Category Archives: Wisdom

I thought Athena was the goddess of wisdom

Athena, right, with Heracles.

Athena, right, with Heracles.

Anyone else getting tired of news out of Portland? I am. I’m also concerned about it, frankly. I think this might be the place where Trump hopes to provoke a confrontation that could help him in promoting division ahead of the election (and hoping this time it works out better than the Lafayette Square fiasco). He keeps sending in federal officers girded for war, and more protesters keep gathering to confront them, and it’s hard to say what’s going to happen.

What better place to awaken paranoia about the left — in Portlandia, in the land of the 9th Circuit, a place that his base doesn’t consider to be “real America?”

So I worry. I don’t want to see Trump get his way by having a greater conflagration develop.

But it’s interesting to see the tactics the protesters adopt. Like the Moms. And, of course, like “Naked Athena,” who seems to have upstaged the Moms with the oldest trick in the book for grabbing attention. Men’s attention, anyway.

Here’s the thing, though: All the news stories I see about her keep referring to Athena as the “goddess of war.”

Well, OK, she wore a helmet and all, and war is listed among the concepts with which she is associated. But I always though of her as primarily representing wisdom. I mean, I thought that was the point of the way she came into being, springing fully-formed from Zeus’s brow. It suggested she was a cerebral being. It associated her more with the intellectual than the physical.

Which, I’ll admit, is not what “Naked Athena” was doing, so maybe that’s why those reporting looked for another way to describe her.

But I’m not wrong about Athena, or about her Roman wannabe, Minerva. Wikipedia plainly states that she was the “goddess associated with wisdom, handicraft, and warfare.” I had forgotten the handicraft part, but in any case it’s wisdom first, warfare last. Perhaps because the Greeks had Ares and were therefore covered on the belligerence front.

That’s one of many nice things about the Interwebs — I don’t have to remember back to my two years of Latin in high school. I can look it up. So can — ahem — others who write about the ancients.

Anyway, I wonder a bit at this insistence on the war thing. Is seizing upon that third attribute a feminist thing, insisting that women are warriors, too? Or… and this is the thing that worries me… is it more akin to Elizabeth Warren rattling on all the time about “fighting?” In other words, is it about buying into the attitude that the confrontations in Portland (of all places) — or engaging in politics in general — constitute “war?”

I hope not, because that means siding with the guy who’s sending in forces dressed and equipped for war.

Anyway, that’s the kind of stuff I thought about when I read about “Naked Athena.” I probably would have had other thoughts had there been pictures, but fortunately, there were not…

The best thing I’ve ever read in a newspaper advice column (and the best political commentary I’ve read in a long time)

Bryan Caskey brings this to my attention as being “right in your wheelhouse of looking past partisan politics and seeing people as people,” and I very much appreciate it.

Sorry, Miss Manners, but this easily qualifies as the best thing I have ever read in a newspaper advice column. No contest.

It starts with a letter from a young man who describes himself as “ more or less a liberal democrat with very progressive values,” who “just can’t deal with my father anymore” because “He’s a 65-year-old super right-wing conservative who has basically turned into a total asshole intent on ruining our relationship and our planet with his politics.”

Right off, you want to give this kid a slap upside the head. Or I do. Figuratively speaking, anyway. But Andrew W.K. (born Andrew Fetterly Wilkes-Krier) does something much, much better, and along the way gently makes me feel guilty for wanting to slap anyone upside the head, even figuratively. He begins:

Andrew W.K.

Andrew W.K.

Go back and read the opening sentences of your letter. Read them again. Then read the rest of your letter. Then read it again. Try to find a single instance where you referred to your dad as a human being, a person, or a man. There isn’t one. You’ve reduced your father — the person who created you — to a set of beliefs and political views and how it relates to you. And you don’t consider your dad a person of his own standing — he’s just “your dad.” You’ve also reduced yourself to a set of opposing views, and reduced your relationship with him to a fight between the two. The humanity has been reduced to nothingness and all that’s left in its place is an argument that can never really be won. And even if one side did win, it probably wouldn’t satisfy the deeper desire to be in a state of inflamed passionate conflict.

The world isn’t being destroyed by democrats or republicans, red or blue, liberal or conservative, religious or atheist — the world is being destroyed by one side believing the other side is destroying the world. The world is being hurt and damaged by one group of people believing they’re truly better people than the others who think differently. The world officially ends when we let our beliefs conquer love. We must not let this happen….

But you should just go ahead and read the whole thing. It’s amazing. It runs the gamut of things that ought to be said again and again with fierce conviction, from the UnParty view of politics to a theology of Love.

