Archive for the ‘Europe’ Category

What about that old battlefield?

May 28, 2018

In chapter 27 of my 2014 novel, Smoke, we find a young American, Philip, and an old Frenchman, Mel, conversing as they approach a battlefield in Belgium, a place called Flanders Field. The year is 1937;  in the last week of World War I, Philip’s father had died on that battlefield in 1918. Here’s the scene:

Something about the spring air, the mists at the edges of the fields, the lush, lowland foliage, the shadowy light, lijdt het licht het donk’re licht, something was moving deeply inside of him. “Mel?”

“Yes?”

“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.”

But today, this Memorial Day, 2018, we honor not only the war dead of that First “Great War” of the 20th century. We honor all those who have given their “last full measure of devotion” to a nation that has always stood, and hopefully always will stand, for freedom and justice.

Here’s another phase of our 242-year national history with brave souls to ponder, Vietnam:

VNMem

King of Soul

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The Prescience and Presumption of Karl Marx

May 17, 2018

If you take the time to read Marx and Engels’ Communist Manifesto, you may be surprised at how accurate is their assessment of the 19th century industrializing world.

Before Marx and Engels were born, back in the last quarter of the 18th-century, the world witnessed two major revolutions, the American one in 1776. and the French version in 1789.

These two major historical uprisings evolved very differently, although they had both originated conceptually with the Enlightenment ideas of Liberty, Equality and Justice.

Here in the USA, all we had to do was eject King George III and his soldiers. We sent them packin’ back to the old country, England. Then we had what appeared  to be a virgin continent 4000 miles wide populated by indigenous tribes who had not yet been industrially developed.

In France it was a very different story. The newfound revolutionaries, after decapitating old monarchs and killing off their privileged network of landed royalty, still found their mob-enforced movement dragged down by a thousand-year-old heavy baggage of entrenched, fortified autocratic economy.

I can simplify an explanation the difference between the American and French Revolutions for you this way:

In France, the whole revolutionary process got a lot bloodier, more vicious, and it took a hell of a lot longer time to play out.

A few years after the revolting peasants decapitated Louis XVI and his queen Marie Antoinette, Napolean came along, took charge of the debilitated French state and rearranged everything. Later, after he went down, France  was in disarray for the next century, trapped in a revolving door of revolutionary fervor, anarchy, stubborn monarchists and a world that was changing faster than you can say “modernizing industry.”

Into this cauldron of overheating European political and mechanizing discontent, Karl Marx was born in 1818.

KarlMarx

Although the young communist was of German birth, his entrance to this world came in Trier, a town very near the French border.

Karl was a very smart guy. During the time of his educated, idealistic youth, he noticed and publicly identified many trends of modernizing industry and economics that were rapidly industrializing Europe and  eventually the entire world. Things were changing faster than a speeding locomotive.

Within all those changes, Marx identified a new socio-economic class that was establishing itself as the new people in-charge, after the fall of the French monarchy (the first of many monarchies that would be destroyed in coming years). This new, rising class of merchants, managers and craftsmen he called the “bourgeoisie.”

In his eerily prescient analysis of that emerging upper-middle class, Marx also hit on a description of  what we would later call ‘globalization,” Marx wrote:

“The bourgeoisie, by the rapid improvements of all instruments of production, (and) by the immensely facilitated means of communication, draws (sucks) all– even the most barbarian– nations into civilization. The cheap prices of its (the bourgeois’) commodities are the heavy artillery with which it batters down all Chinese walls, (and) with which it forces ‘the barbarians’ intensely obstinate hatred of foreigners to capitulate. It compels all nations, on pain of extinction, to adopt the bourgeois  mode of production; it compels them to introduce what it calls civilization into their midst, i.e., to become bourgeois themselves. In one word, it creates a world after its own image.”

During the turbulent 1840’s, Marx labored with his associate Friedrich Engels to describe and evaluate these historical changes. Together they devised a fix for the world’s problem of a new bourgeois upper-class cruelly exploiting proletarian workers. Thus the Communist Manifesto developed. In 1848, they published the first version of their hot-off-the-press world-changing document. Here’s one part of their assessment of a rapidly industrializing 18th-century Europe:

“Modern industry has converted the little workshop of the patriarchal master into the great factory of the industrial capitalist. Masses of laborers, crowded into the factory, are organized like soldiers. As privates of the industrial army they are placed under the command of a perfect hierarchy of officers and sergeants. Not only are they slaves of the bourgeois class, and of the bourgeois State; they are daily and hourly enslaved by the machine, by the overlooker, and above all, by the individual bourgeois manufacturer himself.”

Marx and Engels identified the disruptive attributes of a new, capitalizing economic steamroller of modern industrialization. They foresaw its accompanying alienation, which would, it seemed, forever confound the proletarian working classes  in Europe, Russia and eventually every nation in the world. In the Communist Manifesto of 1848, Marx and Engels wrote:

“The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionizing the instruments of production, and thereby the relations of production, and with them the whole relations of society. . . Constant revolutionizing of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones. All fixed fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away; all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face, with sober senses, his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind.”

