(Cleveland, Ohio, 17 February 1925 – 23 January 2021, Beverly Hills, CA.)
“the man who has done more to keep Mark Twain on people’s minds than anyone else.” – HuffPost
I wondered how I had missed Mr. Holbrook’s death a week ago
but it was not announced until today.
I remember we had to pay office rent as the student union was going thru financial turmoil but the building was still a haven from academics on the campus. It had even stayed open when the whole university closed due to riots over the Kent State killings in 1970.
As an undergraduate I had the use of a state car to drive
back and forth to the capital, Columbus, Ohio for meetings. It was a big white
Chevrolet that looked exactly like a state highway patrol car so I zoomed along
Interstate-70 with other autos usually making way for me. If I stayed overnight
in Columbus I would always go to my favorite restaurant, SeVa Longevity Cookery
(Indian vegetarian on the northwest corner of N. High Street & W. Northwood
Avenue) and then to a concert or other event; there was always something going
on at The Ohio State University with its 45,000 students.
One evening I saw that Hal Holbrook was performing his ‘Mark
Twain Tonight!’ next to the Union so I bought a ticket. It was riveting! As
well it should: Harold Rowe Holbrook Jr. had started this role in 1954 while a
student at not-too-far-away Denison University. And, he had won a Tony for Best
Actor in a Play in 1966 for the role. He did the solo performances for about 60
years. In 2007, at the age of 82, Holbrook became the oldest nominee for Best
Supporting Actor for his work in the movie ‘Into the Wild’.
As with so many buildings at OSU, there is a now a new Ohio Union and the auditorium I saw Holbrook perform in is no more. The space is now the Wexner Center for the Arts. And, yes, that is the same Wexner (Victoria’s Secret, The Limited, Pink, and Bath & Body Works) whose millions Jeffrey E. Epstein supposedly siphoned, when he was Wexner’s only client, in order to finance a lifestyle that included a New York mansion, a private plane, a luxury estate in Ohio and a large ranch here in New Mexico.
John Joyce Gilligan’s (March 22, 1921 –
August 26, 2013) was a liberal Democrat. I had never before – and have never
since, met a man who had such a completely unreadable demeanor as Gov.
Gilligan. It was all the more remarkable because he was also the palest human I
had ever met. He must have been a great lawyer – and poker player.
Gilligan’s claim to fame as an Ohio
governor was the institution of Ohio’s first corporate and personal income tax.
He said it was necessary to cover the state’s inadequate methods to fund public
schools. That move came back to haunt him when he lost against James ‘Big Jim’
Allen Rhodes (13 September
1909 – 4 March 2001) who twice before had been governor and
had to sit out in 1970 because of term limits. Rhodes, of course, was governor
during the 1907 Kent State University shootings by the Ohio National Guard.
Gilligan’s other claim to fame is being one-half of the first
father/daughter U.S. governor duo. His daughter, Kathleen Sebelius, was Governor
of Kansas (2003-2009) and Secretary of Health and Human Services (2009-2014)
under President Barack Obama.
While we can argue about the truth of this statement in an age when anyone can create videos, there is no denying the power of the still image.
The most shocking photo – and about the most shocking thing I had ever seen as a teenager, happened on this day, February 1, 1968. It was Adams’ photograph of the killing of Nguyễn Văn Lém (code name: Bảy Lốp) on a street in Saigon. Lém, a Viet Cong captain suspected of murdering South Vietnamese Lt. Col. Nguyen Tuan and his family, was made to stand before brigadier general Nguyễn Ngọc Loan, chief of the national police, who summarily executed him with a swift shot to the the head using his personal Smith & Wesson .38 Special. (Gen. Loan later said, “If you hesitate, if you didn’t do your duty, the men won’t follow you.”)
In 2019 I was fortunate to meet and talk to Adams’ widow, Alyssa Adkins, Deputy Editor of TV Guide, and buy the great photo book she had helped put together with a large number of Adams’ images.
Edward Thomas Adams (12 June 1933 – 19 September 2004) was a combat photographer in the Korean War while serving in the United States Marine Corps. From 1962 to 1980 he worked two stints for AP (Associated Press). His photographs made more than 350 covers for TIME and Parade magazines.
On that fated day in February 1968, just a couple days after the beginning of the Tet Offensive, he and NBC News television cameraman Võ Sửu were walking the streets of Saigon and saw what they thought might be a street interrogation as a prisoner was pulled out of a building. Both raised their cameras and began to photograph and film. As they did, Gen. Loan walked up, raised his pistol and summarily fired a bullet into Lem’s head.
Both the resulting photograph and Võ Sửu’s film coverage became indelibly linked to the brutal truth of a war that had become staple evening fare on television sets throughout the United States: our South Vietnamese ally engaged in the same terrible behaviors as the North Vietnamese they fought. It was something I thought of often as I approached my 18th birthday with an impending, subsequent draft lottery. The stills photo went on to win the 1969 Pulitzer Prize for Spot News Photography and the pronouncement from TIME magazine declaring it, “one of history’s 100 most influential photos.”
