Category Archives: Thomas Merton

Hot Air

The Smart Set

So, Albert Einstein was a smart guy, no?

That’s a tongue-in-cheek line, natch. From the 1920s through 1950s and even into the ’60s a bit, people used to call smart guys Einsteins. Conversely, when someone did something mind-bogglingly stupid, people might say, “Nice goin’, Einstein.”

I’m thinking about AE because yesterday a college-aged woman and her parents came into the Book Corner, browsed for a while, and then the young woman came up to the counter to buy the Penguin Classics edition of Einstein’s Relativity: The Special and the General Theory.

Book Corner

Neat, I thought. I told the young woman I’d read once that you really need to have studied about fifteen years of advanced math in order to fully comprehend Relativity. She smiled, shrugged, and said, “Well, I’m going to give it my best shot.”

“That’s precisely what I did,” I told her.

And then I wondered why it’s so odd that a young woman would be buying a copy of Einstein’s magnum opus. The answer is simple: We live in a weird world where the genitalia you possess dictate how smart you should allow yourself to be.

Then again, we seem to be sliding into an age wherein even people with penises thumb their noses at brains. At least in this holy land.

For instance, we have no commonly-used nickname for smart folks. When’s the last time you heard somebody call another a Hawking or a de Grasse Tyson?

Streaker

Nice Goin’, Hawking!

Matter of fact, I think I’m gonna start that trend.

Anyway, here’s as neat a quote as I can imagine, spoken by Einstein to the noted theological scholar Thomas Merton [pointed out by a former member of the Ever-So Secret Order of the Lamprey, Michael Bulka]:

My passionate sense of social justice and social responsibility has always contrasted oddly with my pronounced lack of need for direct contact with other human beings and human communities. I am truly a “lone traveller” and have never belonged to my country, my house, my friends, or even my immediate family with my whole heart; in the face of these ties I have never lost a sense of distance and need for solitude — feelings which increase with the years. One becomes sharply aware, but without regret, of the limits of mutual understanding and consonance with other people. No doubt such a person loses some of his innocence and unconcern; on the other hand he is largely independent of the opinions, habits, and judgements of his fellows and avoids the temptations to build his inner equilibrium on such insecure foundations.

I hope I’m not being presumptuous when I say I want that to describe me in some small way.

Einstein/Merton

Einstein & Merton

As a coda to the story of the young woman, I told her I was happy she was reading Einstein. I learned she’s not studying physics or any other hard science; she just wants to learn about Relativity. For the hell of it.

I said: Wow!

Her mother, taking note of my amazement, piped up: “Hey, that’s why we sent her to college; so she can read books like that!”

That’s rare. And it’s too bad that’s rare.

Lotus Fest Sked

That’s it, kiddies. Lotus Fest 2014 wraps up today with one final performance.

Sunday, September 21st

● 3pm: World Spirit Concert: Arga Bileg & Derek Gripper Buskirk Chumley Theater, 114 E. Kirkwood Ave.

Gripper

Derek Gripper

The Pencil Today:

THE QUOTE

“If you want to study the social and political history of modern nations, study hell.” — Thomas Merton

ONE OF A KIND

Drop everything you’re doing this instant. Go out and buy Erik Larson’s “In the Garden of Beasts.”

Read it.

Erik Larson

Larson hit it big with his “Devil in the White City” a few years ago. His latest is even better than The Devil. The best way to describe Larson’s books is to call them “fact novels.” They’re not historical fiction in the sense that we understand some of Gore Vidal‘s works or even Philippa Gregory‘s. He’s a straight historian who tells his true stories with the care, craftsmanship, and imagination of the novelist.

I copped In the Garden a couple of days before The Loved One and I drove off to Florida last week. I couldn’t put the book down throughout our stay. Here’s a sure sign that I love a book: when I near the end, I intentionally slow myself down so as not to finish the thing. When I read the last sentence of In the Garden, I felt a sense of loss and emptiness.

Anyway, In the Garden tells the story of William Dodd and his family who moved to Berlin in 1933 when Dodd was named US Ambassador to Hitler’s Germany.

The Dodds About To Board An Ocean Liner For Germany

Larson follows in detail the lives of Dodd and his daughter Martha, a flighty narcissist who had passionate affairs with a Russian diplomat who turned out to be a spy, a Gestapo big shot, a World War I flying ace, and other dashing but morally iffy swains. Martha, who viewed herself as a literary figure and an adventuress, previously had carried on flings with the likes of Carl Sandburg and was ardently devoted to Thornton Wilder, although she and he did not play on the same team, before her family set out for Germany.

Gestapo Strongman and Martha Dodd Paramour Rudolf Diels

Ambassador Dodd was among the first to recognize the coming horrors of the Nazi regime. This despite the fact that, like most Gentile Americans, he harbored at least a hint of anti-Semitism.

For her part, Martha at first embraced the Nazis, with their sharp uniforms and their hordes of tall, hunky, blond, young men marching through the streets of Berlin at any given moment.

Arousing

A striking aspect of Larson’s description of 1930s Berlin is the sense of peace and serenity which imbues the city despite the recurring ugliness.

And why didn’t the United States government raise a bigger kick in protest against the Nazis? One big reason was the fear of being labeled hypocrites: this holy land treated blacks pretty much the same way the Nazis treated Jews.

The whole thing reminds me of many of my lefty confreres who seem convinced that these Great United States, Inc. today are merely a rerun of Springtime for Hitler. Come to think of it, tons of right wing whacks think Obama nation is Reich redux as well.

All I have to say about it is, read In the Garden and you’ll know that the real Nazis were sine qua non.

