"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Thursday, October 29, 2020

Enterprise–From Rockefeller And Carnegie To Leaf Blowers And Silicon Valley, An American Success Story

Fall is the noisiest time of year in Washington.  Although the Mayor has said that she would gradually phase out gas-powered leaf blowers, the process has not yet begun, and because most neighborhoods are shaded by sycamores, maples, oaks, and cherries now shedding their foliage, there is no end to the noise.  While the blowers are a nuisance, they are responsible for the employment of hundreds of Hispanics who will return again in the Spring with their edgers and mowers.  More noise, but more income for workers.

Alongside them are Hispanic construction workers, roofers, painters, and landscapers who provide the labor to bump out dining rooms, build commercial-style kitchens, add extra floors, finish basements, build rock gardens, and plant yews, magnolias, and privet hedges.

Spanish is the second language of every neighborhood west of Rock Creek Park as crews of Hispanic workers come at 7 and leave at 6.  The only non-Spanish-speaking Hispanic workers are those employed by the DC government – street pavers, garbagemen, and leaf collectors.  There are no black workers on construction or landscaping crews; nor among builders, painters, and roofers.  These jobs are semi-skilled, available, and promising but untaken by black workers, despite the fact that black unemployment is among the highest in the nation.  Statistics compiled shortly before COVID showed that 13 percent of black Washingtonians were unemployed, well above the number of Asian, Hispanic, and white workers (WAMU-FM, May 2018).  Why is it that unemployed young men from inner-city neighborhoods are not working at these landscaping and construction jobs?

If most of the landscape, construction, and building companies were owned by Hispanics, the accusation of collusion – hiring only fellow Central Americans – might stick; but for now the owners, managers, and foremen are Anglo-Americans who hire workers who will show up on time, work hard, be responsible, and uncomplaining about the wages they are paid.  The Hispanic community, while beset by many of the problems of poor inner-city neighborhoods, has responded not unlike the Italian, Jewish, Polish, and Irish  immigrants of the early Twentieth Century.  They have come to America for a good reason – to profit from the better life offered here, to send remittances home, to educate their children, and to raise good families.

Enterprise – the ability to see promise and accept the discipline required to accept hard work and minimum compensation in the hope of opportunity – is common to those working the lawns and houses of Washington.  Most speak no English, have a grade school or some high school education, and come from poor, economically disadvantaged families, but have managed to find work to support their families and to find the opportunity for advancement that most American jobs offer. More and more landscaping contractors are Latinos who first bought a used truck and a set of old lawnmowers, hired men they knew, and went into business. 

The Italian immigrants who came from Naples, Amalfi, Sorrento, and Bari in the early years of the Twentieth Century had nothing when they arrived, were poor, in debt, had little education, and few job skills; and yet in two generations they had moved from the Italian ghettoes of Lower Manhattan, South Philadelphia, and Wooster Square to professional, industrial, and commercial success.

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Ancestral and historical records of Italian families who settled in New Haven in 1908 show a number of factors that contributed to their early survival and later success.   The extended family community was strong, and those already in the country did all they could to help new arrivals, and offered them a place to stay, work, and limited but important financial assistance.  Those who came to America and who had left family and homeland behind for opportunity and a better life were risk-takers – men and women who knew little about the country which would be their new home and who left the security of culture and family behind to do so. 

They brought to America the very qualities that their new country valued – enterprise, ambition, desire, drive, will, and discipline.  The Mafia, known for its tactics of intimidation, threats, and violence, also provided patronage to the new Italian immigrants; and the most savvy among them knew how to take advantage of their protection, keep tithes and dues within reason, and to maintain respect and honor.   Local governments were officially run by Irish immigrants who had come to America long before and, largely because of their own ambition and English-speaking ability, were well-placed.  However in those divisive ethnic times, they could not be counted on to protect and defend Italians and the Mafia could.

In one generation one family – the Espositos – had acquired property, set up a small business, and sent their children to technical schools.  They had done it through parsimony, family solidarity, intelligence, and above all, enterprise.  Lucca Esposito, as a contemporary journal attested, was ambitious, unafraid, disciplined, and savvy.  He was a member of the social clubs which would give him social standing, a good citizen never in trouble with the law, and a generous man who shared his limited resources with family members in need.

By the second generation his children had done well – two teachers, a nurse, and a doctor – and by the third, Espositos were going to Harvard and Yale.

