I had to wake Garry up at 9 this morning, which is very early.
“Where,” I asked him, “Is the car?”
“At the bottom of the drive,” he yawned.
“I think you need to move it. It’s snowing.”
“Snowing? How much?”
“More than I expected. If you don’t move it, they can’t plow.” I didn’t yet know if it would exceed the 3-inch minimum for plowability, but I didn’t want to discover it later.
Garry sighed, barely avoided an actual whine. Got up, got dressed, went out, moved the car to the top of the driveway. I gave the dogs biscuits which they seemed very intent on getting, then opened the next big box o’ biscuits because — wonder of wonders — we were out of biscuits.
I know. Tragic. But not to fear because we have extras and I’d already ordered two more boxes to be delivered at Owen’s house because we are in the “no one delivers here anymore” zone.
Agile? We are not agile. Garry clumped back down from the parked car. Slowly and carefully because we are sensitive about the whole “falling down” thing. I’m always amazed at “snow people” who seem to manage something akin to grace while wearing gigantic ski boots and long flat poles on their feet. I can barely get from the house to anywhere else in snow and I do not look agile in the process.
We’re hunkering down around here. You all have a great day. We’ll be right here, where it’s warm. Drinking coffee. Listening to books … while the snow falls.
Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945 by Tony Judt
Available in paperback, hardcover and as an audiobook
Reading PostWar was a project, an immersion experience during which I first unlearned, then relearned everything I knew of modern European history. It was worth the effort. This is a long book — 960 pages — crammed with so much information I had to read it twice before I felt I had a grip on the material.
Tony Judt was an historian with controversial opinions. He made no pretence of being a neutral observer. Not that any historian is really neutral. Every historian has an agenda. Whether or not he or she puts it out there for all to see is a matter of style, but there is no such thing as historical neutrality. If an historian is writing about an era, he or she has an opinion about it. All history is slanted, changed by the historians who write it.
Dr. Tony Judt believed the role of an historian is to set the record straight. He undertakes the debunking and de-mythologizing of post World War II European history. He lays bare lies that comprise the myth of French resistance, the “neutral” Swiss, the open-minded anti-Nazi Dutch — exposing an ugly legacy of entrenched anti-Semitism, xenophobia and ethnocentricity.
Although Judt follows a more or less chronological path from World War II to the present, he doesn’t do it as a strict “timeline.” Instead of a linear progression, he follows threads of ideas and philosophy. Tracing cultural and social development, he takes you from news events through their political ramifications. You follow parallel developments in cinema, literature, theater, television and arts, not just the typical political and economic occurrences on which most history focuses.
After two consecutive readings, I finally felt I’d gotten it. Postwar changed my view of the world, not just what happened, but what is happening.
Tony Judt and I were born in 1947. We grew up during same years, but his Old World roots gave him an entirely different perspective. He forced me to question fundamental beliefs. What really happened? Was any of the stuff I believed true? Maybe not or at least, maybe only partially. It was hard to swallow, but he convinced me. I believe it.
If you are Jewish (I am and so was Judt), and lost family during the Holocaust, this will stir up painful issues. The depth and breadth of European anti-Semitism and collusion in the destruction of European Jewry is stomach churning. Pretty lies are easier to deal with than ugly reality. It’s easy to understand why so much of what we know is wrong.
Even though I knew history, I didn’t grasp the impact of these years until Postwar made it real. I assumed, having lived these decades and followed the news, I knew what happened.
I was wrong. What is reported by American media barely scratches the surface. The transformation of Europe from the wreckage of war to a modern European union is more extensive, complex and far-reaching than I had grasped. These changes affect all of us directly and personally. My understanding of current events is far better because of this book.
I read Postwaron paper, then listened to the audio version. Available from Audible.com, I recommend it to anyone with easily tired eyes. It has excellent narration and is a fine showcase for the author’s conversational writing style.
Postwaris analysis and criticism, not just “what happened.” The book is an eye-opener, totally worth your time and effort, an investment in understanding and historical perspective. It’s never dull. After reading it, you will never see Europe or World War II the same way.
You think you know someone. You hang out with them. Exchange emails, jokes, anecdotes. Maybe you even work with them. One day, out of the blue, you discover they are fundamentalist Christians who think you are going to Hell. Or a hard-core right-wing Republican who voted for you-know-who. Maybe a conspiracy theorist or a proud believer in the upcoming zombie apocalypse.
