Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Bill Nye-- Not the Constitution Guy

Bill Nye, not the Constitution Guy

One of the supposed highlight of the DC March for Science, which was the largest of the Earth Day gatherings around the world, was childrens' infotainment 1990s science host Bill Nye "The Science Guy".

During his remarks in the rain, Nye reiterated his assertion that the Constitution of the United States protects science.

Nye has been claiming since 2015 that the Framers of the Constitution invocation of protecting the "progress of science and the useful arts"  in Article I Section 8 of the Constitution meant the politicians should educate the public about art and have a role in promoting science and a plethora of progressive pursuits like environmentalism and big infrastructure,

Bill Nye at DC March for Science, April 22 2017

Alas, Bill Nye is not the Constitution Guy.  Article I Section 8 is known among lawyers as the Copyright Clause. It protects inventors and intellectual property creators with keeping the benefits of the fruits of their labors.  Namely, others can not steal and profit from their ideas under the law.

Nye's facile interpretation of Article I Section 8 makes one wonder about his other musings.

It is safe to say he is neither Bill Nye the NASCAR Guy nor Bill Nye the Constitution Guy. Considering his public policy pontifications, he may be better described as Bill Nye, the Red Herring Guy. 

Nigel Farage on the Establishment

Nigel Farage on the Establishment

Paying Tribute to Quality-- RIP Robert M. Pirsig

Author Robert M. Pirsig died at the age of 88 in South Berwick, Maine after a period of failing health.  Pirsig was renowned for writing Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance-- An Inquiry Into Values (1974), a loosely autobiographical travelogue of a 17 day cross country road trip in 1968 with his 11 year old son and two friends during which he pondered weighty philosophical problems to discern the metaphysics of quality,  

Pirsig had served in the Army in the Far East before the Korean War.  During a trip on leave to Japan, Pirsig became fascinated by Zen Buddhism. After his military service, Pirsig received graduate degrees in Philosophy from the University of Chicago and Banaras Hindu University.

Like the unnamed protagonist in the novel, who sometimes referred to himself as Phaedrus (a name inspired by Plato's Dialogues),  Pirsig was a brilliant thinker with a high IQ who eventually suffered a mental breakdown which was treated by electro-shock therapy that altered his personality. By delving deeply into undercurrents of thought, the novel can be seen as a detective story of a man in search of himself.

Robert M. Pirsig, 1975
The title of the book was a play on another popular tome Zen and the Art of Archery (1971). Pirsig's playfulness was also evident in the forward in which the author wrote:

"Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance should in no way be associated with that great body of factual information relating to orthodox Zen Buddhist practice. It’s not very factual on motorcycles either.”
But the book contemplated how man relates to machines, the roots of our culture and what inspires madness.

Plato & Aristotle "The School of Athens" Raphael (1510)
Phaedrus ordered existence between "classic" values (like rational problem solving in fixing motorcycles) and "romantic values" (like beauty and the arts). This philosophical chautauqua ("circus of ideas) which Phaedrus grappled with in his deep thoughts was how the Western mind had separated ordinary experiences from transcendent experiences because Plato and Aristotle had done so. Moreover, the mind-body dualism championed by the Greeks stoked a mental civil war which stripped rationality from its spiritual underpinnings and spirituality of its reason.

What man really ought to strive for is quality.  As Pirsig contemplated:

"Quality . . . you know what it is, yet you don't know what it is. But that's self-contradictory. But some things are better than others, that is, they have more quality. But when you try to say what the quality is, apart from the things that have it, it all goes poof! There's nothing to talk about. But if you can't say what Quality is, how do you know what it is, or how do you know that it even exists? If no one knows what it is, then for all practical purposes it doesn't exist at all. But for all practical purposes it really does exist."

The book became a phenomenon which the author later described as a “kulturbarer" (Swedish for culture bearer), which developed a near cult popularity amongst hippies.  Pirsig mused: “I expressed what I thought were my prime thoughts and they turned out to be the prime thoughts of everybody else." Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance truly appealed to Baby Boomers. When the novel was first published, New York Times reviewer Christopher Lehmann-Haupt wrote: 

"[H]owever impressive are the seductive powers with which Mr. Pirsig engages us in his motorcycle trip, they are nothing compared to the skill with which he interests us in his philosophic trip... when [Pirsig] comes to grips with the hard philosophical conundrums raised by the 1960's, he can be electrifying." 
 When reflecting on the impact of ZAMM, Todd Gitlin, a counter cultural sociologist speculated that by blending the deep thoughts with the drudgery of daily life, such as motorcycle maintenance:  "Pirsig provided a kind of soft landing from the euphoric stratosphere of the late ’60s into the real world of adult life.”

