In Tenebris

December 11, 2020

Co-authored by Billy Bussell Thompson

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In memoriam José Galdino: my father.

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ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

I share with the reader my utmost sincere gratitude to Bill Bussell Thompson, PhD in Linguistics, Professor Emeritus at Hofstra University, who has been a lifelong mentor, editor, and closest friend. I also express my deep appreciation for the nuance of sensitive and perceptive editing contributed by both, my perspicacious sister Bonnie Morín, playwright, producer and director of the Madrid Method Workshop in Spain (https://www.metodomadrid.es/), and by her daughter, the talented niece Natalia Velarde (@nix.conbotas), graphic artist and author. I also give thanks for a much awaited reunion with her other daughter, the unequaled niece Camila Velarde, Lic. in philosophy and choreography. Last, I thank my dear husband David Lowenberger, whom I consider to be the most influential in every aspect of my life. Their perception and wisdom served as inspiration and guide for the realization of this short story.

Ricardo F. Morin T., 21 February 2021

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PREFACE:

Choking On One’s Own Saliva

My father once said how dismal his life would be were his identity lost to the orthodoxy of religion. It was no coincidence that, in reaction to the pieties of five generations, my father was to become a criminologist. For most of his life, he thought that the traditional stories about complementary retribution, binary belief in reward and condemnation, were fantasies, harmless until they became radicalized as replacements for inquiry. As a young man he based his own doctoral dissertation on such principles. Unfortunately, those convictions he deemed delusional were ultimately his own at the end of his life.

I think that, except for the instigation of violence through the search for meaning and its attachment to fiction, whether the violence arises from retribution or self-preservation, a person has no reason to become fearful or destructive. The only remedy to violence is knowing the difference between fantasy and reality.

As I reflected on my own father’s contradictions, I remembered what he had told me when I was a child, that lying was a survival skill. It enabled a person to hide himself in secrecy, not necessarily out of moral incompetence. It arose either from charity or from the fear of being judged. For him lying was part of becoming a competent adult. It was a way to hide imperfections and vulnerabilities. However, if sincerity or honesty were to threaten my father’s survival, it would be because he wanted rather to invent a story instead of looking into his ignorance and diminished understanding of his own importance. Was it natural for him to hide behind lies, or was it his own hubris? Perhaps he was choking on his own saliva during his entire life. He suffered from the delusion that he could avoid truth, or that he could control not facing up to it. Was this a fear of loosing control? Was that a reason why he could not find self-understanding? The mystery was centered not in his self-questioning, but in his fictionalizing his own life, no differently from our borebearers.

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Gangs of West Harlem

1

The Process

For the third time I was serving on jury duty. As on previous occasions, I introduced myself as a visual artist during the voir dire. This time the defense lawyer inquired if I was a portraitist. I reasoned to myself the question was intended to probe the degrees of observation a painter aspired to. I replied that my interest as a visual artist was in the conceptual processes of abstract art, no different from that of a portraitist or any other representational painter, seeking to observe and interpret the essence of a subject. What I chose to represent through abstraction or conception was just as concrete as that of a sitter for a portraitist.

2

The Rules

The trial concerned the murder of a fourteen-year-old boy, and I was selected juror number 12. Previously, I served on civil cases. In civil cases, the preponderance of the evidence is the determining principle. In a criminal trial, the ruling principle is the measure of reasonable doubt. The rules were cautionary and aimed to avoid bias on the part of the jury. In their deliberations jurors were to concentrate on the evidence presented and not on background. Also jurors were not to share information with other people outside of their own forum. I did not know how my participation in a murder trial would affect me. The day after the trial began, juror number 11 was replaced by an alternate.

Testimonies lasted 17 days. During that time our electronic devices, cell phones, laptops, and tablets were allowed. On the 18th day, when jury’s deliberations started, these devices were taken away from us. Before this, we had been permitted to speak on matters not related to the trial. We were a diverse group and had very little in common. During court hearings, we had been allowed to take notes while we sat in the jury box. After the days’ proceedings, our note pads were left on our respective seats. When deliberations began, we could take our pads back and forth between the jury box and the jury room. Only then, were we able to study our notes and refer to our observations. Only then, could we begin to talk about the case with each other.

3

The Jurors

The foreman of the jury was an office manager, who felt comfortable in his role as moderator. His communication skills were excellent; even when he disagreed, his manner never expressed condescension. Some jurors were reticent and never voiced a judgment one way or the other. The youngest member of the jury did not find the witness of the crime unreliable. Other jurors were open minded. A teacher remained calm throughout; she listened to others before expressing her own views. Another juror was impatient about the length of the trial. She complained that she had a toddler to care for at home. Aside from myself, there were two other retirees, one of whom was a corporate lawyer, who reminded us of the distinction between civil and criminal cases. Reasonable doubt existed in varying degrees for every member of the jury, save for the youngest one.

4

The Defendant

The defense lawyer had her client plead the fifth amendment. The accused gazed solicitously, with a kind of clawing eagerness. He looked seven years younger in his freshly starched white shirt and tie. His hair was a cropped Afro, and he had across his upper lip a straight mustache. His dress was conceived obviously to attest to his wholesomeness. Since the time of the murder, he has been a detainee at Rikers Island. Sitting barely 30 feet away from the jury, the accused bore a grin across his face whenever he looked towards the jurors. Some members of the jury interpreted his countenance as gloating. Others saw his expression as self pity or abjection, even an attempt at winning us over. His grin, a kind of twisted grimace, was unflappable and even disturbing to us. By the end, however, we dismissed our apprehensions. It was impossible to know whether the accused was remorseful or just trying to beguile us. More important, was the question of consistency. If doubt was to play a part in the case, it had to arise from the evidence. Key was whether the accused was a lone assailant or whether there might have been others involved. Certainty had to come from the assessment of facts, and not be based on appearances.