Enterprise is often given a bad name by progressives who see it as nothing more than raw individualism – an unfortunate American trait which has always led to an unlawful accumulation of wealth, a distortion of economic advantage, and the creation of a white, privileged, elitist culture.  The example of the Robber Barons of the early Twentieth Century is illustrative, says the Left.  Rockefeller, Carnegie, Vanderbilt, and Morgan were all predatory, self-interested, demanding men who saw only profit, expansion, and great wealth as the result of their ambition, and set back the cause of the American worker by decades.

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While these men were indeed driven opportunists who had no compunction about using any means available to destroy their competitors, eke profits out of labor, and to fight any public attempt to control them, they were also great entrepreneurs whose enterprise built America.  Vanderbilt was responsible for building a great transportation network.  Rockefeller for first lighting the country with kerosene and then powering the nation with oil.  Carnegie’s steel made the growth of cities and their industries possible. J.P.Morgan built America’s financial sector without whose support, the electrification of the country would have been impossible.  Enterprise was the sine qua non of their success.  They had insight, took advantage of opportunity, took great risks to achieve their goals, and took on all comers to protect their vision.

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It is no different today.  Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Steve Jobs, and Jeff Bezos are classic entrepreneurs, men who had an idea, and the will, determination, and enterprise to make it profitable.  They are all as tough businessmen as Rockefeller and Carnegie ever were.  Only the times have changed, and the bare-knuckles, unregulated marketplace of 100 years ago is no more.  Today’s captain of industry has to play by different rules, but he is no less ruthless.

The Hispanics in Washington are on the right track.  While they might not yet invent a computer or intelligent software like their Asian brothers in Silicon Valley, they are just as instrumental in keeping the American economy going and prosperous.  

As much as the Left may insist that it is racism, the legacy of slavery, and the persistent elitist discrimination of the ruling class which has kept black communities from achieving proportionate economic success, they have not looked at the indigenous factors which have led to a much slower rate of economic integration than other ethnic groups.  They have overlooked the principles of character that have enabled immigrant upward mobility, and the very same attributes taught by Cato the Elder to the young, future leaders of Rome – honor, respect, discipline, compassion, honesty, and courage.    For American immigrants today and those of a hundred years ago, it was a adherence to these values and a sense of family, community, and country which encouraged them to take risks, to be enterprising, and to prosper.

America has always been criticized by the European upper classes as hopelessly practical.  They have no interest in let alone respect for high culture and prefer their intellectual isolation and dogged enterprise.  Sinclair Lewis’ novel Dodsworth tells the tale of woman who aspires to European aristocratic taste and company, but never realizes how irremediably American she is, how transparent her ambitions, and how limited her abilities.  Lewis admires the idea of ancient European patrimony and the aristocratic husbandry to protect and preserve it, criticizes it for its arrogance and presumption, but has equal impatience with the over-reaching American.

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It is enterprise which has led to Sam Dodsworth’s success as a Midwestern businessman.  The disciplines so eschewed by the European aristocracy – hard work, discipline, and focus – were both at the heart of the American ethos and Dodsworth’s personal fortune.

Every one of Shakespeare’s women was canny, enterprising, and savvy.  They had ambition, will, desire, and the ability to see opportunity.  The courtiers of European royalty and kings, queens, and princes themselves, were enterprising, vigilant to threat, expansionist, territorial, and aggressive.  Enterprise is not just American, it is human; and those who have it, will always rule, profit, and benefit.

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

The Other Side Of The Tracks–A Very American Story Of Love And Class

There were two sides of the tracks in New Brighton – the wealthy, old, Anglo-Saxon side, the descendants of the captains of industry who made the town what it was, an economic powerhouse of the mid-19th century, manufacturer of arms and materiel for the Union Army in the Civil War and purveyor of tools and hardware to the Expeditionary Forces in World War I – and the rest of the town.  There were actual railroad tracks in New Brighton, but they came nowhere near the leafy enclaves of the West End, and cut through the factory East End.  Freight trains from the Baltimore & Ohio loaded at Broad Street sidings and rumbled their way to Bridgeport and New York through the Polish tenements on Broad and Arch Streets unheard and certainly unseen by the Bishops, Porters, Frisbees, and Landers whose old colonial homes backed onto the 14th Hole of the Burleigh Maple Country Club and fronted on Lincoln Street, the carriageway that led from the corporate and law offices downtown to the oak-shaded neighborhoods of the West End.

