Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Consummation to Coitus to Coercion


I was born in 1951 and so I have seen a few changes in my lifetime. One major change is the difference between how we thought about sex back in those rose-colored 1950’s and how we think about it nowadays.

Back in the day, a man and a women would marry and and try to make a go of it— a lifetime of extreme one-on-one intimacy and— if they were good at it and lucky enough— parenthood.

Nowadays, not so much.

Seems now everybody’s hung up on the sex part of it. Who’s screwing whom, whether he was raping her, who’s consenting, or not, to whom. And who’s coercing whom into sexual acts. Socialmedia world is all about what he did to her, or he did to him. Whereas it used to be about mama and daddy retiring to the same bed every night, then something mystical happening between them, which would result in a new human  entering into this wonderful life.

But now that long-lost world of lifetime love and fidelity is going the way of the buffalo— which is to say. . . near extinction.

Mom and Pop are hardly even a part of it any more. The public obsession that’s been drummed up is all about what Harvey whoever did to so-and-so how many times on his studio couch, or about Roy’s groping the girls, or Kevin’s coercing the boys or even Prez pants-down Bill’s spurting on a blue dress in the very shadow of his privileged oval office hegemony.

Now some of us ole geezers are wondering how the hell did we get here. What happened? Funny thing happened on our way to the millennium, we lost something along the way.

We lost some healthy constraint somewhere; we forsook some beneficial bonds on our way to tearing down all those old taboos, pushed the envelope beyond beneficence.

It seems we Boomers overdid it in our campaign for Free Love.

As it turns out, free love is not much more than cheap lust.

And mere rape, be it sardonic, sadistic, or sodomic.

I think it’s time we blaze a path back to where we were before we lost our way in the wilderness of wantonness.



King of Soul 

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Birgitta's Historic Book


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Glass half-Full

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Kiss George goodby


You can kiss ole George goodbye.

He was great as a Father to our country. He was courageous as Commander of the Continental Army, when they ran King George’s redcoats back to England.

He performed wisely as our first President. Washington’s dignified leadership tempered the contentious impulses of our first politicians,  Jefferson, Adams, Hamilton, et al.

As a legendary figurehead  of American leadership he has served well for over two centuries.

Young George’s honest admission about the cherry tree incident  still inspires us to honesty and integrity.

But as the face on the dollar bill, his days are numbered.


Most of your purchases are (are they not?) far beyond the 1-$2 range. And, think about it, what can you buy with a dollar bill these days?  A sugar drink at a convenience store? Probably not. They’ll supersize you into greater quantities of go-juice with your gas and you’ll be whipping out the plastic stripe.

These days all that used-to-be-money is just  swiped stripes and inserted chips and electrons flowing around the globe.

And that old greenback—what is it really? Used to be a silver certificate, then a Federal Reserve Note. Now the Fed has got the legal tender’s stability all figured out, so that the value of a buck walks a fine line between what it was last year and a what the CPI will allow you now.

Which isn’t as much as it used to be.

So these days we have, and have had for quite a while now, a comfortably numb currency inflation. That Federal Reserve Note in your pocket appreciates at a predetermined rate of 1-2% per year, and this calculated depreciation compensates for the variability of our paper dollar’s value since we ditched the gold/silver standard back in the 1960’s.

But I think this waffling Dollar will be with us for only a little while longer.

How much longer?

Washington’s greenback will probably float around until such a time as BrettonWoods doth move against Dunce’nGame for the last time. Then the weight of the world will be too much to bear.  Tensioned Tectonic shifts in the world’s monetary plates will render our legal tender to disability status, and those Federal Reserve Notes slipping in and out of international accounts will no longer be the world’s reserve currency.

’Tis then the Treasury will nudge Ole George into retirement. He’ll be on Social Security like the rest of us, with direct deposit, never even seeing the checks, never handling the cash, merely reaping the debit presence of those positive credit numbers. ’Tis then they’ll gently compel Ole George into retirement.  Maybe they’ll give him a gold watch for old time sake.

So long, George. We’ve felt so fat and happy having your pocketbook visage to enable our consumer shopping excursions. Your accomplishments have been Notable, expansive and historic, like Norman Rockwell scenes from our magazine covers and dime store excursions in all those bygone petrol-fueled Main Street purchase excursions.

Fare thee well, George. But I’ll never forget the smooth, crisp feeling of your fibered texture between my digits. Ah, those were the days, the dollar days!  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2KODZtjOIPg.

