that background, we often miss the point of what they are attempting to convey.

Wikipedia defines “cultural literacy” as “the ability to converse fluently in the idioms, allusions and informal content which creates and constitutes a dominant culture. From being familiar with street signs to knowing historical references to understanding the most recent slang, literacy demands interaction with the culture and reflection of it.”

Professor Hirsch devotes many pages of his book to making a distinction between important knowledge and trivia. In the realm of people, for example, it is important to know who Benedict Arnold and Judas were, not so important to know Betsy Ross. Arnold and Judas have become metaphors for betrayal. Betsy Ross was of many who made early contributions in our history.

Hirsch ends his book with an appendix that lists 5000 names, phrases, dates and concepts which “every American” ought to know. Here are some of the items from that list. Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t know some of them. Instead, make a decision to be a lifelong learner. It will increase your influence and strengthen your confidence as you interact with others in our challenging, modern world.

Important Dates
1066
1492
1776
1861-1865
1914-1918
1939-1945
and (the book) 1984

Important People (these are just a few of the many names in Hirsch's list)
Henry Aaron
Adam and Eve
John Adams
John Quincy Adams
Adonis
Muhammed Ali
Woody Allen
Hans Christian Anderson
Attila the Hun
Saint Augustine
Bacchus
Clara Barton
Ludwig von Beethoven
Chuck Berry
Billy the Kid
Robert Browning
Elizabeth Barrett Browning
Cain and Abel
Catherine the Great
Fidel Castro
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Copernicus
John Dewey
etc.

Examples of expressions, concepts and events would include:
Conditioned reflex
Crossing the Rubicon
Cuban missile crisis
Cum laude
Custer's last stand
Cut the Gordian knot
Diplomatic immunity
Dialectical materialism
Double indemnity
Dreyfuss affair
Fiddling while Rome burns
Fireside chat
Frankenstein's monster
Golden Rule
etc.

You get the picture. The book is worth your time, as is your investment in lifelong learning. At the very worst, you'll become a better team mate in your next game of Trivia Pursuit.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Architectural Reflections: What Our Buildings Say About Us

“Architecture is the will of an epoch translated into space.” ~Ludwig Mies van der Rohe

I was eight years old when I first pondered the meaning of the homes we lived in. I was swinging on a swing set in the playground behind Stafford Elementary School in Maple Heights, Ohio. My inquiring mind had made the observation that most of the animals in the natural world lived in holes in the ground or in trees or places where they could hide, blend in and not be seen. People, on the other hand, at least the ones in my neighborhood, lived in houses painted white or bright colors and very much out in the open. As I wondered about this, it seemed to me that the animals lived in fear and thus had to be wary, whereas the people here were not afraid. They lived in houses right out in the open. It was a very interesting sequence of thoughts.

Thus did I first reflect on how the spaces we occupy reflect the character of those who occupy these spaces.

In my recent readings a statement was made in passing as regards the building of the skyscrapers in New York City and how some people took offense because they dwarfed the cathedrals which were once dominant in the skyline there. There was a time when the cathedrals were the ultimate structures in every town in the Christianized world. The meaning of this depends on who interprets, of course. For some it is a clear example of exploitation in the name of religion. For others, these are monuments to the most vital component of the culture.

But in modern times this all changed. In the 20th century, as a result of advances in technology and building materials, skyscrapers emerged. Interesting term. Buildings that scraped the sky.

Not everyone thought this wonderful. Henry James thought of skyscrapers as “soulless commercial tributes to America at its worst, utterly inhuman in scale, objects that bullied rather than adorned their surroundings.” The central character in James Baldwin’s In Another Country compared the skyscrapers of New York to phalluses or spears.

Whatever the interpretation, New York’s churches and cathedrals were dwarfed by these vertical outcroppings of glass, stone and steel. It’s quickly evident that the former pre-eminence of the church has been symbolically replaced by the pre-eminence of the mighty engine of Capitalism.

I think also of Las Vegas and the extreme decadence of the Strip. The Bellagio, Venetian, Wynns. One billion, then two billion dollar casinos, built by the generous contributions of willing dupes throwing it all away for a moment of pleasure and distraction. These extravagant monuments also say something about us.

What this says about the pervasiveness of shantytowns throughout the world I’m not quite sure. Do our monuments to progress help people forget their plight, or only serve to mock them?

