A Parable of the Head and the Heart

The late Sir Winston Churchill is credited with saying, “If you’re young and you aren’t a socialist, then you haven’t got a heart. But if you’re old and you’re still a Leftist, then you haven’t got a head.

That dichotomy would seem to be what is very much at play right now vis-a-vis the one going discussion as to whether they U.S. should provide safe harbor for the unending high tide of Syrian refugees, which discussion has become particularly poignant following the Paris bombings last week. And all the more so since a Syrian passport was found by one of the bomber’s body at the Batalan concert venue.

Frankly, there are quite a few points to be cleared here, specifically:

  1. what percentage of Syrian refugees can be considered a potential, or exponential threat to the safety and liberty of the West?
  2. how horrific really were the Paris bombings?
  3. whether or not we (specifically Americans, and more over Jews) may be hypocritical in denying Syrians fleeing a sinking ship a life raft on which they can be expected to want to stay.

The first order of business, ladies and gentlemen, is going to have to be a prerequisite of setting emotions aside. Though I consider myself a member of the Right, I will never be a member of the far Right for the simple reason that much of the early part of my life was spent developing a critical faculty that simply will not be put to bed.

That also means that many accredited members of the Right consider me Left, if only because I am thoroughly accustomed to hearing the other side’s arguments, even though my compatriots are not. This position allows me to obviate certain limits, such as polite academic circles tacit agreement that one cannot possibly be a scientist or otherwise enlightened if you are so benighted as to believe in G-d and creation. Decades, generations and even centuries of discussion and thought must be heaped on a Savonarola-type bonfire that would not have spared even the nearby fresco’s of Fra Angelico were it possible to conveniently remove them from the walls.

Having done with that purple patch, there is no point in engaging in any further hand-wringing when considering the plight of those who don’t care to continue to live under Assad, or Daesh or any other conceivable alternative to either of the above. What I am saying is that there is no point in allowing images of drowning babies and miserable children sitting by cooking fires in front of tarpaulin tents to back the kind of clear thinking required when taking a step that may critically endanger, alter and change the future of Western culture.

Beyond those images of humanitarian crisis has to be a viable consideration of the likelihood that the vast majority of Syrians landing in Greece or marching through Eastern Europe are young, unmarried males carrying smartphones and no one knows who is paying their connection charges. Do they?

That means that despite the vetting and the fact that they are presently being kept in pens in Cyprus very like the DPP camps that the Jews went through following the Holocaust, no one can tell what percentage of them is already radicalized and is capable of evading detection.

Very frankly, nutters are attracted to religion. In the days of my youth, I applied to a rabbinical seminar and as part of the admission process had a scheduled meeting with a psychologist. So he asked me, “What Biblical figure do you most identify with?” and, given the situation, the first thing that popped into my mind was Daniel in the lions’ den. But then, my critical faculty kicked in, and I thought: no, that won’t do. So I answered, “Avraham Avinu,” which caused the white-coated expert to nod and jot down what I had said in his notebook.

So you see, it is as easy as that. Plus, given the well known fact that “children are Jung and easily Freudened,” there is no way of knowing when one of these moderate, hard-working, family-oriented Muslims may just go radical. Remember, arch-terrorist Marwan Barghouti holds a law degree from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He was once and assimilated Muslim until one day he decided that terror is the only language that Westernized Israelis will ever understand. And if that isn’t enough for you, here’s a link to The Intercept, which I don’t much care to reference (not being particularly partial to their head honcho’s self-hating point of view based solely on his life-style preferences) that states that the main point of the Paris attacks was to smoke out the moderates and make them ipso facto radicals by increasing their European neighbors intolerance for them.

About 10 yrs ago following the 7 July 2005 London bombings, The Guardian, which is a crotchety sort of English-conservative newspaper, published a very interesting report on religious/racial tolerance vis-a-vis the enormous Arab population of the capital, which had cause parts of it way back then to get nicknamed Londonstan. The bottom line there was that while the English polled expressed very high tolerance bordering for sympathy for the non-Anglo-Saxon population, Muslims should nearly zero interest maintaining a friendly relationship with their surrounding, host culture.

