Archive for the ‘education’ Category

Crossing the Great Divide

December 26, 2019

Life is flexible and creative.

Mathematics is different from life; it is definite and conclusive.

When certain modern mathematicians recently figured out—and admitted— that equations can not account for all truth about life itself, they actually enabled themselves to make a quantum leap forward in human communications.

What George Gilder calls the mathematics of information theory is actually a “math of creativity.”

Human creativity is required to make this math work properly. If humans would not intervene—if we were to choose not to intervene, not to tweak, not to program—our stupid, soul-less computers would “churn away forever.”

Caught up in a never-ending loop—that’s what computers would do if we didn’t manage them and tell them what to do.

How did such a bright idea enlighten the computering pioneers of our 20th-21st century progress?

In his book, Life After Google, George Gilder describes a series of progressive mathematical proofs that eventually brought us to an advanced stage of modern mathematics. Beginning mainly with Isaac Newton, these theorems collectively lead, step-by-step, to a system of proven mathematical truths.

But the mathematicians ran into a problem—a dead end. The roadblock showed up shortly after a certain fellow, David Hilbert, came along and, being absolutely  sure that we could express all knowledge mathematically, famously said: “We must know; we will know!”

It seems to me David was gathering his sustenance from an old source that was long ago proven unreliable; it was, I surmise, that phenom that Moses called the “Tree of Knowledge.”

Actually, it was a little while later that his assistant—a fellow named John von Neumann—provided the missing link that exposed Hilbert’s wishful thinking for what is was.

Along those link lines, George Gilder provides in his book a list of other mathematicians and scientists whose work contributed to John von Neumann’s breakthrough. The list includes Kurt Gödel, Gregory Chaitin, Hubert Yockey, Alan Turing, Claude Shannon.

George Gilder explains. . .

“Gödel’s insights led directly to Claude Shannon’s information theory, which underlies all computers and networks today.”

In the midst of this move forward away from mathematical determinism and into creative computing, the contribution of John von Neumann was to encourage Gödel in his emerging proof that absolute mathematical proof was impossible.

Along this path of computing enlightenment, Gilder points out that

“Gödel’s proof prompted Alan Turing’s invention in 1936 of the Turing machine—the universal computing architecture with which he showed that computer programs, like other logical schemes, were not only incomplete but could not even be proved to reach any conclusion. Any particular program might cause it (the computer) to churn away forever. This was the ‘halting problem.’Computers required what Turing called ‘oracles’ to give them instructions and judge their outputs.”

Those “oracles” are human beings. Guess what: Computers need us if they’re going to work correctly!

George Gilder goes on to explain in his book that this creative guidance from us, homo sapiens, is what leads, and has lead to, all the computer progress we have seen in modern times.

Along that path of progress, Larry and Sergei came along and harnessed all that creative oracularity into a thing called Google.

You may have heard of it.

My takeaway is that, back in the dawn of the computer age . . . while Hilbert was chowing down on the Tree of Knowledge, his assistant Von Neumann managed to pluck some life-sustaining nourishment from the Tree of Life.

Gilderbook

Along those lines, here’s a cool quote from George Gilder:

“Cleaving all information is(:) the great divide between creativity and determinism, between information entropy of surprises and thermo-dynamic entropy of predictable decline, between stories that capture a particular truth and statistics that reveal a sterile generality.”

 Maybe you have to be a computer nerd to process all that quote in your very own CPU, or you may be like me and just read a lot . . .

King of Soul

Blue Ridge Mountain Home

December 20, 2019

Driving in bright, brisk December sunshine, winding slowly along a Blue Ridge mountain holler road, I arrived yesterday afternoon at the house address that I had earlier noted.

Turning off the car engine silenced radio reportage about the impending impeachment, which is neither here nor there. I am looking for an old fella that I recently read about in a locally written book.

The house is small, light green, near the side of the road, very neat and compact, meticulously maintained.I  This home is the kind of modest dwelling that was being built around these parts in the 1950’s, but it has been recently updated with vinyl siding. My carpenter eye notices the perfectly installed exterior. Nice job.

