Archive for the ‘civilization’ Category

Birgitta’s Historic Book

November 22, 2017

If you’re an early baby boomer like me you grew up with a sinister presence in the background of our American life—the threat of nuclear war with the USSR. On the distant edges of all that fear we could almost hear the low rumble of a Cold War; it was perpetually being waged somewhere in the world between “us’ and “them.”

We young Americans were told that those Russians over there in the Far East were perpetrators of terrible, repressive political system called Communism.

In 1956, the Premier of the USSR, Nikita Khruschev, began to talk about the widespread abuses that were heaped upon the a Russian people through Josef Stalin’s cruel network of surveillance and prisons.

It was said that many, many citizens, perhaps millions, of  Soviet citizens were unjustly persecuted, arrested, imprisoned and executed without due process of law. American paranoia about the threat of Russian aggression and enslavement grew more and more intense through the 1950’s and ’60’s. We generally heard and believed reports from our Western news-gatherers, both military and journalistic,  warning us about the nefarious presence of a horrific Communist empire on the other side of the world.

In 1973, Alecksandr Solzhenitsyn managed to publish to the world his voluminous report on the Soviet system of imprisonment. His book, Gulag Archipelago, was written from personal experience. Its IronCurtain-busting contents became for the world generally, but also for the Soviets, a basis for a widespread re-evaluation of the Soviet Union and its immense network of prisons and slave camps.

In 1989, the peoples of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics fomented a revolution in which they overthrew the old communist system and began to replace it with something new and far more democratic than Russians had ever known. The great thrust of this revolution was powered by the people being sick and tired of communist oppression and cruelty.

In 2017, I learned that a woman in my hometown is daughter of a man who survived eleven years in the Soviet gulag, in a slave camp in Siberia, above the Arctic Circle.

Having heard about this stuff all my life, I was amazed to meet someone whose life had been directly affected by that infamous gulag archipelago.

In her historic book, Years Stolen,  Birgitta Gottlieb McGalliard releases to the world her father’s own written account of his enslaved life, which was imposed on him by Russian soldiers in Bulgaria in 1944. That long imprisonment included months of miserable train transports, years in Lefortovo and Lubyanka prisons in Moscow, and ultimately Arctic imprisonment at Vorkuta slave labor camp in the faraway, frozen Siberian north.

YearsStoln

Yes, Virginia, there really was a Siberia. And it was absolutely as bad as anything you ever heard about it. This terrible tale was not made up by yankee Red-baiters.

Birgitta’s account, obtained and documented meticulously from her own father’s memoirs, is a truly amazing testimony of his survival saga through unimaginably cruel, cold conditions. Roland Gottlieb wrote and spoke of his real life experience there after his release in 1955. Birgitta’s writing about his ordeal is laced with the tenderness of a daughter’s love; it is also strengthened with a visceral thoroughness that painstakingly communicates the immensity of Roland’s achievement in surviving eleven years in the gulag.

If you have ever doubted all those post-WWII reports of Soviet oppression and cruelty, this book will dispel your doubts. Thank God the people of the former USSR have seen, since 1989, the light of freedom and are now following that hopeful star of democratic reforms instead of the old Red Star of communist enslavement. One reason that beacon burns brightly in our world today is because of the testimony of survivors like Roland Gottlieb, as reported by his daughter, Birgitta.

The book is, as they say, a good read. Buy it now and you will be much the wiser after this textual journey into the hell of suffering that some humans have historically imposed on other humans.

Glass half-Full

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Who Taught the Oceans?

October 21, 2017

Maybe four or five thousand years ago, some pondering poet raised these two profound questions:

Who taught the sun where to stand in the morning?

And

Who taught the ocean: You can only go this far?

In the modern world we know just how ridiculous it is to suppose that any one person could teach the sun anything, or that any person could establish the boundaries of the oceans.

So I hope you can accept that the words above, translated from the biblical “Job” represent a figurative, or allegorical, statement about creation.

In our modern, post-Copernican, post Galileo way of viewing the world, we understand that our evolving knowledge requires a different approach to answering such large queries.

Who has successfully explained to us where the sun stands in its solar system?

And

Who changed the ocean in a way that would cause sea levels to rise?

Having posed these ancient questions in a modern context, we could, in our vastly expanding database of knowledge perhaps answer them this way:

History shows that Copernicus and Galileo  figured out the centered position of the sun, and  concluded furthermore that the planets, including our earth, revolve around it.

And, as for the question of where and by what means the oceans terminate  their relentless wave action on our shores, I notice this: the question is currently up for debate.

Could it be that we ourselves are rearranging, by our consumptive habits, the boundaries of the oceans?

