Post # 405  TRIBALISM AND SELECTIVE EMPATHY

It must have been in the second year of the three -year existence of this blogpost, that we published one of our usual mini-essays, on the subject of “empathy.” This word may well be our favorite, in the entire language; we carefully distinguished it, from “sympathy.” Our post reminded the reader that the word “sympathy” is the level of feeling, in which one responds with appropriate feelings of sorrow, for the plight of another; “apathy,” goes deeper, and enables the individual to vicariously, feel the other person’s pain. We entitled the writing, “Love Without Words,” drawing our inspiration from the beautiful title and musical composition, “Songs Without Words,” by Felix Mendelsohn.

We have also written on the negative subject of “tribalism,” a socio-political phenomenon, in which the desire for needed acceptance, and conformity to a group, results in the dysfunction of one’s decisional freedom, and leads to irrational outcomes. This syndrome, apparently, results from the profound insecurity of individuals, such that they lack the confidence to put to the test, their personal freedom of thought and expression. Such temerity and reactive devaluation of individual thought, results in a more comfortable, neurotic loyalty to a social group, and a pathetic participation in its “groupthink,” so that the participant’s position regarding an issue, is based upon the group’s point of view, rather than his own.

Loyalty in such instance, is total, unwavering, absolute and irrespective of personal disagreement. The salient principle, is the preservation of absolute unity, by the acceptance of the adopted group’s official position. If the “group” opposes welfare, the individual opposes it as well (despite, perhaps a previous support of the program) on the basis of fear of rejection, by the all-important group. In addition, proposed new ideas are evaluated by the group, based upon its evaluation of its source, rather than upon its merits. Logical and equitable solutions to confounding problems, may be adopted and applauded, or rejected and excoriated, based on their identified source, traditionally, deemed acceptable by the group, or not. This irrational phenomenon is non-productive, and could, actually, be dangerous. It appears that the pathological phenomenon of the continued existence, and devastating impact, of tribalism, has proven to have little limit to its invading metastasis.

Emotional reactions, such as empathy and sympathy, are well within the innate capability and potential inclination of every normally socialized human being. They are reflex-like responses, instantly set off at the mere sight, or realization, of a compelling situation. Such spontaneous reactions are initiated by the causative stimulus, and are natural (viz., non- political, universal) phenomena. Yet, it would appear that tribalism is (frighteningly) capable, in addition, of overcoming emotional volition and personal feelings, for many people, in order to concur with those expressed by the group.

We, at long last, have arrived at the troubling explanations for (1) the “Right to Life” organization’s inconsistent protection of the fetus, but its lack of support for the welfare of the baby, following birth, and as well, their general opposition to gun regulation, (2) the support by Evangelical Christianity, of Donald J. Trump, despite his sexual and criminal misconduct, and (3) the failure of the entire cohort of the Republican  party, to support redress for the shameful and Nazi-like treatment of Hispanic immigrants, particularly at the border, as well as their refusal to recognize, unanimous scientific  warnings, on climate change.

The explanation resides in the willingness of too many Americans to abdicate their own identity and worth, in exchange for a neurotically-needy, ersatz, sense of security, perceived from being part of a group, which is seen to be of greater status, than they are, as individuals. It may be noted that among the many generous gifts of evolution, an advanced brain, capable of reason and perspective, was awarded to individual homo sapiens, not to groups. We are greatly troubled, that so many Americans are willing to barter their capacity for reason and perspective, and even, to the extent of their innate, natural inclinations and empathic reactions, for the doubtful value of a perceived, secure feeling of commonality with groups of others.

This is no less than alarmingly repugnant, to the successful and moral existence of a Democratic Republic. The Founders created a nation, foreseen as composed of individual citizens with independent, and often, with divergent ideas. These were to be civilly debated, and the results, acted upon by a responsive government, resulting in a government, by and for the people. In our past essay, “The Death of Civic Amity,” we decried the tribal conglomerations of people with identical views, at virtual war, with other like groups of divergent opinion, and the practical impossibility of friendly and constructive debate. The evident divisiveness and tribalism of our Nation, was never anticipated, by our philosophical and optimistic Founders.

