Learning from Experience

Kudos to Valeria Maltoni for posting this.

Learning Through Experience

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In the last couple of weeks I’ve been working on a series of labs for different groups spread across a few cities. I am designing them as interactive experiences because we learn the most when we participate. Thinking back to the most creative times in my life, I can draw a few dotted lines to moments when I’ve been fully immersed in an experience.

I still chuckle when I visualize the look on the face on my mom at discovering that I had taken apart the few toys received as gifts to make something else out of the parts. The plain boxes they came in were the best — they became rooms for my sisters’ dolls. Building gave me tremendous satisfaction, the plainer the parts, the more immersive the experience.

Today I see my niece with all kinds of dolls, bricks, and kits and I cannot help by wonder if getting them used to having the dots and instructions so young for what we have already figured out somehow diminishes her confidence in her ability to invent something of her own.

We were so happy, coming in dirty and exhausted from days spent figuring out how to be with each other with little in the way of prepackaged stuff.”

Valeria followed up her Learning post with a Challenge.

Challenging Limiting Frames

Fear of failure often keeps us from experimenting with ideas and expanding options.

In Creativity, Inc. Ed Catmull describes many fight-or-flight situations at Pixar, and then at Disney — circumstances when trading imagination for a safe bet were tempting:

Originality is fragile. And in its first moments, it’s often far from pretty. This is why I call early mock ups of our films “ugly babies.” They are not beautiful miniature versions of the adults they will grow up to be.

In other words, our ideas rarely come out in perfect form. It takes persistence and work to make them that way. And we need to protect those seedlings to help them take form. Further down, he says (emphasis his):

[…] I want to say something about the word protection. I worry that because it has such positive connotation, by implication anything being protected seems, ispo facto, worth protecting. But that’s not always the case.

Sometimes within Pixar, for example, production tries to protect processes that are comfortable and familiar but that don’t make sense; legal departments are famous for being overly cautious in the name of protecting their companies from possible external threats; people in bureaucracies often seek to protect the status quo. Protection is used, in these contexts, to further a (small-c) conservative agenda: Don’t disrupt what already is.

As a business becomes successful, meanwhile, that conservatism gains strength, and inordinate energy is directed toward protecting what has worked so far.

Protecting a new idea, especially during the gestation process when it is kind of ugly, has the opposite function, says Catmull. An original idea is worth protecting because of its newness:

[…] and that is precisely what is most exciting about it.

The solution to helping bring new ideas to life was broadening their view, and by doing so, creating new lenses through which to look at their work. And that is why I like so much the cheeky quote above attributed to Disney. Because it reminds us that we should work on expanding our options, including that we do not have to accept the constraints we are given.”

Which is to say, in cybernetic terms, experience may be our worst teacher…

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Hope

hope

“Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning.” – Albert Einstein -

http://www.dailygood.org/story/1002/some-thoughts-on-hope-cynicism-and-the-stories-we-tell-ourselves-maria-popova/

“Critical thinking without hope is cynicism. Hope without critical thinking is naïveté.”

“What storytellers do — and this includes journalists and TED and everyone in between who has a point of view and an audience, whatever its size — is help shape our stories of how the world works; at their very best, they can empower our moral imagination to envision how the world could work better. In other words, they help us mediate between the ideal and the real by cultivating the right balance of critical thinking and hope. Truth and falsehood belong to this mediation, but it is guided primarily by what we are made to believe is real.”

“What we need, then, are writers like William Faulkner, who came of age in a brothel, saw humanity at its most depraved, and yet managed to maintain his faith in the human spirit. In his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, he asserted that the writer’s duty is “to help man endure by lifting his heart.” In contemporary commercial media, driven by private interest, this responsibility to work in the public interest and for the public good recedes into the background. And yet I continue to stand with E.B. White, who so memorably asserted that “writers do not merely reflect and interpret life, they inform and shape life”; that the role of the writer is “to lift people up, not lower them down.”’

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The Need for Speed

http://www.theverge.com/2015/4/1/8320189/zombie-222-electric-car-1968-mustang-texas-mile

http://www.theverge.com/2015/4/1/8320189/zombie-222-electric-car-1968-mustang-texas-mile#ooid=J3OG9hdDqZpkOtbissNDc6ANgX-GjwNL

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The Grand Illusion

The truth is that the risk of an American being killed by terrorism is close to zero, having been calculated at 1:20,000,000

By John Chuckman http://chuckman.blog.ca/

February 25, 2015 “ICH” – In the years since 9/11, American police alone have killed at least twice as many Americans as died in that single large event, the annual toll of police killings being somewhere between 500 and 1,000, the variation owing to many such events going inaccurately reported by police.

