Tag Archive: history


Study the past“Never Again!”

These words have been used in the past 70 years since World War II ended. During that time, millions of Jews, Gays, “Gypsies”¹, and their supporters were put to death. Most were killed for their beliefs, some by association, many simply because of who they were.

For those unfamiliar with the concept of Godwin’s Law (of the internet):

“As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1”

The invocation of Godwin is used to prevent one side or another to equate evilness or incorrectness with the “Ultimate representation” of ‘Evil’ and/or ‘Wrong’ which for the lifetime of the Internet has been Hitler and the Nazi regime.

The problem with Godwin is two-fold. First on a direct level, secondly on a meta-level.

Directly, the use of “Hitler” and “Nazi” by equating them to “Evil” divorces us from the reason. In general this empowers the words “Evil and Wrong” and trivializes Nazism and the acts of Hitler as merely the natural or unnatural ‘limits’ of the definition of evil. We could just as easily say that anything good would inevitably equate out to Firefly. Eventually the context is lost beyond, Firefly was ultimately good.

I am a 47-year-old Jew. WWI did not affect my immediate family (at least without being removed by 2-3 degrees of cousin-hood). They only had the Russian Pogroms to deal with, and even then this is distanced by 2 generations from me. However, despite a lack of direct contact with these atrocities, I still have personal context as to the horrors done to my race, just as readily as even the most affluent person of color has to the horror of Watts, segregation, or slavery.

But there is a frightening and even more dangerous side to misusing the idea of Godwin’s Law. There is a tangible danger in the invocation of Godwin as a means to diffuse or worse avoid a needed conversation. This is especially the case when that conversation is in true comparison to what Hitler and Nazism represented.

There are many well-defined terms for the actions of the Nazi regime as created and directed by Hitler. All of which are put as off limits by misusing Godwin’s law if the comparisons strike to closely.

Genocide, Eugenics, Racial Superiority, Totalitarianism, Authoritarianism, Fascism, Radicalized Nationalism.

As a result of misusing Godwin’s law… there is a growing fear to confront these topics. Godwin gives a safe blanket to prevent us to from ever believing that we’re heading down the same road as has occurred in the past. Hitler… It could never be as bad as Hitler.

We forget that in 1938 Hitler was viewed in Time magazine as “Man of the Year” Consider at that time, that discussions concerning the most “Evil man in history” might have referred to Pizarro, Caligula, Ivan the Terrible, Nero, Rasputin, Torquemada, or Vlad the Impaler. Does the legacy of making Hitler the “ultimate evil” reduce the crimes of Pot Pol, Idi Amin, or Osama bin Laden?

By wrapping society in the safe blanket that we have seen the ultimate evil and it could never be worse condemns us in an instant to be granted the wish of being wrong. Even in the movies we know better than to posit “At least it couldn’t be any worse”

In 1938 people were singing the praises of Hitler. At least the media was. Hitler was a sense of nationalism to a very battered country. And nobody disagreed with him or his burgeoning government. Granted, by 1938 Hitler had given more power to the Schutzstaffel (SS) and the people that opposed him and his government were evaporating quickly. By 1938, Hitler had already been in power as Chancellor for 5 years. His popularity started building as early as 1927 from his policies and beliefs on a unification of all German speaking lands, the distrust of all Jews and any governing that gave the people any power. Any policy he didn’t approve of, was inevitably dismissed as part of a Jewish Agenda/Conspiracy. After 10 years of this… The US still said he was “Man of the Year.” After 3 years of bloody war, the US hadn’t entered. Not because of isolationism… but because we hadn’t decided which side we were on. Hitler was courting the US as an ally, and the bombing of Pearl Harbor made the decision easy.

Evil… is a relative and flexible term. In ‘entertainment’ we have moved from black and white into shades of grey. In life we talk about all of one ethnic group as evil, while a person who kills 10-15 people as potentially misunderstood.

Terrorism isn’t the act of destroying our bodies. It’s the act of destroying our souls and our wills.

It’s time to stop using Godwin as a crutch. It hides facing a potentially terrifying future which as a path that we’ve travelled down in the past. Stop using Godwin’s Law to excuse debate. Godwin didn’t want it.²

Words aren’t meant to be thrown around. Words are meant to represent something and to be as used as tools, shields, and weapons of truth for what they mean.

“Never again!”