5

The Prosecution

The prosecution charged the defendant with “first degree” murder. This implied premeditation with malice aforethought. The prosecution added two other charges: murder in the “second degree,” suggesting lack of premeditation. The third charge was for felony murder: death caused during the commission of a felony using an illegal weapon and with extreme indifference to human life. Rendering judgment on these charges rested on intent. Each member of the jury would have to reach an approximation of the truth, and no other reasonable explanation could explain the evidence presented at the trial. The verdict, of course, would have to be unanimous. Proof of the direct involvement of the accused was paramount. The evidence had to show the accused had committed the crime. Was the victim’s death the result of self-defense or was it deliberate? The question before the jury was whether there were circumstances outside the control of the accused. How did his instincts and fears come into play with his own actions. Could the jurors differentiate all of these aspects?

6

Testimonies

I

July’s weather was overbearingly hot. The air conditioning in the jury room was old and as inefficient as it was in the court room; the jury room was even more stifling than the courtroom, particularly between the long intervals of each day’s proceedings. The room was barely large enough for the long table and its 12 uncomfortable chairs. In this tight space it was almost impossible for the jurors to walk around, to go to the water-fountain, or even to the single restroom available. Lunch breaks were much appreciated. On the few days when there was a breeze, we could open the windows, but had to put up with street noise. In the court room, no such liberties were permitted

II

By the third week of the proceedings, the judge began standing with his arms folded against his hips. With a baffled face, he would turn around and stand behind his chair, his black robe half unfurled, and his necktie loosened. At times, he assumed what seemed to be a meditative expression with both arms folded over the back of the chair. Other times, he supported himself with one of his elbows over the back of the chair. One of his hands was placed against his chin, giving him a certain look of abandon. For me, this informality broke up the monotony of the case, as if it were helping him stay awake, and mollified the stultifying heat.

III

The aspects of this case had been under investigation for seven years. We, the jurors, were astonished at the lack of cohesion to the accusations. The statements by the witnesses in no way corresponded to the arguments made by the prosecutor. In fact, the prosecution’s case was stale. One wondered if there was any justification for this trial. The only merit to the case seemingly was using the authority of a jury trial to render a verdict, either for exoneration or conviction.

IV

According to testimony given by the police, the crime resulted from two rival gangs. The gang members’ ages ranged from 12 to 40. The defendant’s lawyer provided their pictures to the jury. The pictures showed them in expensive clothing. Both groups seemed to be showing off, as if they were the source of the neighborhood’s pride. Each group had its own hand signs as mottoes. According to the police, on the night of the murder the two gangs fought over their territory for the peddling of drugs. The defendant became the prime suspect two years into the investigation. According to one of the detectives, the defendant sought to intimidate younger members of the opposing gang, as a means of establishing his own authority over them. The defendant’s motive was said to be an attempt to sooth his own anger for being “dissed.” The jury found these to be speculative. For us the only facts credible were those of the struggle between them.

V

The first eyewitness, aged 13 years at the time of the murder, was the centerpin of the prosecution’s defense. He had been a closed friend of the victim, and his proximity to the deed made him valuable. During the course of several days of testimony, two officers escorted him in dressed in an orange jumpsuit, both hands and ankles shackled. They removed only his handcuffs when he sat down on the stand. From the defendant’s attorney, we learned that he had been in custody for two years on a different murder charge. The defendant’s attorney asked him: Are you here today in exchange for lenience for the indictment you face? He thrust his arms and shoulders forward. His answers seemed evasive while the prosecution objected. The question was withdrawn, but the jury would not forget it. His hand partly covered his face, especially his eyes and nose. His head shifted from side to side. He pointed to the defendant, rubbed his chin, and accused him of being the killer. Yet, his deportment was indiscernible and seemed manipulative. Obviously he had not seen from where the bullet had come. His allegations sounded implausible, as if they had been rehearsed. He had an air of entitlement, exuding hatred. During the prosecution’s examination, he revealed his conversion to Islam, and stated he had become a better person by the teachings of the Prophet. For the jury, however, his demeanor was that of an unrepentant malefactor. His lack of doubt hinted at a life of crime, without a sense of any morality.

VI

The prosecutor’s second witness spoke softly, yet his testimony seemed tentative. By his own account, he had been at the edges of the riotous horde. A circle had formed around the hooded individual and the victim. When questioned by the defense, he hesitated before admitting having seeing another armed buddy. But at the end, he relented. He recalled that other gang members had shot into the sky. He acknowledged that other guns had been used, thus accounting for multiple shells found by the police. The bullet, however, that pierced the victim’s heart was a mystery. The jury was at a loss as to what had gone on. Was it retaliation? Was it the shooter egging on accomplices? No answer was forthcoming, neither from this witness nor from the previous one.

VII

Even though, the defense attorney tried to unravel the credibility of the prosecutor’s two eyewitnesses, she tripped over her own words. Not unnoticed was her assertion that the gunman might have carried a gun inside the pocket of his hoodie. Since no one had yet claimed to having seen him draw a gun, her attention to this matter seemed out of place. Was she trying to negate the hooded man’s innocence, while at the same time admitting to her client’s involvement? Jurors never understood her purpose, since the identity of the person in the hood had never been made clear. For the defendant her digression was inconsequential. But not for the jury because it augmented our doubts. Nevertheless, the defense attorney rebutted the evidence gathered by the police.

