Saturday, April 22, 2017

Who Are the Mennonites?

Great Great Grandfather Jacob (right) and Katharina Garber Kennel (center) and one of the Kennel beauty daughters or granddaughters, in the early 1900s.   Am I really related to you?   

     What do you get if you cross an Amishman with a Korean?  
      No joke, most of my father's ancestors were Mennonites who came from Switzerland, and the border region between France and Germany:  Alsace Lorraine, Rhineland Palatinate and Hesse.  The Mennonites were followers of Menno Simons (1492-1565), a church leader and theologian who is probably one of the most influential persons that you never heard of. My Dad suggests that the Mennoites represetned the left wing of the Protestant Reformation, and perhaps that is so.  
       Menno carried first of all a message of a warm, loving Christianity.  He believed in hard work, humility and avoidance of frills and fads.  I like the title of a book by Horst Gerlach "My Kingdom is Not of This World,"  which is an apt summary of their belief. Don't place your faith in things of this world, Christian, but keep your eyes on the Kingdom beyond this one.  
    The Amish were related to the Mennonites.  They were the followers of Jakob Amman (born 1644 in Switzerland) who among other things introduced more strict rules concerning excommunication and "shunning" (strictly ignoring them, as if they no longer existed) those who were excommunicated. It might be added that prior to the Industrial Revolution, there was less visible difference between the Mennonites and the Amish, as everybody used horses and buggies, but today the Amish stand out for their strict refusal to embrace change. With the Mennonites it's more of a tendency rather than  a strict code.  
    But what really got the Mennonites and Amish into trouble was that they actually believed in Christ as Prince of Peace. Hence they did not carry guns, and they would not serve in the Armed Forces, rejecting the earthly authority of royal rulers.  
This made them a threat to European royalty, and they were systematically persecuted, fined and thrown in jail and were ultimately chased out of Netherlands, and wound up settling in Switzerland and the border region between France and Germany.   They had the reputation of being excellent farmers and hard workers, so the local barons were willing to tolerate them in exchange for having them provide food for the populace.  This was stable for a long time, but eventually the decision was made to leave Europe and travel to America, where they would be alllowed to own the land that they farmed.   Likely, my ancestors came to America in order to be able to continue their Old World traditions.  This put them into conflict with the rapidly changing Americans.
      The elders no doubt preferred for the young generation to follow their practices.  But this was not to be. My great grandfather was named Thomas Jefferson Kennel, a slight hint that the Kennels regarded themselves as Americans by 1870 when he was born.     
    Things came to a head in World War I.  That's the time when both the Augsburgers and the Kennels stopped speaking German.  I'm sure it was no easy decision, but ultimately they decided that they were not going to side with the Kaiser, who was the one who kicked them out of Germany in the first place.  
     Granny Blanche told me she spoke German at home until America entered the war.  At that time her father Henry told the family that they were done speaking German.  The Augsburgers, like the Kennels and many other Mennonite families, would be Americans henceforth. 
      Grandpa Elmer heeded his country's call and joined the Army.  He was made a Medic, probably because of his Mennonite religion, but I'm told that Elmer didn't ask for Conscientious Objector status.  In the next generation my Dad joined the Navy in World War II and I became an Air Force officer.   
      There's an old cliche, "How will you keep them on the farm once they've seen Paris?"  Yeah, that was Gramps. Grandpa told me one time, "I didn't know there was any kind of a job besides farmer before I went in the Army."  He wasn't joking.  He was the first person in the family whose main job was not farming.  I'm sure that was not easy.   He went to college after World War I and met Grandma Blanche...then they moved to Dayton and Gramps got a job at the YMCA on West 3rd Street, and Granny worked at the Department Store which eventually became Rikes. Wow, they were not farmers! 
    Years later his son Byron got some even more crazy ideas and even married a Korean lady, an exchange student from Western Reserve College in Cleveland.  I didn't think about it as a child, but I'm sure that traumatized the family.  There are some wedding pictures that I've seen, and some of the people I can recognize.  There was bridesmaid Lily Rosenbaum, from France, and an African American flower girl, daughter of Julius and Yolanda Lee.  Wow, Byron and Sue were politically inclusive way before it was popular...but I'm not sure how well this went over in a Mennonite family.  
    You know what?  I'm lucky I even exist.  These changes happened as each generation moved further and further away from our Mennonite Amish roots,  but they didn't come easy.  I'm starting to understand that there must have been a lot of soul searching and inner conflict.  
     Today, the Mennonites are not that different from other Christians.  They go to "normal" churches and usually don't adhere to the  strict code used by the Amish.  
    But still, generations later, even though I am far from being an Amishman, maybe I still carry some of the teachings of Menno Simons inside me.  
    I'd like to think of myself as a modern sophisticate, very cross-cultural with friends all over the world,  and all that blah blah blah...but maybe deep down part of me is still Amish. I still tend to be anti-war, much more so that most of my contemporaries.  I believe in working hard.  You won't see me wearing the latest fashions or driving a flashy sports car.   I think I might look good with a straw hat and suspenders.  And maybe I ought to grow a beard.   


