Cultural & Literary, Social  Commentary and Opinion

THE WORD WHEEL; Literary Commentary

May 10 2020

This Issue: Route 66, Von Braun's Firmament and Farewell, a poem

     Route 66

      I am fortunate to receive channel ZLVNG.  I can review a part of my youth as they air reruns of Route 66.  The era of its run could not be classified as the The Golden Age or certainly not the High Culture Age of television.  However, it was a  significant era for engaging entertainment: Alfred Hitchcock Hour, Steven Allen, The Twilight Zone.  There was a special niche in that era that also produced some serious drama.

     Of course for the teen set it was the Corvette that was eye candy to lure us into the journey along Route 66.  We could be encouraged that Martin Milner and George Maharis were not so far beyond our age group.  We could relate to their freedom.  In our imagination we were on that endless road trip to freedom and adventure in that sports car.  If not mistaken, I believe it to be the only road trip theme to air on television.  That made the series the essential American drama.  The broad expanse, multicultural atmosphere, and scenic beauty of America was well suited for a road trip.  With screenwriters like Stirling Silliphant and Sam Pekinpah at the steering wheel we were sure to find adventure, humor, and excitement as we got our kicks on Route 66.....and don't forget Winona.  Although the transportation theme was Americana, the journey was not about America.  It was not about discovering  or revealing American culture.  It was universal.  The two friends, Buz and Tod, were compelling characters of contrast with opposing pedigrees who struck up an unlikely friendship.  One was the intellectual from a wealthy family and the other was a Hell's Kitchen orphan born into a tough life.  In each episode we witness this unlikely pair  appreciate and bicker with one another and we have the stories of the people that they discovered on the road.  The pair weigh in with different perspectives from their background on the angst of the characters they meet.  In some episodes Buz and Tod were participants and willing to offer a helping hand or some practical advice to a troubled soul.  In other episodes they were casual observers to the human interest stories that unfolded.  The road under the tire tracks of the Corvette is symbolic of the path to understanding themselves and others.

     The performance and script of these stories can be characterized as much by what they were not, as well as what they were.  There was no violence for the sake of violence, the plots did not cloy to our emotions, and there was little of convenient coincidence in the plots (no Charles Dickens here).  They did explore crimes of the heart, there was character conflict, characters arc, perceptive dialogue, problems examined, and resolution.  It was not Shakespearian, but it was worthy drama.  A few of the episodes did not have a specific meaning  since they were existential in nature.  These stories asked questions to which resolution is not achieved. I was clueless as to what existential was at that age, but I was attracted to a story that was well told and did not have an essential answer.  I simply knew that they were searching for something in human behavior that was puzzling or they found a circumstance that they could not fully define.

     I like to think that Tod and Buz are still motoring west looking for the next story....it winds from Chicago to L.A./more than two thousand miles/now you go through St. Louis, Joplin Missouri......

     Von Braun's Firmament

          The inscription on the tombstone of Werner Von Braun reads Psalms 19:1.  It references the passage: The heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament sheweth his handywork.  For the unkind a sardonic inscription could have been:  He aimed for the stars but hit England, the famous quote from Robert Benchley upon Von Braun's arrival to America from post war Germany.

     Von Braun was interested in rocket science and space travel since early childhood.  After his graduation from the Technical University of Berlin and The Swiss Federal Institute of Technology of Zurich he gained a reputation as the man who could possibly design and develop a prototype of a rocket propelled craft.  Word of this wunderkin spread and reached the German Army  Ordnance Department and they enlisted his help to develop a weapon using rocket technology and Von Braun agreed.  Why Not?  The unlimited resources required to fulfill his dream of space travel was at his disposal.  Soon V-1 and V-2 rockets were descending on England.  The firmament sheweth terror with Von Braun's handywork.  Incidentally, the V stood for vengeance.

     After the war Von Braun and 127 of his associates surrendered to the American forces to avoid possible capture by the Russians.  Over the next few years many other German Engineers and technicians were recruited from Germany.  The State Department was eager to develop a rocket to launch ICBMs since they were fearful that the Russians would be the first. There was a distinct fear in political circles that Stalin would launch nuclear ICBMs at America.  Some believed that to be highly unlikely since Stalin appeared to be more interested in using subversive tactics against non-communist countries and he was preoccupied at the  time with purging his own citizenry.  The fear mongers in our government and newspapers launched a better publicity campaign and won the day.  American security and pride were at stake.  The whisper in political circles was: let's forget Von Braun's affiliations and get to space.  His talents were put to use immediately.  First, there was a technical problem to overcome.  Our  Redstone rocket  had developed had a nasty habit of exploding on the launch pad.  Von Braun was quick to point out the malfunction.  The fuel pumped into the combustion chamber flowed unevenly and then ignited chaotically which resulted in extreme torsion in the chamber.  The result was catastrophic failure.  Engineers modified the design of the combustion chamber to achieve an even flow of fuel.  The problem was solved and we soon sent our first satellite into space. With this quick resolution his engineering talents were reaffirmed.  It was not only the engineering talent that made him a standout among others.  This tall, handsome man possessed a charismatic personality that lured doubting politicians to his cause for space exploration.  Von Braun was a celebrity attraction for the public and the newsprint clamored for every word from the photogenic man with the thick German accent.  His personality served him well in his management role with his team members.  He was an inspiration to other engineers and technicians. 

     He continued on his mission and further refined the Redstone into the Jupiter rocket that propelled Alan Shepard into space in 1961.  His ideas continued to be instrumental in the rocket program through the 1970's and he was promoted to Director of NASA, Marshall Space Flight Center.  He remained primarily interested in the dream of having a platform to send a man to the moon.  He was chief architect of the Saturn Five rocket that sent the Apollo astronauts to the moon in 1969.  That Saturn technology was also used to launch our first ICBM. 

