Thursday, October 31, 2019

Good-Bye Old O

Through a glass dabble-blurred by raindrops and the faint presence of the summer screen I see the vague dark roof randomly decorated by wet yellow leaves from a combination of maple and linden. Very distantly it seems a tall dark green mass is the top region of a wide pine or fir; it never sheds. Very far away behind it trees light green and yellow brown stand in line like words that run together; the telephone pole in that direction is a very tall comma or perhaps a dash. Days on end with rain we cannot see but feel when outside even before the first drops touch our face. Halloween is here to put an end to a short October in which, it seems, the highlight came last night in Houston where Our team (we lived there once) (and yes, the oldest, as we are) won the World Series away from home. For some reason the word cilantro wants to be written. My mind wants to spell it with an S and the Internet tells me that it is coriander; confusing in a way. But it’s not even nine o’clock yet I’m already closing on October by wishing for a heat wave in November. With Global Warming here with us, anything is possible and in California already is.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

We May Have Been Immune

By a strange coincidence, Brigitte and I had a discussion yesterday morning about viruses. The context was reading the phrase “going viral” for the 50th time that  morning in the papers. Then, yesterday evening, we heard a new word on MSNBC’s The Last Word. Lawrence O’Donnell was interviewing Norman (“Norm”) Ornstein; Ornstein is a political scientist who is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. The AEI is a conservative think tank.

Now the coincidence I started with is not at all obvious; but I discovered this morning that the word Ornstein was using, unknown to Brigitte and me, kakistocracy, had been virtually unknown until April 13, 2018. On that date, the former CIA director, John Brennan, had used it on twitter to describe Donald Trump’s administration: “Your kakistocracy is collapsing after its lamentable journey.” You know what comes next already. The word went viral!

Yes, it went viral. But to our great surprise in this humble household, it took 556 days to reach us. Thus something is wrong with us—or else we were immune to viruses. Another way to say that is to use another old-fashioned phrase: we must sit “below the salt” (link). Otherwise we would have been using the word by at least by April 15, 2018. But no. We’ve only heard it yesterday. Shame.

The Internet gave us choices when we tried a search: cacistocracy or kakistocracy. We were betting on the K; the start of the word sounds Greek. Yes, so it turned out. The Greek for “worst” is kakistos. And if children are listening, I must tell them that, yes, it derives from kakos, meaning bad, and may be related to kakka, “to defecate.” Anyway, kakistocracy means the worst government one can imagine.

Finally, what took us 556 years to learn took modern humanity 375 years to remember. (Trump would claim that he is the Greatest Word Associationist who’s ever lived.) The first usage of the word (link) has been traced back to a sermon given in 1644 during the Civil War—no, not ours!  —the English Civil War.

Now if you are sitting even lower at the table than we are, thus even further below the salt, then even you will now know what hides there in that potty.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

October Horse and Other Miscellany

I missed the feast of October Horse (Equus October in Latin), anciently held on the 15th of the month. I did so for a perfectly logical reason. I’d never even heard of this celebration! How could I observe it? It belongs to the oldest Graeco-Roman times; indeed, the Greek historian Timaeus (345 BC – c. 250 BC) was the first to mention it—and he got his explanation wrong. Timaeus lived in BC times; hence October Horse belongs to the very deep past.

To understand this festival (categorized as religious but more likely a vulgar entertainment), it might help to put it into modern dress. Imagine that every October 15 a massive auto race were held. No limits would be placed on the size and power of the engines used, hence some really fast and weird cars would race with predictably many hair-raising accidents along the way. At the end of the race, the fastest and therefore the winning car would be displayed with masses of spectators present. Then men with powerful hammers and saws would attack it. They’d cut into its engine compartment and extract the engine any which way—and never mind if it was damaged. Others would attack its rear end and saw away its exhaust pipe.

Both teams, front and back, would then rush away in a fleet of trucks, each truck going in another direction. They would carry the engine and exhaust pipe, hiding each. Which trucks did these end up in? Nobody in the massive audience could know. The very expensive vehicle, the winner of the famous race, would, of course be left behind, an un-drivable wreck.