King of Soul 

Friday, November 10, 2017

To Our Veterans, Thank You


On this Veterans' Day 2017, I say to all men and women who have served our United States as soldiers and workers in our armed forces, Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, National Guard. . .

Thank You.

Since you have served us, at risk of life and limb, and then lived to tell about it, please know that we are glad you made it through your dutiful missions, still alive and kicking.

We consider it a good thing that your name is not carved into this wall.


But we also consider it good that your service is recorded in the annals of our history. You were  recruited to defend  our freedoms. You answered the summons that many of us resisted. You did your duty. In so doing, you defended also the freedom of many people throughout our troubled world. Thanks for your courage in doing that.

Sometimes we prevailed in our immediate mission; sometimes we did not. Nevertheless, our collective mission as defenders and exemplaries of liberty remains intact because of what you have done.

And are still doing.

Especially all you Vietnam Veterans. You chose, or were compelled to, defend us and our way of life while so many of us  were lollygagging around  in the blood-bought liberty that you have assured us.

Especially to all you Vietnam Veterans, I offer to you the greeting that my friend, Jim Shoemake, himself a Vietnam Vet, tells me is the most precious message of all:

Welcome home!

Keep up the good work.



King of Soul

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Winter Coming


I don’t know how I ever did it.

Looking now outside my window at the coming

Winter,

Remembering those many years of

Working

in the cold, going out in the gray

Mornings,

layering the clothes and the resolutions:

Get it done,

Get this house built for these good people and then

Another one,

and another one, day after day, week after week, month after month,

Year

after year, cutting, sawing, nailing, flailing, sometimes

Failing,

to have a good attitude, like right now. I don’t know

How

I ever did it.

It couldn’t have been me that

Did it.

Must have been someone else who

Did it,

someone else who went out into that cold, someone else who is

Stronger

than me because I am not

Strong.

Surely it was someone who knows more than I

Do

about how and why and when and where all this seasonal cycle and this

Life


fits together into some kind of sense. And now I

Feel

that I can not do it again, cannot

Go

through another winter, even though it is easier

Now.

At this moment it doesn’t seem easier because . . .  well I don’t know

Why;

But I do know this. I do

Feel

that someone else  will have to

do it now, because looking out there just  now with the snow flurries I can’t see

How

I could have done it, or how I can ever do it

Again.

Someone else will have to

Do it

from here onward.



King of Soul

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Who Taught the Oceans?


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

Who taught the sun where to stand in the morning?

And

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

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

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

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

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

And

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Therefore, the real question becomes . . .

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

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

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

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

 
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Glass half-Full

Saturday, September 2, 2017

The Tweaking of the Technos


‘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.


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


to


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 

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Alt-this and Alt-that


When Alt-Right and Alt-Left clash in furious altercation it’s time for all parties concerned to alter their attitudes.

And I’m tired of all these Alt-whackos vying for attention; aren’t you?

Although I may be operating in an alternative universe to even suggest that all these rampant extremists could ever allow themselves to agree on anything, I nevertheless assert that anything can happen and occasionally does.

I mean, we almost split up about a hundred and fifty year ago, but the advocates of American unity prevailed and we managed to overcome the great divide that almost split us asunder.

So really, to split up now after all we’ve been through would be asinine.

Also, it would be un-American.

So I’m hoping we can assemble any alliance we can assimilate to alleviate this awful divisiveness. I mean, even Alt-Center would be better than what we got now. And a little altruism wouldn’t be a bad idea either.

Can we find some agreement here? I mean, my daddy used to say it’s hard to remember when you’re ass-deep in alligators our objective was to drain the swamp. The Alt-Right politicians said they wanted to drain the swamp. And I know that idea has a  lot of allure for folks who want to stir up the pot, but you gotta remember in a free country some folks would rather smoke the pot than stir it up.

We all just gotta get along here. You hear what I’m sayin’? We gotta find the allowable limits of all this alternating Alt-ism, Alt-this and Alt-that and then we gotta adjust our attitudes so as to  lower the  altitudes of aggression before it’s all over.

I mean, in ancient time when things got this bad God allowed an alluvial disaster to alleviate all the alleged bad stuff that was going down at that time. So lets’s not forget that a rising tide lifts all boats. Yeah, and I say unto thee: all aboard that’s goin’ aboard. And if you believe that I’ve got some alluvial deposits in Arizona I’ll sell ya.