Was this the photograph of which Adams’ was most proud? No. That honor goes to his photograph “Boat of No Smiles” (1979) showing a 30-foot fishing boat loaded with Vietnamese fleeing their homeland. Like the photo subject of this post, it was influential: it eventually led Congress and President Jimmy Carter to open immigration to more than 200,000 Vietnamese refugees.
Over time Adams became sorry the Saigon shot came to be known as his most famous image:
“Two people died in that photograph: the recipient of the bullet and General Nguyen Ngoc Loan. The general killed the Viet Cong; I killed the general with my camera. Still photographs are the most powerful weapons in the world. People believe them; but photographs do lie, even without manipulation. They are only half-truths. … What the photograph didn’t say was, “What would you do if you were the general at that time and place on that hot day, and you caught the so-called bad guy after he blew away one, two or three American people?”…. This picture really messed up his life. He never blamed me. He told me if I hadn’t taken the picture, someone else would have, but I’ve felt bad for him and his family for a long time. … I sent flowers when I heard that he had died and wrote, “I’m sorry. There are tears in my eyes.”
– Eddie Adams. “Eulogy: General Nguyen Ngoc Loan”. Time Magazine; July 27, 1998.
There are so many interesting side notes to this story.
Similar to the idea in science that the very act of an individual viewing an event affects the event itself, Susan Sontag wrote about Gen. Loan, “he would not have carried out the summary execution there had they [journalists] not been available to witness it.” In 1978 there was an attempt to revoke Loan’s permanent residence ‘green card’ and Adams’ spoke in his defense with President Jimmy Carter halting the deportation, writing, “such historical revisionism was folly”.
Proving that no matter where you live it’s who you know that can shape your life, Loan studied pharmacy at university before entering the army where he was a classmate of Nguyễn Cao Kỳ. Kỳ became head of the air force (where Loan flew as his wing-man) and then, after a coup, the Prime Minister. Loan opened a pizzeria in Burke, Virginia outside Washington, DC. from the late 1970s until 1991.
Elements of connection in this story keep coming right up to the present. South Vietnamese Lt. Col. Nguyen Tuan who, along with his family, had been killed by Nguyễn Văn Lém, had a 10-year old son, Huan Nguyen. Huan did not die in that 1968 attack despite being shot three times and laying for hours next to his dying mother. Huan came to the United States and in 2019 became the first Vietnamese American to reach the rank of U.S Navy Rear Admiral.
I have tried to track down the NBC cameraman Võ Sửu without success. I will update this post if I ever find out more about him (tho the NBC site on the footage does not add more information.)
This isn’t their Republican Party anymore,’ Donald Trump Jr. says of GOP lawmakers who don’t back his father. – Wednesday morning, January 6, 2021“
The people [Republicans] who did nothing to stop the steal — this gathering [the agitators outside the White House this morning] should send a message to them,” Baby Trump said at a rally outside the White House. “This isn’t their Republican Party anymore. This is Donald Trump’s Republican Party.
The Washington Post reports that ‘Trump Jr. also pledged to work against the reelection of any Republican who doesn’t try to overturn the results, echoing his father’s threats against officials who have rebuffed his efforts’… “These guys better fight for Trump, because if they’re not, guess what?” he said. “I’m going to be in your backyard in a couple of months! … If you’re going to be the zero and not the hero, we’re coming for you, and we’re going to have a good time doing it.”
You must give credit to the evidently persuasive agit-prop of the Trumpers. Anytime you can take wages (vs. dividends), food security, education and health care from those most in need – and still have them worship the ground you walk on, you are a master illusionist.
Monkeying around with democracy, we have well & truly gunned our country into high gear toward becoming what we used to call a ‘banana republic’.
UPDATE to my morning post:
6 January 2021, 2:35pm
Of all the ‘sacred’ symbols of these United States of America – the flag, the white House, the Statue of Liberty, etc. none are more important – or potent, than the U.S. Capitol Building, the edifice where The Peoples’ Business is daily transacted. I think if we do a little research, we might have to go back to 1814 to find a time when the Capitol fell into the hands of an enemy of our democracy.
Interestingly, during these hours of a seditious, Trumpian mob’s breach and control of the building, the Senate has changed political party hands with the state of Georgia declaring Mr. Jon Ossoff (D) as the winner of the senate race there between him and David Perdue (R).
Both Democratic Party winners make this an historic contest: Ossoff is the first Jewish senator from Georgia and the other seat’s winner, Raphael Warnock (D) is the first Black American to win a Georgia senate seat. Two important moments of our history, a high and a low, braided into the same day. Let’s hope our democracy is not as fragile as the security of the building where its aims are carried out.
Video: A pure celebration of joy compliments of funk band Scary Pockets, led by Ryan Lerman and Jack Conte. This version of “I Say A Little Prayer” features a fantastic fey performance by Kenton Chen.
I cannot imagine a life without music and the ability to hear it.
Listening to Aretha Franklin’s ‘I Say a Little Prayer’ (written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David for Dionne Warwick, 1966) always creates more than a little frisson in my love for life. It is difficult for me to think of a song more perfectly crafted – and then delivered, by one of the stellar voices in the history of humankind (despite the song being a bigger hit for Warwick.)