     Irrespective of Von Braun's popularity and talent there were rumors in the undercurrent of society.  This man's past must be considered. Some could pose a simplistic moral parallel.  We should not have engaged Von Braun's help since he aided and abetted the Nazi Party.  Thus, do we condone his participation by bringing him into our fold?  The polar opposite moral is that nothing we do will bring back the dead.  What is done cannot be undone.  Is there any moral question to be considered with accepting Von Braun?  He was not charged with a war crime as was neither the typical German artillery officer or the pilot of a Heinkel bomber.  Was that officer guilty of killing civilians?  Certainly, but so were the pilots of the U.S. bomber group that fire bombed Dresden, Germany.  There remains other issues that cause complications.  The complex where the team worked, Peenemunde, was  constructed and serviced by slave labor from a nearby Nazi concentration camp. Prisoners died in that camp.  Von Braun was aware of the camp and had visited it on several occasions.  Additionally, he was a member of the Nazi Party and a Major in the German Army.  His knowledge of the affairs at Peenemunde drew others to conclude that he indirectly approved of the concentration camp.  He had turned a blind eye to the inhumane treatment.  It could be that Von Braun's actions and our State Department's acceptance of his complicity could  best be characterized by an old Asian proverb, Who you are is what room you are in at the time.  Our government was in a room of opportunity in place and time and Von Braun was in a room of opportunity in place and time.  There was a door connecting the two.  He was willing to ignore the inhumane treatment and deaths of his fellow man to satisfy his ambitions and our government was willing to ignore the same inhuman treatment and deaths to satisfy their ambitions.  Von Braun made a Faustian deal to satisfy his appetite for space travel and he knew what he was getting into with the Nazi Party.  Hitler's bigoted rhetoric had been publicized around the world.  Von Braun must have been aware of Kristallnacht in 1938.  It was in 1939 that he joined the National Socialist Party.  In his own words to American authorities: "Thus my refusal to join the party would have meant that I would have to abandon the work of my life".  That is tacit approval of the Nazi Party.  It is the act of taking the oath.  It could be true that he later came to disapprove of the Nazi manifesto.  In 1944 Von Braun was heard to make a disparaging remark about the Nazi Party  and the Gestapo arrested him and held him in prison for several weeks.  He was eventually released and we cannot know either the seriousness of the matter or exactly what either party claimed.  He may have been very eager to relate his story to the U.S. authorities and to the public.  Von Braun claimed that as the war continued  the engineering crew had become extremely anti-Nazi and anti-Hitler.  But aren't these only conveniences?  Did anyone at the Peenemunde site know about the holocaust?  They all denied knowledge.

     The circumstance of Von Braun was as complex as was the man.  He is not guilty and he is not innocent.  It was his tacit approval of the Nazi Party, a lack of character, that he exhibited with his decision.  To look the other way, to skirt around the edges of morality with compromised authorities to achieve one's ambition is a common story.  It is human nature.  These actions which evolve on the questionable edge of morality are generally forgiven by society if the results are beneficial. 

     Herr Doctor Baron Von Braun, the prince of vengeance and the prince of light, revealed the light through the door to a new horizon.    We would become the Magellans of our age to explore the universe and discover new worlds that lay beyond.   We would awake from that age old dream of space travel, our aspirations to be fulfilled. Complexities indeed.  

Note: for all of our efforts the Russians were the first to launch a satellite, first to send an animal into space, sent the first man into space, sent the first object to hit the moon, first to fly by the moon and first to photograph the far side of the moon.


                   (the day of reminding)

                            by H C Wallace

   The flags remain furled,  the tin trumpets rest mute/

   no granite statue has risen, history will not share/

   a golden crepuscule will sigh and sink indifferent/

   while the busy clanging of everyday pierces the air/   

   A world plays in frenzied pace chooses not to confirm/

   but we in this mourning will interrupt for our moment/

   for a humble recalling of their brevity holding our turn/

   when we were  drawn with devotion into their orbit/

   We recount their years lived to this day of sleep/

   and dispose to the quick of shadowed rhymes writ/

   for we compose ours inked on their spirit to keep/

   bitter and sweet depart, to the winds they submit/

   we whisper our elegies on this minor departing/

   and know the wind will consume our dust swiftly/


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 This book should not be tossed aside lightly, it should be thrown with great force, Dorothy Parker's review of Benito Mussolini's novel The Cardinal's Mistress


     Julian, by Gore Vidal

     The Roman Emperor Julian, 361 A.D. was given the title The Apostate by the Christians. The title is not undeserving but he could as well have been given the title The Resurgent. Julian proved to be a man of letters through his life into his days as the emperor. That was atypical for a Roman Emperor.   Julian  bequeathed  three journals of his brief life for posterity.  Gore Vidal has used these journals as  the enormous palette of this period of Roman history to tell the story of an emperor of the post Hellenist period who stubbornly defended the old gods and culture of Hellenism against the wave of Christianity.  Vidal colors in the history with the imaginative prose of dialogue, court intrigue, treason, and character conflict.  In doing so, he stays within the margins of the accepted Roman history that is familiar to us. The brief history of Julian is a significant revivalist movement and Vidal has followed the critical sign posts of this period in his work of historical fiction. 

     Christianity had taken a foothold in the Roman Empire before the birth of Julian.  His Uncle Constantine was the first emperor to adopt the new religion and decreed Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire.  He was a professional soldier with ambitions who had appreciation for political power and he wisely detected the emerging popularity of the new religion.  Possibly, he saw this as a means to an end.  At an early age the orphan Julian was assigned a tutor, Mardonius.  Mardonius schooled Julian in the principles of Hellenism to include sophistry, rhetoric, virtue, aesthetics, the philosophies of Plato, Aristotle, and the ancient stories of Homer.  Julian also studied the bible and remained a Christian through his youth.  In adulthood he came to embrace the principles of Hellenism as more sensible for a harmonious and meaningful life than the new religion referred to as Galilean.

