A Reading Program (from 2010)

I often go to dinner alone at my favorite restaurant, the Casa di Calabria, in Haledon, NJ. On those occasions, I do a lot of reading – but I do it slowly. For the past couple of months, I’ve been reading two books on American history: Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United Statesand William J. Bennett’s America: the Last Best Hope. Zinn’s a famous leftist (perhaps even communist) account and Bennett’s a rightist (conservative) account. Both books are very stimulating (to me) because of the ways in which they are similar and the ways in which they are different. Zinn’s famous book – which I am reading now only after he is dead (1/27/10) – is both jolting and, ultimately, unconvincing. He includes an awful lot of leftist BS along with much very interesting stuff about class conflict (sometimes warfare) in American history. But he’s pushing it, finding more there than there is there. Bennett is pretty good for a conservative, whitewashes things only here and there, is pretty honest (as far as I can tell), and – surprisingly  – agrees with Zinn on lots of things.

I’ve been noticing an interesting (puzzling) convergence of Left and Right in various areas lately. E.g., Nader and Napolitano. Chomsky being adopted by the Right because he is – really – an anarchist (extreme libertarian) – even though he tries the impossible synthesis of anarchism and socialism (my old impossible dream: anarcho-syndicalism).

By the way, if you are interested in more conventional studies of American history, see Carl Degler’s Out of Our Past (moderate-centrist, but still liberal, bias) and William Appleman Williams The Contours of American History (leftist). Both really good books (I think). There are, most likely, more recent works from both (various?) sides.

I don’t know how widely it is known, but I was a history major in college and went on to earn an MA in history (modern Europe and Renaissance & Reformation – there was no such thing as the Renaissance!) and was ABD (Tudor-Stuart England) at Rutgers University/New Brunswick before my inescapable love of Philosophy took me away to a Ph.D. in the latter field. I have continued to read history (mostly European) ever since. I have, most of the time, found American history to be pedestrian and boring, but I’m sure that I am wrong about that. One of many things I am wrong about. (On the Renaissance bit, read Lynn Thorndike and J. Huizinga. Huizinga’s book, The Waning of the Middle Ages is one of the greatest books of all time.)

Something based on Zinn: When I was a child, a long time ago now, my grandparents, dye-house workers in Paterson, used to say from time to time, “We’re gonna end up in the poorhouse.” I didn’t know what that meant, and I don’t really know all that much about it now. It scared me. I thought we were going to get put out of our apartment on North 11th Street and get put into something like – I did not know what – something awful. In later years, when I grew more and became more educated, I read Charles Dickens and learned of the workhouses in England (Oliver Twist and all that). Then, thinking back, I thought that that was what my Sadie (my maternal grandmother) and my Gramp (my maternal grandfather) must have been talking about.

Later, my family (parents, sister, and I) fell badly. Were really evicted. Thrown out into the streets of Paterson. Homeless, living in a doorway/hallway – forty years before the TV cameras showed up. Sherry and I into (different) foster homes. A series of them. But we never went into a poorhouse. By then, the 1950s, there were no more poorhouses in the US. Zinn goes into this. Arouses my class antipathies. Pisses me off exceedingly. No wonder I became a Trotskyist later on.

To this day, although I am now (incomprehensibly) a conservative of a sort, with libertarian sympathies, I still hate the rich with rather a passion. I can’t stand them. The Rockefellers, the Kennedys, the Kerrys, even the Buckleys, all the rest – they make me puke. I am most definitely not a Republican. If only Communism had worked out…! But….

By the way, when I do this reading bit at the Calabria, I drink either Martinis or Gimlets. Tonight, it was a 4.5 ounce Bombay Sapphire Martini (no Vermouth) followed by a B&B straight-up. So….

To me, the entire history of the United States is summed up in the following song by Bessie Smiff (I know it’s spelled “Smith” – that was my mother’s maiden name):

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BZVD8QqNoak

Check out the Loosiana version – including Creole French – by Lizzie Miles (if you can find it). It’s a great version.