 

 


1: A racial slur unto itself

2: “I Seem To Be A Verb: 18 Years of Godwin’s Law” – Mike Godwin; http://jewcy.com/jewish-arts-and-culture/i_seem_be_verb_18_years_godwins_law

recovery_exitAs I ramp back from my tri-annual (Meaning every three years) bout of Pneumonia, things are beginning to settle back in. A local company has expressed potential interest in me. They are pre-screening me with a programming project. The idea is to replicate base functionality and UI of an app. This is not as throw-away simple as it sounds. You have to at least implement the real functionality which does require a knowledge of the technology stack.

Sadly, when I talked to them Friday I targeted Monday as a goal. This was before I knew it was pneumonia. A very professional letter to the recruiter about my health resulted in a letter back telling me that the recruiter was down with Flu and that the group was happy to let me regroup my strength before worrying about the code.

In the mean time, the main project was on hold. There was not a lot of strength or focus to get research done. I think it was the general stress of the week that took me down to begin with. I do however have a strong desire looking forwards. There’s a lot of research. There is one small component that did move forwards, however. So I guess not completely on hold.


Then there is the story of my genetic offspring. This actually takes place today and in a humorous bit of temporal irony about 33 years ago as well.


Micromodem_II_in_Apple_IIWhen I was 12 years old my father bought me my first computer. It was an Apple ][. There was no “Plus” or “e” or any other symbol. This was the original II computer. This was a $2,000 piece of hardware and at the age of 12 I had NO idea what that meant. Especially in the late 1970s. (Yes, you can do the math) I loved this thing. The hardware, the software, the manuals. It was amazing.

One day I decided I REALLY wanted to learn as much about my computer as I could. And my implement of learning was going to be my father’s ratchet screwdriver with changeable tips. The process seemed simple enough in my mind. And in execution it was even easier. It took me about 15-20 minutes to remove every screw and easily removable component to see how everything was assembled.

Parents have an innate sense of knowing how long it has been since they’ve interacted with their child. Apparently, I had crossed the threshold for the amount of time that had passed before my mother began wondering what I was up to. She came to my room and saw me at my desk with a disassembled computer. I think every child learns what a conniption fit is at some point in their life.  I was excessively chastised for my stupidity and lack of respect. Translation: My mother explained that she was going downstairs to call my father to come home and kill me in cold blood. Translation: My mother called my father to excessively chaste him for stupidity and lack of respect. (Damned genetics)

About half an hour later my father arrived home. This required at least 5 minutes downstairs when he arrived for a recap round of getting yelled at. They came upstairs and there I was, sitting at my desk, operating the computer and writing a program. The system was up and operational as if nothing had occurred. Even the potentially damning evidence of tools had been carefully put away.

My mother stammered for a moment. Said “Fuck you.” I think the first time I ever heard her swear, and she tromped out. My father just smiled at me. “You put every part back exactly where you found them?” I pulled some screws from my desk drawer, “All but these couple of screws. Not sure where they went and it doesn’t seem to be a problem.” He smiled again proudly and went downstairs to talk my mother down.


For my son’s 7th birthday this year I purchased him “Blaster.” Blaster is a first generation toy from the Transformer’s line. The toy is about 30 years old. It cost about $40 and was valued more closely to $65. This morning he came to my bedroom and pronounced that he intended to take on a project that “…involved Blaster, 3 screwdrivers and…”

I stopped him. I notified him he was not to take apart a 30 year collectible toy. He told me he had already taken off the head and put it back. Heather (my wonderful spouse) had already purchased old electronics at Goodwill to let him take them apart. I spent an afternoon with him disassembling an old VHS camera. She told me she would supervise. I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to deal with it.

There it was; I’d turned into both my parents at once. Happily, Heather reminded me of the story above. Currently they are in the middle of rebuilding. I’m told the picture of all the pieces lain out was glorious. I’m likely to repost it once it is done. (time passes)

Well, after a days outing to see old friends, my son has completed his work. I have to admit… The reassembly was completely successful. The toy even moves better than it did when we got it. It was a bit tight when we first bought it. It moves more easily now without feeling loose. Between my wife (who did AI software for Robots) and myself (who does Apple 3rd party software) comes a very talented child with a stunning sense of spacial relations and being able to take things apart and get them back together.

Heaven help us if he learns to code.
IMG_3097

It is shortly after midnight on what is now the morning of Wednesday, October 13th, 2010. As usual, I’m not tired. If I go upstairs now, I will find myself playing either Minesweeper or Sudoku to tire myself out.

A one-night fling from years and years ago appears in my IM (Damn, I never discard anything) I haven’t shared words with her pretty much since that one night. I contemplate saying hello. I type into the IM window:

‘I would say, “hello.” But I don’t know if it was garner a response. And honestly I don’t know to what purpose it would serve starting a conversation.’