“While combing my hair, now,And wondering what dress to wear, now”
What’s more it was written for the war of my generation: lyricist Hal David wrote it about a “woman’s concern for her man who’s serving in the Vietnam War”, portraying how someone you love can be an intense part of the fabric of your everyday routine with thoughts bought forth by even the smallest things we do. One of the great hooks of the song is that “you are always made to feel as if you’re either about to be loved or about to be left.” (“Burt Bacharach Song by Song” by Serene Dominic)
“I run for the bus, dear,While riding I think of us, dear.”
In February 1987, ‘New Musical Express’, a UK music weekly, published its critics’ top 150 singles of all time, with Franklin’s “I Say a Little Prayer” ranked at No. 1, but the song slipped and did not appear in their in-house critics’ top 100 singles poll in November 2002. Still, for many of us it remains
“Forever, and ever, / (You’ll stay in my heart and I will love you)”
The song became Franklin’s (March 25, 1942 – August 16, 2018) ninth and last consecutive Top 10 Atlantic label hit on the Hot 100 chart. Her version – may I say, THE version of this tune, makes a listener truly believe she is solo dancing around the house singing to her beloved, though we outsiders can be privy to her intense emotions of care, love and longing.
“My darling, believe me / For me there is no one but you / Please love me too”
‘I Say a Little Prayer’ moves from reverie to rousing joy and possesses elements of soul, gospel call & response, rock, jazz, balladry, you name it – but it’s sections of driving beat lends itself to multiple interpretations, even electronica and, dare I write it – The Ray Coniff Singers, whose version also sets a frisson in motion in me but of fear – lordy, lordy don’t subject me to listening to their whole rendition (perhaps rendition of another kind would bring the same feelings.) There is even a not-bad version with an accordion by Mary Black.
Burt Bachrach has said, “It’s [Aretha’s] a better record than the record we made… It’s just more natural,…We were talking about our changes and time changes on the chorus of ‘forever and forever, you stay in my heart, and I will’ — you know, that’s going 4-4, 3-4, 4-4, 3-4. Then regard the way it was treated by Aretha, because Aretha just makes it seamless, the transition going from one change to another change. You never notice it.”
“Mmhmm. We did, yeah. And we did a great record, but she topped it,” Hal David added during a joint Bachrach-David interview in 2010 with Terry Gross on her Philadelphia Fresh Air Public Radio program. (For my money I think Terry is the best interviewer of all time, by the by, and am sorry I never said as much when I used to run into her in the City of Brotherly Love).
But it is the clear-as-a-bell soul quality of Aretha’s voice that sends me and I’ve been fortunate to see the song performed by Aretha as well as the jazz horn player Rahsaan Roland Kirk (August 7, 1935 – December 5, 1977).
“My darling, believe me / For me there is no one but you / Please love me too / Answer my prayer / Answer my prayer now babe / Say you love me too / Answer it right now babe / Answer my prayer”
Video: A pure celebration of joy compliments of funk band Scary Pockets, led by Ryan Lerman and Jack Conte. This version of “I Say A Little Prayer” features a fantastic fey performance by Kenton Chen.
Last autumn I posted a photograph on
Facebook of two adult women from a Sing-Sing in Papua New Guinea. They were
wearing grass skirts and necklaces. Within a couple hours it disappeared and I
received a notice that the photograph “violated community standards”.
Evidently, Facebook trolls their platform with algorithms looking for the
breasts that half (or more) of homo sapiens sapiens possess and that many
display as part of either ordinary living or reenactments and continuation of
traditions dating back millennia.
If I had, instead, posted some vitriolic, racist bullshit about exterminating people of color, starting in Kenosha, Wisconsin, all would have been hunky-dory. No problema, I would have been simply a righteous asshole expressing my First Amendment rights and espousing violence like many another red-blooded white man with below-average self-esteem; poor work skills; poorer general social skills; a skepticism of science and book-learnin’; a knack for receiving a world view from Fox ‘News’ and, if I am a teen, an inability to get laid (young girls have radar that, almost immediately with few mistakes, can spot weirdos.)
In other words, a white guy who,
along with his white male ancestors has enjoyed the prosperity and unearned
status that has been their lot for the last few hundred years. When such a
status is jeopardized by anyone, including their ‘natural’ soul mates, white
women, it is time to pull the plug on the veneer of ‘live and let live’ and
fight to keep – and extend, the privilege that exists. So what I dropped out of
school in the 8th grade and would love to have lived in Roman times. I could
have gone to those gladiatorial contests to give the thumbs down on the
barbarians from the provinces? Yeh, I would have loved to join the military to
bear arms if I could have passed the rudimentary skills test. And doin’ it for
the USA would have been a bonus ‘cause I love this country, especially back
when it enforced racial separation. Hoo-rah!
But, carrying a semi-automatic gun… er… weapon, in public is the next best thing. Hell, better: I don’t have to follow orders from some jerk with a ‘high & tight’. (And, too, it really makes me feel like a man, you know. A whole lot. I know the chicks dig it!)
Who you callin’ deplorable!