I love the Blues.

 

Pussy Riot Went to Church (August 2012)

A Prayer to the Theotokos (Mother of God)

Pussy Riot went to church – at Christ the Savior Cathedral in Moscow. They prayed to the Virgin Mary, asking her to oust Vladimir Putin as President of the Russian Federation. Seems to me (an Orthodox Christian) that that’s OK, but here’s how they did it:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ALS92big4TY

Included in the “prayer,” as you can see, was criticism of the Russian Orthodox Church and its Patriarch, Kirill Gundyaev, for their public support of Putin.

In form, content, and manner, the “prayer” – conducted in front of the iconostasis and just outside the sanctuary – constituted an act of desecration and blasphemy. However, representatives of the Church stated that the sin was immediately forgiven. (Hmmm…. Was there – has there been – repentance by PR?)

This became a fairly big story when three of the Pussy Rioters were arrested by the state authorities, put on trial, kept in jail for more than five moths, and then – yesterday – convicted of “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred” and sentenced to two years in prison (minus the five months already served).

Lots of sympathy for Pussy Riot in the West, including from such predictable and usual suspects as McCartney, Madonna, Sting, and other celebrities. Some but not much sympathy for them inside Russia, especially not among the Orthodox.

Even among those not at all sympathetic to what Pussy Riot did, there is virtually no support for the two-year prison sentence or for the already-completed five-month incarceration. Most seem to feel that the punishment is not proportionate to the gravity of the crime. That also is how I feel about it.

However, Pussy Riot’s action in the cathedral was not right, was it? It was not a legitimate exercise of “free speech,” was it (contrary to that legal scholar, P. McCartney)? Even in a place like the US, at least relatively more “liberal” than Russia, an action like that would result in some kind of legal action by the state, wouldn’t it? It is not protected by the First Amendment provision on freedom of speech, is it? It might even be a “hate crime,” mightn’t it? Or is it simply OK in general for musical and other groups to take their politics in that way into, not only churches, but also synagogues, mosques, mandirs, temples, monasteries, convents, Quaker meeting rooms, and other places regarded as holy by their adherents?

Just wondering….

[smile]

GC

P.S. Down with Putin!

Those 72 Virgins

Just for fun:

Islam Question: What about those 72 virgins greeting suicide bombers as “martyrs” in heaven – what is the truth about the 72 virgins? Here are some imperfect comments:

1. It’s not only martyrs who will experience the joys of Paradise but all righteous Muslims, especially perhaps righteous Muslim men. But righteous Muslim women also reach the glories of Paradise in their own ways.

2. In various places, the Qur’an does promise that the righteous in Paradise will dwell in lush gardens and vineyards and that an individual man will have a harem of beautiful women with full and round breasts. All in heaven will be 33 years of age, and the men and the women will be perfectly happy with one another and with their situations.

3. To the best of my (limited) knowledge, the Qur’an never mentions that a man will have 72 luscious women. No number is mentioned. However, in some Hadith there is mention of the 72 virgins promise. (Hadith are written reports on Mohammad’s conduct and sayings.)

4. How is this sort of thing to be understood? The options are (1) literally or (2) figuratively and symbolically. Fundamentalist Muslims tend to take the physicalist descriptions of the Qur’an, the Hadith, and other sources literally; and non-fundamentalist Muslims understand the sources figuratively, symbolically, philosophically. For the non-fundamentalists, the pysicalist descriptions are symbolic (1) of the ecstasies and joys of being in the direct presence of God in heaven or (2) of the horror of being separated from God in hell.

5. The same issues can be (have been, are) raised about how Jews and Christians interpret the strong physicalist descriptions in the Hebrew Bible (and Old Testament) and in the New Testament – and the same contrast between fundamentalist and non-fundamentalist interpretations is present there too.

All for now…. :)

No More Santa Clause

Saw a Facebook post today about kids’ ceasing to believe in the reality of Santa Clause.