Each year, somewhere between 30 and 40 thousand Americans are killed in automobiles, the level having declined in recent years. Each year about 15,000 Americans are murdered, down from about 25,000 not too many years ago. Each year about 100,000 Americans are killed by medical malpractice. About 40,000 Americans commit suicide annually. These are just a few causes of death in America, not the largest ones but some of the more interesting.

Let’s get a rough total estimate of what has happened to Americans from these causes in the time since 9/11. Just using the low number in each case for fourteen years, 7,000 Americans were killed by their own police, 420,000 were killed by something parked in their garage, 210,000 were murdered by fellow citizens, 1,400,000 were killed by friendly family doctors, and there were 560,000 who just decided to pack it in for one reason or another. The total of these various causes of death rounds to 2, 600,000 deaths, nearly 867 times the number of Americans killed in 9/11, 867 collapsed sets of twin towers, nearly 62 collapsed sets of towers per year.

So why are we spending countless billions of dollars fighting terror, an almost insignificant threat to our well-being? We spend a total by various estimates of between 1 and 5 trillion dollars (yes, that’s trillion with a “t”), although such totals can never accurately be given owing to secrecy, false accounting, and the immense waste that is an inherent part of all military and intelligence operations. Even in the crudest military terms of “bang for the buck,” ignoring all the death and destruction and ethical issues, just as the military routinely does in its grim work, the War on Terror has to be the greatest misdirection of resources in all of human history.

Or is it? Perhaps there are other reasons for the War on Terror, reasons never discussed in newspapers or on news broadcasts, reasons which make the expenditure of such colossal amounts against such an insignificant risk acceptable to those doing the spending? Unless American leaders are all lunatics, I think there must be.

Most people are aware that the War on Drugs has been a stupendous flop, with a great deal of resources having bought nothing except a general diminishment of personal freedoms, construction of new prisons, and make-work employment for many unnecessary police and prison guards. But each year the War on Terror spends many, many times the amount spent on the War on Drugs, and what has it bought us? A far greater debasement of freedoms, almost wiping clean parts of the Bill of Rights, raising to a high status in our society such dark and anti-democratic forces as security agents of every kind and the military, increasing exponentially the secrecy of government and thus giving voters no hope for an informed ballot, making countless future enemies in the world, and causing Americans willy-nilly to support filthy acts identical to the hateful work of military juntas who made tens of thousands of civilians disappear.

I think there are only a couple of explanations for this waste of resources which otherwise employed could have made the world an immeasurably better place. They are assisted greatly by what I’ll call the “crime in the news” effect, although I might just as well call it the “advertising effect,” because advertising works on people’s minds through its seeming omnipresence and repetition planting suggestions, suggestions not entirely different to those planted by the stage-performer hypnotist in the minds of his volunteers from the audience.

It has been demonstrated many times that daily reports of violent crime, even when the crimes occur outside a listening community, cause people to become apprehensive about many ordinary activities such as letting kids walk to school or go to the park to play. And no advertising campaign in history could begin to compare to the complete audience saturation of “terror this or that” in our newspapers, magazines, and on-air. Surely, no totalitarian government ever more completely blanketed its people with fearful suggestions than does America’s “free press” today. You literally cannot hear a news broadcast or read a newspaper with the word terror missing, a fact which keeps most people in an unquestioning frame of mind about what properly should be regarded as sinfully immense expenditures to no useful purpose, at the same time conditioning them to surrender precious freedoms. For most people, the fact is that fear overcomes both logic and courage.

Americans, along with people in other lands heavily under American influence, have voluntarily given up claims to what we believed were well-established rights. Yes, there is some controversy over the high-tech equivalent of Big Brother’s telescreens, over the construction of immense new or expanded agencies such as the TSA and NSA, and even some over a seemingly-endless set or wars, but much less than you might have expected. There has been relatively little controversy over America’s smashing its adherence to everything from the Geneva Conventions to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the complete disregard for established basic principles of common law in America’s international behavior goes largely unremarked, at least in America.

