Monthly Archives: October 2011

Letter to a Soldier

Dear Gilad:

Together with millions of others, I rejoice at your safe return to the free world.

A trade of 1,027 men for one man is a significant and inspiring event. It is significant because it has occurred in an ambiance of bitter conflict. It is inspiring because it exemplifies the fundamental distinction between totalitarian and democratic states: the value of an individual in a sea of others.

Over a period of five years, you were at the center of the perennial dichotomy of collective vs. individual rights. That dichotomy was exacerbated by the intense life-and-death urgency created by your perilous captivity. Inevitably, the issue of your ransom was elevated from a matter of policy to that of conscience.

Understandably, there were those who argued that acceptance of the terms would encourage Israel’s enemies to create other instances through which they might extort imbalances in prisoner exchanges. Others, took exception to implacable policy and were guided by their consciences.

They were right. You see, Gilad, warfare intensifies the moral fiber of a culture. Its individuals react to war in different ways. Some become more antagonistic to their country, others more patriotic. In my country, the former have gone so far as to carry placards that proclaim, “Thank God for Dead Soldiers.” The latter are as bonded to our soldiers as firmly as Israeli’s are to theirs. Most Americans and Israelis, whatever political parties they favor, share the hallmark of our two nations: the worth of an individual. Your experience is a symbol for the essence of democracy.

I hope you will live long enough to enjoy peace in your country. On a personal basis, you certainly have earned it.

Your American friend,


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Misguided Ideologist or Bum?

I first heard the expression ‘Protestant Work Ethic’ during the 60s. At that time, I had the quaint notion that work, hard or otherwise, was the means through which most people earn a living, including me. I still believe that work has nothing to do with ethics. It has all to do with survival.

The expression came into being in 1926 along with quantum physics. That was a time when buzzwords and phrases of Kant and Hegel were in vogue among intellectual circles. It was also a time when Engels, Marx, and Lenin forged the first modern socialist state. Although the philosophic justification for socialism was partially derived from interpretations of ideologies posited by philosophers dating back to classic Greece, modern socialism found its most eloquent voice in the ideologies of Kant and Hegel. So did Nazism and Fascism. Socialism, Fascism, and Nazism draw their ideology from Kantian and Hegelian philosophy. All three share the ideal of totalitarian supremacy of the state.

As is always the case, political movements are generated and supported by the prevailing circumstances of the time. Nazism was a searing but short-lived flash in the pan of history. So was fascism. But after World War Two, socialism was invigorated by the Soviet Union. A titanic battle, the Cold War, was waged between two superpowers, the Soviet Union and the United States: more precisely, it was a battle between Socialism and Capitalism.

I remember the optimism I felt when the Berlin Wall came down. I was encouraged not because Russia had lost the Cold War, but because the Soviet Union had at least been symbolically contained. However, ideologies die hard. Socialists continue their quest for a socialist world. They fight for it with guns in many countries. But their most powerful weapon is words. It has always been so. It is especially so now when words on placards are seen by millions during street protests- – -words that incite class warfare, words that advocate mindless revolution, words that instill hatred for the United States.

Political commentators are baffled by the phenomenon of Socialist and Nazi individuals protesting in the same crowd. But the reason for that is simple: they both seek the political confusion that leads to a vacuum that advances their seemingly opposite ideologies. That has worked for them many times throughout history. Socialists and Nihilists are cut from the same ragged cloth. Their simplistic placards are only part of their arsenal against free societies. There are also more sophisticated expressions to help advance their cause. One of them is ‘work ethic.’

I first heard that term sometime after the 60s. I still hear it. It is virtually always used in a pejorative sense. Promoting their thinly veiled agenda, socialists denigrate ‘WASPS’ (White Anglo-Saxon Protestants) for the continued practice of hard work allegedly inherited from their Puritan ancestors. But ‘WASPS’ are not the Socialists’ only target. No ethnic group is exempt from being berated by socialists for its willing ‘bondage’ to hard work for success. They even cite the labor of the biblical Joseph as the paradigm of capitalism’s inherently dehumanizing system. They advocate the notion that it is no longer necessary for people to do work they do not enjoy. But, they provide no guidance as to how to motivate people to remove garbage other than by paying them for that service. Industry and technology, they claim, has fulfilled the criteria necessary for a socialist takeover of industrialized societies. Echoes of Karl Marx reverberate on the streets of Athens and on Wall Street.