An attractive, low stone wall just a few steps from the roadway affords a stairway down to a welcoming front porch.  The front door is absolutely white, six-paneled proper in sunshine. It begs knocking, and so I do.

The lady who opens it is thin, with gray hair. She has a classic Scotch-looking mountain face, pleasantly aged with complimentary wrinkles. I forget now what she said, but it was some kind of greeting. I offered her my concise explanation for my visit this afternoon.

“Hi. My name is Carey Rowland. I’ve been doing some historical research—for a novel I am writing— about the Cone estate, and the construction of the Blue Ridge Parkway through it back in the 1940’s or ’50’s.  I recently read an interview, published in 1997, with Mr. Paul Moody, who, I understand used to work for Bertha Cone.”

“I’m his wife.” she said

Well, gollee, I’ve come to the right place.

This was a pleasant surprise. I’m still new at this historical research stuff. The last few doors I had recently knocked on were run-down abandoned places with nobody home. A little confused about exactly what my next question should be, I blurted:

“Is he alive?”

“He’s right in here. You wanta talk to him?”

“Yes ma-am!”

“Come on in. I’ll get him.”

And so I did, and she did.  Next thing you know, I’m looking around in this smallish, comfortably lived-in den or living room. A few seconds later, Paul walks in, smiling.

Well gollee.

“Well, what can I do for ye?” he says, pleasantly.

And so I explained a little— that I had been living around here since the early ’80’s, raising a family with my wife, and the first job I had up here was working on the Linn Cove Viaduct, which is, as you know, the missing link, in the middle of a 469-mile parkway that took fifty years to build—

And, as the old shake and bake commercial says. . . “and I helped!”

“Well, sit down,” said Paul.

Not in that chair, I thought, noticing the easy chair. That’s obviously his chair, with visual evidence of Paul’s accustomed comfort, possibly reading comfort, over years of sitting.  No sign of a TV in the room.

So I took my seat on the couch. “Thank you, sir!”

Long story short. Paul began talking about the Moses Cone Estate, on which he had been born in 1933, and thereby born into the hired help. His grandfather had been superintendent of the place back in the day— since before 1908 when Moses had died, and his father had been foreman of the apple orchard.

Paul proceeded to answer just about every question about the place that had been on my mind these last few weeks. This was becoming a very productive day, from a writerly standpoint.

He is a very pleasant fellow, full of history, and willing to talk about it. A historical fiction-writer’s dream informant. After awhile he took me back in the other rooms. He showed me the kitchen cabinets he had built, with frame-and-panel cherry doors on cherry face-frame, then took me back into the expansive laundry room, which was sunshine bright and entirely paneled with whitish, wormy pine, milled from trees that he himself had cut down.

A true mountain man, this Paul. The 16-gauge shotgun mounted over the doorway had been bequeathed to Paul from the Cone estate when Bertha died in 1947.

BRPaulmoody

Here’s Paul with his life-long wife, Margaret, who also came from a family of the hired help of the Cone estate, now the Moses Cone Memorial Park. They’re standing in front of another piece of his handiwork, filled with a lifetime of precious family mementos.

BRPMoody

After more friendly conversation and explanation, he took me out to his shop, where he had built the cabinets and the furniture and God-knows-what else.

BRmoodysaws

as far as ole folks from the Old School go, they don’t make ‘em like Paul any more.

BRmoody

And the rest is history, which you may read about in two or three years when I finish the novel . . .

Search for Blue

The Dark Spots in Our Republic

December 11, 2019

I am defining Dark Spots this way.

Dark spots: locations in which election vote numbers are suspect, due to fraud, corruption, tampering, discrimination or miscounting.

Dark spots in our democratic republic are everywhere. No doubt they can be uncovered in numerous locales throughout our entire system of governments. Such dysfunction is a symptom of our human predicament and the institutions we devise to help us all solve our problems together.