The counter cultural novel sold over one million books in the first year of its publication and sold several million more since then.  Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance became  the biggest selling philosophy book of all times and remained on the best sellers list for over a decade. This is remarkable for a manuscript which was rejected by 121 different publishers before William Morrow signed hi for a small $3,000 advance.

After the unexpected success of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Pirsig won a Guggenheim fellowship, some fortune and unwanted fame. Pirsig got so freaked out by what his neighbors called "Pirsig Pilgrims" to his Minneapolis home that he eventually packed his bags and would live in a camper or a sailboat for months.  Pirsig spent the last 30 years of his life in a small town in Southern Maine.

Pirsig wrote one other book, Lila- An Inquiry into Morals (1991), which achieved neither the same success nor cultural impact.  But sometimes one oeuvre is enough to make one's mark on the world. 

Personally, I found Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance to be a highly influential book. Believe it or not, it served as a textbook for an Advanced Placement American History course in high school. Despite the unorthodox textbook, I achieved highest marks on the exam as it honed in me an incredible analytical inclination which remains with me to this day (sometimes to the consternation of those close to me).  

While I may not be an adherent to Zen Buddhism, nor will anyone catch me fixing motor scooters or the ilk, I am graced by the idea that there is a nexus between the simply joys and drudgery of daily life and the transcendent. More than a quarter century later, I am still inspired by a quest for quality. To be so deeply impacted by a book demonstrates its importance. 

Robert M. Pirsig on Life

H/T: New York Times

Monday, April 24, 2017

Honoring ANZAC Day

ANZAC Day is a national day of remembrance observed on April 25th each year in Australia and New Zealand to honor the fallen on the battlefield. Originally, the holiday was to recognize those who fought at Gallipoli in 1915 against the Ottoman Empire in the Great War (a.k.a. World War I).

While the Gallipoli campaign failed to capture Constantinople (now Istanbul) after an eight month stalemate, but the allied troops from Down Under distinguished themselves. In fact, Turkish President Kemal Atatürk said of the opposing troops in 1934:

Those heroes that shed their blood
And lost their lives.

You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country.

Therefore rest in peace.

There is no difference between the Johnnies

And the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side

Here in this country of ours.

You, the mothers,

Who sent their sons from far away countries

Wipe away your tears,

Your sons are now lying in our bosom

And are in peace

After having lost their lives on this land they have

Become our sons as well

The ANZAC Legend  created a powerful legacy which shaped how Aussies and Kiwi's saw their past and their understanding of the present.

The tradition is to remember their valor to the sounds of a bugler playing the last post, reciting the final lines of Lawrence Binyon's poem "For the Fallen"  (1914), also known as "Ode To Remembrance".

They went with songs to the battle, they were young.
Straight of limb, true of eyes, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted,
They fell with their faces to the foe.
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.

While ANZAC Day is a solemn day of remembrance, surely the ANZAC Legend contributes to Australian and New Zealand good cheer, which should appreciate Charles Schultz  world ending witticism.

[This piece was originally published at DCBarroco in 2011 with some augmentations]

Commemorating Yom Hashoah-- Holocaust Remembrance Day

Etty Hillesum Holocaust Remembrance Day

 Note how all traffic stops on busy Israeli roads  when the sirens sound marking the moment of silence to remember victims of the Holocaust.

As global thinker Dr. Michael Laitman commemorating Yom Yashoah observed:

As the sirens sound across Israel this Holocaust Remembrance Day, we unite in memory of our lost loved ones. These days, the memory of the Holocaust echoes throughout the world as anti-Semitism is spiraling out of control in Europe and around the world. If we wish to prevent this horrifying memory from becoming a reality once again, we must focus on what we can do to prevent a second Holocaust. The sirens that unite us in memory should remind us that our unity is our strength, that our nation was formed through a commitment to mutual responsibility and to being “as one man with one heart.” If the people of Israel remember this on this day of painful memory, and begin to rekindle our brotherly love above all our differences, then we have truly defeated the Nazis

If only America would take our Memorial Day more seriously than an opportunity to barbecue and watch the Indy 500.  But genocide and losing six million people in the Shoah gives a different reverence to Holocaust Remembrance Day.