A day or so ago, I heard a Wall Street ‘occupier’ actually use the word ‘bourgeoisie’! I wanted to shout through the TV screen and tell the young man that in America we don’t use a medieval word to describe a workingman, as Marx did. We now call the ‘bourgeoisie’ the ‘middle class.’ ‘Bourgeoisie’ is straight out of Political Science 101. That kid probably has a cell phone, an iPod, and a fully functioning bathroom which (as I’m led to believe) he may not bother to use on his way to the forum. His financial problems may not be his fault, and I sympathize with him if that is the case, but he may be protesting alongside a professional bum. Judging by his dress and demeanor, however, I believe he needs wisdom more than he does a better job.

Am I taking sides in the Wall Street controversy? Well, when the protesters make up their minds as to just what it is that they want, I’ll consider whether or not I’ll side with them or not. In the meanwhile, I know that I’m strongly against the bailout of corporations. That disgraceful episode was inconceivable when corporations and I both had to adhere to our financial responsibilities. I know that as difficult as it is for me to keep up with my overpriced bills, I neither expect nor desire a bailout. I also know that ‘social justice’- – -a socialist notion- – -is patently unjust.

Although Lenin had been an aristocrat, his hatred for nobility was understandably ignited by his personal experience. (His brother was hanged as a result of a failed attempt to assassinate the Tsar, and his sister, arrested with his brother, was banished to her family estate in Kazan.) Unlike Lenin, my political views are not influenced by personal experience. I have always opposed socialism in principle.

I hope that most young people in the Occupy Wall Street crowd will someday understand that in the Soviet Union you were forced to grow potatoes even if you were born to be an artist. In contrast, the least known but best advantage of capitalism is that you have an option to step aside and be poor (at a level of your choice) if you prefer not to compete for wealth. I’ve lived under the capitalist competitive radar all my life and have enjoyed a modest but wonderful life as an artist.

Please, for your sake, if you are young, think before you leap.

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What’s in a Name?

…that which we call a rose

By any other name would smell as sweet.

Not quite, Willie. At least, not on this side of the centuries. Things have changed since you’ve gone. We no longer necessarily adhere to the logic of effect following cause. You see, dear Bard, these days, if something smells bad we change what we call it. For example, if a terrorist blows up a marketplace, we call it ‘a man-made disaster.’ You may ask, “What is a terrorist?” Well, he’s someone like Richard the Third. Yet, some people call him ‘a freedom fighter.’ We also call homicide ‘suicide’ when it’s convenient for some of us to do so. Now, risk-free destruction of property goes by the name of ‘protest,’ not ‘vandalism.’

I can go on with many more examples of fraudulent changes in our language, but I’m not sure you’ll understand them in the context of the English you remember. Now, many people smell something foul and call it a rose in an effort to dispel its odor. They ask us to ‘understand’ those who berate, denigrate, and despise us. They would have us believe that calling murder ‘a man-made disaster’ somehow equates it to a natural disaster. There are several elaborate definitions that attempt to distance ‘murder‘ from ‘man-made disasters.’ When you had unnatural events occur because of Macbeth’s reign of terror, you reinforced the meaning of the word ‘murder,’ you didn’t soften it. Good for you.

You also had a teenager tell us, …that which we call a rose/By any other name would smell as sweet. She said that of a rose. In her innocence, she spoke the truth about labels. She also said, ‘Tis but thy name [Montague] that is my enemy…Romeo, doff thy name. But that is not the same as calling terrorists ‘freedom fighters.’

You see, Willie, there are millions of people who are confused about the meaning of the word ‘freedom.’ They identify with terrorists, fanatics who fervently believe that a woman should obey her husband in every way except one: she is permitted to fight for Islam and be a ‘suicide bomber’ without her husband’s authorization. It would not surprise me to learn that female suicide bombers are not only homicidal but also genuinely suicidal in order to escape their unbearable repression.