That said, and you will forgive me for this, the Paris bombings were not all that bad. I’m just a seasoned old journalist, and around the newsroom the number of people killed is what makes things print-worthy. One hundred and twenty nine doesn’t much hold a candle to 9/11 or what has been going on for years and years in the Holy Land. I too regret the untimely death of all those beautiful people just out having a good time, and deeply realize that each and everyone of them is mourned by friends and family members. I spent hrs motzei-Shabbos looking at the footage shot out of a window adjacent to the Batalan just trying to understand what was going on. But what happened in gai Paris is notable mainly for shock value. That is what terrorism is about. Meaning: the fact that they got them is tantamount to them being about to get you. So watch out!

And finally as promised, it is historically true that the United States of America is an immigrant nation. But historically it was also a country based on Judeo-Christian values that held by the sanctity of reproductive marriage and publicly considered same-sex whatever to be an abomination. To be terse, things have changed and Liberals might take into account that by definition all nation states have the right to decide to whom to open their borders.

And yes, I am well aware that following WWII many people didn’t want Holocaust survivors to arrive from foreign shores, but then there is not much you can do about the fact that people-don’t-like-Jews. I went to a private day school with a quota and graduated an Ivy League university in the early 70’s, so believe me when I say “I know all about it.”

Don’t play the social diversity card either. Radical Islam, or whatever you please to call it, is not Zen Buddhism. In my day, you had to do an SAT-type writing sample in a proctored venue and got the subject for your impromptu essay in a sealed envelope. Mine said, “It’s good to be open minded, but being too open minded  can cause your head to fall off.” I kid you not. So I wrote for an hour or so about the Chinese Empire which continued to exist over the course of centuries by excepting those cultures opposed to it. But finally it failed. So did Rome, which early in the Empire was said to have more cults around than its own native religion. Bottom line here: even America has only so far it can go.


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No, They Aren’t Really Human Beings

No, the Palestinian Arabs are not really human beings, not in the sense that any American/European and/or Western-oriented speaker of the English language would use that term.

Besides that, what’s up for grabs is whether they qualify as a people or not. That means that in terms of 19th century nation-state theory, i.e. any indigenous group should have its own political identity and should live within its own geologically defined borders, it may well be that the Palestinians flunk the test. Though the British Empire unfortunately took the trouble to draw and quarter the Kurds, who continue to suffer mightily for it, most other ethnic groups such as the Gauls, the Gaels and most recently the Jews have fared better.

Following the Balfour Declaration and U.N. Resolution 181(II) the Jews have had a state, albeit they have had to fight to carve a place for it due to the grossly unfair division of land in the Land of Israel that almost immediately lead to the War of Independence but, as aforesaid, that may just be the way things go when left to the Brits, as per unpartitioned Pakistan and India, which remains a nuclear hot spot to this day.

But to get back to our talking points, the fact that the Palestinians are living in Greater Israel does not ipso facto mean that they are Palestinian Arabs, as the word is that many of them — and especially their political leaders — came from some place else entirely. Now, not being an historian, I may well be remiss on my History, though open to corrections given that they are delivered in the proper spirit, however many authorities do seem to be of the opinion that the People of Palestine is little more than a political fiction. As such, they have no homeland by anyways and means, with the proof of the pudding being that Yasser Arafat would have been perfectly content to have set up shop in Jordan during his Black September, which I’m sure none of my readers has forgotten.

So it maybe, for the sake of argument at least, that this hodgepodge of Arab nationalities has been squatting on hard earned, though historically vacant, Jewish land for as long as any of them care to remember and therefore choose to believe, Heaven help us, that it is theirs.

But to get back to the title of this piece, or essay if one cares to go back to the root Old French meaning of the word meaning to attempt, as in to attempt to understand or to explain to those who don’t, the Palestinians are by no means “human beings.” They have developed a culture which, whether or not it is akin to Islam, centers entirely on death and destruction and hinges only on political opportunism.

I am sure that I don’t need to tell you, mon cher confrère, that the main Arab interest in the Land of Palestine is that it is a stain on their honor that the Jews have it, the same being true of Al-Aksa and the Temple Mount as well. Just recently they torched Joseph’s Tomb and everyone knows that they have laid waste to all of Gush Katif. They could have made Gaza into a new Riviera like the oasis of Beirut, and they have, but only for the rich while they keep the poor as poor as possible lest the pitying Europeans and Leftist Americans cease to rain down the euros and dollars that fill the inner circle’s foreign bank accounts.

