Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Unable To Trust

Tied to yesterday's thoughts about emotional disconnection I wonder - have we become a people who are unable to trust?

My first memories of politics are after Watergate (for those friends who are ex-US, this was in 1974) - in fact, my very first memory is Gerald Ford being sworn in as President.  As a result, I cannot remember a time where Americans did not have a high (and ever mounting) distrust of their governmental institutions.  In some ways that is arguably a healthy thing (surely the Founders would have thought it so); on the other hand, a consistent and constant distrust makes actual forward progress a very difficult thing.

Or take our own personal lives.  So much of what many have now is based on a carefully controlled social image.  As someone pointed out to me last week, we almost never post about our fights or arguments or the things that put us in a bad light; to look at social media is to think that we are almost always photogenic, in a good mood, and our lives are smooth sailing.  I wonder if this too breeds a certain instinctive level of distrust:  after all, no-one's life can be 100% on all the time, can it?

We build images around ourselves, insulating layers of how we wish to be perceived - and suddenly find that insulation has made us different than what we thought we were.  And perhaps on some level we begin to distrust ourselves as well, if we really admitted it.  We have become disconnected from ourselves and in some cases, we - or at least I - begin to not trust the things that I am saying to myself in the dark corners of the night.

Do I have a solution for this? Not really.  I certainly wish I did of course - much like with emotional disconnectedness, relationships and societies (which are really just a very complicated web of relationships) cannot be maintained long term without it.

Trust implies a confidence, a faith in the other that they are what they are and will do what they say.  But if all we have become are images and layers, what is there that we can find to have faith in the other person?

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Emotional Disconnection

I find, on the whole, that I am emotionally disconnected from most people.

I am not sure where this really started.  I am not even sure that things were always this way.  I want to believe that I used to be more connected at the emotional level with people.  But I find that I am not.

How did I get here?  That is pretty easily enough understood, at least in retrospect.  I - and perhaps everyone - has a tendency to shut down when either one's dreams are mocked or one's efforts are ignored.  I would argue that one of the most emotionally painful incidents of all is to bare one's heart, one's true inner self - and have it laughed at or mocked or worst of all acted upon as if it never existed.

Our current social climate has helped precisely nothing, of course.  We have made an entire of industry of surface appearances, of ensuring that any sharing beyond a very basic level will result in mockery, attacks, or just plain shunning.  140 characters and fancy memes have overtaken our ability to share - let alone frame - our deepest emotions.

And what does this leave?  A wasteland.  A vague sense that everything is not as it should be.  An insulating effect between us and almost everyone around us.  The dull monotones of unchallenged conversations, the quiet sighs as the standard questions are asked and answered, the occasional flickers of deeper longings that stab us when we see an example of the emotional connection that we only wish we could have.

Can one find their way back?  This is the question that nags at me as I consider my life. There are occasional - oh so rare - moments when we find someone that the communication goes beyond the short give and take of modern communications.  To those people we latch on, as a mussel to the rock on which it has been cast to prevent the continued battering of the waves.  But these seem few and far between and really only represent pin-pricks of light, stars in otherwise midnight sky.

It is not, I suppose, that we intended to end up this way.  It is just that ultimately survival, the ability to function, becomes far more important than our willingness to endure the pain of continually reaching outside our inner emotions only to feel their fragile tendrils wilt in the heat of others' social superiority and public posturing.

Quiet waters, they say, run deep.  Perhaps the more modern application is that deep waters all eventually run underground.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Persian Fire: The First World Empire and The Battle for the West

Along with Mastering the West I also had the opportunity to purchase Persian Fire:  The First World Empire and the Battle for the West by Tom Holland (again, a used book store purchase!).  The title, as you might suspect, suggests a history of the Greco-Persian Wars.

I am no stranger to this time period.  I have a number of works on these time frame (the originals, of course, from Herodotus and Plutarch as well as 20th Century narratives) and am reasonably familiar with the time frame and the events.  I got the book, not expecting a great deal of additional new knowledge but rather a good read.

I did get the good read.  I also got a lot of new knowledge.

Holland actually reaches back into the history of each of the main players - Persia, Sparta, and Athens - and charts  the development of each state to their fateful meetings.  The Persian narrative was by far the most interesting, probably because it was the least known by myself and took the view of the Persian Empire as its own entity, not as the "barbarian over-reaching nation" we have left from Greek history.  For Athens, he gives a wonderful discussion of the history of Athens and its oligarchs up to the point of 507 B.C. where democracy is really and truly established for the first time - and shows it for the novelty that it was (democracy at the time of the Battle of Marathon was only 17 years old- no wonder the Athenians felt is was something worth fighting for).  Sparta is portrayed with all of its characteristics, both good and bad (so many authors seem to focus on one or the other).

But Holland's gift lies not just in the history but in his narrative.

He writes as if writing a fictional novel.  Seen from the King of Persia's view, the extension into Europe was the logical next step.  His descriptions of the battles left me on the edge of my seat - even thought I already knew the outcomes.  Will the Athenians hold true to the alliance/  Will Sparta march to Plataea?  You can hear the crash of shields at Marathon and the muffled "whump" of wicker shields breaking at Thermopylae and the snapping of oars and hulls at Artemisium and Salamis.