Our explanation is only half finished, at this point. In the real October Horse, the race was run by chariots drawn by horses, two to each chariot. The left-hand horse of the winning chariot would be sacrificed, i.e., killed by a spear. Then its head would be cut off—and also its rump with the tail. These would be carefully hidden someplace in the city.

But let’s go on. The contributions of the spectators now began. They were divided into two groups. The first were drawn from inhabitants of a huge neighborhood in Rome, Subura. Subura was a slum, in a way, inhabited by the poor, miserable: red light districts, and so on. The other group was drawn from a wealthy neighborhood in Rome’s best area, the Via Sacra. Off these people raced, running in masses. Their job was to find the Head (engine) and Tail (exhaust pipe) of the Horse (car). If these groups clashed along the way and fell into violent battles, why that was just part and parcel of Equus October. Those who found the Head displayed it for the next year; those who found the Tail, likewise. If one group found both—why the next year would be glorious—until October Horse returned again on the ides of October. Image source.

Now did I get this all correctly? Of course not. Even Timaeus had failed. But I can add what both of us now know. The festival was held on October 15 because it was the end both of military activities and of agricultural labors. So it was a festival of Mars, the god of war, and agriculture, the Sustainer of All.

It’s best to absorb even the few details I’ve managed to put forth. Destroying (i.e. sacrificing) a very expensive vehicle or horse—just for the hell of it? Letting the poor and the rich fight each other for ownership of the engine? Vast masses assembled to take part in the “fun”? October Horse was something even worse than we see all around us. But our festivals are on the social media. And the destruction is harder to see but much easier to cost out using Big Data and 5G.

Now for some miscellany. I discovered October Horse because I thought I’d find some festival in October beyond the well-known “celebrations”—like beer consumption at the October Fest or the children’s Halloween. My mind produced “The Rites of Spring” as an example, the ballet composition. I asked Google to display what it had stored under “The Rites of October.” In due course, I chanced across two entries on October Horse. Whaaat? October Horse? Discoveries then followed.

I also found an article titled “The October Horse.” That is the title of a novel by the Australian writer Colleen McCullough. Her novel is based in Rome. The sacrificial horse of her novel is Julius Caesar. Caesar was certainly, as a political figure, one of the best, brightest, and thus one of the swiftest. And at the beginning of his reign, if we may call it that, he was sacrificed by being stabbed with a knife. Et tu, Brute?

The image I show is Laocoon spearing the Trojan horse—an act from which Timaeus derived the October Horse festival. Both ancient and modern historians think he was wrong. And when you think of it, the horse shown is not exactly huge—or wooden. Never mind. The Trojan war has at least as many landmines as does Equus October.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

The Late Statue of Humanity

Let me start with the Statue of Humanity (source). I am able to capture its image as it existed in 2011, shortly before it was demolished. If the statue itself could be made to disappear, so might images of it if Recep Tayyip Erdogan, President of Turkey, decides on erasing them.

The Statue stood outside of the Turkish city of Kars. The city is located near where the border between Turkey and Armenia runs, close enough so that, standing where once the Statue stood, one could see Armenia in the distance if powerful binoculars are handy. Why had this Statue been built? It had been intended to commemorate an uneasy peace formed between Turkey and Armenia in the aftermath of the Armenian Genocide (1915-1916); in that genocide at least 600,000 Armenians were killed by Turkish troops in an action weirdly reminiscent of recent events on the border of Syria. Meaning: is a Kurdish Genocide now to be anticipated? The next question? Why had this Statue been taken down? Well, Erdogan, then still only a Prime Minister, had seen the Statue on one of his trips in 2011; he had expressed a strong dislike of it, calling it a freak. Despite local opposition, the City of Kars had then begun its disassembly, removing the heads first. So there is a link between the genocide, back when, and the possibility of another genocide, in the future. That link is Erdogan.

Finally, concerning the Statue, its designer was the sculptor Mehmet Aksoy (1939-); he got his commission in 2009; he was still laboring on the work in 2011 when the men with the crane and front-end loaders to take it down again arrived.

