Moments in History – Many is Man

Many is man, Prigozhin said. He chewed on a carrot stick, which had snapped off from its stem held in his right hand, his mouth gaped open, his thick underlip protruded sadly, the ring of his mouth opening and closing repeatedly, while with every bite he gently squeezed his buttocks together in tight harmony, as flighty words and sweet carrot mingled into half reason, half prime. Many is man, he repeated. The ring begins Prigozhin said, quiet, listen. The water of the Rhine rippled from its source, barely audible, quietly swelling, from the Lake Toma at the Oberalp Pass. You have to see to hear it, only then to rise to waves and flow around the castle of man. Prigozhin was a boor, but don’t be fooled by his simple, crude appearance, he was sophisticated. Many years later, I would think back of this scene, as Prigozhin had risen and he had long forgotten about me or the carrot he had chunked on quietly, but I remembered it indistinguishably like a great silent moment in history, the flapping of a butterfly’s wings.

Separation from the Past

A step into the presence you could call it, or a separation from the past, but every long-term migrant will experience a similar process. The first step in a migration is the physical move from the old land to the new land. In its trail follows a long, slow shadow that drags out in the foggy dawn of a migrant’s newly rising persona. This long trail is a largely invisible transition which change you recognize best under the light of hindsight. 

Fifteen years after my migration to the new land, the United States, or rather New York City, I can say today, I look backward and see the new dawn around me. I was born into my Dutch heritage like a fish that moves around in the water and my upbringing is the land on which I crawled, but I see that what was my right by birth, Holland, has now become my past. What has settled and rooted so deeply in who I am, has been separated from me, like a ship that disappears past the horizon out of sight. I am afloat, have become my own buoy.

In sight, only the rails of the ship and a horizon all around still are. Above the clouds, below the waves and the play of light and shadow drifting on the water. Today, there is no lifeline back, no road back, no home to return to, any direction is equally random past this point. Of course, one always has direction, and the water itself, spacetime if you will, always holds a steady course for a certain amount of time. There is no clear separation of past and future, the present is a long continuum that shifts slowly, gently, fastly.

Where lies my future now? Heavy wheels were set in motion, a new seed planted, roots intertwined, a wind blows, a stream flows.

Complexity and Economics by NAF-Biz NY (Nov 16, 2017)

On November 16, prior to the 2017 Peter Stuyvesant Ball, the Netherland-America Foundation (NAF) organized this year a lecture about Complexity and Economics. The lecture, at Baker McKenzie in New York, was a high level overview of complexity principles for public policy by speakers Dr. Roland Kupers, among other associate fellow at the University of Oxford, and via a pre-recorded video by Prof. Lex Hoogduin.

On forehand, I was very excited to attend this talk as I deal with the topic more or less as a developer advocate for IBM either via the IBM Data Science Experience (DSX), Machine Learning and IBM Watson (cognitive computing, having some experience in R programming, data science, machine learning, calculus, and 20+ years of software engineering. The evening was certainly not un-interesting, but I was a little disappointed by the lack of depth of the presentations, and neither of the speakers touched on machine learning, statistics, or mathematics which have my immediate interest. But nevertheless, the two talks touched upon enough topics for further inquiry to make the evening inspiring.

Kupers’ talk relates to his publication entitled ‘Complexity and the art of public policy’ (2016) in collaboration with David Colander. Kupers is a physicist by training with experience in the field of fractals, then switched to economic policy early in his career, being a consultant now, who among other advised the NWO (Dutch organization for scientific research). Continue reading

Salman Akhtar, Selma Kramer, The Seasons of Life (1997)

Salman Akhtar, Selma Kramer, The Seasons of Life (1997) 183p

Salman Akhtar (1946-) is a Indian-American psycho-analyst, born into a Muslim family in Khairabad (Uttar Pradesh, India), who was a former pupil of Margaret Mahler (1897-1985). I previously read ‘Immigration and Identity (1999)‘ by Akhtar. In academia, your success often depends greatly on the favor and serendipity of your professor. Akhtar’s chance was to work with world famous child psycho-analyst Margaret Mahler. Mahler is renowned for her pivotal role in the study of normal development of child psychology. Her famous work ‘The psychological birth of the human infant (1975)’ defined the process of separation-individuation in child psychology.

Akhtar’s ‘The Seasons of Life’ is essentially a literature study of articles and works by subsequent psychologists supporting the view that this separation-individuation continues throughout life.
Anni Bergman worked closely with Margaret Mahler and researched the individuation that continues after object constancy throughout life and how this development of the autonomous self impacts later phases of development and later life conflicts and crises.
Calvin Colarusso argues that the lifelong separation-individuation process comes with an inherent threat of object loss in every stage of growing independence, which can be translated into ongoing negotiation and control during the middle years.
Stanley Cath focuses more on the third phase in life, where older individuals balance between ongoing losses and the restitution in anchoraches that hold the self together. Colarusso uses the example of Mr. Holland’s Opus () to demonstrate the conflicts between family loyalties versus career aspirations or aspirations of the self.