The dynamic theorizing duo, Marx and Engels, had figured out that very disruptive bourgeois-imposed changes were in store for humanity. Little did they realize that the revolutionary, ostensibly corrective measures they would soon be positing would be ultimately just as disruptive, if not more-so, than the maelstrom of rapidly escalating industrialism that was fast overtaking 19th-century Europe.

Marx and Engels went on to concoct an elaborate prescription to fix the world and thus deliver us from the ravages of modern capitalism and its dehumanizing industrialization.

If you look at the implementation of their communist doctrine as it has evolved in the last  century and a half, you may be dismayed at how brutally the zealous proponents of Marxist communism (Stalin, Mao, Ho Chi Minh, Pol Pot et al) screwed up the original idealized vision for world communism.

Which goes to show that the best-laid plans of mice and men are generally worked out in programs and institutions very different from their original visions and versions.

Later, when Socialists came along, attempting to reconcile the old System of autocratic Europe with a perpetually revolutionizing Communist big-fix, Marx pooh-poohed the wimpish compromisers, remarking . . .

“. . . Socialism, however, (does not) understand the (necessary) abolition of the bourgeois relations of production, an abolition that can be effected only by a revolution.”

So here’s my question for Karl and Fred:

Hey, since you did identify  the extremely disruptive, debilitating bourgeois rearrangement of a capitalist, 19th-century world,   would your proposed communist remedy  be less disruptive and crippling than the total, ongoing revolution that a communist fix would require?

I think not.

Furthermore, if subsequent history is any indicator, the changes in human activity that would be necessary to manifest a communist society as idealized by Marx and Engels—such changes would require constant correction, and therefore perpetual revolution.

Doesn’t sound very beneficial, from a human standpoint.

Furthermore, this writer would suggest:

Since your theorized systems for world improvement dictate that the revolutionizing proletariat must cast aside their “opiate” of religion, and thus deny the presence and power of “God” . . .

it would seem that many of the simpleminded 21st-century religious proletariat workers out there in flyover country or Manchester or Italy or wherever—they might rise up and reject the technocratic decrees of their elitist deep-state Marx-inspired EU overlords.

I know you wanta write them present-day uncooperative proles off as “alt-right” and reactionary, but it seems to me they are the same “proletarian” workers that Marx and Engels thought they had identified as the future vanguard of true communism.

Apparently they have something else in mind than technocrat-generated statism, maybe just a “leave us alone” revolution.

King of Soul

The killing of God

May 2, 2018

Just because the potentates of old Europe wrangled the Bible away from its Hebrew roots and turned it into dead religion doesn’t mean God doesn’t exist.

God did, after all, create humans with a free will. We are not programmed bots. Just because we homo sapiens screwed it up over the course of a few thousand years doesn’t mean that God wasn’t in the midst of it all somewhere, trying to break through our cerebral density, carnal shenanigans and political bullshit.

Actually, God did break through. But look what we did to him.

In the Middle Eastern crossroads where our wayward cruelties had taken advantage of 1st-century Empire-building power politics to nail him, a stake was driven in the ground. It turned out to be a bloody mess and a sacrifice of universal proportions.

So, as the centuries rolled by, the movers and the shakers among us took that bloody sacrifice and ran with it, transformed it into a first-class religious system that rolled on through time and continent like a runaway ox-cart on a roman road. A thousand years later, we’d manhandled that pivotal sacrifice into high-powered religion, through which men and women worldwide were either convinced or manipulated (depending upon your interpretation of it) into the mysteries of practiced religion.

Long about 1500 ad dominum, a few upstart readers who were paying attention to the original scripts started to figure out that something had gone wrong somewhere along the line.

HusPrague

So they raised some issues. Well, long story short, all hell broke loose.

That great institutional juggernaut that had rolled down through a millennium of pox humana religiosity suddenly was under attack from men who were trying to get to the bottom of it all, which is to say . . . trying to get through all that institutional religiosity to . . . the truth.

The truth? What is truth?

Haha glad you asked.

This little question became a matter of serious debate.

Now that the snake was out of the bag, everybody and their brother was trying to figure out what the truth really was and how it should be used to improve the human condition. People like Rousseau, Hegel, Engels and Marx, Lenin and several other notorious bastards.

As the movement to replace God with human wisdom and government gathered steam, human history heated up quite a bit. And the conflagration of it increased exponentially because this historic development just happened to coincide with the 19th-century Industrial Revolution. So we had a lot more fire power to implement all the big changes that needed to happen in order to get mankind delivered from the great religious debacle that had held us in bondage for so long.

Some guys in Prussia figured out that, since the great juggernaut institution of religion had been exposed to be the manipulative Oz-like empire that it was, the immediate conclusion was that not only had we killed religion, but we humans had managed to finally kill God! Voltaire, Schopenhauer and Nietzsche made this point perfectly clear.

