Friday, August 26, 2016

Correspondence: In real life

Edited by Moristotle

Americans seriously disturbed by the theoretical possibility of an unimaginable Trump presidency have an alternative to sharing anti-Trump items on Facebook – they can share pro-Hillary items!: “Hillary Clinton Wants to Be Your Facebook Friend” [Emma Roller, NY Times, August 23]. Excerpt:
Running for president is hard, and we often expect candidates to perform in ways that have no real bearing on the actual job qualifications. Now, on top of partaking in local cuisine without looking embarrassing in photos, candidates must project an “authentic” online persona to fulfill yet another ideal that doesn’t really exist.
    Mrs. Clinton’s advisers readily admit that she is not at her best or most authentic self when she’s put in front of a large crowd of people.
    Instead, they say, she excels in intimate listening sessions where she can demonstrate her seemingly encyclopedic knowledge of obscure policy. The campaign has tried to capitalize on that by releasing intimate videos of Mrs. Clinton meeting with the mothers of black men and women who have been killed by the police, and with people who have been affected by the water poisoning in Flint, Mich. These quiet moments may not have as much online impact as a late-night, all-caps tweetstorm, but as the adage goes, “Dank memes do not a president make.”
    One moment in the Clinton campaign is perhaps a perfect allegory of her own online popularity versus Mr. Trump’s. At an Iowa campaign stop last November, an audience member asked Mrs. Clintonabout unexploded  bombs in Laos, left over from the Vietnam War. She launched into a four-minute response about the fallout from the Vietnam War, humanitarian efforts in the region, the status of the anti-landmine Ottawa Treaty and the United States military’s involvement in the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea [editor’s emphasis]. While Mrs. Clinton’s response demonstrated her impressive intellect and diplomatic experience, it was decidedly not a viral moment. [read more]
I read only a few chapters of J. K. Rowling’s first Harry Potter novel, but I’m about midway through the third of her Cormoran Strike detective novels, under the pen name Robert Galbraith. “Galbraith” is so good! Look what I found in Career of Evil yesterday:
“Go on, Kelsey was posted” [, said Strike].
    “Yeah, well, she ended up exchanging email addresses with these two. Nothing particularly helpful, but we’re looking to establish whether they actually met her. You know, in real life,” said [police detective inspector] Wardle.
    Strange, thought Strike, how that phrase, so prevalent in childhood to differentiate between the fantasy world of play and the dull, adult world of fact, had now come to signify the life that a person had outside the internet. [read more]
Wow, thrilling closing paragraph! Good one: “ Why America’s Leadership Fails” [David Brooks, NY Times, August 23]. Excerpt:
Let’s start with a refresher on the difference between a vocation and a career. A career is something you choose; a vocation is something you are called to.
    A person choosing a career asks, How can I get the best job or win the most elections? A person summoned by a vocation asks, How can my existing abilities be put in service of the greatest common good?
    A career is a job you do as long as the benefits outweigh the costs; a vocation involves falling in love with something, having a conviction about it and making it part of your personal identity.
    A vocation involves promises to some ideal, it reveals itself in a sense of enjoyment as you undertake its tasks and it can’t be easily quit when setbacks and humiliations occur. As others have noted, it involves a double negative — you can’t not do this thing.
    It’s easy to be cynical, but I really do think most people entered public life with this sense of idealistic calling. When you spend time around government officials you are constantly struck by the fact that they are more impressive in private than in public. Somewhere at the base of their personal story you usually find an earnest desire to serve some vulnerable group.
    The fact is, political lives are simply not that glamorous or powerful or fun. Most politicians wouldn’t put up with all the fund-raising, the stupid partisan games, unless they were driven at some level by the right reasons....
    For example, Hillary Clinton seems to have been first inspired by a desire to serve children, but over the decades walls of hard-shell combativeness formed. Mitt Romney seems to be an exceptionally fine person, but when he was campaigning his true nature was often hidden under a film of political formulas....
    And so I think it possible to imagine a revival of vocation. If Clinton is elected, maybe even she can remind us that we’ve all developed these bad habits, that most of us secretly detest the game we’re in and the way we are playing it.
    It would be an act of amazing bravery if she could lead people to strip away all the careerist defense mechanisms and remember their original vows and passions. [read more]
At least use the Kipling quote! “My Daughter the Pole” [Roger Cohen, NY Times, August 22]. Excerpt:
There is not much new under the sun. As Rudyard Kipling observed:
All good people agree,
And all good people say,
All nice people, like Us, are We
And everyone else is They.
    After the madness against “everyone else” comes remorse. The descendants of families murdered in or driven out of Poland during the Holocaust are now eligible to apply for ancestral citizenship. Some of Adele’s close relatives have already become Poles.
    Of course, a Polish passport today is also a passport to work anywhere in the European Union, the greatest political creation of the second half of the 20th century, a borderless union of half a billion people (at least until Britain leaves). Young people — including all the young Britons who voted overwhelmingly to remain — want to live, love and work anywhere in Europe they choose.
    Adele is one of them. She loves London, where she completed high school. She loves its openness. She cannot believe her British passport may soon — unless sanity is somehow restored — no longer be a European Union passport. And so Poland beckons, just as Germany, with a similar law, has beckoned since Brexit for some British Jews of German origin. History comes full circle.
    In a way, this doubling back is right. Adele owes her existence to a brave Pole named Miecyslaw Kasprzyk, who in 1942 risked his life to hide Amalia in the attic of his family’s farmhouse near Krakow. He knew the Gelband family, had been outraged by the killing of Jews and wondered in disbelief, as he once said to me, “How can you not help, if a child asks?”
    Kasprzyk told me something else: “Someone who does not know the difference between good and evil is worth nothing. In fact, such a person belongs in a mental institution.” [read more]
This could be a serious, dangerous threat to our national election on November 8. I can picture brown-shirted thugs hanging out at the curb at polling places hassling their most hated kinds of “Them.” Imagine that National Guard troops have to be called out to protect voters. You know Trump would include among his reasons for losing: “All those troops Obama sent out to make sure people voted for Crooked Hillary”: “Donald Trump Cues Up Another Conspiracy” [Editorial Board, NY Times, August 22]. Excerpt:
Donald Trump is calling for volunteers to watch the polls in November, and he is making no bones about why.
    “Help me stop Crooked Hillary from rigging this election!” says the application form on his campaign website.
    There are so many lies and delusions flowing daily from the Trump campaign that it’s easy to miss the times when the Republican nominee is being not just ludicrous, but dangerous. This is one.
    Mr. Trump has seized on the charge that Hillary Clinton plans to win by cheating. He has said it before, but he keeps on saying it. This looks like pre-emptive face-saving, of course — getting an excuse ready if he loses badly. But it’s worse than that. [read more]
I don’t know. Two hundred and fifty thousand years ago sounds so far away in terms of actual, real life as we know it. I just can’t put my mind around an image of humans preparing a meal that long ago. Look at how much meal preparation and consumption have changed in just a few hundred years – from eating with one’s fingers to using silverware, etc. “ Carving the Meat Before Meals, 250,000 Years Ago” [Nicholas St. Fleur, NY Times, August 22]. Excerpt:
Early human history was written with stone tools.
    James Pokines, a forensic anthropologist at the Boston University School of Medicine, and his colleagues uncovered several 250,000-year-old blades and hand axes, with bits of rhinoceros, horse and camel on them, in Jordan.
    “We know they were butchering them or processing the carcass,” Dr. Pokines said. “But is it proof that they killed all of the species here? Probably not. They could have scavenged them all, but we don’t know.”
    The findings, which were published in The Journal of Archaeological Science, may be the oldest evidence of protein residue on stone tools. [read more]
Years ago, I often listened to lectures by Alan Watts while I was working at my typewriter. One phrase of his stuck with me: celestial whoopie – a jubilant feeling I have been blessed to feel many times, and often, in real life.