In a very real sense, America’s establishment, its government within the government consisting of leaders in security and the military and of its great corporations, has been given licence to create a kind of Frankenstein monster which now stands ready with terrible powers to do its bidding. It certainly isn’t just terrorists who need fear, it is every person with the impulse in his or her breast for justice, fairness, and human decency, and it is every country which has an impulse for independence from America’s imperious declarations of how they should carry on their affairs. I don’t like the expression New World Order, but it does in fact communicate something of what has been pursued relentlessly by America’s establishment since 9/11 with an unbounded sense of its entitlement and privilege. The awesome creature it has brought to life – which already runs secret prisons, tortures, conducts non-judicial killings, and supports horrible governments in many places – is no respecter of principles or human rights or even basic decency. We all know from history and common experience that over time any well-funded, established, and privileged institution grows, altering the terms of its charter and spreading its influence always farther, just as today American intelligence, bound by charter not to spy on Americans, spies on them all the time through various technical arrangements effectively going around its charter.

This monster serves ambitions abroad – crush democracy anywhere it proves inconvenient or a barrier to the interests of America’s establishment, as in Ukraine and in Egypt and as attempted in Venezuela, but also crush old arrangements which have produced advancing societies in other lands, even though they are not yet democratic, as in Syria, Iraq, or Libya.

In a relatively short time the monster has made a chaotic wasteland of such previously prosperous lands as Iraq and Libya, and it is now hard at work doing the same to the lovely, ancient land of Syria where it is allied in its efforts with some of the ugliest violent fanatics you could hope to find anywhere. Its acts have resulted in many hundreds of thousands of deaths in these places, countless refugees and injuries, the destruction of much precious infrastructure, and left people to wallow in chaos for years to come.

It created a coup, and thereby a civil war, in Ukraine, reducing that impoverished land still further, and it allied itself for the effort with the kind of stormfront militia trash that even the pathetic FBI surely would infiltrate and investigate were they active in the United States. It did all this just to gain temporary psychological advantages over Russia, a country whose leadership today far better represents principles of international peace and good order – not without some distant echo of irony for those of us raised on a steady diet of Cold War propaganda – than those in Washington who never stop mouthing slogans about rights and democracy which they routinely ignore. We all have an immense investment in America’s reckless game of “playing chicken” with Russia, the only country on the planet capable of obliterating most of Western civilization. I’ve never liked frat-boy pranks and humor, but in this case the overgrown frat-boys at the CIA are guffawing over stupidities which risk most of what we hold precious.

But the monster serves also to intimidate America’s own population. Don’t hold big or noisy demonstrations against injustice, don’t complain too much about authorities and truly abusive police, don’t communicate with others who may be viewed as undesirables for whatever reasons by the government, and don’t describe any group which has been arbitrarily-declared terrorist as being merely freedom fighters – any of these acts or many others risks arbitrary powers that never formally existed before.

Homeland Security has stocked huge amounts of crowd-control equipment and weapons, and it was a military general who quietly announced a few years back that the Pentagon was prepared should martial law became necessary in America. America’s local police forces, long ago having earned an international reputation for violent, militaristic behavior, have been given surplus military-grade crowd-control equipment. The FBI seeks new authorities and capabilities regularly, the same FBI with such a sorry record, going back to its origins, of abusing authority.

In my mind, and I think in the minds of many, America’s posture towards the world resembles a pug-ugly bully confronting you on the street, someone who just will not let you pass until you give him what he demands. The bully is the country’s immensely wealthy and influential privileged establishment, having the country’s general population now completely in tow, fearful and intimidated, quite apart from being in large part underemployed or unemployed. The bully naturally pays no attention to international organizations and agreements, believing himself above the rules and constraints to which others hold. The organizations are either simply ignored or, as in the case of the UN, coerced into behaving along acceptable lines, America having spent some years recently refusing to pay its legally-required dues just to prove a point as well as having been involved in more than one cabal to unseat a disliked Secretary General.

And I fear this gives us just a hint of what is likely to come because, as we should never stop reminding ourselves, “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

The world’s hope for relief from a form of international tyranny comes from the growth of countries like Russia, China, India, and Brazil. I wish I could add the EU to the list, but it seems almost as supine and voiceless as America’s own general population or Canada’s present government. Only forces capable of saying “no” to America’s establishment and building interest blocs to oppose its excesses offer redress and relief in future, and it is only through political contention that new international organizations are likely to emerge, ones with some power and effect. Americans all give lip service to competition in economics, but the concept applies no less to the spheres of politics and world affairs. And Americans all give lip service to democracy, not realizing that its governing elites represent the tiniest fraction of the world’s population and resemble in their acts abroad about as aristocratic a government as ever existed.

 

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Ranulph Glanville

It is with profound sadness that the American Society for Cybernetics announces the untimely passing of our president, Ranulph Glanville six months prior to his 70th birthday on June 13, 2015.

