Archive for April, 2013

The Height of Civilization

April 29, 2013

Sometimes I think human history is the outcome of a great war between civilization and barbarism.

When terrorists  set bombs in a public place to kill and maim innocent people, that is barbarism. When neighbors and citizens arise to comfort and compensate the victims of such atrocity, that is one of the many functions of what we call civilization.

History has  always been us civilized folks against the barbarians who assault the the gates of law and decency.

In the last decade of our nation’s collective experience, many of us have borne the burden of tragedies in which innocents suffered terrible pain, suffering, and death. In the wake of these terrible events, there never fails to be a multitude of Americans who answer the immediate and subsequent challenges  presented in sorting out and cleaning up bloody messes, and then ministering care and comfort to victims and their families. The most obvious heroes are the first responders, the  firemen, EMTs, physicians, nurses, policemen, neighbors, compassionate passersby, good samaritans. But there are many others all along the way in the aftermath.

For instance, long after the fact, after the dust settles, someone has to sort out the financial damages and compensations; there has to be a person or persons whose job is to  make the hard decisions in allocating limited money for compensation to victims and others who have suffered undeserved losses and injuries.

Fortunately for us here in the USA, there is a man whose God-given gift is to administrate those decisions, and their accompanying financial compensations, in a very public and transparent way. He is a man who is known for fairness, impartiality, and sound judgement.

Ken Feinberg is his name.  He has been appointed, in days recently past, to help others sort out and distribute the sticky, inadequate financial damages that collect in the wake of such events as: 9/11, the Virginia Tech shootings, the Colorado movie shootings, BP oilspill, and many others.

And now the Boston Marathon bombing damage compensation fund.

In an interview today with Robin Young of Boston’s WBUR Here and Now, Mr. Fineberg explainedthat there is “never enough money” in a situation such as this  to justly compensate all those people who have suffered death, maiming, loss of limbs, paralysis, pain, suffering and loss of just about every asset that humans are heir to, including suffering to which no monetary value can be assigned.

But somebody has to do it. Somebody has to make the difficult calls, and then have the results of the distribution acknowledged generally as fair and sufficient. In the USA today, that somebody is Ken Feinberg and his crew.

I admire him. It is a very difficult job, and he has handled it well, with honesty and integrity that is widely, consistently acknowledged, case after case, disaster after disaster.

What a hell of a job.

I recommend you listen to his answers in response to Robin Young’s questions:  http://hereandnow.wbur.org/2013/04/29/one-fund-feinberg

At the end of the interview, Ken intimated that the job is stressful. He said he has to take little breaks after meeting with victims and their families, in order to deal with the pain and suffering that he sees in their faces and hears in their complaints.

Then Robin mentioned Mozart; she had heard that he enjoys listening to music at the end of such a stressful day. Mr. Feinberg confirmed it. After all the stress that his day’s enquiries uncover, at the end of the day he finds release from the fierce collateral damages of barbarism, by fleeing to what he calls the  “height of civilization”: listening to Mozart, Wagner, Verdi, Beethoven.

I can relate, especially as he mentioned Beethoven.

It is true: a Beethoven symphony  performed by a professional orchestra is indeed the height of civilization.

In terms of music, that is.

But the deeper and loftier height of civilization is this:

what good people do to comfort, heal and care for their fellowmen/women, in the tragic aftermath whenever evil  has been inflicted by barbarians at the gate.

Glass half-Full

Chechen up on my Caucasian identity Crisis

April 20, 2013

Ever since we implemented civil rights legislation many and many a year ago, I have had to check a little race box on any kind of application or information form that I’m submitting to some .gov, .org, or even .com entity that wants to know about who I am, and why I am applying for their this/that/orthe/other.  The little box typically asks me to identify my race. A person of my pale pigmentation is expected to check the box  called Caucasian.

And I’m like, whaddup widdat?

What have I to do with thee, oh mountains of Caucasus?

If I chech the Causasian ethnicity, does that identify me as some wild-eyed cave-dweller from the far side of those mountains that the tectonic earth had long ago so carelessly slung up between Black Sea and Prince Caspian?

Surely not! I beg to differ.

On the other hand, if I am being so contentious about such a small box-chechin’ matter, maybe I am a little bit of a Chech.

That is to say: a rebel.

Them doggone Chechens!–can’t do a thing with ’em, as they say in Moscow.