There are many studies now being done to determime  where the oceans’ coastlines are now shifting as a consequence of our Homo sapiens-generated emissions. Data-collecting scientists are finding that our Carbon emissions have a deeper impact on nature’s processes than any other elements.

This makes sense; it fits into a larger pattern.  Carbon, number 6 on the Periodic Table Table of Elements, is  the most essential and ubiquitous building block of life itself.

Therefore, the real question becomes . . .

What’s a human to do? Those danged Carbon atoms that float around like phantoms wherever they damn well please, like they own the place—you can’t live with ‘em, and can’t live without ‘em!

One ostensibly scientific scenario in particular—that one generally referred to as “climate change”— is moving, or appears to be evolving, toward a “scientific” consensus of some kind about the accuracy of our grim projections about what will happen to us in the future.

In the wake of a consensual international agreement to address this problem, we may work together to contrive a world-governmental  plan to minimize carbon (and other) emissions. We would begin thereby to arrest the human-generated heating up of our atmosphere,  and possibly prevent our polar ice from melting, and oppose the destabilization of our rising sea levels.

We do not want to see more flooding of coastal  cities. Otherwise,  in the wake of our global consequences . . . there could be trouble ahead.

   HawiSSet

Now when potentially cataclysmic trouble arises in human civilization, there are generally, among the inhabitants of earth,  three different ways of addressing such a huge conundrum.

One way is the way of positivism, which says: We can fix this damn thing if we’ll put our minds to it!

Another way is the way of fatalism, which says: This place is going to hell in a handbasket. We’ll never get around this!

The third way is simple to deny that there is a problem.

Now this writer’s perspective is located somewhere between these three viewpoint poles (or polls).

I have, since my youth, thought we should find ways to quit polluting our earth. Furthermore, I am not yet convinced that carbon emissions is the biggest challenge. There are other substances which are far more destructive and poisonous. I would like to think we can fix this thing, but on the other hand, human behavior, with its boundless abuses and thoughtless excesses, is so absolutely an irreversibly huge force of constructive destruction momentum.

We might have a snowball’s chance in hell, or

We might get it together as a species and solve the problem. Good luck with that!

My problem with the positive approach is this: a true fix (reducing carbon emissions from a 2% rate of increase to a 0% rate of increase) would require an oppressively extreme rearrangement of our institutions and our collectively escalating consumption habits. For the sake of the holy grail of saving the planet, a control-freaking totalitarian government would surely overtake our best intentions and thus turn the required regulations into a tyranny of police-state restrictions. By this means we would sacrifice our freedom upon the altar of saving the planet.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ycj-bQXWRrQ

 Malicious manipulations of human ideology have already spoiled our postmodern aspirations at least once or twice in history. Stalinism and Maoism overtook Marxist Socialism and turned it into a systematic monster of human oppression.

With such dystopian historica precedent as  evidence, my hope of  establishing a human/governmental solution to neutralize our climate change problem tops off at next to nothing.

Furthermore, the revelation of the “faith” camp into which I was born, and then born again, acknowledges that we are all sinners on this bus (planet).

We need, both individually and collectively, someone to save us from our own destructive tendencies. But who might that person or entity be? I say it is the one who conquered death itself by rising from the tomb.

Consequently, my leaning toward the fatalistic position on climate change convinces me to turn to divine faith to solve my own problem of what to do with the life that was given to me. My conclusion is: Rationalism and its positivistic proposals will never save us from ourselves and our consequently rising oceans.

So count me in the irrational camp, more appropriately referred to as the faith camp, although I will, every day, in every way possible, assist in our our recycling and solarizing efforts in any way I effectively can. 

Now I conclude this little trail of assessment and analytical adventure with a video of Sister Nicole’s rendition of our condition.

  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mj-pZQ_XjyU  

Glass half-Full

The Tweaking of the Technos

September 2, 2017

‘T’was about two hundred year ago that the world tilted toward changing at an exponential pace.

The advent of the steam engine had a lot to do with this. Imagine, for instance, what native American tribes, living primitively, must have thought about the first locomotive when they saw a big huffn’puff thing speeding toward them along the steel track.

It was a terrible sight to behold– belching steam and screaming along across the landscape like it owned the place.

Locomotv

And in terms of world history, that wasn’t so very long ago. We humans have definitely picked up the pace of our progress.

We’ve come a long way since those groundbreaking days of the steam locomotives. Back in those early techno times our big deal was extraction. By means of steam-powered locomotion we extracted vast amounts of resources from vast landscapes for a vastly long time and then we transported those extracted elements vast distances, to industrializing cities where they were converted into vast products that were sold and distributed to vast markets of people whose consuming habits were fastly becoming vast.

All this vastness was enabled because our new powering technologies made everything happen on vastly larger scales, and in vastly faster timetables.