Thursday, January 26, 2017

Liberals Being Rope a Doped by President Trump

Donald Trump may have learned a few things from his friend Muhammad Ali.   

      If you want to understand the American political scene, I give you Muhammad Ali and the Rope a Dope. I'm serious, President Donald Trump is roping Liberals like dopes.  Trump is like  Ali, infuriating his opponents with his antics and trash talk.  They  lash out with a flurry of punches and think that they are scoring big.   The crowd goes wild, and the announcers excitedly predict a knockout is coming.   But Ali steps aside, dodges and deflects the power punches until his opponent is worn out.  By the eighth round, his opponent is fatigued, and suddenly Ali nails him with a right hand and he is knocked out.   
       This is exactly what President Trump is doing to his Liberal friends. He says something stupid or factually incorrect, and the Liberals go ballistic.  They denounce him, deplore him, call him stupid and ignorant, and charge forward trying to knock him out with wild punches, but none of this really hurts him.  For example, do you think Congress is going to impeach the President for questioning the election process?   Go ahead and deplore his reasoning, but  it probably helps him with the average Joe who isn't that intellectually deep into the integrity of voting machines anyway.  Then he'll amend his position later on and his opponents will look foolish.  "Well that's not what he said originally," they will cry.  Big deal.   
        You have been roped, you dopes.  
        The President has the power to make his opponents go into conniptions over increasingly minor issues.  This diverts attention from the major issues like the future of Obamacare. 
      It's a great technique, and  the President's opponents just can't resist falling for it time after time after time.  They over-react and over-react every time, and eventually they start knocking themselves out.  

Here's Muhammad Ali's Rope a Dope of George Foreman:

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Will Mr. Trump be able to Complete his Four Year Term?

Mike Pence may not be anyone's ideal President, but he seems to be honest and highly principled.  I believe there is a very good chance he will be our next President.  

      A year ago, I infamously suggested that Donald Trump was more likely to become the next President than Secretary Clinton.   Well, the Village Elliot does not claim to be very bright, but you have to admit that assessment was not so ridiculous  after all.  
    Let me make another prediction, and I sincerely hope that I'm wrong.  But I think that in about three years, there is a very good chance that  Mr. Trump will leave the Presidency.  
    Currently, the Republicans have a majority in the Senate of 52-48.  That means if 19 Republicans vote with the Democrats, they can have a two -thirds majority.  
    I think there is a significant probability that 19  Republican Senators will decide they would rather have Mike Pence as the President, and if so they could impeach the President.
    As I understand it, the House decides to impeach based on a majority vote, and then the Senate needs a 2/3 majority to remove the President from Office.  The grounds for impeachment can include treason and high crimes, but as I understand it, they are not limited to that.  There does not have to be a conviction on a criminal offense. In any case there are all sorts of ethical violations and other problems that could reasonably be used as grounds for impeachment.
    There are a lot of Republicans that do not like Mr. Trump. It's not necessarily his politics that offend Republicans, but the way he seems to be prepared to represent our country that falls short of standards.  If there is one thing we can count on, it is that all 48 Democrats will vote for his removal, and if they are joined by 19 Republicans, then it would behoove Mr. Trump to leave as gracefully as possible.   I believe he will wisely pardon himself and his family in order to return to his normal life as a billionaire tycoon and reality TV star.  He'll turn a handsome profit on the deal, you can be sure.   We will just want him out with as little mess as possible. 

     Then, in 2020, we will repeat the entire process. Hopefully, the American people will have more control over the process than we did in 2016.  

Friday, December 16, 2016

How do we know that the DNC hack was directed by Russian President Putin?