And, to get to the bottom line, I could have spent my time more wisely, and would have were I feeling better, were it not for a very gifted writer who is spreading himself all over Facebook as they have previously all over the blessed Internet for the holy cause of befriending a Palestinian, so that at least he won’t knife you.

The idea is that if you can catch a tyger (vid. William Blake) by the toe and “listen, really listen,” that this will somehow bring Peace and protect our Children. I suppose the basic theory is that if you can get to enough of them, the climate will change over, like planting a national forest in the Mohave Desert. Don’t believe it, because it might —  like this 723 word article — just make you a target.

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What Do Writers Write For?

Actually, the question should be not what do writers write for, i.e. not what good does it do to write, but rather who do they write for.

The answer is that writers write for other writers or they write for themselves.

As I have mentioned in any number of blog posts, I write because I have to. That is either because there is a little voice in my head that is juxtaposing words in such an interesting and irresistible fashion that I am thereby forced to get myself together and jot them down, or because extended periods of time without my hands coming in contact with a keyboard often result in sickness and depression.

Again, writing seems to relieve something deep inside of me. Seeing letters pop up on the monitor has an existential purpose — I write, therefore I am.

But I suspect — and you may correct me if you please — that many writers actually are writing for other writers. This is either because writers are a sort of fellowship like stonemasons or the printers of late medieval France or due to the fact that the only people deeply committed to hearing what other writers have to say are in fact their comrades in arms. That means that every reader is a potential writer, if he will only take pen in hand.

What’s more, nothing gets a writer more in the mood to write than having a good read himself.

It really oughtn’t to be this way. Writers should be looking for real experiences, not unlike the heroine of Pamela, Richardson’s great epistolary novel, who was ultimately torn between maintaining her virtue by staying locked in her room and writing yet another letter home to mum and dad or going out to have another adventure with her naughty master so that she would have what to write about.

Perhaps writers, or authors if you will, should be like Trifimov in The Cherry Orchard with a willing ear for everyone else’s story. We should be wholly concerned about what we can do for other people and give up thinking about ourselves.

Because writing very often is a narcissistic business at best, it would be best if the authors had a the reader in mind rather than considering him as a marketing factor.

Sure, all of us like to eat and getting a book on the market and watching it climb the charts must be a great way to make sure that we and our dependent continue to get fed regularly. But what has happened the novel’s original concerns as a genre?

Let’s face it, the novel was deeply concerned with social ills long before the 19th century when Emile Zola and Honore de Balzac made that a credo of French realism as did Dos Passos in the early days of the American 20th century. From the very start, the novel was taken up with what was wrong with society not as a whole but more specifically with individual failings in the most intense and personal way.

In this respect, the novel may be the rightful the heir to classic Greek drama and the Medieval morality play. Pilgrim’s Progress is about the perfection of the soul, albeit in a Christian setting, and reading books became an increasingly, intimate way to come in touch with internal realities in a way that even films cannot hope to approach.

But what does that have to do with what we as writers do and how we perceive ourselves?

A superficial glance at this and other sites might yield the impression that today’s writers are marketeers, that authors now pander after readers rather than using their skills to craft a platform or even a pulpit from which to exhort the reader to greater heights rather than comforting, aiding and abetting him in his private depravities.

Are we to write nothing but airport gift shop novels? Throughout the ages adultery, fornication and even incest have been the backbone of great literature, but is there nothing else to human existence?

A real concern for language, for form and how a novel is properly hammered together might be pathways to making writing a respectable, not to mention really profitable profession.

Once the reader has given us his undivided attention, we have a carte blanche to tinker with his mind. Why not sway it in the right direction?

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Putting Pen to Paper

Were I to have been asked to write an article giving advice to young writers, I would probably have begun by discussing the absolute necessity of having some real excitement about just putting pen to paper or laying one’s fingertips on a qwerty keyboard.

If you haven’t got that, meaning that you don’t get a kick out of just watching those letters tumble onto the screen, then you had better cut out now while you are ahead.