Eventually, the trains went the way of the buffalo when our cars and trucks began to roll off mass-production assembly lines and then all across the globe. Before you knew it, everybody and their brother were driving around via internal combustion vehicles of one type or another, spewing carbon emissions and additives and whatnot all around the globe.

Because so many people had jumped onto the industrio-techno bandwagon we found ourselves with vast labor markets which consisted of vast numbers of people cranking out all these vast inventories of consumer goods and services.

That whole industrial revolution thing wrought the humanic world into being a carbon-belching machine. After a century or two it has become an emissions-emitting perpetual motion device. But nowadays our whole vastly spinning automaton of techno progress is being re-evaluated. For the sake of equality-based prosperity, those vast labor markets are being tweaked by office-loads of technocrats who want to do what is best for mankind. But in a world of expending (used to be expanding) resources, it becomes more and more problematical to keep everybody busy in production.

By ‘n by, for management purposes more and more folks have become involved in producing information, so we can be smart about stuff. Information  used to be stored in libraries, but now is stored in digitized files. Our terminology has morphed. As we used to shovel dirt and ore and coal and whatnot we now move vast loads of information. For simplicity sake we now call it info. Furthermore, as our  exponential changes are happening at a vastly stepped-up pace we have  spun into calling it “data.”

We notice that, while the world economy used to run on vast extractions of elements, it now runs on vast iterations of data. And if you believe that, I’ve got some swampland in Houston I’ll sell ya.

But I digress.

In our 21st-century techno-world we have generated vast hordes of data-analyzers, experts, number-crunchers and technocrats, whose mission is to  keep everything cruising along on an even keel.

Their informed consensus is that we need  a steady state, which eventually morphs into a steady State. Old style capitalism is dead, y’all.

The most potent example of this trend is the Fed.

A century ago, we had banks that were fervently financing the great industrial expansion. Now all the banks have become mere bit-players; the real mover and shaker is the Federal Reserve, the financier of last resort, as they are moving vast file-loads of reserve fiat currencies around the world the way JP and John D used to move their earth-shaking  investments.

Now the Fed keeps it all humming along on an even keel, not too fast not too slow. No more boom or bust, no more depressions, but rather one long macro-recession/expansion whereby we perpetually power the world economy at a predictably stable theoretical 2% expansion rate so as to assure that the main characters have assets to pass around  like peace pipes and, along with that, generally everybody has a job to do so we  don’t have too many folks fall into non-productive dependency on the system.

Good luck with that, y’all.

Therefore,  let us henceforth have everybody producing something, but not anything that will aggravate the emissions hockey-stick curve. Let’s keep the proles fat n’ happy—or, excuse me—fit n’ happy, if possible without deepening the carbon footprint, lest we fall into deep sh_t.

A good way to do that is convert everybody to being producers of data instead of them being producers of carbon-spewing autos and such.

In olden days we had vast factories where workers cranked out trains and trucks and autos and washing machines and TVs and then microwaves and computers and now data and data and data and more data.

So now the world runs on data, don’t you know. And if you believe that I’ve got some swamp land in Houston I’ll sell you.

But I digress.

How ‘bout I give you an example of what it means to be living in a blahblah new world where our collective assets are studiously maintained by  tweaking  technocrats.

Check out this data from an analysis of labor/welfare incentives in Europe, posted  last week by Daniel Seikel.

https://www.socialeurope.eu/activation-work-poverty  

“If it were true that employment is the best route out of poverty, including in-work poverty, then, logically, the share of working poor should at least not increase if there is significant employment growth. The combination of employment growth and increasing in-work poverty suggests that activation policies might shift poor jobless persons/households to poor working persons/households. Therefore, it is necessary to analyse the effects of different labour market policies on in-work poverty. In particular, what impact do the different elements of activation policy – conditionality, re-commodification and active labour market policies – have?

In theory, two effects are possible. First, active labour market policies can improve the qualification of job-seekers and enable them to get better paid jobs. This can lift formerly poor households above the poverty threshold (disposable household income below 60 percent of national median income). Second, the demanding elements of activation – strict conditionality and a high degree of re-commodification – can force unemployed individuals to accept job-offers even if the pay-levels are low. In this case, the income of the successfully activated might be too low to lift the household above the poverty threshold – poor unemployed would become working-poor.

That’s true, Daniel, I suppose. I’ll take your word for it. But whatever happens, however all this turns out, I can see we’ve come a long way from

Locomotv

to

TweakTek

In the olden days, the command was:

Move that barge; tote that bale!

The new program is:

Tote that phone; send that file!

This is progress, and this is what progressives have called for. It’s no wonder the outcome is Twitter, in which all the complexity of former times is dumbed down to 140 bits or pieces per event.