 The US intelligence agencies have asked the American people to trust them, that they know that Russian Federation President Putin personally directed hackers to help Donald Trump defeat Secretary Hillary Clinton in the presidential election.  
    Well, intelligence agencies, I have the greatest respect for your capabilities and your people.   
    But I also know you made serious errors in recommending that the US invade Iraq to stop Saddam Hussein from creating Weapons of Mass Destruction, and we got into a war we really didn't need.  Now President Obama is pledging retalliation.   So pardon me for wanting to ask a few questions before we get into a squabble with the Number 2 superpower in the world, okay?
    First let's be clear.  The most important claim is that President Putin ordered Russian Intelligence Agencies to deliberately release emails that were damaging to Secretary Clinton.
     I know that everybody is hacking everybody. That is not the point.  We know that everyone is hacking everyone else.  Definitely the Russians want to hack out emails, and I'm also quite sure that we have out own hackers trying to get into various email systems around the world.  Everyone does it.  The Chinese, British, French, Germans, not to mention all the independent computer geniuses that hack just because they think it is fun, or the tabloid press that wants to sell news.  I had my credit card hacked last month.  But that doesn't prove that President Putin did it to influence an election.  Everybody hacks, so that is not any kind of great top secret discovery.  
     Certainly the real question should be how many people were hacking the DNC or government agencies.  It would be astonishing if it was only one group.  I would think that 10 different individuals or groups, with varying skill, try their hand at penetrating secure computer networks.  
     You say that the attack on DNC was so brilliantly conceived that (1) only a professional national intelligence agency could have done it, and that (2) permission of President Putin would have to have been required.  
     Now, the actual breech at DNC occurred from fake emails like the one below, designed to scare witless DNC officials into going onto a fake website and revealing their password to the hacker. Then the hacker tried the same password on other email sites, and sure enough some people were dumb enough to use the same password for multiple accounts. That's it?  This phishing email?  That's the thing that is so brilliant that only Russian Intelligence could create it?    

This "phishing attack" was apparently used to get gullible DNC officials to go to a fake gmail site and change their passwords. That' it? Is this really so sophisticated that only President Putin could have ordered it??
It's not relevant whether there were other agencies working on the same problem with more insidious cyber weapons. The point is that the one that succeeded--the one from which all the emails were downloaded to Mr. Julian Assange and Wikileaks to blab tg the world--was pathetically simple.  
I don't think that the Russian SVR would sent all of its hard-earned treasures to Wikileaks.  They usually operate secretly, don't they?  They would like to keep mining the intelligence, rather than informing their victims of what they have so that they can take steps to close the leaks.   I would guess that if the DNC really is so susceptible to phishing attackes, they must have been hacked several times.  Who knows how many hackers around the world have a souvenir from  the Democrats, not to mention government agencies. Just because there is extensive hacking around the world, that does not prove that everyone is united and working for President Putin as their commander.  

The whole idea that Putin then sends his best stuff to Julian Assange to put on his Wikileaks website strikes me as very odd.  Why does he do that? Does Assange command such great power that Putin is actually an employee of Wikileaks?  
   If it was really the Russin intel services, why not just send a bunch of anonymous emails to the major news outlets?  

In fact, I would guess that the SVR has an even larger stash of emails that they are not telling about, and probably several agencies around the world have stashes of stuff collected from Americans who use sloppy practices.   It's not that they try to collect information.  We knew that.  It's not that hacking is anything new or that it has never worked before.

The issue is that President Putin supposedly ordered his intelligence agencies to turn over its stash to Wikileaks, and that he was trying to change the outcome of the election to favor Donald Trump,  It is not not not important that lots of people are hacking each other with some degree of success and varying levels of sophisitication.  And there is NO reason to suspect that only one entity was hacking the DNC.
The "evidence" cited by the press is that a lot of intelligence professionals believe it.   But that's not evidence, it just means that it is plausible. A lot of people also believed that the President has no birth certificate, but that doesn't make it true.  I wouldn't be shy about confronting Russia, but I would want hard evidence before betting into a confrontation with Russia. Someone's gut feel is not enought.

Yes, President Putin doesn't like Secretary Clinton.  Well, imagine that.  But a  lot of people don't like her.  Proof that he hates her guts is not proof that he was attempting to manipulate the American election.

Yes, President-elect Trump is a witless dolt who insults the intelligence agencies.  That doesn't mean he's wrong in this case.

Yes the hackers concentrated on Secretary Clinton and the Democrats instead of 50-50 between the Democrats and Republicans.  But so did American tabloids and fake news outlets.  Rightly or wrongly, there was a huge market for false news about our former Secretary this year.  So that's not enough.

Yes the Republicans probably deserve to be the subject of conspiracy theories, after having made up so many whoppers about President Obama.  But that is not enough reason to want to pick a fight with Russia.