Several bloody revolutions and a couple of world wars later, we are in the process now of finally getting our ducks in a row and ourselves straightened out, now that we’ve finally gotten God out of the way.

Even though we had already killed him one time before, but that’s another story.

Actually, it’s The Story.

His-story.

You can’t kill it, because that death-sentence strategy has already been implemented several times, yet without conclusive results.

We humanos insist on perpetually resurrecting that Story. We just can’t get enough of the un-killable presence among us. It refuses to stay dead. Might be worth looking into.

King of Soul

The Castle Paradox

March 20, 2018

Once upon a time, and oh, so far, far away from these here United States, many of our ancestors lived and worked in the Old Country.

It was a feudal society over there. The royal houses would feud among themselves while their servants labored to bring home the bacon.

Back then, the countries had not even assembled themselves into nations yet. The lands of the Old Country were divided into kingdoms and fiefdoms. Vast estates were owned and ruled by kings and queens, princes and princesses, dukes and duchesses. In the domain of each royal arrangement, lords and ladies would call the shots, while their loyal serfs and vassals would toil every day, out in the hinterlands amongst the hedgerows and fields where they produced a bounty of crops and goods. In this manner, everybody—the royals and the peasants— were fed and housed, and even in some cases fat ’n happy.

Or so the story has been told. . . once upon a time, in a land far, far away.

By ’n by, the times they were a-changin’ and all things became different from what they had been before.

Fresh breezes of liberty swept through the hearts and minds of men and women. Notions of liberty and equality arose among the people. These zeitgeist winds of change compelled many a former  vassal to cast off the ancient bonds of indentured servitude. Many a craftsman forsook the security of the royal house, to move into town and set up shop. Striking out on their own, many a blacksmith, many a weaver, butcher, baker and candlestickmaker established paths of industrious productivity of their own, apart and independent from the Old Order.

And a New Order arose in the Old Country.

Long about this time, folks heard about a new place called America, and . . . well, you know the story. All this  American stuff that you see around us now rose up in about two or three hundred years, whereas the heavily stratified infrastructure of the Old World had taken two or three thousand years to develop.

By ’n by, here in America, we got fed up with King George and his taxing shenanigans. We threw his red-coated soldiers out, sent ‘em packing back to Britain with their tail between their legs.

Our American revolution was no small accomplishment. A lot of our people, having caught a whiff of that Enlightened wind, got inspired toward liberty big time, and so we took up our muskets and fought our way to independence. Many a minute man and backwoods farmer died while defeating them redcoats at Bunker Hill and Yorktown and Valley Forge.

But really it was a walk in the park compared to the bloody French Revolution, which came a few years later in the Old Country. Those madcap peasants chopped the king’s head off and the queen’s head and a lot of other royal heads, heads of privilege, heads of power, even a bunch of innocent heads, because the rabble crowds, so caught up in their egalitarian frenzy went plum crazy once the blood started to flow in the streets and sewers of Paris. Those furious French shocked their way into the 19th-century, whereas we merely fought our way into it.

You see, those French revolutionaries were dealing with ancient bands of power that went way back in time; there was huge institutional baggage that they felt they had to throw out with all those bloody royal heads.

Whereas, we here in America only had to send the king and his army packin’ back to England. Once we had gotten rid of them, we only had a vast, undeveloped virgin contintent to deal with.

We had four thousand miles of opportunity stretched westward before us, whereas the proletarians of Europe had thousands of years of old habits and old baggage to try to reconstruct in order to usher in a New Order. Those former vassals found themselves with a lot of unpleasant work to do before they could see their way clear to this new thing called democracy and/or republic. (Actually the liberating notions were  very old, but that’s another story, a Greek and Roman one.)

Well, by ’n by, the times were a changin’ . . . but sometimes things have to take a few steps backward before the forward motion cranks up again.

Whereas, in the Olden days Once upon a time, all the peasants were gathered around a castle, now it seems we’ve found, in our modern liberty,  ourselves a new castle to gather around. . .

CastleD

Now that every man is a king, every woman a queen of her own destiny, now that every son is a prince and every daughter a princess, the New Order has morphed into a revised version of the Old Order. What goes around comes around. Take your place on the great Mandela. Millions of us from all over the world congregate at a New Castle every year, yearning for something special, hoping to find something magical, wishing upon a star . . .

What is it we’re really wishing for?

King of Soul

The New Opiate

March 10, 2018

You may have read somewhere that Karl Marx, the chief promoter of early communism, said that religion is the opiate of the people.

Marx

During the time that he wrote of such things—mid-1800’s—industry was rapidly progressing in the modern European world. Things were changing so fast that industrialists and capitalists were able to take advantage of poor working folk who did not understand the cataclysm of enslavement they were themselves getting into.

As the Western world industrialized at a whirlwind pace during the 19th-century, millions of people (the masses) got left behind in the rush.

