Wednesday, May 23, 2018

The Tarnish of Silver



Lias Andersson has won Gold. The nineteen-year-old New York Ranger forward was a member of the Swedish men’s national hockey team, which just won the 2018 World Hockey Championship. Why it is worth mentioning is because earlier this year Andersson, as a member of the runner-up Swedish team in the 2018 World Junior Championship, threw his silver medal away into the stands after he was awarded it (causing no end of comment).

I completely understood Andersson’s action. Losing always stinks, but it is most rancid when one comes up short in the finals of a tournament. Wait!—make that most rancid coming in second in the World Junior Hockey Championship. Let me explain.

I happened to watch on TV the championship game in 2017 between the United States junior team and the Canadian junior team, which the US won. At the end of the game, after the ritual handshakes the teams had to line up at the opposite blue lines while an excruciatingly long series of events transpired, which, if I remember correctly, went something like this:

There was the playing of the national anthems;
The flags of the gold, silver, and bronze medalists were raised to the rafters;
The best player from each team was honored;
The tournament’s best players at each position were honored;
The tournament’s Most Valuable Player award was given out;
The suits of the tournament and the commercial sponsors lined up to receive awards;
The on-ice officials were given medals; 
The losing team lined up to have the silver medals placed around their necks;
The winning team lined up to have the gold medals placed around their necks.
(And whatever else I’ve forgotten—probably awards to the best popcorn seller and most efficient valet parking attendant.)

And for most of the time, there were the players of the losing Canadian team—all teenagers—having to stand there, lined up on the most disappointing day of their sporting lives, trying to bear up to hollowness in their hearts, while bravely fighting back against displaying bitter tears.

Bad enough if one only had to shake hands with one’s conquerers before being able to skate off to the privacy of the team’s dressing room. But to have to stand and stand and stand in the middle of the arena while a load of ceremonial nonsense is going on . . .

It was truly painful to watch. 

I felt for them. 

*

Some years ago I was with a friend whose neighbor, Barbara W., had just arrived home from the county tennis tournament with her trophy. Unfortunately for that fine tennis player, it was the runner-up award. When we entered her apartment Barbara, all of a dither, looked around to find a place to put it. No, it couldn’t go into the cabinet with her championship silverware; it might pollute the other awards. Finally she found an obscure corner of a shelf across the room. I imagine it is still there, but covered today with dust.

*

So, Lias, I understand why you threw away the silver medal. And I imagine that if Barbara could have found the right spot near the tennis court, she would have ditched her trophy too.

Losing stinks.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Boxed In


It’s always a warning sign (unfortunately usually ignored) when someone explains himself by resorting to clich├ęs. For example, my successor as chairman of the English Department claimed that he believed that “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
He then went ahead and stared breaking things. 

Last week the Lieutenant Governor of Texas, Dan Patrick, responded to the shooting at the high school in Santa Fe by claiming, “We have to get creative,” to think “outside the box” to find a way to stop shootings.* His creative beyond-the-crate solution: reduce the number of school entrances and exits. Fewer doors, he reasoned, would offer fewer opportunities for gunmen to penetrate school buildings. I wrote “reasoned” because his was a totally logical argument. Unfortunately, the Lt. Gov. didn’t allow his reasoning to continue to its obvious conclusion: build schools with NO doors, thereby preventing gunmen from entering the buildings at all.

*

One picture in the news reports about the Santa Fe shootings was of this schmuck, who showed up at the scene with a flag and a gun: 


I’m not sure what his flag was supposed to do—perhaps supply a force field to shield him in a gun battle—and I’m even less sure to what avail his weapon would be in the circumstances. I will guess, though, that he thought of  himself as that “Good Man With A Gun,” who would stand up heroically against one of those “Bad Men With Guns,” who allegedly are running amok in this country. He has what I suppose ought to be called the “High Noon Complex.”