My family moved to Circle Avenue in Paterson when I was 9-going-on-ten. The dominant male kid there was “Mondo” – MON-DO!!! He was spoiled by his mother, who would announce publicly every now and then that, “My kid is tough, and he will kick your kid’s aay-yess [‘ass’ pronounced with two syllables]!”

Mondo was tough, and he bossed, bullied, smacked around, and terrorized the other kids in his age group, including me. When I first met him, he wore a Sluggo cap to cover his bald head, which had been shaved because he had contracted ringworm at school. He warned his “friends” that he would kill them if they mentioned his baldness or his ringworm. He was fearsome.

Anyway, when he somehow found out (no doubt from me) that I still believed in Santa Clause, he mocked and shamed me mercilessly and exclaimed regularly on the street, “Hey, Georgie Porgie! THERE AIN’T NO SANTA CLAUSE!”

Under that onslaught, I gradually began to doubt, and eventually I began to admit (at least to myself) that probably (acknowledging only an inductive inference) Santa Clause did not exist.

I was ten when I finally gave up.

Addendum

Over time, Mondo and I grew apart. He grew bigger and stronger, and I remained puny and weak. He became one of the “big guys,” while I continued to associate with more innocent boys, including Cub and Boy Scouts. It was a rough part of Paterson. The school was “Foursies” (the Dread). I and my friends were frequently on the losing end of encounters with tougher kids. Mondo actually became our protector, intervening on our behalf in the School 4 playground to drive off our oppressors with his usual ferocity.

He went to Paterson Tech for high school. Then I think he went into the Navy for 3 or 4 years. Then…? I do know that he eventually became a biker, rolling his “hog” down highways with his brothers. Last I knew (20 yrs ago), he was living in Haskell, NJ.

Islam and the US Constitution

Three foundations of Islam are the Qur’an, the Hadith (sayings of and teachings about Mohammad), and Sharia Law (of which there are several traditions). Institutionalizing/implementing all aspects of these Islamic foundations in the US would be in conflict in many ways with the Constitution. However, the authors of this article say that many (most?) American Muslims have no desire to institutionalize/implement all aspects of Islam in the US or anywhere else.

Judao-Christian law and teachings, if institutionalized/implemented in the US, would also be in conflict in many ways with the Constitution. Long ago, most Jews and Christians “made peace” with the Constitution by giving up any notions they may have had about institutionalizing/implementing their full belief-and-practice systems in the US. It seems that many/most American Muslims are following suit.

There are already two Islamic Members of the House of Representatives, and I know of nothing they have done to violate their oaths of office in which they affirmed their support for the US Constitution. Maybe one of them will run for president some day. If that happens (and if I am still around), I will examine his positions and, if he seems to be a Burkean conservative with libertarian inclinations, then I will vote for him. :)

One thing: I have reservations about the authors of the article. I do not find Aslan completely reliable in the works he has so far published, and Zafar is a representative of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, and unorthodox sect of Islam. However, this article seems to me to be generally accurate.

Re: the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. The sect arose in India in 1889. That movement split into two sub-sects in (I think) 1914. Over the years since then, Ahmadiyya communities have arisen in many other parts of the world. Ahmadiyya Muslims hold that Jesus survived the crucifixion and traveled to India to minister to the Lost Tribes of Israel. They also claim that Jesus died in India and that his tomb – AND his body – have been recently found in India. They say that these beliefs are supported by the Qur’an, by the Hadith, and by the Bible. Sunni and Shia Muslims see the Ahmadiyyas as heretics or even as non-Muslims.

Of course, virtually all of the other religions of the world would also be found incompatible with the Constitution were they proposed to be legally-officially institutionalized/implemented (established) in the US. But the First Amendment won’t allow that, nor would various other parts of the Constitution. Almost all religions are free to run around and act up in the US, but no one or more can be legally established. That is, not by Congress….