VIII

On the night of the murder, a pedestrian called the neighborhood foot patrol’s attention to a commotion on the street. The patrol did nothing until the police arrived in their cars and found the body of some one killed. The crowd around the victim had already dispersed and none of the neighbors willingly spoke of what they had seen. The jury was dismayed that the arrest warrant was issued two years after the event. The defense lawyer emphasized that, in the course of those two years, any witnesses’ recollection surely must have faded. She argued: “… just to be pointing a finger at an alleged culprit, out of a desire to seek closure, should not be deemed evidentiary in and of itself.”

7

The Evidence

We asked to see the video evidence before and after the shooting. Witnesses had stated that the defendant on the night of the murder had gone to a tenement looking for a gun, which was shared by all members of his gang. There were two cameras, both of which had restrictive angles of vision. The video was grainy: the product of low resolution security cameras. There was no sound and the imagery was choppy. The lobby camera showed someone descending the stairs to exit, wearing a baseball cap underneath a hoodie. Only his lips and chin were visible. The jury’s dilemma was how to identify the person. The woman with the child at home emphasized “…those features could have been any member of either gang.”

The crime took placed at midnight. There was no traffic and the street was poorly lighted. For a second time, we examined the tape from the outside camera. We concentrated on the footage just before the shooting. It was murky and it showed the person in the hoodie stepping outside the building. The victim’s back was visible and his friend was behind him. There were several flashes of gun fire with one of them coming from next to the victim. A person in the hoodie faced the camera wielding a gun.

Ballistic evidence showed that the trajectory of the bullet came from a short distance before it entered the body of the victim. Maybe the shot came from the position of the hooded man but this was only a guess. More importantly, no guns were ever recovered and we still did not know who the gunman was. In summary, the testimonies, the analysis, and the written accounts were all useless to us.

8

The Community

Jurors were in agreement that the accounts given by the two gangs and the community were not to be trusted. The two gangs lived in two adjacent blocks. Drug infested, the community had become their victim. Solidarity showed itself as hostility. Assault not only on the street but at home was rife. Mothers, brothers and, sisters commonly were attacked. The death rate was high, which in and of itself was evidence that this community was sowing the seeds of its own destruction. Teenagers commonly stole and murdered. Only the rare adolescent was exempt. No social program could help. We, as jurors, were we only agents of retribution?

9

Blindness

From the first days of deliberation, jurors were uncertain if the accused had taken any part at all. On our fourth day, the young woman who had been most adamant about the guilt of the accused began to waver. Most jurors still thought him to be innocent, but four remained unconvinced. The more jurors accepted their own limitations, the more difficult it became to form an opinion. The phrase blind justice turned piercingly poignant.

10

Unanimity

The majority argued with the four hold outs. Tensions rose with the thermometer. The heat of the midday, the humidity, and the noise from the street became increasingly unbearable. With the windows closed, we turned on the anemic air conditioner and became more fearful than ever of not measuring up to the task. Our disagreements put us on edge and were nerve racking. Slowly we moved towards common ground. One by one, concessions were made. By the time of the third vote, the foreman hesitantly voted against conviction. There were still three jurors holding strongly for conviction. We gave ourselves a minute of silence before voting again. The decision was unanimous innocent. Surprisingly, had we presented a wrongful conviction, or had we derailed the case?

11

Announcing the Verdict

Jurors summoned the guard and handed him a yellow manila envelope with the verdict. After we had returned to the court room, the judge polled us individually. Indelibly imprinted on us was the murdered child’s mother’s face. From the start she had sat alone on the back left corner of the court room. Her sorrow contrasted sharply with the defendant’s family. I felt wary of these families’ reactions. I was deflated, even felt inadequate, indeed insignificant. Knowledge here was slippery.

An uproar reigned in the courtroom. The cries of the murdered child’s mother collided with the joy of the defendant’s family. Repeatedly, the judge admonished the room to be silent. He closed by thanking the jurors for their service, who were in a state of shock. Were we right or were we wrong?, I asked myself.

12

The Randomness of Truth

Chance dominated the jury’s participation. I recalled with fear my father’s imperative about hiding behind fiction as an instrument of self reliance.

The jury broke up. The judge stared at us with a smile as we climbed down to the exit. We walked to where we had deliberated and collected our belongings. We moved to an elevator at the opposite end of the court house. Below, the family of the acquitted man awaited us and, as we approached, they shouted their deafening thanks. The corruption was now complete.

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Epilogue

Ended the theater of misalliance, jurors, the lawyers, and witnesses became actors in the absurd. Our verdict was uncertain: Lost of life and life was foremost. Society seems predetermined: Advantage and disadvantage are in confrontation. What a role do abandonment and darkness play in the human condition?, I pondered. It just seems as if indifference inflicts itself onto destiny.

Ricardo F Morín T

Cape Cod 2009

September 9, 2009

IMG_0009

On a bright sunny day with temperatures in the mid 70’s, we rambled through the trails surrounding a delta-like Long Pond, after which came the much larger adjoining Mashpee and Wakeby Ponds, first in the morning sun, before lunch, and then in the cooler afternoon from 3 o’clock. On the shores, we saw men and women with their pets at water-play.

The clearing views, unforgettable in the midst of the surrounding forests, were bathed by sun light. They blended verdant patterns rivaling those of timid Gothic structures made by man’s effort to imitate nature. Emerald moss-covered roots stepped up into translucent tunnels where we were led by random colonnades buttressing airy canopies. Freshly aromatic air filled to the exhilaration of the errant heart through gullies and groves; in peace with the rhythm of my accompanying soul.