“The pigeons still perch by Notre-Dame Cathedral
but tourists have taken flight”
“Paris tourism hit by militant attacks, strikes and floods” [BBC News, August 23]. Excerpt:
Attacks by Islamist militants as well as strikes and floods have led to a big fall in tourism in Paris.
    There were a million fewer visitors between January and June compared with the same period in 2015.
    Paris welcomes 16 million visitors a year and is one of the world's top tourist destinations.
    The drop is estimated to have cost about €750m (£644m) in lost revenue. One senior official described it as “an industrial disaster.” [read more]
Moristotle didn’t text while driving yesterday, but he did compose a poem:
Tourism’s down, from fear of terror’s death,
but driving thrives, no fear of speeder’s death.
    And I must be confessor of
    the fact that I’m in danger of
a versifying slower driver’s death.
Grateful for correspondence, Moristotle


  1. Alan Watts might be inspiring in my youth but having reached the top and looked over it is just plan sad.

    1. Ed, maybe you and I (only three days apart - or is it five? - in age) ought not to think we have quite reached the top yet, but keep looking at all the sights along the way, in the hope - no, the expectation - that we will still be surprised and delighted, and haven't seen everything yet, after all. Anyway, that's sort of how I'm looking at things, and do continue to be excited by things - if only, some mornings, by finding that I'm still alive! <smile>
          And, yesterday, I was nicely surprised (and pleased) to find that I had another limerick gelling inside me, although I was a bit edgy to be composing it while driving on a busy freeway....