Various states had established religions in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, but they all gradually gave them up. However, it was not until some time in the late 1940s that a Supreme Court decision held that the 1st Amendment Establishment Clause applies to the states. But the issue is still not completely settled and will continue to be argued about. Stay tuned…. :)

Another ride on the migraine aura

At the computer. A knock at the front door. I go to the door. The mailman has delivered a package. I pick it up and begin to feel “weird” – weirder than usual. :) I go out to the mailbox and find several envelopes. I look at them and cannot grasp what is printed on them. I realize that I am again in the grip an ophthalmic migraine. I go back in and back to the computer. I look at the document on the screen that I had been reading. The lines are now doubled up and bouncing.

My ophthalmic migraines are accompanied by two kinds of hallucinations: (1) I see things that are not “there” objectively; and (2) I see objects that are there but appear divided into separate parts. Today, it’s (1) – vibrating/undulating transparent geometrical shapes, usually circles. Today, it’s a suggestion of a circle.

In a mild panic, I take a propranolol supplement and go into the bedroom and lie down, do some yogic breathing, and try to relax. Calm down. Calm down.

It passes. I feel a bit drained. But the “weirdness” and the hallucination are gone. After a while, I sit up and compose this message.

I don’t usually have headaches with my migraines – only once in a while. No headache today. ?

A Remembrance of Elvis

The first time I saw Elvis on TV was on the Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey Show in March 1956. I remember the moment very well. We were living at 17 Passaic Street in Paterson, New Jersey. I was 17 years old. I was in the living room watching the Dorsey show (big band swing and pop music, production dance numbers Broadway style, etc.). At a certain point in the show, Tommy Dorsey announced, “Ladies and gentlemen – Elvis Presley!” The “stage” went dark and EP, dressed (I think) in grayish jacket, dark pants, dark (black) shirt, and white tie, stepped into the spotlight (where his three-piece backup combo – guitar, bass, and drums – was already set up – there might have been a piano player too). EP had a guitar of his own strapped on. The camera zoomed in close up. EP had a longish, cowboy style hairdo with prominent sideburns. His hair looked blondish and glistened with hair oil (vaseline?). He looked directly into the camera in a rather challenging and intimidating way, smiled, curled his lip in a kind of combination sneer and smile, his eyes twinkled. The guitar player (Scotty Moore) played a startup chord, and EP began, “Well, since my baby left me (boom-boom from the drummer), I found a new place to dwell (another boom-boom), it’s down at the eh-end of Lonely Street, it’s (thtoom, thtoom, thtoom from the bassist) Heartbreak Hotel . . . . ” A mixture of blues, country, honky-tonk . . . I didn’t know what. He looked and sounded and moved so “bad” (in the good sense)!

I can’t remember whether I had heard (or heard of) EP before that moment, but it was the first time I had seen him. I was jolted from head to toe. I had a “thrill feeling” in my chest. Tears came to my eyes. I was mesmerized, flabbergasted, and astounded. This was something else! Something entirely new. EP seemed both innocent and dangerous at the same time. I don’t fully understand what he represented to me. His persona in 1956 was, in my mind, somehow linked with that of James Dean (who had died in a car crash just before EP hit big) and with the Marlon Brando portrayal of “Stanley Kowalski” in “A Streetcar Named Desire” (1952?). EP himself stressed the James Dean connection.

Those were sweet days for me, the mid-’50s. (Also bitter from time to time.)

Well, anyway, life went on. EP eventually faded into the movies, although he continued to record good R ‘n’ R songs. Some of his movies were not bad, but most of them were really bad (in the bad sense). Then he made his “big show” singing-performing come-back beginning in 1968. I was still interested – but not very interested – in him during the period from 1968 to 1977. I had gone in my own direction (various directions). When he died in 1977, I was sorry to hear it, but I was not devastated. I continued to feel that EP – the young and dangerous EP – had touched my life in some significant way, had somehow encouraged me to move in a “radical,” anti-establishment direction, but his death did not stop me in my tracks or anything like that. In the late ’80s and early ’90s, when I began my own musical “come-back,” I regained a deep and mysterious feeling and appreciation for EP, his music, and his persona. So it goes.