We are greatly disappointed, but, we are not without faith in a curative remedy, for this presenting tribal pathology. It may take some time, but the very initiation of our process of cure, will by its earliest dynamics, accomplish much, in the way of restoring the insecure citizen, to a proper sense of individual self-respect and independent reliance. The restorative remedy, seeks the renewed creation of his personal self- image, one confidently grounded, in a personal sense of capable self-determination. Our needy citizenry, possess the ability to return to a normal, instinctive sense of assured, individual capability, and confident self- determination.

As we have written many times, the private pursuit of personal wisdom and assurance, is through the awareness and realization of the independent capability of one’s own mind. This realization may be encouraged, by a dedicated (and enjoyable) reading of good literature, or the independent pursuit of a nuanced area of interest, such as music, art, nature, social work, or anything else of choice. The independent pursuit of an elective interest, is a valuable use of time, and an assured route to an enhanced life, satisfaction and personal growth; it is an effective elixir for the discontented, and to our point, an opportunity for the development of independent, personal initiative. The resulting sense of accomplishment, and experienced personal insight, is the best route to self-esteem and confidence.  The exercise of independent choices, may well be transferrable, from the elective activity, to other areas. There is nothing, in this context, more essentially impactful, and important, than “citizen building.”

Where neighborly encouragement or assistance is required, it should be generously supplied. We need to recognize that we are truly dealing with an existential problem, the very survival of our Republic.

-p.

Post # 404  THE PLANETARY FRANCHISE

The emergence of new human or animal life, when considered scientifically, and empirically, is the natural and eternal, continuance of the relevant planetary species, at the very start of its own individual life cycle. However, to the emotional perception of humankind, it appears to be a singular, miraculous event; despite the existence of identical past experience, and a relevant educational background. The reaction of enhanced astonishment, we would maintain, is an emotion having its etiology in the sudden realization, that life has irreversibly changed, in the context of the new addition to the previously familiar, family structure. A newborn child, even the introduction of a new pet cat or dog, portends changes, not only in the household dramatis personae, but also to its routine and undertaken responsibilities.

It usually takes but a short time, before the addition is incorporated into the recognized family household. The new responsibilities are willingly undertaken, in exchange for the invaluable pleasure of love for the new baby or family pet. One becomes grateful to incorporate this new recipient of the rare and most precious gift of the planet, the invaluable franchise of life, to the family unit.

We are struggling for a useful metaphor for the grant, or franchise of life, but can find no closer reference than the poet, Gertrude Stein’s expressed reverence, for the incomparable beauty of the rose. Her poetic statement was, “A rose is a rose, is a rose,” poetically editorializing her aesthetic opinion, that there is no other flower or suitable object, worthy of comparison to the inimitable rose.

There would appear to us, nothing on the planet, comparable in value or worth, to the gift (franchise) of life.  Just as the revered rose has thorns, life too has its own natural potential for pain and suffering. As may be known, by now, we have an obvious and irresistible penchant for words. Our least favorite vocabulary word in the American-English lexicon, is the word, “finite”, a word denoting absolute limitation. Bound up with being a fortunate recipient of life, is the unfortunate understanding, that life sadly, is finite in length.

However, man lives, and thrives, with the knowledge of the ultimate foreclosure on his franchise of life. Most of us are concerned with health, but are creative, in comfortably repressing thoughts of our ultimate demise. We attend funerals for other people, but could not be happy and productive, ruminating about the end of our own lives. We leave it all, to the Actuarial profession among whose express professional responsibilities, is the determination of the estimated span of life of individuals (for the insurance industry and other uses) by the use of several techniques, including probability mathematics.

We have eternally recommended the advancement and improvement of the quality of life, by the curating of an interest, or, reading good literature, continuing one’s studies, or participation in the arts and sciences, thereby increasing wisdom and perspective, and, for as long as it lasts, getting the maximum value and enjoyment possible, from the precious gift to us of life.

It can be uncomfortable, to candidly conclude, that since all life is finite, the practice of loving other people, unfailingly, exposes one to the vulnerability of the eventual loss of that love object.  This is the cost, or invoice, (like the thorns on Gertrude Stein’s rose) for loving someone or something.  The alternative is far worse; to avoid that vulnerability, by never loving, is to waste the essential value of life’s costly franchise.