Economically, that us. They got left behind in the money and wealth part, while the the fat cats and movers and shakers ran roughshod over them with a burdensome industrialism that slowly robbed the poor working-stiff proles of their only real precious asset—their labor—and nullified the workers’ ability to prosper and get ahead of the game.

Marx wrote in 1843 that religion was the opiate of the people. He explained that religion allows oppressed workers to be be inappropriately consoled, comforted, while they are being taken advantage of. The fulfillment that religion brings people cultivates a  false comfort among the masses. Such stupor enables an old autocratic system—or a new capitalist one— to justify its uncaring abuse of the masses.

This idea was used in a very big way when the Bolsheviks took control of Russia in the early 1900’s. Those rabid revolutionary communists worked relentlessly among the people to eradicate religion, because, according to developing communist doctrine, clueless Orthodox faith was the opiate that allowed the rich people to take advantage of everybody else.

But things have changed since then.

Now here we are, a hundred years past the forced imposition of communism on this gullible world, and we see that everything has morphed into a quite different scenario. Communism—at least the official version of it— appears to have been tossed into the dust heap of 20th-century Berlin Wall history.

And now Religion is no longer the opiate of the people, because it is way out of fashion. Who the hell believes all that old stuff anyway?

Well, there are still a few of us around, and we are noticing a thing or two about the present state of affairs.

We find ourselves mired in a new opiate: entertainment. It’s all around us. Can’t get away from it. I confess that I, too, have at times succumbed to this counterproductive opioid.

Being overtaken by Entertainment is, as some promoters love to proclaim—addictive. And it has an agenda.

Can you figure out what the agenda is?

Some media pushers promote product  this way: “It’s addictive!” as if that that’s. . . something good!

Habit-forming, bingeful, cringeful, winkin’ blinkin’ and nodding as we in our tickee-tackee nests drift off to sleep in front of the screen only to drag ourselves to bed and then to work the next day. Talk about your opiate of the masses.

But hey, sleepers Awake! The infamous opiating old-time religion’s got to be more productive than this.

Picture it: bunch of seekers gathered in a room reading out-of-style scriptures, singing songs and praying, maybe even proseletyzing other wandering souls.

Seems pretty to active to me, maybe even subversive—downright vitalizing and invigorating compared to the passivity of comfortably numb binge-watching video and obsessively tapping our tickee-tackee deviant devices as we scrunch down the manufactured munchies.

Something needs to change. We need to take back the means of fulfillment.

Believers of the World Unite! because

He is risen! and I ain’t talking about Marx.

ChristCruc

King of Soul

What the Jews did

January 30, 2018

What the Jews did was establish about half of the narrative foundation of the Western World.

Their Old Testament, combined with the New, were received as Holy Scriptures  by the Church, which, after Constantine, dominated European cultural development for over a thousand years.

Long about 1500 or so, the Protestant Reformation began the process of unshackling the chains of dogmatic error that the Catholic hierarchy had, over 1400 years, lapsed into. Then Reformation disruption of Papist hegemony broke ground for another new emphasis—the Renaissance. This humanist  arts movement unearthed the  quasi-dormant other half of the Western cultural narrative, the ancient Greeks, most notably Homer, Herodotus, Plato and Aristotle. On the coattails of the Greek philosophers, the Roman writers, most notably Cicero, Cato and Virgil later appended their contribution to the philosophical and governmental legacy of ancient Greece. It later became a bedrock of Western culture and government.

That ancient Greek heritage had initiated an idea called democracy, which was later amended to Republic by the Romans in their Empire.

Judeo-Christian Religion, Greek Democracy and Roman Republic became the religious, philosophical and governmental foundations upon which the Western World was established in Europe and beyond.

In the early stages of Western history, during the period of the Roman Empire, along came a Roman general named Titus. In 70 a.c.e., he ran most of the Jews out of Israel, their homeland, and he sent his soldiers to Jerusalem to destroy the Jewish Temple, even though it had had been constructed by one of the Romans’ own puppet kings, Herod.

Titus apparently thought it was a notable accomplishment that he had expelled most of the Jews out of their own ancient capital;  the Hebrews had previously managed to reclaim Jerusalem after the Babylonian emperor Nebuchadnezzar had expelled them about 670 years earlier.

Titus’ Roman victory over the Jews was thought to be quite impressive by his successors. A few years after he died, his brother Domitian commissioned the Arch of Titus to be constructed in the main area of Rome. Among the conquests of Titus depicted in stone on the Arch, the plundering of Jerusalem is plain to see.

ArcTitusMenr

In this picture that I snapped, the Jewish Menorah can be plainly seen. To the victor goes the spoils, eh? The Roman big shots must have thought themselves something special after they ran those upstart Jews out of Jerusalem back in the day. The Jews were infamous among several historical empire-builders for being ungovernable.

One reason that Titus and Nebuchadnezzar and Antiochus and their ilk had so much trouble governing the Jews was because the people of Israel always insisted on being free.