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The first settlers of New Brighton had come in the yearly 1600s, members of the Davenport-Eaton team who, having heard from the Wampanoag Indians that the protected harbor of what was to become New Haven, the temperate climate and the abundant seafood of southern Long Island Sound, broke their journey from Salem and stopped in Connecticut.  Davenport had urged them to continue to New Haven – there was no good information about the Indians in the Connecticut River Valley, and the winters would certainly be far harsher than on the water – but Harold Vibberts saw things differently.  Access to both the Farmington River and the Connecticut River would give access for products and produce from the rich land surrounding New Brighton.  Vibberts was an entrepreneur, land manager, and skilled artisan, and was confident that he could make the community profitable.

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The house he built in 1640 is still standing on Lincoln Street, marked by a prominent placard over the front door.  Of course it had been adjusted and modified for the times.  Over the years the fireplaces had been replaced by coal- and then oil-burning furnaces, the outhouses removed and plumbing installed, insulation fitted in the attic and many new slate and then tile roofs built; but it still retained its early American look and spirit.  The Vibberts descendants had never shirked their ancestral responsibility and had kept the original furniture, paintings, and appointments.  Lincoln Street had been widened after the Great War, and many new homes were built to overlook the Southington and Meriden mountains; but the character of the West End retained its exclusiveness and Old World respectability.

The children of these West Enders went to country day school and exclusive New England preparatory schools, summered on Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket, skied at Gstaad and Aspen, and wanted for nothing.  The more ambitious, after Yale, went on to financial success on Wall Street while most others were happy to live on their private incomes, remained in New Brighton and led happy, exclusive, and privileged lives.

The other side of the tracks – the other New Brighton, was less homogeneous.  There were the Polish immigrant laborers who worked in the ball bearing, hardware, and tool-and-dye factories in the South End; the Swedish and Norwegian carpenters, electricians, plumbers, and house painters who served the West End and their own; the Jewish merchants whose drug and jewelry stores and clothing emporia catered to the better-off factory workers; and the Italian, Polish, and Irish doctors, lawyers, and dentists who served their own clientele.  They lived and worked not on the other side of the tracks but on their various spurs.  The communities never met except over the counter, never aspired to much more than they had, and provided the labor and patriotism that small towns needed to prosper.

The borders between railroad sidings were not impermeable.  Billy Trower, for example, was a young man whose father was one of the first settlers of New Haven and whose mother was a direct descendant of John Smith.  His ancestry represented a unique combination of early Southern and Northern American history.  Billy had been brought up accordingly – a respect for his ancestral tradition, the Anglo-Saxon culture from which it was derived, and a very latter-day American spirit of honor, duty, and respect.  His great-great grandparents on this mother’s side had all been baptized in Christ Church in Irvington, Virginia, one of the first Anglican churches of the early colonial period and one of the first Episcopal parishes after disestablishment.  His father’s family, as has been noted, came on the Mayflower, travelled with Eaton and Davenport, and were instrumental in developing central Connecticut.

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Marilyn Petrucci was the daughter of a first generation Italian from Bari – a laborer at Fenwick Bearing who had never made his way up and off the factory floor.  After decades of sweeping steel shards and shavings in the underground machine works, he was no better off than when his parent arrived.  She, however, was a comer – a girl with enough good Mediterranean looks, smarts, and social savvy to land one of New Brighton’s best and brightest.  Yet she had no idea how hard this mountain would be to climb.  Not only did she live on the other side of the tracks, she had no idea what it was like anywhere else.  Where were her opportunities?  Not in Nantucket or Martha’s Vineyard, or at the Country Club, or at St. Grottlesex or the Seven Hills Country Day School.  Her pickup hangouts were the Bowl-o-Rink on the Berlin Turnpike, the ten-pin alleys on Arch Street, and the grinder joints on the East Side.

Her best bet was at one of the sidings on the spurs of New Brighton.  If she could not catch a member of old, Anglo-Saxon New England, then she might have better luck with a son of the up-and-coming bourgeoisie.  Benny Rozscicki, for example, son of a dentist who had found a way to cross ethnic lines.  He pulled the teeth of West Enders and Jewish shopkeepers.  Benny had his eye out for young girls and being a ‘tweener’, neither working class nor upper class,  he had advantages.  He could dip down and pull up a recent immigrant and reach up and pull down a susceptible plum of the elite.  It was Le Rouge et le Noir all over again – poor boy with ambitions but with a demanding sexual instinct.  He wanted Nancy Lowell, tempted her with his ‘reality’, but could never refuse lovely Polish novitiates or Italian working class princesses.  It was to this side of his nature to which Marilyn Petrucci appealed.

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Their affair lasted only a year.  “It stinks of pussy in here”, said Brad Gamble, scion of Ohio fortune and Billy’s Yale roommate.  “We’re married now”, said Marilyn after a long weekend in his small, shared bunk-bed room in Trumbull College. 