I think the number of suspect dark spots is revealed in higher and higher numbers as our counting moves downward to the local level.

There is no statistical explanation for this except that the complexity of voter rolls gets progressively higher and higher as the numbers get bigger and bigger.

In our massive system of vote-counting, the likelihood of corruptive shenanigans is everywhere throughout the nation. The extent of corrupt data/numbers is directly proportional to the number of polling stations in the nation. There will always be a few bad apples in any batch. Knowing which ones are suspect probably requires more time and integrity than our civil authorities can effectively monitor.

It is partly because of this fully expected complexity that the founders of our democratic republic instituted an Electoral College. Admittedly, there are other factors that determined the outcome of this foundational decision, such as: all the writers of  our Constitution were middle-aged white guys who had plenty of land and money. But that was 18th-century politics in the New World and there is nothing that can change that.

To amend the Constitution is a very long, difficult process involving all of our state legislators and Congress. If there are any parties among us who have a mind to do so, you are welcome to go for it. Good luck with that. The Constitutionally-prescribed procedure would require a lot of time and coordinated effort on the part of a large number of citizens.

Now, as to the matter of the dark spots, I continue.

Regardless of the inevitable hundreds or  thousands of illegal or deceased voters and subsequent illegal votes cast throughout our United States– the final number that actually determines who will be President —that number is systematically honed to  a very manageable, low number that is easy to count. So that we can make a definitive appointment that will be held as legitimate for the next four years.

538 electors is the number of Constitutionally determined delegates who declare who will become our President in each four-year period.

270 is the majority number that establishes the outcome of that Electoral College.

In 2016, those numbers were: 306 for Trump and 232 for Clinton. All ye Democrats, read ’em and weep. That’s life in the big country. There’s always next election, so get busy.

The integrity of our selection procedures, from the lowest precinct level all the way up to Congress and the Presidency, is a matter of interest for all of us in both parties.

Let’s keep it as clean and legitimate as we can, from the top to the bottom.

Now, what about those dark spots of electoral meddling that I mentioned earlier. . .

My theory is that in a democratic republic, especially one as huge as ours, there will always be some dark spots somewhere; to sniff them all out and correct them would be an impossible, never-ending project.

We will never get rid of all the irregularities of selective process that our Constitution has prescribed and our  nation has retained for 238 years.

We can try to clean up corruption, tampering, illegal voting and dead people voting etcetera etcetera.That’s all well and good, But we’ll never undo all the evil that men do.

Especially men; blame the men, haha, especially the ole white guys like me, although I am not one of the rich privileged ones.

Nevertheless, as a citizen of the United States of America, I am entitled to a vote, which figures at a certain level in the selection process. Then those who are selected by the compilation of my vote and yours will go on to vote on the larger decisions, including who will actually be President.

Along with the vote I am entitled to my opinion,  and I am endowed by the Constitution to express it in any ways that do not infringe on the rights of my fellow-citizens.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

And the Constitution, including the Electoral College—that’s our story and we’re sticking to it.

That’s our history and we’re sticking to it.

ElectCollg

Like it or not, according to the above procedure, 270 is determined as the necessary majority number if you wanna be President.

Now let’s get started on the next election cycle. The American people will select our next President according to the systematic process that our founders instituted and we have retained for, lo, these many years.

And if you Democrats out there have a better person for the job, well let’s see what you come up with. Then we will  collectively render our decision in December of 2020.

May the best citizen for the job win.

Glass half-Full

Wisdom?

November 25, 2019

Perhaps my 68 years of dealing with this life’s challenges has enabled me to render a helpful opinion on an important question: what is wisdom?

Wisdom is knowing what to keep and what to throw away.

Wisdom is throwing away whatever is not useful, but disposing it in such a way that you do not make a mess for someone else to clean up.

. . . unless they are being rewarded for cleaning it up.

Wisdom is knowing what to accept, what to reject.

. . . and knowing when to wait until you’ve decided which of those two categories is appropriate in any given situation.