This whole idea of freedom, around which Western culture revolves, originated largely with the Jews.

Long about 1400 or so years b.c.e., Moses rounded up the Jews and lead them out of the slavery that Egyptian pharoahs had inflicted on them.

This turned out to be a major event in world history.

Why? Because Moses and some of his people wrote a book about it. We know it as the book of Exodus. Along with the other books of the Torah/Pentateuch/Old Testament, it later became an international best-seller for many and many a year, many and many a century and several millenia of time.

What later became the Bible was passed down through the ages to many and many a person and group of persons to read and spark inspiration.

That spark of freedom that enabled the Jews to throw off the bondage of Pharoahic slavery—it has been an inspiration to many freedom-seeking people throughout history.

Case in point, within our lifetime. (All ye Boomers out there, hear ye, hear ye. . .)

Dr. Martin Luther KIng, Jr., on the night before he was assassinated, declared this message to his people in Memphis, and ultimately via audiotape to America, and to the world:

“I’ve been to the Mountaintop. . . I’ve seen the Promised Land . . .”

Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop.

And I don’t mind.

Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!

We can see that Dr. King was inspired by Moses. A long time ago, I wrote a song about it. Mountaintop

And we know from the Hebrew scriptures that Moses was inspired by God.

Now this may seem a little old-fashioned to you, a little bit religious. But this religious thing is much more than belief in God. It’s not just out-of-style old hat. Faith also includes the idea of freedom. It also includes the idea of freedom of religion , freedom to believe what you need to believe, and freedom to act on what you believe to be true. It goes way back, way back . . .

Here’s another example from American history. A hundred and fifty years ago when black folks in this country were still enslaved . . . in a situation not unlike what the Jews had found themselves in ancient Egypt, one of those black former slaves, Harriet Tubman, started a secret society for the purpose of providing an escape for self-freed slaves who wanted to come up to the free states.

The name that was given to Harriet’s clandestine network was the Underground Railroad. Have you heard of it?

I’m here to tell you that the Underground Railroad has been transporting people from bondage to liberty for a very long time.

Last century,  freedom-seeking people did another version of it to smuggle the children of Israel  out of the Nazi Third Reich. Have you heard of it?

But know this: it’s still going on.

Underground Railroad Rides Again.

 And we can thank the Jews for that, because way, way back in the day . . . they started it; they started the freedom track that runs through human civilization.  The first one ran from Egypt to the Promised Land, and its been going, whenever needed, under the radar ever since.

It will never be shut down.

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 

Carolina on my Mind

July 21, 2017

Yesterday we spent the entire day traveling back from Hungary to our home in North Carolina.

You could say I had Carolina on my mind as it was my destination, while we shuffled through multiple planes, seats, lines of people, airports, coffee cups, etc to get back to my Carolina home. But I wasn’t really thinking about home yet.

What had happened in eastern Europe during my lifetime was thoroughly fascinating to me.

After spending a couple of weeks hoofing around Vienna, Prague and Budapest, I had developed an intense new interest about how these three countries that we visited–Austria, Czechoslovakia and Hungary–had managed to endure and overcome Soviet occupation, which finally ended in 1989.

So I filled those long stretches of airliner time reading a collection of letters that Vaclav Havel had written during his lifetime. Vaclav was a Czech, a dissident playwright who had dared to resist and criticize the Soviets during their many years of trying to communize eastern Europe. Fortunately, Vaclav had squeezed through all that long time of communist mumbo-jumbo; when the Czechs, Poles, Hungarians and other eastern Europeans managed to eject the Soviets in 1989, the newly-freed citizens of the Czech Republic elected Vaclav Havel as their first President.

All of those changes had not come easily.

While trying to understand some of those changes while reading on the plane, I came across a statement that Vaclav Havel had written in 1969 to Alexander Dubcek, who had  formerly been First Secretary of the Communist Party of Hungary during the time of the Prague Spring movement and the subsequent military invasion by which the Soviets had crushed the Czech initiatives with their tanks, guns and occupying soldiers. Through the roughest part of the 1968 showdown between the Czechs/Slovaks and their Soviet oppressors, Alexander Dubcek was the Czech in charge who had tried to reconcile the two differing positions of Czechs and Soviets.

Here is a thought that Vaclav wrote to Dubcek in 1969 a few months later:

“Though (I was) moved by the physical and psychological pressures you endured, and deeply aware of the complexity of the situation and never for a moment doubting the honesty of your intentions, I was still convinced from the beginning that by signing the Moscow Agreements, you were making a terrible mistake. . .”

Vaclav Havel was quite an independent thinker,  a brave man who survived perilous persecution to ultimately prevail and become President of his own people.

He was one of many dissident Czechs. There were many, many others of eastern Europe who suffered all those changes.

We heard quite a bit of info about it, along with other facts about Czech history, as we followed two excellent guides through two different walking tours in Prague.

On the Discover Prague tour, guide Kevin provided an excellent backstory for us about the events/effects of World War II in Czech lands, and the subsequent Soviet communism period.