After the enjoyment of a truly fine dinner at a good restaurant, with family or close friends, we are presented with the bill, which we happily pay, provided the dining experience was positive.

-p.

Post # 403    THE PLANETARY MENU

This essay, is singularly distinguishable, from (upwards of 400, in number of) its predecessors. We have consistently, written, with the intention to express our observations, thoughts, and critical commentary on universally vital subjects. These subjects have included, evolution, man in society, morality, truth and justice; as well as other material subjects, relative to man’s advancement, and the human condition. By contrast, this writing is a rare deviation, from that normal proclivity. It is instead, our personal expression, regarding a non-esoteric subject of interest to us.

Additionally, we disclaim any suggestion of inference, of a moral or ethical principle, herein, and desire to simply state our personal opinion on a subject, with no more profundity, than the elective selection and taste, of cuisine. We candidly confess, that our presently expressed, point of view, is strictly personal, nuanced, and probably, shared, if at all, by a small minority of our readers.

The present subject involves the sense of taste, man’s “fifth” sense; and so, it may be useful, to initially refer to that subject’s, scientific (largely, neurological) dynamics.

Taste, refers to what is detected by our taste center, located in the front and back of the tongue. We are instructed that the receptor cells (taste buds) bind with molecules of the food, or drink, to render a personal report, known by our fifth sense. The resultant tastes are professionally, categorized as, sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent (viz. generally, “hot”) and astringent (viz., light, airy, dry like popcorn). It should be said that “smell,” an essential ingredient in taste, as advised, can, actually, be employed to change taste.

“Mild” taste, refers to a particular sensory response, which is understood by food experts, to be highly pleasing to the palate, and often is included in descriptions of food favorites, such as, fish dishes and “comfort foods”. We are told that “mild,” is the preferred choice of true food lovers. The addition, as desired, of modest amounts of salt and/or pepper, as flavonoids, is an acceptable practice, as enhancing, rather than altering, this desirable class of taste, in food.

At restaurants, parks, and other places of public consumption, we have observed, an increasing use of hot sauce, and other chili containing condiments, specifically, hot peppers, in one form or another, specifically, jalapeno, habanero, serrano, cayenne’s, and the like. (We have chosen to exempt, mustard and wasabi, from this critique, since they, like salt and pepper, seem to enhance, and not alter, the taste of food). We refer to, and, personally critique only, the addition of hot peppers, known as, ”chilies,” to food.

Hot peppers have a component of “capsaicin”, which is the heat supply (the fuel) of the vegetable. The greater the content of capsaicin, the hotter, the pepper. We have frequently seen copious quantities of hot sauce, or hot peppers in a powder form, generously applied to desirable foods, even, at times, before they are taste sampled. The very sight of this practice, is unsettling and confusing. The anticipated item of food, was, chosen by the consumer, presumably, for its previously experienced, and personally, preferred, taste. Why adulterate that preferred taste with hot chilies? Hot peppers, themselves, do vary in intensity, but, as advised, not very much in taste. If hot chilies are added, as a general practice, to desired items of food, doesn’t all food taste the same (like hot chilies), rather than the unique taste of the selected eatable?

In addition, we found, at various times, the ingestion of food with hot chilies, somewhat disturbing to the gastric system, as well, at times, to the tongue and lips. However, the populist practice is most principally disturbing, as man’s casual ingratitude and lack of appreciation, for the (natural) food of the planet.

The frequent practice of adding hot chili sauce to food, creates a boringly repetitious, common denominator, adulterating the unique natural taste, of the bountifully varied fruits of our planet, resulting in a trite, repetitious and unwaveringly, predictable (and sometimes, irritating) result.

-p.

 

Post # 402  LIGHT AND DARKNESS

The ancient Persian religion, Zoroasterism, a faith older than Judaism and Islam, first proclaimed the dualism of humanity; the good, symbolized by light, the bad, or evil side of man, represented by darkness. This, seemingly reductive concept of duality, has, in fact, been replicated in literature and folk belief, continuously, to the present day; “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, by Robert Louis Stevenson, the novels of Herman Hesse, such as “Damien,” “Siddhartha” and “Steppenwolf”, Frederic Nietzsche’s Good and Evil,” “Metamorphosis” by Franz Kafka, and the movie series, “Star Wars, uniformly, draw a clear, determinative line, between the light of goodness, or virtue, and the darkness of the evil and the degenerate persona.