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The Pencil Today:

THE QUOTE

“Pride makes us artificial and humility makes us real.” — Thomas Merton

THE FUTURE KING OF THE UNITED STATES SPEAKS

I played hooky from these precincts yesterday. It felt deliciously bad to be irresponsible.

On the other hand, it wasn’t as though I lolled on a beach. The Loved One had invited a pal over to watch movies last night and had asked me to clean the house. So I had a perfect excuse for not posting.

Cleaning the house reminds me: when I become King of the United States (a position last held by Garfield Goose), I will issue an edict that everybody must scrub their own toilets.

Humbling

This isn’t as fatuous as you might think. I know of no sane human being who enjoys scrubbing the toilet but it’s a task that must be done. It’s one of the most humbling chores we have to do. Maybe the only thing more humbling is emptying bedpans at a hospital or nursing home. I did that when I was in and out of college in the late ’70s. It took me months to learn how to eat dinner without mentally flashing on what I’d done at work that day.

Anyway, emptying bedpans and scrubbing toilets remind us that, honestly, we as a species ain’t anything special, kids.

Now, we have to assume people like Donald Trump and Oprah do not scrub their own toilets. They have, after all, far more important things to do.

“I Certainly Will Not Scrub My Own Toilet!”

But the truth is there’s very little in life more important than scrubbing the toilet. On a practical level, we have to do it or else our bathrooms will essentially become oversized Petri dishes for the cultivation of dangerous microbes. And psychologically, it makes us feel invigorated to do our business in a relatively clean cube.

Perhaps most important of all, though, the simple but awkward task of sprinkling cleanser, brushing, and rinsing reminds us we’re no better than any other human being on this planet.

A lesson, I’m sure, that might benefit someone like Donald Trump.

THE BREAST CANCER RACKET

Lousy news the other day about the Susan G Komen gang and Planned Parenthood, no?

(An update: the Susan G. Komen for the Cure organization has reversed its earlier decision to cut off Planned Parenthood funding.)

I have a confession to make. I became sick of the color pink long ago. In fact, this whole breast cancer thing is getting to me.

Pink Baseball Bats At The Louisville Slugger Factory

Now don’t get me wrong — I realize breast cancer is a horrible problem and I hope nobody gets it and all the rest. I know a number of women who’ve suffered from it. For them I hope a cure is found by five this afternoon.

Early Detection

But years ago it occurred to me that the “battle” against the disease was becoming more of a cottage industry than something people wanted to see won and finished.

The cure walks and the swathing of everything up to and including the Sears/Willis Tower in pink seem more like in-group partying than anything else. Perhaps I’m wrong, wrong, wrong but I suspect that if breast cancer were suddenly and magically wiped off the face of the earth tomorrow morning, a lot of people whose livelihoods depend on “battling” it would be, well, bummed.

Anyway, if the Komen mob’s decision to cut off funding PP is any indication, preventing and curing breast cancer is less important than making sure women stop their nasty habit of having sex.

For a brief moment I was hesitant to write this screed. Surely, I thought, somebody’s gonna rake me over the coals for not genuflecting in the direction of those who walk or race for the cure. But then last night I caught a Facebook post from sexologist Susie Bright and I decided, hell, I’m gonna go with it.

Susie Bright wrote: “Am I the only one who’s thought Komen is full of shit since day one? They’ve always been nauseating, a pink GOP branding machine.” Bright then links to a fascinating bring-down of the Komen myth that ran on a website called Butter Believer.

Susie Bright Reading From Her Book, “Big Sex, Little Death”

The article’s author looked over Komen’s annual report and discovered that the organization spends fully 60 percent of its money on public health education, fund-raising costs, and administrative costs. And while that public education line might seem noble, it’s really mostly the tab for their pink-washing and self-congratulatory events.

Those things are, for all intents and purposes, advertising.

The author also charges that only a penny of every dollar spent on Komen’s licensed pink products actually goes to research to find a cure for breast cancer.

And, by the way, don’t try to start any kind of charitable organization using the word “cure” in its title. The Komen-ites likely will sue your ass off. “Did you know,” the author writes, “that Susan G. Komen for the Cure spends nearly a million dollars annually suing small charities over the use of the word ‘cure’…?”

The Real Cure

There is a silver lining to this story. Donations to Planned Parenthood have gone through the roof since the Komen cut-off was announced.

THE FIENDS

What’s the worst crime you can commit in these United States? Arson? Kidnapping a child for nefarious purposes? Robbing a bank?

Nope. The answer is messing with the Super Bowl.

WRTV Channel 6 in Indy breathlessly reported Thursday that union members unhappy over the Indiana State Legislature’s passing of its union-busting bill are threatening to disrupt the Super Bowl Sunday.

Sunday Service

The Super Bowl, of course, is this holy land’s holiest event. I’ve long endorsed the idea that Super Bowl Sunday should be declared a national holiday. Football is a game that is run by men, involves violence, employs strippers disguised as cheerleaders, and rakes in literally billions of dollars a year for teams, television, bookies, athletes, anthem singers, halftime entertainers, orthopedic surgeons, criminal defense attorneys, and many more.

What’s more American than that?

Game day coverage of the Super Bowl this year begins at eight o’clock in the morning — kickoff is scheduled for ten and a half hours later.

Guaranteed, more people know the name of the starting quarterback for the New England Patriots than can identify the current Secretary of State of the United States.

As for the aggrieved unionistas, they’ve been overruled by their higher-ups. Indiana AFL-CIO chief Nancy Guyott promised union members will not blaspheme Sunday’s sacred rite at the Lucas Oil cathedral.

House Of God

She probably figures union membership has suffered enough in recent years and Super Bowl security forces likely will shoot to kill anyone who messes with the event.

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