On the Sandeman’s tour, guide Karel featured the main points and places of historical interest, such as the Castle, but also including this one:

UCarolina

Our Prague guide Karel stands here in front of Universitas Carolina, which is actually called Charles University, because it is named for Charles IV, King of Bohemia and Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire back in the 1300’s. So this association of similar names is one reason that I say Carolina is on my mind, aside from the fact that both of our daughters are graduates of the University of North Carolina, back home in the good ole USA, to which we have just returned.

A curious collection of European confusion can sometimes be recalled and possibly correlated when one considers the cornucopia of names directly related to this Carolina root. For a long time I have wondered about it. Between England, France, Germany, the Roman Empire, Austria, Hungary, Czechia et al, the Car… prefix nomenclature becomes quite confusing. There’s the Latin Carolus, the several French kings Charles, going back to Charles Martel, Charlemagne (the main guy), and the Carolingian dynasty that arose from their loins. Also, across the Channel, we find the several English kings Charles (including the one who was beheaded), not to mention the German version Karl and the Czech iteration Karel, and we shan’t neglect to mention wild and crazy American variations  like Charlie and even Chuck. And as if that wasn’t enough. . . my own name, Carey, was mentioned to me– by a girl I knew many moons ago who was proud of her German heritage–she claimed that my name  was  a French or English corruption of the German Karl.

But as I was saying. . . Karl in Prague was telling us about Charles IV, and the founding of Universitas Carolina in 1348 as the first University in central Europe, not to be confused with Central European University in Budapest,

CEUBudp

which I hear was funded by George Soros, a financier quite unpopular among my American conservative colleagues because they say he wants to cram more immigrants into  Old School Europe.

Nevertheless, lest I digress, I will mention, in closing, that  Charles University or Carolina, as we see in the first above pic,was attended by Franz Kafka, Albert Einstein and many other notables. This collection of courageous revisionists goes way back. In the 1400’s the Universitas Carolina became, under the influence of Jan Hus, a hothouse of emerging Protestant revision of the Christian faith.

Thank God for that!

Anyway, speaking of God, back here in my Carolina home, we have an old joke: If God’s not a tar heel, then why’s the sky Carolina blue?, which only adds more curiosity to the confluence of C-words connected to a  Carolina root from which it all came and later culminated, I must conclude.

All in all, it’s good to be back in the New World Carolina, the one sung about by James Taylor,

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sXmgkvIgc0w

 the very same Carolina  that I was on my mind as I was returning here from recent travels in the Old World Carolina.

King of Soul

Obelisk and Balconies

July 19, 2017

As in any city anywhere, many public squares can be found in which some past event or person is commemorated.

Yesterday in Budapest, we came across this obelisk in a place called Szabadság ter, which is Hungarian for Freedom Square.

SovietOb

This monument commemorates the fallen soldiers of the Soviet Union who died while fighting to liberate Budapest from the Nazi forces at the end of World War II, 1945. Now it is a controversial monument, because the Russian liberation of Hungary from Nazi-German occupation, although appreciated by the Hungarians at the time, has faded into the past. Furthermore, the failed communist hegemony that was later imposed brutally by the Soviets is no longer tolerated. In fact, the Hungarians have delivered themselves out of the grip of Soviet domination.

Many Hungarians resent the entire communist period. Consequently, many  want to get rid of the monument. That is a controversy for the people of Hungary, and especially those in Budapest, to decide among themselves.

It is a problematical situation because you can’t please everyone who has deep feelings, or an opinion, about such things as the blood of long-dead soldiers in the ground.

As an American visitor, my personal feeling is: it was unfortunate that our guys did not liberate eastern Europe after the Big War, instead of the Soviet Russian soldiers. With the framework of our American Marshall plan, we could have– we would have– done a better job of helping the Hungarians–the Czechs, Romanians, Yugoslavians, East Germans, Ukrainians and all other eastern Europeans–helping them to recover from the terrible aftermath of warfare.

But history is full of could-haves, would-haves, should-haves. All of history is truly water under the bridge, or, as in this case, blood under the ground. Russians died there in Hungary while running the damn Nazis back into their holes in Germany. It happened. Shit happens.

So the Memorial should probably remain. Nevertheless, there are many other statues that formerly commemorated Soviet Russian activities in Hungary, which HAVE been removed, and I commend the Hungarians and other eastern Europeans who have made such revisions in order to clear the area for setting new courses of liberty for their people.

Moving right along, however . . . Very near this memorial site is another significant site in Budapest,  the Hungarian Parliament Building.

HungParl

We see here the front side, which sits squarely on the Pest (Pesht) side of the Danube river, facing Buda on the west. What an impressive vision for building representative government we see in this nocturnal viewing.

On the backside of this building, there is a very special window, which opens onto a balcony.