Many classic scenarios in movies, plays and novels, feature a villain and an easily identified, “good guy;” in westerns, it is the man in the white cowboy hat, and the “villain”, often seen wearing a black one. In fairness, however, it appears that, from time to time, equivocal issues arise, which provide only tenuous degrees of clarity, and can result in benevolent, as well as malevolent, outcomes.  These, confusing, or ambiguous issues, are often referred to as “neither black nor white.” To be complete, on this subject, we would observe that, it is immensely disturbing, when the best choice is completely unknown, or beyond volitional ken (ex.: “The Lady or the Tiger”).

The Medieval period exemplifying superstition and ignorance, is known by scholars, as the “Dark Ages,” and the later advances in reason and empiricism of the 18th Century, is given the appropriate title of “The Age of Enlightenment.” Additionally, it is commonly said, that when one finally solves a difficult problem, or at last, understands himself, that he “has seen the light;” as opposed to, a state of continued ignorance or confusion, referred to as “still in the dark.” “Seeing the bright light of day,” is a similar metaphor, for finally arriving at a solution, or at a meaningful realization.

It is our offhand speculation, that the use of light, for goodness, and dark, for evil, may possibly have its derivation, from the planetary phenomena of the day, (safer, clear vision, ease of movement) and the night, (dangerous, poor vision, difficulty of movement.) Whatever the historical derivation may be, the words, light and dark, have been eternally used as metaphors, for virtue and reason, or, alternately, ignorance and evil.

The human persona is potentially known, to evince good, or acceptable inclinations, as well as other predispositions, which are, to applicable degrees, unreasonable or morally unacceptable.  A “good person” is one that strives to act morally, honestly and empathically. The contrasting personality is selfish, ego-oriented and disinterested in the possible impact, of his acts or statements, upon others. The differences, in awareness, like the differences in understanding, are often symbolized by the differing metaphors, “enlightened” versus, “in the dark.” It would seem empirically reasonable, to assume that few persons are entirely good, like the literary, “Goldilocks” or entirely bad like, the (disastrously) real, Adolph Hitler.

There are, two celebrated real-life examples of vastly contrasting personalities, which we sought to highlight in this writing; one exceptionally, good, the other, by stark contrast, unforgivingly bad. Each, of these two persons, is nuanced from the average persona, and representing, a complete contrast on any Zoroastrian light and darkness scale. It should surprise no one, that these two selected, singularly contrasting examples, are Fred Rogers and Donald J. Trump.

Fred Rogers (“Mr. Rogers”) was a television host of a very popular children’s program and an exemplar of virtue and lovingkindness. He was a gentle counselor to his many childhood viewers, in childhood lessons of love, kindness and, above all, empathy. It is impossible to forget the program where Fred Rogers, sung, lovingly, to a smiling child, confined to a wheelchair and afflicted with the horribly symptomatic spasms and personal disabilities of cerebral palsy, the following song, beginning with, “It is YOU, I like, not the way you look, or the clothes you wear, or the way you do your hair…” the spasmodic and disabled child, smiled and sang joyfully, as best he could, along with Fred and the other children in the studio. Whenever we recall the specific television program, we find ourselves emotionally, choked up. If light does indeed, symbolize the good in humanity, Fred Roger’s light was brighter than a modern halogen searchlight.

We also maintain another mental picture of the contrasting, dark side of humanity, and one which is   unfortunately, also unforgettable. The daily acts and statements of Donald J. Trump, are so reprehensible, mendacious and embarrassingly immoral, that it might, conceivably, prove somewhat difficult to summon up an individual example, truly darker than the rest. But not for us. We have the recollection of a behavior, performed by him, before the television cameras, and millions of viewers; one that is pure evil, darker and even more reprehensible, than the many other acts of Trump (which are evilly uncountable.) We had not, until then, appreciated or imagined, the full, toxic and neurotic, extent of the cruel and awful behavior of which, the despicable, Donald J. Trump was truly, capable. This eternally memorable incident, was his gleeful, clownish, mimicking, on public television, of the involuntary, spasmodic movements of a questioning reporter, who was uncontrollably, manifesting the extreme and terrible, classic symptoms of cerebral palsy. Of all of his acts of abuse of office, criminality, immorality and overt bigotry, this singular act, should earn Donald J. Trump, for such spontaneous cruelty, insensitivity and disgraceful conduct, a place of special honor, at the darkest and lowest ring of Dante’s Inferno.