I personally have been writing for as long as a can remember. In fact, one of my earliest memories is penning a poem on the stone windowsill of the window in my room with a light summer wind blowing into my face.

Yet an earlier memory is holding an over-sized, black lead pencil and learning to form letters between the red and blue scored lines of a nearly manila piece of A5 paper.

Writing must, in short, have a thrill to it. If you don’t have some kind of immediate, unrelenting tactile gratification from it, then then there is just no point, as I said above, in pressing ahead.

That’s because real writing is a very painful, though voyeuristic experience. You may be seeing in to other peoples’ minds and may well find yourself pulling characters directly out of the facets of your own psyche. Not always a pretty dish to set before the king, to say the least.

Perhaps you can beat the rap by doing writing exercises like describing your room, some hidden sanctum of a garden or the must unforgettable person you have ever met. But if writing doesn’t mean more to you rather than mere self-expression, then you are off to a handicapped start.

Great writers, even good writers do it because writing is a kind of sickness for them, as Liza Doolittle might have said. And that is because authors can’t be done with personal or imagined experiences until they rid themselves of it by making int the kind of meaningful construct popularly considered art.

Art in this context is not something that belongs in anthologies and hangs in museum, just whatever is contrived rather than real.

As such, art is often more tantalizing than reality and more fun than fantasy, depending on how well the writer has done the job of sorting and translating what he has endured into the system of sounds, rhythms and connotations that we call language.

That means that the artist – in this case the writer – takes experience and remakes it into a kind of controlled substance.

Nor is it that the artist, as it were, always comes out on top.

A writer who has written something up, whether his personal experience or one that he endured vicariously, is now done with it. That piece of past or vision no longer has a hold on him. But that is only because the two of them – the author and his subject – have both suffered the awesome process of vocabulary, grammar and punctuation.

Fulfilling his incumbent duty to fashion reality into something that will trespass inexorably on his reader’s mind has ultimately set that bit of the authors being apart from him in terms of both feeling and even private ownership.

Once it has been written, expressed and — better yet  — printed and published and read, the author is at last at rest.

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In Search of a Reader

Now that we have considered why writers write, we’d best have a bash at how they do it. And I may as well let you in on the big secret right away, i.e. every writer needs a reader. Otherwise, there simply is no point in the exercise.

To begin with, it would be reasonably safe to assume that in any genre the first thing to get in hand is the journalistic W’s — Who, What, Where and Why. Yet that done, we’re going to be left with something we haven’t yet dealt with — How, which is only Who turned around a bit, if you haven’t noticed.

How you will write your short story, major novel or tech story depends entirely on whom you can expect to read it.

Different folks like different strokes, meaning that my high school classmate who has morphed into an atomic physicist can be expected to become enthusiastic about an entirely different piece of prose than my mother, bless and keep her, who is over eighty and wants a good laugh when she can get it or at least to be deeply moved.

But each of these people, not to mention my daughter or my wife were they up to reading English, expect the article you’re offering them to be well written, meaning that they should never for a moment be in the slightest doubt as to just what you are endeavoring to tell them.

Yet note that the reader by will design delineate your choices in structuring the article whether human interest or technically oriented.

A few years ago when they were still building the Large Hadron Collider at CERN and most of the news centered on whether the creation of anti-matter would create a local black hole that would suck all of the known civilization into a gaping crater somewhere in the middle of the French-Italian Alps, two equally competent descriptions of how that might happen appeared on the Internet.

One of these was a Reuters Newscom article, the other was a rap song video posted on YouTube. And to tell you the truth, the latter might have been a little more successful in getting the information across.

It may just be that despite the theological repercussion of the Higgs boson, a long-legged demoiselle pirouetting among the piping with backed up of swaying choristers  in orange hard hats rather took my fancy. But more likely is that the constant pitter patter of a  a rap song defused the whole situation to the extent that it was now remarkably intelligible.

Granted, when it comes to audiences, you can now wipe anyone with low tolerance for hip hop off the slate, but the message came across.

And that,  mon cher confrère, is the bottom line whatever it is that your writing. If you don’t have what to say, just go make yourself another cup of tea or coffee.

