Saturday, April 30, 2016

EURO RAIL | Why Better than Amtrak

 Florence-Milan-Lausanne-Paris. Train route by TGV,
annotated by JT Marlin.
Paris, April 30, 2016–We came here from Florence yesterday via Italian, Swiss and French rail services.

We were on three trains for a total of 9 hours, with a 3-hour layover in Milan. The trip was fun and it was restful. It beats Amtrak hands down. We took a similarly long trip from New York City to Orlando and doubt we will ever do that again.

We left Florence at 7:30 a.m. on an Italian train, arriving in Milan at 9:30 a.m. We boarded a Swiss train for Lausanne a little after noon, then got on a fast French train (the TGV) for Paris, arriving about 8 p.m.
Your blogger, enjoying a stroop wafel
and taking in the Stresa stop. Photo by
Alice Tepper Marlin.

We chose the best available class of service for each leg of service, as we tend to do in the USA, except when the difference in service is mostly just a little extra speed as in the case of Amtrak's Acela on the Washington-Boston route.

Where European Rail Beats American

The European trains were better than Amtrak on the following criteria:
  • Speed and On-time Performance. The European trains go faster. The French TGV travels 320 km/hour or faster). At every point on the trip the time when the trains left was close to their scheduled time.
  • Maintenance of Track. One reason the trains travel so fast and yet the ride is so smooth is that the tracks are well maintained. This is a great contrast with some of the sections of the Amtrak rail bed. I noticed that on one stretch the tracks are sprayed with a white paint that must be used to help prevent rust... and it also looked good.
  • Scenery. Was it my imagination, to do people in the communities that the train passed through care what the passengers see through the window, or is there just a broader environmental awareness? The views were of well-looked-after spaces. I didn't see any junkyards on the trip. There were graffiti in a few places in some big cities, but not for long on this trip.
Alice Tepper Marlin snapping a lake scene in Italy.
Photo by JT Marlin.
Why Is Euro Rail Better?

I can think of a few reasons the top European trains are better than Amtrak:
  • Higher Density. Apart from a few dense corridors along the east and west coasts of the USA, European inter-city traffic is greater than the USA.
  • Shorter Distances.  Once one leaves the east and west coasts, American travel gravitates toward air travel because the distances are greater. This may be the saying same thing as density.
  • U.S. Postwar Priority for Roads and Airports. America invested heavily in roads and airports after World War II. This sucked some of the life out of the American railroads, although it made travel by car much easier and opened up many new areas for development.
  • Competition with Air.  European rail has to compete with a wide variety of inexpensive and high-frequency air services like RyanAir and EasyJet. Equivalent competition exists on the west coast and on routes served by Jet Blue, but the East Coast shuttle services have been viewed as cash cows. 
Where Amtrak Wins: WiFi en Foute

Alice Tepper Marlin on the roof of the Duomo in
Milan. Photo by Amy Hall.
For business travelers the lack of WiFi on these legs of Euro Rail (usually pronounced WeeFee in Italy, Switzerland and France) could be a problem.

It could spell IDS (internet deficit syndrome), aka Web Deprivation.

A member of the train staff said that it was possible to pick up WiFi at each station, but one had to be more skilled at this than I was to figure out how to do this, and it seemed a lot of trouble for a short window of opportunity.

Report on Each Leg of the Trip

Each segment was 2-4 hours. We had a three-hour stop in Milan that allowed us to visit the Duomo.

Presentation of Mary to the Rabbi in the
Milan Duomo. Photo by JT Marlin.
1. Florence-Milan. The first leg from Florence at 7:30 a.m. to Milan was Italian, and took us through rolling farmland, vineyards, some mountains and lakeside resorts, notably Stresa, a famed vacation and conference spot.

The breakfast on the Italian leg was elegantly served.

In Milan we disembarked at 9:30 a.m. and had three hours to sightsee before starting for Lausanne.

We met up with Amy Hall and her associate Luna Lee and we all visited the Duomo in Milan.

At the Duomo I was especially impressed with the sculpture of Mary being presented by her parents Anne and Joaquin to the rabbi. See photo at left. I don't know what Biblical support there is for this piece of art but I found it compelling. Mary is the small child in the photo and the rabbi is above her with his arms outstretched. Mary and Joaquin are to the rabbi's right.