A hacker named Guccifer 2.0 claimed to have been the one to hack Secretary Clinton and that he sent the emails to Julian Assange to use against Secretary Clinton.

American intellience tells me not to believe that, that Guccifer 2.0 must be a cover for a huge intelligence agency, like the Russian SVR.  Okay, but can we say that there are no individual hackers out there who can create phishing attacks?  Nobody who would want to sell or give information to Wikileaks?  That only one agency at a time hacks the DNC?  Is that something they do to make it simpler for intel analysts?

Well, I've asked a lot of questions.  I hope they are the right ones.  And maybe the agencies have some great answers.  I hope so.  But I think if we are going to be led into a new cold war, I want to make very sure that he have not misunderstood a tense situation.


Sunday, November 27, 2016

Breakfast at Tiffany's Returns to the Silver Screen

Hi, I'm Audrey Hepburn, and I dare you to not fall in love with me!

Breakfast at Tiffany's appeared on the big screen this Sunday November 27.  My Mom was a big fan of Audrey's, and I had never seen Audrey Hepburn on the big screen before. Somehow it is more special to see the movie stars in a larger-than-life setting as it was originally intended in 1961.  

I love this movie simply because of Audrey Hepburn.  She succeeds in winning my heart (and evidently much of America's) despite the relatively blah supporting cast and a script that lacked believability and authenticity.  

The movie is based on a novella by the great Truman Capote.  But based on the commentary offered by Turner Classic Movies as well as my own internet research, Capote was not happy with many aspects of the film.  For one, he wanted Marilyn Monroe to be Holly rather than Audrey Hepburn.  Actually, I totally agree with Truman that Audrey was completely miscast in this role!  Audrey could never
make herself believable as an American Southerner affecting an English accent.  No, we know darn well that Audrey Hepburn is English, English, English and there is no possibility that she could convince us of anything else.  Yet somehow it all worked amazingly well. 

Speaking of miscasting, according to the commentary, everyone later regretted having Mickey Rooney embarrass himself in a pathetic attempt to lampoon a Japanese landlord.  He was terrible, and apparently Truman was against it from the beginning, and director Blake Edwards and Rooney himself regretted the entire concept, rightly so. 

I hadn't seen the movie for many years and then it was on TV.   It was kind of fun to have the song "Moon River" rejuvenated and made fresh.  I had remembered it as a song for "old fogeys" and it was surprising to hear it as a new song. 

It was interesting to me that I had forgotten most of the squabbles that Holly and Paul Varjak (George Peppard) had. I mainly latched on to the positive, fun memories of parties and romance and forgot about most of the pain and humiliations that they faced.  It made me think of my own foibles over the years and times when I acted selfishly or  like a dope.  Truth to tell, I would rather forget about those as well.  But for many of us, that is part of being young too. 

Similarly, I had remembered the ending of the movie happening over what seemed like a very long time, but seeing it anew, it went by in a flash.  I couldn't believe the movie was over so quickly. 

Without Audrey Hepburn, Breakfast at Tiffany's is simply a Hollywood cliche, the "boy meets girl"  movie. 

Ultimately, Breakfast at Tiffany's is a movie about falling in love, one of the most profound experiences that we can ever have in life.   Audrey Hepburn made us experience that feeling and that is why it is a classic film.

I don't see it as anything  like a perfect movie.  If anything, it is an amazingly imperfect movie which somehow, inexplicably triumphed and turned out to be a masterpiece despite all of the errors that were made. Perhaps that in itself is a metaphor for life.  

 How wonderful would it be to live in New York and be young and attractive and in love?  The magic of film allows us to experience it.   

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Saving ISIS--Senator McCain to the Rescue

  I am surprised and disappointed that Senator John McCain, among others, is seeking to breathe new life into former Secretary Hillary Clinton's initiative to save ISIS from military defeat in Syria. 

    I realize that Senator McCain would object vehemently to my using the term "ISIS" to describe the rebels in Syria.  Indeed, both Democrats and Republicans have sought to be "poliltically correct."  They ask us to NOT to say "Radical Islam" nor "Islamic Terrorists" nor ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria), nor ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant). In fact I heard somebody from the State Department chide the Trump Administration for not knowing the that there is no Islamic State presence in Syria. Instead, they should be referred to as "civilians."  So, Russia and the Syrian government are attacking "civilians" in Syria, not ISIS.

     Okay, so what DO we call the people with rocket launchers and guns who are shooting government forces. How about "The Assholes Formerly Known As Terrorists (TAFKAT)? Like the musician Prince, they are ultra-particular about what they are called, but we all know who is being spoken of.      

