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Title: Blog by Novelist William S. Frankl, MD

Archive for the ‘New Ideas’ Category

Carl Sagan/Astronomer and Dreamer

Thursday, November 15th, 2018

Carl Sagan/Astronomer and Dreamer

November 9th was the birthday of the man that Smithsonian Magazine called “truly irreplaceable”: that’s astronomer Carl Sagan , born in Brooklyn (1934). Sagan was a popular guest on TV shows, especially The Tonight Show, but he was also a serious scientist who worked as a consultant on several unmanned NASA missions. Sagan was involved in the “Golden Record” project associated with the Voyager missions. The record was imprinted with images and recordings from Earth, in case it should be discovered by a form of intelligent life. It was on this project that Sagan met Ann Druyan. She was the creative director of the project, and eventually Sagan’s wife. Druyan later said: “Carl and I knew we were the beneficiaries of chance, that pure chance could be so kind that we could find one another in the vastness of space and the immensity of time. We knew that every moment should be cherished as the precious and unlikely coincidence that it was.”

Most people know him best as the co-creator and host of the hugely popular PBS show Cosmos, which aired in 1980. Sagan originally planned to call the show Man and the Cosmos, but he considered himself a feminist, so he decided to leave off the “man.” Seth MacFarlane, the creator of the animated TV series Family Guy and a lifelong astronomy enthusiast, collaborated with Ann Druyan, Sagan’s widow, to bring Cosmos back to television in 2014. MacFarlane also donated money to the Library of Congress, so that the library could purchase Sagan’s papers from Druyan. And there were a lot of papers: almost 800 boxes.

Sagan received a lot of fan mail over his career, many letters from people who shared their dreams and experiences, or their theories of extraterrestrial life, or simply thanked him for teaching them about astronomy. The more “out there” of the letters were filed in a box labeled “F/C,” which stood for “fissured ceramics” — Sagan’s code name for “crackpots.” People wrote to him about aliens that they had imprisoned in their basement, or the planets they had discovered. He was also approached by Timothy Leary, the former Harvard professor, and leader in the counterculture movement of the 1960s. Leary wanted to build a kind of “space ark” and transport hundreds of people to a different star, and he consulted Sagan to find out which star he should aim for. Sagan had to tell him that the technology to pull off such a feat did not currently exist. Leary wrote back: “I am not impressed with your conclusions in these areas,” and suggested that all that was needed was “exo-psychological and neuropolitical inspiration.”

Sagan died in 1996, of complications from a rare bone marrow disease. He was 62. He didn’t believe in life after death, and once told his daughter, Sasha, that it was dangerous to believe in something just because you want very badly for it to be true. But he also told her, “We are star stuff,” and made her feel the wonder of being alive.

From Sagan’s book Pale Blue Dot (1994), the title of which refers to a photo of Earth taken from billions of miles away: “That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it, everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you have ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives […] [E]very king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every revered teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every superstar, every supreme leader, every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there — on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.”

 

Kazuo Ishiguro/Superb Anglo-Japanese Writer

Thursday, November 15th, 2018

November 8th was the birthday of novelist Kazuo Ishiguro (1954), one of my most favorite modern writers, best known for haunting, elegiac novels like Remains of the Day (1989), about an English butler working in a big house in the years before World War II, which won the Booker Prize.

Ishiguro was born in Japan but moved to England at the age of five (1960). He didn’t go back for 29 years. Ishiguro says: “I grew up with a very strong image in my head of this other country, a very important other country to which I had a strong emotional tie. In England, I was all the time building up this picture in my head, an imaginary Japan.” As a child in England, he pored over comic books and was obsessed with movies about cowboys and the American West, which influenced his later writing.

Ishiguro spent a gap year after university hitchhiking through America and working for the Queen Mother as a grouse beater in Balmoral, all the while hauling around his portable typewriter and guitar. He says, “I tried to be a songwriter, but the door never opened.” He decided to write a 30-minute radio play called Potatoes and Lovers, about two young people working in a fish-and-chips joint. They are both cross-eyed, and they fall in love. It was an odd plot, but he used it to apply to graduate school in creative writing, and he got in. His first novel, A Pale View of the Hills (1982), was published to international acclaim.

