Saturday, June 7, 2008

My Trouble With Che

My Trouble With Che: The mystery surrounding his murder... and it wasn't U.S.

Forty years after his death, Che has come back. His visage peers out of book shops; young people walk around proudly displaying Che Tee shirts, souvenir shops prominently display Che posters and, recently, there have been more Che tattoos in evidence than common sense and good taste would allow one to expect.

I recall back in the 1960s having a Che poster on my wall, too. It was the same photograph seen everywhere, today: Che portrayed with a messianic assonance, a black beret -- with its ubiquitous red star affiked like a floating signifier -- pulled back on a full head of unkempt hair, a scraggly beard and eyes that fixed you-- if I may borrow a few words, "in a formulated phrase." The message, however, was revolution. For today's young people, the message is not revolution, but rebellion.

My generation made an icon of Che, because, like he, we were thinking in terms of a World Revolution without a soupçon of what that meant. Looking back 40 years later, it is apparent that Che didn't have a clue, either. Who knew? Who cared? In those days it was so "Fantastikally" romantic. Those were the days of Fidel and Che, Che and Fidel. They were our Revolutionary heroes, the quintessential guerilla fighters. One with star quality, the other, the eminence grise. They didn't walk through the jungle fighting the soldiers of, then, Cuban dictator, Fulgencio Batista, they swaggered through it. They were the coolest things around. What did we have in their place, Ike and his louche V.P., Nixon? Even the alphabetical combination of, JFK/LBJ, could not hold a candle to the bright lights of the Cuban Revolutionaries.

In those heady days of 1958-59, I would have been happy to join Che, Fidel Cienfuegos and the rest of the crew in the mountains. I wouldn't have had much hair on my face. Moreover, I have never really taken much pleasure in camping out that much and I, certainly, don't like mosquitos, bugs and things that slither on the ground, so, I wouldn't have stayed for more than a few days. However, I know that I would still cherish the photographs, especially of those with me standing next to a sweaty and scantly clad buxom female fellow guerilla fighter. Come to think of it, I would have had that picture blown up and, in all likelihood, it would still be hanging prominently somewhere in my home.

"Nice." as a friend used to say, long before I learned that when he said "nice,' he meant it in its original sense, i.e., "stupid."

After they had come to power, my interest in Fidel began to fade rapidly. I think that it was because he continued to wear military fatigues long after he should have graduated into a business suit. He began to look more and more like a Woody Allen caricature before there was Woody Allen. But, Che, he continued to look cool.

That image was so powerful that by the end of the 60's, wearing a beret with some kind of political pin affixed to it became the fashion rage, a faux Signifiant Flottant for artists, peaceniks and political dilettantes around the world. For more than a generation, the black beret remained the epitome of what was meant by revolutionary chic: now, it's back, although many of us never stopped wearing it. Long ago, the ornaments and pins came off, but it was still worn in the same manner as Che -- pulled back hard from the front. Some continued to wear it as a visible, albeit, false, identification with the working class; others, because it never stopped being Bohemian. In either case, people seemed to have felt empowered by it.

The exception to the "I love Che" rule were those 30-to-40--something graying New Left radicals, both White and Black who, long before the publication of his "Motorcycle Diaries," had begun to sense a macho, anti-Semitic, racist and homophobic side to Che's personality. For Latinos, that was never troublesome. Most Latino men are raised with similar biases. It takes age and a willing intellect to make the necessary alterations in attitude and behavior. Che may not have had enough time.

Those professional North American New Left radicals began to disassociate themselves from Che as their understanding of the nuances and realities of global politics grew. Che was beginning to be seen as a political adventurist. That image was great when they were in their 20's but by the time they had turned 30, the picture had begun to change.

Che began to be described as a latter day Leon Trotsky. Both were looking to export their respective revolutions. For Stalin, Trotsky's weltanschauung was too dangerous and had the potential to endanger his own fragile situation in Europe. So, off went Leon to Mexico still bearing his message of a world Marxist revolution. To make a long story short, Stalin got tired of having to constantly reign in his former comrade-in-arms, and sent a fellow with an ice pick and an ax to put an end, once and for all, to Leon's malefactions. The message appears to have worked effectively.

Che, shortly after their successful coup de main in Havana, quickly became Fidel's Trotsky, albeit, after having first served unsuccessfully as president of the National Bank of Cuba and Minister of Industry. His advocacy for a rapid pace of industrialization put him at odds with the more pragmatic, and USSR client, Fidel. No doubt Che had images of the fate of fellow partisan and revolutionary, Cienfuegos, who, from an opposite perspective, felt that the Revolution was moving away from a more moderate democratic model than he initially had in mind. One day, the plane in which he was traveling mysteriously went down: some say it was a result of an onboard bomb, others, that it was shot down. In any case, Che most have known the truth. Cuba, while the largest island in the Caribbean, is still an island and there is very little wiggle room. So, off he went in 1965 to foment revolutions in Africa and, subsequently, South America.

As long as Che was somewhere else, other than Cuba, making trouble for the Yanqui, Fidel could publicly support his activities. However, after Soviet Chairman, Leonid Brezhnev, sent his Premier, Aleksei Kosygin, to Havana in June 1967, with a message to Fidel about Che's undermining the region's traditional communist parties and allies of Moscow, it appears that Che's fate was sealed.

Coincidentally, while all this was going on, the United States had plans of its own to terminating Che's activities in the Villagrande region of Bolivia. Members of the U.S. 8th Special Forces, stationed in Panama had trained a counter insurgency battalion of Bolivian troops with the object of running Che to the ground while the Central Intelligence Agency coordinated the entire operation.

The agency had three Cubans, veterans of the Directorate's anti-Castro efforts from the early 60's, in place in Bolivia with overall tactical control of the anti-Che operation. Chief among them was Felix Ramos, a.k.a., Felix Rodriguez..

Ramos-Rodriguez had signed on to be part of the C.I.A.'s expatriate Cuban force that was supposed to overthrow Fidel Castro beginning with a landing at the "Bay of Pigs." However, a few days before the invasion, Ramos-Rodriguez became too sick to take part in the planned invasion and, therefore, escaped injury, death or capture. It was he, who, according to recently declassified State Department and C.I.A. documents, gave the order on October 9th, 1967, to execute Che, after having been ordered by his superiors on Langley's Seventh floor not to kill him: woops!

Che lost more than his hands, which were severed off for identification purposes, on that day, he lost his Rolex to Ramos.

The problem I have with Che has nothing to do with his politics or guerilla war. If you know anything about Che's final days, you might recall that it was a terrible period for him. He was running around the mountains of Villagrande dodging the U.S. trained Ranger Battalion while at the same time suffering from chronic asthma exacerbated, no doubt, by his chronic cigar smoking. The Rangers dogged him day and night not giving him much time to rest. In fact, when they finally caught up with him, he was lying down recovering from an asthma attack. Yet, Che was a medical doctor; he should have known that smoking was hazardous to one's health. In his case, it proved fatal. That's why, for me, I will always remember Che as being really nice.