When Billy’s parents got wind of the cross-tracks affair, they did everything in their power to derail it.  They sent him on an all-expanse paid summer vacation to Europe, bought him an Alfa Romeo, and introduced him to New England’s most promising, elegant, and well-bred beauties.

He needed no such enticements, for when he caught Marilyn in an unguarded moment unzipping the pants of Hartley Pease, he  threw her and five dollars onto College Street – payment for Saturday night or train fare back to New Brighton, however you want to look at it.

There were a few sort-of successes.  Samuel Booth had a long affair with Susan Carlson, daughter of a housepainter and frequent date at Choate, Loomis, and Hotchkiss proms, and married her.  Married her twice in fact after she had left him for a better prospect in the early 70s.  Mary Bristol married the son of one of New Brighton’s wealthiest and most successful thoracic surgeons – not quite the town-gown dipping that Sam had done or what Marilyn Petrucci had tried, but still something to remember given the very inflexible and quite definitive social borders of the town. 

Most everyone else was content to stay with their own.  In the long run, despite the boredom and predictability of skiing and yachting in the Caribbean; or the equally predictable Easter dinners, Church benefits, and Sundays at the shore, it was better to hang with your own kind. 

America is a democratic country, more or less.  Equality of opportunity is the meme and the anthem; yet everyone knows his place. There is no room for Marilyn Petrucci in the West End or for Billy Porter on Alexander Street.

A boy like that
Who'd kill your brother
Forget that boy
And find another
One of your own kind
Stick to your own kind
A boy like that

Will give you sorrow
You'll meet another boy tomorrow
One of your own kind
Stick to your own kind


  


Sunday, October 25, 2020

Harridan Or Heroine–Stendhal, Shylock, And Difficult Women

Billy X married twice – once to his college sweetheart, a beautiful girl of talent, sexual allure, and promise; and the second a girl of rectitude, honesty, and principle. No two women could have been farther apart in looks, personality, character, and temperament.  The second marriage was an anodyne to the first, a resetting of Billy’s moral compass, one which now pointed to the principled North and the polar opposite of his previous heading towards the unprincipled South. 

Billy was born and raised in New Brighton, a small city in New England which in the days between the Civil War and The Great War was one of the most important in America.  Its industries provided armaments and material for the successful fights against Southern secession and German expansionism.  It was the home of the captains of industry who had managed its great industrial expansion, and their sons and daughters who kept alive a very Anglo-American patriotism. Billy’s mother was a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution and his ancestors had fought at Bunker Hill; and his father was an even more prestigious member of the Society of the Cincinnati the ancestors of whose members were officers in the American Revolutionary Army.

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Billy went to an exclusive country day school, a top-tier New England prep school, and of course, Yale.  He was born to greatness, and his future carefully husbanded.

Yet Billy’s genes and his disciplined upbringing were not enough to keep him focused on his parents’ particular vision of America.   Perhaps it was living on the cusp of the socially revolutionary Sixties that led him across the tracks to Marilyn Palumbo, daughter of a steam fitter at the local factory, a goomba Italian who beat his wife and drank rotgut and smoked cheroots.  Or her dark, wiry-haired thorn bush of forbidden delight in white, blonde, country club New Brighton.  Marilyn was tough, case-hardened, ambitious, and predatory.  “Shit, Billy”, said his roommate, a cultured, high society heir to the Gamble fortune, rower, Fence Club, high-dicked Big Man on Campus.  “It stinks of pussy in here”.

Marilyn had come down to Yale on the New York, New Haven & Hartford, dressed like a Malley’s mannequin in a cute bellhop hat and frilly London skirt, ready to consummate the affair.  “We are married now”, said Marilyn after she had given Billy a taste, but no dinner, enough as far as she and her father would be concerned, for marriage.

Why Billy had not learned his lesson, given New Brighton Italians wide berth, and not returned to his roots, was a big question.  More puzzling was his alliance with another woman of, in the eyes of his family, illegitimate origins – a beautiful, talented, intelligent, socially savvy, but deeply Mediterranean woman  whose grandparents came from Bari.  She was dark, sultry, and seductive; but even more African, said his relatives, than anyone from Marilyn Palumbo's Sicilian family. She was an intellectual match – a Phi Beta Kappa from Wellesley, summa cum laude, top of her class, feted and honored.  “Watch out”, said Billy’s mother.  “She’s simply a higher-toned Marilyn.  Don’t  be fooled”.