P.S. Speaking of words, Willie, I love the way you amalgamated Latin and English. Congratulations for the exquisite blend of the two. I’m impressed.

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The Rising Tide

There is an ominous gap between the instant and plethoric accessibility to current events provided by the Internet, iPods, Androids, et al, and significant sources from which the meaning of those events might be better understood.

Having lived a very long time, I’ve witnessed the resurgence of failed ideologies time after time. The concept of history repeating itself is one thing; actually witnessing it through the better part of a century is quite another. There is something about living a long time, day-by-day, year-by-year, decade-by-decade, that illuminates the major aspects of political thought and action.

I remember the absurd ‘goose step’ of men marching through the streets of Berlin, the ugly Soviet military parades brandishing weapons during the Cold War. And now, I see Iranian soldiers prancing through the streets of Tehran. Apart from their uniforms, they are indistinguishable from their counterparts in the 20th century.

Worse yet, the ideologies for which they march and die are also indistinguishable. For example, there was no substantive difference at the root of the titanic conflict between Germany and Russia in World War Two. Communism and Nazism are essentially interchangeable, with emphasis on redistribution of wealth under one system and total control of production under the other.

Tragically, ideologies are not necessarily understood by their adherents. That lack of understanding is eloquently exemplified by the compatibility of professors and students engaged in political demonstrations that are anti-capitalism and pro-socialism. Before my generation, political attitudes reflected the appeal of socialism. The ‘working class’ favored labor unions and more or less grumbled about their employers, all the more vociferously against millionaires, and made little or no distinctions between industrialists and Robber Barons.

Those attitudes were passed onto my generation. In my high school days, the political ‘slant’ (now, better known as ‘spin’) was emphatically in favor of socialism although it was not called that. ‘Colonialism,’ on the other hand, was distinctly labeled and given extensive attention in textbooks. Universities taught that colonialism and capitalism were synonymous. History books and social study classes invariably included condemnation of the United States. That has not changed. If anything, bashing the United States has been enhanced in academia by inviting domestic celebrities and foreign ‘dignitaries’ to speak at prestigious universities.

During Hollywood’s Golden Age, movie stars concealed their political views from the public for obvious reasons, and we liked it that way. But many screenwriters were virtually anonymous to most moviegoers. They wrote screenplays with thinly veiled socialist messages. Today’s movie stars are not only open about their ‘liberal’ political views but use their celebrity off-screen to advance those views. Almost all ‘conservative’ actors are still in the closet. Some of them wait until they have retired before revealing political views that are not in step with the Hollywood mainstream. A few reveal their conservative politics. They are encouraged to do so because they think the adoration of their fans will protect them from losing part of their audience. They are wrong about that. Prejudices trump loyalty.

On screen, a considerable number of the ‘biggest’ stars enjoy playing stereotype conservatives, greedy capitalists, and rogue military leaders. (This assertion on my part is not speculative; those actors often explicitly confirm their role preferences when they are interviewed.) Playing those roles gives them an opportunity to please most of their audiences and score political points with their unsuspecting audiences. This practice is a far cry from the film, Advise and Consent, the only totally objective high-level political film I’ve ever seen. If I were an educator, I would strongly urge my students to see that film. That is one of those sources I refer to above. As an actor/director, I also recommend viewing it for its artistic excellence. If you haven’t seen it, please make an effort to do so. (Incidentally, as you may have noticed, capitalists and republicans have always been depicted in a negative light in movie scripts, even if only in ’ jest.’ Yet, to the credit of several liberal actors, they are often fond of their republican colleagues in real life.)

For me, the ‘60s were ‘the best of times and the worst of times,’ as I’m sure Charles Dickens would call them. It was a time when young people swept away repressive attitudes of the 50s, but were also attracted to blotting out reality through the use of drugs. I am among those of whom it is said, “If you remember the 60s, you missed them.” Well, not the best part of them. I was inspired by the second Golden Age of Opera at the Metropolitan Opera House while most of my contemporaries were wallowing in the mud of Woodstock and other gatherings that resembled today’s ‘flash mobs.’