Piazza del Duomo from the roof.
Photo by Alice Tepper Marlin.
The Duomo was well protected by men in camouflage carrying machine guns. Everyone entering the Duomo was screened for weapons.

I asked a woman who was helping tourists inside the Duomo whether she felt safer having all this protection.

Lausanne: The top sign says
"Picnic Interdit". Photo by
JT Marlin
She said with great intensity: "Safer? No! We are at war!"

2. Milan-Lausanne.  The second leg from Milan to Lausanne was Swiss-run. The view was riveting–the contrast between the alps and the farms or vineyards was especially stunning. I am posting a few examples.

In Lausanne there was time to check out a local tea shop and discover a sign warning visitors that picnics in the tea shop were not permitted.

Farm and Alps in Switzerland. Photo by JT Marlin
3. Lausanne-Paris. Finally we got on the TGV (train de grand vitesse) to Paris via Dijon. We could have traveled via Geneva, but we were interested in taking a different route.

One of the most impressive visual standouts of this leg of the trip were the yellow flowers that I am told are rapeseed used to populate fields during their fallow periods.

Summing Up

Lovely yellow flowers in France;
we think they are rapeseed used on
fallow ground. Photo by JT Marlin.
The rail trip was a break for us during several weeks of travel. It gave us a sense of European space that you don't get from hopping airport to airport.

The best part of the trip was the Swiss component, with the alpine views.

Would we do it again? The Swiss section yes. Otherwise we would probably not take such a long unbroken trip by rail again, even though we enjoyed this one.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

AMSTERDAM | At the Concertgebouw Café, April 22

L to R: Aviva Boissevain, John Tepper
Marlin–second cousins once removed (her
great-grandfather was my grandmother's
brother).  Photo by Alice Tepper Marlin.
Amsterdam, April 26, 2016–On Earth Day last week Alice and I had lunch with Aviva Boissevain at the café in the Concertgebouw.

Aviva was the main moving force behind the Boissevain Family Reunion in Amsterdam on April 16-17.

This concert hall is something for which our ancestor Charles Boissevain fought through his newspaper, the Algemeen Handelsblad. As the late Sacha Boissevain told me at the dinner commemorating the 120th Anniversary of the Concertgebouw, "in 1888, grass grew here".

Two of Charles' sons, Charles E. H. and Menso Boissevain, were actively involved in the program of the orchestra, as was his son-in-law Han de Booij.

25th Anniversary Plaque. In 1913 Charles
E. H. Boissevain, son of Charles Handelsblad 
Boissevain, was on the Concertgebouw Board
with Han de Booy, his brother-in-law.
Mengelberg was one of the two conductors.
Photo by Aviva Boissevain.
The director of the Concertgebouw was nearby at the café and he kindly gave permission for us to go into the building to see the plaque honoring two Boissevain family members and their friend the orchestra leader Willem Mengelberg.

Mengelberg has been described as the greatest classical music conductor of the first half of the 20th century.

At the New York Philharmonic recently, my friend Riva Freifeld tells me the program notes for two different concerts mention Mengelberg:
  • For the Béla Bartók program, the notes mention that Mengelberg was conductor of the world premiere of Bartók's 2nd Violin Concerto (a "fiendish, dazzling" piece, adds Freifeld) in March 1939 at the Amsterdam Concertgebouw; his soloist was Szekely, to whom the work was dedicated.
  • Willem Mengelberg. The greatest conductor
    of his time?
  • For the three-day Mahler program last week that included  performance of Das Lied von der Erde conducted by Alan Gilbert, the notes mention that Mengelberg conducted the NY Philharmonic premiere on Jan. 3, 1929, at the Concertgebouw.
I have previously written about Mengelberg's importance as an interpreter of Mahler and other new composers.

It was sad, but understandable, that after the war was over Dutch prosecutors decided he should be punished for having continued to perform during the Nazi occupation.

During the anti-collaboration fever after the war was over, Mengelberg's German birth was held against him; he was stripped of the many honors that the Queen had bestowed on him and he was exiled.