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Laura Boniface was no Marilyn Palumbo, but her roots were not that far removed.  Her father was Marilyn’s father in tweed, a wife-beater held in check, a man savvy enough to know when to hold his fists. His daughter was his pride and joy.  He had managed to send her to the best schools because of the ‘collateral associations’ she would make there– those friendships which would rub off and give her an acquired social cachet.

So Billy X still smarting from his failed dalliance with Marilyn; still humbugged about doing the right, blonde thing; but still and always seduced by dark, Mediterranean women, fell in love with Laura Boniface.  She was the perfect compromise – the daughter of back-door guinea but WASP aspirant, a man who at least understood the fundamentals of American high culture and no longer grasped at the the 19th century peasant hooks of the Boot.  She was Ivy League, socially savvy, and noticed. She was the Mlle. de la Mole of Le Rouge et le Noir, a woman of breeding and intelligence who used her class, status, and social position to intimidate all men who sought her attention.  She was bored by them.  An affair with Julien Sorel, the carpenter's son, would do just fine. 

Their marriage was announced in the New York Times, more because of Billy’s pedigree than the bride’s blooming artistic career.  “A protégée of Leonard Baskin”, the marriage announcement read, “the foremost graphic artist in America”, and then glossed over her parentage and background.

Laura in the eyes of most of her classmates was a vixen – an arrogant, ambitious, duplicitous woman who wanted to catch, bed, and humiliate Anglo-Saxon American dupes.  She was the incarnation of  Hedda Gabler, Ibsen’s harridan who neuters her husband and dominates her lover, and Miss Julie, Strindberg's aristocrat who sexually toys with the valet.  Life would be drudgery without feminine sorcery, said Stendhal, Ibsen, and Strindberg; but Billy who never saw it coming, was bushwhacked by Laura Boniface who was far, far out of his league.

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Marriage was neither what his mother had planned nor what he had expected.  It was neither the settled life of equally-matched partners nor the sexual delirium of romance novels.   It was a battle of wills, sexual ambition, female determination, and male defensiveness.  By marrying Laura, he had won a  prize – an incomparably beautiful woman of any man’s dream; but he had not seen the thresher coming – the sharp blades cutting row by row, indiscriminately, without passion or interest. He was left on the curb.

Billy licked his wounds, retreated from society, and would have become a recluse if if it hadn’t been for Marian Jones – an ‘in- betweener’ as his mother described her. American to the core, rugged Westerners whose ancestors were early settlers in Ohio, the Great Plains, and California. Marian was everything Laura was not – as intelligent but complaisant, attentive, simple, dutiful, practical, and responsible.  She was what Billy needed – a refuge from the maelstrom of the drug-addled, Mafiosi, Factory, rag trade faggotry of New York into which his first wife had led him. 

Shylock in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice insisted on his pound of flesh, the collateral he held on a highly risky loan which suddenly had to be repaid.  Women who are not as determined and fearless as Ibsen's Hilde Wangel and Rebekka West or O’Neill’s Christine Mannon (Mourning Becomes Electra)  - women who dominate men -  prefer to rule by a thousand cuts.  Marian Jones never confronted Billy, challenged him, or defied him.  She simply worked around the edges, wearing away his patience with her dunning, irritating reminders of what Billy should and shouldn't do. Before he knew it Billy had become a stick figure in an architectural rendering of a Middle Class Marriage.

Who was the harridan and who was the hero?  His first wife, Laura was certainly a harridan, a succubus out to claim and destroy, but what would life be without little feminine sorcery?  His second wife, Marian, was indeed pesky and exhausting in her principles, but without her his tendency to jump where he shouldn't would become the norm. 

Love comes in waves, in and out with the tide, very predictable; and despite occasional tropical storms or lunar lulls, uninteresting.   Of course much is made of the dramatic failures of marriage in Shakespeare, O’Neill, Albee, Tolstoy, and Williams – but they are for an audience, actors in a fanciful drama.   For the rest of us, marriage is muddling through, setting for the inevitable disappointments, dealing with them, and moving on.  Those who have made it through marriages with the likes of Laura Boniface but also been able to stanch the blood from the thousand cuts of Marian Jones are the winners.

Friday, October 23, 2020

Nikola Tesla Was A Genius And A Madman–In This Censorious Age, Can We Accept The Best And Worst Of Both?

The image of the mad scientist is a common one and the subject of fiction, Hollywood, and popular myth.  Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is perhaps the most familiar story of the brilliant scientist whose madness turns him into an evil genius.  H.G. Wells’ The Island of Doctor Moreau is the tale of a weird recluse who combined animal and human genes to create ghoulish, terrorizing creatures.

Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove featured a Nazi scientist whose demented visions could destroy the world.  Wells’ character in The Invisible Man who becomes crazed with delusions of power plans to begin a "Reign of Terror" by using his invisibility to terrorize the nation.

Image result for Images Marlon Brando The Island of Dr Moreau

In the movie The Red Dragon, Hannibal Lecter, a cannibalistic scientist, asks the FBI agent who captured him how he did it.  “It was easy”, the agent says, “You are insane”.

History is filled with real mad scientists.  Isaac Newton was autistic and suffered from schizophrenia so bad that near the end of his life began to write delusional letters.  Mathematician Kurt Gödel suffered from delusional paranoia and his later writings were crazed and demented. 

Artists are no different. Ballet dancer Nijinsky went progressively mad and would retreat into complete muteness.  Edvard Munch had delusional visions, one of a sky dripping with blood and a horrible, universal scream of Nature.   John Nash, brilliant mathematician and Nobel Prize winner, was completely schizophrenic, and madness drove him to unhinged visions of evil enemies, imaginary friends and children.  The number of world political leaders, like Lincoln and Churchill, who admitted to depression and worse is significant.

Image result for images Edvard Munch The Scream

Nikola Tesla, the scientist who revolutionized the new physics of electricity, discovering the now universally-accepted Alternating Current (AC) among other innovations, became progressively mad over his lifetime. 

Alpha waves of the human brain are between 6-8Hz.  The wave frequency of the human cavity resonates between 6-8Hz.  All biological systems operate in the same frequency range.  The electronic resonance in each is 6-8Hz.  Thus, our entire biological system – the brain and the earth itself – works on the same frequency.  If we can control that resonate system of electricity, we can directly control the entire mental system of humankind.

Tesla’s belief in the power of science led him to be a champion of eugenics, the theory of racial purity.  Once the genes of the deformed, the disabled, the retarded, the mad, and the weak could be eliminated from the genetic pool,, the human race would thrive.

The year 2100 will see eugenics universally established. In past ages, the law governing the survival of the fittest roughly weeded out the less desirable strains. Then man's new sense of pity began to interfere with the ruthless workings of nature. As a result, we continue to keep alive and to breed the unfit. The only method compatible with our notions of civilization and the race is to prevent the breeding of the unfit by sterilization and the deliberate guidance of the mating instinct, Several European countries and a number of states of the American Union sterilize the criminal and the insane. This is not sufficient. The trend of opinion among eugenists is that we must make marriage more difficult. Certainly no one who is not a desirable parent should be permitted to produce progeny. A century from now it will no more occur to a normal person to mate with a person eugenically unfit than to marry a habitual criminal.

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To some, the link between genius and madness has a scientific basis. Christine Hsu, a scientific journalist, collected extensive research findings on the relationship between creativity and mental illness

Kay Redfield Jamison, a clinical psychologist and professor at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, said that findings of some 20 or 30 scientific studies confirms the idea of the "tortured genius" or "mad scientist". Jamison said that creativity appears to be significantly linked to mood disorders, especially bipolar disorder.  A 2010 study that tested the intelligence of 700,000 Swedish 16-year-olds found that highly intelligent adolescents were more likely to develop bipolar disorder in a decade-long follow-up.

Researcher James Fallon, a neurobiologist at the University of California-Irvine confirmed the same creative-bipolar link, saying that people who suffer bipolar disorder tend to be more creative, especially when they are coming out of depression. 

Elyn Saks, a mental health law professor at the University of Southern California who also developed schizophrenia as a young adult, said that people with psychosis do not filter stimuli as well as others without the disorder, meaning that they're able to ponder contradictory ideas simultaneously and gain insight into loose associations that the general unconscious brain wouldn't even consider worthy of sending to consciousness. Saks said that while the invasion of nonsense into conscious thought can be overwhelming and disruptive, "it can be quite creative, too."

Past studies have suggested that much of the link between genius and madness is produced by one particular gene called the DARPP-32, and that three out of four people inherit a version of the DARPP-32 gene, which enhances the brain's ability to think by improving information processing in the prefrontal cortex of the brain (Medical Daily).

In today’s censorious and intolerant society, Nikola Tesla’s scientific genius is overlooked by those who brand him a racist at best and a delusional, dangerous mind at worst.   A man today is defined by his faults, peccadilloes, and weaknesses and not his genius.  Regardless of Tesla’s intellectual brilliance, there are many who prefer to ignore him.