Not that there is a bigger picture than Humanity, but there is an historical big picture here, best represented by a map. The picture is that the collapse of great social structures, such as the Ottoman Empire, leaves behind troublesome echoes for years, sometimes even for centuries. The Ottomans ruled from Turkey. Under their governance, the many peoples they oversaw included the Armenians to the east. Armenia is a thinnish wedge of land between Turkey and Azerbaijan. And the part of Turkey that Armenia adjoins is what is still referred to, at least by Kurds, as Kurdistan. The map I show will reveal the situation (source).

The lightly-colored region is labeled Kurdish-inhabited. Thus the Kurds inhabit parts of Turkey, Armenia, Iran, Iraq, and Syria—going clockwise. The map also shows Armenia, of course. The Armenians irritated Turkey in the early 1900s by being friendly with Russia. Ah! There is Russia, too, in this great ethnic mix.

Problems, problems, problems. Back in the good-old days (but don’t look too closely), the Ottomans kept the peace all around inside their domain of rule. My late guru, the historian Arnold Toynbee, explained that situation by saying that the Ottomans regarded the peoples they ruled as species of stock—cattle, horses, sheep, and such. It was best to keep the various stocks from fighting and profit from their use or sale. But the Ottomans didn’t last. Nor, for that matter, to name another large domain, did the Soviets. Hence we now have “residual” problems in the Ukraine too. All kinds of problems. In human history, bigness usually spells peace; breakup causes chaos. Perhaps we should replace the Statue of Humanity by renaming the Gobi Desert The Pasture of Humanity. But is the Gobi big enough?

Thursday, October 10, 2019

The Color of October

Noticed, on waking, that the two calendars on the wall looked very similar through blurred eyes. They were both patches of yellow-orange. Later I went about the house and examined other calendars too. Most were obediently pumpkin-colored.

But while October might be pumpkin-colored, another and more subtle question is What’s the Color of a Pumpkin? The kindly loan of the pumpkin picture I am showing came from this source. The blog is called my little cottage in the making. The image I show is the first of many more in a blog post titled “The Many Colors of Pumpkins.” Incredible variety, nicely displayed. Nothing’s simple in this crazy age of ours—not even the color of a pumpkin.

We Don't Need a New Thermometer

This morning after waking up and having a sip of cold coffee, I checked NBC News, curious, don’t you know, if Europe is still there. The headline in text at the bottom of the screen said:

Politics is taking a toll on Americans’ health, according to a new study

The text was actually shorter, but what I’m quoting is an online article by NBC published September 25, 2019. That date is what “new” means in the headline. The NBC article is here. NBC itself was summarizing the content of an article that appeared in Plos One, a recently founded scholarly journal. The original article, titled “Friends, relatives, sanity, and health: The costs of politics,” is available here.

The essence of the content? The study is based on a survey of individuals reporting their own feelings. One in ten of those participating reported feeling badly about politics these days. From the Abstract:

Though anecdotal evidence suggests that the costs of politics may in fact extend beyond economics to frayed personal relationships, compromised emotional stability, and even physical problems, no systematic evidence on these broader costs exists.

Thus the article thus is what you might imagine. Scientific up to a point, but mostly reporting on how people felt when asked about politics. One in ten is not a very high number. But the headline makes you think that things are in a pretty sorry state. “Even physical problems” were reported. We need a new thermometer now. On the other hand, I saw an ad the other day that showed a man giving himself an EKG by touching two tiny pads on a table with his left and right index fingers. The EKG results appeared on a cell-phone sized screen. So maybe we don’t need a new thermometer now. But we certainly need a new politics.

Saturday, October 5, 2019

Snap Shot

From a living room window we see people walking their dogs every day, yes even in the rain. There are hardy types of owners who are not stopped by a little down-pour. But of them all, we know two very well.

One of them is Leo, the Shi Tzu in my picture. Leo lives next door with Pat and Lloyd. The other is Katie the Beagle, a personality who occurs multiple times on this blog. Katie lives across the street with Monique and John, who’re our family. This is Leo’s first appearance on Ghulf Genes.