     Julian maintained a lengthy period of celibacy in adulthood and adopted the lifestyle of a priest.  On his journey as a priest throughout the Roman Empire he meets others who have sharp opinions of the new religion.  Why are Christians slandering and destroying those of other religions because they did not share similar beliefs?  Aren't we tolerant of the Egyptians who believe in other gods?  This is something new to us.  How can the father, the son and the holy spirit be one and the same if the son is of mortal blood?  The Jews of the Old Testament were monotheists and the Galileans have professed the triple god of the father, the son, and the Holy Spirit.  The Galileans must be atheists.  Why are these Christians so preoccupied with death, the life afterward, as opposed to the Hellenists who appreciate life and question their existence and practice the aesthetics of life?  Are we to believe there was no god until the appearance of a rabble rousing carpenter three hundred years ago?  Hellenists professed that Jesus was crucified for sedition . Was the first god, the god of the Jews and the lawgiver, die then replaced by another god of the Gospels?  These are critical questions from the viewpoint of the Hellenists who believed that humans cannot die as gods but confer with gods through mysticism or magic (after death, Elysium, in Homer's original view, was a place only for heroes and then apart from the gods).  Did not the philosophers of Greece explain more logically and completely the fall of man through the tales of Prometheus?  Did not Homer explain in explicit detail the creation of man and nature through his stories?  The bible is full of ambiguities, contradictions, and absurdities.  Our gods are not confused since they are immutable and constant.  These are not disingenuous questions or mere sophistry.  Hellenism was ingrained in the culture of humanity for hundreds of years.  The stories of Homer were taken as answers to the spirit and life of man.  How could a religion be new?  What would follow our gods would have to be false.  However, in the undercurrent of these dismissive opinions of Christianity unease brewed in the Hellenist ranks.  Diocletian had issued a decree years previously that all boys would follow in their father's vocation.  The rule was intended to insure that skills would not be abandoned or forgotten in their society.  Additionally, reading and writing were neither required or endorsed.  The Christians gave their children the freedom to pursue their vocations.  Most importantly the Christians promoted literacy in their homes and private schools.  Christians had become interpreters, secretaries to senators, worked for libraries, and held jobs in commerce.  The new faith had also spread through the military ranks.

     During Julian's travels his half brother Gallus was made Caesar in the east.  Gallus proved to be an able warrior but proved to be reckless with his authority and was found guilty of treason, the catch all crime of that era, and was executed.  Julian went into hiding since it was a dangerous time for him.  Would he be assassinated as a possible usurper to the throne?  He could be under suspicion since he was in the lineage of Constantius II.  It was decided that he should be sent to Gaul as a general.  In Gaul he became famous as a leader capable of subduing the marauding Franks. Gaul was safe and secure.  The legions were enamored of his skills and conferred upon him the title Caesar.  He accepted.... in feigned gratitude.   Julian had adopted Hellenism to include the old gods during his time in Gaul.  Julian advances to the title Augustus while in Paris and Constantius II proclaims that Julian will succeed him as Emperor.   Shortly thereafter Constantius II dies.  

     Julian's first objective as emperor was to reform the government of the Roman Empire.  He eliminated hundreds of bureaucratic positions in the central government and ceded considerable power to the individual local governments.  Government stipends to the Christian community were eliminated.  Was the empowerment of the cities an attempt to emulate the city states of Greece?Julian attempts to restore the old gods to their rightful place and restore the temples which have fallen into disrepair.  The attempt proves difficult since many of the old Hellenist priests have long since died.  Julian tells his friend that he will fight the Galileans with reason and by example and he will not despair the effort.  He feels that in time he will be able to restore the temples and recruit young priests.

     After a brief period in Antioch, Julian devised a plan to secure his eastern border from occasional raids by Persian operatives by laying siege to the Sassanid capital of Ctesiphon.  The full motivations were unclear at the time but it quickly became obvious that he had deeper ambitions.  It was claimed by those in his circle that he longed for revenge against Persia. Julian reflects on Alexander the Great and his exploits as emperor.  Could he follow the example of Alexander?  Is there a twofold ambition?  Alexander was a follower of the old gods and his teacher in youth was Aristotle.  He was an apt model for Julian as a king and conqueror.  Shouldn't the Roman Empire extend itself to lay claim to that old enemy Persia as did Alexander?  It was Xerxes who burned Athens the name sake of Athena and a center of  Hellenism.  Could the old gods and culture of Hellenism be restored fully after its dissolution.    Julian readies his army of 90,000 soldiers and begins the Persian campaign.

     Julian's army wins a few minor battles and after several weeks of progress into the heart of Persia lays siege to major cities.  Persian cities are burnt, some officials are executed, treasure and slaves taken.  Three months into the campaign Julian wins a major battle along the Tigris nearer the city of Ctiesphon.  Sapor, the Emperor of Persia, continues retreating with his army and remains secure in the capitol city.  Sapor sues for peace and considerations are extended to Julian.  Sapor offers Julian a large fortune in gold and a province in the empire of Persia in exchange for peace and a Roman retreat from Persia.  Julian does not answer Sapor and continues his progress.  In the next battle Julian is mortally wounded with a spear and dies in a few days.... age thirty-three.  The Roman army retreats.

     Sapor's offer to Julian does not comport with most annals of the Persian Campaign and the cause of Julian's death is generally referred to as unknown circumstances.  There were several stories circulating at the time and in later years.  It is here that  Vidal takes the podium with his version to express his severe appraisal; a rebuke of Christianity.  Julian's doctor removes the spear from Julian and identifies it as a Roman spear.  It must have been Callistus, a Christian convert and the personal protector of Julian who delivered the fatal wound to Julian.  It must have happened in the confusing torrent of battle.  There were no witnesses to the killing. How fitting that a Christian would dispatch the aspiring emperor of resurgent Hellenism  in an act of violence.   And ironic that Julian was to die as a flawed hero as it would have played in a Greek (Hellenism) tragedy.

     What was to follow the rise of Christianity but a thousand years of religious pogroms, crucifixions, gruesome crusades, and raw bigotry.  Then in that journey they abandoned their dedication to literacy. What came with Christianity was the loss of tolerance.  The Christians were intolerant and absorbed with a self-righteous doctrine; convert or burn at the stake.  It bore the face of fascism since they strove to force their ideas to become your ideas.