This censoriousness extends way beyond those whose creativity and genius may have been the source of their delusions of grandeur and impossible fantasies.  Regardless of the literary genius of Ezra Pound and H.L. Mencken, since both were rabid anti-Semites, their notable work should be dismissed. 

Immanuel Kant said, “'The Jews still cannot claim any true genius, any truly great man. All their talents and skills revolve around stratagems and low cunning ... They are a nation of swindlers”, and so too should he be consigned to a literary dungeon. Yet Kant,  whose comprehensive and systematic work in epistemology, ethics, and aesthetics greatly influenced all subsequent philosophy. Kant was one of the foremost thinkers of the Enlightenment and arguably one of the greatest philosophers of all time. He elaborated, advanced, and refined the rationalism of Descartes and the empiricism  of Francis Bacon. He thus inaugurated a new era in the development of philosophical thought.


George Bernard Shaw said, “Stop being Jews and start being human beings”. Theodore Dreiser said, “New York is a 'kike's dream of a ghetto,' and Jews are not 'pure Americans' and 'lack integrity”. Are we to burn their books? Consign them to the trash heaps of literary history?

Writing in the New York Times (12.17.13) Jennifer Finney Boylan, a transgender woman, wonders whether the Salvation Army should be universally condemned for its conservative views on gender and LGBTQ.  Or, should this one ‘fault’ be overlooked in light of the decades of selfless service to the poor? The Boy Scouts and other organizations which have served their members, society, and the nation for decades are under attack for what are now considered retrograde racist and homophobic policies.  Yet both Christian organizations have claimed certain rights of religious commitment.  The damage done to both by the unilateral censure of the progressive movement is irreparable.  They will be thought of first as ignorant and only secondly as charitable and caring.

If cancel culture warriors have their way, then Jefferson, Washington, Madison, and many other leaders and founders of the Republic should be erased from public view, statues torn down, streets, schools, and public buildings renamed.  Revisionist history at its very worst.

The proponents of the cancel culture  contend that the ordinary man is incapable of sorting out fact from fiction, rationality from madness, and there needs to be a government arbiter of ‘truth’, an agency to review everything written and spoken to determine if the contents adhere to the current woke philosophy of race-gender-ethnicity. 

It is a dangerous, corrosive policy not only because it is an unconstitutional arrogation of power, but because it is patronizing, patriarchal, and authoritarian.  To assume that Main Street cannot sort out Tesla’s scientific genius from his rabid philosophies is to assume an irreversible ignorance of the masses.  Let Tesla, Kant, Mencken, Munch revel in their delusions; but respect them for their life’s work.  Let Newton, Nash, and Gödel be as crazy as loons, but never forget gravity, number theory, and mathematical complexity.

It is human complexity which baffles the Left, a movement so convinced that Utopia is attainable that it will do anything to accelerate progress towards it.  Individualism – that queer combination of genius and madness in Tesla and that inevitable mix of contradictions in us all – is counter-revolutionary cancel culture advocates claim.  Only the collectivity matters, the assemblage of individuals neutered to conform to the prevailing received wisdom. 

There is no sign of this disruptive, anti-democratic movement waning; and if the Democrats win this 2020 Presidential election, it will only accelerate.

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Life Is Only A Badly-Written Preface To An Ordinary Novel–Only The Last Chapter Matters

Farley Burnham had reached his eighth decade, unthinkable a few years earlier when an affair had lifted him from the depression of old age and  into the irrational hopefulness that only a December-May relationship can give. “This is not my first love”, said Coleman Silk of Roth’s The Human Stain, “nor my best love.  But it certainly is my last love.  Doesn’t that count for something?”.  Of course it does, to which any older man who has had a sexual relationship with a much younger women can attest.  No matter how temporary, fleeting, or emotionally significant the relationship might be for the woman, it is the last gasp of male potency and a remembrance of youth for the man.

Image result for Images Roth Movie The Human Stain

The young women in these affairs have no idea of the existential proportions of their love.  They have their own sexual agenda, resolving or perpetuating myths and fantasies of their fathers, coming to grips with their own sexual insecurities, or simply rejoicing in the sexual prowess of an experienced, Viagra-powered man. These timeless relationships have always occurred and will continue to occur until recombinant DNA changes us all.  Until then women will marry their fathers, fall for bad boys, and succumb to the blandishments of Don Juans, Casanovas, and Lotharios; and men will always want to drink from the sexual Fountain of Youth.

And so it was that Brandon Appley was rescued from declining old age, hauled back to the living by Laura from Accounting; and for two years never regretted an instant of his amiable, uninteresting, and predictable life.  Young love was not only an anodyne to routine, an emotional uplift, and an early Christmas present, but a transformational affair.  Not only was life worth living from now on, but his unglamorous, unremarkable, and forgettable life was validated.

