a piece of history

The Serbs were true heroes.

After about a week, the Germans gave up on finding the spies and the OSS team felt they could make their way back down to the mountain to a lower elevation. As they made their way down, some of the local people told them of American airmen who were hiding from the Germans and awaiting rescue. These were not the same airmen being aided by Mihailovich in a different part of the country, but rather a smaller group of only a dozen. Their original mission compromised and all their equipment lost, Jibilian and the other agents decided it would be better if they accomplished something before they simply tried to escape from Yugoslavia. So they gathered as much information as they could from the sympathetic locals and determined where the airmen were. If they could, their plan was to go find the airmen and somehow get them out with them.

Serbia and the Serbs in World War II

Gregory Freeman’s novel about the airmen who were given refuge by the Serbs is astonishing.  Equally unbelievable is how the OSS operated and the rescue mission of these airmen.  God bless the Serbs and thank God for the leadership of Draza Mihailovich – God rest his soul.

scapegoat

“There are many theories as to why we have this urge to blame, and all we can be certain about it is that it is an intrinsic part of our being. We used to scapegoat out of fear of divine retribution; now for the most part we do it to live with ourselves. As individuals, we create a narrative of our lives that makes sense to us, and that fits in with our concept of ourselves. Often we shape our memories accordingly. Certainly we keep some and subconsciously discard those that do not fit, demonstrating what psychologists call confirmation bias. We can find ourselves using our brains more to construct explanations and excuses once we’ve done what our emotions dictated, so we can present to ourselves that we are rational beings. But we aren’t wholly rational beings, as a succession of thinkers and experiments have shown.

” We possess a strong self-serving bias that makes us feel special. Through this we can account for our failures and protect our sense of worth. We overrate our abilities in all sorts of ways, from intelligence to honesty.

” . . . With this capacity for self-delusion it shouldn’t be that much of a surprise that we seek to blame others. The idea of Attribution Theory states that we have an urgent need to find reasons for an event, and this leads us to leap to conclusions and hold others responsible. A bad situation couldn’t possibly be our fault, after all. When we fail at things it is because of others, those who are below average bring us down. Whereas when we succeed it is due to our innate abilities (and when others succeed, we often put it down to luck).”

flourish

“Is there someone in your life whom you would feel comfortable phoning at four in the morning to tell your troubles to? If your answer is yes, you will likely live longer than someone whose answer is no.”

Source: Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being by Martin E. P. Seligman

lay this body down

from Gregory A. Freeman’s introduction to his novel, Lay This Body Down The 1921 Murders of Eleven Plantation Slaves:

From the moment of birth, we Southerners are immersed in the history of our homeland, and the focal point is always the Civil War. We can’t travel ten miles without running across a battlefield, a marker commemorating a historic Civil War event, or a monument to fallen Confederate soldiers. The Civil War is seen as the defining moment in our history, a moment that abruptly shifted the region from one way of life to another.

But within all the history there is a lie. The lie, told to Southerners and everyone else, is that slavery disappeared after Appomattox. It did not. Slavery existed well into the twentieth century in America, in the form of peonage, whereby blacks were fined for vagrancy or other supposed crimes and then forced to work off the debt on local farms for what often became a lifetime of brutal conditions. For those trapped in peonage, the technical distinction between themselves and the slaves of a previous generation was meaningless.

A ‘snippet’ from the book:

Over the years the federal government had received several reports of peonage in Jasper County, but agents were in no hurry to investigate the Williams plantation until 1921, when Gus Chapman showed up at the downtown Atlanta office of the federal Bureau of Investigation.

. . . The agents told Chapman to sit down and tell his story. He started by telling them that he had come from a farm in Jasper County where he had been held against his will, and he said many more were still being held there. Then he went back to the beginning, to tell the agents how he had been imprisoned by Mr. Johnny.

Snippets from books

This is one of those books I read in one sitting.

John Berendt, author of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil writes “Clue by clue, Paul French uncovers the truth of a bizarre murder case that shocked Peking in 1937. In doing so, he draws a chilling portrait of the city’s decadent, violent and overly privileged Euro-American expatriate community. It is a feat comparable to that of White Mischief. Fascinating and irresistible. I couldn’t put it down.”