He lived out his remaining years in Switzerland. An appeal on his behalf was sustained but it came  too late and Mengelberg died abroad in 1951, his career having ended at the same time as the war.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

HOLLAND | Zittin by the Zuider Zee

We are staying at the Country & Lake Guest House overlooking
what used to be the Zuider Zee and is now called the IJsselmeer.
This map was drawn in Leuwarden in 1866. The ZZ is now gone.
When I was growing up this song about the Zuider Zee was popular:
Zing, zing, zing a little sang with me, / I know we're not beside the Zuider Zee, / But when you're zittin by the zide af me, / I want to zing a little zang. 
Zing zome zentimenful melody, / About a chapel or an apple tree, / About a couple livin' happily, / And I'll be glad to zing along. (Music by Harry Warren, lyrics by Leo Robin.)
Well, here we are, Alice and I, actually zittin by the Zuider Zee, except you won't find it on a map any more.

Why We Are Zittin by the Zuider Zee

Where we are in Holland,
just north of Amsterdam.
We are in the Zeevang Polder area of Laag Holland. This literally means "Low Holland", but the tourist brochures call it "Old Holland" because the low-lying areas have been fighting back the water for centuries.

Old towns like Edam, next-door Volendam, and Marken are still thriving, centuries after they were trading centers for cheese and other products that went round the world. Edam is the quietest of the three locations and is just 21 km. (13 miles) north of Amsterdam, accessible via the 314 bus from the upper level at Central Station where the train from Schiphzl takes you.

Alice is accompanying me on a reunion of about 120 members of the Boissevain Family, about 80 from Holland and 40 from overseas.  We are living in a converted three-story barn three or four km. north of Edam on the dike, halfway to the rural town of Warder.

Dove stops and looks in...
The family connection is that my grandmother was born Olga Boissevain. She married an officer in the Dutch Navy, Bram van Stockum. My mother was a Navy BRAT–born in Rotterdam and taken at 2 months of age to Java, where her father had a naval assignment.

The Boissevains were Huguenots–i.e., French Protestants–living happily in the Dordogne, France. They were forced out of France by Louis XIV, the Sun King, who decided to revoke the Edict of Nantes in 1685 and thereby made it treasonous to be a Protestant.

...Then listens. The doves are
like roosters in this area.
If you know all the military-religious-political history, skip the next paragraph and just admire the photos:
Louis XIV was probably encouraged in the direction of persecuting Protestants by the accession to the British throne in 1685 of James II, the Catholic son of Charles I, who had been beheaded by Oliver Cromwell et al. The result was that the Huguenots left France en masse and their impact was huge in both directions. They contributed mightily to the commercial activity of the countries to which they migrated, while their departure seriously damaged the economy of France, which had chased them out. (They were sometimes called the Jews of France in tribute to their business acumen.) The loss of the Huguenots has been cited even by The Catholic Encyclopedia as a contributor to the public malaise that led to the French Revolution. Many Huguenots went to Holland, which was known to be hospitable to Protestants. Some went to England and complained about France while singing the praises of Holland. People remembered England's Mary Tudor (regnat 1553-1558), after whom a tomato juice-based drink is named. She was actually not nearly as bloodthirsty as her father Henry VIII, but she was working for the Catholic side which gave her subjects a feeling of being whiplashed after Henry's break with the Pope. Since the English did not relish having an aggressively Catholic monarch again, the Glorious Revolution of 1688 occurred three years after James II's coronation. James was deposed (unlike his father Charles I, he chose not to go to the chopping block declaiming his divine right to rule) and the crown was offered to William III of Orange-Nassau and his wife Princess Royal Mary.
Morning view by moonlight of the farmland on
the polder behind where we are staying.
The Huguenots who went to Holland generally thrived. The Boissevains started out as accountants and teachers. Their core family business became shipping. They started by keeping track of the bills, then took charge of some ships, and when they made enough money they graduated to the easier lives of financing ships and shipments in Holland and railways overseas. Their companies were called Boissevain & Co., Boissevain & Son, Boissevain Brothers, A. A. H. Boissevain & Co., and H. J. A. Boissevain & Co.

Some of them went into the collateral business of selling insurance on ships and their shipments. Someone has to deal with financing and insuring that long period between paying farmers and manufacturers for their goods when they are loaded onto a ship and getting paid at the other end by the buyers who want to inspect the goods first before they pay.

The genius of Amsterdammers is being able to take a long view and figure out how to run a sustainable business. The Boissevains easily adapted to this business environment.

Many Boissevains lived on the two fanciest streets in Amsterdam, the Herengracht and Keizersgracht. I was given the job of leading walking tours of family houses on these canals. The two tours were last Sunday morning (the Herengracht) and Sunday afternoon (the Keizersgracht). My great-great-grandfather Gidéon Jérémie Boissevain (properly pronounced only by those who know both Dutch and French) lived here.