I don’t get more than a few characters into the word honestly; contemplate the rest of my sentence; and then discard the text and close the window.

It’s another one of those nights where I’ve been looking at legal proceedings between large companies and individuals. I’ve been reading how laws have been very carefully designed to protect the large companies from the individuals. I’m saddened by how few laws protect the individual.

This always leads me back to the pipe dream of going to Law School. This is of course pardoning the irony that Law School itself is one giant corporate machine masked in higher education and the only people that really succeed at it are the ones willing to get into bed with the large companies that are destroying the individual one-by-one.

Of course there’s also the personal limitation that to get into Law School they expect you to at least have a Bachelor’s degree, which to this day I am still blissfully missing. I wish that Education and I hadn’t had such a hate-hate relationship when I was in my 20s. I see the point now. I’m also pleased that both fields I studied in then have a more solid grounding for people with degrees now.

In college I studied two disciplines (more than any other) Theatre and Computer Science. My Theatre department was wonderful. Unfortunately, like many small colleges it was also very incestuous and driven to powerful cliques. I of course was a social ignoramus, so I fell out of the clique fairly quickly. There were also so many specific topics that I did not excel in that made me feel inferior in the department. My costuming and makeup work was second to last to none. Also, there really wasn’t a large call for Degrees in theatre in the real world. Granted, in college I also discovered that I really didn’t have the chops to pursue Theatre professionally.

I discovered that the performing arts (as well as other media) is a very cutthroat field where the manufacture of your business self often supersedes your professional self. It’s more important how you sell yourself than what you’re selling. (Art isn’t easy) And with that dripping level of cynicism by age 22, I knew I didn’t want to wait tables.

My other field was computer science. At my college this degree was an absolute mess. The chair of the department (who rumour has it has since been incarcerated) was an absolute egotistical tyrant who taught classes by giving unsolvable problems to weed out anyone he felt was undeserving in the major. Which was everyone. He actually tried to charge me for his time when I asked him for some information on a topic I wanted to pursue on my own time. (Object oriented Pascal for the interested) I was shocked at his pretentiousness and went to the Provost. She told me that not a lot of people understand her job and that she was pleased I came to speak with her. She explained that her job was to remind the tenured faculty that they were in fact mortal. The department chair wanted nothing to do with me from there.

So, with one major filled with people that I didn’t get along with terribly well (including my Theatrical advisor who told me to my face that he considered me his greatest academic failure) working towards a degree that would only help me if I wanted to pursue Dramaturgy, publishing or teaching in college, on one hand; on the other a major that was downright hostile to me because it was busy teaching the chairs pet classes that were antiquated to say the least (VAX/VMS and no compiler design classes)… I dropped out.

Amazingly in less than 5 years I would go from Welfare to a position as a software architect at a Major University.

In those 5 years I did try to return to college; I went to community college to prove I could pass a class with something higher than a C. I then went to the local university in my hometown. (Yeah, that narrows it down)… Actually I went to the Dramatic conservatory in the city first and auditioned for their directing program and got top recommendation yet wait-listed. Which is a story that could fill another huge post. The local university took me as a student in my vain hopes to complete my CS degree. Within 1.5 years I was hired on because of the information I’d specialized in on my own time.

It’s now been 15 years since that University hired me. That doesn’t count the 5-7 years of odd work I did with computers before getting hired on. Co-workers in my company often refer to me as the Sr. Guru. I appreciate that. I’ve spent a long time not just studying the technology I work in, but the company that makes it. Its business practices as well as its technology practices. I’d work for them someday; but I’ve actually come to like the idea of settling in Pittsburgh.

But despite that… no BS. I guess just a lot of BS that really wasn’t BS after awhile. And despite this, I have the AUDACITY to believe I could go to Law school, especially now that I have a family and am the primary income source. And my reason? The vain hope to help legislate to help people. This unto itself is very funny for someone who was more interested in doing theatre than the job of selling oneself. Which seems to be all that legislators are really interested in.

We’re nearing election time. You can tell this because the “them vs. us” attitude is at an all-time high. Once again issues dissolve away into spin about how, “THEIR SIDE IS EEEEEEEEEVUL” Well, let me assure you… Politicians are not EEEEEEEVUL. I’ve read “Fahrenheit-451” and “Liber Al vel Legis” Those books are EEEEEEEVUL. Why? Because they change you, they make you think, they make you better the more you take them into your life. The hypocrisy of elected officials who feel their job is to make you hate the other person more so that they can stalemate government long enough to make you hate again two years later. That’s not EEEEEEVUL. That’s not even evil… It’s just sad.