To be more fair, there are fellow
travelers who are not functionally stupid. As I have no known close
acquaintances in this category I have not been able to ask whether such
individuals actually believe all the clap-trap of white supremacists or whether
they are just along for the ride because they stand to benefit from any
extension of ole’ white boy power.
So… what this rant is really about
is whether I will continue to use Facebook for posts or dump it and return to
just writing on my Blog. As Facebook is 110% dollar driven I don’t think it
will change much, despite Zucker-face buying time by mouthing the right code
words at congressional hearings about the company having to do better.
What WILL amend Facebook’s corporate
behavior is when they are sued and saddled with billions of dollars in legal
claims similar to those that were faced by Big Tobacco. When a corporation
knows it operates in an area that is a detriment to society it is culpable. I’m
sure they will holler they are a news outlet letting their users enjoy the full
extent of their First Amendments rights but we all know that, in truth,
Facebook is a private business that is, in fact, in business to make money, not
engage in the public good.
I have two more postings I am
contemplating. One on evolutionary biology and one on Trumpism and capital.
Then, I think I will bow out. It’s been a good, if uneasy, ride!
I just learned that Denis Goldberg, one of the last two survivors of South Africa’s infamous Rivonia Trial (1963-1964), died on April 29th of cancer with Covid-19 complications.
Denis Goldberg, a civil engineer and an anti-apartheid
activist, spent 22 years in prison. He was arrested during a meeting of
activists and commanders of the MK (uMkhonto
we Sizwe) the armed wing of the ANC (African Nation Congress) on a farm in
Rivonia. The defendants in the sabotage and treason trial were Nelson Mandela
(already in prison under a “citing workers to strike” charge), Walter Sisulu, Lionel
Bernstein, Denis Goldberg, Arthur Goldreich, Bob Hepple, Abdulhay Jassat, Ahmed
Kathrada, Govan Mbeki, Raymond Mhlaba, Andrew Mlangeni, Moosa Moolla, Elias
Motsoaledi and Harold Wolpe. (Goldreich and Wolpe escaped from prison, after
beatings and torture, before beginning their sentence; Hepple fled the country
when charges were withdrawn; and Lionel Bernstein was acquitted, rearrested and
placed under house arrest before escaping from the country.) The rest beat a de facto death sentence thru what was
probably a private treaty with the judge. Goldberg received release in 1985 largely
through the work of his daughter and members of her kibbutz and the U.S. and Israeli
governments (for many years both close allies of apartheid South Africa.)
Many Americans think the fight for democracy in South Africa
was a monolithic black vs. white struggle. This arrest list shows how wrong
this view is: those arrested were English, Indian Muslim, Jewish, Xhosa, Pedi
The Rivonia Trial (Rivonia is a suburb of Johannesburg)
contained what is considered a founding moment in the attempts to create a
democracy in South Africa – 31 years before it became a reality. The ‘moment’
was , in fact, a three hour defense opening statement by Nelson Mandela, his
famous “I Am Prepared To Die” speech. Here is the closing paragraph:
my lifetime I have dedicated my life to this struggle of the African people. I
have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black
domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in
which all persons will live together in harmony and with equal opportunities.
It is an ideal for which I hope to live for and to see realised. But, my Lord,
if it needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”
As the only remaining white found
guilty, Denis Goldberg was taken to Pretoria Central Prison to serve 22 years.
The others served in various prisons with most doing extended time on Robben
Island off the coast. Mandela served almost 28 years (18 of which were at
Robben), Walter Sisulu served 26 years (most at Robben), Ahmed Kathrada
served 26 years (18 at Robben) with the balance at Pollsmoor Maximum Security
Prison (along with Raymond Mhlaba, Andrew Mlangeni, Elias Motsoaledi and Walter
Sisulu.) Many, perhaps all, of those convicted worked on interesting college
degrees while incarcerated. Some may remember that it was Ahmed Kathrada who
showed President Obama and the First Family around Robben Island in 2013.
In 2017 the three remaining survivors
of the Rivonia trial – Denis Goldberg, Andrew Mlangeni and Kathrada, along with
the three surviving defense attorneys, Joel Joffe, George Bizos and Denis Kuny
– appeared in a documentary film entitled “Life
is Wonderful”, directed by Sir Nicholas Stadlen. These were the words
Goldberg’s mother, Annie, is said to have uttered when she learned that he and
his comrades had been spared the death sentence. (Annie must have been quite a
mom: in 1960 she was arrested with him for supporting strikers after the
Sharpeville massacre and they both spent four months in jail.)
“Mary Ann Vecchio [a 14-year old runaway, as the world later learned] gestures and screams as she kneels by the body of a student, Jeffrey Miller, lying face down on the campus of Kent State University, in Kent, Ohio. On publication, the image was retouched to remove the fence post above Vecchio’s head.” The protest was against President Nixon’s illegal bombing of Cambodia during the Vietnam War. Reacting to mass demonstrations on May 1st, Nixon he had called anti-war protestors ‘bums’.
Four students were killed and 9 wounded by the 67 shots fired by the Ohio National Guard that day. Two of the four killed were bystanders and none of the four was closer to the Guard than about a football field in distance. The Guard had been dispatched to Kent State by Governor James Rhodes, at the request of the town of Kent’s mayor, after an arson attack burned down the ROTC building on May 2.
