Thursday, May 23, 2013

Michelle, ma belle

My friend Michelle Cottle recently emailed me that her friend Norman Kelley is raising $10,000 to finish a movie about Charlie Peters, the founding editor of the The Washington Monthly.

What Michelle, a former TWM editor herself, neglected to tell me was that she had just had a bilateral mastectomy.  She only alluded to it by pointing me to one of her links -- what she had written about it:

It catches you, news like this.  It really catches you.

With such hard news, I sent her a link to a Burt Bacharach song.  That may be a laughable statement, but it's true.  Straight out of the Brill Building in Manhattan, Bacharach and his song writing partner Hal David got the 1960s right on the mark and wrote a beautiful lyric when they wrote: "What the world needs now is love sweet love ..."

At the risk of triteness, what Michelle had was not breast cancer, it was courage. Both courage and language.  Language to talk about it.  Courage to endure it.  Courage to share it.

These are words that go together well.

You can hear a wonderful YouTube medley of Bacharach tunes played by Stevie Wonder, Arturo Sandoval, Diana Krall, Lyle Lovett, Sheryl Crow, Shelea and others at a White House ceremony for the Gershwin Prize here:


You also can support Norman Kelley's efforts to record the importance of Charlie Peters and TWM by going to his website where he's running a '100 x 100' campaign to raise the funds.  Both Charlie and TWM are Washington institutions, and for good reason.  Peters is the apostle of a brand of journalism that does not renounce opinions but embraces them.  Foremost among these is the thesis that government can do good and should try.  Its creed seeks neither softness nor toughness per se but honesty and a secular faith that our capacities are to be admired and employed, not denigrated and hamstrung.  His magazine meanwhile has served as a starting point for many of Washington's best writers, editors, and journalists for decades now. 

Friday, May 17, 2013

Friday Grab Bag: Descartes, bodies, carpets, Cleopatra

It's a Friday, and it's been a little while since I've posted and a long while since I've posted a Friday Grab Bag.  After all we've been through, it's spring finally and beautiful in Massachusetts today.  This leads me to think that some random thoughts on random topics with no discernible thread is what people need.  So, here goes.

Friday philosophy (complete with a dead body). Think about this sentence for a minute: "Police confirmed yesterday that the body found floating in the river belonged to Sally Jones, a sophomore at the local community college who had been missing since last Friday."  While this sentence is made-up, it nevertheless could appear in a newspaper article reporting on an ongoing investigation. What's interesting to me is this -- what can it mean for a corpse to "belong" to someone? It makes no sense.  The body is not in my opinion distinguishable from the "self" and furthermore, even if it is, the "self" referred to in the sentence is dead, and therefore no longer able to own anything.  This is a case of Miss Marple meeting Rene Descartes and the offspring not being too pretty. 

Cleopatra dons a disguise. On a completely other note, I was talking to a 7th grader the other day and she was telling me about her project on Cleopatra (queen of ancient Egypt famed in part because of her relationship with Marc Antony and in part by her dramatic demise by an asp).  Of the facts she related to me about Cleopatra's life was this one that I did not know (retold here by me using her emphases):

Long before Marc Antony, Cleopatra was intrigued by Julius Caesar who was in the process of installing himself as the first emperor of Rome.  Cleopatra wanted to meet Caesar but going to Rome overtly would have been a complicated issue politically, so she opted for another method -- clandestinely.  Of course she would travel by ship, but how could she be on the ship without being spotted?  Her answer was to go to Rome rolled up in a carpet, a carpet that would be delivered to Caesar as a gift, and which when unrolled would produce this woman, the queen of Egypt.

A fabulous story, though it is hard to imagine what the travel accommodations were like.

Note: Wikipedia fills out the story wonderfully and dramatically and gives a much more accurate telling of this story, correcting my bad information, such as -- this happened in Alexandria, Egypt not in Rome, and Cleopatra sought Caesar as a trump card in her power struggle with her brother Ptolemy.  The fact that she had Caesar's child 9 months after the "carpet encounter" is an interesting fact too, as is the source of this tale, Plutarch.

Of course there have been many images made of Cleopatra over the centuries, so pivotal is her story to our imaginations.

Here are two separated by 19 centuries:

Cleopatra.  Egypt, ~30BC

Cleopatra meets Julius Caesar.  French, Jean-Leon Gerome, ~1867.