Ranulph Glanville was Professor Emeritus of Architecture and Cybernetics at University College London, also Research Senior Tutor and Professor in Innovation Design Engineering at Royal College of Art in London. In addition, he was Professor of Architecture at the University of Newcastle in Australia and Senior Professor of Research Design at KU Leuven—LUCA in Belgium. He published in excess of 350 academic publications. He was an architect, composer and artist as well as a cybernetician. He rebuilt the ASC from a struggling organization with fewer than 40 members to a thriving intellectual conversation involving upwards of 300.

Ranulph Glanville gained a Diploma in Architecture from the Architectural Association School, London (working in the area of experimental electro-acoustic music). This was followed by a PhD in Cybernetics with a thesis entitled “A Cybernetic Development of Epistemology and Observation, Applied to objects in Space and time (as Seen in Architecture)” which tackled the question of what structure might sustain the belief that we all see differently, yet believe we see the same thing. He called this his theory of objects. His supervisor was Gordon Pask and his examiner was Heinz von Foerster. His second PhD was in human learning and dealt with how we understand architectural space. In 2006, he was awarded a DSc in Cybernetics and Design by Brunel University.

Professor Glanville for many years worked as a freelance, itinerant professor, mainly commuting between the UK, Belgium, Hong Kong and Australia. In the UK he most recently was the research professor in Innovation Design Engineering at the Royal College of Art, Imperial College of Science and Technology. In Australia, he had a major part in the Invitational Masters through Practice and the Doctorate through Practice at RMIT University. He was emeritus professor of architecture and cybernetics at the Bartlett, University College London.He has written on Design Research for over quarter of a century, early on introducing concepts such as research as design and the importance of finding appropriate theory for design within design, rather than unquestioningly importing theories from other subjects.
To this end it is only right that we quote from Ranulph himself:

If you slow things down then you see nuances that you wouldn’t normally see. That is revealing — slowness has a particular quality of its own. It is difficult to slow things down and to simultaneously keep alert. Being caught in between, being a bit lost, is good for a human being. Things have their own time, and we should learn to enjoy this, rather than imposing our own, usually rushed time. A little slowness, living in the now, and a reduction of the significance of the nation state might really help us.

A lot of my cybernetics is philosophical in nature, a lot of it goes against conventional cybernetics, which is in general focused on purposeful systems — systems with goals. I’m just as interested in systems that don’t have goals. So I am better at keeping my eyes open for opportunities than in taking them. If I leave myself open to see possibilities and if I leave space for people to offer “gifts” to me, then I often get some extraordinary opportunities which I could never have hoped for. That’s the opposite of the cybernetic goal-oriented system. In cybernetics, I’m interested in the transcendental questions or frameworks within which cybernetics happens, which we tend to assume in order to be able to act. I’m interested in what those assumptions are: what they imply. In that sense I’m someone who looks at the foundations and questions them — someone interested in the relationship between “freedom” and the “machine”. The most remarkable characteristic of human beings is that we create patterns. Without the ability to create patterns we wouldn’t be able to think. That’s what I do: generally at a rather abstract level.

I’m interested in a society that minimises the impact of society and maximises the space for the individual. I will argue against control. Not all control, but against our assumption of the universal possibility and desirability of control. We are aware that our attempts to control are often inadequate. We usually excuse this as due to exceptional circumstances, or an inadequate description (one without enough variety) But I would like to suggest an alternative to always making excuses. We can ask ourselves what happens if, when there’s a serious variety imbalance, we give up trying to control? If we don’t try to force the system we had thought to control into having as little variety as we have? Then we are left with a vastness of variety (and hence possibilities) that goes way beyond our limits. We can be flooded, not by water inundating us, but by possibilities we had never dreamt of.

He leaves his wife the Dutch physiotherapist, Aartje Hulstein, and his son Severi. We miss him already.

courtesy of Michael Lissack.

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A Conflicted Holiday

This post comes from Louis Proyect regarding the conflicted celebration of Hanukkah.

http://louisproyect.org/2014/12/21/hanukkah-bah-humbug/

Hanukkah — bah, humbug

Filed under: Jewish question — louisproyect @ 6:24 pm

An innocent toy connected to a not so innocent holiday

In the same way I used to organize sales for the Socialist Workers Party in Houston in the 1970s, directing people to various grocery stores or college campuses with bundles of the Militant, the Chabad sends its young missionaries to what they regard as fruitful opportunities for converting lost souls. But this Hasidic outreach group is not interested in saving Christians or Muslims. It is people like me, secular Jews, that they are trying to reach, based on their presence in front of my building during Jewish holidays throughout the year.