Robert Serra and Paramilitaries

February 29, 2020

Reality is always much more complex than fiction. According to official statements and multiple observers, the emblem of the Venezuelan Socialist State, young legislator Robert Serra, was killed by the same minors, who were part of the civilian paramilitaries called “colectivos,” whom he sexually exploited. It should not surprise us that his acerbic and cunning way of expressing himself as a politician, representative of Chavism, was parallel to his intimate life as a sadomasochist: Another manifestation of the moral and political terpitude that reigns in Venezuela.

For the past 20 years, these “colectivo” paramilitaries, have been carrying scot free the function of murdering, and inflicting fear in a wide wave of criminal activity, while armed and protected by the Venezuelan de facto regime of Nicolas Maduro. The Colectivos assume the role of defenders of “revolutionary freedoms” by enforcing the justice of gangsterism in a tyrannical state of anarchy. At the same time Maduro’s dictatorship attempts to dissociate from its own creation, its relationship with these groups, by creating false accusations against Colectivos and elevating Robert Serra as a revolutionary martyr. The Colectivos in turn threaten to join a coup d’etat against the Maduro’s government, which for the general population’s misfortune may not lead any where.

Let us be clear that gangsterism and the defense of freedom cannot coexist in solidarity, and that a socialist revolution supported by gangsters is any thing but a revolution.

The Chavista propaganda aims to propagate the idea that the hunger experienced by the Chavista followers, be colectivos or the likes of Robert Serra is not caused by the ineptitude of their leadership, that the current economic collapse of Venezuela is in fact the result of something other than the ineptitude of its governance. The threats carried by gangsters such as Robert Serra as well as Colectivos are aligned as one and the same terror of the dictatorship. They are intended at suppressing freedom to dissent against Maduro’s regime while maintaining a populist tyrannical government, centralized in a paternalistic false economy: like the retrograde and barbaric conditions of Russia today. The real war of the Russian legacy is the hunger war imposed by its own rulers (as in the history of Cuba, Romania, and now in Venezuela) monopolizing national resources to keep their ruling in power on a permanent basis.

Venezuelan nationals cannot accept the muzzle of fear imposed by terror. It is easier for the Castros, Putins and Maduros of the world to incite hatred of an enemy other than themselves to obfuscate and misinform, with imaginary answers, which fail to respond to the state of shame and confusion promoted by them, mired as they are in a grotesque ambition for power.

Astrological Nonsense

February 19, 2020

Our perception of a changing reality is limited by our own finitude, by our limited ability to differentiate our perception of what is perceived. Is it possible to presume the meaning of destiny, when we interpret the changing flow of the universe, particularly by denying being outside our own perception of events? The changes that take place in nature can only be perceived as changes or opportunities for us to learn how our limited knowledge exists in any case; which cannot be entirely conclusive—certainly not to predict the future. Our capacity for story telling thrives in a false sense of reality: A quest for meaning where there is none; one sees reality only as a reflection of our own aspirations. We delude ourselves with the harmful effects inflicted by conditioning, however intense convictions may be.

So much has been written about debunking astrology (Astromancy) [*] throughout the ages, that it may seem absurd for some quarters to still discuss its validity today, albeit astrology continues being in business with a great following throughout the world. And yet astrology´s presuppositions simply amount to a placebo, and like any belief system, it lends itself as a profitable instrument for deception, not too distant from the way grafters of obscurantism aim to acquire confidence from the credulous suffering of human beings. Some astrologers would go as far as pretending that science is obliged to bear the burden of proving that Astrology is not a science, even if the burden falls on Astrology itself. 

Only those reluctant to face their own limitations are subordinate to the endeavors of stagnant knowledge. Ever since the Age of Reason, astrology is not an acceptable discipline, certainly not equal to the field of any scientific research. Astrology may purport to be rational, because it uses certain astronomical data in its particular arrangement of celestial bodies. It may claim as well the use of probing tools, to establish the relationship of the planets in astral charts, while providing a superficial and simplistic generalization about the sidereal movement of the planets: Adding to incongruence with its oblivion to recently astronomical findings (new planets such as Ceres and Haumea; as well as Pluto no longer cutting the status of a planet), astrology admittedly has no where to go but to dismantle its traditions. Practitioners of astrology can only generate expectations about future events pondered via divinatory exercises, which are based on a determination of fictitious archetypes, and the framework of a fictitious methodology, invalid as scientific evidence.

Astrological credence aligns with the trends of climate change deniers and anti-evolutionists. They all have in common archaic and superstitious literature. In such opposition to science, a profitable market is increased fomenting political and religious sectarianism, besides deeply rooted mental illnesses.

From its origins, Astrology followed the accumulation of mythologies propagated throughout Indo-European cultures, approximately since the third millennium BC: an evolution that spread throughout India, China, the Western Hemisphere and the Middle East. Theology and liturgical rituals that encompassed prescriptive and divinatory complexities of the world of antiquity, then converged on the creation of astral charts during the time of the Babylonians. These modalities came from a social and cultural legacy when myth acted as a tool of governance according to how the Oracle and priests perceived the influences of the stars and planets over their lives. The life of an individual was thus conceived by how the interpretation of his destiny depended on such astral influences. A dualistic iconography of “positive and negative attributes, strengths and weaknesses” was thus recreated: The notion that an individual was mentally and circumstantially affected by fate, traced, as it were, by the influence of the planets. Inevitably, tribal as was the human mind of antiquity, the meaning given to the planets also misrepresented a philosophy based on prejudice towards certain associated signs, as well as a kind of favoritism and deference towards other planetary signs, which was a reflection of its own mythological hierarchy. This kind of ideation contributed to the euthanasia of descendants born under an evil sign. Superstition also extended on the ground of other phobias such as siderophobias or kosmikophobias: fears based on cultural beliefs of ancestral origins, such as signs with angelic or demonic properties, and many other forms of esotericism on adverse relationships at the level of macrocosm or microcosm—interpretations and obscurantisms that have remained persistent from the Middle Ages to the present day.