     Over a thousand years after Julian's death Spinoza arrived to proclaim that the bible was a fantasy story and that god existed in the laws of nature.  

     It would not be fair to label the novel as a podium for Vidal to crucify the Christians (although Vidal does bring some heavy artillery to the fore).  Vidal breaths life into the Roman past and explores Julian's maturation, his relationships, and conflicts in a way to carve a  personality from a Roman statue.  Buried therein, Vidal, subtly via his characters, poses critical ethical and religious concepts of the day. Neither would it be fair for the reader to claim that Julian was simply hungry for power. Every political or religious figure wants power.  Power can be judged by motive, means, and results.  A serious student of the tolerance of Hellenism would not have unjust motives nor employ murderous means.  One may be tempted to label Julian as a quixotic character but that would be in error since what he fought was an actual threat and what he pursued was a cultural ideal.  The more plausible explanation is that Julian was a religious romantic who dreamed of the golden age of Hellenism that through his studies and influences held a deeper devotion.  It was a sentiment of something in the past that held greater glory and promise than the present day.  

     It is a possibility that Julian could have won the day in Persia.  Would Hellenism in full have been restored?  There was confusion among Romans concerning the behavior of this intellectual Emperor.  Roman citizens and senators were accustomed to having an emperor who was above them.  The emperor should sit on a throne above the people, should not give long winded lectures to the senate as would a politician, and above all should not walk among the citizens.  Julian had these unsettling habits.  Romans wanted a hero who rose above them, not to be one of them.  Was this Apostate too democratic?  How would the common citizens and senators accommodate themselves to Julian's idiosyncratic political methods?  What would a shift in this cultural  paradigm mean for the future?



Notes:    I have used the term Hellenists to specifically  describe those in the novel who professed the Hellenism culture well past the ending of the Hellenistic era.  Alternately, there were those who embraced the Greek culture of Hellenism but rejected polytheism and accepted Christianity in this same period.  Those are briefly referred to in the bible. 

     From the 1970's on I would follow  Vidal as he traveled the T.V. talk show circuit: Johnny Carson,, Charlie Rose, or Dick Cavett.  He was always good for a few witticisms or pithy barbs.  He was always ready to stick a pin in some over inflated balloon.  Novelist, essayist, lecturer, historian, playwright, screenwriter, and iconoclast. He loved America for its possibilities. Our country is a lesser place without him.

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Quote: You can have friends or you can correct people's grammar, Mary Norris, copy editor


 Riders On The Storm 

 Riders on the storm

 Into this house we're born

 Into this world we're thrown 

 Like a dog without a bone

 An actor out on loan

 Riders on the storm, Jim Morrison and The Doors

      Normally I don't engage with serial killer, mass murderer books and movies, or murder mysteries.  It is not my genre.   Until last night.

     It debuted on the FX channel: The Most Dangerous Animal of All.  This caught my attention.  An orphaned adult in search of his biological father claimed to be the son of the Zodiac Killer.  The orphaned son is happily married with children, has a career and by any account a decent citizen.  How would he reconcile this psychological nightmare?  How would he learn to live with the stigma and would he have doubts as to his gene affiliation with something so debased?  He appeared to be a kind and considerate person in search of the truth.  Surely he would find redemption and a purpose to his life apart from the horror of his killer-father. No, not exactly.

     The author of the book, the orphan and the protagonist of this documentary, launches a seventeen year crusade to find out who his father was.  He reconciled with his biological mother who told him that it was his father who abandoned him over her protestations.  The beginning story of his father as told by many witnesses and newspaper accounts painted a portrait of a man given to obsessive and intemperate behavior.

     I was totally drawn into this compelling journey.  At every step the evidence was mounting and the pieces fit together perfectly.  There was circumstantial evidence, possibly somewhat suspect, but there was an abundance of circumstantial evidence which was beyond coincidence.  There was a sketch of the suspect that perfectly matched a photograph of his father.  The story culminates with a DNA test, finger print analysis and handwriting analysis. Everything appeared to point to an  ugly, soiled bow of macabre proof.  Not so fast.  He published his book to critical acclaim.  Then the curious and the doubters began their journey of investigation.  The DNA interpretation was compromised , fingerprint analysis and handwriting analysis did not stand up to scrutiny.  Most importantly the father, by his given name, did not live in the area of the crimes at the time of the killings.  The orphan's journey was headed for a cliff.

     There are several possibilities for motive.  The orphan could be a con artist with book sales in mind.  Given the fact that his father was inclined to criminality, it is possible that in sincere error he jumped too quickly to conclusions and ignored counterfactual evidence in a rush to a preconceived truth then fooled himself.  He could be one of those lonely people who concoct a lie to wrap themselves with because their true life is boring or not thrilling enough.  He may  have convinced himself that the lie was the truth to escape a less exciting life.  If fame eluded him perhaps he could have his infamy for public attention.

     We all can have our preferences for the story of this orphan.  But we should keep in mind that the truth is only what we care to believe  and that is the truth of our relationship with story and character; other people are what we need them to be at any point in time.  The following is what I prefer to be the story of this orphan.  He was abandoned by his father according to his biological mother.  He was left on the stairwell of a local church when only a few weeks old and later adopted by a caring couple.   For the remainder of his life he felt diametrically loved by his adoptive parents but also abandoned because he was not loved and tossed aside like the crumpled wrapper of a birthday present.  His resentment simmered beneath a blanket of security by a loving family, but too thin to abate the chill of truth, it was insufficient.  Who was this person who could be so uncaring of a young boy who could have loved his father unconditionally?  The stage was set, the father had the reputation didn't he?  He must have been an absolute monster of a person.  His investigation fit the premise so perfectly.  It was his truth....his story.  He had conned himself.  He was a rider on a storm with his killer father and his self serving imagination.

     We all have our demons and we tell stories to ourselves to explain what haunts us.  Sometimes we wrap ourselves in another story.  We can find comfort and protection in the new story then everything fits so neatly and we journey on. Our journey is a book of stories.  So the orphan, for all his faults, is all too human.