Let's make a deal; it's the American way. We're always dealin'! Dont' let yer deal go down.

Are you trackin’ with me here? The climes they are a-changin’! I’m a-tellin’ ya, And things are gonna heat up real quick if’n we don’t align ourselves with the planetary potentiary powers of of political Alt-centrism. And not only that, let's allocate some good ole fashion common sense, y’all; send it to the Appropriations committee.

Just sayin’.

So let’s adjust these attitudes, what’dya say?

Think about it this way.  If’n you get the alt-extremist notion to call somebody an alt-asshole just check it at the door because them’s fightin’ words, and also because everybody has one so why call it to everybody’s attention!. Instead, you could allay the fears of all parties and both so-called Parties  by just, instead of inciting to riot, advancing toward  some kind of advantageous alliance instead of  a big all-out alt-ercation that degenerates into some freak goin’ bonkers and drivin’ a car into a crowd of Alt-leftists, even if they are Antifa.

Doh ray me fa. Anti-Doh, Anti-ray, Anti-me, Anti-you, Anti-fatherhood, Anti-motherhood, Anti-apple pie, baseball and even Anti-Chevrolet!

I mean I’m from Ford country. On a quiet night you can hear the Chevys a-rustin’. Nevetheless, I love all you Chevy-idiots out there? Come on, now! Group hug. Stop and smell the Anti-roses.

Serially, though, What’s it all coming to? What’s it all about Alfie?

I mean, these days seems like everybody and their brother is anti- something, but I am posing the question here and now—just what are for? What the hell are you for? Are you FOR anything? Motherhood and apple pie?

On the other hand, now that I think about it, I ascertain that even Motherhood is on the choppin’ block now, with all this trans-this and trans-that, trans-he and trans-her, trans-he-she-it.

And if you wonder what I’m alluding to, think again. I appeal to our better angels. But if you can’t attest to all that, just  fuhgeddabowdit. We’re done here. Maybe it’s just me.

I prob’ly need to see my analyst.

I’m just upset because I’m over-reacting because I’m allergic to Altism of any kind, left or right, liberal or conservative,  fascist or communist; and I think if the Chileans could get past the Allende v. Pinochet debacle then we can overcome this whatever-we-got now ascent toward Alt-assininity.

What we the need around here is some dam prayer. But if you can’t allow that, if it’s against your constitutional sensitivities and asininities, just let the cards fall as they may; we’ll play politics awhile till the altercation blows over.

We’ll let the cards fall as they may, if that’s the way it must be. Let the prize go to the highest bidder.

I bid four hearts.

And your bid is what?

Four no-trump, you say?  For no-trump?

Well ok then. We’ll see how this plays out.

But wait! What light through yonder window breaks?, methinks I hear the strains of a faraway refrain:

“Through the Altists’ red glare,

with taunts bursting in air--,

it gave proof through the night

that our freedom was still there!

Oh say! that star-spangled banner does yet wave

O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!”

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





King of Soul

Sunday, August 20, 2017

The hollowness of God


So many people dis God these days--criticizing him because he (she, or it) doesn't correct the dysfunction and atrocity of this world. And the word on the street or in the web is that the Deity, if he (she, or it) does exist, doesn't seem to care enough about us and our faith to make our proper expression of that religion a little easier to validate.
My guess is that God is a little skittish. When he did show up here to give us some direction, we nailed him to a cross. So perhaps you can understand why he doesn't just throw his weight around; he knows we're likely to just crucify him again. In fact, some of his people are probably being given the third degree in places right now here on this earth.
One thing that God has done lately that I know of, however, is: he has taken a lower profile. The deity's presentation to us these days doesn't appear to be aimed at compelling us to revere the high and mighty aspect of his being.
This is a different scenario than what it used to be among us homo sapiens.
There is evidence in the earth, however, that in ages past, God's presence was experienced and conceived of amongst his people in way very different than what his minimal interface with us today would indicate.
In times of long ago, it seems that God was Big.
Which is to say, when humans strove to express their devotion to the Almighty, they did it in a big way. They built big structures for a big God.