From Budapest

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Sarkozy, What's in a Name Can Be Funny

Nicolas Sarkozy, the former President of France, has been roaring like a hungry lion on the world's political stage. I'm not French or in France, nor am I involved in international politics, so I don't really have much to say about him from a pundit's point of viewn. However, I am always looking for the humor in things and I found a real ha ha (or, is it ho ho? Dunno?) not in his political posturing, but in his name. .

Sarkozy, who carries his Hungarian father's last name, is pronounced quite differently in Hungary than in the rest of the world. That is, in Hungary the letter 'S' is pronounced "SH" and if you wanted the western 'S' sound you would spell it in Hungarian with the letter 'Sz'. When the French or anyone else pronounce his name it sounds like Sarkozy, but when pronounced in Hungarian, it sounds like 'Sharkozy'. No big deal you say. This is where the ha ha and the ho ho come into play.

I'm not Hungarian, but I've been living here nigh a decade; I have become accustomed to the nuance of the Hungarian language. When the syllable "sar" is pronounced without the 'H' sound, phonetically, in Hungarian it means fecal matter. Yup, I'm sorry to put it so bluntly. The 'Sar' sound without the "sh" component is excrement. Every Sarkozy in Hungary is sounded out as SHARkozy. Any other verbalization would cause hysterics.

One more thing: The end of his name "kozy" or "kozi" means "in between" in Hungarian. Therefore, when his name is pronounced with a western 's' sound, here in Hungary, it means "In between excrement."

I know that facts like this are very important to you so I felt impelled to pass this info on to you. The fact that he is a right wing S.O.B. only concretizes in my mind, that he was appropriately named.

Piping A Story

Fred Friendly was as close to being a moral philosopher as anyone I met in Journalism School. Yet, he acknowledged that, at times, he felt as philosophically conflicted as the rest of us mortals in a profession that requires truth to be served fresh everyday without seasoning. Somehow, it seemed, that he was always able to get up in the morning to approach life fairly, forgetting the unevenness of the day before. He had a great sense of perception into the human soul; could criticize and accept criticism, never losing his wonderful sense of grace: he didn't need to, he was an old fox in a familiar chicken coop. Above all, he was honest; for that reason, he earned my respect.

It was he who taught me the expression, "Piping a story," or simply, "Piping," an expression from journalism's not-to-ancient past which meant writing a story based on creativity not reportage. Editors, when suspecting that a reporter had inflated his/her story with fantasy, might ask: "Have you been smoking the opium pipe?" I suspect that the editors of the NYT may have had cause, three years ago, to use that expression several times to one young reporter who, through some strange psychopathology, threw away the opportunity of a lifetime: an opportunity for which many of us would have gladly given an essential body part. During that scandal, I thought of Fred Friendly and "Piping." I could laugh; I could shake my head; I could rue the vagaries and vicissitudes of a life in which the Gods share a greater sense of humor than we.

Perhaps, that young fellow was really hitting the opium pipe. Just a thought.

Without reaching for Webster's, it's probably not too much of a stretch to assume that the term "Pipe Dreams'" has its root in the same soil. How about Popeye? What was it that he always had in his pipe that allowed him to feel like a super sailor? poppies?

The late 19th century cartoon strip, "The Yellow Kid," and the Spanish-American War gave rise to the term "Yellow Journalism." They could have just as easily called it, "Poppycock." N'est ce-pas?

In Hungary, the Poppy, rather its seed (Mak), is as integral to its culture as the Apple Pie is to America. Hungarians eat: poppy seed bread, poppy seed cake, poppy seed rolls, and a myriad of other different foods which have poppy seeds as an ingredient. You have to understand that even before the Ottomans were here, the Magyars had, for centuries, been influenced by things Turkic. Hungary was prepared not to join the EU if they were not allowed to grow and eat poppy seed. The EU relented and allowed Hungary a special dispensation to continue their poppy culture. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, however, continues to cast a wary eye toward Hungary. Let me ask you this: "If you have received a package from Hungary through the mails, how long did it take? Was the package obviously opened?" Many Hungarians complain, bitterly, that packages that they mail to the States, are often returned to them with no apparent explanation.

All this, then, has been a prologue to what really set me off in this direction, namely, "Kubla Khan" (whose 54 lines I had put to memory years ago) and its author, Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

Most of us know the story of how the poem supposedly came to be written. Coleridge claimed, for public consumption, that he had been ill; had retired to a country house to recuperate, and, while there, was given a prescribed drug, an "anodyne" he called it, that eased his pain and allowed him to slip into a prolonged slumber in which he had the vision that led to Kubla Khan. The "anodyne" was most likely opium which was all the rave among the creative crowd in that period. In fact, Coleridge had confided with his friends, chaps by the name of Wordsworth, Lamb and Byron that he was playing around with opium. That was probably a lot of poppycock. More likely, he was using opium as an excuse to justify a long unproductive period to his close and curious friends.

Allow me to digress. (More?) While the literati were dabbling in Great Britain and France with opium and hashish (In France, Duma quickly comes to mind), some sources mention Charles Wilson Dodgson, a.k.a., Louie C., with eating funny looking mushrooms and liking little girls: however, at the same time, the Lumpen and the working class were juicing it up with gin and blissing out on arsenic. (Long sentence? Tough! You can do whatever you like when you don't have an editor skulking around.) That's right, arsenic. It seems that one can get pretty wasted on arsenic. The only problem, however, is that the body can't excrete it fast enough and that which can not pass, is stored in the liver. As it happens, one day the liver reaches its saturation level and the abuser dies. Often, during the 19th Century, so did his/her spouse: usually, it was the wife..

You see, forensic medicine had come far enough in the 19th century, that medical examiners or coroners -- ( from the word "Crowners" the gentlemen that King Henry VIII, used to send out to investigate suspicious deaths. If it was found that the victim died from suicide, Hank would claim all the victim's property. Cool!)-- could determine if someone had died of arsenic poisoning.

"It was in the name of Justice and Pure Science, they all said,
That they stretched out the poor women's body from her head,
A Crowner had determined that, to her husband, poison she had fed.
For, as bitter tasting as arsenic may be,
Far worse, was to be hanged on Albion's Tree.

"An innocent she had been through years of poverty and strife,
The victim, you see, had kept his addiction a secret from his wife,
But, Alas and Alack she, too, reached a bitter end to her wretched life.
For, as bitter tasting as arsenic may be,
Far worse, was to be hanged on Albion's Tree." (Perez)

Sorry about that.. Sometimes, I get carried away We were talking about Coleridge:

Coleridge was not a consistent worker like Wordsworth (Cool name for a poet), he liked to take time off... to think.(?) Have you read, "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner?" He had to have had a lot of free time to come up with that. One of my life's ambitions which I am actually working on is to put it entirely-- and perfectly-- to memory. Every line is complicated and suffused with difficult and archaic language.

I used the word "Eftsoons," recently, and one listener called me up and said that he knew what the word meant, (Liar, I know he used a dictionary), "after soon/soon after." The challenge was why did I have to use such old words. "Wherefore?" I replied. Because it is English, that's wherefore! Although English is not really my mother tongue, I am working hard to get it. The corpus of the English language is full of thousands of unused and unspent words that it flies in the face of credulity the rationale for adding newer words (Dissing and Props readily come to mind) to the modern lexicon while there are words already in existence that still can do the job quite nicely.