BalcBudp

On the ground below it is a large square, Kossuth Square. In that spot, on a certain Tuesday night in October of 1956, thousands of Hungarian citizens were gathered; they were hoping to impose a big change on their government, maybe even a revolution. These people were sick and tired of the communist oppressions that the Soviets had been imposing on them, and they were ready to ditch the whole plan and start over.

The people who had gathered here on that fateful night in 1956  had a man on the inside– the inside of the building, and the inside of the Hungarian Communist Party– which had heretofore been controlled by the International (Russian) Communist Party.

The inside man’s name was Imre Nagy. He was a man of the people, a popular leader, a true Hungarian, and he had just been appointed by the Communist party to be the next Prime Minister.

But Imre was trying to walk a middle path between two impossible positions. The position he favored was in support of what those people down in Kossuth Square were demanding. The other position he strove to represent was the official program of the Communist Party as it was determined by the Supreme Soviet in Moscow.

On a particular Tuesday night in October 1956, Imre Nagy discovered that he could not walk that middle line; he could not negotiate a path of reconciliation between these two positions.  This awareness came to him in a terrible moment of realization–when he squinted out from the balcony and saw the thousands of expectant Hungarians out there. There was a new fire in their eyes, a new tone in their collective cry for government of the people, by the people and for the people.

https://www.amazon.com/Imre-Nagy-Biography-Communist-Lives/dp/1845119592

Janos M. Rainer describes the scene in this 2009 biography of Imre Nagy. With the thronging crowds gathered in from of him, Nagy stood in an open window ready to deliver a message to the people. It was about 9 p.m. The crowd was so large that some people could not hear him, even with the loudspeakers. Rainer writes:

“As Nagy approached the open window, he saw himself confronted with a completely unfamiliar force. (Nagy later said): ‘Only when I perceived the mood in the square did it become clear to me that what was called for was quite different from what I had prepared.’ “

“Comrades!” he began.

Some answered, “We are not comrades!”

Many retorted loudly, “No more comrades!”

Someone said “All of Budapest is here!” “The nation is here.”

The people had gathered there to receive the leadership of a new, fearless Prime Minister to guide their movement into its destiny. They were seriously ready for a change. They were fed up with those guys from Moscow and their lackeys. As far as they could see, Imre Nagy, who stood ready to address them, could be their man of destiny. He had the courage and the independent spirit to rise to the challenge.

But Imre was in no position to accept their mantle of leadership. The heavy burden of his role in the Communist party prevented it. Oil and water do not mix.  He was too good a Communist Party man. According to Soviet doctrine, the Revolution could not happen here and now because the Revolution had already happened.

In 1917, In Russia. According to Communist doctrine, that Bolshevik event would be the model and the inspiration for all revolutions heretofore.

So while Prime Minister Nagy thought he was inching the people’s governance forward a notch or two, an entirely different strategy was being planned by the Soviets for the next day. The light of dawn  saw Soviet tanks rolling into Budapest, to put an end to those Hungarian upstarts thinking they could do something without the Communist Party’s approval. Nagy did nothing to stop it because he knew he couldn’t stop it. He was a realist.

That was one balcony scene. But that  night’s gathering was a mere flash in the pan, a failed attempt to bring democratic processes into communist hammer and sickle brutality. It happened in Soviet-occupied Hungary in 1956.

But there was another balcony scene in eastern Europe and it took place in a not-so-different place–Prague, Czechoslovakia–but at a very different time– 1989.

BalcPrag

From this balcony on Wenceslaus Square in Prague, dissident leader Vaclav Havel, spoke to thousands of Czechs and Slovaks who had gathered there on a fateful night in November of 1989, to demand the right to govern themselves.

Fortunately, this balcony scene ended quite differently from the earlier one in Hungary, 1956. On November 30, 1989, the overwhelming resolve of the assembled Czech people  put an end to Soviet domination. Things were never the same after that liberating night in Prague. Later it was called the Velvet Revolution, because it happened with very little violence.  That’s the night when the Soviets finally began to give up on trying to fix Europe according to their communist programs.

The Prague balcony scene in 1989 is the one that changed eastern Europe forever. But here’s the cold, hard truth about how the cold war finally ended: what the Czechs accomplished with their Velvet Revolution in Wenceslaus Square in 1989 would  not have happened if the Hungarians had not started the ball rolling in 1956.

In history, it takes a while for destined events to happen. In the case of the obelisk and balconies of Soviet-occupied eastern Europe, it took over forty years. Let that be a lesson for all of us freedom-loving people.

King of Soul

Emperors and Bohemians

July 16, 2017

We went to Prague, and what a trip that was. I am quite sure there is no place like that Czech city on earth; Praha is a totally unique city–a surreal blend of medieval architecture and modern chutzpah.

One reason that ancient metropolis retains so much Old World ambience is that during the big war back in the ’40’s, Prague did not suffer major bombing damage. So there are parts of the city, particularly near the Castle, in which your wandering really does take on the feeling of a stroll through the Old Europe of medieval times, except for all the tourists waving their devices around.