     Recent advances in open source DNA evaluation may reveal the identity of the Zodiac killer.  The killer is either dead or a killer on the run.  The San Francisco Police Department has come under fire for possibly bungling the case.  The publishing house of The Most Dangerous Animal of All has been attacked for their lack of candor.  The mother and the orphan are at odds over personal testimony.  The coauthor of the book, a respected investigator, feels betrayed by the orphan.  But those are just more stories for another day.

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"Wine is sunlight held together by water", Galileo Galilei


Greta Has a Fever

     The same discussions will always follow the Time Person of The Year selection.  It will be said that another face should adorn the cover of Time Magazine, another story or another subject has greater historical significance.  It is understandable since the choice  is subjective and the options depend on anyone's focus as to what is a relevant issue.  We all have our individual hot button likes, favorite personalities and events.  Subjective...however the choice is intended to be a subject of current and historical significance and person or persons who most affected our lives for good or ill. Adolph Hitler and Mahatma Gandhi were previously selected and they made appropriate book ends for the range of ill to good on the Time bookshelf.     Greta Thunberg is  now referred to in headlines and conversation simply as Greta as are Hitler and Gandhi in terms of worldwide familiarity.

     Greta  is an appropriate choice since her message is the most popular and widely covered story of 2019.  Revised forecasts by climatologists strongly warn of a nearing climate disaster for our planet and this warning plays in the news on a daily basis.  The story is rife with anger, fear and regret since it is perceived that we have forsaken  our duty of stewardship of the earth.  Greta's message of man made damage resonated with the general public and ignited the masses to march on their governments and corporations and challenge them to change direction.  Her message is a poignant and revealing accusation.  It is an accusation that the older generation have been corrupt and self serving in their negligence and thus endangered the lives of the children of the world.  Those of the older generation will probably not see the full effect of their misdeeds but the children of the world will suffer the consequences of their actions.  She has struck the guilt chord in the older generation and pushed the youth of the world into action.  Beware when the youth grab a cause, it will become a movement.

     There is a unique characteristic of the person that accentuates the message.  She is a child, a teen, with the physical appearance of a preteen.  It may even be deemed a fascination with her. It is a reason that pulls at us, consciously or not.  We are all familiar with those passages in the bible, religious tracts or novels that refer to children: "and a child came forth and said..." or "a child  delivered the message..."  It is a  literary device intended to  sway the audience favorably. If a child of innocence brings a wise proclamation then certainly adults should be just as wise.  The child courageously appears at the United nations and strolls up to the podium to deliver her message. Shouldn't adults have such courage?  

     She is not the scientist, but she is the student who has taken the trend analysis of the climatologists as an absolute truth and developed her message accordingly. Her message is overly pessimistic by stating that we are experiencing massive species extinctions worldwide and her belief that alternative uses of energy and its immediate remedial effect are overly optimistic.  We cannot be certain that these embellished claims are intentional.  If so, she is an astute prophet by presenting the severest scenario of climate change and conversely proposing solutions that make it seem that change is easily in our grasp.  She  delivers this message in an authoritative voice, a stern expressionless face, and without hesitation as the solemn prophet who delivers the word to the masses. She expects us to follow her word or face the consequences of falling off the edge of the point of no return

     Her message is of historical significance since it is a seminal event of the youth's challenge to corporations and governments.  All generations are questioning politicians about their position on non-carbon based energy sources and they threaten with their votes if they don't get acceptable answers.  The movement is not new and not one that she started but she gave it a global force that it did not have previously.  Greta, the child messenger, will be remembered as the girl who caught a fever from our warming planet and spread the fever.

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An exclusive country club once asked me to be a member.  I  told them if they wanted someone like me as a member I wouldn't want to be in the club. Groucho Marx

Power Politics: Voting and Getting Religion

     Recently the Ohio legislature passed Ohio House Bill 164.  This bill advances or reaffirms vigorous religious rights to students such as the freedom to wear clothing that promotes religious slogans and ideals (walking billboards) and affords student's congregation time in additional school facilities like cafeterias, auditoriums and gymnasiums.  The act goes further and permits the students to incorporate religious beliefs in their science assignments and tests. The teacher must consider the student's answers as correct although the answers lack scientific validity. The basis for determining correctness must be judged according  to standard academic pedagogy.  We can presume that a student studying earth science may claim that the earth is ten thousand years old or in the science of biology may choose creation theory over Darwinian evolutionary theory and the answers will not be judged as incorrect.  The first two stipulations, slogans on clothing and expanded access, seem to be minor adjustments or affirmations to existing provisions.  One can only hope that denominational fiction doesn't arise from t-shirt proclamations and dissolve into a distraction and that conflicts don't arise from scheduling time in the auditorium.  The  sponsor of the bill  is Rep. Timothy Ginter a republican representing Youngstown, Oh. Rep Ginter says that this act is necessary since students face pressure over drug use, student violence, depression and suicide.  He claims that allowing religious self-expression would be positive.   The claim that school time religious study is a positive mechanism for  suicide, depression, drug addiction, and violence is certainly hopeful and some would remain neutral as to its efficacy.  Perhaps parental guidance at home or professional counseling would be a greater positive mechanisms. Though not to exclude religion but to give it a proper venue with adult mentoring.  Those issues causing pressure might be better addressed and solved through psychology, a science.  Buried in these legislative proposals of inclusion of religious belief is the ideal of some religious organizations that our country is in deep peril because we have lost our moral compass and the solution to this problem is that we need to become closer to our god though prayer and devotion.  To accomplish this end they propose that we legislate religious based morality.  There is little evidence that religious faith is a cure for immorality and often we do not concur with what is moral.