EP was 42 when he died. His mother, Gladys, who he loved in the way that a “momma’s boy” loves his momma (which, also, I sadly understand), was also 42 when she died (in 1957 or 1958). Strange fact.

A Visit from Father B

Prefatory note: I am Eastern Orthodox, and my wife is Episcopalian. An oddity in her parish church was that the pastor, Father Francis Bancroft (†), would regularly include in the Sunday hymns “The Star Spangled Banner.” Here’s a (true) story about Father B and me.

On August 22, 1997, following an afternoon nap, I awoke in a state of mental confusion and growing panic. I looked at the clock and could not tell what time it was. I wondered what day of the week it was, but I could not remember. My wife, Sherida, was in Michigan, just finishing a vacation there with her mother and her sister. So I tried to call my oldest daughter, Amanda, to tell her that I was in trouble and needed help. I could not remember Amanda’s number. I tried to think of my own phone number and couldn’t. Somehow, I was able to find the speed-dial button on my phone that connected me with my sister, who (thank God!) was home. “Sherry,” I said, “something’s wrong. I think I’d better get to the hospital.” (Actually, I couldn’t speak that clearly. What I really said was something like “Sherry, something wrong, go hospital . . . . ”)

In a few minutes, my sister, who lives nearby, picked me up and drove me to the local hospital. Initially, it appeared that I had suffered a stroke, and I was treated accordingly by the neurologist on duty in the emergency room. I could not see things to my right; I could not pronounce words like “hippopotamus”; I began to say things incorrectly and without context (e.g., that Elvis Presley had died on December 1, 1992, when, in fact, the date was August 16, 1977); my sentence-structure was garbled (e.g., “Has called my wife anyone?”). It looked bad, and I was very frightened.

They kept me in the hospital for a couple of days. On the night of the episode, after my symptoms and the accompanying panic had subsided, I was dozing in my darkened room. At a certain point, I became conscious of a large presence looming over me. I came to full awareness and, with some alarm, I asked, “Who is it?” “George,” the presence said, “it’s Father Bancroft. Sherida called me and told me what happened. I assured her that I would visit you right away.”

Father B then asked me if it would be all right for him to conduct a healing and communion service at my bedside. I told him that I would appreciate that very much, and he proceeded (“O Lord, holy Father, giver of health and salvation . . . sanctify this oil . . . drive away all sickness of body and spirit . . . The Body of our Lord Jesus Christ . . . The Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ . . . . ”).

The next day, after two CAT-scans and some other tests (not to mention the prayers offered up on my behalf by Father B and others), the doctors determined that I had not had a stroke after all. It turned out that I had had a brain spasm caused by a hitherto undiagnosed migraine condition. The “event” emulated, but was not, a stroke. My neurologist prescribed migraine-prevention medication, which I have taken daily ever since. The medicine works, not perfectly, but quite well.

The service conducted by Father B was beautiful, meaningful, and comforting. Father B’s coming to the hospital and ministering to me that night, when I was very afraid and with Sherida still in Michigan, was an unexpected and wonderful surprise.

After the healing and communion service, and as Father B was getting ready to leave, I thought I heard angels singing. But what, I asked myself, was the song they were singing? It seemed quite familiar, but I could not at first place it. Can you take the melody of an old English drinking song, write new lyrics to it that are consecrated to a higher but still secular purpose, sing the song over and over again, week after week, as part of the Eucharistic liturgy of the Episcopal Church, and have the song become a hymn sung in Heaven? I ask this question because, as Father B left my hospital room that night, and as I concentrated more intently on the voices of the angels, I could swear that they were singing (you guessed it!) “The Star Spangled Banner”!

Humbert Returns!

Here’s something for Father’s Day.