The problem, I have found, lies in the same root cause that is responsible for English speakers on both sides of the water from learning new languages. From Brixton to the Bronx to Bushville, English speakers for what ever reason, are inherently lazy when it comes to studying their own language, forget bothering to learn a completely different language. For the most part, hidden behind a veneer of arrogance, is that most English speakers, hither and yon, are actually speaking a patois of English... I'm afraid it "bees" that way.

Perhaps, English is as difficult a language as some non-English speakers have always maintained. Shazam! Maybe that's my problem? It's not that English is not my mother tongue but, simply, English is difficult. It makes one stop and think

It is my practice not to discuss American politics from this perch, but I do want to make one very positive comment about Bill Clinton concerning something that happened while he was still the Prez.

It was during a running press conference in the midst of one of the scandals (call them puffs of smoke in the wind) which plagued his administration that a reporter shouted out to the President, as he was actively fleeing their presence, "Mr. President, could you disabuse us of.....?" I apologize for not remembering what else the reporter said. Maybe, he never finished his question, because Bill (he likes to be called "Bill"), turned on a dime in such a fury that you could tell he hadn't rehearsed his reaction and shouted back as if he was ready to punch the guy in the nose. "Disabuse?" And then went on in what I thought was a little over acting. What I was happy about was that he knew what the word meant.

Or did he? I know that he went to Yale, but that was just for law school, and it was Hillary "Her lips were red her looks were free, her locks as yellow as gold. Her skin was as white as leprosy, the Nightmare Life-in-Death was she, Who thicks man's blood with cold." (STC)and not he, that was on top of the class. Still, I would like to think that he knew, after all, English is his mother tongue.

*Atque haec qua celeritate gesta sint quamquam videtis tamen a me in dicendo praetereunda non sunt.

Unfair? Okay, literally translated: " And these things, with what swiftness they were accomplished, although you see (this), nevertheless (they) must not be passed over by me in speaking."

Better rendered in English, "And, although you are well aware of it, I would like to emphasize the swiftness in which these things were accomplished." In other words, Th-Th-Th-That's All Folks!

*From a speech by Cicero in the Roman Senate praising Pompey's military skill and recounting his many successes in suppressing piracy. Class dismissed!

From Budapest

Porcelain?... No, nothing quite so vulgar!

WARNING: The following essay contains a vulgar allusion. Anyone under 21, or emotionally conflicted should ask a parent or their religious advisor before reading. One can, also, press the delete key or, employ a word program that sniffs out gratuitous sex and violence. And, gratuitous it is. I could have easily removed the offending sentences, but I chose to include them, because I am old enough to laugh at my own stupidity and, by extension, everyone else's.

I broke a porcelain plate the other day, and I've spent the last two days reflecting and ruminating on my clumsiness and other things.

How could something, as beautiful to behold as porcelain, have so vulgar a name? Chalk it up to man's basest nature. In this case I mean "man," the specific, not the generic. By extension, why did a cowrie shell, called "Porcellana" in Italian,. and from which porcelain, through its aesthetic resemblance, received the name "little pig," or "vulva"? I guess it's the way some men (present company excluded) have-- and continue -- to associate one with the other.

Of course that sheds a new --if prurient-- light on the children's tale of the Big Bad Wolf and the Three Little Pigs. "Little pig, little pig, let me come in!" When I start pecking away, I never know where things will go. Forsooth.

I remember teaching a college class on the evolution of writing in the Middle East and I had just made the bridge between pictographs and cuneiform (wedge-shaped) and was pointing out that the Assyrians had a syllabary not an alphabet. When I realized that I had lost the class with the word "syllabary," I stopped to graph an example on the blackboard. I chose the word "tribute" (of which I have received very little-- either in monetary compensation or professional kudos), pronounced "ma-da-tu". I was only interested in the first syllable. "ma" which is written with three parallel cuneiform wedges laid horizontally, and a fourth perpendicular and vertical (orthogonal) to the others. I began to take double takes on the wedges. It was then, while I was drawing the forth character, that I had a minor epiphany, and, with my back to the class, began laughing. I wasn't worried about what the class was thinking. I could sense that they were curious, but I wasn't going to tell them.

You see, when I was a kid, the favorite epithet of the Italian kids on north side of 116th Street, our neighborhood rivals, was a four-letter word beginning with "c" and ending in "t" which I avoided ever using (much) because of the unpleasant sound that the mostly consonantal word made on my ears. For the Italians kids, it was totally different. The route word was the Latin, "cuneus" ( wedge-shaped or delta as in "Delta of Venus." N'est-ce pas?), which evolved separately in Italian than in other Romance languages.

Strange to think of it; stranger to say it, but the main reason I didn't use that word nor, as far as I can remember, did any of my friends, was that it was part of the lexicon of those other guys. That is not to say that I (we) were saints, au contraire, we had our favorite pearls, too, it was just that that word was identified with our cultural enemy. If that sounds ridiculous to you, chew on this. Weren't all American kids culturally conditioned to hate the Russians since the Bolshevik Revolution? We learned to hate all of Russian culture including the sound of the Russian language. Why not Chinese? Well, the Taiwanese were (and continue to be by law, I am constantly reminded) our allies. However, all of that may be changing as we speak.

Strange, for me, when I was a kid, was to hear children of Anglo-Saxon heritage making fun of the guttural sounds of the German language, Anglo-Saxon's mother tongue. Because of the two wars we fought with Germany in the last century, we were socially (all of us) conditioned to be repelled by res Germania. Too bad, really, since we grew up reading a pot pourri of Hobbes, Hume and Bacon and not enough Hegel, Nietzsche and Kant. That, however, brings me to a topic more germane to this essay: Philosophy.

I began by telling you about the broken plate, naturally, that led me to Plato. Soon I was in a swound, wandering (I avoided saying "meandering" to avoid the guffaws and the jeers of the cognoscenti) betwix Plato, Plotinus, and Porphyry, avoiding their logical extension, Boethius, who, because he was so conflicted between politics and philosophy, ended up on the sharp end of an Ostrogothic sword. Try as he might, he would find little "Consolation" in that. Just think. If Boethius had chosen Philosophy over Politics as a career move, the Western world would have beaten out the Arabs by 200 years in bringing back Aristotle to the world. Which means that we might have had the atom bomb as early as 1745, and have given Locke, Malthus and Mill whole new material to scribble about.

But I continue to digress.

I wanted to talk about language. By this time, you must know that I am obsessed by the subject. I have had the most difficult, call it agonizing, experience with the English language. It's not mine. It doesn't belong to me. I never know, when I rattle on for hours if anyone has understood a word I have said. Looking back a few years and recalling having to read exam blue books, I am only confirmed in this view, that no one really understands me when I speak or write in the English tongue.

Perhaps, that's why the NY Times turned me down when I applied for work there after graduation. It is obvious to me that someone there knew. I can still hear it in my imaginings of the editorial perusal of my application cum CV: "This guy just doesn't have it. He doesn't understand the English tongue." To which, I reply, "You must be right. After all you are the ruling gods of the English language in America." In short order, I began to believe that no national daily or weekly of any repute would hire me because they would all learn, very quickly, that I could never master their tongue: so, I quit trying. Which brings me right back to my subject.

