Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Happy Birthday to the Indispensable Man

"The marvel of all history is the patience with which men and women submit to burdens unnecessarily laid upon them by their governments."

"Government is not reason; it is not eloquent; it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.

George Washington

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Primal Sin: Modern Egypt, Ancient Greece, and the Madness of the Mob

Mask of a Maenad - icon of unconsciousness
Plato believed the source of evil lay in ignorance. The worst sort of evil arises from the blindest ignorance, what Carl Jung called "the primal sin"--the sin of unconsciousness. "Wherever unconsciousness reigns," he wrote, "there is bondage and possession." And in no place does it reign with greater sway than in a mob.

My novel, Night of the Furies, was constructed on this premise. While cruising the islands of Greece, two Americans encounter a secret Dionysian cult of maenads. A chaotic orgy ensues. They surrender themselves to unconscious impulse and experience an exhilarating freedom. But it's a false freedom, a slavery to the flesh, a "bondage and possession" that ends in violence.

True freedom comes only in a state of full awareness, when motives are examined, and choices consciously made. We call it "free will."

Such freedom is a burden as well as a gift, as the ancient Greeks discovered. Much like the modern Egyptians, they had long lived in a conformist society based on a restrictive religion, where the longing for freedom was routinely suppressed and decisions were left to tradition. All that changed with the dawning of democracy and the birth of individual freedom. As the scholar E.R. Dodds explains, "Individual freedom brought the terrifying burden of daily responsibility and the irresistible urge to abandon it." And so the Dionysian cults flourished.

I thought of this today when I read the terrible news about the "60 Minutes" reporter, Lara Logan.
On Friday February 11, the day Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak stepped down, CBS correspondent Lara Logan was covering the jubilation in Tahrir Square for a "60 Minutes" story when she and her team and their security were surrounded by a dangerous element amidst the celebration. It was a mob of more than 200 people whipped into frenzy.

In the crush of the mob, she was separated from her crew. She was surrounded and suffered a brutal and sustained sexual assault and beating before being saved by a group of women and an estimated 20 Egyptian soldiers.
Ms. Logan returned to the United States the following morning and is currently in the hospital recovering. Our thoughts and prayers are with her. May she regain her admirable spirit and courage, and return to the struggle of all free people, battling the primal sin.

Monday, February 14, 2011

A Known Unknown

by--who else?--the brilliant Michael Ramirez. What astounds me is not just his striking visual ideas, but even more his remarkable skill as an artist. This rendering of Egypt's most famous Pharaoh is positively gorgeous (click on the image to enlarge).

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Happy Birthday Abe

“I believe that every individual is naturally entitled to do as he pleases with himself and the fruits of his labor, so far as it in no way interferes with any other men’s rights.”

– Abraham Lincoln

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Importance of Being Ambivalent

Eva Marie Saint and Marlon Brando in ON THE WATERFRONT

"The only good basis for a film or a play is a central character who's split, where there is a conflict within him and within the author about him. 'Ambivalence' is the essential word."

--Elia Kazan

Wednesday, February 2, 2011


"Life is mostly froth and bubble,
Two things stand in stone:
Friendship in another's trouble,
Courage in your own."

--Princess Diana

"Life is mostly toil and labour,
Two things see you through:
Gloating when it hits your neighbor,
Whining when it's you."

--Kingsley Amis

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Stuff of Legends

So goes the motto of the renowned Nepalese Gurkhas. Recently a retired Gurkha soldier named Bishnu Shrestha demonstrated their legendary reputation for courage when he single-handedly took on forty armed bandits pillaging a train in northeast India. His only weapon: the Gurkhas' trademark kuhkuri blade.
The band of about 40 robbers, some of whom were traveling as passengers, stopped the train in the Chittaranjan jungles in West Bengal around midnight.

“They started snatching jewelry, cell phones, cash, laptops and other belongings from the passengers,” Shrestha recalled. The soldier had somehow remained a silent spectator amidst the melee, but not for long. He had had enough when the robbers stripped an 18-year-old girl sitting next to him and tried to rape her right in front of her parents. He then took out his khukuri and took on the robbers.
He killed three of the brigands, injured eight more, and chased off all the rest. Read the full account here.