. . . and knowing that sometimes we don’t have time to decide . . .

good luck with that!

Wisdom is using what you have acquired to improve your own life and the life of those with whom you are in community.

Wisdom is listening;

it is also discerning, when the appropriate time comes, to suspend listening and speak.

Wisdom comes in noticing that the world is not a perfect place—there is something wrong with it.

So wisdom then requires discerning the good from evil.

. . . while understanding that there is a purpose for the presence of both in this life.

Wisdom calls us to identify what it wrong, and resist it.

And even to defeat evil when that is necessary.

Wisdom may be conceding that different persons, different people groups, have different definitions for what is good or evil.

And so therefore, in some cases, the grace to forgive wrongness may be more appropriate than judging evil with punishment,

Sometimes even defining what is really good  should be re-evaluated.

Wisdom is realizing that the complexity of this world is largely—though not totally—unexplainable, and there may be—there just may be— a God who operates at a level that is beyond our power to comprehend or measure.

. . . a God Who, at the very least, set it all in motion, as the ancient purveyors of wisdom have insisted.

There will always be someone who knows more than you do. Get used to it.

Wisdom is finding people to love.

Wisdom requires responsibility for those we love.

‘. . . and sometimes accepting responsibility for those we are unable to properly love.

Lighten

Without love we are lost forever.

Love requires sacrifice.

Wisdom means being thankful when someone has made sacrifice for you, because you have not done all this on your own.

You were getting help even when you didn’t know it.

PS. It’s not all about you.

Glass half-Full

From the Brave New World

November 23, 2019

I’m glad I got to hear that before I die.

That’s what I told Pat, my wife, immediately as we stood up to join a standing ovation for the Charlotte Symphony last night.

Pat makes all the arrangements, you see, for our concerts and outings and travels and every other adventure we’ve had in the last forty years.

So I thanked her for making it possible for me to hear Antonín Dvořák’s New World Symphony, in live performance, before I pass into eternity.

And I must say that the Charlotte Symphony’s treatment of it, under the guest conducting hand of Ilyich Rivas,  was masterful—very tender and very strong.

     http://www.charlottesymphony.org/

The oboe adagio in the slow second movement fully met my expectations, after having listened intently to the piece probably thirty or forty times as offered by the New York Philharmonic on youtube.

And those trombones in the final cadence did not fail to summon a tear from my eyes, as their vibrantly forthright sounding forth renewed my confidence in human excellence.

During the intermission I read in the program notes about Dvořák’s composition of that symphony—his No. 9—and its premiere performance in New York, in 1893.

DvNewWorld

The Czech composer had been recruited to our (American) National Conservatory of Music in 1892. His mission was to import a little of that Old World excellence to our New World.

And goshdarn! did he do it!

His New World Symphony ranks right up there as some of the greatest symphonic music ever to be composed on this side of the Atlantic. It’s right up there with Copland’s Appalachian Spring, Grofé’s Grand Canyon Suite and Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue.

If you ever have an opportunity to stand in Prague’s Old Town Square and behold Ladislav Šaloun’s statue of Jan Hus, you may catch a  glimpse of the passion that must have driven Dvořák’s resolve to compose such an orchestral masterpiece.

I’m glad I lived to see it.

Since the music was composed in New York City, I will provide here this link to the New York Philharmonic performance of it:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HClX2s8A9IE   

In other news of my yesterday. . .

Earlier in the day I had finished reading Andrew Marantz’s excellent book analysis of contemporary alt-right online misadventures:

    https://www.amazon.com/Antisocial-Extremists-Techno-Utopians-Hijacking-Conversation-ebook/dp/B07NTXSP69

And I will offer as a closing thought, a quote from Andrew’s account of what he uncovered in the world of ultra right-wing fanaticism. Toward the end of his research project, Marantz arrived at an eye-opening discovery about the so-called media “gatekeepers” in our mad world of media, formerly on the airwaves ~~~ now online.

