Friday, April 20, 2012


Cranky Old Man visited Lebo, Kansas with Toby, the Wonder Dog. Cranky Old Man wonders is wandering a lost art.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Justice is not for Just Us

 Funny things stick in your mind.

Buried somewhere in mine is a phrase from the sixties that went, "Justice is not just for us." I can't quite remember who said it or why. I tried googling the phrase, but came up empty. Instead Google gave me some meaningless platitudes and book titles. Catchy saying.

To the best of my memory the phrase dealt with civil rights. Someone, somewhere,  sometime was struck by a sense of inequality in how justice was dealt out. It was probably a Southern thing, for back in the Sixties the idea of inequality had a southern ring to it. But, I have learned over time that justice doesn't apply only to race relations. And surely someone was using the phrase in labor negotiations, property disputes, and anything that could come before the powers that be.

I think of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar. At the burial of Caesar, Brutus appears before the crowd and  says justice is killing Caesar for his ambition.  Antony replies, "Did this in Caesar seem ambitious? When that the poor have cried, Caesar hath wept: Ambition should be made of sterner stuff ..." Justice ..., Shylock from the Merchant of Venice means to exact his right, a pound of flesh from Antonio for a failed debt. That is justice, in one man's eye. Justice too often is thought to mean give us what we want, and not what is right.

Justice is not something that we can tie up neatly in a package and offer to everyone. No, justice depends on many things, not the least of which is what your beef is. And everyone has a different argument to make in any dispute. That is why it is so hard to dispense justice. One man's justice is another man's tyranny.

The other day, the phrase took on a new meaning for me. A dispute arose and there were the usual suspects,  one person said this happened, another said not so, this happened, and another side said something completely different from the other two. Justice for the one jail, for another an apology, and for another a deeper understanding of compassion for our fellow human beings.

The Cranky Old Man has lived long enough now to realize that we don't always get what we want. Sometimes we never get what we want. That sucks. But if we are going to get anything close to what we want, we have to compromise.

That is why the phrase, "Justice is not for Just Us," came back to me after all these years. My idea of justice just isn't going to happen. And the funny thing is that I doubt that anyone is going to get what they are looking for. "The whole thing has gotten out of control; there is no way out," someone told me. One person has developed an ulcer worrying over things, another has been sleepless at night, and the last is still waiting for an apology. Justice won't come to anyone. Still the striking fact is that the pain and terror that comes with anger at being denied justice is shared by all.

Justice is not just for us, but the sense of remorse and anxiety is shared by all.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

"This too shall pass"

"This too shall pass," a proverb that I have heard repeated at various times in my life.

The proverb applies to many things in life, to success as well as travail. Simply understood, it suggests that we bear both success and difficulty with humility and patience. The proverb concerns a great king who is humbled by the simple words. The poet Shelley constructed a poem, Ozymandius, whose theme is about the temporal state of all things. The poem is short and worth repeating:

Ozymandius, by Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822)

I met a traveler from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
 And on the pedestal these words appear:
“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay

Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.
Everything has its place and time. And, each of us struggles with challenges in life. These difficulties may seem insurmountable and unbearable, but with time become bearable. "Do you wish to rise," St. Augustine asked. Then, "Begin by descending."

Humility has its place.

Friday, April 13, 2012

History Never Repeats

"History," Voltaire said, "never repeats itself, man always does."

There are three players in this earlier French historical drama. The point of which is that even intelligent adults will find a way to squabble.

François-Marie Arouet de Voltaire (1694 – 1778), was a French writer, historian and philosopher, famous for his wit and willingness to tweak the noses of the establishment. He was one of the bellwethers of the Enlightenment, steadfast in his advocacy of civil liberties, including freedom of religion, freedom of expression, free trade and separation of church and state. Madame Françoise de Graffigny, née d'Issembourg Du Buisson d'Happoncourt (1695 - 1758) was a female French novelist, playwright and salon hostess. Madame Graffigny earned her own way though life, but she did so with difficulty. In 1738, needing a temporay place to stay, she managed an invitation to Cirey, the château where Émilie, marquise Du Châtelet, had been living since 1734 with her lover, Voltaire. Two women and one man in one household rarely works well. There were jealousies.  Eventually, a prise de bec, (literally in French a beak or nose tweaking, in English, a tiff or spat), split the two women. Presumably, Voltaire, master of the prise de bec, watched from the side, amused. As an aside, Gabrielle Émilie, marquise du Châtelet (1706 – 1749) was a French mathematician, physicist, and author during the Enlightenment. She translated into French Isaac Newton's work Principia Mathematica. She independently contributed to an understanding of physics that led to Albert Einstein's later Theory of Relativity. She died in childbirth, having been forewarned of its difficulty at her age.

Émilie Du Châtelet is not necessary to my story. I only mention her because far too few women are given credit for scientific advances. Hers, among others, a recognition of the fundamental law that energy and force are squarely proportionate to the speed of matter. Think of Einstein's famous formula: E = mc2. She is also an interesting study in human nature, for she proves the strong maternal instinct to preserve life, even at the risk of one's own.

I mention Madame Graffigny only because of her association with my family. The village of Graffigny in Haut-Marne,  once part of the larger independent Duchy of Lorraine, is where the French side of my family is from, dating from the Renaissance. The village of Cirey where Voltaire, Émilie Du Châtelet, and Madame Graffigny spent a few idealic months before their prise de bec is also part of the region of Haut-Marne, near Graffigny. The connections are admittedly tenuous, but it is still wondrous to wonder if a family member bumped into any one of the trio on the street.

