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Posts Tagged ‘Current Events’

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“Each step was so small, so inconsequential, so well explained or, on occasion, ‘regretted,’ that unless one understood what the whole thing was in principle, what all these ‘little measures’… must someday lead to, one no more saw it developing from day to day than a farmer in his field sees the corn growing – each act is worse than the last, but only a little worse. You wait for the next and the next. You wait for one great shocking occasion, thinking that others, when such a shock comes, will join you in resisting somehow.

You don’t want to act, or even talk, alone; you don’t want to ‘go out of your way to make trouble.’ But the one great shocking occasion, when tens or hundreds or thousands will join with you, never comes. That’s the difficulty. The forms are all there, all untouched, all reassuring, the houses, the shops, the jobs, the mealtimes, the visits, the concerts, the cinema, the holidays. But the spirit, which you never noticed because you made the lifelong mistake of identifying it with the forms, is changed. Now you live in a world of hate and fear, and the people who hate and fear do not even know it themselves, when everyone is transformed, no one is transformed. You have accepted things you would not have accepted five years ago, a year ago, things your father could never have imagined.”

Milton Mayer, They Thought They Were Free: The Germans, 1933-45 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1955)

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Yesterday, like the day before that and the day before that and like nearly every one of the 1001 days since Trump– yeah, I wrote that freaking name– took over our government, was a day filled with outrages.

It was a day that saw Trump crowing ( in his typical word salad comprised of baldfaced lies, the bombast of an ultra spoiled eleven year old and a level of stupidity that so far exceeds any other world leader that it borders on being a form of art) about a faux ceasefire that gives Turkish president Erdogan everything he wanted with absolutely no ramifications and was a final and absolute betrayal of the Kurdish people.

It all but assures an ethnic cleansing of some degree.

It was an Orwellian performance, one where the words are so far removed from the reality of the situation that one is left to wonder if they have somehow stumbled on a new dimension in time and space, some new place that they do not know from any of the life they have led to that date. It was also a remarkable display of profound weakness and defeat on his part even though he tried to sell it as a victory.

If that had been all for the day, it would have been momentous but it was only one small part of the day. There were several other instances in the day, all so outrageous that would have set any other presidency on fire in a way from which they could never recover.

But here , it was another Thursday.

It reminded me of the evolution of the evil that overtook the German people in the 1930’s, culminating in the atrocities of the Nazis during WW II. We in the present tend to think that that thing they became was there in that same form from the very beginning. But it wasn’t. It started in an innocuous, political way. It came in small, subtle changes that involved the normalization of behaviors and thought processes that would have been unthinkable in the not so far past.

Journalist Milton Mayer went to Germany after the war and interviewed a large number of ordinary Germans who lived under the Third Reich. It resulted in the book, They Thought They Were Free: The Germans, published in 1955. The small excerpt at the top captures the spirit of the book, describing an environment in which each day pushed a bit further towards the evil end but in such small, baby steps that one didn’t even notice the changes taking place, both in the country and in themselves.

This situation is often described by a frog being put in a pot of warm water on a stove. It is comfortable at first and nothing seems out of the ordinary as the temperature of the water slowly increases. It swims as it always did and adjusts easily to the temperature increases, so gradual are they, until it is too late and it finds itself being cooked alive.

It feels like the water in our pot is nearing a boiling pot.

I am not alone in believing this. I urge you to read the op-ed, Our Republic Is Under Attack From The President, in yesterday’s New York Times from Admiral William McRaven, the former Commander of the United States Special Operation Command and the architect of the Osama Bin Laden raid. He tells of many senior military leaders as well as regular troops who are alarmed at what they are seeing from this president, witnessing as they are the betrayal of our allies and our long stated national mission. They see Trump’s actions as an attack on our republic, feeling that they are under fire from within.

This is not a partisan political attack from a liberal pundit. This is a man, battle tested and committed to serving this nation, who can see the clear and present danger. It is a stunning statement from a lifelong soldier committed throughout his career to being apolitical.

He can feel that the water is boiling in the pot in which we swim.

And we’re nearly cooked because it’s boiling right now. Not weeks or months or years down the road.

Now.

We must get out of that pot.

Now.

Please read the Admiral McRaven editorial. I also urge you to read a larger excerpt from Milton Mayer’s book which can be seen here.

 

 

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I was contacted a short time ago on Facebook from stained glass artist Annie Fatica in Erie, PA. She told me in a few short sentences that she had been a fan of my work, having a small painting obtained at the Kada Gallery in Erie, and that she was inspired by it in her own work. She included a photo of the stained glass piece shown here adding that she had created for a fundraiser for the Democratic Party her aunt was involved with.

I was very pleased to see the work and immediately could see that she had “borrowed” a little from my work. I think it’s a fine piece of work and am honored to have had any part in its inspiration.

I naturally thought the local fundraiser was in or around Erie, where Annie lives. Even though I live 230 miles away, that was fine with me. I am happy to help in any way that gets more people involved in the political process and raise awareness of how they can use it to affect real change.