In those depressing days of the early 1980's, I was walking to the Eastside through Central Park, you know, in the kicking-a-can-before-me mode, when I came across a homeless man who, in those days was still called a bum. What's in a word? Take the word " Jungle," no one was willing to help it until someone thought of changing its name to Rain Forest.: then, the world came tumbling to its door. Okay, back to the man: he was holding a copy of I.K.'s "Transcendental Meditations" in German and upside down, pretending to read it. (You see how neatly I can tie things up?) Well, feeling absolutely superior to no one at the moment, and feeling that I had stumbled upon one of the most preposterous situations I had ever encountered, I jumped in feet first. My ego, so recently deflated beyond any measurable proportion, suddenly exploded, and I said to the man, "You can't read philosophy upside down, avoiding, for the moment, that it looked to be in German..

He took note of me, and let the book slide down in his hands a little, smiled and said, "No?" I wanted to write him off as schizoid or a hopeless drunk. My comment was really meant for me: to make Me feel superior to someone. A voice (speaking of voices) inside of me was telling me to get the hell out of there, but, it was already too late, I had been snared: I had jumped into a very carefully laid trap. I knew it by the way he talked and smiled, but especially by the glint in his eyes which immediately sent a shower of arrows, bursting my over inflated balloon.

"Would it matter to you," he said in an inflected voice, that graduate students are used to hearing from their mentors, "if I read Kant backwards?" The way he said Kant told me that I should have been on Fifth Avenue by then. I was transfixed by what I suspected was coming and by the self-loathing I felt for allowing myself to fall into such a snare. I knew that I richly deserved it. "Would it matter to you if I read Him in German?" he asked, now more cynically than he had spoken before. And, without waiting for a further queue, began reading the tome backwards and in perfect German.

I gave him a dollar and spiraled downward into the Hell for Idiots until I came to Fifth Avenue.

My German was quite strong once. Even now, I can understand it and speak a little, but because of the combination of speaking Hungarian and not practicing German, it's fallen, shamefully, into disuse. I tell myself, that a month or so of living in Germany would bring it back. However, I don't think that there is any practical chance of that happening any time soon. That's how some things become lost.

To avoid losing my tenuous hold on English, I tutor private students ("I pity the Fools"). I've learned by teaching, I not only re-enforce my language, but I also end up learning more than the students. I may always lack the self-confidence and insouciance of say, a NYTimes writer/essayist, but I have no trouble, on a day-to-day basis, correcting the English or their misuse of the English language on their on-line rantings. Then, there are those poor souls from the British Isles that have been thrown up on the shores and hills of Eastern Europe. They still ride haughtily on worn out imperial steeds and think that, since English is their mother tongue, they know it- through osmosis- better than anyone else. I have a lot of fun with them. And, when I detect that I have come across an individual that actually knows an adverb from an adjective, I pounce.

"Which poems have you memorized," I ask playfully, wiggling the worm on the hook. I don't take away too many points if they can't recall any from Shakespeare to Shelly, where most of my repertoire is stashed, but when they can't come up with any modern poets, i.e., John Cooper Clarke, the Manchester poet, and likely the greatest English poet of our time, I can't help but slice them up into small pieces fit for curry -- now the main staple and fast food of England, having pushed newspaper-wrapped fish 'n chips right off the table.

Ah, I'm beginning to feel better. This writing thing can be so therapeutic that they ought to reintroduce it into the curriculum of high schools in America. While they are at it, maybe they should close down all the elementary and intermediate schools and reinvent Grammar Schools.

Learning how to read wouldn't be a bad idea, either. However, before you can get little Johnny or Jane to read, you have to get rid of the TV (at least the cable), open a book and read in front of them yourself. I know it sounds painful, especially on Sunday afternoons. But, think of it this way: there are all these newspapers and reporters who, presumably, know how to turn a phrase or two, and are employed specifically to bring you today's sports and other news, tomorrow. However, Homer (not the classic long-running Fox cartoon), needs your children's immediate attention. If they don't like all that Greek stuff, then try Virgil, he didn't like Greeks, either: "Timeo Danaos et donas gerentis!"
From Budapest

Saturday, July 21, 2007

THE FOX AND THE HEDGEHOG: A Discourse on Liberty and Death, vs. Serving "In A Rack." A Musing on Staying Alive.

"The Fox knows many things, the Hedgehog knows one big thing." Said Hesiod.

According to the 20th Century philosopher, Isaiah Berlin, there are two concepts of liberty, one complicated, the other simple. The former, which Berlin termed "Negative," begins with deep roots, emerges into the light with a hardened trunk, branches out in every direction, sends off twigs that eventually sprout countless leaves. The leaves are expendable,: they die, they fall, become compost and are forgotten. Such a leaf was Pfc Perez.