I lived in Jerusalem for almost 9 years. It probably should not be a big surprise that you meet a lot of people who are sure they are Jesus Christ come back to finish His work on Earth. One of them worked at the local pizza joint and seemed perfectly normal, until in the middle of a casual conversation, he would drop a bomb about his mission and there you were, transported to wacko central.
I had a casual friend who was a piano player. He sang and played at fancy hotel lounges, like the Hilton Hotel lounge. He was, like me, an American. So it was inevitable we would meet. I did his horoscope for him because in those days, I did horoscopes for an awful lot of people.
We struck up a chatty little relationship. One night, he called and invited me over. He had something important to tell me.
Important? Our relationship consisted of reminiscing about life in the U.S. in the 1960s — and then, there was his horoscope. I was (coincidentally) the astrology columnist and managing editor of a short-lived English-language weekly. Please, let’s not discuss astrology or my psychic abilities (or lack thereof). You don’t want to know and I don’t want to tell you.
Having nothing better to do at the time, I walked over to his house (just around the corner) and we got to talking. Suddenly, I knew. He was going to tell me one of two things: he was an alien from on another planet … or … he was Jesus Christ.
It turned out to be the latter. Yet one more Jesus. He wanted me, because of my brilliant psychic abilities, to be his Paul and spread the word. I told him his timing was off. I promised to advise him when the right moment arrived. Then I fled into the night and home.
He was one of several people who convinced me there was no future for me in the psychically predictive arts.
Then there was the guy I worked with at a high-tech company in Rhode Island. One day he told me he was going to quit his job and move to an underground bunker in anticipation of the coming American apocalypse. I hadn’t even done his horoscope. Our relationship went rapidly downhill.
These surprises have made me wary of new friends who don’t come with references from other friends. I’m afraid of what might be revealed when we get to know each other better. The thing about people who believe in cabals — or that they were dropped from an alien space craft or will be leaving on one shortly — are that they are sure God has assigned them a mission and you cannot argue with them.
You can’t point out the incongruities and contradictions of their beliefs. They believe what they believe and that’s that. Facts are irrelevant. They ignore evidence. They know everything they need to know and given where they’re coming from, that’s probably enough. For them.
I haven’t personally met a real nutter lately, so I think I’ve got an opening in my tribe. Any applicants?
Whoa! Mid January? 2018? Today is Martin Luther King Day, too … I remember when they decided to make it a holiday and eventually, it really did become a holiday. That was back when this country was actually committed to Civil Rights. Was it a million years ago?
Complete this sentence: I’m looking forward to….
No snow, please. Just … stop snowing. Warm up a little, world.
Also, really looking forward to the day we clear out the White House and install a real President and a functional administration. That will be a day for cheering.
What is your favorite comfort snack food?
That depends. Crystallized ginger is always one. Cookies. Chips and salsa. Toast with jam. And an occasional piece of chocolate.
I don’t snack much and I don’t keep much snack food in the house.
What was one of your first moneymaking jobs (other than babysitting or newspaper delivery)?
I worked at Bloomingdale’s putting price tickets on clothing. In the basement. I also counted incoming goods and marked the bills of lading. I was 14, which was the youngest you could be and still work in New York.
What inspired you or what did you appreciate this past week?
I’ve been doing a lot of reading. Trying to get through “Fire and Fury” and remarkably, I’m actually beginning to feel sorry for a lot of the people who have done the best they knew how to try and make it a functional place to work and a more “normal” administration. Everyone failed.
Everyone failed because the man they elected as President is not up to the task. Forget for the moment whether he’s nuts or demented or stupid or whatever else you call him. He is a man who never reads a book. No education. No deep knowledge of any relevant subject. Can’t — won’t — read reports from the other people who supposedly work for him. He has zero knowledge of the critical material with the White House is supposed to deal. And, to top it off, he has no idea how to manage people. He works entirely on instinct and his instinct is based on the last person he talked to.
In short, you can’t “turn him” into a “real” president. He doesn’t have the qualifications and nothing will make it happen.
I was surprised by the book. There’s a lot more empathy and sympathy in it than I expected and I found myself feeling bad for people and how painful this experience has been for them. We elected a man as president who should never have been allowed into the office and we are paying a terrible price for such a shallow, stupid decision.
Lately I’ve been reading posts focusing on how civilization is disintegrating because of technology. How we’ve lost our privacy, obviously because of social networking. The prevalence of fake news on the Internet that so many morons take seriously has had a lethal impact on our lives. We worry that the loss of language and relationship skills by people who living on mobile phones will eliminate intimacy. And finally, my personal favorite paranoid fear, that mobile phones are scrambling everyone’s’ brains and are secretly responsible for the epidemic of worldwide stupidity.