Ishiguro’s novels include my favorite, Never Let Me Go (2005),  and             An Artist of the Floating World (1986), The Buried Giant (2015), and The Unconsoled (1995), a 500-page book narrated by a pianist — a book that one critic said “invented its own category of badness.” It’s now considered a classic.

On his writing, Kazuo Ishiguro says: “You can think of me like an early aviator before airplanes were properly invented. I’m building some sort of flying machine in my back garden. I just need it to fly. And you know how odd some of those early flying machines looked? Well, my novels are a bit like that. I put them together out of anything I can think of according to my thinking to make the thing fly.”

In 2007 he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.

 

 

Marie Curie/Ground Breaking Chemist and Physicist

Wednesday, November 14th, 2018

November 7th was the birthday of Polish physicist and chemist Marie Curie (1867). Curie discovered radium, without which we wouldn’t have X-rays or certain cancer therapies. Curie was born in Warsaw, which is now Poland, but used to be part of the Russian Empire. She went on to win two Nobel Prizes, but she always donated her prize money and remained humble about her achievements. She once summed up her potential biography as, “I was born in Poland. I married Pierre Curie, and I have two daughters. I have done my work in France.”

Curie came from a family of teachers who believed so strongly in education that her father brought home discarded test tubes from the laboratory at his school and encouraged Marie to perform experiments. Because she was a girl, she couldn’t go to University. So she began studying clandestinely at what was called a “Floating University,” a secret set of informal, underground classes held in Warsaw.

She met her husband, Pierre, after moving to France to further her studies. They set up a lab in a decrepit warehouse outside their atelier. The warehouse had an asphalt floor, a glass roof broken in several places, and was heated by a cast-iron stove in the winter. They worked on worn-out tables, often eating simple meals of bread washed down with water.

Curie often stirred the heavy and hot molten mass of radioactive products in a caldron herself, sometimes slipping samples in her pockets and forgetting about them. No one knew then about the harmful effects of radiation. When she died in 1934, it was attributed to four decades of exposure to radioactivity.

Curie and Pierre discovered radium and polonium in 1898. A watchcase containing a speck of the radium was exhibited at the Paris Exposition in 1900. The label read, “Radium, discovered by Mme. Curie.”

During World War I, Curie and her daughter suggested that the armies equip automobiles with radiographic apparatus to treat the wounded, inadvertently inventing the X-ray and the ambulance at the same time. The X-ray could locate bullets and fragments in wounded soldiers, which meant quick, life-saving removal.

All of Marie Curie’s research materials and notes are too dangerous to examine because of their high level of radioactivity. They are kept in lead-lined boxes.

 

John Keats/Great Poet

Wednesday, November 14th, 2018

October 31 was the birthday of English poet John Keats , born in London in 1795. He’s best known for poetic odes like Ode to a Nightingale and Ode on a Grecian Urn, about the famous Elgin marbles on display in the British Museum, which ends with some of the most famous lines in poetic history: “beauty is truth, truth beauty,’ — that is all / Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”

By the time he died at the age of 25, John Keats had only published three small volumes of poetry, 54 poems in all. He’s now considered one of the finest poets in the English language. He once told a friend, “I carry all matters to an extreme.”

Indoctrination Saturation

Tuesday, November 13th, 2018

In light of the mid-term elections and the Democrat wins, I thought this piece by Victor Davis Hanson was most appropriate.

 

Indoctrination Saturation

Victor Davis Hanson

September 4, 2018

 

The all-seeing social-justice eye penetrates every aspect of our lives: sports, movies, public monuments, social media, funerals . . .

A definition of totalitarianism might be the saturation of every facet of daily life by political agendas and social-justice messaging.

At the present rate, America will soon resemble the dystopias of novels such as 1984 and Brave New World in which all aspects of life are warped by an all-encompassing ideology of coerced sameness. Or rather, the prevailing orthodoxy in America is the omnipresent attempt of an elite — exempt from the consequences of its own ideology thanks to its supposed superior virtue and intelligence — to mandate an equality of result.

We expect their 24/7 political messaging on cable-channel news networks, talk radio, or print and online media. And we concede that long ago an NPR, CNN, MSNBC, or New York Times ceased being journalistic entities as much as obsequious megaphones of the progressive itinerary.