Luis A.Perez died in August '04, from injuries sustained when his truck was destroyed by an I.E.D.,in Fallujah, Iraq, He came from a small upstate New York Hamlet, near Lake Ontario, close to Fort Drum. Perez was in Iraq as a member of the Army Reserves', 223d Transportation Co., stationed in Norristown, PA. He was 19-years-old. He left a young wife and a family that loved him. For the last eight years, beginning with his death in August of 2004, he has missed every Labor Day weekend, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, Valentine's Day, Easter, his 20th, 21st, 22d and 23d Birthdays, and July Fourth weekends, and, now, the cycle will go on forever. We were namesakes. We lived close by, but we weren't related, at least I don't think so in any way other than we were brother human beings. So, what's my beef? When Pfc. Perez perished, there had been 2,000+ combat deaths (That number eight year later, is 4,500,in Iraq, that was more than a year after, then president, George le Fou, a member in good standing of the Laccopluti, declared victory in Iraq. Perez is only 1/4,500th part of the catastrophe we called the "War in Iraq". Like the others, he was a hero in death, but had he planned on being a hero before he was killed? That's a stretch. When one plans to be a hero, they join the active Army's Infantry, Armor and Artillery corps. They volunteer to go Airborne. Volunteer again to go to Ranger School, and then volunteer once more for the Special Forces, Delta Team...the Daisy Chain and the Grave (The last six words were lifted from Alan Ginsberg's "Howl"). My point? I don't think, at 19, he had any intention of being a dead hero which is not meant to disparage his contribution to the war effort or on a greater level to America. At 19, a young man is thinking about his future, a job, college, girls, perhaps a wife and a cool car. One enlists in the reserves to serve the Country, get a little extra pocket cash, respect from the community in which he or she lives and money for college. I don't think that he expected to die. We, the Pérezes, in the United States have been an Army family since the First World War. I've often stated it, but I don't mind repeating it, my father was a real "V" for Valor hero. I was in the Army, too, heh heh. Like I said my Dad was a bona fide hero and while, geneticists will tell you, that kind of stuff skips a generation, cynicism, we all know is an acquired trait. "I serve the Lord of Battle and the Muses too; for I recognize the beauty of their gift."(Ibid) Many a day (and night) I got to hear my father--and others--relate their war experiences, while I sat on the footrail under the bars of countless VFW saloons, occasionally having to wipe off the beer from my head that spilled from the bar above. So, I can attest to his courage and valor. One footnote: in the town square of Adjuntas, Puerto Rico, there is a statue commemorating one of my granduncles for his service in World War I. Seeing as the U.S. Congress had just passed the "Jones Act" in 1917, making Puerto Ricans U.S. Citizens, therefore eligible to fight in all U.S. Wars, he must have felt strongly about the need of stopping young Kaiser Wilhelm II. One of my sons served in the Army Reserves, neatly, between Persian Gulf Lunacy I and Persian Gulf Lunacy II. There was no war going on, so, for the both of us, there was no problem. Had there been a war, however, there would have been a lot of tension. Skipping to Canada would have been out of the question. Neither of us likes the cold. Eh? Most importantly, we believe in the inviolability and sacredness of the "Contract." Further, neither of us could ever reconcile the thought of desertion, maybe a little late for Reveille because of too much Revelry the night before, but never desertion. Fortunately, I never had to come up with an alternative Patriotic Plan. It's odd how that word "Patriot" comes up a lot these days. Before 9/11 and our not-too-well thought out reaction, Patriots were those guys that huddled together for warmth from 1776-to-1783. More recently, and I like the name application a lot better, it's the name of a football team from Foxsboro, MA. Okay, I'll say it once more: Pfc Luis A. Perez died in Falluja, August 2004, and I don't think he should have. Because of that, I will always feel a little guilty when I eat a piece of apple pie, drink a fine Bordeaux or kiss my kids. "No one in the city honors the dead or even mentions them. Alive we prefer to court the living. Nothing good can be said for being dead." (Ibid) Part II. The second concept of liberty, which Berlin called "Positive" is simple and goes directly to the core of what is historically inevitable, albeit, the Truth. I have been thinking about sedition recently. Don't get me wrong, I'm not planning to be seditious. I love my country and its people too much for that. It's true that, sometimes, I become very exasperated with my countrymen, especially when they behave like children who, after having been warned not to lean out of an open window for the 50th time, do it again, anyway. I hate dragging out old horses like the Spanish-American philosopher, George Santayana, who warned all of us that if we do not learn from the mistakes in history, "We are doomed to repeat its failures." My mind has been wandering toward the Espionage and Sedition Act of 2001. Scratch that. I meant "Patriot" Act of 2001. Old Woody Wilson would have mused that an Espionage and Sedition Act by any other name smells as pungent as cow manure in the July noon-day sun. I searched around: he didn't say it. So, I Wood-y. Had I been around in 1912, I would have voted for Teddy Roosevelt, hands down. He was a man who understood the nuances of Realpolitik and a staunch conservationist who gave the Nation the National Park System. For me, the problem with the Espionage and Sedition Acts of 1917 & 2001,is that they essentially eviscerated the First Amendment. One could receive 20 years for saying, writing (woops), or printing anything "disloyal, profane, scurrilous or abusive" about the American form of government, the Constitution or the armed forces. The producer who made the film, "The Spirit of Seventy-six," received a ten-year sentence because his film risked stirring sentiment against the British. It was against the law to say that war went against the teachings of Christ. (The Administration and the Congress of 2001 missed this one... or, did they?) I may be in trouble there, too. I have to go back and reread the Act. As it happened, when the events of September 11th, 2001, went down, I was living in Europe. However, I learned, simultaneously, with the rest of my countrymen what had just occurred. First, from the internet page of the NYT that seemed like a faux version of itself, then, from the Poughkeepsie Journal which was not subject to the same power and communications outages. It was surreal. I cannot claim to have suffered more of a psychological blow than other new Yorkers (Americans), but from my window on West 12th Street, as I am wont to tell people, I watched, daily, as the towers were being built. My son, his mother and I would bike down to the building site and check it out up close. When completed, we used to go up to the top, regularly, and scan the horizon. It was all a very personal experience for me as a denizen of Greenwich Village and as a New Yorker. So, I took it very personally, when a bunch of psychopathic zealots took them down. My reaction was similar to most other Americans: anger and rage, and what follows, a desire for revenge. I wanted those responsible for the misdeeds of September 11th, dead and buried-- not just once, but 3,000 times for as many of us who perished that day. That feeling remained until the Twits started coming out of the cellar waving the flag. It was a signal for me that it was a good time to tredwater and rethink my initial emotional reaction. I am old enough to have remembered when the two American destroyers, the Maddox and the Turner Joy were reported to have been attacked by the North Vietnamese Navy on August 2nd and 4th, 1964. I was enraged by the thought that peaceful American sailors at sea, going about their regular duties, would be attacked by a sneaky foe. It smelled of Pearl Harbor all over again. By August 7th, however, while the U.S. Senate was falling over itself to rush out the "Gulf of Tonkin" Resolution (98-2), I was already having misgivings. I began asking myself what kind of fanatical superpower, which I knew the government of North Vietnam not to be, would attack two American warships with errrrr, gunboats? Something was beginning to smell rotten and, as we learned much later: what was stewing in the sun, was not the truth. That patriotic rush of 7 August 1964, absurd as it now seems, led to over 55,000 American servicemen and women losing their lives and another 250,000 becoming casualties in what became the longest military conflict in which America had ever become involved, until Afghanistan came along; our longest war, yet. There are many "Yets" in our lives, as a friend used to tell me. I take all the lies that flowed out of the White House from 1964 through 1975, very personally. For me, it was an outright breach of faith and breach of contract between the People and their elected stewards. So, in the Fall of 2001, when our elected leaders became indistinguishable from the ever present and always reactionary, people's militia types, and wrapped themselves in the flag while holding aloft the cross, I reached for my Boswell's, "Life of Samuel Johnson." Now, there was a man who had no problem defining his mother tongue nor expressing himself in it. "Patriotism is that last refuge of a scoundrel,." said Johnson, on April7, 1775. Boswell goes on to explain that Johnson did not mean, a real and generous love of country, "but that pretended patriotism which so many, in all ages and countries, have made a cloak for self-interest." As I peruse my notes of September 11th and the weeks and months that followed, I found one letter that I wrote to my former faculty colleagues at an upstate New York college, an institution as liberal as any one might find anywhere in the U.S. In that letter, I invoked the specter of Vietnam. I suggested that if we went into Afghanistan, we should send in the gun wackos, lunatics, homicidal maniacs and other social miscreants who would never be missed. Failing that, we should hire one of the Mafia's. The Colombian and the Russian Mafia seem to know how to get the job done. Further, I suggested that our heroic President should distinguish himself by leading the "Corps of the Wild." "At least," I argued, "it would spare the flower of our youth from the vagaries of an adult world caught up in its own self-interest" I said that, "I had come to one unalterable belief: that there is no such thing as a "Just" or "Unjust" war, ... just war. It follows, then, that trained killers, not politicians should lead, plan and execute wars." It was obvious to me even then, that to follow the Russian failed example and try to bomb the bad guys to Hell wasn't going to work. I likened it to hitting mercury with a hammer. However, I had not anticipated the level of vituperation in the responses I received. I was so taken aback that I, probably wrongly, stopped writing to them. I was accused of: being intellectually deficient, mentally looped, an Arab lover, having sexual orientation problems, anti-God, anti-Christ, unchristian, unpatriotic, speaking to the voices in the corners of my ceiling (Now, that one was right on the mark. My problem has always been, however, that the voices never seem to want to speak back to me). I was crushed... for a second or two. But, I have always known not to put too much faith in Liberals, (or anyone else frozen in that dialectical inter-esse of the two sides of the coin, because they can never make a decision), Pensioners and especially, the Beemer set. The two, are caught in their invested self-interest. But what shook me for a while was that the common folks, those who drive Chevys, Fords and VWs were just as much caught up in the war fever. "My God," I thought to myself, "it's like Vietnam never happened." Josef Goebbels was a being, who I understand plied his craft in Europe during the 1930's and 40's. It is Goebbels who is quoted as having said, "If you tell the people a lie long enough, they will eventually come to believe it." Enough said. But, how many times do we have to be told the same lie before we realize it's a lie? Recently, an article in a local New York daily, reported that over 5,000 American men (presumably women, too) who were over 50-years-old, were serving in the military theaters of Iraq and Afghanistan. Of that number, more than 50 had been killed. Of those, one was, 59, a few years younger than I was at the time. I tried to put myself in his boots. All I can tell you is that once the temperature climbs higher than 95 degrees, no power on Earth could make me move off my rack by the window, where the only thing approximating a breeze in my billet could be felt. In Iraq, where the temperature hovers around 115 degrees in the summer, war goes on as usual. Men and women in Tee shirts (bras), fatigues and bullet proof vests walk, work, wait to kill, or be killed. Maybe it is my age, or just my natural insubordinate nature, in either case, had I been serving in Iraq and my Commanding officer had told me to get up, I would have said, "Sir, until the temperature cools down, here, and in Washington, I'm staying in my bunk. Remember, Sir, They, too, serve who lie In A Rack and wait.' " Some Thracian is waving the shield I reluctantly left by a Bush, a flawless piece. So what? I saved myself. Forget the shield. I will get another, no worse." (Ibid) Szia, From Budapest