Four million students (college and high school) went out on strike after the news of the shootings became public.
In New Mexico, where I now live, eleven people were bayonetted at the University of New Mexico by the New Mexico National Guard in a confrontation with student protesters on May 8th. The demonstrations in Washington, DC were so combative that Nixon was removed to Camp David for his safety and the 82nd Airborne was lodged in the basement of the Executive Office Building next to the White House. At Jackson State University, a historically black college, in Jackson, Mississippi, two students were killed (and 12 wounded) by police during a demonstration on May 14 – an event that did not receive the same attention as the shootings at Kent State.
I was in high school in Ohio and vividly remember those times – especially when my Draft Number turned out to be 99. For many years thereafter I never ate at Wendy’s because Ohio Governor Big Jim Rhodes (“part P.T. Barnum, part Elmer Gantry, part Norman Vincent Peale” – Dayton Daily News) was one of Wendy’s investors. There are memorial events at Kent State on May 4th every year and I have managed to make it to one (the 30th, I believe.)
There are still unanswered questions about the timing and personnel involved in the Kent State massacre. A prominent one involves the university- and FBI-informant Terrence Brooks Norman (no relation!), a student who appeared to be the only non-Guardsman individual who was armed at the demonstration.
The Aeneid is the story of how a refugee from beaten and destroyed ancient Troy preserved his people, via divine authority, by founding Rome, with his descendants going on to establish an empire.
In 19BC the Roman poet Publius Vergilius Maro left Greece, where he had been conducting research for The Aeneid, to return to his home in Rome. He shipped out on a vessel with the Emperor Augustus, as one does. They stopped at Megara where Virgil contracted fever (or heatstroke) and he died as the ship docked in the southern Italian trading port of Brundisium. Among his last thoughts was his dissatisfaction with a 10-year long writing project, this book, The Aeneid. Rather than let an unfinished work see the light of day, he asked his executors to burn the manuscript. Augustus, who knew something of the book as Virgil had read him three chapters, stepped in and ordered the work to be published ‘as is’.
The Aeneidis an acknowledged cornerstone of Western literature and by two centuries after his death was a prerequisite in Latin education, which is to say, any western education above the rudimentary. Even in the 19th century it was often a requirement of students to memorize the whole of it! Its 9,896 lines have been printed in hundreds of editions in both its original Latin dactylic hexameter and in poetic and prose translation. Its opening line was even found in excavation as graffiti in Pompeii: Arma virumque cano, “Of arms and a man I sing.”
In 1680 Henry Purcell published the music for one of my favorite operas, Dido and Aeneas with Nahum Tate writing the libretto. (Tate is today mostly remembered, when he is remembered art all, for rewriting Shakespeare’s plays so that every scene would be “full of respect to Majesty and the dignity of courts”. Yes, the more things change, the more they stay the same!) I have many versions of The Aeneid shelved in several libraries around the house. My current favorite is the translation by Robert Fitzgerald (1983). I own four copies of this translation: one (trade paperback) in the sunroom library, one (mass market paper) in the research area for my work on wine in life and literature and two in the bedroom (first edition hardcover and a trade paper to share my enthusiasm by lending to friends.) Hmmm…. maybe this is why I have more than 5,000 books!
Virgil was a talented writer and superb stylist who cleverly knew his way around alliteration, onomatopoeia and other wordplay. His poetic lines are of a grand and stately solemn nature, very foreign to our modern ears attuned as we are to formulations of unstructured free-style verse and sentences. His goal in The Aeneid was to create a work that would glorify Rome and rival Homer’s Odyssey and Iliad. There are twelve books (what we might call chapters) in The Aeneid, written using the same syllabic and metrical line as used by Homer. The first six chapters play on the Odyssey and the last six the war and battles in the Iliad.
Though a great work, The Aeneid has not been free of issues. Yes, there are literary ones (it is a bear to translate as it is composed in what the Germans call kunstsprache, an artificial or invented artful language; I never truly mastered it in my school Latin.)
But, the problems I address here are political in nature. The work was ‘co-opted’ right from the beginning by Augustus. The emperor is kindly mentioned by name in scenes where Aeneas is gifted sight into the future when he enters the Underworld to visit his late father, Anchises. Augustus’ reign came after decades of instability (the Roman Civil Wars) following Julius Caesar’s crossing the Rubicon in 49BC, taking his legions into Rome and eventually becoming Dictator. Augustus was seen by many as savior and last hope of the Roman people for peace after the civil turmoil. Likewise it has been used through the centuries as a support for the aggrandizing and subjugating nature of colonization, a classical ‘white man’s burden’ made flesh.
But, to be fair, The Aeneid has also been interpreted as an anti-war poem and it is this tack I take. The language and potent imagery is second to none – cinematic even. The battle scenes do not require a very active imagination to visualize. It is sad that Virgil is no longer on the required reading list of our schools. It still has a lot to teach us about myriad human qualities like devotion, piety, hubris, rage, fate, courage and love in all its incarnations. Stop in and borrow a copy or buy your own if you are unfamiliar with the joy of reading this fine story.