But increasingly we cannot escape anywhere the lidless gaze of our progressive lords, all-seeing, all-knowing from high up in their dark towers.

The Peter Strzok–Lisa Page texts, along with the careers of former FBI director James Comey and his deputy Andrew McCabe, reveal a politicized and in some sense rotten FBI hierarchy, beholden far more to its own exalted sense of a progressive self than merely to investigating crimes against the people.

Lois Lerner was a clumsy reflection of how the IRS long ago became weaponized in service to auditing deplorables. Former CIA director John Brennan and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper used their supposedly nonpartisan positions to further political agendas. That each in his own way is clownish does not mitigate their rank efforts to graft intelligence agencies onto political causes.

The same deterioration is true of many in the Department of Justice, who, along with the FBI, misled FISA-court justices, as if that were the only, or perhaps the easiest, way to obtain politically driven surveillance on U.S. citizens. Americans now are woke to the reality that straying too much into the forbidden zone guarantees that their communications can be monitored on the pretense that they’re colluding with some nefarious power. Yet if foreigners are the menace, why did our proverbial best and brightest traffic with a paid foreign spy at election time to sabotage a political campaign, then trump even the improper use of electronic surveillance with the insertion of paid informants?

Google, Facebook, and Twitter are facing accusations of censoring social-media accounts and massaging Internet searches according to their progressive political agendas. The masters of the universe have given us the stereotype of 20- and 30-something social-warrior geeks, fiddling with their algorithms to virtue-signal their left-wing fides to a global audience.

YouTube restricted more than 50 Prager University videos — often because either a human or computerized auditor did not approve of the videos’ presentation of America’s historical role as beneficent. Tie-dyed T-shirts, flip-flops, and faded jeans do not mask the reality that some $3 trillion in global capitalization is pledged to ensure that the nations’ computers, pads, and smartphones will not be polluted by traditionalist thinking.

First-time congressional candidate Elizabeth Heng, a conservative from central California, found her video ad blocked on Facebook and Twitter. Apparently, her description of the Cambodian holocaust that her parents fled was too graphic or politically incorrect, or both. But then again, in California, everything is politicized, from plastic straws to single-user restrooms, in an Orwellian effort to distract us from the fact that we do not have enough water, usable roads, or workable public schools to remain a civilized state.

Language is especially enlisted to disguise bothersome reality. During the Obama administration, no one would ever have known from “overseas contingency operations,” “man-caused disasters,” “workplace disasters,” and “holy struggles” that radical Islamic terrorists were seeking to kill Westerners from San Bernardino to Paris. As in the case of illegal aliens, undocumented aliens, illegal immigrants, undocumented immigrants, immigrants migrants, the progressive rationale is that anyone killed or harmed by a terrorist or migrant is usually a nobody and so an acceptable casualty in the greater war against incorrect speech and attitude.

When our public colleges now find that an increasing number of newly admitted students cannot do college-level work when they begin their courses, administrators drop the old idea of catch-up “remedial” classes or compensatory “remediation” courses. The new language conveys that students are now suddenly qualified, or at least it virtue-signals the university’s effort to be suitably sensitive to the fact that in California nearly half of those entering the CSU system cannot read or compute at what previously had been thought to be a college level.

Our very names and identities have become politicized. Desperate to highlight their progressive purity (or to enhance careers), politicians sometimes reinvent their nomenclatures and ancestries to suggest solidarity with those deemed racially, ethnically, or economically oppressed. Who now is who or what?

Senator Elizabeth Warren claimed falsely — albeit not quite in the clumsy fashion of left-wing political activist and professor Ward Churchill — that she was part Native American. Socialist New York state senate candidate Julia Salazar recently and falsely rebranded herself as a virtual foreign-born immigrant. Was their intent to pose as poorer, more victimized Americans without actually having to become poorer or more victimized?

White-male aspirant for a Texas Senate seat Patrick Francis O’Rourke has used the Latino nickname “Beto,” probably on the assumption that “Beto O’Rourke” might ensure a little more street cred among Texas’s Latino voters. I suppose “Pat O’Lopez” would be too shameless? But then again, California Senate candidate Kevin de León has added both a “de” and an accent to remind voters that he is not just an Anglicized Kevin Leon who could be mistaken for a third-generation Portuguese American.