I have issues I truly believe in that come from issues championed on both sides of the aisle. By both sides I mean Democrats and Republicans. I will state that I do not believe in the current Republican Agenda which really seems to boil down to, “Vote the ticket” which of course is completely destructive to the Democrats which boil down to, “Vote with your heart”. Then there’s the tea party, which seems to boil down to, “Vote with your passion, because God decided to omit your brain.”

And all the while… the corporations take more and more away. There’s so little left. And so few who really want to change it… even fewer who actually have the power to do it.

It’s disheartening. Maybe enough for me to message someone I slept with one night years ago… Or at least get my mind churning in a direction that is better to afford sleep.

Law School, pipe dream or potential. *shrug*

Bedtime I guess.

-Night.

I enter the next chapter of my life today. The Earth merrily goes whizzing about the universe. Somewhere around 9:26 am local time this morning I will have travelled just over 24.5 billion miles through the universe. Actually, I’ve just been going around in circles… But that’s okay.

A smaller circle is about to close as well. After 4 months of unemployment and after my 2nd layoff in one year, I will return to work. My job takes me back ‘home’ to Pittsburgh. I do consider Pennsylvania my home. I wasn’t born there; I haven’t lived there in over a decade, but I lived there the longest.

The job is everything I could have wished for in a return to the Three River City. The pay is nearly triple what I made when I left the city. The job is at the top of Gateway Centre near the point looking out over the Allegheny River at the new stadiums. I am architecting software solutions from the ground up for the Mac platform; not as a simply shoehorn Windows port. I will likely work on Apple technologies across the board.

The employer moved VERY fast. I was told after each phone screen to not expect a response for 2-3 days only to hear back within hours. The tech screen was an amazing experience. I spent several hours (6) meeting and interviewing with the entire team in Pittsburgh on Wednesday. By that afternoon there was talk that there would be an offer. By the next day there was talk that contract was likely off the table. Today, two days later, there’s a full time offer and I start in 9 days.

My start will be a flight to Pittsburgh to orient, sign papers, get some initial work started and of course find a place to live. The entire family will be out for that trip and any and all help is warmly appreciated. Heather needs to fly back early for an important meeting. I haven’t begun to even make these plans yet.

I then telecommute in Missouri for three weeks while we organise the second full interstate move in one year. We have three weeks to tear down our life here and get it set back up in a yet to be discovered location in Western PA. Those are the dates.

Many people have asked me how the family feels about this. I’ll be honest. Heather was initially more eager. My reservations will come next. The reality is that leaving St. Louis will be hard. Aiden has settled in with a wonderful Montessori school and is now at the age where a move may be jarring to him. Heather has just found a Pain Management clinic (since her accident) that is actually beginning to manager her pain. We also have formed a VERY close bond to 2 families out here. Leaving them will be difficult. Granted… it really hasn’t been a greatly social life so we don’t really have more than about that.

For me, my last time in Pittsburgh was a time of growing up and shedding some very bad behaviours. It was a time of learning some truths about myself. I also lived through some incredible and often horrendous personal drama. Granted we’re looking at the ages of 16-30. I often look on my life in segments. 0-10 was normal, 11-20 I got broken, 21-30 I lived broken, 30-40 I did repair, 40 I approached normal. As you can see… My Western PA years weren’t my best.

But, partly to Facebook and mostly to the passage of time, I’ve mellowed and people I have known have mellowed and we’ve reconnected. For a while I was admittedly worried about visiting because I thought there were people actively looking to get back at me. We can call this “The paranoid delusions of youth.” Granted, when you’re chased out of Kings Court theatre by 3 guys that are twice your size… sometimes paranoia has its place.

In the past year I have reconnected (at least online) with people that I went to elementary school with in Eastern PA, with High School companions, with college classmates, and even a wealth of friends, ex-girlfriends, housemates, what have you; from those scary 20s. Translation: I think I may have buried all the hatchets out there.

Of course there is my blood family. Those who know me know that this is a can of worms that really explains my discomfort with worms. This is a situation that I found I cured by moving far away. I took on a name change to celebrate my new family. Personally, I wish I could tell the world I was returning and convince them I was moving to Istanbul. I don’t have any answers for this. It honestly scares me.

So, what else could have been the concern for me? “You can never go home.” Words, from one of my oldest friends from Pittsburgh. Someone I lost contact with for 11 years who I stumbled upon about 3 weeks before the job that would bring me back. We often referred to Pittsburgh as “The Gravity Well.” People couldn’t or more accurately wouldn’t leave. There’s a wonderful ‘blue-collar’ charm to Pittsburgh but some can see that as a detriment as well as an enhancement.