It turns out that the local fundraiser even more local than I had thought, being right in my own backyard in the form of a Grass Roots Get-Together to benefit our local Chemung County Democratic Committee. I was totally surprised and even more happy that this work would benefit the local party.

Small worlds.

And it takes place tonight, Thursday,from 5:30-8:00 PM at the Hill Top Inn, overlooking the Chemung Valley and the city of Elmira. For my friends not familiar with this area, the Hill Top is but a few miles on the same hillside from where Mark Twain spent many a summer, writing some of his best known works at Quarry Farm.

This piece of work will be part of a silent auction and I am hoping it raises a bunch of cash for the local party. If you’re going tonight, hope this gives you a bit more of a background on this particular work from Annie Fatica. I checked out some of her other work and was totally impressed by her skill and vision. Great stuff! Below is a favorite of mine.

[Because I knew I would not have any time to write this morning, I wrote this post yesterday before. After witnessing the absolute traitorous madness that our president* displayed yesterday at several separate instances, I am more pleased than ever to have this work support a party that stands in stark opposition to him. This must stop now.]

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Our imagination is stretched to the utmost, not, as in fiction, to imagine things which are not really there, but just to comprehend those things which are there.

–Richard Feynman

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I was thinking recently about the importance of imagination and came across the words above from the late physicist Richard Feynman. His thought really meshed with my own thoughts on the imagination, which focused on the importance of it not only in art or literature but in so many aspects of our lives.

Actually, my thoughts were more about the lack of imagination I was sensing in all too many people. They seem to not be able to see beyond what is immediately in front of them or to extrapolate what might happen in potential situations beyond the next few minutes. I guess you would call it being short-sighted, a condition that often leads to fear and cynicism. Fearful of the new and cynical of anyone who dares to see beyond tomorrow.

You see this in how people react to many of our current events. This lack of imagination makes them willing to accept only what they can see now, blocking out any vision of what the ramifications might be into the future. This lack of imagination also makes these same folks blind to the patterns that brought us to this current condition.

Their shortsightedness tends to go hand in hand with a short-term memory, one that easily discards facts– and often their own words– that don’t coincide with what they see in the present moment. As a result these folks tend to fall prey to leaders offering them hollow promises and easy answers.

And scapegoats.

Because besides shortsightedness and short-term memory, a lack of imagination also often leads to a lack of empathy and compassion. These folks lack an ability to envision people different than themselves living in different situations. They can’t imagine the hardships or injustices that affect the lives of others. It’s all too easy to turn these people with differences into scapegoats for those lacking in imagination.

I am not writing this because I feel I have any special amount of imagination. I certainly have at times limited my life through my own lack of imagination and the fears and cynicism that it enables. I am sometimes small when I could be large and large when I should be small.

I just want to know how to communicate clearly with those folks who seem to have this lack of imagination, to get them to see possibilities and potentials beyond their own noses now and years into the future. This chasm between those with and without imagination seems to me to be the dividing line in this world right now.

I can still, against the evidence of the present, imagine a better world. But I can also imagine a much worse world. I believe it all depends on inflaming the imaginations of those who have refused to use them to this point.

At this point, I don’t know what or who can do such a thing.

My imagination is still hopeful.

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“And you really will have to make it through that violent, metaphysical, symbolic storm. No matter how metaphysical or symbolic it might be, make no mistake about it: it will cut through flesh like a thousand razor blades. People will bleed there, and you will bleed too. Hot, red blood. You’ll catch that blood in your hands, your own blood and the blood of others. And once the storm is over you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure, in fact, whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.”

Haruki MurakamiKafka on the Shore

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And it begins.

Many of us believe it should have started long ago. The foreboding darkness has been hovering around us for some time now but maybe Fate wasn’t ready to unleash the fury of the storm until this precise moment in time.

Part of me is relieved, even happy, to have this beginning because I know we must endure the storm if we are to get past this somehow. But part of me fears what it may bring, what damage the aftermath might reveal.

And another part is sad because it is a storm of our own making. For too long we have neglected our duties as citizens, distracted by those shiny things and flashing images that fill our modern lives. It was too easy to let others choose the direction in which this country would go.

Unfortunately, those who took control made a beeline for that place where the darkest clouds sit. That location where they could operate in obscuring shadows, that place from where an angry storm would no doubt come.

And that is the place where we are now. And a mighty storm has begun there.

We will get through it. And years from now, we will hopefully have vague memories of it and the toll it will take on us. But, as Murakami writes above, we will be somehow transformed coming out the other side. We will be forever changed, perhaps in ways we could never foresee.

And this change, this transformation we are about to undergo, is a scary thing for many of us. The optimistic part of me wants to believe we will be better for it, that we will shore up those supporting foundations of our democracy that have been eroded through attacks and neglect in recent times. But the darker, more pessimistic part of me sees us coming out in a world that thrives on the uglier aspects of ourselves– greed and hatred and anger.

I get the feeling that when we come out of this, we will have more fully embraced our better angels or our darker angels. I am not a religious person but I pray that we fall toward those angels of light.