     The topic of deep  concern in the Ohio House Bill is the science test answers allowed in biblical scripture.  It is an encroachment of religion in a secular setting.  The time and locale for religious contemplation and slogans are simply moderate appeasements.  It is a redundancy in this age to proclaim that science and religion are separate fields of study....one would think.  A religious answer on a science test brings the two fields together to blur the lines  and compromise critical thinking.  It is necessary to warn students that the lack of scientific knowledge can lead to unfortunate conclusions.   It is disturbing that religious claims are made in lieu of scientific evidence and that basic science is not understood or ignored in the process.  Does the Ohio House Bill encourage students to conveniently ignore science not only in favor of a religious scripture but to embrace alternative explanations that are quick and easy observations that do not pass critical analysis?  It is wise for teachers and parents to explain that while many scientists are religious they recognize that it is necessary to differentiate the subjects in their professional pursuits.

     In recent years some religious organizations have tried to influence legislatures to promote their word in secular institutions and their efforts to do so are increasing.  How do politicians view this quest for influence by these organizations?  The sincerity of religious beliefs has been degraded to a marketing tool in the political campaign process.  Since it has been degraded to a marketing tool the religious community and institutions are summarily courted by politicians who know they can be an important voting block.  Religion begets power and vise versa in this relationship.  The political party that has been the most active in this relationship has been the republican party and the local example is Rep. Timothy Ginter, a republican.  Admittedly, the democratic party has courted favor also but not to the extent of the republicans given their close  (and some would claim slavish) relationship with the evangelical/fundamentalist movement.  Jerry Falwell Jr, Franklin Graham and various leaders of the tel-evangelical mega churches would be excellent examples of serious influence.  These leaders publicly support and comment on candidates in public and in their respective churches.   Voters can be courted effectively by hinting at further religious influence in government institutions. 

     The pressure has apparently increased with our current presidential choice, aka The Chosen One.  Pres. Trump has magnetized the evangelical core.  What would seem to be a satirical skit to have this president become a hero of any religious movement has become a perverse reality.  But the perversion is easily ignored when the religious extremists covet their message and call for further influence in our secular society  via our legislatures.  Apparently they are willing to sacrifice their integrity to anyone with power who will promote their ideals in this comfortable arrangement.  The influence for votes has now reached an extreme level with Pres. Trump's announcement that religious organizations and churches be allowed to make political campaign contributions.  Recently, Pres. Trump signed an executive order making it easier for churches to participate in politics.  The order, as claimed by Pres. Trump, removes the financial threat faced by tax exempt churches from the IRS when pastors speak out on behalf of political candidates.  It is unlikely that the IRS would change how the agency polices the issue as a result of this executive order.  Congress would have to enact new legislation to accomplish Pres. Trump's goal.  The existing law and the executive order aside, it is apparent that Pres. Trump is anxious to secure his religious voting block.  Although the executive order is lacking in power his supporters remain true since Pres. Trump is their best  chance.

     Roger Williams, Baptist theologian and Governor of the Province of Rhode Island,  proclaimed in the mid 17th century that his government would observe freedom of religion for the inclusion of all denominations and support a sharp division between religion and the government.  The Province would concern itself with the affairs between men and men were free to concern themselves in religious affairs apart from the government.  Thomas Jefferson was greatly influenced by this opinion on religious and state and that influence may have been instrumental in his proclamation that church and state should be separate.  Though not specific in the constitution as a  separation, but uses the term establishment, it has been referred to as a firewall in jurisprudence since the mid nineteenth century. Although many citizens are knowledgeable of the establishment article they may ask:  what could be the problem with these minor inclusions of religious themes in our institutions?  The innocence of the question deserves scrutiny. 

     The most minor inclusion is the first step. If an encroachment is allowed then to which denomination is favor allowed?  There are many choices to be considered and the only assumption to be made is that the political party in power will be the decision maker.  It would follow  that we would have two enormous duties to defend and promote the affairs of men and the affairs of any denomination. Then conflict would arise between that majority and the denomination not in power. Also, it is  true that we are a democracy and we should accordingly have the freedom to choose to be religious, atheist or agnostic.  We should be free to support any religion or none since we are a nation of immigrants and immigrants bring their religion or no religious belief with them.  There seems to be little doubt that many religions have the thirst for power and if granted the opportunity would inject a theocratic ideal into our republic.  To include religious dogma, ideals and scriptures into a democratic state via the courting of politicians is the first step for a theocratic republic.  The rejection of such, as the constitution reads is "no law respecting the establishment of religion."  These religious organizations or voting blocks would better serve their master and the principles of their faith if they would cease their attempts at compromising critical thinking in our school system and promoting religion as a cure for immorality.  They might focus on their duty to aid the poor, the hungry and the sick.  

     The Ohio Governor has yet to sign the house bill as of this writing.  Perhaps it will not be signed and never become law or severely amended and then signed into law.  If it remains law as written it will likely be struck down by the SCOTUS.  These proponents for religious influence in our secular institutions will wield their battering ram to insert their solutions into the political subdivision of the state legislatures knowing that it attracts votes even though their laws fail in the SCOTUS.  However, will the philosophical complexion of the SCOTUS change over time and lean in favor of the evangelical and fundamentalist movement?  There is concern given the political views of the party currently in power.  There is less attention given to the constitution and proper jurisprudence in choosing judges and more attention given to fundamentalist philosophy.

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"You can shock them and insult them, but don't  bore them." W.B Yeats ...on being an author

School Daze 


     A. Wayne Johnson, official of the Educational Department of Federal Loan Aid, has made some proposals  that may be the first step in resolving the financial crisis of the student loan system.  He first concedes the following facts: the system is broken, much of the outstanding debt will never be paid, the outstanding debt rides on the back of the recipient for decades with a low rate for paying down balances.  He has advised canceling most of the outstanding debt and forgiving fifty thousand dollars in debt for current students.  Thirty seven million students would have their entire debt cancelled in the total amount of 925 billion dollars. A fifty thousand dollar tax credit will be given to former students who have paid their loans.  The proposed plan will be financed with a 1% tax on corporate earnings.  The government would be effectively removed from the loan business.

