Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Agent Running in the Field: John LeCarre's latest novel rivots attention to world politics

With Britain in a near state of political crisis over Brexit, Le Carre weaves together a suspenseful tale that involves the the clandestine swapping of classified information to our adversaries the Russians.

Edward Stanley Shannon, a lowly British 'clerk' with security clearance has been photocopying highly classified  documents  from Topsecret Jericho. This is a project involving clandestine negotiations between the US and Great Britain to to increase and tighten economize trade between the two countries in the wake of Britain's exit from and then being locked out of  European trade partners.

Nat is a 45 year old 'retired spook' that has been called back to head an 'office'-- a spy operation that seems of little importance.

He is also reigning Club Champion of a Badminton club in Battersea. Here, he meets a shy, self effacing 25 year old Ed who as an unranked player and hence unknown player challenges Nat to a match. Nat rather surprising accepts and beats Ed handily
   And so begins a casual relationship centered around a sometime weekly match  and a few beers afterwards. 

  They each have a vague idea what the other does for a living.

I suggest you read the novel to fill in the details (a hint: like Peter Guilliam in a Le Carre's previous novel, Legacy of  Spies who is implicated in the shooting of Alex Leamas and his girl friend  Liz Gold at the Berlin Wall, Nat must answer for treason in aiding and abetting a Soviet Spy.
Enjoy, Le Carre at his best.


Monday, December 2, 2019

Harold Bloom: A Bronx Tale and Yale Legend (July 11,1930- October 14, 2019): with Fangs...

It's a beautiful rather balmy afternoon here at the Yale Bowl and as I am watching the Bulldogs quarterback Kurt Rawlings  completing a career high 390 passing yards and his team running past the somnolent Lions---and I am thinking what is Harold Bloom that towering admirer, creator, critic and sometime  curmudgeon worshiper at the canonical temple of western humanities doing right now? 

You see, I have never met Dr. Bloom, appointed Yale Sterling Professor of the Humanities in 1983, have never read any of his 40 books of literary criticism.

So, why was he on my mind?

 Some 3 weeks earlier while perusing the weekend October 12-13, Review Section of the Wall Street Journal, I chanced on an  article entitled A Cat that Walks by Himself  which informed me that "As a student of Western literature, (emphasis mine), Mr Bloom is drawn to what Longinus called the sublime--to works of power, strangeness and intensity that leave one spiritually shaken and stirred. Such works, as the critic once said (nodding to Wordsworth), are 'capable of giving you a sense of  something ever more about to be.' "

I know he,too, was born in the Bronx. And at an early age he began reading and memorizing books at the Melrose branch of New York City library about 2.5 miles from my birthplace in the East Tremont section.

I knew this man adored Shakespeare as a divinity (indeed, his spirit dwelt on mountaintops) and  had a voracious appetite for only  those western writers deserving to reside in his self created pantheon .

What I did not know at the Yale Bowl is that Prof. Bloom had passed away about 3 weeks earlier.

When skimming articles in the Arts and Letters section of the  Jewish Week of October 25, my eyes caught a JTA article entitled Harold Bloom Dreamed in Yiddish Until his Death.

Indeed, Yiddish was his mother tongue and the very first Shakespeare play Bloom heard was in Yiddish where the magnificent Maurice Schwartz played Shylock.

Alas, at the Yale Bowl that balmy day with the Yale Bull Dog showing its might and supremacy, Professor Bloom may have well bellowed these memorable lines from The Merchant of Venice : "Thou callest me a dog before thou hast cause. But since I am a dog, beware my fangs." 

(Perhaps, the often curmudgeonly Bloom might have had more than his beloved team in mind.....)

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Nietsche and the Will to Power : Columbia University Scholar Herb Roseman's Climactic Presentation

 Columbia University Senior Scholar  Herb Roseman 
illuminates Friedrich Nietsche (1844-1900)

Lecturing to a small but appreciative audience, Herb's passion and admiration of great philosophers of the Western Canon illuminated the life and philosophy of Nietsche.. 

 Last month, he climaxed his four years of bi-weekly presentations at our local JCC by setting forth the 'essential' Nietzsche. In so doing he dispelled  a misunderstanding  that has surrounded this enigmatic figure for the better part of the last century as well as this one.

He explained that our antipathy to this great thinker was caused in great part by his sister Elisabeth Forster-Nietzsche, herself a rabid anti-Semite. After his mental collapse in 1889, he lived out his remaining years with, first,  his mother and then his sister. The latter was responsible for revising her brother's writings to reflect her own biases. 