Monday, September 14, 2009

Golem Terrorists

SHORT STORY MONDAY

Many of my short stories are based on dreams in which an incident occurs and I weave a story around it so that the incident itself becomes a scene in the larger work. My stories Lu Lee and the Magic Cat, and Terrorists Preying were both developed in this manner.

On one occasion years ago I decided to post on my website a story concept which was initiated by a dream. I never did finish the story, but there are features here which have an uncanny resemblance to an actually event which happened on my birthday eight years ago.

The concept of the golem was inspired by stories from Jorge Luis Borges and arcane notions from medieval Jewish mysticism.


WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?
________________________________________

The scene described below is from a dream I had. I'm curious where it will go.
Do you know?

Post your ideas and, if I like your suggestions, I will incorporate them
into the next segment of the story.

Send your Plot Twist to ennyman.
And Bookmark this page. Maybe your section will be included in a future edition of Golem Terorists.

Golem Terrorists

Given: The Golem is an artificially created human being which has been supernaturally endowed with life.

Proposed: What if it took one full year to make one Golem? What if some evil power were to create a small army of Golem terrorists?
________________________________________

Opening Scene:

Jake Peters, a middle aged man of average build and alert nondescript features, is on a large passenger plane to somewhere. Jake becomes unsettled watching another passenger to his left, a bull-necked man wearing sunglasses who is assembling a potentially lethal weapon from a metal rod and piano wire. The man rises from his seat and Jake also stands to prevent the man from going forward to the front of the plane. A struggle ensues and the man's glasses are knocked off. The man's putty-like eyes are dull and vacant. Jake slices the man's face, which is bloodless. Jake is temporarily startled and the Golem slices off Jake's pinky finger like it was made of butter.

When the Golem reaches the front of the plane, Jake seeks shelter.

It is the fourth crash in two weeks. Two legislators, a mayor and five bank presidents have died in the crashes. In each case the Golem United Front has claimed responsibility.

Jake Peters awakens in the hospital, with burns on his face, his legs and arm in casts. He remembers nothing about the flight and learns from his wife that 137 people died and he is one of 14 survivors.

Everything is a blackout. His mood is gratefulness to be alive, though suffering. Then, he notices his missing finger, and he remembers with a chill the experience with the Golem.
________________________________________

Jake Peters talks to an FBI man who comes to interview him, who is investigating the crash. Jake asks what Golem are. The investigator says nobody knows. Some say they are spooks.

Jake does his own investigation to see what he can learn about Golem. He learns that Golem are a form of Artifical Life, generated by a lifetime of Dream Material. They are man-made and that according to one tradition it takes one whole lifetime to make One Soul.

He also learns that they are evil, not human. They have no feeling or sympathy. As a result, they have dull, cold eyes.

In addition, they are very strong, and very intelligent.

Bullets cannot harm them. They can only be destroyed by fire, which causes them to disintegrate and return to a vapor state, their true Origin.

Jake Peters determines that the four crashes have been caused by four Golem. And he has determined that he must somehow make someone believe what he has seen and experienced. At this point, there is no one who will believe.
________________________________________

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?
You tell me.
Post your comments here. Maybe this story can still be written...

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Andrew Carnegie’s Noblesse Oblige

"For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more." ~Luke 12:48

He has been labeled as one of the Robber Barons. His defenders would advocate that he has been libeled to be tagged thus. History is filled with many shadows that complicate its accurate portrayal. Though some of his practices as he built his fortune in the steel industry are outlawed today, at the time they were not restricted. Like the other “robber barons” he was an opportunist.

On the positive side of the ledger, he is to be commended for a very strong belief in the concept of noblesse oblige, a French term which is understood to mean that nobility and wealth have moral obligations and responsibilities. Carnegie believed, and publicly stated, that it is morally wrong to die rich. In this matter Carnegie led by example. By the end of his life Carnegie, a Scottish immigrant who made good in America, had generously given back all of his fortune to help the less fortunate.

Before Carnegie died (ninety years ago this summer), he had already given away over 350 million dollars, the equivalent of 4.3 billion in today’s dollars. Upon his death, the last thirty million were given to foundations, charities and pensioners.

I myself am a lover of libraries, as anyone who knows me knows. Carnegie, too, was a believer in the power of books and education to help people improve their lot in life. For this reason, in addition to contributing heavily to many academic institutions he also built public libraries across the country.


When I first came to Duluth, I was struck by the beautiful architecture of the Carnegie Library here, and surprised that Carnegie’s wealth flowed even to this little corner of the universe. (The library moved to a larger facility shortly after.)