Leo is quite young, energetic, and very territorial. It's quite possible to miss the genuine dog traits of a little dog with a name like Shi Tzu; but when you get to know them and watch them in action, you realize that the canine is as strongly present in these fur balls as it is in some giant labrador. I think of Katie, by contrast, as a great-grand-mother: she spent her early years in a breeding place; she's lived a "civilian" life now for many years and she is getting old; she's also suffering from chronic ailments. But a nice day will make her pull you on a leash so that you feel your own age. Can't walk that fast any more...

Thursday, October 3, 2019

A Picture of Eternity

Next to our coffee machine, in a kitchen corner, lies a tray we got along the way, no memory when and where. The corner is well lit by a strong bulb mounted under a kitchen cabinet; you see the light but not the lamp. The tray is more or less covered by objects, but in that light some surface of it is always brightly visible. It is one of the many images of the Moulin Rouge painted by Michel Delacroix (born 1933). I see it multiple times every day; and what with its undeniable qualities and charm, it feels like it is part of me.


Part of me and yet, curiously, a picture of eternity. It is always, predictably, reliably, and pleasingly the same. Its colors neither change nor fade. In a time in which seemingly nothing remains untouched by whatever you want to call it (I call it blight), it is a rock hard reminder that some things, even quite trivial things like a tray, are there to remind us of another reality which faith would have it (and faith these days is absolutely needed) stands in contrast to the blight and holds on firmly to hope (as a mother’s hand holds on to a child’s).

The subject is now uppermost in my mind for obvious reasons. Incidentally, we’re now also reviewing the BBC Sherlock Holms series; in a moving fashion it also serves the same role as the tray. I keep telling Brigitte, as we watch the repeating opening sequence with its horse-drawn carriages and men in fancy hats buying newspapers, “Images of my youth.” Well, of course, not quite. My stay here began a mere three years after Delacroix was born. But yes. Horse-drawn carriages. Yes. I might hear the sound of those hoofs as I opened my eyes in the morning. And once past, all is eternity: rock solid so that even a tray can hold it forever.

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Odysseus the Little

Lovely sunny day. It follows a series of very rainy days and such adventures as a partially flooded basement, a battle with the sump pump, walking Katie the Beagle, and then toweling her down.

Today is different. The sump pump hums. The basement is dry. Katie went walking in sunlight. Incidentally, when women with children see me walking Katie, they say, “Look, look, honey. See? A puppy!” But this puppy is a great-grand-mother, almost blind, and suffering from a chronic lung condition. Alas. Katie went walking with Monique this morning and, again, looked like a puppy.

Inside the house I glanced at the aquarium where we are raising two Black Swallowtail caterpillars. Startled by something, I stopped dead. Can’t be! But it was. One of the pupae, by far the smaller of the two, had opened and released a Butterfly. Just last night I was sure that pupae was done for. Join me in saying Welcome—to Odysseus the Little shown here in two versions: in the shade and in the sun. The yellow coloration says male. Brigitte is into Greek names for butterflies, hence Odysseus. She shortens that to Ody. This little fellow had had a fight to be born.

Soon now Ody will take off. We’re guessing that it will be in a north-westerly direction. Always so—whether back east in Grosse Point or here in Wolverine. And Monarchs have the same sense of direction. They know something we do not.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

What Used to be 4E

As a senior in high school, I had to come up with my future occupation. The word chosen would appear under the name placed under the picture in the Year book. The word I chose then was Journalist. I’d enjoyed very much both writing for our school paper, the Lillistrator. My work there also earned me a trip to Chicago to take part in a national conference for high school journalists. As fortune had it, I fell in love for the first time with one of the girls from across the country. The romance reached its highpoint when we walked along the Loop on a sunny day and actually held hands. (Those were the days.) Furthermore, as if all this were not enough, I enjoyed writing more than any other occupation, So Journalist in the Year Book. For a while in college, indeed, I aimed for a degree in journalism; but that did not last long. And though I worked in several of the great sectors in American life, journalism was never one of them—not even peripherally.