In the end, you walk away with the very real sense of what a miracle it was that the Greeks held the day - and thus the ideas that Western civilization came to be based on.  Without Marathon and Thermopylae and Salamis there is no Plato, no Aristotle, no Socrates, no Euclid, no Alexander of Macedon and his Hellenization that spread Greek and Greek culture across the Near East.  It would have been quite the other way around:  Persian thought, the worship of Ahura Mazda, and a legacy of of submission to autocratic authority (Would the ideas we hold as the foundation of Western culture have arisen?  Possibly, but who knows where or what they would have looked like.)

This is a book well worth your time, be it as a historical work or as a narrative work.  You will leave it with the sense of what a close-run thing history can be at times and how in a very real sense all of use - at least every part of the world that enjoys the fruits of Western thought - are indebted to a people long ago, whose ideas and ideologies we would find repugnant today, but who felt that liberty and freedom was something to be cherished and fought for.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Mastering The West: Rome and Carthage At War

So as part of my trip reading I got to read a book I had earmarked some weeks ago at my local used book store (and when I bought it, got 40% off!).    It is called Mastering The West:  Rome and Carthage At War  by Dexter Hoyos.

This was a period that I was only slightly familiar with:  yes, of course I have heard of the Punic Wars and I have read Livy and Polybius and Hannibal has passed into legend - but it was the actual histories themselves and not the larger picture of the Western Mediterranean at War

I was quite pleasantly surprised.

Hoyos' underlying thesis is that the Punic wars are what pushed Rome into its Empire; more interestingly, that it happened over the course of the wars (Rome was not seemingly at all interested after the first Punic War (264 - 241 B.C., but by the end of the Second Punic War - 218 to 201 B.C. - she was committed), and that in some ways the issue never seemed in doubt - not so much from the greatness of Rome at the time but rather the ineptness of Carthage and her commanders.  In short, Carthage had the ability at several junctures to bring defeat out of victory and become the Empire of the West but failed to take the chance.

All the old characters are here in greater detail that I have ever read of them:  Scipio Africanus and his uncles the two Scipios,  Quintas Fabius Maximus "The Delayer", Hannibal (who turns out to be a good general that through away multiple chances for real victory) and his brothers Mago and Hasdrubal, and a host of supporting characters Carthaginian, Sicilian, Celtiberian, Greek, and Roman.  And they are presented in the historical milieu that makes it all the more real (Hoyos is an excellent writer).  In his words we wander across Sicily, march our way up through what is now Spain and France and down into the Alps, and hear the crack of ships timbers as they break and the cries of soldiers.  

For anyone looking to understand the bridge between Rome's conquest of Italy and the drive to conquer the world, I highly recommend the book: well written, well documented, and extremely engaging.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

On A Burden

I am worn in this matter,
more than I can admit.
Constantly struggling- and mostly failing.

I wish I could say I was getting better,
that there was progress being made,
that "it" was decreasing - but it is not.

I asked for deliverance but it has not come:
only the long burning ache of my bones
and pain in my heart as I plod on.

Perhaps there is relief,
or perhaps only the pain of the struggle,
until the Final removal comes.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

A Visit With Uber

As part of our trip, we have used Uber three times:  once from the airport to the hotel and twice from the hotel to a local shopping area.  It is my first trip using Uber.

Without question, I will never use a taxi again wherever I am somewhere that Uber is an option.

1)  Pleasant Cars:  Every Uber car we have used has been clean and well taken care of.  No older model cars.  No nasty seats.  No random odors floating about.  No plastic wall between you and the driver, making you feel as if you are in a squad car.

2) The price is fixed:  We have not had to wonder how much the fare was going to be or how it would be influenced by time in traffic or a driver getting lost.  Up front, we have known exactly what we were going to pay.

3) No car transaction: I gather once you have the app and the payment card input, it is all handled electronically.  No waiting to run the car.  No having to make change.  Good heavens, you do not even discuss the transaction at all.  And certainly no "surprise" discussions about having to boost the price because of cash, distance, etc. (this happened to me in Miami once).

4)  Pleasant Drivers:  I am sure that this is not always the case, but we have had very good luck to date with our drivers.  Some are conversational, others are less so, but all of them have been several levels above most of my cab interactions - and , because the price if fixed, I never have to worry if they are taking me in the quickest way possible (honestly, they lose money if they take longer than they anticipated).

It would not have worked before - but the combination of satellite GPS, electronic funds, and cell phones and made the whole thing work smoothly and like clockwork.  I do not know that cabs will completely ever disappear, but I suspect their dominance as short term transportation will rapidly dwindle.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

A Brief Out And About

Greetings, friends, from the land of oranges and Mickey Mouse (otherwise known as Orlando, FL).

What, you are thinking:  Have you lost your mind?  Two vacations in one summer after not taking two in a row one summer after the next?

Worry not, friends.  This is none of my doing.  Blame the Ravishing Mrs. TB, whose work is having her attend a conference - and they let spouses come along!  No Mickey for us (at $140 a day) but time away from all and with a great many of her work associates. So it is close enough to work related to keep my single summer vacation record untouched.

I am looking forward to two days being somewhere that (literally) I have no responsibilities at all.