Good luck with that, y’all!

Glass Chimera 

The Hollowness of God

August 20, 2017

So many people dis God these days–criticizing him because he (she, or it) doesn’t correct the dysfunction and atrocity of this world. And the word on the street or in the web is that the Deity, if he (she, or it) does exist, doesn’t seem to care enough about us and our faith  to make our proper expression of that religion a little easier to validate.

My guess is that God is a little skittish. When he did show up here to give us some direction, we nailed him to a cross. So perhaps you can understand why he doesn’t just throw his weight around; he knows we’re likely to just crucify him again. In fact, some of his people are probably being given the third degree in places right now here on this earth.

One thing that God has done lately that I know of, however, is: he has taken a lower profile. The deity’s presentation to us these days doesn’t appear to be aimed at  compelling us to revere the high and mighty aspect of his being.

This is a different scenario than what it used to be among us homo sapiens.

There is evidence in the earth, however, that in ages past, God’s presence was experienced and conceived of amongst his people in way very different than what his minimal interface with us today would indicate.

In times of long ago, it seems that God was Big.

Which is to say, when humans strove to express their devotion to the Almighty, they did it in a big way. They built big structures for a big God.

We were in Europe a few weeks ago, traveling between three fascinating capitals, Vienna, Prague, and Budapest. Traipsing through such ancient cities was a real eye-opener for me. These old megalopoli are amazing in the eyes of a clueless American such as I, who was born and raised, you see, in a the “new world.” I have discovered now that America truly is a new world, compared to this very old place.

In the new world we do have Big, but our Big is mostly applied to commercial stuff, like the Empire State building, Sears Tower, TransAmerica building, World Trade Cent–er, not that one. Anyway, we Americans developed Big Business, so we have built big buildings to express our big ideas about capitalism, and our big development projects and our big bank accounts.

In Europe, hundreds of years ago, Big was all about God. Let me show you what I mean. Here’s a shot of the inside of the Cathedral that the Czechs built in Prague, at a complex called Prague Castle. It’s named the Church of St. Vitus:

Pretty huge, huh?

You betcha. The Catholics worked on this thing for over 600 years before they got it finished. As you can surmise from the photo, the inside view of this structure is quite impressive, possibly incredible enough to even inspire the beholder’s belief in God, or at least provoke a thought or two within the viewer’s brain that God’s non-existence is an unlikely proposition, since humans would go to so much time and expense to build such a place of worship for Him.

The outside is pretty impressive, too:

PChrch2

In the 21st-century, however, most folks, mostly tourists such as myself, walk around such places and snap pics on their phones, and maybe ooh and ahh a little bit at the remarkable immensity of human propensity to fill the God-shaped hole in our collective souls by going to all the time and trouble and blood and sweat and tears to erect such an edifice.

Surely they. . . we. . . would not do all that for a God who doesn’t exist.

In the olden times, when believers would gather together in this place and others like it, they would attend masses that were performed by priests, and they would pray to God and pray at God and receive communion and then be dismissed by the priest to go back to their humble domiciles and live their simple lives. That’s what doing church was all about back in the middle ages when the construction of this Catholic temple was begun.

Nowadays, though, doing church is typically more like what these folks  were doing in Vienna, on a typical summer Monday morning,

lingering outside the incredibly impressive superstructure of the cathedral, buying trinkets, snapping pics, sipping coffee, then going inside and oohing and aahing at the hugely structured religion, or excuse me, the the huge religious structure, and whispering to their companions, admonishing them to be quiet so as not to disturb those Catholic worshippers who are up there in the front as we speak doing their religious thing. . .

Apparently that’s “doing church” in the 21st century.

But for the worshippers in that sancturarial up-front, whatever transpires mysteriously in that hollowness between the congregants and their risen Saviour is not the same as whatever we tourists are doing in the periphery as we gaze up at the distant ceiling.

I do wonder what’s going on up there. It’s a long way up. Incredible what men and God can do when they put their souls to it.

King of Soul

Good Square Wenceslas

July 24, 2017

At Prague’s big square called Wenceslas

in a feast of freedom

the people gathered roundabout

to end their socialist grieving.

Brightly shone their bold intent

to form a new collusion.

Hither came brave Havel, sent

to guide their revolution.

Wencsl'89

Gather, people, stand today,

if freedom be your calling!

Yonder Soviets, who are they?

We’re done with their cruel mauling.

Sure, they’ve been in charge out here,

acting like they own us.

But now it’s time to cast out fear

and strive for freedom’s onus.

Bring us liberty to speak what’s true,

and tell it like it is–

There’s more in this life for us to do

than perish in their communism.

From high and low they did assemble;

So bold, in unity were they staying.