We are thankful, that, in our occasional ruminations about the general nature of humanity, we can, mercifully recall, the spiritually uplifting memories of Fred Rogers, a truly bright light, to contrast with the pitch- black persona of Donald J. Trump.

-p.

 

Post # 401  BEG YOUR PARDON (Editorial)

With the mere stroke of a pen, an American Commander-in Chief can forgive anyone for the commission of any Federal crime, which “pardon” cannot be challenged by any other branch of Government. [Art. II, Sec.2,   U.S. Constitution]. It is the most sweeping and unlimited power, granted to a President of the United States; its only limitations are, that it must apply to a Federal offense, and, that it cannot affect an impeachment. The grant amounts to an unassailable and final determination of complete absolution, cancelling the offense, as of record, and may be awarded, before or after conviction. It was inserted in the Constitution in 1789, by our Founders, (as an intended check on the Justice system) and seems to date back, before Monarchial Rule in England, to its existence in ancient Rome and Greece, and, before that time, the 7th Century.

We have the unavoidable sense, that in a Republican Democracy, such an unlimited and arbitrary power, amounting to a resurrection of one of the arbitrary rights of historic royalty, although, constitutionally authorized, is unjust; and in principled inconsistency with the American systemic institution of equal process, and equality before the law. We are obliged to concede to the provisions of the U.S. Constitution and the historic precedent; nevertheless, we, as American citizens, cannot avoid the disturbing conclusion that the right of pardon, is an anachronistic travesty, more suitable to the historic European monarchial system than to the United States of America.

If we are all, equal under the law, inclusive of the President, this arbitrary, Royal privilege has no place in our society, nor, appropriately, within the American philosophy and system of laws. We humbly submit that a Constitutional Conference, ought to be convened, to consider the elimination of this unjust and anachronistic, (Royal) privilege from our Republican Constitution.

The right is especially odious, when one considers the nature our present commander in chief, a proven wrongdoer and abuser of Presidential power, whose behavior betrays even a modicum of morality. He has, by his unfitness, bigotry, violations of civil and federal laws, as well as the Constitution, (particularly the Emolument Clause) embarrassed the nation, and publically defamed the Office of the American Presidency. In what sane World, in what Mad Hatter’s Tea Party, in what “Lord of the Flies” World, can such a common grifter and fraudulent miscreant, be in the position of a high priest, imbued with, and possessor of, the exclusive right to pardon (selected) criminals?

We would hazard our personally disturbing question, which, in its novelty and complexity, may be, especially revelatory, of the vestigial nature of the right of pardon. The Official Reports, of the Congressionally appointed Special Prosecutor, and the consistent findings, of several investigative Congressional Committees have, uniformly and consistently, determined the existence of a legion of illegal acts, perhaps, even Treason, attributed to this historically unprecedented, Presidential miscreant.

Our disturbing question is: Does the Constitution grant to the President, the power and authority, to pardon individuals, for the commission of crimes, in which he, himself is found complicit?

We would, wisely, and prudently, relegate this “Alice in Wonderland” question, to no lesser juridical mind, than the esteemed, “Mad Hatter,” himself.

-p.

Post # 400 MARKETING GOVERNANCE

It might aid in the restoration of some much- needed rational perspective, to set aside, for the moment, the three-ring circus, or, media soap- opera, of daily national politics, to examine the fundamental tenets of proper governance of a democratic republic. The populist dynamics, of personality, age, forensic skill and physical appearance, are, simply put, irrelevant and harmful distractions, from the rational criteria, applicable to the selection of a candidate for the American Presidency. What may be lost, in the misleading fog of partisan litigation, is the voter’s apt consideration, of the definition and purpose of the office to which the contending parties aspire, enabling the vital determination as to whether an aspirant for the office, appears to possess the relevant personal characteristics for its fulfilment.

In essential principle, the holder of our highest office, must possess the characteristics of an adequate educational background, sufficient wisdom, moral principle, and adherence to the rules of law and the American concept of fair justice; as well as have the important qualities of transparency, accountability, inclusiveness, and a responsiveness, to the legally expressed will of the nation.