The Dutch-Irish Boissevains

Peaceful farmland that can suddenly become the feeding ground of
many sheep, cattle, or hundreds of birds...
Gidéon Jérémie Boissevain's son Karel became a journalist, traveled to Dublin, got sick, and married the young Irish woman, Emily Heloïse MacDonnell, who looked after him in Dalkey.

Karel anglicized his name to Charles in her honor (she never felt she had to learn much Dutch) and put out the best newspaper in Holland, the Algemeen Handelsblad. He is called Charles Handelsblad Boissevain to distinguish him from later Boissevains with the same first  name.

Otto von Bismarck once proposed that the solution to the Irish problem, as he saw it, would be to "Exchange the populations of Holland and Ireland. The Dutch will turn Ireland into the bread-basket of Europe and the Irish will forget to mend the dykes and will all be drowned."

Flocks of birds descend on the polder to feed. They are pretty to see, but a nuisance to the sheep farmers.
However, the marriage of a Dutchman and an Irishwoman worked just fine. Charles and Emily had eleven children, who are collectively with their descendants called the Charlestjes. Emily was considered wild, but she brought up an extraordinarily successful crop of children and grandchildren.

My grandmother was the fourth daughter of Charles and Emily. The Charlestjes were the largest group at the Boissevain family reunion. Yesterday I had lunch in IJmuiden with my second cousin Charles Leidschendam Boissevain, son of Bob Boissevain and grandson of Charles E. H. (Eh Ha) Boissevain, eldest son of Charles Handelsblad. The day before Alice and I had lunch with another Charletsje second cousin, Ellen Wurpel. Tomorrow we lunch with Aviva Boissevain, who was the primary organizer of the family reunion; we are going to the Amsterdam Concertgebouw café in honor of the Boissevains who helped get it built and who served on its board and staff.

Whatever Happened to the Zuider Zee?

Back to the Zuider Zee. The problem with it was that it was open to the North Sea, and it was unpredictable. When a storm came up the dijks (dikes) around the Zuider Zee were threatened with a break. The places where the dikes broke are forever marked with names ending Braak, just as the Irish post a large black dot on a white background on the side of the road wherever anyone is killed by a moving vehicle.

Morning view of the IJsselmeer (formerly the Zuider Zee) from
the front of our bedroom at the top of the barn where we are staying.  
During the second half of the 19th century Cornelis Lely suggested a plan for the Afsluitdijk to close off the Zuider Zee from the North Sea.

His 1891 plan was to make the Zuider Zee into the largest lake in Western Europe–and also enable the creation of new farmland.

Lely was an engineer and knew what he was talking. He turned his plan into a proposed budget item, what came to be called the proposed Zuider Zee Works.

A long dam would be built connecting the northern tip of North Holland with the western coast of Friesland. This would create a new lake sheltered from the North Sea. The new lake would be renamed the IJsselmeer (IJssel-lake).

Like any big plan, opposition to it came from:
  • Fishermen who feared they would lose their livelihood (yes they would if they only fished for salt-water fish, but they could keep fishing if they did the unthinkable and moved to the coast).
  • Financial people who doubted the plan's feasibility (that is, of course, the job of financial people who have to risk the money and buy or sell insurance). 
In 1913 Lely as Minister of Transport and Public Works added more detail to his plans. Then, in January 1916 the dikes again broke along the Zuider Zee and exacerbated food shortages caused by blockades during World War I, when Holland was neutral. Suddenly Lely's plan was seen as a way to reduce, not increase, risks for the Netherlands.

Construction of the Afsluitdijk was enabled in mid-1918 and started a year later. The first small dike was built between 1920 and 1924. The main dam, the Afsluitdijk (enclosure dam) ran from Den Oever on Wieringen to the village of Zurich in Friesland. Ships dredged material (till) from the bottom of the Zuider Zee and deposited it into the open sea in two parallel lines. Sand was poured between the two dams; as the fill emerged above the surface of the water, it was covered by another layer of till. The dam was strengthened with basalt rocks and mats of willow switch at its base. The dam was finished by raising it with sand and finally clay for the upper surface of the dam, which was planted with grass.