For a while when the job was first floated near me… I wondered if a return was a badge of failure. The perception was (to me) that I couldn’t make it in California or Washington or even Missouri (No offence to MO). But the truth I realised was just the opposite. I’d left to find my way into a profession that was entirely self-taught. I have a career that I learned from reading on my own and on-the-job experience. And now, I will get to practice that career in a building that I always looked up to as a college student/graduate and know that it was my ability and the truth of my place in my career that got me there.

It may not be a gold-plated garage in Silicon Valley or a show I am directing on Broadway; but it’s getting paid to do what I love around people that I do in fact love just as much. People I have missed. (Some people… not so much… but with a kid… you prioritise)

The adventure starts anew. I swore at the age of 8 that I would live to the age of 108. Well, more correctly I told my dad I wanted to live to see what became of America had it survived to the Tricentennial. My wife has asked for an extra 7 days so that I don’t pass before or on her birthday.

So let’s just call this exploration into my history as a ‘third-life’ crisis. And see where the next two lifetimes take me.

Hello Pittsburgh… I’m coming home . :)

P.S. This is the reason the blog has been quiet for a week or two. If you want specific details about my time in Pittsburgh house hunting, or to help, or to reconnect, or to connect… Email me at author’s link. Or by any of my social networking feeds.

See also: The Living Artist Blog on the same topic.

In 1983 my grandparents remembered World War II although none of them had been directly touched by it. I suppose I was lucky not to have relatives that were in Germany or the surrounding countries at that time.

You may find it odd for me to be discussing WWII in conjunction with such a random year.

1983 was muchly a year like any other with highs, lows, attractions, news, entertainment.

Annie closed on Broadway, Maragaret Thatcher wins the Prime Ministry of England by a landslide, Sally Ride becomes the first woman into space. Guion Bluford becomes the first African-America in space. The Nintendo was introduced. IBM made a personal computer. And the first version of Microsoft Word is released. (Hello eventual employment.) Regan proclaims that starting the following year, MLK day will be a national holiday. The UN states that the Soviet Union needs to stop occupying Afghanistan. “Thriller” is broadcast for the first time.

Yes, Nazi war criminal Klaus Barbie was arrested and charged with war crimes. But that’s really minor.

“Flashdance” and “Return of the Jedi” are box office smashes.

But nowhere on the 1983 calendar is a simple Television Miniseries.

The show was simply called, “V” (And for you younger whipper snappers out there) this one didn’t directly involve Guy Fawkes.)

The basic plot to V is that one day aliens come to earth from a dying world. They need resources from Earth and will trade scientific advancement for the assistance. But soon the visiting aliens start establishing youth support groups and releasing information how scientists are covertly undermining their efforts. Scientists are asked to register with government agencies. Friends are told to report suspicious neighbors that have scientists in the families. People are ostracized, beaten, and shunned… merely for affiliation.

If it’s not obvious by now. “V” was a retelling of the growth of the third reich and how it allowed Germany to be subsumed in ethnocentrism while turning a blind eye to racial genocide.

“In Germany, they came first for the Communists, And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist;
And then they came for the trade unionists, And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist;
And then they came for the Jews, And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew;
And then . . . they came for me . . . And by that time there was no one left to speak up.”
Pastor Martin Niemoller

“V” is a strong reminder about what I believe is true science fiction. Using the fantastic and implausible to show the human story at its most realistic. Joss Whedon likened the werewolf character of Oz to the ferocity of male pubescence pointing out that even the quietest and most cerebral boy could have an uncontrollable and ferocious side that makes him very cautious and afraid to interact.

So, here I sit a quarter of a century later. Only 2 months off from the original broadcast date. The styles are dated. The hero looks like a Mark Hammil knockoff. The effects… not as bad as I thought they’d be… not as scary as I remember them as a 15 year old. But I remember the awkward 15 year old in the show who was a grandson of a holocaust survivor dotingly going off to join the youth group. I remember the concern at watching people pick sides in the atrocities. I remember families turning against each other.

Twenty-Five years later, “V” stands the test of time to be a story to remind us of how easily we can be blinded by media, culture, and especially peer pressure through inactivity. It shows the determination of the human spirit on a quest for truth. It poignantly begins with a simple black slate with white writing dedicating itself to the freedom fighters of our past.

“V” (The original series) definitely warrants a re-watching or for some of you a first watch. It’s is moving, stunningly acted, and most importantly a piece of history that no matter how told… should never be forgotten.