From the book:

Edward Theodore Chalmers Werner and his daughter lived in a traditional Chinese courtyard house on a hutong in Peking’s Tartar City, just outside the Legation Quarter. No one watching them go about their lives at the start of 1937 would have gained the impression that China was tottering on the edge of a precipice. Their daily routine appeared comfortable and privileged, based more around English than Chinese traditions even though Werner, a widower had chosen to avoid the overtly European world of the Legation Quarter.

In a city with plenty of old China hands, Werner was perhaps the most notable, having lived and worked in China since the 1880s. As a scholar and a former British consul, his life story was well known. His books were widely read and translated, his complex but highly regarded lectures to the Royal Asiatic Society and the Things Chinese Society well attended. He also wrote articles on Chinese culture, tradition and history for the local newspapers, and his experience and learning might have made him a much-sought-after dinner guest. But he rarely, if ever, accepted, preferring a solitary and scholarly life.

friendship – and rivalry

From the book jacket:

Supreme Commander Dwight D. Eisenhower, General George S. Patton, and General Omar N. Bradley engineered the Allied conquest that shattered Hitler’s hold over Europe. But they also shared intricate connections going back decades, and in the cauldron of the Second World War, they found their prewar friendships complicated by shifting allegiances, jealousy, insecurity, patriotism, and ambition.

From the novel:

“No human enterprise goes flat so instantly as an Army training camp when war ends,” Ike dolefully remarked long after the last train of bright-faced draftees pulled away. “As for my professional career,” he added, “the weight in a meaningless chair-bound assignment, shuffling papers and filling out forms. If not depressed, I was mad, disappointed, and resented the fact that the war had passed me by.”

The only break in the monotony of that lackluster fall was the arrival of a hard-charging Californian named George Patton, a colonel who had been assigned command of a light tank outfit temporarily in Ike’s care. Tall and spotless in his tailored jacket, riding breeches, and mirror-polished boots, Colonel Patton looked like he had stepped off the cover of an officer’s field manual. He carried his six-foot, one-inch frame as if the world were one great parade square. He dressed with the precision of an honor guardsman, and his blue-gray eyes squinted over a practiced scowl as he barked out commands in a high-tenored, almost feminine voice.

The two officers could hardly have been more different. George Smith Patton Jr. was an eclectic mix of socialite patrician and profane horse soldier, a field officer whose family wealth allowed him to maintain a lifestyle even a general’s pay couldn’t support. Ike, two inches shorter and five years Patton’s junior, was an instinctively likeable infantryman whose meager salary made it hard for his family to make ends meet. Patton, who had descended from Confederate and Revolutionary War heroes, believed that greatness could be bred, much like speed in racehorses or strength in bulls. Ike, whose Kansas and Pennsylvania forebears as far as he knew, had never been more than modestly successful, could point to nothing in his lineage that would mark him for the history books.

“hellbent on lynching . . .”

Gilbert King’s novel, Devil in the Grove, is about one of the most important civil rights cases argued by Thurgood Marshall.

From the book:

In the landmark case Smith v. Allwright, Thurgood Marshall had argued before the U.S. Supreme Court in 1944 that it was unconstitutional for the state of Texas to ban blacks from voting in the Democratic Party’s primary. The Supreme Court agreed and overturned the party’s practice of all-white primaries, a ruling, Marshall noted, that was “a giant milestone in the progress of Negro Americans toward full citizenship.” He later assessed the Smith v. Allwright victory to be “the greatest one” of his career.

. . . The last week of August 1949 brought newspaper reporters from all over the country to cover the trial of the Groveland Boys, a case that the press was calling “Little Scottsboro.” Certainly it was strikingly similar in many ways to the infamous 1931 case, in which young white women’s accusations of rape by young black men triggered coerced confessions, lynching attempts, and mob violence involving powerful sheriffs, unruly posses, and the Ku Klux Klan in Scottsboro, Alabama. In central Florida, the black papers had been covering the Groveland story since the rioting in mid-July, largely on the basis of information passed on to them by Franklin Williams in the course of his investigation. In late August local reporters were joined in Tavares by correspondents from the Pittsburgh Courier and the Chicago Defender as well as a few “northern” writers who had taken an interest in the story. So had the Christian Science Monitor, but surprisingly, to Williams, the Associated Press and the United Press International had not. Yet while Marshall and the NAACP in New York were trying to focus national attention on the racial tension and racist violence in Groveland, Florida, the big race story that August was unfolding in their own backyard.

seeing the Holy in the Ordinary

On the book jacket of A Tree Full of Angels by Macrina Wiederkehr:

“Offers a refreshingly honest view of how each one of us can learn to communicate with God in our everyday lives. . . . A clear, simple, book of prayer and praise.”