Running Amok

Running Amok

Egads and Little Fishes1 Recently, I was accused of "Running Amok." Okay, perhaps I was acting a little bit odd. I was under a lot of pressure to complete something in my personal life: however, I didn't think I was running amok: "Berserk," maybe?

The Berserks were a late Viking group which was in the habit of working themselves up into a frenzy before going into battle, throwing down their weapons and ripping off their shirts ("Ber"= without, and "serk" = shirt) when they charged the enemy. That scared the hell out of their foes. So, when someone tells you that so and so went berserk, the operative question should be: "Did he rip off his shirt?").

However, to be absolutely sure, I ran over to my Websters. It defined "Running Amok," as flying about in a murderous rage. Nope, that wasn't the case at all. Satisfied that I had been socially misdiagnosed, I was ready to close the dictionary when, as is my wont, I continued to read the etymology.

Yiiiiii, it happened again.

The dictionary was absolutely, and unapologetically, wrong. It attributed the phrase to Malay: Any dummy who has read the "Travels of Marco Polo," knows that the term is from India. In fact it is a Sanskrit word with, generally, the same meaning, but, as M. Polo pointed out, with a completely different and interesting twist, which I intend to get into, later. To make this as painless as possible, let me point out that the Malays acquired the term from the Indians with whom they were, from a very early period, involved in commercial trade: and, we got it from the Portuguese who traded with both of them.

I'm accustomed to accepting from those very erudite scholarly-boards, which lend expertise to smart and sundry lexicons, sometimes misleading clues to word origins, albeit, from ignorance or arrogance. They sit back on their scholarly laurels in similarly well-appointed research rooms with comfortable chairs, long tables, antique lamps, no telephones, maybe a computer terminal in some discreet corner but best of all, they have, at their disposal, tons and tons of old MSS. and lexicons (Do I sound jealous? Well, yes I am.). So why can't they do a better job?

Something, my friends, stinks in those well-appointed reading rooms. (I can hear the ghost of the venerable, however unhygienic, Dr. Johnson, protesting the misuse of an intransitive verb by a woman with whom he was sharing a carriage and who had criticized his strong odor by saying that he "smelled.": "'Smell' Madam? I STINK! You smell.")

In the "CompleteYule-Cordier's Edition of 'The Travels of Marco Polo'" Vol. II, p. 347 and footnote #5, M. Polo and Y & C. talk about the Amuki of Malabar, India, who, "were bound not only to defend the king's life with their own, but, if he fell, to sacrifice themselves by dashing among the enemy and slaying until slain." Compare that with the Sanskrit, "Amokhya; Indissoluble" or "Amukta: not free bound." Satisfied, at least about the origins of the term?

Speaking of Running Amok, I saw my first American film the other day on video. I was so unnerved by the amount of nonsense that passes for historical accuracy that I vowed not to see another Classic for the next five years.

However, did someone say "trash?" I understand that the film "Troy," is out on tape. When I have the stomach for it, I'll hook up the VCR and take a peak. There's no hurry. The longer it sits in the Video stores, the cheaper it gets,. Anyway, I know the story and I know how it ends. Timeo Danaos et donas gerentis.

Unlike the Amuki, Alexander the Great's personal bodyguards, the Companions, were not expected to die with him. They were called the "Companions" because they were with Alex 24/7. They ate (cum + pan = 'with bread") with him, partied with him, slept (errr) with him and stayed next to him in battle, but, as I said, were not expected to follow him into Paradise

I read a review of "Troy" as I was spreading out some old newspaper to do a little bit of painting. It said that Scholars (who ever they are) were in agreement that the film fulfills the Poet's vision. I would say anything for money, too. Wherefore not? Alas and Alack, no one made me an offer like that..

"Sing Goddess the wrath of Peleus' son Achilleus and its devastation...."

Frankly, with product placement becoming increasingly more important to the movie business because of the anemic return in ticket sales, I wouldn't be surprised to see the Nike swoosh (is that how it is spelt?) on Achilleus' headband, or the Gucci label on his sandals.As far as kids are concerned (kids of all ages), Nike and Gucci may have been around in 1225 B.C. Now, wouldn't that have been nice?

I really meant "nice" in its original meaning. "Nice," of course, means "stupid" as I have noted, before. We still use it when someone drops a cup of coffee on our brand new clothes at a party: "Nice going!" I have two editions of "Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary," printed a decade apart. In the oldest Edition, it carries that meaning. In the more recent, it does not. Sigh, who makes these decisions?

Speaking of Troy: It was reported a few years, back, that the fabled and nearly forgotten Treasure of Troy, did not get melted down for gold during World War II as many art historians had feared, but ended up in St. Petersburg's, Hermitage, for "safekeeping." That fact doesn't surprise me one twit. Most of the art, books and historical treasures of eastern Europe ended up in Russia for the same reason, "safekeeping."

You can't tell me that history is not entertaining by itself. Think of recent history. What if Hollyweed decided to make a movie of former President Clinton, would it be more entertaining if the Pizza delivery girl, (whatshername?), was really a pizza delivery rent-boy named Mike and instead of a black dress it was a pair of torn black Levis? Would that make the movie more entertaining than the real thing?