Yesterday as I was on the sidewalk in front of my high-rise, one of these young men, clad in a dark suit and wearing a wide-brimmed fedora made by Borsalino, approached me to ask if I’d like to have a donut in honor of Hanukkah. (My building is ecumenical with a Christmas tree and a Hanukkah menorah in the lobby in an obvious bid to make the Jewish residents more amenable to chipping in for the staff’s holiday bonus.)

No thanks, I said.

As I was making my way up to my apartment, I wondered what the deal was with the donut. I don’t remember anything like that from my relatively observant household in the 1950s. We lit candles on the menorah, even though I had only the vaguest idea of what that was about—it had something to do with a synagogue lantern miraculously staying lit for 8 days after the oil had been exhausted, while the Maccabees were fighting the infidels but that’s about all I knew.

Out of curiosity, I took a quick look at the ever-so-useful Wikipedia to see what connection there was between donuts and the holiday and discovered: “Fried foods (such as latkes potato pancakes, jelly doughnuts sufganiyot and Sephardic Bimuelos) are eaten to commemorate the importance of oil during the celebration of Hanukkah.”

As I was perusing the article, I began to wonder what role Hanukkah played in the Jewish religion. For young people in observant households, it was our Christmas but a rather unproductive one. The Christian kids had a gaily-decorated tree and gifts galore while we had nothing but a stupid candelabra and a cheap little trinket called a dreidel that you spun like a top, towards what end I had no idea. Once again, Wiki delivered the goods:

Tradition has it that the reason the dreidel game is played is to commemorate a game devised by the Jews to camouflage the fact that they were studying Torah, which was outlawed by the Seleucids. The Jews would gather in caves to study, posting a lookout to alert the group to the presence of Seleucid soldiers. If soldiers were spotted, the Jews would hide their scrolls and spin tops, so the Seleucids thought they were gambling, not learning.

I had no idea that gambling was involved. I feel like Captain Reynault in “Casablanca”.

But of the most interest was the battlefield victory it was meant to celebrate. I had a feeling that in the 16 years of Marxmail, there must have been something that dealt with the legacy of the holiday that was in its way just as bloodthirsty as Passover that celebrated the death of innocent Egyptian children. I was not disappointed. I crossposted this article nearly 3 years ago to the date:

http://thebusysignal.com/2010/12/01/rethinking-hanukkah-the-dark-history-of-the-festival-of-lights/

Rethinking Hanukkah: The Dark History of the Festival of Lights

2010 December 1

by J.A. Myerson

OK, so: there’s a civil war. On one side is a group of reformers, who break from divine-right totalitarianism to design a society based on reason, philosophy, comity with national neighbors and religious moderation. On the other is a violent group of devout fanatics who engage in terrorist warfare in their quest to institute religious law that includes ritual sacrifice and compulsory infant genital mutilation. Which side are you on?

And if the second group defeats the first, returns the land to theocratic despotism, institutes a program of imperial conquest and declares the abolition of secular thought, isolating itself from the rest of the civilized world for a century, do you celebrate their victory?

Easy answers, surely, if this scenario were situated in the Muslim world of the 21st century. But, starting tonight, a great many Jews the world over, including—or perhaps especially—secular American Jews, will light candles and sing prayers in observance of Hanukkah, which commemorates the historical incident aforementioned. The sectarian factions were traditionalist Jews and their Hellenized brethren. The location was Jerusalem. The year was 165 BCE.

A decade earlier, Antiochus IV Epiphanes had assumed rule of the Seleucid Empire, which stretched farther east than Alexander the Great’s Macedonian Empire, from modern day Saudi Arabia all the way to what are now Turkmenistan and Pakistan. Antiochus appointed Jason—probably in reward for a bribe—to the governorship of Judea, then a client state of the Seleucids, and, in 167 BCE, Jason did away with Jewish law and rebuilt Jerusalem in a Greek model. This included banning genital mutilation and Jewish sacrifice, permitting Jews to marry gentiles and instituting an internationalist program exemplified by participation in the Olympic Games.