Whatever people think of the man himself, a businessman who became the richest man in America, for his example of noblesse oblige Andrew Carnegie should be remembered.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Daily Mirror

"...leaning over the mirror of our acts, our souls will recognize what we are."- Andre Gide

For nearly all of us mirrors play a role in our morning rituals. Whether for shaving or make-up, fixing one's hair or straightening one's tie, the mirror is a useful tool, presenting to our eyes a true reflection of what is there.

On other occasions, a reassuring glance in the mirror before a job interview or an important date gives us confidence that at least the external things are taken care of - our hair isn't mussed, collar turned right, no food crumbs on our chin or the corners of our mouth.

At the end of the day there is another mirror which is equally valuable to us, and perhaps even more so once we practice using it. We can call it the mirror of our acts. As we quiet ourselves and reflect on the day, we discover that our actions reveal our souls as surely as the bathroom mirror reveals our faces.

The mirror of our acts reveals us as we truly are, giving a more precise picture of ourselves than we may wish to see. For it will reveal not only our strengths, but also our limitations; it will show not only our inward beauty, but also the defects that mar that beauty. When I look back on my day, with honesty, standing before this mirror of my soul, what do I truly see reflected there? Thoughtfulness and sensitivity? Selfishness? Duplicity and deceit? Laziness? Industriousness? Courage? Courtesy? Insensitivity? Foolish pride? Pettiness? The character defects we see need not leave us discourage. Recognizing one's shortcomings is the essential first step to the cure. Or, as they say, no pain no gain.

Taking time for reflection at day's end can be a most wonderful tool to help us grow to our full stature as human beings. Keeping a journal where we record and analyze these insights is even more helpful. As they say, "The weakest ink is stronger than the strongest memory."
It's an oft neglected truth that if we wish to make the world a better place, there's no better place to begin than in ourselves.

Friday, September 11, 2009

I Reek, Therefore I Am

I remember a guy on the Johnny Carson show who was a bus boy who cleaned Richard Nixon's spot while he had dinner with Nikita Kruschev during Kruschev's visit in the late 50's. Nixon had only taken one or two bites out of his sandwich (Nixon had been doing all the talking) and the bus boy felt it was so important he simply could not throw it away. He wrapped it and froze it, and it became the cornerstone of his uneaten sandwiches collection. The guy said he had 3,000 sandwiches from all kinds of famous people, I believe, and was hoping Johnny would let him have an unfinished Carson sandwich.

That story reminds me of how my cousin Gary got started with his baseball card business. It began with a lucky find as we were exiting the 1963 All Star Game. I kicked something with my foot, he bent down and retrieved a baseball that had been signed by all of the National League All Stars. Years later, while a fireman in Ponca City, Oklahoma, Gary Reed made this ball the centerpiece of his baseball cards and collectibles business.

In the same vein, Horace Waterman has the world's largest collection of discarded scraps of paper from the wastebaskets of famous writers. His family has been in the business of sifting through mountains of useless notes and discarded scraps for more than six generations. (His great great grandfather made a fortune in the blackmail business before having to flee England in the late 1800's.)

Here are some famous lines that were discarded before the memorable one's came into being. I pulled them from Waterman's eccentric Facebook pages. He even posted photos of some of them, though many were nearly illegible.

"I weep, therefore I am... in need of a tissue." ~ Rene Descartes
"Something's happening here, what it is ain't exactly clear.
There's a man with a pun over there
A-tellin' me that I'm a-kinda square." ~ Stephen Stills

"Dearest Pookie,
I'm pretty sure e = c x c x m.
What do you think?
Love, Albert" ~ Einstein

"I reek, therefore I am." ~ Rene Descartes

"In this world, nothing is sure but death and Texas." ~ W.

"When written in Chinese, the word crisis is composed of two characters. The one is a liberal and the other a conservative." ~ JFK

"Once you say you're going to settle for second, that's what happens to you in life, I find. But when you try to stretch it to a triple, unless you are really fast, or lucky, they can usually peg you. It's best to let the next hitter try to knock you in." ~ JFK

"When I look at our beer bellies, I understand why women don't mistake us for gods." ~ Nietzsche

"What doesn't kill me makes me.... something, something something. FIND a Catchy something here." ~ Nietzsche

For the record, the first two stories are true. But if you believed any of these quotes were real, than P.T. Barnum's famous observation applies to you.

Have a wonderful day.