Americans have long accepted that Hollywood movies no longer seek just to entertain or inform, but to indoctrinate audiences by pushing progressive agendas. That commandment also demands that America be portrayed negatively — or better yet simply written out of history. Take the new film First Man, about the first moon landing. Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong became famous when he emerged from The Eagle, the two-man lunar module, and planted an American flag on the moon’s surface. Yet that iconic act disappears from the movie version. (At least Ryan Gosling, who plays Armstrong, does not walk out of the space capsule to string up a U.N. banner.)

Gosling claimed that the moon landing should not be seen as an American effort. Instead, he advised, it should be “widely regarded as a human achievement” — as if any nation’s efforts or the work of the United Nations in 1969 could have pulled off such an astounding and dangerous enterprise. I suppose we are to believe that Gosling’s Canada might just as well have built a Saturn V rocket.

Comic-book sales are static, purportedly because tired readers now find their make-believe heroes sermonizing, preachy, and predictable rather than one-dimensionally heroic. Social justice has entered the world of fantasy — and extends to science-fiction novels as well. Will 1984 have to be either banned or subjected to race/class/gender Bowdlerization?

Sports offers no relief. It is now no more a refuge from political indoctrination than is Hollywood. Yet it is about as difficult to find a jock who can pontificate about politics as it is to encounter a Ph.D. or politico who can pass or pitch.

The National Football League, the National Basketball Association, and sports channels are now politicalized in a variety of ways, from not standing up or saluting the flag during the National Anthem to pushing social-justice issues as part of televised sports analysis. What a strange sight to see tough sportsmen of our Roman-style gladiatorial arenas become delicate souls who wilt on seeing a dreaded hand across the heart during the playing of the National Anthem.

Even when we die, we do not escape politicization. At a recent eight-hour, televised funeral service for singer Aretha Franklin, politicos such as Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton went well beyond their homages into political harangues. Pericles or Lincoln they were not.

Activist professor Michael Eric Dyson laced his supposed eulogy with an adolescent rant against Donald Trump: “Your lugubrious leach, your dopey doppelgänger of deceit and deviance” — and all that alliterative gibberish that apparently follows from a Ph.D.

Politics likewise absorbed Senator John McCain’s funeral the next day. Sarah Palin —his persistently loyal 2008 running mate, who has never uttered an unkind word about him — was not invited. Apparently, her presence would now be seen as too politically incorrect; it might have polluted the observance with a deplorable odor or reminded us that she was once considered useful in appealing to the clinger/irredeemable/“crazies” vote.

Meghan McCain, Barack Obama, and former president George W. Bush all did their best to praise the deceased, but in passing could not resist deprecating the current president. We have forgotten that the ancillary to de mortuis nihil nisi bonum dicendum est (about the dead nothing but good should be said) is “in speaking of the dead, nothing but good should be said about the still living.” It is certainly not an admirable trait to deplore incivility by gratuitously attacking a sitting president at a funeral — especially when neither the presidential encomiasts, nor the object of their encomia, had always been particularly civil and polite to each another in the past.

Even the long-ago dead are fair game. Dark Age iconoclasm has returned to us with a fury.

Any statue at any time might be toppled — if it is deemed to represent an idea or belief from the distant past now considered racist, sexist, or somehow illiberal. Representations of Columbus, the Founding Fathers, and Confederate soldiers have all been defaced, knocked down, or removed. The images of mass murderers on the left are exempt, on the theory that good ends always allow a few excessive means. So are the images and names of robber barons and old bad white guys, whose venerable eponymous institutions offer valuable brands that can be monetized. At least so far, we are not rebranding Stanford and Yale with indigenous names.

This new politicized borg ferrets out every aspect of our lives. Nothing is safe, nothing sacred. Dead or alive, the relentless social-justice messaging continues. Like some sort of time machine, we go back in time to alter history as if a few corrections and adjustments will change and thus improve the entire present.

Comments

Progressive politics seeks to connect and energize us as millions of shared malignant cells inside a metastasizing tumor — or to destroy us in the attempt.

 


William S. Frankl, MD, All Rights Reserved