Because we do indeed live in a “New World”. . . a world that is continuously renewing itself, sometimes in good ways, sometimes in bad ways.

In the quote below, Andrew Marantz is referring to the “gatekeepers” of our former (20th-century) times. They are primarily the major broadcast networks and news publications that came to dominate our public culture in the postwar 20th-century; but they have in this 21st-century been overtaken by the new superpowers of online media.

You know what I’m talkin’ about.  Their initials are FaceGooAmazTwittetc. One particular CEO of that cartel, the honorable Mr. Z, was recently put on the Congressional hotplate for public inspection.

As Andrew Marantz, the New Yorker writer, neared the end of his alt-right research opus, Antisocial,

  https://www.amazon.com/Antisocial-Extremists-Techno-Utopians-Hijacking-Conversation-ebook/dp/B07NTXSP69

He exposes a raw nerve in this,  our brave new cyberworld, a world in which the outmoded moguls of 20th-century media have been eclipsed by the new titans of 21st-century webdom.

Like it or not, these denizens of the updated corporate Deep must rise to the public surface to accept some responsibility for oversight in the polarizing electronic net that we’ve cornered ourselves into.

Here’s part of what Mr. Marantz has to say about it:

And yet this is the world we live in. For too long, the gatekeepers who ran the most powerful information-spreading systems in human history were able to pretend that they weren’t gatekeepers at all. Information wants to be free; besides, people who take offense should blame the author, not the messenger; anyway, the ultimate responsibility lies with each consumer. Now, instead of imagining that we occupy a postgatekeeper utopia, it might make more sense—in the short term, at least—to demand better, more thoughtful gatekeepers.

It’s a brave new world out there, boobie. Somebody’s gotta be brave, if not them, then who?

Us? But, but, as Pogo once said, long ago in the old media world: we have seen the enemy . . . and he is us!

King of Soul

The Four Horses

November 20, 2019

This morning I heard Meghna Chakrabarti interviewing Sylvia Poggioli about the flood in Venice, Italy.

Hearing the WBUR On Point hostess ask NPR’s Italian correspondent about that watery excess, my imagination flowed back to my visit to Venice in 2003.

On that day, sixteen years ago, I stood in a long tourist line to visit the Basilica of San Marco.

On that day, flood waters from the Adriatic Sea were lapping up the stepped entryway into the nave of the cathedral.

My daughter Kim, studying in Italy at that time, snapped some photographs. I assembled three of them here:

SanMarco3

It is plain to see that, yes, there is an ongoing, and worsening problem of flooding in the ancient city of Venice.

Moreover, the evidence is mounting that, yes Virginia, there is in fact a worldwide problem of more frequent coastal flooding, and it is reasonably related to climate change.

My position about climate change is that we should collectively educate ourselves about the impact of human activity on our planetary ecosystem. But human rights—rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness— should not be violated for the sake of imposing restrictive laws to reduce and control carbon emissions.

However all of our overflowing angst about climate change gets spread around, I would like to hone in on a certain detail in the frontal edifice of San Marco church building.

Look closely at this picture of the front of San Marco. You will notice, above the middle arch, four horse statues. 

When I noticed them up there in 2003, I was fascinated with those horses.

SanMarcoHrs

Five years later, as I was writing a novel later entitled Glass Chimera, I included those horses—actually, miniature glass reproductions of them— in part of the story I was cloning together at that time

In chapter 13 of Glass Chimera, we find this scene:

Sunday afternoon, Mick Basker slept until 1:30, then got out of bed, made some coffee, and sat down at his computer to take a look at the chip that he had retrieved from the glass horse’s gonads four nights ago.  He   reached down to open the bottom drawer of his desk.  Then  he noticed a scrap of printed paper, about the size of a small  index card, on the floor nearby. Recognizing it as a slip that  he had found within the figurines’ crate, Mick picked it up to get a closer look. This is what was printed on the little paper:

Congratulazioni! Lei ha comprato uno degli articoli di vetro più belli nel mondo. Quest’edizione a bassa tiratura della “Quadriga Marciana”  ha soffiato degli artigiani specializzati della Società del Vetro Leoni di Venezia, Italia. Gli articoli di vetro sono i riproduzioni squisite delle sculture di bronzo che fa la guardia di sopra del vestibolo occidentale della Basilica di San Marco in Venezia. I cavalli originali sono giungi a Venezia con il ricco bottino di guerra dai Veneziani dopo la conquista di Constantinopoli al termine della IV Crociata nel 1204 A.D. Dopo cinque secoli, nel 1797, Napoleone li fa trasferire a Parigi, ma i cavalli erano ritornati alla Basilica di San Marco nel 1815.

But Mick knew no Italiano, so he set the little paper aside, and   reached down again to the bottom drawer, from which he produced a yellow pharmaceutical container, a pill box.  Inside it was a was a patch of plastic foam  which  concealed a little green circuit board  about the size of thumb.   Carefully, he inserted his chip, looking like a little black crab with metallic legs, into the device, then pushed the assemblage into a USB port on the computer. He typed and moused his way to the chip’s data, and when he found it this is what he saw: 

OAT,  GHN-1:17q22-q24,  DTNBP-1:6p22.3,  IGF-2:3q28.

But he didn’t know what it was.

If you ramble around this world, you will notice that life on our planet is full of mysteries. You just never know when another strange happening might come flooding into your mind, your mailbox, or your city square, or even your own sacred space.

But no matter what strange occurrence crosses your path or your mind, try to make the best of it.

Glass Chimera

Carbon and Silicon

November 17, 2019

Someone said that carbon gives life,

while silicon gives sand.

But now there’s buzz about carbon causing strife,

while silicon wields a magic hand.

The someone was referring to element six on the periodic table,

CarbonSilicon

because carbon provides for life a grab-bar that’s organic,

Lifemicro

while silicon fourteen, just below it, is merely able

to direct our circuits like a transistorized mechanic.

Digiboard

Now we should notice, or so I’m told . . .

carbon seems to be forsaking its own self-styled mission;

it has grown quite uppity and bold—

SmokIndust

whereas silicon swirls predictably in wave-like submission.

Sand3

Maybe we should put our silicon bots to work

to affix restraints on the unsheathed carbon beast,

so the little busybody, carbon number six—that jerk!

can’t grab control and crash our worldwide feast.

Glass half-Full

Got Education?

September 16, 2019

You’ll have to smarten up to find a productive place in today’s economy.

The old 20th-century way of doing things that my baby boomer generation grew up in has gone the way of the buffalo.

You already know this, right?

I came across an instigating article on Seeking Alpha a few days ago. As I read John N. Mason’s piece about the “New” corporation, it struck me that he had put together some pretty important observations and statistics about this 21st-century economy and where we are headed with it.

    https://seekingalpha.com/article/4290762-amazon-needs-workers-new-modern-corporation?

My take on his presentation is that he is, obviously, writing about a 21st-century work environment in which using your brain will be more important than ever before, more important than acquiring the old hands-on skills that enabled folks to get ahead in times past.

Oh, the developing digital work of our present work scenario is still “hands-on.” But it seems the hands will be mostly on keyboards that electronically deliver commands and programs that will run, automatically, the nuts and bolts, the widgets and equipment that will perform most of the tasks that we humans used to do, back in the day.

This whole progression got seriously cranked up about 170 years ago with the Industrial Revolution. There was a time, for instance, when a man could get on a horse, start riding westward, and eventually make it from Boston to San Francisco.

Then along came the railroads and changed all that.

Then along came the automobiles and changed all that even more.

And then there was a time when a person would mail a letter from Boston to San Francisco. The Pony Express or Wells Fargo or somesuch would deliver the letter cross-country, and yes it would get to the west coast, but it took a while.

A long while.

Then along came the trains, to make that delivery happen in just a week or so.

Then came the planes to make the airmail delivery in a day or two.