Despite this, I’d been exposed to journalism in some classes, and what with Lillistrator in the background, I had (and continue to have) a kind of proprietary view of the profession. I think I know what journalists have to do—and have to avoid. Early on I’d heard and approved of the idea that journalism was The Fourth Estate. The First is the Clergy, the Second is the Nobility, and the Third is the Commoners. The Fourth received its name in 1787; Edmund Burke used it, and Thomas Carlyle told us so in a book titled On Heroes and Hero Worship (source). The phrase spread to many other countries in Europe and perhaps beyond. The notion of “estates” has virtually disappeared in ordinary language, but it did provide a useful way of at least initially viewing social reality. Today’s keywords, like Tech and Media and Middle Class—and places like Below the Poverty Line—lack the organic rooting that “estates” once sank into the soil.

Long ago, down at the working level, different rules applied to the News Story, the Feature, and the Editorial. The first two pertained to news reporting; the news story, above all, was intended to be straight and factual; the feature could have color and did not need to begin with a summary sentence. Opinion and advocacy were restricted to the editorial; it was not only permitted but expected that the editorial writing, including opinion columns, would take a more human view of unfolding events than the value-free camera of a news account or the artistically lively feature.

This morning, by chance, I woke at 4 am and wandered out of the bedroom to my usual armchair before the TV set. Groping in the dark I found the remote and turned on the TV, muting the sound. There was CNN, Fourth Estate, in modernese 4E. To my amazement CNN had actual news stories running—and such as one no longer sees on cable these days—unless one has access to CGTN (for those who don’t know, that’s China Global Television Network (which we watch a lot)). Here came stories from Europe, Africa, China (Hong Kong), India, Afghanistan and even the USA in which neither whistleblower, impeachment, nor Donald Trump were even mentioned. Amazing. Fascinating stuff; had quite forgotten.

Traces of 4E still remain—more in the print than in the chatter media. But even in print, the thinned out remnants have been more and more replaced by what has become just another (if still somewhat unruly) new slice of what in the Old Days we’d called Entertainment but which the New York Times is trying, very hard, to rename Style.

Reach for the wand. Off button. Push. Faint light in the grey sky. Nights getting shorter. Equinox is over.  Everything changes. All the time.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Our Colonial Heritage

In our childhood—perhaps to this day—children playing too loudly or wildly were routinely called “Hottentots” and reminded to Stop it! Stop it! It occurred to me that there might really have been Hottentots once; and in Europe Africans might have been viewed at a great distance as generally wild…

Turns out it is true. The word comes from the Dutch settlers of the southern tip of Africa, the Cape Colony. The word was initially a way of imitating the speech patterns of the Khoikhoi peoples native there. The Khoikhoi used many click consonants in their speech (clip-clop being an example in English). That wildness is associated with them is obviously due to Europe’s distance from Africa and ordinary Europeans’ general ignorance.

As the enclosed illustration shows, they were pastoralists with orderly habits, shown here preparing for one of their recurring moves (source)

Those who’ve followed my source-link above will have noted that the article referenced is titled “Hottentot (racial term)”. When I began this post, I did not know that it was. Then I recalled Prime Minister Trudeau’s problem, reported yesterday, that he had worn “blackface” in the 1990s. Was “blackface” also a “racial term”? Evidently not. Wikipedia’s article on that subject is not so designated. Racialism, of course, is a problem. But its practice and use in language is recent. Now it happens that Hottentot is based on the Boer’s difficulty in understanding the language they heard—not on the skin-color of the speakers. So the Boers used a repetitious but meaningless sound to describe the people they’d encountered.

My next topic should now be “barbarians,” but time’s run out. That word comes from the Greek and was descriptive of people who seemed to repeat themselves—bar, bar, bar. Humanity’s earliest racialism appears to have been directed at those who couldn’t speak their language.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Hobbits Put an End to Summer in Detroit…Soon

This morning’s conversation took us (prematurely, I thought), to the End of Summer. Prematurely because it seems to me that the real summer had only shown precursors of itself, not a whole deck of its cards. But, of course, as Brigitte reminded me, we were now in September! And I should have known. In my childhood we were told that months ending in ber were generally of the colder sort.