We were in Europe a few weeks ago, traveling between three fascinating capitals, Vienna, Prague, and Budapest. Traipsing through such ancient cities was a real eye-opener for me. These old megalopoli are amazing in the eyes of a clueless American such as I, who was born and raised, you see, in a the "new world." I have discovered now that America truly is a new world, compared to this very old place.
In the new world we do have Big, but our Big is mostly applied to commercial stuff, like the Empire State building, Sears Tower, TransAmerica building, World Trade Cent--er, not that one. Anyway, we Americans developed Big Business, so we have built big buildings to express our big ideas about capitalism, and our big development projects and our big bank accounts.
In Europe, hundreds of years ago, Big was all about God. Let me show you what I mean. Here's a shot of the inside of the Cathedral that the Czechs built in Prague, at a complex called Prague Castle:
Pretty huge, huh?
You betcha. The Catholics worked on this thing for over 600 years before they got it finished. As you can surmise from the photo, the inside view of this structure is quite impressive, possibly incredible enough to even inspire the beholder's belief in God, or at least provoke a thought or two within the viewer's brain that God's non-existence is an unlikely proposition, since humans would go to so much time and expense to build such a place of worship for Him.
The outside is pretty impressive, too:
In the 21st-century, however, most folks, mostly tourists such as myself, walk around such places and snap pics on their phones, and maybe ooh and ahh a little bit at the remarkable immensity of human propensity to fill the God-shaped hole in our collective souls by going to all the time and trouble and blood and sweat and tears to erect such an edifice.
Surely they. . . we. . . would not do all that for a God who doesn't exist.
In the olden times, when believers would gather together in this place and others like it, they would attend masses that were performed by priests, and they would pray to God and pray at God and receive communion and then be dismissed by the priest to go back to their humble domiciles and live their simple lives. That's what doing church was all about back in the middle ages when the construction of this Catholic temple was begun.
Nowadays, though, doing church is typically more like what these folks were doing in Vienna, on a typical summer Monday morning,
lingering outside the incredibly impressive superstructure of the cathedral, buying trinkets, snapping pics, sipping coffee, then going inside and oohing and aahing at the hugely structured religion, or excuse me, the the huge religious structure, and whispering to their companions, admonishing them to be quiet so as not to disturb those Catholic worshippers who are up there in the front as we speak doing their religious thing. . .
Apparently that's "doing church" in the 21st century.
But for the worshippers in that sancturarial up-front, whatever transpires mysteriously in that hollowness between the congregants and their risen Saviour is not the same as whatever we tourists are doing in the periphery as we gaze up at the distant ceiling.
I do wonder what's going on up there. It's a long way up. Incredible what men and God can do when they put their souls to it.

King of Soul

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Good Square Wenceslas

At Prague's big square called Wenceslas

in a feast of freedom

the people gathered roundabout

to end their socialist grieving.

Brightly shone their bold intent

to form a new collusion.

Hither came brave Havel, sent

to guide their revolution.


Gather, people, stand today,

if freedom be your calling!

Yonder Soviets, who are they?

We're done with their cruel mauling.

Sure, they've been in charge out here,

acting like they own us.

But now it's time to cast out fear

and strive for freedom's onus.

 

Bring us liberty to speak what's true,

and tell it like it is--

There's more in this life for us to do

than perish in their communism.

From high and low they did assemble;

So bold, in unity were they staying.

In Solidarity they did resemble

their Polish brethren who were praying.

 

People! Oh, the day is bright'ning

and a mighty wind of freedom blows,

Behold! Despite their Soviet tightening,

the depravity of their gulag shows.

Collapse of their system is now imminent.

We here resolve to accept our fate

while we apply a democratic liniment,

to this demising socialist State.



From Soviet rubble these Czechs have trodden

in the wake of tyranny's destined fall,

Czech and Slovak Republics  plodding

to rise from detritus of fallen Soviet wall.

Now proletariat, artist and bourgeois too

can think and work and overcome their loss,

because the wind of liberty blew through

Prague's great square called Wenceslas.


King of Soul

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Carolina on my Mind


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:


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. . . Karel 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,


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


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

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


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.


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.


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.


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

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Emperors and Bohemians


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 the imperial coffers, 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 

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Independent Thinking in Prague

In Prague, we find a very long history of people who can detect and identify the manipulative hypocrisies that form within human institutions. From Jan Hus to Franz Kafka to Albert Einstein to Jan Masaryk to Vaclav Havel, and including  many other reformers throughout history, we discover in Prague a long line of independent thinkers who defended the initiatives of the people to conduct their own religious and political affairs without being controlled by powerful institutions such as the Church or the Communist Party.