It is apparent that we are currently under the despotic “rule” of a chief executive, who may be accurately depicted as, ignorant, arbitrary, unjust, inadequate in governance and policy making, prejudiced, flamboyantly immoral, unengaged with and non-responsive to the public will, corrupt and intentionally abusive of the powers of the office. Proper governance can be restored only, by supplanting this unprecedented source of national embarrassment, with a suitable successor; one that exemplifies the relevant and essential characteristics, as above enumerated.

Consistent with the history and founding purpose of our Democratic Republic, the office of the highest executive is properly, and historically, to be vested in a legitimate leader, who is an able and just governor of the Nation; a “President,” as opposed to a” Ruler.” Our responsibility and mandatory duty, at this time, is to select (and elect) a just and capable leader. The sense of this writing, is to comment on such selection.

It is not the everyday citizen, who possesses the gravitas and desire, together with the opportunity, to run for the office of President. The election, of course, being national, the candidate must be one that is generally recognizable by the American public. The purpose of a Presidential campaign, is to further familiarize the nation of voters, with the person, character and political leaning of the would-be President. This enterprise requires a huge political investment of people, money and logistics. It is usual, therefore, for a candidate for the Presidency, to be selected from experienced and well-known national office holders. But, what, after all, are the criteria, for the proper selection of such an individual?

Suitability for governance, aside from such requirements of popular familiarity and financial means, is essentially identical to our standard of worth, regarding the American citizen. From its inception, this blogspace has been largely dedicated, to the advancement of mankind, by the development and exercise, of his ability to reason; an ability nurtured by reading, involvement in the arts, humanities and sciences. Mankind has, over the ages, by means of such pursuits, appropriately expressed its gratitude to Evolution, for gifting homo sapiens with an advanced brain, and the consequent potential for knowledge and the attainment of mature perspective. The initial, and prime criterion, then, for a capable Presidential candidate (identical to that for a valuable citizen) is knowledge and intelligence. The disturbing absence of these prime vital qualities, is readily discernable in the present, incapable, office holder.

We would maintain that the balance of the necessary criteria for Presidential candidacy, are identical to the qualities of a good parent, mature judgment, fairness, moral compass, and purposeful direction. The successful government (management) of a family, would, without fail, evince these qualities. The President should be an avatar to those who aspire to be good citizens and respected members of society, and, as well, be seen as a respected national leader by other world nations.  The quality of celebrity, or showmanship, are the least desirable features in the selection of an acceptable leader, as clearly illustrated by the despicable actions and behavior of the presently sitting President.

In previous writing, we have expressed our displeasure and concern, at the existence of such a large number of Democratic aspirants for nomination. As they are all from the same party, it may be assumed that they espouse somewhat similar platforms (the differences discerned, to date, are only those that seem to differ in detail and in the nuanced manner of their articulation). As stated, this reduces the necessity for choice, to irrelevant, populist type criteria, voice, general appearance, feistiness, aggressive proclivities and other misleading and irrelevant qualities, similar to those which, sadly, led to Trump’s success.

A proper choice for candidate, would be one who possesses appropriate criteria for Chief Executive, wisdom, education, experience, law abidance, transparency, receptiveness, fairness and equity; rather than one that daily puts on a “dog and pony show,” as diversion, for a bored and apathetic, television audience.

-p.

Post # 399     A LONG TIME AGO, IN BROOKLYN

From time to time, images of our remote, early childhood recur, unexpectedly, in our consciousness, in cinematically clear recollection, as if projected upon a movie screen of contemporary consciousness. Many poignant recollections of long ago, then seem vividly colorful and almost palpable.

The venue of our early childhood, evinced an ambiance of Eastern European Ashkenazi, immigrants, indigent, but, happily relieved, to feel safe, and free, at last, of their former tenuous residence, including the recurring threat of community pogroms.