To be sure, Seleucid Judea, being an imperial protectorate, was hardly the democratic polis par excellence; widespread corruption and capricious political leadership combined with a measure of jealous authoritarianism hardly constitute the virtuous city. Nevertheless, a secular, multicultural state is subject to civic reform in a way that dictatorial theocracy is not, and the latter is precisely what the Maccabees sought to establish. (The Maccabees are routinely called a “rebel army,” but really this is a romantic and obfuscatory term; “terrorist militants” is a well chosen substitute, and the one we use for their contemporary analogues).

Judah Maccabee, whose father Matthias had had to flee Judea after killing a Hellenistic Jew for worshiping before an idol, served as the chief of that fundamentalist army, his brothers Jonathan and Simon occupying the upper lieutenancy. Their holy war featured the demolition of pagan altars in the villages, the ritual cleansing of the temple and compelling the circumcision of children. Their terror campaign worked and, in 165 BCE, after just two years of secular law, the Maccabees overtook Judea, establishing the political reign of the Hasmonean dynasty.

Not content with the victory, Judah continued the war—when was the last time holy war ended with the conquest of but one land?—and expanded the boundaries of Israel, setting a nationalist-expansionist precedence whose reverberations we (leave alone the Palestinians) continue to feel. Between Judah’s regime and the subsequent administrations of his brothers, the fanatical Maccabee Israeli army conquered the port of Joppa and the fortress of Gezer and razed the Acra in Jerusalem. Hasmonean rule lasted until 64 BCE, when the Romans moved in and Herod the Great became King of Israel—for more on that, see the gospels of the New Testament.

*   *   *

Judaism, as much as any other world religion, can boast an extraordinary history of secular thought. Albert Einstein, Sigmund Freud, Karl Marx, Isaiah Berlin, Christopher Hitchens, Tony Kushner—who can think of better Jews than these or imagine, without anguish, a world devoid of their contributions? My own family’s ancestry is Jewish and we are ourselves devoted to secularism and the pursuit of a Judaism in the image of those named above.

Nevertheless, growing up, we lit the candles and sang the Hebrew prayer my mother could remember from her childhood (but—how Jewish—cannot translate to English). My father, for his part, is fond of proving that he can sing “Hanukkah, Oh Hanukkah” in Yiddish—his father escaped an Orthodox home at age 13, never to return—not that the rest of us are in any position to verify his rendition’s accuracy. Latkes (with sour cream and apple sauce, naturally), gelt (lousy chocolate, sure, but it’s shaped like money!) and dreidels came out once a year, in order, I’m sure I always knew, to make Jews feel better about not having Christmas, which is a big deal to the goyim (so big that the Myersons celebrate it too, and more enthusiastically than the Jewish consolation prize, to boot).

What a piercing irony, that secular Jews have taken to comforting ourselves in the yuletide season by celebrating the destruction of the Hellenistic Jewry, whose legacy we inherit, at the hands of fundamentalist fanatics who wouldn’t even consider us Jewish. With each lunatic attempt to expel Palestinians from their homes to make room for Orthodox settlers from Brooklyn, with each story of a Hasidic woman confined to a medieval lifestyle of bondage and repression born of superstition and uncritical faith, with each exposure of depravity and fraudulence in the communities who make the most exuberant claims to piety, it becomes clearer: the time has come for us to proclaim loudly that we have a better tradition. Let us celebrate the Hellenistic Jews and their struggle, rather than the violent extremists and their victory.

The prayer Jews are expected to say on the first night of Hanukkah (the only one my mother knew to teach us) translates thus: “Blessed are you, our God, King of the universe, who has sanctified us with his commandments and has commanded us to kindle the Hanukkah lights.” Need anyone mention that the greatest Jewish tradition is not one of following any commandments whatever, but rather of investigating, examining, discovering? The secular Jewish tradition holds that it is through those processes that one learns truth, not through the revelation of commandment. Cast off that prayer.

The klezmer ditty, though, can stay. “One for each night, they shed us with light to remind us of days long ago.” Let us take this opportunity to remind ourselves of what really happened in days long ago, and commit ourselves to reversing it.

*   *   *

The author is obliged to mention Josephus’ The Wars of the Jews along with the biblical apocrypha contained in the first and second book of the Maccabees, which provide the history presented here. For additional reading, please see relevant works by Christopher Hitchens and James Ponet, both in Slate.

[Hitchens and Ponet are both worth reading as well.]

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Pablo Neruda: Poet of the People

My friend Michael Grondin introduced me to Brain Pickings a few years ago. It is a website which has enriched my life. Recently, they reviewed a book on Pablo Neruda which caught my interest:

http://www.brainpickings.org/2014/11/04/pablo-neruda-poet-of-the-people-book/

Enjoy.

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