     Recent polls indicate that most citizens are in favor of debt liquidation for students loans and free tuition for future students.  This proposal would place the United States in line with the majority of countries that offer free university education for their citizens.  The question is often asked: why can't we provide the same for our children if we are such a rich country?  It is a fair question but there are some elements to this proposal that need to be addressed. Does a student enrolled in a four-year university deserve a financial advantage over a student paying tuition for certification in a technical school? I don't see a proposal for technical school grants.  The proposal does not require the student to have any financial stake in their education.  It would not have to be a major stake, but could the program require a small payment after graduation?  Would the university be inclined to raise tuition rates if the student is receiving a fifty thousand dollar grant and if so would the student be forced to supplement the grant with a loan in the open market? 

     As well, there are obvious advantages to the proposed grant system.  The student would be better prepared to participate in the housing market, retail markets and investment markets earlier since they are not financially handicapped by debt.  Graduates would be more likely to advance to post graduate degrees by entering earlier and without debt.  Removing the government from the loan business has another benefit.  Universities would reduce their administrative costs since they would no longer be awash in the paper work and advisory requirements of the student loan system.  These are all financial benefits to the proposals but of equal importance is the distraction and stress that many of these students endure while debt hangs over them as they pursue their studies.  An education should be an enjoyable experience for the student and indebtedness is an unnecessary impediment to that end.

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Quote: Time is the reef upon which all our mystic ships are wrecked, Noel Coward

     Paper Straws

    Our call to arms worldwide today is Man Made Climate Change and our response is Declare War on Climate Change.  The answer has become a tidal wave of political action to reset the natural order of the climate for planet earth.  Alas, we are late with our enthusiasm.  It was a prediction and warning of scientists forty years ago.  However, while the empirical modeling was generally accepted as accurate there were few anomalies within the range of our senses to grab our attention.  If we could not see the results of our carbon based life style then it must not be urgent.  The climate was not changing before our eyes and consequently we continued to casually listen and not act.

    In the not so distant past we dealt with two critical environmental issues.  One was related to the climate and the other was related to our health.  CFCs were being dispersed into the atmosphere with deleterious effects on the ozone layer.  CFCs were eventually banned over a ten year period.  Lead molecules were belching from our automobiles and our health was at risk.  It took about fifteen years to reduce lead in gasoline.  These two issues were relatively easy to tackle since they were one dimensional environmental problems and the solutions did not interrupt our daily life style to any serious extent.  The problems could have been accomplished in a couple of years if it were not for political and corporate  resistance.  We can rally to relatively simple problems quickly and scientists can provide solutions. The immediate problem captures our attention and the problem that is distant avoids immediate attention.  The flu shot that you need next week is on your mind today, your annual physical in six months is only on your iphone calendar.

     Today man made climate change is accepted as fact by the scientific community and the populace has fallen in line with their predictions.  Plans for resetting  the climate are being promoted by politicians and it has become an election issue. The youth around the world are speaking up, demonstrating, and demanding action.  These are the usual criteria for a movement.  Not only is the climate changing, but it is progressing with a rapidity not previously predicted.  In the past five years we have increased fuel mileage for cars and trucks,sold electric cars and built an untold number of solar panels and windmills.  During this period the carbon emission count has increased and by the year it has increased exponentially (exponentially as a numeric expression to be raised  as opposed to a  verbal  expression).  The remedial influences that have been introduced have undoubtedly had some positive effect but scientists calculate that there is an increasing carbon foot print each year. Carbon usage  increased or accumulated beyond what was implemented to offset emissions.  There are compelling reasons for the exponential factor.  The worldwide population continues to increase and for the past ten years the economy around the world has been in an expansion phase.  With economic expansion came increased production since more durable and consumer goods are sold and with the expansion phase we use more energy in the form of coal, oil, and natural gas.   It appears that we cannot reach the break even point with our current efforts.  This problem is not about using paper straws.  The solution requires a 180 degree turn in our life style.

     Given the trend analysis we can expect severe changes in the climate which will bring more severe tornadoes, hurricanes and forest fires with greater frequency and accelerated polar melting leading to rising ocean levels.  The day has arrived when we can see these effects and many have personal experiences with recurring heat waves, frequent flooding and hurricanes.  The damage is apparent with decreasing fishing harvests , wildlife fleeing their natural habitats and dying coral reefs.  The solutions are wise and well intended.  The current movement demands more solar panels, electric batteries for cars and trains, thermal energy, wind and wave power, and biomass all of which are currently a minor portion of our total energy production.  However,  we are  using carbon based resources to manufacture solar panels, windmills, and  equipment for natural gas wells so as we produce carbon free products we are burning carbon to reduce our carbon foot print.  A better trade off assuredly, but we can see the unavoidable effect of adding more carbon to emit less carbon.  The  law of physics holds true that one consumes a source of energy to produce energy.  An additional problem arises from our inability to find a method to store energy produced from wind power, wave power, and solar.

     What will happen around the world while we strain to get past the exponential increase factor and then how many years will it take to actually reduce the carbon emissions by a significant amount?  The more ingenious solutions may be years away from fruition.  There are numerous designs for smaller, safer nuclear power units that could take considerable time for development. What is the possible cost?  Water to hydrogen is an intensive process that consumes energy and the  distribution of hydrogen is problematic for safety reasons.    The challenges are enormous and the effects on civilization in the interim phase of reducing carbon emissions significantly will be devastating.  There will be massive migrations out of already desperate countries.  Where will they locate?  There could be food shortages as extreme weather ravages farm land and fishing areas, there could be serious relocation issues in shoreline cities, taxes could rise to support energy efficient projects, there could be revolutions, riots, and people might be thrown out of work as resources contract and jobs in the old technologies evaporate.  All of these disasters are conceivable if the trend analysis is marginally accurate.  We will be racing to a continuously moving finish line.

     In spite of the odds we will continue the efforts for reduced carbon emissions as we should.  Our best efforts may only lead us to a bleak future of a mere existence but it will be an existence. It will be a dystopia of severely compromised living conditions with lower life expectancy, intermittent riots, rampant disease and little hope  for future generations . If our  best efforts fail our planet will

become a sister to Venus; burned out and uninhabitable.  The last tribe that survived will have left a tome behind for another species in the universe.  It will be a story of a voracious animal that consumed everything within easy reach without  consideration for future generations.  They were capable of great accomplishments and great ideas but they created a problem that they could not solve.  In their desperate journey of self-destruction they disproved a favorite human adage that was: it's never too late.  If the trend analysis holds true.