Such as us.

We were right there, in with all that crowd of world-travelers snapping pics, gazing quizzily at our phones, searching for signs of meaning in the domiciles of Kafka and Havel.

Although I strive to write here with some profundity, I must admit that my few days there–although thoroughly edifying and significant–qualify me for nothing more that the status of being a tourist who was in awe of the place. I truly got the feeling that no, you’re not in Kansas anymore.

So now, today, as we roll along toward Budapest, I reflect on our time in Prague, but my mind also wanders back to our all-too-brief sojourn through Vienna, which came before Prague. My analytical, touristic mind wants to make a comparison. So here it is, in all its dubious oversimplification.

Prague is bizarre, proletarian, and cutting edge.

Vienna is presumptuous, regal and Establishment.

Great cities do have, you know, an identity. Think of the difference between, say San Francisco and Washington DC. What’s going on here in central Europe is somewhat like that. Think of, say, a bunch of hippies in 1968 showing up in Washington DC.

A century and a half ago, when the Vienna-based Hapsburgs were ruling their Austro-Hungarian empire, their noblesse oblige sensibilities must have been seriously ruffled when they would encounter, from time to time, the sight of wild-eyed Bohemians who had just rolled in from the Czech outback. On the back of a turnip cart, perhaps, these unrefined immigrants from the hinterlands rolled into staid Vienna with rocking chairs on the back of their carts like Granny Clampett, while their uncouth cousins probably strutted along, coaxing untamed gypsy melodies from their fiddles like there was no tomorrow.

Of course, when the First Big War finally ground down to a halt back in 1918, there was, in fact, no tomorrow for the Hapsburg royals. The jig was up for them and for their obsequious entourage of noblesse oblige courtesans who had populated  the royal courts of Vienna for half a millennium.

But the difference between these two great cities of Europe is retained in the feeling you get while visiting each one.

Vienna, as a major tourist destination, still capitalizes upon and cultivates that royal legacy with which they were born. You can feel it, you can see it plainly in what they emphasize in their presentation to us visitors.

Here are two pics from our Vienna hotel:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Compare this ambiance to  a pic I snapped from our first night in Prague:

 

You get the picture?

This morning in Hungary, I was recalling a statement that our Vienna tour guide had made when we were there last week. She was telling us about the financial patronage through which the Hapsburgs supported orchestral  Music in Vienna during the Classical Age, which was during a period  from about 1760 to 1810 or so.

Our guide spent a good while  talking about the Emperor’s favored composers, Mozart and Haydn. The music of these two composers embodies the dignified, perfectly structured character of Classical Music as it was appreciated and financed by powerful, order-cultivating imperial benefactors. Our guide Iva also mentioned that, toward the end of the Classical period, Beethoven became a recipient who benefited from  those Hapsburg pursestrings. But Beethoven’s status as a recipient of their order-cultivating, imperial patronage was somewhat questionable. His musical identity–his struggle to surpass the courtly bonds of Mozart/Haydn conventionality– was always on the edge of something terribly new and disruptive. Ludwig stood, in fact, on the dizzying precipice of a new 19th-century eruption in music. And he knew it. His opus would not turn out to be a kind of music that proceeds from the calm waters of courtly, post baroque, Classical concerts.

Ludwig’s music turned out to be expressive, emotional, even explosive. His orchestral movements were a harbinger of a newly-forming revolutionary age, a disruptive century to come. His booming symphonies resonated more with those Czech Bohemians than with his courtesan mentors Mozart and Haydn. Ludwig was a German from somewhere over there in the cauldron of  the Rhine/Ruhr, an upstart. And even though he was able to obtain support from Emperor Josef, he was never the comfortable courtesan composer like Mozart and Haydn had been.

Our Vienna guide, Iva, mentioned this. She explained that the the imperial support for that unpredictable young German was of a different nature. The times they were a-changing.  Ludvig von Beethoven wasn’t the mere conveyor of those raucous new symphonic strains; he was an (if not the) originator of the  new romanticism in music. When Iva concluded her spiel on the great  music that had come out of imperial Vienna, I felt that there was something she had left out.

(Excuse me) “What about Strauss?” I asked.

Her answer surprised me.

She said that the Strauss music–the waltzes, the Blue Danube, et al which came later in the 19th-century–were considered by the  Vienna Establishment to be “pop music.” They were equivalent to the “Dirty Dancing” of that time.

Strauss waltzes, the “Dirty dancing!” ?? of that day?

Duh! ????

She said that Strauss went to Chicago and did a concert for a hundred thousand people.

But that did not impress the Establishment in Vienna.  As far as they were concerned, Johann Strauss Jr and his thumping waltzes were in the same league with . . . dirty dancing.

I suppose the royals and their courtesans always preferred their little, intimate venues like this one in Vienna, a space where, as our Vienna guide explained, Mozart had done one of his last concerts.

I will never get a handle on how all this human art and music plays out.

Glass Chimera