Now the message, or an order, is delivered with the push of a few buttons on your computer, or a scan on barcode, along the way.

You know that’s a “hands-on” technology that is fundamentally, quicker, easier and better than the old way of many different sets of hands that set themselves to crank up machinery and maintain it and oil it and fuel it and guide it all the way to some faraway delivery point.

As those technology changes revolutionized transportation, so shall the coming tech changes revolutionize manufacturing and wholesaling and retailing and every other industry or business you can think of, including knowledge itself.

So if you want to prosper in this 21st-century, if you want to find a place in the scheme of things, if you want to “get ahead”. . .

Get with the program.

Literally, the programming.

And this is what, in my opinion, John Mason is hitting on when he elucidates the workings of intellectual capital, which is a high-falootin’ way of saying:

Education is, and will be, worth more than ever before. Get one. Learn how to think outside the old box.

Smarts

If not, hey, we’ll always need somebody to clean up the place, flip the burgers, run the cash registers  while everybody else is booting up the world.

Back in the day we used to say money makes the world go around.

Not so any more. Now electrons make our developed world go around. Learn how to direct them, how to make them do whatever has to be done for profit, or for improving the world we inhabit.

Don’t just vegetate as a consumer. . . eating, drinking, watching shows, fake news and social media.

Be a producer. Make things happen for you and for those you love. Get out there and do it, make things happen. Life will be better.

Glass half-Full

Felix’s Fortress Forté

August 4, 2019

While tuned into radio WDAV a day or two ago . . .

listening to Felix Mendelssohn’s 5th Symphony,

we suddenly discerned a developing  melodic surprise:

gentle strains of a classic religious tune, A Mighty Fortress is Our God . . .  drifting into the 3rd movement of the music.

Twenty-three minutes into this performance,

Orchestra

those first melodic snippets of Luther’s famous hymn—I heard, venturing in discreetly, during the slow Andante phase of Mendelssohn’s 1832 orchestral composition.  By the end of the piece, however, the understated entrance of that well-known melody had morphed into being the very core of the symphony’s dynamic, forceful conclusion.

This gentle arrival of a familiar melody that incrementally develops into a forcefully conclusive forté—this is a composer’s technique found in several classical music masterpieces. . . most notably Beethoven’s (last) 9th Symphony, and a favorite American piece of mine, Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring.

In the case of Ludwig van Beethoven’s use of  a developing melodic theme that overpowers all other musical elements, Ludwig used his own emphatic original tune to fortify a potent message of popular 18th-century zeitgeistuniversal brotherhood. The words that Beethoven chose to accompany his theme had been composed by Friedrich Schiller, a primary 18th-century poet of the Romantic period in our western history.

In the similar case of Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring, the composer employs a traditional religious melody—the “Shaker” theme, Simple Gifts, as a musical fulcrum for propelling the idea of mere simplicity into a commendable lifestyle.

The emphasis on simplicity is a powerful motivating factor in American history. The Puritans. for instance, who landed at Plymouth Rock in 1620, were fleeing an oppressive European religious straightjacket culture; they wanted to simplify their worship of God and to enable the practice of glorifying our Creator in community life.

Like Felix Mendelssohn, a great composer whose family heritage was Jewish,  20th-century composer Aaron Copland chose to utilize a well-established Christian melody as the basis for  fortifying a powerful musical masterpiece.

In other trends of this earthly life . . . in the realm of, let’s say, political compositions—as compared to musical ones—recently I read a book that represents a similar dynamic of compositional accomplishment. David Horowitz’s timely book, Dark Agenda brings to light a contemporary American Christian culture that is under attack from secularizing—yeah, even aggressively anti-religious—zealots.

Perhaps we simple-minded Christians of this era–as well as those more complex Reformed believers whose reforms originated with Martin Luther five centuries ago–will find fortifying encouragement and strong inspiration in these classically-inclined masterpieces:

~~ Felix Mendelsson’s 5th Symphony

~~ Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring,

     oh, and btw. . . honorable mention . . .