*

I have an abiding interest in the history of Soviet spying in America and Great Britain before, during, and after WWII. You know, Philby, Burgess, and Maclean over there and the Rosenbergs, et al. over here. I am at present reading a biography of Harry Gold, the nebbishy chemist who served as a courier between the scientist Klaus Fuchs and Russian agents. What struck me was the fact that at the time the United States was at its greatest peril during the Cold War, facing a nuclear power enemy—whose atomic bomb program was advanced by the secrets Fuchs supplied—the undercover agents of the Soviet spy agencies and the clandestine American traitors did not have stockpiles of weapons. The United States government was not going to be overthrown by domestic force and violence. And a ragtag bunch of NRA whackos was not going to be needed to defend our institutions. 

*

In almost every case of recent mass murders—whether at schools, churches, or public gatherings—the murder weapons were legally purchased. For example, the Las Vegas gunman bought his own, while the Santa Fe shooter used his father’s legally obtained arms. In most jurisdictions, government authorities have sprinkled fairy dust over gun owners, granting licenses to them (after background checks of one sort or another) for potentially being “Good Men With Guns.”
The reality is, however, that that same legal weaponry is just waiting to be turned into killing machines. 
  

***


Saturday, May 12, 2018

Black Holes


The other day I read two articles that I would like to point you to. 

The first is an evaluation of the work of the late Stephen Hawking. (It is available at https://pursuit.unimelb.edu.au/articles/a-brief-history-of-hawking-s-scientific-legacy) In its discussion of black holes and such astronomical phenomena the article did not include any mathematical equations, luckily for me as I can’t get beyond ten fingers and ten toes.*

What particularly struck me (apart from the way modern scientists have pushed ever closer to unravelling the deepest mysteries of the universe) is who those scientists are. Mentioned by name are Roger Penrose—like Hawking an Englishman—Albert Einstein (Swiss), James Hartle and Leonard Susskind (Americans), Jacob Beckenstein (Israeli), Gerard ’t Hooft (Dutch), and Juan Maldacena (Argentine). 

Certainly for residents of a small planet to attempt to comprehend the nature of the vast universe our home orb is a part of, nothing other than a global endeavor will do. And science, no matter how hard dictators try to make it, is anything but parochial or local or answerable to political dogma. 

*

In the second article, “Tracing the children of the Holocaust” (http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-32589411), writer Alex Last followed up, seventy years later, the attempt by the BBC after World War II to find relatives in Britain of children who had survived the Holocaust. 
It all began with a rare recording of an old radio broadcast, which starts with the words: "Captive Children, an appeal from Germany."
One by one, for five minutes, the presenter asks relatives of 12 children to come forward. With each name comes a short but devastating summary of the child's ordeal under the Nazis.
"Jacob Bresler, a 16-year-old Polish boy, has survived five concentration camps, but has lost his entire family…
"Sala Landowicz, a 16-year-old Polish girl, who's in good health after surviving three concentration camps…
"Gunter Wolff, a German Jewish boy, now stateless. The boy is 16 years old and has experienced the ghetto at Lodz, and the Buchenwald concentration camp...
"Fela and Hana Katz, their father and mother have died, they have lost track of two brothers and three sisters."
And so it went on.
In the end Last was able to trace 11 of the 12 children mentioned in the one extant broadcast. Most were no longer alive. But Last was able to meet four survivors.

Unfortunately for some of the children, even when relatives were found, all did not go well. Instead of joyous clasps to the breasts, these children found an atmosphere soured by old family feuds, stinginess, and distain. For example, while in a DP camp three sisters 
got a response from the cousin they sought in London - a hospital doctor. But it was not what they expected.
"I got a letter back [said one sister] telling me I had to stand on my own two feet, and that kind of annoyed me, this attitude. So I wrote him, he needn't worry, I won't come to him for anything, that I will stand on my own two feet because I had a good teacher and that was Hitler. And he taught me a lot.”
On the other hand, others, like Jacob Bresler, were lucky:
Mr and Mrs Samuels were more than lovely. And they became my parents, practically, for the rest of their lives. They were angels. You don't meet people like this today, and if you do, you should carry them on your hands, and celebrate them as the most fantastic human beings that were ever alive. To this day, I do not have the words to express my gratitude, and they really loved me, and I loved them.
                                                                                *
Last year at my bank I noticed that the teller had two little flags attached to her name tag. One was the Stars-and-Stripes, but the other I did not recognize. When I asked her, she replied that it was the flag of Jordan. “That’s what I like about this place,” I told her. 