Who is this sage, Andrew W.K.? Well, Wikipedia describes him this way:

Andrew Fetterly Wilkes-Krier (born May 9, 1979), better known by his stagenameAndrew W.K., is an American singer-songwritermulti-instrumentalistentertainer,motivational speaker, and music producer. He was the host of the television seriesDestroy Build Destroy. As a musician, he is known for his singles “Party Hard” and “We Want Fun“.

Apparently, on the side, he also dabbles in wisdom. And at least in this case, does so better than anyone I’ve read recently…

You’re a good man, Jim Hesson. Hang in there…

Jim Hesson was possibly my best friend on senior staff at The State, except for Warren Bolton. He was the paper’s IT director. Actually, we called it “I.S.,” for “information services,” and Jim lived that. He was helpful, patient, competent, and had a great sense of humor.

Jim Hesson

Jim Hesson

I still remember with embarrassment the time we were all riding up to North Carolina in a van for a senior staff retreat. He and I talked and joked back and forth so constantly that the person sitting between us finally offered to move, so that we would stop talking across her. Which made me feel bad that we’d been so rude. But I always had a good time talking with Jim.

The purpose of that trip, by the way, wasn’t to talk business. It was to go whitewater rafting. Holly Rogers, the life-loving soul who was then our human resources director, had this idea that to work together effectively, people should sometimes have fun together (another year, she dragged us all out to Frankie’s Fun Park). I would grumble and complain and pass critical remarks about these outings, and fret about the work waiting for me, but once there, I would throw myself into it and have as much fun as anybody. Those were different times.

Back to Jim Hesson. Today, Jim posted this on Facebook:

Yesterday morning I was having my quiet time on the train heading in to work. I was praying that God would give me clarity about my job and if it was time to seek another position. After I got in I was called in to a meeting where I was told my position was eliminated , along with a number of others in our IT dept. So God did answer my prayer, just not in the way I expected. God is good. And I know He can be trusted in all things.

I am so sorry, Jim. But I believe your faith is well-placed. You got an answer; it’s just not going to be an easy one to accept. May you soon see clearly the next steps on the path before. That’s the hard part — wondering whether that next opportunity will ever come. The good news is that you’ve got the right attitude about it.

I am deeply impressed by Jim’s honesty in sharing this. I wasn’t like that. Oh, I shared a lot — far, far more than most people who are laid off do. Thousands upon thousands of words, in my last columns and on the blog. On the first day I didn’t have a job to go to, I stood up in front of the Columbia Rotary Club and cracked jokes about it. And I didn’t lie about anything.

But it was superficial, stiff-upper-lip stuff. It was never gut-level. Not that I meant to mislead; I was just so busy figuring out the next step of each day that I didn’t plumb the depths of what I felt. In truth, of course, I wasn’t feeling on a deep level. I wouldn’t fully realize at the time how much I was losing. The grief of losing the job that paid me well to do what I do best is something that has unfolded itself gradually over a period of years. At the time, the bad feelings were offset by relief that I would no longer be the one laying off, and then having to figure out how to do the job going forward, without those good people. I quickly got over the rush of anger that I felt in the moment I got the news. I refused to dwell, even in my own mind, on how it felt to tell my wife and family.

And I certainly didn’t share private communications between me and the Almighty. In any case, they would have seemed rather incoherent and repetitive, not elegant and direct like what Jim shared.

It occurred to me to keep a journal, maybe write a book, about what it was like to have reached the pinnacle of what you wanted to do for a living, and then have it all taken away in an instant, just as you’re stepping into your peak earning years. And about what happens next. It would have relevance, in that year of 2009. (And today as well. How many people out there have never regained what they had? The unemployment figures don’t tell you that.) But I thought, what a bummer that would be — I certainly wouldn’t want to read such a book, much less write one.

Now, if I wanted to go back and write something like that, I’d have trouble assembling the details. I’ve just forgotten so much of it.

In any case, what could I write that would be as powerful as what Jim did?

You’re a good man, Jim Hesson. I know God will bless you going forward…

Yes, public schools should teach Bible as literature

An op-ed in the WSJ today made the case for putting the Bible into the public school curriculum, as a foundational work (or rather, body of works) of Western civilization. The authors were educated in Europe and were taught the Bible as a matter of course. But that reckons without the reflexive horror the suggestion of doing so engenders in this country:

Teaching the Bible is of course a touchy subject. One can’t broach it without someone barking “separation of church and state” and “forcing religion down my throat.”