An early historical example of such a reformer would be Jan Hus, whose life and legacy is depicted in this sculpture in Old Town Square in Prague.


In the year 1415  A full century before Martin Luther, Hus criticized  a manipulative system within the dominant political institution of that time, the Catholic Church. Over a millennium of time, potentates within the religious hierarchy had managed to erect barriers whereby believers were denied the freedoms of reading/interpreting the scriptures for themselves. Ecclesiastical prohibitions pertaining to the reading, translating and teaching of the scriptures had led to an institutionalized Church that manipulated people for political/economic purposes, instead of assuring their liberty to read/interpret/preach the scriptures for themselves. Such institutional prohibitions had permitted non-biblical practices such as the selling of indulgences to creep into Church religion.

Jan Hus was declared by the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, as it existed in 1415, to be a heretic. The judgement laid upon him ultimately cost him his life, as he was condemned as a heretic and burned at the stake.

In modern times, a reformer named Vaclev Havel suffered similar persecutions from the dominating institution of Czechoslovakia during his time of life, the 1950's-1980's. Havel's ultimate fate, however, was a much happier one than that of his 15th-century forebear reformer.

After a persecuted early life of continual resistance against the cruel machinations of the 20th-century Soviet Communist Party, the writer Vaclav Havel's role was re-defined in a most favorable way. The people of the Czech Republic elected him as their President after the people rose up in 1989 and overthrew the Communists.

As visitors to this country hoping to understand some of these changes, we visited the Museum of Communism here in Prague yesterday. In viewing that time-line  of artifacts and information, we were able to gain a comprehensive perspective. The museum displays presented a  concise history of communist ideas and dogmas from Marx onward, though Lenin, Stalin, Khrushchev, Brezhnev and Gorbachev. A presentation of this history reveals effects that were destructive, insofar as in they oppressed the proletariat who were supposed to have been the benefactors of communist ideology.  The Soviet controls became more restrictive and controlling as the 20-century years rolled by.

One display I saw included this text about the Communist Party establishing a Secret Police after the coup in 1948. 


Vaclav Havel and many other protesters mounted a lifelong, persistent resistance against these  control-freak obsessions. Their efforts paid off. In 1989,  the reformers were able to lead such a widespread popular movement that they successfully rejected Communist Party control and then established the Czech Republic.

From a display in the Museum of Communism, here's a capsulized explanation of how that happened:


And here's the last photo I snapped from the display at the History of Communism Museum. It's a pic of Wenceslaus Square, Prague,  in November of 1989 when, the old repressive institutions of the Communist Party began to tumble in the wake of a huge popular democratic/republican demonstration.




King of Soul

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

The End Room


For 600 years, a royal dynasty named Hapsburg ruled the vast European domains called Austria-Hungary.

In 1848, an emperor died; and so an emperor's son replaced him.  From 1848 onward, Emperor Franz Josef ruled the empire for almost 68 years, until his death in 1916.

Franz Josef had a nephew named Ferdinand, whose place in the extended family would later qualify him as the heir to the throne at the occasion of Franz Josef's death.


But Ferdinand never ascended to that throne,  because he was assassinated in 1914. This assassination happened in Sarajevo, Serbia, on June 28, 1914. It is considered by most historians to be the fatal event that sparked the powder-keg of militarized Europe and ignited World War I.

But before all that, when Emperor Franz Josef was still ruling over the quasi-peaceful Austro-Hungarian empire, and the Hapsburgs were still lolling along as royalties habitually did, the royal family spent their summers at their summer palace near Vienna.

It is a place called Schonbrunn.


We visited the palace at Schonbrunn as tourists. As I was walking through the "royal apartments," the audio-guide mentioned that Franz Josef was a real go-getter when it came to performing his roles as Emperor. I got the impression that he was a workaholic monarch who spent his entire day, every day, dealing with matters of state. It makes sense if you think about it, because. . .

Ruling over an empire is no easy task. But in fact, it ultimately proved to be an impossible task. After his nephew Ferdinand, the heir, was assassinated, things really got out of hand for Franz Josef and the Hapsburg monarchy.

The whole royal arrangement really started to unwind when he demanded restitution from them upstart Serbs down there in Sarajevo who had shot his nephew.