Nietzsche asserted that the only validation of life was the expression of individual will; but Appley had added a sidebar – sexual resurrection came a close second.

Image result for Images Nietzsche

D.H. Lawrence famously believed in sexual epiphany – coming together was not only an expression of mutual satisfaction, but one of spiritual promise.  His characters Gudrun, Birkin, Gerald, and Rupert (Women in Love) understood it, searched for it, were frustrated by it, found only weak imitations of it, but in their absolute desire validated Lawrence’s conviction about the existential centrality of sex.

Every other author’s tales of love and romance fall short of Lawrence’s philosophical depth and by comparison were little more than scripts for daytime television.  Love in their hands was a matter of conditioning, good or bad luck, encouragement, social norms, and breeding.  It always seemed to disassemble, unable to withstand even a light buffeting.  The men were wayward, irresponsible, and indifferent.  The women were ambitious, hungry, and duplicitous.  Edward Albee expressed it best in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? borrowing from Winston Churchill and his reflections on democracymarriage is the worst possible social institution except for all others.  It is the crucible of maturity, said Albee.  Without its confinement, rigors, and No Exit doors, we would all remain children.

Yet all of this wisdom and insight means little in the final accounting. Tolstoy’s Ivan Ilyich realized almost too late that his life had not only not only prepared him for death, but it kept him from making sense of it.  We all die alone, said Tolstoy.  The image of the dying man surrounded by his loving family is only as true as a Norman Rockwell magazine cover.  The reality is that our thoughts are far away from what we are losing and focused only on what is about to come.  The existential moment of a life about to be snuffed out has nothing to do with family, sexual epiphany, professional success, or social standing. As a dying man peers into the abyss, thoughts of one’s former lovers, lovers lost, love affairs missed, and sexual opportunities gone by the wayside are, to put it mildly, a waste of time. Life is not even a well-written preamble.  It has nothing whatsoever to do with being extinguished.

The devoutly religious may differ.  Their lives have been configured for this moment.  They have accumulated the credit necessary for entry to the next world and/or are convinced that they are going to a ‘far, far better place’ than the one they are leaving.  Yet they too do not dwell on the past.  Whatever credit has been built up or debt accumulated.  Whatever depressions or epiphanies have crowded their lives. Whatever attempts made to live a good, faithful life mean nothing.  The die has been cast. 

Image result for Images Tale of Two Cities

Jews have a saying, “Too soon old, too late schmart” and many an older man scrambles to figure out what’s what before it’s too late.  Tolstoy spent his entire life pondering the question of the meaning of life and at the end simply gave in.  If billions before him billions now had believed in God, then their might be something to it.  His alter ego, Konstantin Levin (Anna Karenina) came up with only a slightly more salient answer – doing good is the best that one can do in a meaningless existence. Yet neither Tolstoy in his memoirs nor the characters in his books are very convincing on this score.  Life indeed is nothing but a series of randomly connected events which determine out lot.  It is far less than a good preamble.  it is a game of billiards.

So what was Farley Burnham to do? The hyper-pleasure of his love affair would soon dissipate and disappear.  He would be left with memories that over time would become so twisted that they would no longer represent what actually happened and be only re-configurations of what he had always hoped mixed in with Hollywood romance.  His many years of a busy life were already getting jumbled.  He was no longer sure what happened when, how, and with whom.  This tangle was not a result of Alzheimer’s but the confounding nature of memory.  Somehow the human being knows that life is only a preamble to death, so establishing fact and sorting it from fiction makes no sense.

Should I consult a priest, he asked himself? But he had for so long been a non-believer that there was no coming back.  I admit my mortal sins and am heartily sorry for them already.  What would an official Confession accomplish? The Church’s magic can only be worked if one believes in the power of the magician; and Farley was far beyond that.  Might the taking of Holy Communion – the body and blood of Jesus Christ –be that supra-mystical event which regardless of belief or disbelief do wonders for his soul?

Image result for image pope giving holy communion

Should I take risks? Easy in the Age of COVID.  Be death-defying. Take off the bloody mask, go to raves.  Mountain climbers, racecar drivers, downhill skiers, and deep sea divers have all concluded that only by risking death is life validated.   Yet that option was for the young who had a lot of life to lose.

Yet it all comes down to this – any attempt to extract or give meaning to life is a waste of time.  If life is only a badly-written preface to a very ordinary story, then better to ignore it, flip through the chapters and read only the last one.