With the evolution of science, after the seventeenth century, astrology could not be subject to the same rules and hermeneutics of scientific research. Astrology and astronomy collided without any relative congruence. Astronomy, the study of objects and phenomena originating beyond the Earth’s atmosphere, became a widely studied science and academic discipline. Whereas, astrology’s use of the apparent positions of celestial objects—as the basis for the prediction of future events—, remained a form of divination, without scientific validity.

Astrology is an entertainment trade, which profits from the gullibility of its clientele. Random game entertainment, sleight of hand and magic come to perform much more honorable functions than the practice of divinatory astrology. Astrologers stubbornly cling to obsolescence over the centuries, in detriment of the individual’s conscience and freedom of thought: In fact, by paying homage to the superstition of all ages, astrological traditions have contributed for millennia to the vices of mankind.

Destiny does not belong to a system, since life is always in motion, always regenerating and transforming. Systematizing life, therefore, is to force it by denying its vital qualities. Pure reason cannot understand destiny, nor can its antithesis, which is pure feeling, never understand it. Compassion would be perhaps the most intelligent requirement for the understanding of destiny and life, while mere superstition will always be weak and useless.

TIMELESS CITATIONS ON ASTROLOGY:

The stars never lie, but the astrologers do lie about the stars

HOMER, The Iliad

This is the excellent foppery of the world, that when we are sick in fortune (often the surfeits of our own behaviour) we make guilty of our disasters the sun, the moon, and stars: as if we were villains on necessity; fools by heavenly compulsion; knaves, thieves, and treacherous by spherical predominance; drunkards, liars, and adulterers by an enforced obedience of planetary influence; and all that we are evil in, by a divine thrusting on. An admirable evasion of whoremaster man, to lay his goatish disposition on the charge of a star!

WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE, King Lear

Superstition is to religion what astrology is to astronomy: the mad daughter of a wise mother.

VOLTAIRE

Astrology is like any other superstition: It has no power unless people allow it to direct their lives.

BILL MYERS, “The Haunting”

The boats that brought Puritanism, Quakerism, Catholicism, Judaism and Islam — all the old world religions — [to America] brought astrology and magic as well.

JON BUTLER, “Astrology is an Age-Old American Fascination”, New York Times, December 22, 2015

Astrology is like religion itself, in a very equivocal state. There is a well-grounded reason for belief that it is a truth; but it is impossible for any man to read the details with accuracy. The quackery of astrology lies, like Pharisaical religion, in overt pretensions.

JAMES ELISHAMA SMITH, The Coming Man

“In the ancient and medieval world, the exploration of physical influences among heavenly bodies, and between the heavenly bodies and objects on earth, was generally called ‘astrology.’ But we must not confuse this with the current socially acceptable form of bigotry that seems to entitle the human beings who believe in it to prejudge the character of others based solely on their dates of birth.”

ROBERT P CREASE, The Great Equations: Breakthroughs in Science from Pythagoras to Heisenberg

If people were a little more ignorant, astrology would flourish; and if a little more enlightened, religion would perish.

ROBERT GREEN INGERSOLL

A New York Celebration

May 12, 2014

A New York Celebration

In the random course of events of our social lives, I wonder what is the import from or to our personal identities. Perhaps we are influenced by each other: I think that it may be not so much by the significance of our individual thoughts but by the quality of our rapport. However, I cannot help being either swept away or struck down by the randomness of it all.

R.F.M.-12/05/14

After the Marriage Defense Act was ruled unconstitutional in June 2013, our friends John and Ted proceeded to celebrate their wedding in a small private ceremony shortly thereafter at their Washington-DC’s residence. They had been living together for over 16 years, almost as long as David and I have been together. It was such a sudden decision, that John and Ted had not being able to include their closest friends and relatives from New York City and elsewhere; so they prepared a special dinner celebration to commemorate their wedding at the Lotos Club, located at 5 East 66th Street in New York City. John, who is a published author and Ted, who is a musicologist, have been members of the Lotos Club for some time.

The Lotos Club, one of the oldest literary clubs in the United States, was founded on March 15, 1870, by a group of young writers, journalists and critics. The Club was named, “tongue in cheek,” for the dilettantism exhibited by the Lotos eaters of the Odyssey. From its inception, its mission has been to promote and develop the arts and humanities, and to that end to provide a place of assembly for the learned professions and other persons interested in their objectives, effort and work.