Most lived in modest apartment houses, spoke some halting English, but primarily, Yiddish, in addition to what we now identify as “Yinglish,” a heavily accented mélange of Yiddish and patois English. As an illustration: when there was an especially cool draft, in the residential apartment, someone would utter, “Farmach der vinder.” Farmach, in German and Yiddish, legitimately, is “close”; “der vinder” is an illegimate corruption of the English word, “window.” (the Yiddish word is “fenster”) Another colorful example of less than Elizabethan eloquence, was the request, “Spill me in a glass water” or, acceptably, “Give me a glass of water.” This was the circumstance of the times’ ambient lingua franca.

It was a community of poor, hard- working, heavily accented, European immigrants who lived in a sub-society, in which folks knew each other, by name, occupation and previous European background. Gossip and worry were the two main media of exchange; no one was ever comfortably secure, in his knowledge that, as a Jew, living (again) in what was perceived as a Christian country, was he ultimately, safe.

In our childhood years, we heard news of the initial frightening successes, of Adolf Hitler and the Axis; those of suitable age went off to fight in World War II. Our parents, coming from, what can only be described, as lives of regular trauma from, White Russia, (now, “Belarus”) and (Lithuania, now, “Vilnius”), were not unique, in their practice of prudently stocking up on canned foods, against the fear of, the all too familiar possibility, of wartime food shortage.

Our parents had emigrated, separately, to America, each having left behind a tenuous existence, marked by fear, bitter cold and extreme poverty. Our mother came over with a sister, leaving behind relatives and parents; our father, sixteen years old, was obliged to escape from the Soviet draft (knowing that Jewish soldiers were, predictably, sent to serve in Siberia, and were not expected to return.) It was learned, subsequently, that the Jewish inhabitants of our father’s town, of all ages, who remained, were lined up by the Lithuanians (not the Nazi’s) and heartlessly, mowed down, with an old Czech machine gun.

Each adult member of the Brooklyn Community in which we lived, during those days, had left behind a life that enjoyed sufficient dramatic potential, to be an apt subject for a dark novel by Tolstoy; but in the company of other previously traumatized new Americans, went about their modest lives, asking for little in the way of diversion (except an occasional neighborhood movie, or a rather tiring excursion to Rockaway Beach), only too glad to be alive, and hopefully, currently employed.

Their limited facility in spoken English, usually underwent significant improvement, as a consequence of their children’s attendance at school. Academic dedication and excellence were strictly demanded, of children, by all parents, and as a consequence, many of the immigrant children became successful, some, even world renowned. Children were well cared for, and cherished, responsibly, as offspring; however, most of these formerly traumatized parents, while quite concerned with the survival, physical health and education of their young, were unfamiliar with the concept of comforting nurturance and emotional oversight. These children would have to go it alone, through their own maturing stages, without the assisted counselling of their, virtually, PTSD impacted parents. Many children became strong, self-sustaining personalities, because of it, but by no means, all.

The incident to which we would refer, occurred in a specific interaction, between us and our father, during the early period of the Second World War. News, in those days, was, of course transmitted by radio, and reported in newspapers. We were in the company of our father, when the radio newscaster excitedly announced, a bold threat by Adolph Hitler. At the time, Germany had been raining down a virtual hell on London, by means of its newly developed, V-2 Rockets. The newscaster’s announcement was that Hitler had just proclaimed his intention to target such V-2 Rockets, to hit the East Coast of the United States. Our reaction, understandably, was spontaneous, fear and alarm. For a great many years, we had been startled and confused, at our father’s, differing reaction, amounting to a sardonic, responsive laughter at the receipt of such news. Was it, we guessed, perhaps possible, that he was expressing, by such laughter, confident doubt, as to the practical feasibility of Hitler’s ambitious, lethal threat? In any event, we were, for a considerable time, puzzled at our father’s apparently bizarre response to the reported, ominous threat.

It was a great many years after that incident, and at a time, considerably after the unexpected and sudden death of our father; and, notably, consistent with the further development of our mature circumspection and empathy, that we were able to attain an understanding of the significance of our late father’s sardonic laughter. It was not an expression of doubtful derision, concerning Hitler’s bold statement of impassioned and hateful intention; indeed, it was far from any kind of humorous reaction, at all. Rather, as we came to understand it, it was, in reality, an ironic, perhaps, ultimately, frustrated, outcry, to the effect that, regardless of all my (our) sacrifices and (foolhardy) hope, we are, under any and all circumstances, eternally destined to experience existential danger.

There are tears and a bit of shame with each recollection.

-p.