So we to the calendars went. A few informed us that, indeed, in just five days Summer would be definitely Over. The Fall Equinox comes on September 23—at least here in Detroit. Another calendar calls it Beginning of Fall. Equinox, of course, means that day and night have the same length on this day. No wonder we kept wondering why the lights had to be turned on earlier and earlier.

All this, of course, is the bad news. So what’s the Good News? It is that September 22, thus exactly the last day of summer, is Hobbit Day. Those are the small humanoids created by the mind of R.R. Tolkien—Bilbo and Frodo Baggins. Now according to this Wikipedia source, there is a conflict here. According to Shire-Reckoning, the two birthdays fall between September 12 and 14. Our Gregorian calendar produces September 22—and only one day.

Good news, yes—but the usual scholarly not-so-is-so hullaballoo.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Waivering? Here is a Little Help

Yesterday came the news that the Trump Administration aims to do away with the State of California’s more stringent rules on automotive emissions. This subject arose a few weeks or months ago when the administration changed its own rules; the auto industry did not like that action; it would impose two different kinds of rules; those for most of the nation and those in one state. Regarding that word most above, please wait a moment.

News about this intended change refers to the word “waiver” or “California’s waiver.” This caused me to write this post. Two questions arise immediately. First, how come California can set its own standards for auto emissions? Second, if the California waiver will now be revoked, where is that word “waiver” coming from?

The facts are these. Automotive emission standards are set by the U.S. Clean Air Act (CAA). It was passed in 1963; for those who don’t understand dates starting with 19, 1963 was a long time ago, not quite 50 years. The word “waiver” is inside that law; more specifically it is called U.S. Code § 7543. State standards, and even more specifically it is paragraph (b).

The first paragraph (a) Prohibition begins by stating that—

No State or any political subdivision thereof shall adopt or attempt to enforce any standard relating to the control of emissions from new motor vehicles or new motor vehicle engines subject to this part. 

There is more detail, but that quote says enough.

The relevant paragraph (b) Waiver sets out the rules under which the U.S. Government may provide a waiver to paragraph (a) Prohibition to any State if that State already has such rules and if the State determines that the State standards will be, in the aggregate, at least as protective of public health and welfare as applicable Federal standards.
In other words, States may apply for a waiver if they have rules at least as stringent as the federal rules. For full details, here is my source.

It turns out that in total 13 states and the district of Columbia have all obtained waivers under the CAA. Therefore the removal of California’s waiver must after that be followed by similar actions against Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington, as well as the District of Columbia (source).

I end with an observation unrelated to the substance above. Journalism, in our day, seems directed at people who already know more about the subject than the reporters. Since I’m rarely so knowledgeable, I have to do research. My number one slogan is: “Hands off Google.” No waiver will be granted to that rule.

Monday, September 16, 2019

Milkweeds and Monarchs

We moved to our current location (west side of Metro Detroit) from our decades-long residence on the east side around in late summer of 2014. That also turned out to be a move from a tiny but very active backyard, garden, and Swallowtail butterfly ranch to a huge yard with much grass, a pear tree, and a grand rectangle all around it of bushes and trees grand trees.

Back in the old country, to call it something memorable, anxious then to diversify our Swallowtail population by adding Monarchs, we planted a milkweed bush bought at a garden store. Pictures of that plant back in 2013 are shown here.

After settling here, we discovered milkweed growing wildly off an almost daily-taken road called Ladd. We dug up a couple and planted them in our new huge yard. They multiplied. We now have what amounts to a milkweed forest. It looks like this:


Indeed there are more plants than shown here; the largest are to the right. As these plants took hold, our new terrain became a kind of Mecca for Monarchs. Every day this summer at least one Monarch took a leisurely but intense inspection of our forest. We even raised a few—but nothing like the number of Swallowtails we used to raise; by the end of our stay, that activity had become something of a job. The reason for this difference is that Monarchs are more difficult to find (in their bug form) and to keep alive indoors as caterpillars; partly our fault: we’ve grown more forgetful and careless. Thanks to chance (is there such a thing?), we settled next door to Pat (for Patricia), who turns out herself to be a Grand Mistress of Monarch Raising. With her help we’ve managed to raise about three or four—and to release them to the Wild (read our backyard). To our delight, we’ve seen that both Swallowtails and Monarch all take off in the same direction when released, flying generally to the northwest, much as they did back in the “old country” we left behind.