Herb explained that Nietzsche actually 'appreciated' (or better yet, recorded) the role that Semitic culture played in the genealogical development of morality.

 Originally, the Master Morality (which he favored) symbolizing  the strong, the brave, the aggressive and self-sufficient rulers was dominant over the slave mentality (think of Pagan Rome), representing the weak, subservient, altruistic and humble folk.

The killing of Jesus, who represented the humble and weak, was followed by the will to power of an elite group of 'priests.' Instead of serving to elevate and strengthen the morality of the flock, the priests now ruled over the passive impoverished masses keeping them in check by illiteracy and ignorance.  This inversion of power (think religious wars such as the Crusades), an inherent contradiction as described above, secured the power of the priests who now dictated their own version of morality via their power.

 Religious hegemony vied with strong absolutist secular rulers as the Church became omnipotent....The Jews were simply a part of this evolutionary process... howbeit  in conflict with Nietzsche's world view.

 In reality, the Church (as a symbol all religious denominations) has been in conflict with the Will to Power of tyrannic authoritarian leaders from the beginnings of civilization.

Thanks Herb for your ever clarifying slide shows and for continuing our philosophic next we segue into the ever-fascinating topic of existentialism today.      

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Summer Readers: Promoting Multiculturalism: Let the Great Civilized Conversation Heat Up

Hello AVID SUMMER READERS:  We still have 30 days left to the summer of 2019 with its warm, balmy, humid days and precious nights (for reading of course), so its high time  to discuss, briefly my choice for the first of three reading lists. 

     My overriding concern is not to bore you with detail but spread out a broad philosophical panoply of ideas that begin about 2500 years ago.

     The underlying theme is to start locally, to urge, encourage and educate every resident of our country, every Elhi  student--not just University attendees--  to understand, relate to and appreciate other cultures besides our very own.  In so doing we become more tolerant of the 'other;'   We learn to converse, even collaborate cooperatively and civilly with other groups, religions, sects, genders, people of other skin colors, political beliefs, languages,  etc.

 There's no end to this butterfly effect.  

   In short, I am promoting multiculturalism and urging that we expand what we now call the Core Curriculum, traditionally limited to Greco-Roman and Judaeo-Christian texts and include Arabic and Islamic, Near and Far East Asian, African and Native American cultures 

     And as we meander, I present texts, along with ideas, songs, poems, movies and works of art  to support, when appropriate, my thesis of inclusion.  

We begin in my next post by examining  the Founding and underlying  political and philosophical principles, feverishly and passionately discussed, argued and debated by our country's early leaders who helped draft our constitution. 

So, shall we meander to...... first,.The Founding Brothers by Joseph Ellis (winner of the Pulitzer Prize in History)--  chosen because the book demonstrates  how our country's early political leaders were successful at burying their hatchets and learned the art of collaboration in order to cement the union of 13 fragmented colonies.

We begin with our own American Culture because we are now a veritable amalgam of so many diverse peoples (e.g.Jackson Heights in Queens, NY has over 70 different languages spoken.)  Then,  let's learn  how our long-established idealized democratic way of life is threatened and  corrupted through dark money.  

We then journey back millennia to discuss time-honored sino- inspired formulae for national leadership, peace, order and stability outlined in Nobility and Civility and The Great Civilized  Conversation written by  Professor Ted DeBary. 

Before his recent passing, he was the nation's foremost living scholar of Far Eastern Cultures.

 He  taught at Columbia University for nearly 60 years during which I was privileged to spend a year under his brilliant tutelage.

The author meeting with Professor Ted DeBary (1919-2017)

This photo was taken at 502 Kent Hall in 2014, fifty three years after I took his Asian Humanities and Civilizations course co taught with Professor Ainslie Embree  (1921-2017). He autographed his last book The Great Civilized Conversation which he presented to me

So let Ted's wisdom and insights infuse our Great Conversation --the one on the values and benefits of a multicultural core curriculum-- and continue to be an inspiration to our generation as we continue his odyssey of discovery.

   Finally, we will take a summer detour, with novelist Daniel Silva, and experience fast-paced global terrorism in the The New Girl. 

  So, I ask you to suspend some long-held beliefs and join me on a thought provoking, at times challenging and exciting,  life changing odyssey that never ends as we journey back and forth in time.  

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Douglas Brinkley Presidential historian speaks at Ferguson Library on Civility in American History

Douglas Brinkley, Presidential Historian

Douglas Brinkley who currently teaches at Rice University in Houston electrified his audience last Monday night.

He began by introducing us to Charles Thomson, secretary of the Continental Congress first appointed in 1774. After Washington became our first president, Thomson remained a fierce supporter of allegiance to our country's leader.