In May 1932, two years ahead of schedule, the Zuider Zee was closed off to the North Sea and ceased be a Zee. The Afsluitdijk was opened September 25, 1933, with a monument marking the spot where the dam was finished. An average of nearly 5,000 workers were employed in the dam's construction, creating jobs during the Depression. Total cost: about €700 million in 2004 euros.

Looking Over the IJsselmeer

Cyclists enjoying the road by the IJsselmeerdijk. People and animals
walk along the top of the dike and on the other side.
In the back of the three-story converted barn where we are staying on the IJsselmeerdijk, the polder spreads out for many square miles.

Lambs are gamboling around. Several horses pace around in their sandy enclosure. Birds come and go both as single spies and in battalions. A few doves make their homes in the eaves of the barn and from time to time reassure us that they are there.

On the front side, the dike road runs in front of the house between Edam and the much smaller village of Warder, where there is a restaurant. Cyclists go by in singles or groups–I saw many bicycle teams with identical shirts and even saw a tandem bike cycling sedately along–and walkers come by, and a smaller number of vehicles. Alice an I went out cycling ourselves a few times, going north to Warder or south to Edam, both within easy reach.

Animals and people share the dyke itself. On the other side of the dike is the IJsselmeer with a little beach that features sea shells that date back to the days when the North Sea came right up to the dike. I have provided daytime and nighttime photos. The guest house is called "Country and Lake", referring to the two kinds of experience available to the west and east. It is listed on TripAdvisor and gets 5 stars from 9 people who have posted. The stars are well deserved.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

DIALOG | Is Talk Killed by Social Media?

Two Men Converse at Table – But Not with Each Other
Socrates argued that the spread of writing among Greeks wasn't such a good thing because it got in the way of conversation.

Now Sherry Turkle is saying something similar – that social media and the constant connectedness of people who use social-media devices – is killing conversation.

I know what she means. Two people sitting across from each other at a restaurant, both intently interacting with their iPhones.

It was said of cell phones at least as early as 2007.

But an iPhone is even more distracting because you can't even look at the person you are with while you are interacting with it.

Many clubs are resisting the use of cell phones but some are allowing texting so long as it is quiet. Is the quiet texting death of conversation is better than the noisy cell-phone death?

What do you think?

Sunday, April 3, 2016

UNABOMBER | Arrested 20 Years Ago (Personal Comments)

L to R: FBI Special Agents Max Noel, Terry Turchie, Jim
 Freeman at BookExpo America 2014 in NYC. They
tracked down Kaczynski. Photo © 2014 by JT Marlin.
Apr. 3, 2916–This day in 1996, Theodore J[ohn] ("Ted") Kaczynski was taken into custody by FBI agents on charges of being a terrorist.

He was held responsible for the deaths of three people and the injuries of 23.

Kaczynski was indicted on multiple federal charges of murder and attempted murder using the postal service.

The deaths were attributed to mail bombs. Extensive evidence at the site included a live bomb and the original of the Manifesto that Kaczynski had sent copies of to The Washington Post and The New York Times.

Upon his first appearance, Kaczynski pleaded not guilty. He had arguments with his defense attorneys, who wanted to plead insanity; he viewed his deadly actions as legitimate political activity.

The perpetrator was called "the Unabomber" starting in 1980 because the targets of his bombs seemed to be universities and airlines. At the start of the Unabomber trial in 1998, the judge rejected his requests for a new defense team and pro se representation. On January 22, 1998 Kaczynski pleaded guilty on all counts and was spared the death penalty, a condition David Kaczynski required for giving the FBI information that would identify his brother as a likely suspect and allow FBI agents to find him.

Showing no remorse for his crimes, Ted Kaczynski was sentenced in May 1998–20 years after he sent his first bomb–to four concurrent life sentences plus, for good measure, 30 years.

Comment 1–Book by the FBI Agents

On May 30, 2014, as I was walking through the Javits Center, New York, checking out exhibits at the annual BookExpo America, a familiar face looked out at me from a blow-up of a book cover – my Harvard '62 classmate Ted Kaczynski.

The new book was by three FBI agents that tracked him down. They were signing books. My timing was fortuitous and I got their very first copy.