Yet the Supreme Court has said it’s perfectly OK for schools to do so, ruling in 1963 (Abington School District v. Schempp) that “the Bible is worthy of study for its literary and historic qualities. Nothing we have said here indicates that such study of the Bible or of religion, when presented objectively as a part of a secular (public school) program of education, may not be effected consistently with the First Amendment.”

The Supreme Court understood that we’re not talking about religion here, and certainly not about politics. We’re talking about knowledge. The foundations of knowledge of the ancient world—which informs the understanding of the modern world—are biblical in origin. Teddy Roosevelt, the 26th president known more as a cigar-chomping Rough Rider than a hymn-signing Bible-thumper, once said: “A thorough knowledge of the Bible is worth more than a college education.”

I agree entirely, totally apart from all the phrases with which scripture has enriched the language, or the fact that Shakespeare makes 1,200 biblical references.

I think there are other things we should have to read as well. I’ve always felt sort of ignorant that I’ve never read the Iliad, preferably in the original Greek. But that’s peripheral, compared to having a thorough understanding of such allusions as Adam and Eve, Samson and Delilah, Jonah and Judas Iscariot. Those are basic.

And it’s not just the stories or the language. As an overview of different forms of ancient literature (poetry, allegory, history, etc.) it’s a treasure trove.

Before someone misunderstands me — nothing that I’ve said gives anyone any reason to, but Kulturkampf in this society being emotional rather than rational, someone will — I’m not an advocate of mandatory prayer in public schools. Although people should be (and are) free to pray there as well as anywhere else.

The authors of this piece, if anything, underestimate the objections such a suggestion will meet. For instance, they neglect to anticipate the objection that other religions’ texts, say the Bhagavad Gita, should be given the same status in the K-12 curriculum. But of course, that work is not foundational to western culture. It’s a great subject for upper-division college electives, but there’s no more reason to make it part of everyone’s education than, say, Kerouac’s Dharma Bums as opposed to Huck Finn. One is enrichment; the other is basic.

Anyway, since these folks brought up the subject, I say yeah: Put Genesis and the rest in there with Shakespeare. They are still reading Shakespeare in the schools, aren’t they? If not, I give up…

Obama: ‘If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon.’

On a previous post, Phillip said that he likes Bill Maher (or at least excuses him) because “I find myself agreeing with him about 99% of the time.” I made it fairly clear that I do not.

But there are people who I find myself agreeing with to a degree that it is remarkable — a rare experience for me, since I reject the orthodoxies of left and right (which enable the people who do adhere to them to find themselves agreeing with certain people a lot). A good example would be Tony Blair. When he expresses his reasoning behind a position, I am struck by how much it is just like what I would say — or wish I were clever enough to say.

I have a similar experience with President Obama. There are a lot of things I disagree with him on, rather vehemently in some cases. But then he expresses himself on an issue in a way that strikes me as just right, and I am deeply impressed. (Needless to say, on these occasions he’s being about as different from Bill Maher as any one person can be.)

Today was such an instance, when the president carefully weighed in on the Trayvon Martin tragedy. I haven’t commented on it myself because I have thought that everyone else was commenting in such a facile manner — generalizing the incident to fit their own political and social predilections — and I couldn’t find a way to grab ahold of the matter in a way I found meaningful.

But then the president said this:

“I think every parent in America should be able to understand why it is absolutely imperative that we investigate every aspect of this,” Mr. Obama said. “All of us have to do some soul searching to figure out how does something like this happen.”…

“Obviously, this is a tragedy. I can only imagine what these parents are going through,” Mr. Obama said, his face grim. “When I think about this boy, I think about my own kids.”…

“You know, if I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon,” Mr. Obama said, pausing for a moment. “I think they are right to expect that all of us as Americans are going to take this with the seriousness it deserves, and we are going to get to the bottom of exactly what happened.”

Normally, I tend to react against such a personal, emotional response. But in this case, it was exactly right, and the president was wise to recognize it.

To me, this isn’t some microcosm of racial injustice or gun culture gone wild or any other generalization. This is a case — as near as I can tell, and my knowledge of the case is limited — of a confused, emotional, panicky, cowardly man with a gun in his hand pulling the trigger and causing a deep, personal, specific tragedy.

Yes, the president made a genetic, racial observation in saying that his theoretical son would look like the victim in this case. But the more important part of it is that he appeals to “every parent in America” to look at this situation AS parents, rather than as participants in a political debate. It says to whites who may want to recoil and get indignant at seeing, for instance, Al Sharpton exploit yet another tragedy, Set that aside. Look at the personal tragedy. Think of your own kids. That’s what I’m doing.

That’s the wisest possible thing he could have said.

If there’s anything else useful to say about this case, that is the best starting point.