I suppose I’ve always been something of a misfit. I enjoyed most of the Broadway musical, Hair, for its penetrating social insight, and at the same time was swept away by the opera, Electra, a little further uptown.

I was fortunate to have lived during the sunset of Western Civilization. Now, in the dusk of our civilization, I find it tragic to see a generation that has access to a virtual universe in the form of a pod in the palms of its hands and yet is so terribly uninformed about the world in which it lives. Academia continues to foster collectivism. Most professors and college students think like my generation’s grandfathers did! They still talk of colonialism and the evils of capitalism. The same is true of congressmen, senators, columnists, the authors of documentaries, and TV commentators.

I hear a cacophonic choir of mobs: corporate mobs, labor union mobs, political mobs. Ironically, Americans, a people who rejected European politics, are now seeking to follow in the collectivist footsteps of a collapsing Europe! This phenomenon is epitomized by the terrifying mindlessness of flash mobs as well as by organized ideological groups- – -often, a combination of both, here and abroad. Beneath their exterior forms, mobs are motivated by the same instinct as that of jungle marabunta.

There is a profoundly unhealthy symbiotic relationship among corrupt corporations, labor unions, politicians, and millions of ‘little guys.’ Their complicity in global chaos is characterized by their pointing to one another as the root of the global fiscal crisis. As I listen to their shrill and incoherent accusations, I cannot help but think that Marxist theory patently states that collectivism doesn’t seek to destroy civilization: its goal is to take it over. He explicitly stated that the way to a socialist society is to let capitalists create an industrialized civilization, and then take it over.

An eternal optimist, I hope the current generation will stem the tide of collectivism by closing the gap between out-of-date ideologies and the Information Age. Humanity cannot afford another Dark Age.    

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Juggling is for Entertainers

Earbuds in place, Bob is listening to a tutorial on Latin 101 titled LatoTalk as he jogs through Central Park. His right hand carries an iPod, his left hand the obligatory bottled water. His fingering through the pod is at a virtuosity level. He is text-messaging several friends and business associates so that he can log appointments with them into his pod calendar.

When he gets back to his pad, pod still in hand, he turns on the TV and clicks for his favorite 24/7 news and political channel. Tonight, like most nights, he plans to toggle switch between that channel and his favorite 24/7 sports channel throughout the night. While preparing dinner, Bob listens to his land phone messages and jots them down on a pad next to his phone. He has another pad located in another room so that he gains spurts of walking exercise as he jots down ideas that occur to him for his next flowchart presentation at work. During all this, his earpiece continues to pour Latin into his ear.

Bob is an avid advocate for multitasking. He is grateful to his mother for having played Mozart to him while he was still in the womb. He firmly believes that education and gestation should begin at the prenatal stage. As a matter of modesty, Bob has not asked his mother whether or not she exposed him to Mozart’s music at the instant of his conception, but he likes to think she did. Certainly, she nurtured him well when she had him listening to Mozart while playing with a variety of his educative toys.

I wonder if you have noticed a phenomenon about thought process when (unlike Bob) you fully concentrate on a paper you’re writing. In an effort to achieve perfection as you type, you might pause to think, “Should I use italic type or an underline for this word?” You make the decision and go on typing. Later, when you are proofing the paper, the phenomenon is revealed to you. You come across that word and find a typographical error in the immediate vicinity of it. You remember that you had paused to think about which type would be better suited for emphasis. In that moment of intense concentration, your focus had been redirected to a single decision, italics or underline. Hence, the error.

Of course collateral errors resulting from your mind’s word processing don’t necessarily occur during such instances, but when I proof my writing, I’ve noticed enough of them to give the phenomenon significance. Further, I believe that every typographical error is the result of a microcosmic redirection of concentration at the synaptic level of thought.

If, then, an instant of redirection- – -related or unrelated to your paper- – -is capable of blurring your thought despite or because of intense concentration, what can be expected of our multitasking expert, Bob?

Surely, he’ll never be able to speak Latin with the Pope.    

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