In Solidarity they did resemble

their Polish brethren who were praying.

People! Oh, the day is bright’ning

and a mighty wind of freedom blows,

Behold! Despite their Soviet tightening,

the depravity of their gulag shows.

Collapse of their system is now imminent.

We here resolve to accept our fate

while we apply a democratic liniment,

to this demising socialist State.

VelvetRev

From Soviet rubble these Czechs have trodden

in the wake of tyranny’s destined fall,

Czech and Slovak Republics  plodding

to rise from detritus of fallen Soviet wall.

Now proletariat, artist and bourgeois too

can think and work and overcome their loss,

because the wind of liberty blew through

Prague’s great square called Wenceslas.

WencSqr

King of Soul

Replacement Ideology

July 14, 2017

After the Big War, the Soviets moved into eastern Europe to occupy it, and to relieve the peoples of their religious burdens. Their self-appointed mission was to set the peoples free from Religion, the opiate of the people, and to liberate them from Capitalism.

The Soviets undertook a massive reconstruction project to replace this . . .

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

and

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

with this:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

and

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What they got instead was a Czech population who, by 1989, were sending a message to the Soviet reconstructors: Go back where you came from. We can take care of ourselves here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

King of Soul

 

Peering through windows

July 9, 2017

Whether through windows of time

or a window of glass

we peer through,

maybe through the windowed pane

eyes of the artist who is

long gone yet

lives on

displaying legacy image for us

to view

through our window of time

into his memory of love

through her yielding to the pangs

of love

the pain of love

Union2

Yeah, windows golden with memory

they are

moments of love so

dear to him and her and now

to us

golden memories they are

images of what carried them forward

into future or carry us

backward into reflection

backward into history

where precious intricacies of the human mind and hand were

crafted for us or

assembled for us

Jewel

to see,

to view

BarredArt

through a glass darkly

through barriers of time

or glass

or gates of iron or the

gates

Sobieski

of Vienna

when the invaders had been turned away

and later where

the artist lived and breathed and

loved

Klimt

and left a gift, their moment of prescious love

which came to be their

golden moment,  and later his gilded

memorial of love for us to

peer into,

before the gates could close again.

Smoke

Vienna

July 8, 2017

My mama raised me to be a Catholic. Daddy wasn’t into religion much.

After I grew up, and became a man who could/would relate to the world on my own terms–after I had reached the age of reason and I had decided for myself what this life was all about. . . after I had lived life to the full, and managed to do a few things right and many a thing wrong–after I had made a grand mess of my life, then allowed the Lord of the Universe, our Creator, to take hold of me at the ripe old age of 27 and turn me around and plant my wayward feet firmly in the ground of the gospel of Jesus Christ–after all that. . .

I met my wonderful little women, Pat from New Jersey. We got married in 1980 and by n’ by she presented three lovely children to me. Eventually the kids grew up, became responsible adults, etc and, long story short, we have followed each one of them to various points of interest all over the world.

Our current adventure in following progeny has brought us to the wonderful city of Vienna, Austria.

Now I have to say that this is an amazing place. Walking around this city for just one evening has already taught me some profundities about what life is all about and where things came from, long before I was born. Previously unexplained elements of my childhood, my heritage as a Catholic kid who later turned born-again Christian, can now be contemplated from the perspectives of history itself, and the movement of certain people groups at various periods of time from the Old World to the New, which is to say, America.

I mean, we grow up and we see things and we don’t really have a clue where all this stuff came from or how it got here and how we came to be in the midst of it all. In my case, I was a kid in the middle of the Deep South, in Mississippi in the 1950’s. Growing up, snotty-nosed and clueless as I was, now I’m wondering how likely it could have been that I grew up Catholic instead of Southern Baptist.

Well, my mama was a French-American Catholic from Louisiana, and my daddy’s people were from Scotch-Irish stock from up in the piney wood of Mississippi and before that they had come through Pennsylvania and before that from the old country, Ireland or Scotland or somewhere over there on the other side of the Pond.

So now, at this particular moment in time, it just so happens that I wake up this morning on the other side of the Pond, which is to say: now we are in Europe, the Old World, because yesterday (or maybe it was the day before that) we flew from America– formerly the New World– to this Old World, and one plane led to another and now I find myself in Vienna on a sunny morning and thanking God for such a wonderful life a the one we now find ourselves in.

As we strolled along the Karntnerstrasse last evening, we encountered this very impressive big cathedral structure, so I snapped a pic:

Steph-z

The immensity of history–what has gone before–is what I’m feeling as I pondered this structure. The erection of this church building took lifetimes of work and toil and sweat, and devotion, back in the days of the Holy Roman Empire, whatever that was, and its long tails of historical development through Peter and Paul and later Constantine and then all the Popes in Rome and eventually the Austro-Hungarian empire and the Hapsburgs and their hunky-dory relationship to the Catholic Church. . .