The book makes the point that the FBI was not well structured back then to deal with random violence of the kind the Unabomber undertook. As they say: "He was not [the FBI's] normal prey." For example:
  • Although the letter bombs were addressed to individuals, they could have exploded anywhere along the way and were therefore loose cannons. 
  • The FBI was also not well structured to bring in the kind of cooperation that David Kaczynski eventually provided, in return for assurance that prosecutors would not seek the death penalty for his brother (p. 269).
The authors argue that the Unabomber case helped bring about some reforms at the FBI to raise its effectiveness in addressing terrorist and random-bombing incidents. These reforms were implemented by FBI Director Louis Freeh in the years leading up to 2001, when Freeh left (in the spring of 2001) and Robert Mueller took over. The book's authors argue that the changes Freeh made helped prepare the FBI to respond to the 9/11 attacks, although they properly avoid giving any credit to the Unabomber for any of the reforms.

The details of the investigation are fascinating. As a general comment, the authors emphasize the importance of the cooperation of the Washington Post, the New York Times and the Unabomber's brother David. In the end, investigators can't do the job by themselves.

It's good to have the conduct of the investigation on the record, and to recognize the hard work of the agents in solving the case.

When the case was broken, the media tracked down virtually every member of the Harvard Class of 1962. When I introduced myself to Max Noel, the Supervisory Special Agent of the UNABOM [sic]  Task Force, he said he felt he had met every member of the class. The new book should help my classmates get some closure on the shock that one of us could do such things (see list in my second comment).

Kaczynski's entries in the quinquennial class reports of the Harvard Class of 1962 are unusual. His first address in 1967 was in Lisbon, Iowa. In 1972, he is in Lombard, Ill. In 1977, he's in Great Falls, Mont. Then in 1987 and 1992, his "last known address" is given as in Khadar Khel, Afghanistan. Then in his 35th Anniversary report in 1997 his address was listed as "unknown", even though, having been arrested in 1996, his location was surely the best-known in the class. In his 50th Anniversary report, the address of the maximum-security penitentiary is actually listed; he lists his Occupation as "Prisoner" and his 1998 multiple life sentences as "Awards".

Comment 2–Ted Kaczynski's 16 Bombs

What was Kaczynski's problem? After graduating from Harvard, he went on to earn his Ph.D. from the University of Michigan and became a professor at the University of California at Berkeley. He was considered a great mathematician. What was not to like?

The problem was, he was viewed as having emotional issues that got in the way of his work. His contract was ended in 1969. He turned his back on the system and became a radical environmentalist and Luddite.

He first tried to buy land in Canada, then in 1971 purchased a one-and-a-half acre plot near his brother David in Montana. From that point on until his arrest, Kaczynski just lived off the land, from time to time getting temporary work or taking a trip.  He wrote papers on his anarchical philosophy that in 1978 were rejected by two universities in the Chicago area, the University of Illinois and Northwestern. This rejection set Kaczynski on his path of revenge via 16 mail bombs:
1–To the University of Illinois from Northwestern, returned to Northwestern, where a security guard was seriously wounded opening it.
2–Another to a student at Northwestern's Technological Institute, injuring him.
3–A third that exploded on an American Airlines flight, causing injuries from smoke inhalation. 
4–One to Percy Wood, president of United Airlines, who was injured when he tried to open the package.
5-11. Four to universities, plus one to a professor’s home, one to the Boeing Company in Auburn, Wash., and one to a computer store in Sacramento. Six people were injured, and in 1985 the owner of the computer store was killed–Kaczynski's first murder.
12–Attempted bombing of a computer store. A woman in Salt lake City saw a man with aviator glasses and a hooded sweatshirt place leaving what turned out to be a bomb outside the store.  The sketch of the suspect was released and Kaczynski stopped bombing for six years.
13–In June 1993, one severely injuring a University of California geneticist at his home,
14–Two days later, one to a computer science professor at Yale, who was badly injured. Several federal departments established the UNABOM Task Force.
15–In 1994, one that killed a New Jersey advertising executive at his home. Kaczynski had mistakenly thought this man worked on PR for Exxon after the 1989 Valdez oil spill.
16–In April 1995, one that killed the president of a timber-industry lobbying group.
Comment 3–Kaczynski's Citation of Jacques Ellul

Kaczynski sent a 35-thousand-word Manifesto to The New York Times and The Washington Post, saying he would stop the bombs if they published it. The Post complied. Kaczynski’s brother, David, read the Manifesto and recognized his brother’s ideas and language. He notified the FBI in February 1996 that he suspected his brother was the Unabomber. Kaczynski was arrested less than two months later.