John and Ted’s guests included Ted’s older brother who is a financial adviser, his wife who is an accomplished English illustrator of flora and fauna, a church organist, a developer for a music foundation, two well known actors, one retired and another still active in his seventies, and an architect. Now, allow me to share the exchange of ideas that took place:

During toast and hors d’oeuvre I spoke to John about the letter I had received from President Barack Obama and I then expressed my understanding of what may be an attempt to protect strategies by the people of Venezuela, which could soon reverse the crisis. I also spoke to the actor Greg Callahan about his recent film premiere called “Default”. Then in the Georgian-styled dinning room, among the closest ones to me, I heard long drawn conversations, filled with cynical beliefs, about ineffective education and the imperative of the new generations to confront themselves with other countries by increasing their earning power. And then the questions about the next presidential elections, regarding the fact that power seems concentrated between two families: the Bushes and the Clintons. Up until this point, I listened everyone quietly until I managed enough courage to speak up with frankness, in an attempt to clarify some of the issues being discussed. On one occasion I suggested that Elizabeth Warren was a suitable opponent for the presidency, though it may be difficult for her to enter into a national arena at this time. I also suggested that eventually a Latino could arise in future horizons. I referred to someone of the stature of Senator Robert Menendez, and rejected the idea that Ted Cruz could ever be an alternative because, although he was widely supported, he was born in Canada.  As they continued bantering about illegal immigrants, I also rebuked the idea that Hispanics were in any way foreign to the United States. I reminded everyone that Hispanics had been around a century before the English had arrived in this continent. Then the conversation shifted to illegal immigrants, in a rather self-righteous tone, when I argued that without the Mexican and Central American labor force, legal or not, this country could not function. At any rate, the conversations were filled with banalities and the content was rather conventional. Everyone was most affable, and I felt even more out of place.Before departing that evening, attention was brought to the fact that the current location of the Lotos Club was used since 1947 and that the beautiful building it occupies on East 66th Street, in a French-Cartouche Style, had been built in 1900, commissioned by a New York socialite as a wedding gift for her daughter.

RFM 05/12/14

Celestial Paradise

May 9, 2014

 

 

 

 

Ulysses comes to know it as the land of the sirens, which, during the Middle Ages, becomes a great maritime empire. It is located at the foot of giant Monte Cerreto, where the Duchy of Amalfi would come to take refuge for a time, as if in the chrysalis of ancestral muses. The tragedy of the Duchess of Malfi by John Webster, as well as the Realism of Henrik Ibsen and the Gesamtkunstwerk of a vilifying Richard Wagner would have echoed the fate of this mythic caryatid of pleasure over the Gulf of Salerno. Among the cliffs, the movements of thundering sources dance to the rhythm of the Swallowtail beyond the less venerable Crusades, cloisters or monasteries, exhaling the barbaric metamorphosis of so many tribes. Although now, from walking in the genesis of time, a restless gaze profiles the beguiling essence from “La Dolce Vita”.

 

 

Excavated from a promontory on the edge of a precipice, between the villages of Cetara and Vietri, providing anchovies in oil and colored ceramics, there is our beautifully tiled Inn called Cetus. In the cacophonous colors of the rainbow and arising from the eternal compass, its rowing regattas zigzag along the sea coast, driven up from the south to the north-west from the Tyrrhenian Sea to the Ligurian Sea.

 

 

In its surroundings, the river Canneto runs through the valley of the mills whispering ballads of the Renaissance to the famous paper bambagina. As if to recoil from our step, the fjords sag under a bright sky, caressed by the thin mist of cool winds. We hear the hum of the bees and the penetrating aroma of the Aetna’s sfusato; and from the limoncello one squeezes gently the intoxicating magma. The peninsular bowels spit the flavor and fragrance of its dashing fruits. So intense the Amalfi Republic sows the lava within the turquoise water and the cliffs that have walled it.

 

 

We sing the Falalella in the shadows of the twilight. And then there we float on the glow off the coast of Salerno, Sorrento, Positano and Ravello, which are washed with fresh drizzle. With the ebb and flow of life, the reddened clouds look at themselves in the mirror of calm waters, trailing the bay of Salerno. Amalfi, Comune of Salerno, is framed by the Region of Campania where the shrines of Herculaneum and Paestum were erected majestically . And from the ashes to the texture of mythological times, archaeological expeditions of Pompeii of the eighteenth century exhume, among many findings, paintings from antiquity which illustrate the Roman Cycle of Mysteries as well as the conquests by Alexander the Great.

 

 

The touch of ancient hands still reverberated in the movement of our senses. Sweet was the image in the vernal sun, which would bounce from ravine to ravine, teetering from staircase to staircase down to the ancestral jetty. We anchored near the dock from where the large galleys used to be dispatched. As they once did, we are now scattered, leaving behind the vision of a sirens’ paradise.

 

 

Ricardo Morin 04/20/14

 

Letter of Support from President Barack Obama

May 8, 2014
White House Letter received on May 7th, 2014 via my personal e-mail address

NYC, May 7 2014

Honorable President Barack Obama:

Thank you for your kind and generous response. What is not being said in your response is that the United States has major economic commitments which impede to intervene in Venezuela, that in effect, if the United States were to remove a dictator who is illegitimate to boot, it would render all American contracts null and void, thus aggravating an already compromised American economy.

An American dependency on oil is the basis for this dilemma and its unwanted consequences. Yet a country like Venezuela who is in a state of chaos may not be able to meet either the American demands nor that of their own people. Ultimately, the American economic security as well as the stability of the region may depend on America being more assertive in some form of intervention.