Below, a section from “The World Below”, where Aeneas, led by the Sibyl, travels to the Underworld to see his father. She is carrying, under her dress, their entry ticket: the golden bough. It had been torn off a tree by Aeneas who was foretold it was needed as a presentation to Charon to get him to ferry them across Cocytus, the Stygian river leading to Hades. At the other side of the river there is another obstacle, the huge three-headed dog, Cerberus, but he enters the picture some lines later.
(If the words ‘golden bough’ seem familiar look up J.M.W. Turner’s painting of the same name and, also, the early anthropologist Sir James George Frazier whose work greatly influenced a generation, including Freud and Jung; Aleister Crowley; T.S. Elliot and William Carlos Williams; Hemingway, James Joyce, D.H. Lawrence, Robert Graves and Yeats; and the man who founded anthropology ‘off the verandah’, the founder of my university’s department, Bronislaw Malinowski, who was prompted to lay out the first statement of the aims of ethnography in his ground-breaking Argonauts of the Western Pacific (1922). Though now superseded in scholarship, for many years The Golden Bough exerted a profound influence upon literature, anthropology and intellectual thinking.)
Selection, below, courtesy of Vintage Books, A Division of Random House, NY. The Aeneid Translated by Robert Fitzgerald, Book VI, lines 331-402. Copyright 1980, 1982, 1983.
Book VI, “The World Below”, lines 331-402
The cavern was profound, wide-mouthed and huge,
Rough underfoot, defended by dark pool
And gloomy forest. Overhead, flying
Could never safely take their way, such
Exhalations rose from the black gorge
Into the dome of heaven. …
The Sibyl cried, “All those unblest, away!”
Depart from the grove! But you, Aeneas,
Enter the path here, and unsheathe your
There’s need of gall and resolution now.”
She flung herself wildly into the cave mouth,
Leading, and he strode boldly at her heels.
Gods who rule the ghosts; all silent
And Chaos and infernal Fiery Stream,
And regions of wide night without a
May it be right to tell of what I have
May it be right, and fitting, by your
That I describe the deep world sunk in
Under the earth.
dim to one another
In desolate night they walked on through
Through Dis’s homes all void, and empty
As one goes through a wood by a faint moon’s
Treacherous light, when Jupiter veils
And black night blots the colors of the world.
Before the entrance, in the jaws of Orcus,
Grief and avenging Cares have made
And pale diseases and sad Age are there,
And Dread, and Hunger that sways men to
And sordid Want – in shapes to
affright the eyes –
And Death and Toil and Death’s own
And the mind’s evil joys; on the door
Death-bringing War, and iron cubicles
Of the Eumenides, and raving Discord,
Viperish hair bound up in gory bands.
In the courtyard a shadowy elm
Spreads ancient boughs, her ancient
arms where dreams,
False dreams, the old tale goes,
beneath each leaf
Terry Holding His Son Jacob
Red Beach, WWII U.S. Marines Landing Area
Guadalcanal Island, Solomon Islands
With his wife and nine children he lives ‘rough’ on Red Beach, the site of the first landfall of the U.S. Marines in the Solomon Islands. The family has only recently returned to this shore-front they say they own. He and his wife are Gilbert Islanders, Micronesians, in this country of Melanesians. Despite their uncertain future, the family and little community maintain the site. The original historic marker has been stolen and moved 500 meters west to draw tourists and our dollars there. (The two Solomon Island brothers who they say drove them away to keep the land for themselves have recently been jailed which has allowed the return of Terry and his family.)
The Gilbert Islands are a group of 32 atolls and reef islands and one raised coral island dispersed over 1.3 million square miles, halfway between Hawaii and Papua New Guinea. It is the nation now known as Kiribati (their pronunciation of the word ‘Gilbert’ — though accented, Terry’s English is a good as mine). The name was coined in 1820 by a German admiral, in the employ of Russian Tsar Aleksandr I, after the British captain who ‘discovered’ the islands in 1788. This mix of European interests in the Pacific is a common circumstance involving changing identities and loyalties for the last couple centuries.
The main north-south line of islands in Kiribati is still called The Gilberts and stretches 780 km/485 miles. It is amazing to me that with a small population and such close proximity (in sea-faring Pacific islander terms) the northern islands were ruled by a chief and the southern islands were run by collectives of elder men. The origin myth of the Gilbertese has the ancestors coming from the West and being whitish-skinned and red-haired. It is intriguing to speculate that the Asian branch of the Neanderthals, the Denisovans, might have been sea-faring!
Most Westerners know almost nothing about Kiribati so here are three points of general interest that stand out to me:
– three of the islands were Great Britain’s last attempt at colonization (1938-1963)
– the islands were attacked by the Japanese in December 1941 on the same day as Pearl Harbor. In August of 1942 U.S. Marines landed an attack and 19 were captured as prisoners and summarily executed by the Japanese. In 1999 their bodies were finally returned home by an honor guard.
– three of the islands are U.S. territories, including Palmyra Atoll, the only incorporated U.S. Territory.