They may not all be scientists searching for the deepest secrets of the universe, but our mixture of peoples, some having escaped from murderous homelands or from crushing poverty, is a cause for celebration. But how much longer can we celebrate when we have an administration hell-bent on kicking people out and bolting the door in their faces? 

*
General relativity predicts the existence of black holes, regions of space where matter and energy are so dense that nothing can escape from their gravitational pull, not even light.**
Trump’s Washington is a political black hole whose denseness does not allow light to escape—or compassion to be released.

***

*So I lied! I studied Advanced Calculus and Differential Equations in college.


Saturday, May 5, 2018

How My Wife's Two Black Eyes Led Me to God


Paige Patterson is the 75-year-old president of Fort Worth’s Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, which claims to be one of the largest schools of its kind in the world. He is lionized among Baptists for his role in the “conservative resurgence,” which is what some call the movement to oust theological liberals beginning in the 1970s.. . . 
[In a 2000 audio recording] Patterson is heard telling a story about a female congregant of his who confessed to being abused by her husband. Rather than report the incident to the authorities or help the woman escape, he sent her back to her spouse and asked her to pray “not out loud, but quietly.” The woman returned the next Sunday with two black eyes, a sight which Patterson said made him “very happy” because it made her husband feel guilty enough to attend church for the first time.*

***

As I sit here I am thankful. Yes, I am thankful, O Lord, for having been led to your heavenly gates.

I was a roughneck, a real bad guy. I got into many scraps, but most of my violent behavior was directed against my wife, Debbie Lou. I hit her and beat her and mashed her and smashed her. I hit her when my beer wasn’t cold enough. I hit her even harder when she didn’t polish my shotgun shiny enough. And even harder than that when she forgot to take my best hound dog to the vet. 

And what did Debbie Lou do? Did she yell? No. Did she even complain? No. What she did was pray. And every time she prayed, I hit her again. Why was she praying? What was she praying for? Why didn’t she curse at me like Donna Sue, my brother Billy Bob’s wife, does at him when he beats her? 

One Sunday morning as I was nursing a bad hangover, I glimpsed Debbie Sue a-sneaking out of the house. She had on her only good dress and good shoes and was a-wearing a big hat. I pulled on my pants in a hurry, and I followed her down the road until she came to that old Southern Baptist church on General Stonewall Jackson Drive. 

And she went in! With her two black eyes and her nose to one side of her face, she went in to mingle with the high-falutin’ folks from the other side of town. I couldn’t believe it! 

I followed her in, determined to grab her by the neck and drag her home where she belonged to make me my breakfast. But as I entered the hall, a mighty ray of light hit me, and I sank to my knees. I started shakin’ and then rolled on the floor. Immediately I was surrounded by faces, one of which said to me, “Do you believe?” “Yes, I believe,” I answered tremblingly. 

“Then you are SAVED!” the face shouted. 

And I am saved.

*

And safe. 

As I sit here and write this down. Safe in my little cell. 

I’m gonna end this now as I got to write a petition to the Warden to allow me to attend Debbie Lou’s funeral. I know that I shouldn’t of hit her so hard, but she insisted on puttin’ make-up over those black eyes, and the Church don’t allow women to wear no make-up. Least, that’s what the preacher says. And I’ll bust you one if you disbelieve in the word of God.

Signed,

Jimmie Ray Jones

Prisoner #294751073

Alabama State Prison

Huntsville  

***


*https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2018/05/sbc-patterson/559532/