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I am not feeling celebratory on this Fourth of July.  I have strong feelings about the ideals of this nation and the recent events here challenge my belief that those ideals can prevail or even merely hold on. There is just a bit too much irony in today celebrating our independence from what we viewed as the grip of cruel tyranny in 1776. We are weakening our country when we accept cruelty and selfishness as an aspect of our governance and national character. And make no mistake about what I am saying, selfish cruelty is weakness and we are witness to that currently. Here’s a post from several years back that I run every now and then on this day, speaking to our better ideals. Enjoy your 4th.

Jasper Johns “Flag”

Another Fourth of July.

Parades. Picnics. Fireworks. Red, white and blue. That’s the shorthand version of this day. The actual meaning of this day is much harder to capture, probably more so for Americans than for those from other countries who view us from a distance. I think we sometimes lose sight of the idea and ideal of America in our day to day struggle to maintain our own lives. But even that struggle is symptomatic of the basis of our nation, reminding us that anything worth preserving requires work and maintenance.

For me,  America is not a static ideal, a credo written in granite that will always be there. It is vaporous and always changing, like a dense fog. But it is an inviting fog, one that is warm on the skin and invites you in with hazy promises of possibility.

And maybe that is all America ever was and will be– the promise of possibility.

Maybe it is the sheer potential of a better and safer life, the possibility of remaking one’s self, that defines our ideal America. We are at our best when we are open and inviting, offering our opportunity and empathy to all. We are a long way from our ideal when we close our doors and try to capture the vapor that is America all for ourselves. It is not ours to hold– we are simply caretakers of an ideal, one that brought most of our ancestors here.

Maybe this doesn’t make any sense. Since it is such a hazy thing, this amorphous fog that is our ideal, we all see it in different ways. This is just how I see it.

Here’s a video of the song America from Simon and Garfunkel, as performed by David Bowie. This is not a flag waving, chest thumping anthem but it speaks as much to the meaning of the American ideal in that simple chorus — all gone to look for America— as the very best Sousa march.

Have a good day.

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Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is an absurd one.

-Voltaire

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[I watched a few minutes of interviews with some backers of our president* at his rally last night. I was struck by their absolute confidence even as they spoke words that were far removed from reality. This certitude worries me. How do you establish a working relationship with someone who simply denies all tangible proof that is contrary to their beliefs? It reminded me of this post from five years ago. My uncertainty now is much as it was then.]

Much of my work seemingly has a journey or a quest as its central theme. But the odd thing is that I don’t have a solid idea of what the object is that I am seeking in this work. I have thought it was many things over the years, things like wisdom and knowledge and inner peace and so on. But it comes down to a more fundamental level or at least I think so this morning. It may change by this afternoon.

I think I am looking for an end to doubt or at least coming to an acceptance of my own lack of answers for the questions that have often hung over us all.

I would say the search is for certainty but as Voltaire points out above, certainty is an absurd condition. That has been my view for some time as well. Whenever I feel certainty coming on in me in anything I am filled with an overriding anxiety.

I do not trust certainty.

I look at it as fool’s gold and when I see someone speak of anything with absolute certainty–particularly politicians and televangelists– I react with a certain degree of mistrust, probably because I see this absolutism leading to an extremism that has been the basis for many of the worst misdeeds throughout history. Wars and holocausts, slavery and genocide–they all arose from some the beliefs held by one party in absolute certainty.

So maybe the real quest is for a time and place where uncertainty is the order of the day, where certainty is vanquished. A place where no person can say with any authority that they are above anyone else, that anyone else can be subjugated to their certainty.

To say that we might be better off in a time with no certainty sounds absurd but perhaps to live in a time filled with absolute certainty is even more so.

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These are the times that try men’s souls: The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country but he that stands it NOW, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly:–‘Tis dearness only that gives everything its value. Heaven knows how to set a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed, if so celestial an article as Freedom should not be highly rated.

…It matters not where you live, or what rank of life you hold, the evil or the blessing will reach you all. The far and the near, the home counties and the back, the rich and the poor, shall suffer or rejoice alike. The heart that feels not now, is dead: The blood of his children shall curse his cowardice, who shrinks back at a time when a little might have saved the whole and made them happy. I love the man that can smile in trouble, that can gather strength from distress, and grow brave by reflection. ‘Tis the business of little minds to shrink; but he whose heart is firm, and whose conscience approves his conduct, will pursue his principles unto death. My own line of reasoning is to myself as strait and clear as a ray of light.

Thomas Paine, The American Crisis, December 1776

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Today might be a good day to pay attention, both to the events of this day and to the words of Thomas Paine written at a another crucial point in our American history. His words apply to any time.

There have always been and always will be sunshine patriots who will wave flags at parades and enjoy the benefits that this country offers without thought or sacrifice. But now is a time to look hard and think long. To gather strength and speak clearly and loudly. To assert truth.

Paine said it best: The heart that feels not now, is dead: The blood of his children shall curse his cowardice, who shrinks back at a time when a little might have saved the whole and made them happy.

Pay attention, people. Your heart needs to feel NOW.

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