Fast froward history to the year 2012.

My son is a senior in high school. He has three weeks to go before graduation and then we happily ship him out of state to college. His high school is a private parochial school where visitors are greeted with the message "God's Goodness is Everywhere."

My son is involved in a "spat" in his religion class which contains 28 students, both boys and girls. I call it a spat because I was not there. I don't know what happened. I read the redacted report from the substitute teacher and found it disturbing. Any parent would. Parents hope that they raise their children well. They hope that the school they send them to instills sound values. Then again, history intervenes and boys act up, inappropriately.

Students, boys 18 years old should treat any teacher, especially a female one, respectfully. Allegedly, my son is one of six male students who disrupted a religion class. That it was a class on religion, the letter said, was disturbing.  The disruption was "farting" and tossing tennis balls. One or more tennis balls struck the teacher, and one ball caused a red mark which was photographed by the school nurse. "It hurt!" she remarked. I don't doubt that. I don't like the disrespect. I don't like what happened. I am saddened that the teacher was put though this ordeal by boys who should know better. If I had been there, I would have taken the offending miscreants to the woodshed. That is what they did in my day, and in my father's day, and before that.

The teacher is female and a substitute. And the rule, now as always, is to give substitute teachers a hard time. History doesn't repeat itself, but the inappropriate conduct of the students does. There are inevitably the conflicting stories of witnesses, the involvement of authorities and parents. Eventually, it all gets resolved one way or another. History teaches us that.

There are few saints in life. Father Emil Kapaun, for whom the school is named, is one of them. And even he was a cut up in school. Unless one has been a saint though out one's life, a Joan of Arc, then at one time or another there is a clash with school administrators. Senior pranks, the movie Ferris Buhler, anyone. I for one was involved in incidents in second grade, fourth, and seventh grade. The history of each incident varies, they all do. And the way matters were handled by the school and my parents likewise varied.

The  historical perspective has changed. Now it is parent to child, instead of child to parent. In hindsight, I can compare my parent's reactions to my childhood foibles with my own reactions to my son's. In my case, things resolved themselves, mostly for the better. Sometimes changes were necessary, certainly on my part, and sometimes on the part of the school.

Hopefully, history is a predictor of the future.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Tuchman's Law

In 1978, Barbara Tuchman, Pulitzer Prize winning historian, said it best. The fact of being recorded makes a disaster appear both continuous and ubiquitous. Barbara Tuchman was speaking of ancient records, specifically the few records relating to the disastrous 14th century, an era visited by plague, war, religious dissension, greed, political maladministration, and decay of manners. Thus, an age not unlike our own, or any other age.

She thus formulated Tuchman's Law, "The fact of being reported multiples the apparent extent of any deplorable development by five- to tenfold. (or any figure [one] would care to supply)." By including the parenthetical observation, Tuchman anticipated the development of videotape and the reporting practices of CNN, Fox, and all of the other news reporting media who play and replay a tape snippet, thus magnifying the event twenty-fold and continuing its reportage over days, weeks, and even months.

To take but one horrific disaster as an example, consider the early reporting of the disaster at the World Trade Center in September of 2001. Surely, CNN and Fox and all the other media put on loop the videotape of the two planes crashing into the two towers. Viewers were mesmerized by the repeating scene. This made it appear that New York City and every other city in America was under attack, as plane after plane crashed into building after building. Buildings tumbled into a mass of destruction, smoke clouds rose, and people fled in terror.

In this one instance, editors and newsrooms quickly came to their senses. They quit rebroadcasting the tapes. Showing the destruction only served the interests of the terrorists who want to sow fear and loathing. Instead they focused on the task at hand, aiding the injured, finding survivors, and finding out who perpetrated the disaster.

Since 2001, it has been back to normal.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Max Ernst

Ernst was born on 2 April 1891 in a modest house in Bruhl, near Cologne into a middle class family of nine children. At the University of Bonn, he studied philosophy and psychology.  In 1914, with the outbreak of war, Ernst spent four years in the German army, serving on both the Western and Eastern fronts. Thereafter, Ernst co-founded the Cologne Dadaist group. Dadaism was the precursor to the Surrealist movement and dealt with the mockery of existing social conventions.

Image from Wiki-paintings and used under the doctrine of Fair Use.

In 1922 Ernst moved to France. In 1939, when war again broke out, he found himself at odds with the authorities and was interned several times, first by the French authorities and then by the Gestapo. In 1941, he fled to the United States. To solve the problem of his German citizenship, he married Peggy Guggenheim. Shortly after that, he left her for another artist, Dorthea Tanning. They then moved to Sedona, Arizona. After the war, Ernst moved back to France.  He continued to work there until his death on April the First 1976, one day before his 85th birthday.

Ernst, like many other German artists of the period, was conflicted by a world engaged in mutual mass destruction. War broke all the rules.

Dadaism was a precursor of many movements - Surrealism, Post-Modernism, Deconstruction, and Abstraction. If society created the monsters of early 20th Century politics, then artists had an obligation to recreate society. One of Ernst's guiding principles was, "Take the banal and make the marvelous." Thus, his paintings created farcical creatures and structures. His iconic work, Europe After the Rain, painted during the years 1940 - 1942, symbolizes his view of an apocalyptic world.

Ernst's alter-ego, the bird-like creature that appears in the center of the painting is called a Loplop . Juxtaposed to the Loplop is the head and armless torso of a woman facing the other way.

"An artist", Ernst said, "who finds himself is lost." Ernst was lucky and kept searching.