I suppose that in Russia, when the good citizens of that country fill out forms, they are likewise expected to chech little ethnicity boxes, so the bureaucrats in the Kremlin or wherever can know what little categories to place the people in, very much like here in the land of the free and home of the brave, aka Washington SMSA.

Now when I say Chech, I’m not talking about Czechs. Them Czechs are great, especially like, Vaclev Havel. But I must also point out that they too, have a history of not taking any sh-t from the Russians, just like those upstart startups in Boston wouldn’t tolerate any taxation without representation from wiggy ole King George III, back in the day, the revolutionary day, when the Patriots decided to have  a Tea Party.

But that was then, and this is now. We’re all Russians now! Dosvidanya. Reminds me of some old Beatles nonsense, where Georgia’s always on my mind.

Glass Chimera

Garrisoning the best of Americana

April 18, 2013

Garrison Keillor’s unique retrospective is really about what America was; but somehow, it doesn’t end there. His profound entertainment does not get hung up in the past. It always seems to cultivate, in the back of our minds, an appreciation of Americana that is timeless, enduring.

You see, there is something deeply therapeutic about elaborating on a precious national heritage that we share together. And I declare that there is nothing morose or counterproductive about looking back, even though Mr. Keillor’s Brand-New Retrospective road show is tinged with a note of vintage melancholy.

Last Tuesday night here in Boone, North Carolina, he demonstrated to us that it is healthy, and  helpful, to find inspiration for the future in recollecting the best of what has gone before– remembering the way things used to be when we were young and foolish. Back in the day.

Nothing wrong with identifying what it was that characterized our baby-boom g-generation, then celebrating it with an evening of poetry, prose and singalong, orchestrated by the bard of the Prairie Home. At one point, Garrison started singing:

“Oh, she was just seventeen, you know what I mean.”

And the way she looked was way beyond compare. . .”

We boomers in the arena instinctively joined along. He knew we would, because, together, we remember. . . I clearly remember the first time I heard those lines sung, laying in bed one night listening to my transistor radio, probably about 1963 or so. The Beatles sailed into our young collective consciousness, via the  airwaves, during that rarified time of our youth.

My g-generation remembers that moment of the Fab Four’s arrival from England, shaking their hairy heads on Ed Sullivan and all that, My generation– who grew up under the strong leadership of  Ike and the dubious example of Elvis–my g-generation, mourning  JFK and Dallas, and believing in Walter Cronkite and Annette Funicello.  All these personality vectors framed our shared experience as the first-ever TV generation.

Oh what a time it was! Never be another like it.

But the first singalong we did with Mr. Keillor on Tuesday night was not that Beatles’ tune; it was an anthem much more sacred than anything the irreverent Liverpudlians would ever compose.  All of us gray heads remembered, from school, the refrain:

“America, America, God shed his grace on thee.

And crown thy good with brotherhood from sea to shining sea.”

Then the bard of the Prairie Home crooned us into Home on the Range. The words just come back, you know,  like riding a bicycle.  Most every boomer remembers the tune, accompanied by memories of Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, Howdy Doody, Dan’l Boone, Woody in Toy Story. Say what? Woody?

Anyway, after those two national hymns, somewhere in there was when Garrison evoked the Beatles contribution to our collective Boomer memory:

“Well, my heart went boom, when I crossed that room,

and I held her hand in mine. . .”

This is what it’s all about! But hey, it seems this kind of thing doesn’t happen any more.

A decade or so before the Beatles, when Garrison Keillor was about the age that I was when I first heard Lennon-McCartney, there was Buddy Holly. He was a little before my time. But Buddy was not before Garrison Keillor’s time; Buddy was right square in the middle of Garrison Keillor’s sensitive prairie-home experience, which had been birthed about nine years before mine had popped out down in Louisiana, but on the same River, the Mississippi.

At his retrospective concert last Tuesday night,  Garrison mentioned Buddy as he spun his web of preciously memorable treasures. I had a feeling he might mention Buddy Holly, because I knew the importance of the deceased singer’s legacy in Mr. Keillor’s mind.

I knew, because many years ago, it was Garrison Keillor’s tenderly shared recollection of Buddy’s small-plane-crash death that first drew my attention to the rare, provocative experience of listening, on Saturday nights, to a Prairie Home Companion radio show. ‘T’was then I heard the Minnesota bard’s poignant, homespun yarns about Lake Wobegone,  which is a quintessential small-town  somewhere out there in the mythical, archetypical, Prairie Home that we all seem to remember, even if we didn’t grow up in Minnesota.