H/T: Dr. Michael Laitman 

Ambassador Nikki Haley on UN Security Council Priorities

Ambassador Nikki Haley suggests UN Security Council focus on Iranian mischief in Middle East

Trump Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross on Trade

Trump Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross on Trade

Newt Gingrich on Gun Laws

Newt Gingrich on Gun Laws

Marine Le Pen on Political Divide

Marine Le Pen on politics

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Justifying Georgemas

British Great War Recruiting Poster 

According to the Gregorian calendar, April 23rd is the Feast of St. George (or Georgemas).  The Orthodox also admire the attributes of St. George but follow the Julian calendar which marks the feast on May 6th.  St. George born in Syria Palestrinia in the late Third Century who served as an officer in the Roman army that guarded the Emporer Diocletian, but who was martyred for not renouncing his Christian faith.  The emperor tried to bribe George to renounce his faith and tortured him, but to no avail. Before he was decapitated, St. George gave all of his wealth to the poor.

St. George is one of the most venerated saints in the Catholic Church, among Anglicans, Orthodox, East Syrian churches. Even Muslims revere this honorable military man. In the Twelfth Century a legend was attached to St. George about slaying a dragon.  The standard Orthodox icon of St. George depicts him slaying a dragon with a woman in the background.

The dragon is generally understood as being both Satan and the monster from his own life (Diocletian). The woman in the background is Alexandra, the wife of Emperor Diocletian. Crusaders credit an appearance of St. George. This was probably legend which traveled back with the Crusaders from the Holy Land and was embellished in courtly Romance retellings.

Legend has it that a plague bearing dragon came down from the mountains and terrorized the countryside.  The dragon could not be appeased with ransom of livestock.  This  dragon would not stop his rampage unless the King tied a young maiden to an oak tree in the center of the village.

The King's nobles used a pigeon to decide what to do.  If the bird flew to the east then, they must take the King's own daughter Sabra and tie her to a tree, as the dragon demanded.  The pigeon flew off to the east.

But as fate would have it, the pigeon managed  to attract the attention of a knight called  George and guided him back to the princess. Just as the dragon was about to devour the princess, the good knight clad in armor fortified himself with a sign of the cross and then brought the fight to the dragon.  George cunningly slowed down the dragon by driving a ball of pitch down his throat, and then speared the dragon with a grievous wound with his lance.  

The Wedding of St. George and Princess Sabra by Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1857)

According to Eastern versions, the knight rode back to the city along with the princess and the dragon in tow.  As George approached the city, he promised to slay the dragon if the town would become baptized Christians.  Fifteen thousand men took to the baptismal waters and George slayed the dragon with his trusty sword Ascalon (recalling the city Ashkelon in Israel).  The king was so grateful that he bestowed nobility (some say Sainthood) to George and gave his daughter Sabra's hand in marriage and promised to build a church were the dragon was slain.

St. George is the patron saint of England yet it is not a public holiday in England. The reasons why celebration of Georgemas is muted are cultural, historical and now tinged with political correctness.

St. George was neither English nor roundly associated with England, even though King Edward III formed the Order of the Garder under the patronage of St. George in 1348.  The Reformation played a part as Protestants did not care much for saints' days. In addition, celebration of St. George's day has been in decline since the Act of Union between England in Scotland completed in 1707.  In today's world,  the Daily Telegraph reports that many English people are concerned that national symbols like St. George can be considered racists,

Aside from the fact that many pubs in England are named after George and the dragon, it makes one wonder why this legend matters. Modern man is quick to dismiss myths (unless it is anthropogenic global warming), but this is short sighted. Myths convey essential truths although the romantic story elements may not be exact.  For instance, the story of George Washington chopping down the cherry tree may have been apocryphal but it does "I can not tell a lie" does illustrate some of the virtues of Washington's transcription of "The Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior", which molded the first President's life and were put into practice at the founding of the American Republic.

The reason that St. George matters so much to the English is that the legend reinforces characteristics which the English admire and seek to emulate.  St. George is a knight who exemplified chivalry. St. George and the dragon also champions the little guy as well as the triumph of good over evil.  The versions which depict him making the sign of the cross depict deep dedication to principles (if we dare not declare faith).  These romanticized virtues along with the more verifiable versions of his hagiography make St. George a man worthy (bank holiday or not) for Englishmen to emulate.

[This piece originally ran on DC-LausDeo.US]