It should only be that simple.
I’m not convinced we had any privacy to lose. Unless you were a recluse alone in a cave, you live with and near other people. Who know all about us. A lot more than we wish they did. You sneeze while your neighbors says “gesundheit.” Have a fight with your spouse and everyone knows every detail the following morning.
Gossip is the meat and potatoes of human relationships. Call it networking or whatever you like: we talk about each other all the time. Privacy is an illusion. It was an illusion a couple of hundred years ago.
The big difference now is you can use your computer or phone to tell total strangers everywhere in the world all your personal business. Be grateful that most of them could care less about you and your personal nonsense.
Revealing everything to everyone is a choice. Voluntary. No one makes you do it, yet so many people feel the need to expose everything. Publicly. We care a lot less about privacy than we say we do. Maybe we want to protect our bank accounts and credit cards, but otherwise? How much do you care who knows what’s going on in your life?
As herd animals, we are nosy. How lucky that knowing our neighbors’ business doesn’t require technology, just eyes and ears. For broadcast purposes, a mouth works as well any other device.
OLD PEOPLE DON’T USE MODERN TECHNOLOGY — NOT
Is technology more important to young people than old people? I am told “we” resist new technology. I recall thinking along the same lines when I was young and stupid. Young people underestimate their elders.
People my age have not rejected technology. Rather, we embrace it with enthusiasm. Technology has impacted us more than any other age group. Computers give us access to the world, let us to remain actively in touch with scattered friends and family. It helps us know what people are thinking. Digital cameras with auto-focus compensate for aging eyes. Miniaturization makes more powerful hearing aids so that people who would be condemned to silence can remain part of the world. Pacemakers prolong life; instrumented surgeries provide solutions to what were insoluble medical problems.
Technology has saved us from early death and from losing touch.
We can watch movies whenever we want. Old ones. New ones. We can see them in on huge screens at home with better sound and cheap snacks … plus a convenient “pause” button. Virtually everyone has a cell phone, use electronic calendars and a wide range of applications to do everything from post-processing photographs to balancing bank accounts. My generation consumes technology voraciously, hungrily.
Unlike our kids, we don’t take it for granted. We didn’t always have it. We remember the old days and despite nostalgic memes, most of us are glad we don’t live there.
We can’t all repair a computer, but neither can the kids. They merely know how to use them. My granddaughter was using a computer when she was three, but she has no idea how it works. Most of her friends are equally ignorant. For them, technology is not a miracle. They don’t need to understand it. They feel about technology the way we felt about electricity. Turn it on.
Does it work? Good.
No? Call the repair person. Or grandma.
CONVERSATION – THE LOST ART
I wonder how kids who don’t have conversations will manage to have relationships. Not that we were perfect, but at least we knew how to talk. The ubiquitous availability of social networking gives kids the illusion of having lots of friends … yet many of them have no real friends.
I don’t want anyone to give up their electronic goodies … but it would be nice if there were more direct communication, human to human. I have watched groups of teens sit around in a room, but instead of talking, they send texts to one another. Yikes.
All of us have gotten a bit lazy about relationships. We send an email when we should pick up the phone. We pick up the phone when we should make a visit. Nothing electronic that can replace a hug. Just a thought to ponder as you enter a new year.
STUPID IS AS STUPID WAS AND EVER WILL BE
Stupid people were always stupid. They always will be. People who believe nonsensical rumors have always existed. And there have always been nonsensical rumors for them to believe. Remember: before we had Internet rumors, we had plenty of regular, old-fashioned rumors. They didn’t travel as fast as they do on the Internet, but they got the job done.
The problem isn’t computers. It’s people.
THE GOOD OLD DAYS WEREN’T SO GREAT
The good old days weren’t all that terrific. There were good things (especially if you were white and well-off), but plenty of bad stuff, too … and we never took care of much of that business.
Ugly stuff. Institutionalized racism. A gap between classes even worse than now. Real oppression of women. If you think we don’t get a fair shake now, you would never have survived growing up in the 1950s. Help wanted ads in newspapers were divided by sex. We had to wear skirts to school, even in the dead of winter.
We’re going through a rough period. I am counting on it coming to a natural end in the foreseeable future — like, during my lifetime. We have a lot of unfinished issues. The wheel has rolled around and now, we ARE going to deal with them.
The basics of human nature hasn’t fundamentally changed. We have a kind of cruel savagery embedded in our DNA. I doubt anything will erase it. Will we evolve to the point where we are truly civilized? I don’t know. I hope so.
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