Sincerely Yours,

Ricardo F Morin

Sublime Pearl of the Adriatic

April 27, 2014
 Hail to the Ducal Palace by the 'vedutista', symbol of Venice, Antonio Canaletto 1697-1768,
Hail to the Ducal Palace by the ‘vedutista’, symbol of Venice, Antonio Canaletto 1697-1768,

 

Before visiting the Republic of Venice, I took from memory that the Florentine Américo Vespucci had baptized my country as Little Venice. While Venice was built on a delta in the lagoon of Veneta at the edge of the Adriatic Sea, Venezuela was a parallel universe, on Lake Maracaibo at the edge of the Caribbean Sea, where native huts rested precariously on piles driven in the mud of deep waters. Unlike Vespucci’s surprise and associations between Venice and Venezuela, to my mind Venice had already been extremely romanticized and idealized before I actually saw her. I knew her through pictorial illustrations, unique paintings by Giovanni Antonio Canaletto and Francesco Guardi, through the majestic engravings of Antiquity by Giovanni Piranesi and the fantastic panoramic views of the English painter William Turner. In sum, I knew her through so many artistic and poetic accolades: from the echo of Thomas Mann, Nietzsche, Goethe; as Venice had been exalted by Poe as Eliseo of the oceans; by Dickens as Queen of the seas; by Herzen as madness product of genius; by Mann as half snare, half fable; as the reverie of a mirage in a lagoon, an otherworldly fantasy, the improbable city of the dramatist Carlo Goldoni, through the eyes of her beloved ones, by those who watched her through the passage of centuries with such ardor, and despite all the environmental challenges of our times. I now see Venice holds its charm precisely in its own fragility. Venice is so undoubtedly incomparable. Just consider the testimony of its great monuments, ancient bridges and canals, 400 and 180 respectively, invested by the magic of great perseverance and talent, which makes it logically to have been able to receive the deservedly noble title of La Serenissima.

As a painter , my great interest was to see at close range, and with a magnifying view, the soft sweet colors of oil paintings by Antonio Vivarini , Pisanello , Giovanni Bellini, Vittore Carpaccio, Jacopo Basano , Tiziano Vecelli, Palma il Vecchio, Jacopo il Furioso Tintoretto, Lorenzo Lotto, Paolo Veronese, and Giambattista Tiepolo–just to mention a few of the great among painters of Venice. There is nothing equal to the handling of paint, to the manipulation and alchemy of colors by the classic Venetian school, in its bittersweet characteristic spectrum that deepens the atmosphere and so generously suffuses the human form as no other painting school has been able to do. Its elegance and richness are intangible: one’s enjoyment is unmatched. Everything in Venice speaks of a passionate and unique ancestral character. Similarly, so does its palatial architecture with a combination of various styles: the Byzantine , Muslim , Gothic, Palladian.  The latter  is denominated by the surname of the world famous Venetian architect Andrea Palladio (a Renaissance polyglot, translator of the canons of Greek and Roman antiquity) who disseminated this style throughout Europe: a legacy extended into the Neoclassical times of the 19th and 20th century.  And then, there is the exuberant style of the baroque as represented by Baldassare Longhena. Among so many things to talk about in such a short time, between such an abundance of exultation, there is still no way to do justice to Venice.Because of the physical limitations of my mother, we went to Venice for only three days; a visit that was supposed to be light. We stayed at the beautiful Hotel Amadeus , within walking distance of the train station Santa Lucia from which we planned to continue on our way to Rome. The Hotel’s privileged location in the center of Venice, made it unique:  close to the Grand Canal, and a short walk to the major attractions of the Jewish Quarter, the Venice Casino, the Rialto Bridge and the Piazza San Marco. The autumn season had fewer tourists, and many young people still enjoyed the outdoors, its many bridges, or socializing in large squares. On one occasion, we had a snack at the elegant Café Florian (open since the eighteenth century in the Piazza San Marco). Here, we were accompanied by the beautiful sound of an outdoors symphony orchestra. It was also the most expensive snack we had ever had, yet it was worth it, a truly unforgettable experience. Then we walked through the streets and labyrinthine alleyways to admire the intimate spaces and lush façades. We also had time to go by ‘vaporetto’ to the Venice Biennial: The 48th International Art Exhibition (1999) in the Giardini di Castello, located at the eastern part of the city, with a capacity of 88 pavilions, including the Pavilion of Venezuela. At the end, before our departure from Rome to Venezuela, while we waited, my mother asked for me to stand next to her; we faced a mirrored wall, and she said: this way we will always remember each other.

In Defense of Poetry:

April 27, 2014

Dante (detail), Domenico di Michelino, Florence 1465 Dante (detail), Domenico di Michelino, Florence 1465

Can our thoughts ever express absolute truths, or are they always just an approximation to reality?

 

In his dialogues of The Republic (circa 380 BCE), Plato (428-348 BCE) defined the value of didactic literature, especially the theological and rhetoric values, while, at the same time, citing that “there is an old quarrel between philosophy and poetry” (Republic, Book V, 607b5–6).

By the very use of metaphors, Plato’s Socratic-dialectic purported that poetry could only be a camouflage1; which suppressed the truth of our reality; therefore, poetry was incapable of conveying divine truths. This interpretation extended to the European Greco-Roman traditions and persisted dichotomous in contrast with the development of Medieval-religious literature of the West—paradoxically despite the dominant embeddedness of religious symbolism. It was from the thirteenth and fourteen centuries that the great Italian thinkers Dante Alighieri (1265-1321), Francesco Petrarca (1304-1374) and Giovanni Boccaccio (1313-1375) initiated a humanizing conception of the world.  They identified themselves with a synthesis of Platonic philosophy by which metaphors in poetry were by now affirmed in positive terms.  Although they were always moved by the legacy from antiquity; they were also interested in developing new literary trends that could tear away from tradition. This epoch became known as the Renaissance2: The beginning of the era of modern literature through the metaphysical exaltation of poetry.

In De vulgari eloquentia (circa 1302), Dante Alighieri prepared an analysis of all styles and linguistic registers; but ultimately, he came close only to addressing the tragic or sublime style.  This work focused on the work of the Sicilian School and on the theme of love by the Stilnoviste.  Dante recognizes that poetry could also convey divine truth, that is, that besides being pleasant, the allegorical expression of human passions could be useful–speaking in didactic terms.