(There are a total of 14 Insular Areas around the world that fall under U.S. jurisdiction. Can you name them!)
Japanese Type 88 75mm Anti-Aircraft Gun (with its base just beyond)
“It was his beauty that beat me.” – George Foreman
In a world where many noted personalities are famous simply for being… well… famous, Mohammed Ali was a giant, a man who not only had a skill and performed colossal feats with that skill (40 Sports Illustrated covers as of next week attest to this) but who stood for something, as well. Ali became a symbol of hope and aspiration for anyone trying to make something of a life begun in humble or deprived origins, for those forced by circumstance into a life of servitude and despair. How appropriate that he was recognized by both the United Nations and Amnesty International as a world ambassador for peace and justice.
I met Mohahammed Ali once. I had, of course, seen him many times on television, flashing that infectious smile and spouting his sing-song braggadocio. What do you say to the man who was once the world’s highest paid athlete and most recognized face and name on earth (as an American, everywhere I went in Africa in the late 1970s people who could not speak much English would raise their arms and shout “Mohammed Ali!”)? I managed to mumble something about it being a supreme pleasure to finally meet “The Greatest”.
What I was not prepared for was his handshake. Ali took both my hands in his and I still remember, and often mention, that my hands (I’m 6 foot, 1 inch tall) were engulfed in what seemed to me to be two catcher’s mitts enclosing my hand. I immediately thought of what it would be like to be hit by such huge fists and said so. He laughed and slowly threw one of his famous mock punches.*
“If you are still the same person at 50 as you were at 20 then you have wasted 30 years of your life.” – Mohammed Ali
When you are “The Greatest”, so you shall ever remain.
* In Philadelphia I belonged to the same club as Joe Frazier and his hands were similarly sized. Plus, Frazier was not that tall but his shoulders extended far beyond my own when we would stand face to face. He was built like a moving , giant cinder block.
The Senators, listed below, complained Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ veterans benefits bill was too expensive. And they were upset that Majority Leader Harry Reid prevented a vote on a GOP amendment cutting the bill and adding sanctions against Iran for its nuclear program.
No doubt these same, mostly old, rich, white men will be wanting to send U.S. ground forces (a slick, cosmetic way of saying our young gals & guys) back to Iraq as soon as yesterday to try and save the unsavable: the corrupt, intransigent regime of Nouri Kamil Mohammed Hasan al-Maliki, the country’s Prime Minister. Oh… and yes, he is also acting Interior Minister, acting Defense Minister, acting National Security Minister and the secretary-general of the Islamic Dawa Party.
plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose
– from Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr, 24 November 1808 – 29 September 1890 and usually translated into English as, the more things change, the more they stay the same.
I rode my BMW R1200RT to the New Mexico annual BMW motorcycle rally last weekend and had the privilege of meeting Jeffrey Polnaja. Jeffrey, from Java, Indonesia, has been riding his GS BMW motorcycle around the world on a Ride for Peace. He is into his 78th country and 52nd riding month and has, he figures, around 24 months more to go to cover the rest of the western U.S., Central and South America, New Zealand and Australia. He has only taken a break once — when his bike was stolen (with all his possessions) in Amsterdam in a plaza in front of a police station. To replace it he had to buy another in Indonesia where the customs duty doubles the price of the bike to around US$45,000. He got a break and only had to pay $30,000. He also used the waiting time to write a book about the southern Asia, North Africa and Western Europe part of his journey. He hopes the book will one day be translated into English.
Since he began his journey Jeffrey has learned how to repair the elemental mechanics of the bike, learned how to use his small helmet and chest-mounted cameras as well as a large Nikon, gotten really good in making slide shows and movies with his laptop computer and, incredibly, learned how to speak passable English.
The impetus for this huge undertaking began when he and his family were watching the awful events of September 11, 2001 on Indonesian television. His young son asked him why someone, someone who was Muslim as Jeffrey and his family are, would do this terrible thing. After trying to explain to his son the nature of evil his son asked him why he did not do something to stop such evil. Like most of us, Jeffrey asked his son what could he, a simple small businessman in Bandung Province with no special skills, do? His son asked why he couldn’t ride around the world taking the message of Peace. Unlike most of us, Jeffrey decided to do just that. He sold his business (rubber parts for motorcycles) and in April 2006 began his international journey.
“I am just a rider, but I hope to see peace in the world. I hope (politicians) will make peace part of their policy.”
Jeffrey’s ready smile, gentle spirit and iron-tough will (he would add his belief in god) have kept him in the saddle though events that would stop many, maybe most, riders. I think just the official international border paperwork and petty theft would rob most of us of our sense that we can make a difference.
He has been shot at in South Asia and hit by a drunk driver in Baluchistan. The hit-and-run collision damaged his bike, destroyed his navigation system and cracked his right wrist (he has a great photo of buzzards flying overhead after this accident when he awoke the next morning lost in the roadless desert). He had to negotiate to be allowed to cross the Khyber Pass into war-torn Afghanistan and required armed escort for part of his ride there. He had motorcycle mounted, heavily armed, gendarmeries flank him across Algeria and was charged only $30 for a $3000 per night hotel room in Dubai. He was hit by a truck driver in Kazakhstan with crushing wounds to his left leg. The doctors said he would need a month in bed before putting weight on it. Jeffrey decided to try the healing meditations monks in Tibet had taught him. After eight days he thought his leg felt better and asked the doctors if he could go. They checked his leg and the fracture had healed — he was released to continue his ride.