Until that fateful day in 1914 when the Archduke Franz Ferdinand got shot in Sarajevo by an angry young Serb and the Empire ended and the Old World ended and World War I dealt the final death blows to the ancient reins of power and the reigns of the royal houses that had ruled Europe for a couple a thousand years or so.

As I was pondering all this, we did stroll inside, into the Church at Stephensplatz. We found there a group of devoted Catholics celebrating Mass. This kind of thing has been going on here for a long time. And I don’t care what you think or say about it . . . This was a good thing.

Steph-in

That devotional setting took me back to childhood memories of being Catholic because that’s the way Mama raised me, even though Daddy wasn’t into it.

So as I contemplated, and in some sense, entered into. . . the devotion of these congregants to their belief in the Lord Jesus Christ, and their expression of that devotion in the sacrifice of the Mass,  and as I reconciled in my mind between those ancient strains of high-church faith and the Protestant Reformation that later changed everything . . . right down to the johnny-come-lately tides of Charismata that had drawn me into my experience of the Christian faith in 1978, and my present appreciation for all that God has done for me and Pat and our grown-up children and their spouses. . . as I stood there in the quiet reverence of a tourist who just happened into a cathedral while other believers worshipped in their strange high-church way . . .

I could relate. I could relate to what they were feeling.

This morning, I can still feel it, devotion.

Devotion goes way back. This is a good thing.

King of Soul 

A simple act of kindness goes a long way

June 12, 2017

“Encountering human kindness such as that became the highlights of my otherwise dreary existence.”

These words were spoken by a man who had spent eleven years imprisoned in a Stalin-era Russian gulag. The act of kindness of which he speaks was something very small, but very important. In 1953, a young woman doctor who was working in the prison smuggled in a blank postcard, then passed it secretly to a prisoner, Roland Gottlieb, so that he could send a message beyond the prison walls to his wife and three daughters.

By that time in 1953, Roland’s wife, Ruth, had already spent more than eight years waiting for her husband to be released from the political prison. During those years she didn’t even know if he was alive or dead. It was a very long period of terrible anguish for her and for their  three daughters, as they lived from day to day wondering where the hell  Poppa was, or if they’d ever see him again.

Hell on earth it must have been for them, and for him.

For Poppa, who endured not only cruelties, near starvation, physical abuse and the frigid Siberian weather, the worst part was not knowing anything about his family, not knowing where they had ended up after he was taken prisoner by the Russian army in Bulgaria, not knowing if the girls even knew what had become of him, not knowing if he would live to ever see them again, not knowing anything except the day-to-day hell-on-earth of captivity in Stalin’s gulag.

Then one day a brave doctor’s willingness to risk her own career and safety made it possible for Roland to at least send a few words–a long-overdue update– about his location and condition (alive) to his loved ones.

Here’s a cover pic of Ruth, to whom the secret postcard was addressed, and to whom the card was delivered, four months after it was mailed.

LivesDiv

  https://www.amazon.com/Lives-Divided-family-apart-Russian/dp/1490404236

You can read more about this long ordeal of separation in Birgitta Gottlieb McGalliard’s autobiographical memoir, Lives Damaged. It’s a good book about the first eleven years of her life, which happened to be the same eleven years that her father was in prison, simply because he was (doing his duty as a German diplomat protecting war refugees)  in the wrong place (Sofia, Hungary) at the wrong time (when the Russian army took over the place) in 1944.

Birgitta was born a few months after her father was hauled to a Soviet prison in Siberia. She never even saw her father, never even touched him, until she was eleven years old. And when she did finally see him, and hug him, and at last get to talk to him and get to know him, she asked him some questions about the bad people he had encountered  in prison. And he spoke to her and to the family about the bad people there, some of them prisoners and some who were staffers. But then he said:

“Just as these blatnois were bad, I found equally many if not more ‘good’ Russians, like the young female doctor who took pity on me when I was in the punishment camp after the Vorkuta Revolt in 1953, where writing was strictly prohibited. She smuggled a postcard to me so that I could write home. She could have been severely punished if she hand been caught. If it hadn’t been for her kindness, you never would have received that first postcard from me.”

That “first postcard,” when it finally was delivered, was a major milestone, a turning point in the life of their family.

That major milestone was made possible by a very small, seemingly insignificant act of smuggling a postcard in and out of the prison, and yet . . .

Later, after his release in 1954, looking back on it and trying to capture an explanation of it all for his daughters, Roland Gottlieb said:

“Encountering human kindness such as that became the highlights of my otherwise dreary existence.”