Thomson gathered many papers with a view of writing a history of his time.  Toward the end of his life , he destroyed nearly all his papers. Brinkley suggests that one of the reasons may have been his desire to leave no record of the contentious and fiercely fought election of 1800 between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson.

Polarization of political parties, vehement rhetoric and gridlock have been a part of American politics from its inception.

The highlight of the evening was his discussion of his latest book "American Moonshot: John F. Kennedy and the Great Space Race."  Though the Russians were first at orbiting a man in space in April 1961, President  Kennedy announced in May, 1961 his intention to land a manned spacecraft on the moon by the end of the decade.

This year we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the moon landing which unfortunately Kennedy did not witness. But what is significant, says Brinkley, is that this project ushered in a time when both parties laid aside their enmities and joined in a camaraderie to help fund the project to land a manned spacecraft on the moon.

Civility had commandeered a Camelot 'moment' in American politics.

When asked what he would do to ameliorate the current atmosphere of incivility which plagues our national government, Brinkley suggested that answer lies in the education of our youth  We must reintroduce civics and geography in the classroom curriculum.

It is only through understanding how our government functions can there exist an atmosphere of respect and tolerance for the opinions of others.

Again, thanks to the Dilenschneider group for their support of Civility in America series as it enters its eighth year.

Sunday, March 31, 2019

A Celebration of the Life of Columbia University Professor Edward W. Tayler

Professor Ted Tayler
Photo Credit Eileen Barroso 

On Friday, March 15, over one hundred plus students, colleagues, friends (and family) gathered at Columbia University's Low Rotunda to pay tribute to the inspirational life of 16th and 17th Century English Professor Emeritus, Edward W. Tayler. 

Ted passed away on April 23, 2018.

(Professor Tayler  is remembered as being both a Shakespeare and Milton scholar and April 23rd happens to be the very date on which William Shakespeare was both born and died.)

The program was introduced by Michael Rosenthal, Professor Emeritus;  he was followed by reminiscences by ten of  his students. They included three authors, a playwright (Tony Kushner), a journalist, a lawyer (Abbe David Lowell) and four Professors.

Here are just a few remembrances of Ted:

" Dark and light...God set up opposites, Ted said, which is something we all do--all the time in life. Moral do you escape the binary bind? There are people you touch and people you don't touch. Every choice becomes an exclusion.  His injunction all year was think double. When you think you understand something, try to penetrate its opposite and see if they have a relationship to each other....The voice was remarkable...baritone...steady, quiet, very penetrating with little traces of mockery and wit...." (David Denby, CC'65, author)

"....short, self possessed, still young, standing directly before us with a burning cigarette as his only prop-- delivering sentences in a clipped, dry, dead pan voice---occasionally pausing to mumble a caustic witty aside....Ted had a most military bearing in class. The general had a plan a step by step strategy to guide us through a series of small epiphanies toward greater and greater clarity about Milton's work."  (Paul Auster, CC'69, author)

Ted, I  miss you, too. I am privileged to be numbered among the many students who were lit up, inspired and enriched by your exemplary teaching. Here is my tribute penned nearly 10 years ago.

The event is now available for viewing on you tube 


Monday, March 11, 2019

My Old Grey Lady Goes Digital: Saying Goodbye to the Print Edition of the New York Times

The Old Grey Lady

It was a bold decision when made.

I have never thought I would make the move---

About two weeks ago I traded my daily subscription to the print edition of the New York Times for the digital one.

Why have I done so at this time?

First I am on overload with daily print news media. Besides the New York Times, I have read and still read the Wall Street Journal and also our hometown daily, the Stamford Advocate---all cover to cover. This routine is  overwhelming as I am constantly playing catch-up and nearly always feel behind the eight ball.

Why the overload?

I have always felt it necessary to stay on top of the news---growing up in a family that always had the Times delivered daily and where we all were expected to be up on the latest news. And just recently I led a biweekly discussion of current events for seniors in our community--making it necessary for me to up on international, national and local news.

In addition, I have always been a 'print'  man who has always enjoyed the tangible hard copy book or daily rag in my hand --spanning my careers as English major, college and high school English and science teacher, print advertising/space sales, then publisher of Brooklyn Community Magazine.

Of course, there are other online news sources such as Huffingtonpost, Politico, Drudgereport, the Daily Mail, The Hill, etc. besides my New York Times online subscription.

I will miss the display ads and the daily and Sunday crossword puzzles in the print edition.

Stay tuned as I further assess my decision.