We are used to movies running amok with the truth because, from an early age, we are fed that kind of stew. George Washington was a great man for many reasons. The Constitution, after all was his idea, not Madison's or Jefferson's. But did he really chop down his father's cherry tree and then say, "Father, I can not tell a lie, I chopped down your cherry tree"?

Well, let's investigate: how old was George when this incident took place? Cherry is hard wood. So, he didn't do it (at least not alone) when he was a toddler. Maybe, he did it when he was a teenager and was testing out his brand new birthday present, a dropped-forge ax not-made in China, on his father's cherry sapling and he was caught red-handed with the ax in his hand. That, I believe. "Yo' Dad, I'm sorry you busted me, but this new ax is so neat, I really couldn't wait to try it out and Mama has been complaining, for a long time, over dinner, how this tree would one day block her view of the Potomac and the White House which will, one day, be the home of the President of the United States when there is a United States and whose first occupant will be that sniveling corrupt neo-renaissance teenage delinquent who lives nearby. What's his name, Tommy Jefferson?"

In journalism, is "Piping," the same as running amok with the truth? Within the profession, are editors more responsible than reporters for maintaining a moral balance; that is, being truthful? Something else for me to think about.

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen an American movie, but I understand that Alexander Stone made a new movie, "Oliver The Great." I can't wait. Really. No Really
Szia, From Budapest

Friday, July 20, 2007

Cross Vs. Crescent: Or, Stupid is as Stupid Does

Cross V. Crescent The name, Roland, popped into my mind a week ago and has not left me for more than a few minutes, since. The trigger was rather benign; it was the name of a waiter in a French restaurant, far from the central heroic character in the Chanson de Geste, "Song of Roland," which we all should have read in our youth about the French hero, Roland. However, there are a few points that we may have forgotten in the ensuing decades. The epic is credited to the enigmatic figure, Turoldus, similar to Homer, in the sense that no one knows if he wrote, narrated or simply copied out the "Chanson de Roland.” The underlying theme revolves around treason and revenge, and is as much about Charlemagne as it is about Roland (in the epic, the beloved and trusted nephew of Charlemagne). Charlemagne, although not the founder of the Carolingian Dynasty (that credit goes to his grandfather, Charles Martel, "Charles the Hammer") - stands out as the most prominent character of medieval French and European history. Charlemagne (c.739-814) was reputed to have been born in Aix-la-Chapelle, modern Aachen, and was, subsequently, buried there. Not until the creation of the European Union, has Europe been as politically united as it was during his reign. He was the conqueror and unifier of most of Europe: crowned the first "Holy Roman Emperor" on Christmas Day, 800. He stood over six feet tall, had five legitimate wives, however, he left only one legitimate son, Louis the Pious. Even today, he seems larger than life. To the French he was Achilles, Odysseus and Agamemnon, wrapped up into one, and the Chanson de Roland, is only one of many Heroic Carolingian Chansons. About Roland, we know very little. There is a one line reference in the Codex Emiliense of a Roland, Duke of the Marches of Brittany, which attests to a Roland Legend about the time of the writing of the Chanson that bears his name. There is no indication anywhere of a blood connection to Charlemagne. And, that's not the only problem with the Epic: the history is all wrong. The story, incorrectly, depicts Charlemagne as a Christian hero fighting the Saracen infidel. The historical truth is that Charlemagne was asked to come to Spain by a Muslim king to help him fight off a Muslim contender. The Chanson was written sometime after the First Crusade, c.1095-99, but the historic battle, immortalized in the Chanson, actually took place on August 15, 778. The villains of the Chanson who slaughtered Roland and the rest of Charlemagne's rear guard at the Gate of Spain, "Roncevaux," were in reality Basque brigands who saw their moment of opportunity by snatching the lightly guarded baggage train, and not the Saracens (Muslims). Here, the author took poetic and historical license and skewed the facts to conform with France's contemporary enemy 300 years later. The world was a little different in those days. People couldn't just google their facts. Still, today, we find people who can access the truth if they wanted, but prefer to forego their intellect for the pleasure (I think that's what it is) of simply hating. It's an oft repeated human interposition: emotion over intellect. When we look around, we find that people haven't changed much over the 5000+ years of recorded history. Okay Perez, what's your point? I was afraid that I would have to come to this. The Chanson de Roland is an epic tale about a private war, set within a national war and the national war, again, within the World War of Cross v. Crescent. That was a thousand years ago. Now, I don't want to push the point of troubled and unresolved history repeating itself, but aren't there some modern parallels, here? If we take George W.'s statement at the beginning of March 2003, that he held a very private hatred for the, then Iraqi, President, So Damn Insane (I think it had a little to do with So Damn trying to kill Papa George), we have had the private war. The Iraq War is the national war, and, The War on Terrorism: the continuing World War between the Cross and the Crescent. Am I the only person on the planet that feels that something is very wrong, somewhere? Ever since 1991, when I began to speak out on what I thought was a dangerous trend vis-à-vis our relations with the Muslim world, through three successive, presidential administrations, I have felt like the lone voice in the wilderness or, better stated in the Chanson: "Dieu! Que le son du cor est triste au fond des bois!" As I see the problem, there are two possible solutions: the first, unreasonable to me, but not to many, is to sterilize the world of the Muslim menace: to annihilate Islam once and for all, never mind that it's unthinkable, it's stupid. Even, to continue affairs, in this way for another thousand years is impractical and unrealistic. The other possible solution is to introduce the Koran and Islamic culture to students at an early age; thus depriving them of the ignorance that has plagued their progenitors. Not a bad idea, n’est-ce pas? The problem is that too many folks in the West believe that if our children study Islam, they might become infected with it. God forbid, they might even think it superior to our Christian/Judaic culture. I heard of a case not too far back about some freshman students in either Virginia or North Carolina sued their college because the core curriculum required that they study Islamic Culture and religion and, I think they won their case. Those brilliant lights are destined to be the political leaders of tomorrow…God forbid! I've tried to look at the basic rules of Islam to see what makes it such an insidious religion and with all respect this is what I have found. 1. To be honest and modest in all dealings and behaviors. (That finishes me at the jump). 2. To be unquestionably loyal to the Islamic community. (Well, I can be loyal, but I always need to ask the questions: Why? And, do I really have to?) 3. To abstain from pork and alcohol at all times. (I see real problems, here. I can stop eating pig, but what about all those poor people who would lose their jobs in the Wine and Spirits industry? Thought that I was going to say something else?) 4. To wash and pray facing Mecca five times a day. (Gee, would I have to really do that? The washing part, I think I can do, however, sometimes I don't even know which way is the Bronx). 5. To contribute to the support of the poor and needy. (Really? All of them? Can't they just all go to work, by Jove?). 6. To fast during daylight hours for one month each year. (Again, I'm finished. Question: can you cheat a little?) 7. To make a pilgrimage to Mecca and visit the Ka'ba at least once in a lifetime. (Okay, that's really it. I'm really out of this deal. I'm a Senior Citizen, and so far I've managed not to visit Disneyland and Disney World, forget the Washington Monument. I'm just not the traveling type. You've read the Koran, and have found it littered with anti-Jewish rantings? Listen, I've lived in, or visited 49 States; in those States in every school, college, university, occupation and social gathering, I have heard anti-Semitic rantings and ravings. Recently, it has become more fashionable to disparage the Semitic cousins of the Jews, the Arabs. So, who are the true hypocrites? I never, except for once, ever heard an anti-Puerto Rican epithet... to my face... while I was still in the room, that is. No one has ever said that we are not all in need of some spiritual healing; this applies to Arab as well as non-Arab. The solution, as I see it, begins with the factor of one: ourselves. The most perplexing thing, to me, however, is that I haven't seen one word in the Koran about oil. So, please someone take the time and explain to me: What exactly does Islam have to do with OIL? Szia, From Budapest -END IT-

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

America: as just another Floating Signifier.