Kindness stands out. Its effects go far beyond the pale.

The milk of human kindness–it goes a long way toward the healing of the nations, and the healing of people whose suffering is a consequence of the injustice and evil that men do to each other throughout history. A brave doctor’s small act of postcard benevolence, along with a few other small deeds like it, is what  enabled the prisoner to hang on to a thin thread of hope. It’s what he remembered more vividly than anything else about what happened in his eleven-year gulag nightmare: Kindness from a brave soul whose courage to act enabled him to cross a bridge from perpetual discouragement to newfound hope.

It’s no wonder that Paul, the 1st-century itinerant Christian messenger, included kindness in his lists of the “fruits” of our Creator’s Holy Spirit.

Kindness. You can beat it, but you can’t defeat it.

Smoke

Overcoming Mediocrity and Alienation with Freedom

June 10, 2017

Trying to fix this world is no easy task. Many people have pondered about what is wrong with it, and some have offered remedies about how to correct the perpetual problem of human activity and its destructive effects on our collective life on this planet.

For instance, about a century and a half ago, a very smart German fellow named Karl Marx theorized that the prosperous owners of the world’s production facilities should be replaced by the working folks who keep all the nuts and bolts turning. If this transition of ownership could be accomplished, the world would eventually be a better place, or so Karl thought.

Vladimir Lenin and his Bolshevik comrades got a hold of that idea, and they enforced the Russian Revolution of 1917. After they deposed the Czar and his Romanov dynasty family, and after the revolutionaries had manhandled power unto the people for purposes of taking control of the “means of production,” the newfound Communists of Russia took a stab at running the country, with their sights sent on the entire world.

There was some confusion in their ranks about exactly what needed to be done; Lenin and his diehards had to push Trotsky and his people out of the picture, but that wasn’t really enough purging to settle all the issues. So later, in the 1930’s, Joe Stalin took it upon himself to purge the revolutionary and bureaucratic ranks of all questionable persons who couldn’t get with the (Stalin’s) program.

Well, that was a sinister and bloody affair. Meanwhile, further down the map in Europe, Hitler and his Nazi goons were making a big bloody mess of Germany and the surrounding countries, and that whole conflagration turned into one hell of a humongous World War, in which we Americans had to go over there and help the Brits and the French, et al, put an end to it.

After the Big War, the Communists were still in control of Russia, and Stalin was still running the show and the gulag, and the working out of the Marx-theorized dictatorship of the proletariat and so forth. Part of the strategy of the International Communist plan to save the world from Capitalist abuse was to spread the revolution into other parts of the world.

After World War II finally skidded to a long-overdue frigging halt, when the dust settled in Europe, the continent was pretty much divided down the middle between the freedom-cultivating Capitalist Allies and the pushy Russian Communists. There was a kind of imaginary dividing between these two entities, which Winston Churchill called the Iron Curtain.

Over here in the West, we were flat-out tired of making war. The Nazi war machine had worn us out, even though we won. And the Russians, although they were certainly tired of fighting the war, were also tired of the whole damned war thing.  Nevertheless, the Ruskies were still quite stubborn in their resolve to save the world from Capitalism.

So they began a new, very big project to impose their Russian version of Communism on the rest of the world– Starting, mainly, in eastern Europe where they were already occupying those post-war-torn Nazi-disaster zone nations, most notably Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary.

BrshnvK

Recently I picked up a book, from my precious local library, about people and events in Communist-occupied postwar eastern Europe.

   https://www.amazon.com/Prague-Sprung-Notes-Voices-World/dp/0275945367

David Leviatin’s Prague Sprung  presents a penetrating view into the Communist world of power mongering as it existed from the 1948 takeover until the overthrow of Russian hegemony in 1989.

In his book project, David interviews many Czechs who, as members of the Communist party, performed roles in the development and administration of Czechoslovakia.

During one interview, David Leviatin speaks to Miroslav Jindra about his career as an educator. Jindra’s training as a teacher of English and Czech language began in 1948 when he entered Charles University in Prague. After graduating he taught languages at both elementary and college levels.

During that time Mr. Jindra encountered there, however, a double-minded mindset that tended to complicate everything. It seemed that academic excellence and enquiry were not the first priorities. Rather, he found that behind the surface of the institution was a certain Marxist mindset which was being promulgated by the Communist regime. The politicos in charge of Czech education had an agenda, and it was more about political control than academic enquiry. Consequently, to function in such an academic environment was no simple matter.

“I belonged to the group of people who developed some sort of maneuver, some sort of defending mechanism, because otherwise it was impossible to survive. I learned at the same time to be as inconspicuous as possible. If you were very good, you were conspicuous. Something would happen to you. If you were too lazy, you were also conspicuous. This is what we now call the tendency to mediocrity.”