There is so much I could say about our tender evening with Garrison Keillor, but I will not dwell on it, because you are, after all, reading this online, with the attendant post-Boomer short attention  span and so forth. You would. . .ah. . .you’d have to be there. But I will say this:  just to hear Rich Dworsky’s piano playin’ was better than nirvana.

And know this: America’s resilient character lives on and on, despite what soulless fanatics may do to maim and kill innocent bystanders in Boston, or in Texas or in Oklahoma or New York, or in any other place in these United States.

Garrison Keillor’s shared music and monologue continues to reinforce preservation of our precious Americana cultural legacy in every venue he addresses. He is a man garrisoning the best of what America has been, is, and will be.

Boomer’s Choice

the Narnia wardrobe

April 10, 2013

Nineteen thirty-four,

Nazis in

Nuremberg attempted to

nullify the glory of God;

nihilistic they were;

nixing the opinions of mankind, by

nineteen thirty-

nine, had made war a sacrament, until there remained

no decency left in their

nefarious reign over Deutschland. In

nineteen forty, they moved against the world, with

noxious occupations in Austria, Czechoslav, Poland.

Nobody could reverse their ruthless belligerance.  Everywhere the

National Socialists went,

no good thing was tolerated.

Never had the world seen such hateful conquest.

Next country over to the west on the

North Sea was the

Netherlands;  when the

Nazis came, some good people there hid Jews so they would

not be found,

nor arrested,

nor sent to death camps.

Near the upper regions of some refuge homes, probably

next to a wall, there might be found a wooden wardrobe, which is

not a collection of clothes, but a rather unusual piece of furniture.

Nailed or hinged to the back of it, there could be a false panel, very

narrow, on the other side of which secret accommodations might

neatly conceal

neighbors or other persons who have fled the

Nazi police, which are the beastly

nemeses of Jews and other innocent

non-aryans. We could say that beyond such a hiding place

nestled behind a wardrobe was a

neverworld of fear and imminent danger that

never should have existed. But the world is a terrible place.

 

Once upon that same awful time, a professorial fellow–

name of Lewis,

native of some quaint and curious shire,

near an Oxford

nook of England– he reported the existence of a

never

neverland. It was, he imagined, a reichish otherworldly scene,

niftily cloaked clandestinely

near the rear of some such nonesuch transportive wardrobe;

now it took innocents away, into a

netherland of frigid fright and badness to a land badly ruled, in

necromancy, and oppressed by an evil queen, a

netherworld region beyond a 1940s’ wardrobe that Lewis

named

Narnia.

Now truly, there is

no such place as Narnia, but if ever there was, I would hope the

noxious fuehrer tyrant should be

negated, and

nullified by children of the rightful King.

 

CR, with new novel, Smoke, in progress

The next g-generation

April 6, 2013

We were sitting at a gate in the San Francisco airport, waiting for our flight back to North Carolina.

In the seat next to me was a sixytish guy, about my age. I wasn’t thinking anything in particular, when I noticed the man’s late-teens daughter approach him to ask a question. The girl had an open laptop in her hand, and turned the screen toward her dad.

“Do you have, like, the link to that thing?” she asked

“What are you talking about?” her father replied.

Overhearing this, I was, like, almost lol in the next seat.

I didn’t hear her reply, as dad arose and they stepped over to the mother’s seat and got into a conversation about something or other. The fact that I find such profound humor in this indicative inter-generational communication  is probably why Pat calls me “Mister English person” when she detects my occasional  grammatical, syntactic, or definitive hair-splitting.

I suppose we are witnessing, during these times of cataclysmic change (such as David Stockman has documented)  the inevitable Deformation of precise English, even as our parents before us had noticed it, and their parents before them, and so forth and so on all the way back to Chaucer or Cicero or Keynes or Krugman or someone like that.

In other news, pronouns are bad for you. I have figured out that they are the diabolical, insidious, imprecise source of, like,  multiple myriads of miscommunications. More about that later, dude.

CR, with new novel, Smoke, in progress

The Path

April 2, 2013

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After I had passed through the dark time

I came around a bend

and there ahead of me

was a bright path.

Then I knew my Creator

had brought me through,

and there would be goodness ahead.

I could see the light

scattered among those shadowy branches.

I turned and looked behind me,

down at the trail already trod

and knew the brightness

had been there all along,

though the morning fog

had obscured my view.

The light is there as I see it,

and yet it was there when I could not.

Thank God I knew

and now I could go on.

Glass half-Full