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Quote: I hate quotations. Tell me what you know., Ralph Waldo Emerson

Starry Nights

     I watched a program on NatGeo about two or three years ago that narrated the most arid places on earth.  Naturally most arid places are the deserts, but also included was the Antarctic region which receives less snowfall/moisture than some deserts.  Included in this program was an item describing the Atacama desert of Chile.  There is an observatory in the Atacama that was chosen for its extreme altitude and scarce cloud cover.  More or less this is a recent criteria for the location of observatories.  I was curious about the observatory and I down loaded a few photographs from the internet.  Was I amazed.  The celestial view with the naked eye was extraordinary.  There it was; a panoply of bright stars from horizon to horizon.  There was absolutely no obstruction in the view.

     As a youngster I vividly recall standing in the open pasture of our farm late in the evening gazing at the stars.  The stars stretched from horizon to horizon and fueled my youthful imagination. Would we ever set foot on the moon and what would we find there?  Were there other worlds populated with strange beings and would they descend someday to visit us?  It was not only in the distant farm lands where  the view was unobstructed.  You could find a location in the suburbs where the starry horizon met the ground and a person could have the same inspiring view of the night sky.

     The brightly lit universe from our eyesight has dimmed considerably over time.  The shimmering canopy has become a smudge obscured by flood lights, headlights of cars, street lights,security lights, twenty four hour stores fully lit from sundown to sunrise.  Adding to the obscurity are the particles of progress which are emissions from industry, autos, buses, and trucks.  Seldom can one have a clear view of the stars since the sky has become an opaque blur of commercial, industrial and residential man made light.  The night sky has become a soup speckled in faded white dots cleaved by shafts of a yellowish blur.  It is difficult to be aware of a degradation that evolves over an extended period of time.  The eye becomes accustomed to the  changes.  We certainly are not spending our idle time star gazing on a daily basis unless you are an astronomer.  Additionally, whose who are younger did not have a frame of reference for what the heavenly view was in the past.  The evolution occurred without our daily observations and the clarity faded without fanfare.

     Later I noticed the change when I drove past our former family farm.  It was a cloudless spring night, about nine o 'clock.  I pulled my car to the side of the road and walked  to  the barbed wire fence.  I looked in the direction of the creek which was the rear boundary line of the farm and I witnessed a broad band of light behind the tree line stretching over the entire horizon.  The horizon and part of the sky above had become blurred.  Since the days of my youth another community had sprung up beyond the tree line and their lights had captured the horizon and held the stars hostage.  The stars of my youth had vanished and I left there thinking of the former brilliance of my youthful starry nights that were similar to that photograph of the Atacama.  I thought of mankind taking a step forward with an eraser and sacrificing something wondrous from the past.  When we rush to the future it is possible that we may lose something of worth.  It does not have to be a destruction or burial of an artifact, but it can be something as simple as a natural wonder beyond our touch.  

     Dorothy Parker

     When she was in finishing school she proclaimed that the immaculate conception was a case of spontaneous combustion.  She was seventeen years old.  Anyone would have made a prediction that she would be famous or infamous, but certainly not obscure.  Fame? Yes.  The Portable Dorothy Parker remained in publication years after her passing. She was a recipient of the O. Henry Award, two academy award nominations, critic for the New Yorker, and Vanity Fair, screenwriter, essayist, poet and inductee into the Academy of Arts and Letters.  Infamous? Somewhat. She  was snared in the Red Scare net and forced to face the House Un-American Activities Committee.  She eventually made the Red Channel List which was a pamphlet of communists and socialists who were deemed undesirables.  We aren't sure of her politics but we do know that she donated money to the refugees of fascist Spain.  Perhaps there were some communists intermingled in that cause.  Her detractors did aim to throw her into obscurity.  She was characterized in some circles as merely a wise cracking flapper of little merit.    

      In fairness, she achieved popularity, had a devout following, and made a contribution to the modernist movement in poetry and prose. Dorothy could certainly cast a suspicious, if not sardonic, eye  at sentimentality.  She recognized it as a seductive falsehood.  She could carefully peel back the facade to reveal the essential meaning of any story.  The prose and poetry is a rejection of romanticism and sentimentality. She could rub up against brilliance at times.  She could turn her laser beam on the foibles of modern society, write with elegance, compose deceptive, hidden dialogue for screenplays and critic a theatrical production with the best of them.  Undoubtedly, one of two of her poems would be included in any anthology of 20th century American poetry.  However, It is questionable if she would have a place in the pantheon of essential writers.  It was the overabundant sarcasm, cynicism and wisecracks that carry a tinge of cheapness.  Her life long battle with depression was too often embedded in her work.  She was at her best when she reached beyond the interiors of her personal disappointments. 

     She described her time at the Algonquin Round Table by observing that she and her friends (Benchley, Harpo Marx, Woollcott and others) wasted their time by exchanging pithy one liners.  The real literati; Hemingway, Fitzgerald and Faulkner were making great contributions to literature.  Did she lament that she was capable and regretted wasting her talent?  Was she a person of regrets? She should not have total regret since she was an important part of Americana.  She was in that circle of wits and clever wordsmiths with Groucho Marx, Bennett Cerf. Rbt, Benchley, and Alex Woolcott.  It was an evolution from the age of corny humor, romanticism, and boorish sentimentality.  She was on the cusp of the wave and her talent overshadowed her contemporaries.  Much of her work has traveled well, she remains quite quotable and if we could bring her back she would relish the opportunity to lampoon our music, reality television, Twitter, and our social institutions.  Few would escape her saber flicks.

A Convenient Coincidence

       Dorothy Parker

By the time you swear your're his.

Shivering and sighing.

And he vows his passion is,

Infinite, undying.

Lady make note of this--

One of you is lying.