When my three daughters were kids, I used to tell them stories I improvised. At the time, we were living in Haledon and, in the evenings, bats would fly out of garages, attics, etc., and zoom around in the yard. I told them that a particular bat, named Humbert, lived in our garage; and over time, I made up tales about his adventures.

That was quite a while ago, and my daughters grew up, married, moved away, and now have children of their own.

Then, on July 26, 2011, the event described below happened, and I sent them the following email letter:

Hello, dear girls.

Last night, I went out to dinner with Aunt Sherry to Cortina Ristorante on Berkshire Avenue in Paterson. Great place. Like the classy old restaurants that used to be in and around Paterson. Very good time.

After dropping Aunt Sherry at her house, I drove home, went into the bedroom to lie down, watch TV, and wait for Sherida to get home from her sister’s house. The house lights were on, but I had only the TV on in the bedroom where I was relaxing.

All of a sudden, something flew back and forth in front of the TV screen and, in fact, also flew right at me before veering away like a kind of silent jet plane! Scared the *@!?*#@ out of me. I thought it was a big bug (ugh!) or perhaps a bird. I got up and went out into the living room. Again, I saw something flying around, this way and that, silently, no flapping of wings. Just speedy gliding and veering.

AND IT KEPT FLYING AT ME! (it seemed)

I closed this door, that door, another door – trying to isolate whatever it was in the living room, dining room, kitchen area. Sherida phoned to say she was on her way home. I screamed, “COME RIGHT AWAY! SOMETHING’S FLYING AROUND INSIDE THE HOUSE! I NEED YOU TO DEAL WITH IT!” (Sherida was a Biology major in college and when she started graduate school. Comfortable with animals, I thought. Like Amanda is with BUGS (horrors!).

I waited, waited, and waited for Sherida to get home. The THING kept soaring around and around, in and out, up and down, to and fro, at me and away from me. Just when Sherida got home and opened the front door, the thing set down, landed, on our kitchen floor. It looked like a brown mouse, but it had substantial webbed wings, which it proceeded to wrap around itself. It sat there on the floor. I thought it might have been looking at me. Then I realized at last who it was. IT WAS HUMBERT! HUMBERT THE BAT! He had come back after such a long time.

I thought I would try to catch him by throwing a T-shirt I was holding down on him, but as soon as I moved to do that, off he went in a flash, up, here, there, gliding, soaring, and (it seemed) flying AT ME! YIKES!

Sherida kept the front door open. But she did not come in. She waited outside. She said that the bat would find his way to the door and fly out into the night. After a while, he did just that.

I have a feeling he is living in our attic. I wonder if he’ll come again for another (exciting) visit. Actually, I’m not really anxious to have him here again too soon.

So….

Humbert has returned….

Tell the little ones (if and when they can take it in).

Dad

Resuscitation

Long, long ago, in a universe far far away, I was an Orthodox pop star, traveling all over the USA, lecturing, running seminars on things like “The Spiritual Warfare of the Church,” etc. One time, I was invited to do a week-long series in Cleveland. Arriving in the airport in Cleveland (can’t remember which airport that might be), debarking from the plane, in a waiting area or something, a middle-aged man collapsed right in front of me. He dropped on the floor at my feet. He looked dead.

From somewhere, two uniformed men (cops? security officers? EMT? what?) appeared. They began, in tandem, working on the man. One would press on his chest, the other would blow into his mouth. No response. They kept it up. On it went, push-blow, push-blow, push-blow. No response.
Then, after at least 15 or 20 minutes, maybe longer, the man jumped and became alive again! I was standing right there, sort of frozen, watching what was going on. The man’s family members were standing there, trembling, full of anxiety and then relief. The man was taken away, probably to an ambulance. I hope he survived.

I was totally taken with the efforts of those two officers. They did a good work, a mitzvah.
Later, after Father Alexander had picked me up and we went for dinner, where he very demonstrably figured a huge cross over the table, and we began to eat, I told him my airport story. We both praised God (and the two officers).

(I’ve been told that, in situations like that, it is no longer necessary to do the blowing bit.)

?