Francesco Petrarca also in La Carta X, 4 de Le Familiari (1349) addressed the question of allegory as an interpretative key to the poetry of the Middle Ages; for it established the use of allegory as the main similarity between the theological and poetic styles.  In this regard, in his view, the origin of poetry was found in a special use of language to appeal to the divine.

Then, alongside a biographical attention paid to the poet Dante, Giovanni Boccaccio also established a rigorous defense of poetry. As he put himself in an interpretative tradition of sacred as well as secular texts, he pursued in them a second level of significance.

In his plea for poetry, Boccaccio acknowledged the service it provided by exalting its powers. His treatise in Latin entitled Genealogiae deorum gentilium libri–completed in 1360, and edited until his death in 1374–, was a kind of handbook for poets and readers of poetry, relevant for transmitting classical mythology from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance.  His singular defense of poetry was based on different principles; its universality, its antiquity, the respect that it had always aroused among the powerful, its divine origin away from earthly matters, etc . . ., were synthesized in the idea that poetry attracted three essential aspects: truth, beauty and fictionalization. Moreover, the discipline, study and work of the poet which provided indispensable conditions for literary creativity did not hinder a divine origin, or the revelation of that which was sublime. Boccaccio attempted thus to show that when interpreting allegorically secular texts, these were capable to reflect a moral as well as religious truth.

R.F.M. – New York City, April 27, 2014


1 Note: The term "camouflage"--the masking of nature--,which is used in The Republic, Books II, III and X by Plato (circa 380 BCE), differs from the term "mimesis" of the Greek mimēsis--in a laudable sense of imitation--which is not use until 1550.

2 Wikipedia: 'The Renaissance' is a French word coined by French historian Jules Michelet and disseminated by the Swiss historian Jacob Burckhardt in the 19th century. This name has been used historically in contrast to 'the Dark Ages', the term coined by Petrarca to refer to what we now call 'the Middle Ages.'

What is a good sense?

January 19, 2014

One good phrase which can be used to define the concept of “a good sense” is certainly “the ability to act with wisdom,” or the result of an insightful and elaborate reasoning

Contrary to a good sense, a common sense often times condones the most farfetched ideas as if they were acceptable norms or rules of behavior. And so it is that ordinary men and women with a common sense seem nonchalantly to hold views resulting from a purely stereotypical nature. It may seem tempting to agree with such a habit which would reinforce a judgement bias as well as a sense of separateness. Thus, people would relate to each other as if they were mirrored images or the result of a collective phenomenon, rather than as they really are individually.

Although reductive, these preconceptions of preference may also seem practical if they would contain differences between civilizations and cultures in order to establish boundaries. Consequently, conditioned by such beliefs, ordinary men and women will hardly restrain themselves from a myriad preconceived notions rather than looking for qualities in people as they really are individually. And so, they would prefer to attach themselves onto a system derived from forms of inequality.

For example, with the mere comparison between any Latin and any Anglo-Saxon civilization, one implies and manifests such differences as if they were isolated worlds, i.e. for example, Italians are like ‘that’ while Americans are otherwise. The human condition is hence transformed into collective classifications that are dependent upon physical aspects or historical attainments. Thereby, we reason the systematization of superficially external qualities such as what would be Hellenized, Latinized, Anglicized, Slavicized, Africanized, Sanskritized or Brahmanized, Sinologized, Pacificized or even Aboriginalized, o Indigenized, etc., etc. … Fundamentally, we are speaking in terms of a type of reactionary and traditionalist sectarianism—banal and insular–instead of a common ground beyond linguistic and cultural differences: A common basis of interdependence, not on the ground of habits, appearances or absolutism, but in fact the product of a mind open to examination, inasmuch our “reality has no true resting place” to paraphrase Jiddu Krishnamurti’s teachings.

Prayers to a Tyrant

January 14, 2014

Thank heavens! It will be enough if our determination to overcome great obstacles is possible, without letting us be intimidated by the huge challenge that lies ahead. God willing! It can be that our misery may be drowned by the courage to observe it as it is. Let it not be ignored! It seems that in meeting our fears, perhaps fear itself has weakened our resolve, if it were not for an order that has to prevail, notwithstanding any ignominy.

God, let it not be said that, at any time, we have surrendered into servitude. A tyrant can not prevail as long as he does not do what he wants, while rotting in his decay. As far as we know, one’s defeat can only be the result of one’s own blindness. May God help you and hold you to annul the cruelty of your own heart. Let’s keep it among ourselves! Do not be ashamed that we support your repentance. It is just a pity that you do not realize your life is cruel, and that you do not have the interest, passion, intensity, flame, to find an order to it all.

Let it be known that we are all responsible: You are just a reflection of our collective feebleness. I say this, so that you may understand. Can we accept any responsibility if we sink into our own barbarity, our somnolence? No one can be dissociated from this possibility, without the courage of facing oneself. Every day and every moment, we lose our identity as human beings owing to our indifference. Let it not be so! Is it possible that we have hated you? It should be enough for us to wish to proffer the compassion that you have denied us.

Before it is too late, we urge you: All one can do is to see the total disorder that is inside and outside of oneself. Observe it! One could see this disorder all at once, and it may be the only thing that matters, that is to say: to observe all instantly without contradiction. When one sees the danger of disorder, there is instant action, which is the total negation of all the culture that has led to it, which is within oneself. It is easy for it to be true. Well, it shall be true, unless you sink into the lethargy of indolence.

New York City, 01/14/2014

Ricardo Morin, Yale University, MFA ’83


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