What’s in a name?

The great majority of history teachers/university professors lack any knowledge-- not even a soupçon -- of the origins of the word “America.” As Americans, we were taught from very early on (around kindergarten), that our beloved country was named after the Florentine merchant explorer-navigator, Amerigo Vaspucci. We were taught that he went, first, to France and , then, to Seville to work as a banker for the Medici family. Later, we were told that he was involved in preparing Columbus’ second trip to the “Indes” (more about the origins of that word some other time). Further, we learned that he got to know ol’ Cristobal pretty well; further, that Amerigo, himself, took several trips West under the auspices of the Spanish and French monarchies.

However, it was the publication of letters attributed to him "Quattuor Americi navigationes" and "Mundus Novus," or "Epistola Alberici de Novo Mundo," that brought him to the attention of the German humanist, Martin Waldseemüller who published Amerigo’s four letters, in 1507, (actually, only one can be verifiably attributed to him), about his four trips to the newly emerging world, of which only two can be documented; one for Spain and one for Portugal. Waldseemüller published Vaspucci’s letters in back of his own pamphlet, “Cosmographiae Indroductio,” in which he declared that the New World would be named "ab Americo Inventore . . . quasi Americi terram sive Americam" ("from Amerigo the discoverer . . . as if it were the land of Americus or America"). Originally, the name only applied to South America, however, later, would include North America.

Enough! Any grammar school kid could have garnered the same information from any Encyclopedia....the way I did. So, what’s new? Well, for starters, where does the name Amerigo come from? Amerigo, like any good Italian from that era was named after a Catholic saint. However, he wasn’t named after an Italian saint but an Hungarian one, St. Imre (from which the Italian Amerigo emerges), the hapless son of the founder of the modern state of Hungary, St. Stephen. Not done, yet, I’m afraid.

Where did the Magyars get the name Imre in the first place?

Well, if you know a little history you would have jumped to the head of the class and said that there are many Turkic words in Hungarian deriving from the close, ethnic and linguistic connections that the ancient Magyars had with the Turks. The name Imre derives from the Turkic “Emir” as in “chief.” The Turks, in turn, got in from the Arabic “Amir,’ a title given to the descendants of Mohammed through his daughter, Fatima Zahra. And, there is still more.

The arabic “Amir” or “Ameer,” came from a still older and more ancient culture and civilization: Ancient Egypt... From now on, you won’t find any of this in your cursory searches in Lexus, Nexus, Google or anywhere else, except in a grammar of Middlle Egyptian Hieroglyphs. I would recommend Sir Alan Gardiner’s classic (Oxford University Press) text; Chapter V, para 79. “Imy-r” Overseer (as in the king’s main administrator, or subsequent little administrators), literally “One-who-is-in-the-mouth,” The glyphs are of an owl and an oval that is supposed to represent a mouth. The phonetic equivalent had originally been an ox tongue (get it, in the mouth?). Therefore the word, America, fully qualifies as, what my fellow French inmates would characterize, a “Signifiant Flottante.” ................. N’est-ce pas? No more deconstructionist nonsense, I promise.

These are the things that I think up, here in the sanitarium. It’s either write (or any other occupational therapy), or go outside and listen to the tomato plants nudge their way skyward. The fear, however, that I will be forced outside to..... errrr, work, is making me think that I should alter my professional designation from an arranger of disparate words and symbols, to say, a philosopher. That way, I can wile away my time doing Quiet Sitting without trepidation.. It would, also, go along way to explain my apparent lifelong impecuniousness existence (pecus = cattle. The Romans first bartered with cows). And, eventually, before I flow back into the void, I can declare, like Socrates, that, although others may argue to the contrary, I am firm in the conviction that I know absolutely nothing.

Speaking of Americans, there are many over here in Eastern Europe trying to bring light into the darkness of this post-Soviet and deprived world. They have set up schools where they teach that the world is 4,000-and-change-years-old. I know how they got that figure: a certain English scholar, his name escapes me right now, added up all the years that are mentioned in the Old Testament on the lives of the prophets, added on the post Christ years and came up with that figure. Well, I can tell you for certain, that they are off by a lot. You see the first historic calendar to be acknowledge is from ancient Egypt (You can see where this is going?). In Breasted’s “History of Egypt,” (He was no light weight Egyptologist), he cites the first calendar at beginning at 4241 B.C. Add on the 2005 years since and you come up with 6246. Therefore, my American compatriots, over here, who are lifting up the minds of these backward leaning people, are teaching them all wrong. With a little bit of subtraction one can plainly see that they are off-- way off-- by, at least, 2000 years. With such an egregious error in calculation. how can one believe anything else they have to say?

I had a louche colleague, once, who confided in me his worst fears. “The world, “ he said, “is coming to an end, soon.” I’m a nice guy (do you know the origins of the word, “nice”?). So I didn’t want to hurt him with ridicule or sarcasm, so I said, “Really/” and. “How did you come up with that?”

“The world, as we know it, will start to end on January the 20th, 2001,” he said.. “Well how do you know that,” I replied. “Because of the Millennium Bug,” he whispered ever so softly.”

I ran into this fellow, here, in the asylum a few years ago before he was discharged for being too sane to stay,. I was able to get his attention for a few minutes one lovely afternoon as we had our Supervised walks through the Garden. “Tell me,” I asked, “What do you think, now, that 2000 and 2001 have come and gone and the world is still here, and no Millennium Bug appeared?”
Well, this fellow nearly jumped out of his skin. “Fool, he said, “Nice fool,” he added for emphasis, “The world began its decline on January 20th, 2001 just as I predicted.”

“But, “ I stuttered, triumphantly, you may be right about the end of our civilization, but you were wrong about the Millennium Bug!” He stared at me the best he could with his wandering eyes, “Very nice fool, “ he said rasing his voice a full fifth (sub tonic) above his usual sotto voce, “The Millennium Bug did come. It’s right here hiding among the Bushes.”

Which brings me to the Patriot Act. Boswell quotes Dr. Johnson as having defined patriotism as the last refuge for scoundrels. If anyone should know the meaning of patriotism it ought to be Johnson,. after all he wrote the first English dictionary. Having said that, do you think that would have gotten him on the No-fly list?

I have to go now, my attendant is coming to take me to my class on the "Ethics of Survival." I can’t see her, yet, but I can smell her perfume. She’s the only person here who wears Guerlain’s “Mitsouko.” At more than a thousand dollars an ounce and with very few stores in America and even fewer in all of Eastern Europe that sell it, I asked her how she came by it and how could she afford it?

“Oh,” she quipped, “My boyfriend is a custom’s officer.”

From Budapest