      Years ago, the Obama administration decided that it was in America's best interest that a Sunni government emerge to take the place of President Assad's Shiite regime in Syria.   This is not totally irrational since Sunnis are a majority in Syria.  President Obama famously proclaimed "Assad Must Go!" abandoning all pretenses of  neutrality.  But ISIS engaged in poor public relations by chopping off the heads of its hostages, making it impossible for the West to support them. 
     Hence the plan became to defeat ISIS with some third power, but not supporting Assad. The pretense is that there were viable Sunni groups that enjoyed popular support that could supplant the leadership of ISIS. 

    Senator McCain is incensed that President Elect Trump plans to work with Russia to whale on ISIS.  Instead, he longs for ISIS (actually TAFKAT)  to be saved so that they can present a unified alliance against Russia. This is actually an amplified version of the same idea presented by President Obama and former Secretary Clinton.

McCain has basically embraced the Clinton doctrine of supporting Sunni groups hoping for a buffer against Russian and the Syrian government.

    My challenge to my friends, is that if indeed there is a group worth of our support and worth directing our military to kill for, can you name one person that we are helping? Who is that just, pro-American leader that we are bringing forward as our ally?   If you can not name one person fitting that description, it seems to me that the US should have no business supporting any one of these groups or creating a pro-American government in Syria.  We should not indulge the Cold War fantasy and hope to oppose Russia with a pro-American Sunni Islamic fundamentalist government in Syria.  If we must face the unfortunate truth, none of the groups in Syria is our ally. I'm not sure that we have a vested interest in promoting either the Shiite or Sunni side in the Syrian Civil War. However, saving ISIS, or one of its re-named successors, is one of the dumbest ideas in modern history.  To date hundreds of thousands have died in Syria during the Obama Administration's term, and the thought of prolonging that by seeking to defeat the Syrian Government and picking a confrontation with Russia is the worst idea yet.  There is nobody in Syria worth expending one American life for.  

Dr. Strange is Entertaining and Original

  Dr. Strange was interesting, entertaining and original.   Like most Marvel movies, they were willing to take some chances and eschew trite formulas from the past.
    I knew Dr. Strange mainly from reading a reprint of the original story, but never got into it that much.  Magic characters from Harry Potter on down are kind of flawed because nobody really knows what their powers are.  Here's how it works.  The good guy uses his spell to stop a bad magician.

     "Oh yeah?  Well let's see how you handle my BAD GUY SPELL!  Aluminium Recyclum!  Bwahaha!"

     "Hoho!  Too bad for you that I have an even more powerful GOOD GUY SPELL!  Sanctimonium barfitosis!" 

     ...and so on.  After a point we need a commentator to come in and tell as whether the good magician has won or lost.  It is hard to create suspense because the spell powers are so poorly defined that we just can't get excited by any threat they may pose because there is always a potential antidote spell.   

      At any rate, the movie tells the story of Dr. Strange's strange journey from being an arrogant but talented surgeon, to losing his ability due to a horrific car wreck, and his search for meaning in mystery religions in Asia.   In the comics, Dr. Strange was actually a psychedelic hippie, even before the Beatles found Guru Maharishi Yogi.  At any rate, in this movie he is able to find self help gurus beyond compare at a mysterious temple in Tibet. 

    Dr. Strange loves parallel universes.   Suffice it to say that the rules for parallel universes are as complicated as Einstein's theory of Relativity and the NFL rule book.  So you really can't figure out how all this works, you just have to wait for one of the characters to explain in more simple terms what is going on. 

    I like that in Marvel movies the characters are not one sided.  It's hard to know whether they are evil or good, or indeed whether they are capable of knowing the difference or making a choice.  We can't even be totally sure that Dr Strange is a good guy. Maybe he's not. 

     Can evil magic be used for good?  Or is it always evil, and if so, why?  What makes it evil. These are things that Dr Strange has to ask, with his genius for scholarship and his affinity for magic.  His senior fellow sorcerers and teachers also struggle to achieve a balance between good and evil. On that level, the characters are very believable.  

Dr. Strange is an arrogant me-first, ugly American visiting  a temple.  Of course when he says something stupid, as hke usually does,  the senior people like the Ancient One, pictured above, are going to kick his ass till he learns. Sometimes he gets kicked totally out of the known universe. 

How does it end?  Well, my child, of course I can not tell you that.  You shall have to view the movie yourself, and make your own judgment.  May blessings be upon you.