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If You Haven’t Something to Say

When I was writing poetry as a University Scholar at Princeton under John Hollander, he once advised me that Professor Frederic O’Brady had asked to see me. I had only had a glimpse of Prof. O’Brady in the E. Pyne cafeteria, where a friend who was active in Theatre Intime grew ardent when the professor nodded to him.

O’Brady was an actor and homme des lettres. Now that I think about it, Hollander must have shown him some of my poetry. Holllander once told  me, “My wife is your greatest fan. She loves your smiling toughness.”

So somehow, at an appointed time, I appeared at Prof. O’Brady’s draped and carpeted E. Pyne office. It was like nothing else in Princeton. “It did not give of bird or bush (“Anecdote of the Jar,” Wallace Stevens), but it was a slice of rive droite in that academic, Philistine atmosphere.

After I had knocked and opened the door, I found the professor standing. O’Brady was short, perhaps even shorter than me. He waved me to a chair with his great desk and table lamp between us.

I may or may not have presented him with a sheaf of my hand-typed poems. But I do remember the one sentence that he said.

“I wanted to meet the young man who writes only when he has something to say.”

After that he looked at me, and I looked back. I got up to leave and the professor may have followed me to the door.

Maintaining Silence

Remember this:  as a writer there is no sin in not adding to the discussion if you haven’t got something worthwhile to offer.

As opposed to Tweeters, Hooters or whatever, authors until the late 20th century when things went amuck were expected to have something to get across when they took pen in hand.

If you look at the 19th century (which we should now be emulating), at Hawthorne and Poe in American and Balzac and Flaubert in France, you will notice right away that though their work was thoroughly thrilling they didn’t take up their craft unless they had something to get across.

Most people now are very busy. And if they aren’t all that engrossed in the task at hand, they’ll be looking at pictures or videos rather than read. That means if you want to catch a reader and keep him, you’re going to have to serve up some new information or at least a salient point of view.

So, if you haven’t something to say, then don’t. Keep quiet, because no one will listen to you, unless of course you’ve been hyped up as someone to be heard.

But right now there is just too much noise out there to tune in.

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Michelangelo and Autocomplete

While in Florence during what must have been the summer of ’69, I first encountered Michelangelo’s I Schiavi. Supposedly among his last works, I Schiavi give the impression not of having been sculpted out of a block of marble, but rather of the figures having always been trapped inside. It was as though Michelangelo did not actually create these sculptures, but rather liberated them from the rock casing that previously kept them from our view.

When beginning to write this entry at my old venue on Blogspot, I came across a feature in the editor that I rather liked. To my great chagrin, autocomplete has since disappeared. You simply had to begin typing the next word when an auto-suggestion would pop up. Accepting/completing it required hitting the pound bar.

Probably the reason that the folks at Mountain View took it off is that there were those who claimed that it hampered their creativity –whatever that is. But what I liked about autocomplete was that it gave the impression that the editor already knew what I had to say.

But while available autocomplete created the illusion that just like Michelangelo’s incomplete statues — nearly Baroque, stone  studies detailing the human musculature from neck to knee when subject to voluminous pressure from above — my thoughts, scarcely dressed in words, were escaping into a publishable reality.

In the dawn of my intelligence when I first began writing, I liked to pamper myself by believing that I was some kind of amanuensis. But having discovered that notion had been purloined by no less than Ezra Pound, I gave it up. But the idea remains haunting.

That’s because anyone who writes seriously must perforce believe that he has a message for the world. Every writer is on a mission of some kind, whether to cajole, edify or admonish.

But more importantly as writers we have been blessed with a very special gift — we are able to listen. Attentive to the meanderings of our own souls, we should have become equally attuned to the needs of other. How else will we be able to write about them?

Given the above, it is therefore our craft to mold the medium of language in such a way that third parties can correctly assess those chunks of reality that we have ascertained as existing where the reader may not have hitherto sensed them.

Better yet, we may be teaching our audience to avoid the constraints of its own sensitivities by lending it the perceptions of others.

And so, like Michelangelo gently tapping his chisel on unmarked marble, we may watch the falling rubble reveal new contours, new strengths not in our own abilities but in the chosen reader in whom we’ve selected to confide.

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