One of the influences on him, Kaczynski has said (Alston Chase. 2003. Harvard and the Unabomber: The Education of an American Terrorist, W.W. Norton & Co., p. 111, 331) is Jacques Ellul's book, The Technological Society (translated by John Wilkinson. New York: Knopf, 1964. London: Jonathan Cape, 1965. Rev. ed.: New York: Knopf/Vintage, 1967). This book was found in Kaczynski's cabin when he was arrested and he said he had read it several times. His Manifesto covers some of the same ground.

My brother Randal Marlin happens to be a semi-retired philosophy professor at Carleton University in Ottawa and a specialist on propaganda (his book on Propaganda and the Ethics of Persuasion was recently republished in a new edition). He studied with Ellul at Bordeaux for a year. I wrote to Randal today and asked him to comment on Kaczynski's reading  of Ellul, whose philosophy is described as Christian anarchism. My brother sent me the following excerpt from his longer article on Ellul's philosophy:
Take for example the case of Ted Kaczynski, the so-called “Unabomber,” who killed people by letter bombs starting in 1978. Unquestionably, he echoed some of the ideas of Ellul concerning the technological society and he specifically mentions having read The Technological Society.  
Had Kaczynski also read Ellul’s Violence, he would have seen how, despite a large measure of agreement about how the technological imperative has shaped our modern consciousness and turned us into willing slaves, sending letter bombs to kill or maim those taking part in that imperative was not an appropriate response. 
The main and simple reason is the Christian premise underlying all of Ellul’s thought. But there was also Ellul the sociological and political analyst, who saw that such acts, far from damaging the technological system, only strengthen its worst aspects. Just as with the events of 9/11, the result is to induce fear and create support for new security initiatives, new technological devices to further reduce the scope of human freedom. So we have one very clear idea of how not to be Ellulian in the 21st C. 
Kaczynski, though a brilliant mathematician, appears to have been short on sociological and moral perception. His killings were supposed to awaken a public consciousness that would turn against modernity and view favourably his own back-to-nature vision of how to live. But his actions showed little empathy for his victims, suggesting a defective moral awareness, and his aim of transforming society was not achieved. To the extent he thought his actions would succeed he demonstrated inadequate sociological understanding. 
To be a true Ellulian, then, requires not just an understanding of his diagnosis of what is wrong with the world. It also demands at least a minimal respect for the constraints he places on morally acceptable action. Based on the teachings in Violence, there is no justification for killing people as Kaczynski did. Where is the love shown to the victims of Kaczynski’s bombings? (© 2013 IJES Ellul Forum #53 November 2013 Marlin)

Friday, April 1, 2016

SANDERS | Birdie and the Sacred Flame

Sen. Bernie Sanders speaking in Portland, Ore.
A bird flew down in front of Sen. Bernie Sanders's podium and alighted on his "A Future to Believe In" sign and Sanders suggested that it was a good omen.

This has given rise to the new #BirdieSanders picture, one version of which is below.

The original bird was green, but the campaign bird is blue, with white tufts on top and glasses.

The tradition of birds being divine emissaries is ancient. Here is a sampling of them:
  • Noah knew that the flood was over and dry land had appeared when a dove came back with a twig. Ever since then, the dove has been a symbol of peace.
  • A raven delivered food to Elijah.
  • Quail were sent to supplement the manna that kept followers of Moses alive in the desert.
  • A rooster crowed three times to remind Peter how faithless he been.
  • A story is told of St. Francis of Assisi and his companions coming upon a flock of birds. Francis stopped to talk to the birds, who crowded around him and sat on his shoulders. When Francis talked to them, the birds bowed their heads and stayed until the saint blessed them. 
The best story I think of a divine bird is that of Raniero and The Sacred Flame, a tale of Florence in the time of the Crusades. Different versions are extant.  The must famous version is probably that of Swedish writer Selma Lagerlöf, who doubtless based her story on an Italian version, so that several translations are entailed in reading her version. My grandmother used to retell the story using a series of Magic Lantern pictures by my mother, Hilda van Stockum. The Library of Congress thought enough of this story-telling by Olga Boissevain to make and preserve a recording of it, and this recording has kept alive the flame of this story.

Here is the film that my brother Randal made and introduced, putting together the Library of Congress recording and the "Sacred Flame" Magic Lantern slides:

TheSacredFlame from John Tepper MARLIN on Vimeo.