But a Serbian concession was not going to happen. The Serbs did not like being subjects to Austrian control; they wanted to have their own country. Franz Josef's ultimatum soon became a declaration of war.  Next thing anybody knows, there's a whole damn alliance-mongering world war exploding all over the place, because one very important man was shot to death. 

Cutting toward the chase here, I must say that about half-way through that war, the old Emperor Franz Josef died, in 1916. So the Austro-Hungarian Empire was in need of a new Emperor.

But nephew Ferdinand, the would-have-been heir, could not ascend to the throne at that time, because he had been assassinated.

Therefore, the scepter of royal authority of the house of Hapsburg passed to another nephew, Karl. Karl was the nephew of the nephew and therefore the next in line to be Emperor of the Austro-Hungarian empire.

But this would be no easy task for young Karl. The prospect of assuming that royal authority must have been, in the wrath of an escalating world war,  akin to accepting the gift of a hornet's nest. Most all the European potentates and their armies were mad as hell at the German Kaiser Wilhelm and his Austrian co-potentate, the erstwhile Emperor of Austria-Hungary. The wrath of Republican Europe was fast mounting fiercely to dismantle their Entente Axis of presumptuous military power.

But at a terrible cost: millions of lives perished in World War I.

Emperor Franz Josef's death in 1916, only half-way through the hostilities, was for Karl, more an overwhelming burden than some whoopdeedoo ascension to kingly privilege. His uncle's prickly challenge to the Serbs had rendered Europe into a grand bloody mess.

So in the year  1918, a scant two years after his accession to the throne, Karl was in no position to wheel and deal on behalf of Austria, or Hungary, or his supposed royal realms, or any other entity except, perhaps, for his immediate family. He was between a rock (Germany) and a hard place (the Allies who were hell-bent on demanding reparation from Germany and Austria.)

This was no easy position for a young monarch to be in.

As we traipsed through the royal apartments of Schonbrunn last Monday, the audio-guide informed me that I had just entered a certain room where, in 1918, a gang of both friends and foes of the Emperor had presented to young Karl his choices pertaining to the Empire.

Karl's choices were not pretty. The military leaders, diplomats, politicians in that room told him that they were taking the whole damn empire away from him and his family. He was in no position to argue with them, so that was where it all ended for the Hapsburgs. Therefore he had no choice but to concede to their demands.

So Karl and the Hapsburgs lost it all, right here in this room.

Except one thing. Karl refused to abdicate. He managed to slink away still having his title. 

Whatever that means, I thought, while standing there with all my fellow-tourists in the room where a 600-year empire had ended. Karl would still be Emperor, but emperor of what? His own kingdom exiled him.

At that moment, I accidentally snapped a contraband photo:


This is where it all ended for the legendary Hapsburgs. As cousin George said later, all things must pass.

Smoke

Monday, July 10, 2017

What's a building




What's a building to do?
Is it for some function or use,
or should it just stand there and look back at you?
Must the building pose, so proud and grand,
being stately, stable and strong,
or should it fulfill some meaningful plan?
Some say a building should blend with the earth;
thus it oughta be curvy and quirky.
allowing nature to re-greening its girth.
Others state that a building should be modern and sleek;
it oughta be angular, straight and clean
Then it can be filled with both workers and geeks.
It seems to me a building should be all of these things,
fulfilling all the purposes that human life brings,
allowing all shades of the gray, the browns and the greens,
thus fulfilling everyone's dreams.

Glass half-Full

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Peering through windows


Whether through windows of time

or a window of glass

we peer through,

maybe through the windowed pane

eyes of the artist who is

long gone yet

lives on

displaying legacy image for us

to view

through our window of time

into his memory of love

through her yielding to the pangs

of love

the pain of love


Yeah, windows golden with memory

they are

moments of love so

dear to him and her and now

to us

golden memories they are

images of what carried them forward

into future or carry us

backward into reflection

backward into history

where precious intricacies of the human mind and hand were

crafted for us or 

assembled for us


to see,

to view


through a glass darkly

through barriers of time

or glass

or gates of iron or the

gates


of Vienna

when the invaders had been turned away

and later where

the artist lived and breathed and

loved


and left a gift, their moment of prescious love

which came to be their

golden moment,  and later his gilded

memorial of love for us to

peer into,

before the gates could close again.

 

Smoke

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Vienna


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

This morning, I can still feel it, devotion.

Devotion goes way back. This is a good thing.

 

King of Soul