The Sommelier

The sommelier was a light-black hispanic man in his mid-twenties, perfectly mannered and composed, quick to react to my teasing wit, while at the same time leaving no trace of composition in his smile, displaying an honest exuberance. The sommelier had been held up in the wine cellar while we picked our courses from the menu and had inquired for his advice on the wine pairing. He stood lightly stooped over our table, one hand behind his back and pointed with his hand, extended in a straight angle from his shoulder, at the wine choice, an Austrian Grüner Veltliner by Hirsch from 2013, that paired well with the Spanish octopus and the Japanese hamachi.
“You got locked up in the wine cellar by your co-workers, it seemed?”
“They tend to do that, yes,” he answered with a genuine and gentle smile.
“The Château de Pressac, Grand Cru Classé, from Saint-Émilion is a French wine with a very dark hue and berry that pairs excellent with the Wagyu Beef.”
“Excellent, I trust you.”
As the sommelier walked off, one of the middle-aged Indian backwaiters walked over, holding a dark wood woven breadbasket in front of his pelvis and a silver bread tongs in his right hand hovering above the whole grain, mini bread rolls and elongated berry bread sticks, ready to grasp a single roll with his tongs and transfer it to our plates.
“No, thank you.”
We had gracefully declined already at least 3 times prior.
Immediately following the bread runner, sensing another window of opportunity to prove his value, came the water runner holding a thin, chrome water dispenser, and carrying a white napkin folded over his wrist. I could hear the ice cubes dancing in the can, clinging against the metal sides of the dispenser, creating a wild, loud motion inside. Barely without pause, his arm stretched in one flow with his walk, as his legs came to a stop the dispenser moved steadily forward, being stretched out without delay to the rim of the glass. The glass was not even half empty yet, but water poured down like an avalanche or waterfall in one wholesome fall, everything passing so quickly it could not be helped. Drops of water splashed all over the table, the glass now refilled to the rim in a wild splatter of an instant, the base of the glass soaked in condensed water rolling down the bowl along the stem of the glass and being absorbed by the saturated table cloth. Seeing the refilled bowl of water, the Hispanic runner’s smile was equally full with satisfied content of a job well done.

Nikolay Gogol, The Government Inspector (1863)

Nikolay Gogol, The Government Inspector (1863) p213-306

I am not a big fan of comedy, and certainly not of farce. Humor is too often no more than a coquette compulsion to please, it is by definition a social function, even if we might have evolved to laugh uncontrollably. Yet, watching the adaptation by Jeffrey Hatcher, I found myself to laugh without self awareness. The book however, is especially clever in the first part, but toward the end it slowly evens out into a cleverly written play without depth or wit.

The Government Inspector
Adapted by Jeffrey Hatcher
From The Government Inspector by Nikolay Gogol

The Duke Theater
a New 42nd Street project
229 West 42nd Street (between 7th & 8th)​

Erik Larson, The Devil in the White City (2004)

Erik Larson, The Devil in the White City (2004) 390p.

I have read ‘The Devil in the White City’ as a trilogy, together with ‘Nature’s Metropolis‘ and ‘The Jungle’, and the overlap and synergies between the three works is so insightful to understand the roots of modern America, which sprouted in the Gilded Age of Chicago. Americans in general have perhaps a short memory and a shallow desire to understand their history or present, as they are so energetically working to build their future, but as they strive thus forward, they fail to see the straight trail they leave behind. The history of Chicago is interestingly also transcending the contemporary spleen of American culture. ‘Nature’s Metropolis’ more than any other work perhaps, gives a more comprehensive insight into the shared destiny of the northern East Coast and the Great West and South. The history of Chicago is the stitching between the common descent, by opening the gap between the White City and the Black City, between the amazing wonders and creative forces of the American Dream on one hand and the devastating destruction and humiliation of the American Psyche on the other, by describing a meticulous history of the ‘World’s Columbian Exposition‘ of 1893 and a portrait of America’s first serial killer H.H. Holmes.

Looking forward to the feature movie with Leonardo diCaprio by Martin Scorsese.

Yu Hua, To Live (1993)

Yu Hua, To Live (1993), 250p.

Yu Hua “once heard an American folk song entitled ‘Old Black Joe,’ a song about an elderly black slave who experienced a life’s worth of hardships, including the passing of his entire family, yet he still looked upon the world with eyes of kindness, offering not the slightest complaint.” Hearing the folk song ‘Old Black Joe’ became the inspiration for ‘To Live’, in which an elderly Chinese man, Fugui, has passed a life of hardship including losing his entire family. Central to the story is also a wisdom by the grandfather of Fugui: the chicken becomes a goose, the goose becomes a lamb, the lamb grows up to become a sheep, the sheep becomes an ox. After the ox, there is communism.

It is really hard to read the book and determine if it is about the indestructible hope of man or if it is about the inevitable suffering of man. One certainty exists, life is beckoning death. “As the black night descended from the heavens, I knew that in the blink of an eye I would witness the death of the sunset. I saw the exposed and firm chest of the vast earth; its pose was one of calling, of beckoning. And just as a mother beckons her children, so the earth beckoned the coming of night.” One of the saddest books ever written, and yet anyone will find a moment of happiness. “In the end, it turned out all for the best.”

To Live (1994) by Zhang Yimou.