What is unique about a moment that has the power to bless us and the potential to feed us is not so much the power of the moment itself, but rather the quality of presence we bring to that moment.  Our presence can change an ordinary, unnoticed moment into a moment of beauty that can feed the soul.  The awareness, the goodness and depth of you and me come face to face with the reality, the goodness and depth of another person, an event, a place or thing. In this meeting is born a moment of beauty, a celebration, but for this to happen, we’ve got to be there with quality.  It isn’t so much that the moment isn’t beautiful without us. Rather, the moment can’t bless us without us. We’ve got to be there with our souls, not just our bodies. It is the difference between being alive or dead to something.

Moments of beauty! They are every day. You’ve seen them. You’ve been in the heart of them. Magnificent as they seem at the time, they are only crumbs, pieces of the whole loaf.

how we’re wired

Sebastian Seung’s book explores the study of neuroscience and ‘how the brain’s wiring makes us who we are.’

Over the ages, philosophers came up with a list of principles by which associations can be learned. At the top of the list is coincidence, sometimes called contiguity in time or place. If you see photos of a pop singer with her baseball-player boyfriend, you will learn an association between them. A second factor is repetition. Seeing these celebrities together just once might not be enough to create the association in your mind, but if you see them ad nauseam day after day in every magazine and newspaper, you will not be able to avoid learning the association. Ordering in time also seems important for some associations. As a child you recited the letters of the alphabet repeatedly until you knew them by heart. You learned the association from each letter to the next, since the letters always followed one another in the same sequence. In contrast, the association between the pop singer and her boyfriend will be bidirectional, since they always appear simultaneously.

So philosophers propose that we learn to associate ideas when one repeatedly accompanies or succeeds another. This inspired connectionists to conjecture:

If two neurons are repeatedly activated simultaneously, then the connections between them are strengthened in both directions.

This rule of plasticity is appropriate for learning two ideas that repeatedly occur together, like the pop singer and her boyfriend. For learning associations between sequential ideas, connectionists proposed a similar rule:

If two neurons are repeated activated sequentially, the connections from the first to the second is strengthened.

In both rules, by the way, it’s assumed that the strengthening is permanent or at least long-lasting, so that the association can be retained in memory.

quiet

From the book jacket:  “At least one-third of the people we know are introverts.  They are the ones who prefer listening to speaking, reading to partying; who innovate and create but dislike self-promotion; who favor working on their own over brainstorming in terms. . . . Passionately argued, impressively researched, and filled with indelible stories of real people, Quiet shows how dramatically we undervalue introverts, and how much we lose in doing so.”

Andrew Weil (author of Healthy Aging and Spontaneous Happiness), writes:

“As an introvert often called upon to behave like an introvert, I found the information in this book revealing helpful.  Drawing on neuroscientific research and many case reports, Susan Cain explains the advantages and potentials of introversion and of being quiet in a noisy world.”

Snippets of the book

. . . today we make room for a remarkably narrow range of personality styles.  We’re told that to be great is to be bold, to be happy is to be sociable.  We see ourselves as a nation of extroverts–which means that we’ve lost sight of who we really are.  Depending on which study you consult, one third to one half of Americans are introverts–in other words, one out of every two or three people you know. (Given that the United States is among the most extroverted of nations, the number must be at least as high in other parts of the world.) If you’re not an introvert yourself, you are surely raising, managing, married to, or coupled with one.

If these statistics surprise you, that’s probably because so many people pretend to be extroverts.  Closet introverts pass undetected on playgrounds, in high school locker rooms, and in the corridors of corporate America.

. . . It makes sense that so many introverts hide even from themselves.  We live with a value system that I call the Extrovert Ideal–the omnipresent belief that the ideal self is gregarious, alpha, and comfortable in the spotlight.  The archetypal extrovert prefers action to contemplation, risk-taking to heed-taking, certainty to doubt.  He favors quick decisions, even at the risk of being wrong.  She works well in teams and socializes in groups. We like to think that we value individuality, but all too often we admire one type of individual–the kind who’s comfortable “putting himself out there.”