What’s a blog without a mention of our closest friends and the plants they eat. Here, to be complete, I must mention that with zero effort, lots of Cotton Whites also inhabit our paradise. They live in the grass, we think; it is never too closely cut by the myself, the Mower of the Grass.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Kimbern und Teutonen

In conversation today, somehow, the Teutons entered our talk. This triggered in Brigitte’s memory the phrase “Die Kimbern und Teutonen.” She asked me if the phrase meant something to me. “Yes,” I said. “The Teutons naturally do. That great victory in the Teuton Forest in which Herman beat the Roman legions.” Brigitte said “yes, yes,” but still wanted to know about the Kimbern, a peoples I’d never heard off. Next thing I know, she is handing me my Amazon tablet by way of saying that a look-up is necessary. (We fetch, in roughly the same order, coffee, bread, peanut butter, the ears, the telephone, and the Amazon tablet before we begin our mornings. The ears, of course, are tiny devices to let us hear better.)

My look-up made it plain to me that a very cold climate began to spread in the last millennium of the BC age. It played havoc with agriculture. And by the year 120 BC, some very large Germanic tribes inhabiting what is now the Danish peninsula, began to move south. The biggest among them were the Kimbern; they were joined by Teutons and others. In Latin (and in English to this day) they are known as the Cimbri. And the Cimbrian Wars are, you might say, the first of multiple folk migrations that accompanied the Decline of the West.

By the time the Kimbern reached the Alps (around 113 BC), the Age of Global Cooling was beginning to end and a period in climate later known as the Late Roman Warming had begun. Mass movements of humanity—as of temperatures, be it up or down—seem to go together.

I wonder if in some very distant time, when this Our Time will be as ancient to the living as the “late Roman” is to us, somebody will be looking for a famous tribe called the Hispanics—and have problems knowing who they were…

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Paradoxical Detachment

Let me start with paradox. The Online Etymology Dictionary tells us that the word comes from the Greek and is made up of para- meaning “contrary” and doxa meaning “opinion”; The OED then provides a meaning which seems to have been framed in the 1560s. It is a “statement that is seemingly self-contradictory yet not illogical or obviously untrue.”

I apply that word in adjectival form to detachment. Appropriately, I believe. When we detach, we detach from something. In an ordinary situation, we get exercised about something ridiculous in the news. Our mind is so on-and-on-and-on about it that, finally, we say: “I’ve got to get detached from this.” One of the paradoxes of detachment, for me, anyway, is that taking up my diary and then meticulously recording the irritation, in every conceivable form, sooner or later (usually after writing about three-quarters of a page), the emotional turmoil has diminished. The attachment to my description of it has caused a distance to develop. And from the distance the whole thing has lost its hold on me. And this is so even if the ultimate pain comes from a source we can rarely shake, e.g. noting that I owe a huge sum of money for something I was unaware of and, having examined the circumstances, I see that I’ll have to pay it. Detachment eventually comes when I shrug, at last, and think to myself: “It’s only money.” This though indicates that I’ve reached a point of awareness in which I’ve managed to detach even from the value of money. It won’t last, of course, but for a meaningfully sufficient moment I’ve achieved freedom.

The paradox is that genuine detachment means the embrace of nothingness. That statement is seemingly self-contradictory; but the way it feels is both logical and obviously true.” Another name for it might be religion (another paradoxical word).

I say that because, in a really meaningful way, especially in a time like our own which is utterly attached to sensory reality and its extensions into abstractions like money, a time eventually comes when the world’s madness has reached what seem like maxima; life seems to have lost all value and meaning; everything is going into the bottomless pit. At such a time, in a seemingly self-contradictory way, parts of humanity embrace belief in the unbelievable, a reality beyond the one available for examination. They form or join religions. In effect they detach from the madness all around. And, paradoxically, the continued practice of this detachment creates a reality in which, if you have social patience enough, life resumes again. And the madness then seems to have passed.