Jindra goes on to  explain that the Russian takeover of his country in 1948 was followed by a period of radical leftist change, which was imposed methodically by Communist taskmasters. But later, during the 1950’s their doctrinaire extremism began to run out of steam. The demands of economic and political reality required more practical applications of human motivation and activity. By the 1960’s narrow-minded apparatchiks who had imposed Stalinist cruelties had to tone down their rhetoric and their programs as it became apparent that something was wrong.

By 1956, Khrushchev’s admission of Stalinist abuses and crimes initiated a shockwave of reassessment that rumbled across the whole communist world.

As Jindra states it: “They found out something was wrong.” So the Stalinist phase of world communism began to morph into something else.

But Khrushchev’s admission wasn’t the only crack that was then appearing in the Soviet wall of oppression.

Also at that time, in 1956, the partisans of Hungary, next door  to Czechoslovakia, rose up in undisguised anger against their Russian overlords. As a Czech speaking about their 1956 news of the Hungarian uprising, Miroslav Jindra says:

“We were told that the Revolution in Hungary was endangered by some reactionaries, but everybody knew what happened there.”

Which is to say, everybody knew what (really) happened there.

As citizens of eastern Europe found themselves, over the years, mired deeper and deeper in sloughs of Communist Party control,  they were cornered into a new, schizo way of thinking and speaking. Euphemism– saying what is generally known to be true but saying it in a way that would not be objectionable, or even understood by, Communist party officials– became a necessity. Saying what you meant without really saying it become a finely honed, stealthy strategy–even a mindset– of mounting resistance.

Eastern Europe came to be something like a kettle put on low heat; it took a long time to boil. It didn’t actually boil over until 1989.

There were many Soviet oppressions that provoked discontent and bitterness among the people of eastern Europe.

Here’s one bitter bi-product of Soviet oppression in  particular, that Miroslav Jindra’s narrative brings to this reader’s attention. But it was not an obvious one. Rather, it is subtle thing, and it slithers into the fearful comrade’s mind like a serpent: alienation.

Think about it this way. Have you ever been in a job where you wanted to do good work, but could not, because your micro-managing boss or co-workers were obsessed with unimportant details instead of actually accomplishing good work?

That’s what was going on in the world of Soviet political correction.

From page 66 of David Leviatan’s Prague Sprung, educator Miroslav Jindra speaks of the doublethink that was required to function as faculty member at Charles University, in Prague:

“In 1976, I was invited to come back to the faculty since two people had retired and they needed some help. There were some very good people in the faculty. If you had some contacts with them, you were quite safe. On the other hand, there were some very nasty people in the Party, people who were not qualified as experts, as specialists, who were just political figures. Their task was to watch over what we said. If you were careful enough you could evade them. We didn’t have any intellectual freedom at all. We had very limited area to maneuver. If you were clever, you could. I think that quite often I managed to tell the students what I wanted to tell them, but maybe I didn’t tell them directly. I tried to make them find out for themselves.

But it’s a big relief now (circa 1991). I don’t need to think over anything, my next word. This was crazy. It was double-thinking.”

The mindset that requires fearful, constant double-minded euphemism is destructive. When truth cannot be plainly spoken, a kind of collective schizophrenia takes hold of a society. This is what the history of communism has revealed about human nature. In State-controlled regimes, Party-appointed–or even self-appointed– micro-managers who are obsessed with political correctness and petty rules dominate everything that is allowed to happen. The end results bring mediocrity, which is the opposite of excellence. For serious teachers, students or workers who want to discover truth and strive for productivity, alienation plagues them and drags them into sloughs of discouragement and despair.

By the late 1980’s, the peoples of eastern Europe–and even the Russians– were sick of the double-minded burdens that the communist State had been demanding of them, so they overthrew it. The revolution began with bold people like Vaclav Havel in the Czech lands, Imre Nagy in Hungary, Lech Walesa in Poland.

Eventually leaders such as Yeltsin and Gorbachev got a hold of it. The rest is history. Gorbachev took Reagan’s advice; he tore down a wall. That certainly to helped to get the ball of liberty rolling.

Much to the doctrinaire Communists’ surprise, the people of Germany turned out to be more than willing to help in tearing down that Berlin wall–piece by piece. Freedom is irresistible when you get a whiff of it.

But freedom is not easy to attain. In America, we are fortunate to have prospered in the liberty that was attained, at great sacrifice, for us long ago. That liberty has since been assured and secured by men and women who are willing to defend it. We defend it, not only militarily, but also politically, academically, and economically.

Let’s keep it that way. Freedom is a way of life that we don’t want to lose. Let us not squander it.

King of Soul