Here’s hoping his ride has an impact on as many people, in as many places, as possible.
“Listening is hard because the more you listen the more unsettling the world becomes”
15 minutes each
First broadcast: Tuesday 09 July 2013
Tim Harford (the Financial Times‘ ‘Undercover Economist’ and presenter of Radio 4’s More or Less) has a new live-recorded, mini-series in Pop-Up Ideas, 15 minute programs exploring how prominent thinkers use “key ideas in anthropology and the social sciences to tell fascinating stories about how we – and the world – work.”
Program 1:New Yorker ‘Staff Writer’ Malcolm Gladwell describes how the U.S. war in Vietnam might have gone differently had the military listened to one of its own researchers, Konrad Kellen (family birth name Katzenellenbogen.) Kellen’s job was to debrief captured Vietcong guerrillas and describe their mind-set vis-à-vis the war. (Kellen’s life story is fabulous and fascinating.)
In one such debriefing he asked the captured senior officer if the officer believed the North Vietnamese could win the war. “No,” was the reply. Minutes later he asked if the Americans, then, would win the war? “No.”
This was interpreted by top U.S. Army brass as the answers of a demoralized enemy. Kellen, however, believed the answers were the responses of someone who did not think in terms of winning or losing at all — an entirely different view and one much more threatening to any eventual U.S. and South Vietnamese victory.
Listen to Gladwell’s interview here starting about minute time stamp 2:20.
The other programs (from the BBC Radio 4 website):
Program 2: One of the world’s most influential counter-insurgency experts, David Killcullen, whose ideas were described by the Washington Post as ‘revolutionizing military thinking throughout the West’, talks about how future instability will emanate from rapidly-growing coastal megacities.
Program 3: The financial journalist Gillian Tett describes how her background in anthropology led her to predict the financial crisis in 2008.
Program 4: Tim Harford explores the concept of ‘The Tragedy of the Commons’ – a term coined by the American ecologist Garrett Hardin in a hugely influential 1968 essay.
A leaked document sets out the military instructions, or standard operating procedure, for force-feeding detainees at Guantánamo. In this four-minute film made by Human Rights organisation Reprieve and Bafta award-winning director Asif Kapadia, US actor and rapper Yasiin Bey (formerly known as Mos Def), experiences the procedure. — The Guardian Newspaper
What are the alternatives for keeping the prisoners (100 hunger-strikers with 40 being force fed) alive? I do not know.
U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler has ruled that the court cannot make a ruling on whether the detainees can be force-fed by the military, adding “The President of the United States, as Commander-in-Chief, has authority – and power – to directly address the issue of force-feeding of the detainees at Guantanamo Bay.”
If you would like to read reporter Ben Ferguson’s eye-witness account of the making of the video, click here.
NOTE: This video is not for the faint of heart (nor, as you will see, was the procedure for Mos Def, a Muslim, born Dante Smith in Brooklyn, N.Y.)
Ten dead at 15,000 foot camp in Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan.
Back in my younger days I was a mountain climber. I still have all the stuff: the insulated boots; parkas; big-wall hardware; ice axes, hammers and screws; tents; down bags; metal-edged telemark skis, etc. But, as my life became more sedentary, with most days spent in front of the computer or at my gallery, I got soft. Now I just read about climbing.
Perhaps that’s a good thing. I came of age, as they say, in a time when I could trek almost anywhere and get out of most any trouble by flashing that all-important U.S. passport. There were hardly any mountains off limits except the Tibetan side of the Himalayas and some of the Soviet peaks. Sometimes even these were available for the right money.
The days of unfettered access have long been gone and highlighting this was today’s Taliban attack on an international climbing camp on Nanga Parbat, Pakistan’s second and the world’s ninth highest mountain. Locals call the mountain Diamir: “King of the Mountains”. It is located in Pakistan’s northwest Gilgit-Baltistan region and has resisted all attempts at a winter ascent. The area has had a lot of violence directed at the Shia minority but none toward foreigners as has occurred in more accessible regions. (The base camp, at a mountain elevation of 4200 feet, is roadless and difficult of access, requiring a two-day hike-in. The camp itself sits at 15,000 feet above sea level.)
“Spokesperson for the proscribed Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, Ehsanullah Ehsan, talking to Dawn.com from an undisclosed location claimed that the Janud-e-Hafsa faction of the [Taliban] had carried out the attack… dressed as Gilgit Scouts, a paramilitary police unit.” (The Muslim News, Middlesex, UK.) The reason given for the murders was to avenge recent U.S. drone attacks that killed the Taliban’s deputy leader on May 29.
One Chinese climber was wounded and escaped. The dead include an American of Chinese origin, the Pakistani guide, two Chinese, a Nepalese, two Slovakians, a Lithuanian and two Ukranians.