~~ Ludwig van Beethoven’s 9th Symphony

King of Soul

Death by War

May 26, 2019

I wrote a story about an American traveling through Europe in the spring/summer of 1937. In the novel, Smoke, which I published in 2015, young businessman Philip Morrow accepts an unusual errand, which takes him through London, halfway around the far side of France, then to Paris, and ultimately to arrive at a place called Flanders Field in Belgium.

At his specific Memorial battleground destination, Philip sees for the first time the final resting place of his father, a soldier of the American Expeditionary Force, who had died there in 1918 during the last week of World War I.  Philip had been eight years old in 1917 when he hugged his pa for the last time, then  beheld  his mother while she tearfully embraced her  husband, a mountaineer marksman named Clint.

In chapter 27 of Smoke, Philip arrives at the Memorial cemetery accompanied by a newfound friend, Mel, an old Frenchman who expresses his appreciation for Clint’s courageous sacrifice–given in his last full measure of devotion– for freedom, to defeat tyranny.

Clint’s total offering in 1918 was not the first, nor the last, to be put forth by millions of other soldiers since that time. In Washington DC, I snapped this photo of a newer Memorial–that one constructed for us to remember the dead of Vietnam.

VNMem (1)

We Americans do appreciate the families left behind.  Their sorrow and sacrifice is painfully precious; it  runs deep–deep as the blood that pumped through soldiering bodies alive with determination–blood that still streams through the beating hearts and minds of  us Americans and Allies.

Here’s my offering, from chapter 27 of Smoke:

       “How could this place have been a battlefield for a world war?”

‘The old Frenchman cast his eyes on the passing landscape, and seemed to join Philip in this musing. He answered slowly, “War is a terrible thing, an ugly thing. I did not fight in the war; I had already served my military duty, long before the Archduke was assassinated in Sarajevo and the whole damn world flew apart, like shrapnel. But I had many friends who fought here, and back there, where we just came from in my France, back there at the Somme, the Marne, Amiens. Our soldiers drove the Germans back across their fortified lines, the Hindenberg line they called it. By summer of 1918 the Germans were in full retreat, although it took them a hell of a long time, and rivers of spilt blood, to admit it. And so it all ended here. Those trenches, over there in France, that had been held and occupied for two hellish years by both armies, those muddy hellholes were finally left behind, vacated, and afterward . . . filled up again with the soil of France and Flanders and Belgium, and green grass was planted where warfare had formerly blasted its way out of the dark human soul and the dark humus of lowland dirt and now we see that grass, trimmed, manicured and growing so tidily around those rows of white crosses out there, most of them with some soldier’s name carved on them, many just unknown, anonymous, and how could this have happened? You might as well ask how could. . . a grain of sand get stuck in an oyster? And how could that oyster, in retaliation against that rough, alien irritant, then generate a pearl—such a beautiful thing, lustrous and white—coming forth in response to a small, alien presence that had taken up unwelcomed residence inside the creature’s own domain? The answer, my friend, is floating in the sea, blowing in the wind, growing green and strong from soil that once ran red with men’s blood.” ‘

“Now they were arriving at the battlefield. Jacques parked the car, leaned against the front fender, lit a cigarette. Mel and Philip walked through a stone arch, along a narrow, paved road lined with flowering linden trees, spring green with their large spadish leaves, sprinkled with small white blossoms. The sun was getting low behind them. Shadows of these trees had overtaken the narrow lane, turning it cooler than the surrounding fields, acres and acres neatly arranged with white crosses and gravestones, and continuous green, perfect grass between all. Having reached the end of the linden lane, the stepped slowly, reverently, along straight pathways, passing hundreds of silent graves on either side. The setting sun was still warm here, after their cool approach from beneath the trees.

“At length, they came to the row that Philip had been looking for, the one he had read about in the army guidebook, where his father’s grave was nested precisely and perpetually in its own place in eternity “. . .

King of Soul