. . . Introversion–along with its cousins sensitivity, seriousness, and shyness–is not a second-class personality, somewhere between a disappointment and a pathology.

. . . Without introverts, the world would be devoid of:

the theory of gravity
the theory of relativity
W. B. Yeats’s “The Second Coming”
Chopin’s nocturnes
Proust’s In Search of Lost Time
Peter Pan
Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four and Animal Farm
The Cat in the Hat
Charlie Brown
Schindler’s List, E.T., and Close Encounters of the Third Kind
Google
Harry Potter

As the science journalist Winifred Gallagher write: “The glory of the disposition that stops to consider stimuli rather than rushing to engage with them is its long association with intellectual and artistic achievement.”

. . . psychologists tend to agree on several important points: for example, that introverts and extroverts differ in the level of outside stimulation that they need to function well. Introverts feel “just right” with less stimulation, as when they sip wine with a close friend, solve a crossword puzzle, or read a book.  Extroverts enjoy the extra bang that comes from activities like meeting new people, skiing slipper slopes, and cranking up the stereo.

. . . our personalities also shape our social styles.  Extroverts are the people who will add life to your dinner party and laugh generously at your jokes.  They tend to be assertive, dominant, and in great need of company.  Extroverts think out loud and on their feet; they prefer talking to listening, rarely find themselves at a loss for words, and occasionally blurt out things they never meant to say.  They’re comfortable with conflict, but not with solitude.

Introverts, in contrast, may have strong social skills and enjoy parties and business meetings, but after a while wish they were home in their pajamas.  They prefer to devote their social energies to close friends, colleagues, and family.  They listen more than they talk, think before they speak, and often feel as if they express themselves better in writing than in conversation.  They tend to dislike conflict.  Many have a horror of small talk, but enjoy deep discussions.

A few things introverts are not: The word introvert is not a synonym for hermit or misanthrope.  Introverts can be these things, but most are perfectly friendly.  One of the most humane phrases in the English language–“Only connect!”–was written by the distinctly introverted E. M. Forster in a novel exploring the question of how to achieve “human love at its height.”

Nor are introverts necessarily shy.  Shyness is the fear of social disapproval or humiliation, while introversion is a preference for environments that are not overstimulating.

. . . we are all gloriously complex individuals . . .

what we hear

Healing at the Speed of Sound by Don Campbell and Alex Doman is “a powerful and comprehensive [book] that supports what we have long suspected: that sound and music have incredibly powerful effects upon human physiology.” [David Permutter, M.D., F.A.C.N., A.B.I.H.M., author of Power Up Your Brain: The Neuroscience of Enlightenment]

From the book:

Music serves to evoke the prayer, the praise, and the pulse of the known and unknown.  The voice is the tool for invocation, whether it be emotionally provocative or almost silent and contemplative.  The rhythmic imprint of your soul and spirit may not be defined by a clinical study, but it is important for your own testament of inner peace.

. . . The spiritual benefits of music at times of crisis are no doubt clear to anyone who has had access to it.  Scientists have begun to back up this intuitive sense with objective observation.  Lisa M. Gallagher, a music therapist at the Cleveland Clinic’s Harry R. Horvitz Center for Palliative Medicine, demonstrated in a recent study of two hundred patients receiving care for cancer, AIDS, aneurysms, and other conditions that listening to live piano music of the patient’s choice for twenty-five minutes per day “helps” improve mood while decreasing pain, anxiety, depression, and even shortness of breath.”

. . . The emotional high experienced by music makers–as evidenced by increased production of immunoglobulin and pain-killing endorphins–is of crucial importance to those with autoimmune disease, allergies (anaphylaxis), eczema, arthritis (including juvenile rheumatoid arthritis), AIDS or cancer.  . . . “Doctors are finally learning what primitive healers have known for centuries. [Dr. Mitchell L. Gaylor]

our fine feathered friends

 On any given day, up to four hundred billion individual birds may be found flying, soaring, swimming, hopping, or otherwise flitting about the earth. That’s more than fifty birds for every human being, one thousand birds per dog, and at least a half-million birds for every living elephant. … Each of those birds maintains an intricate coat of feathers-from roughly one thousand on a Ruby-throated Hum­mingbird to more than twenty-five thousand for a Tundra Swan.  …

Feathers: The Evolution of a Natural Miracle

by Thor Hanson
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