Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The three Es

I was browsing the bookshelves the other day. I have a reader who is a fan of boigraphies, so I was on the 2nd floor, checking for something she'd like. I was stunned by a strange little juxtapositioon: three books, cheek by jowl, cover to cover: Eichmann, Einstein, and Eisenhower.

What a collection! One who changed the world by his deep understanding of the cosmos: he summarised it into E=MC2. Every now and then I dig out the book entitled "The Biography of E=MC2" and read it. It's a solid four hour read, and for an instant - no more than 10 seconds - I actually understand the formula. If anything could be likened to knowing the mind of god, then actually understanding E=MC2 would be it.

Using Eistein's equation, a terrible weapon was developed, and Eisenhower authorised its use. The arguments about the morality of the weapon's use are great and varied, and far better minds than mine disagree on the morality of the Atomic Bomb. The citizens of Hiroshima and Nagasaki will / should never forget it. The world should never forget it.

Just as the world should never forget the third member of this trio: Eichman. This is the person who is the embodiment of the truism that there is no need for Satan in our mythology: man can do perfect evil without recourse to any supernatural being.

Three men, contemporaries. One who saw the beauty of the cosmos, one who was driven to use the astonishing power of creation in the most destructive fashion, and one who was, quite simply, evil.

Side by side, on my library shelves.

Listening to: Art Garfunkel, "Angel Clare".

Reading: Still with the Lancaster book.

Word of the Day: Jo. I've never figured out whether my friend Jo is a concept, or a work of art. I hope I come to some sort of understanding before my brain turns to Pea Soup.

RATS continues.

“She wouldn’t be the first, Grampa.”
“Dunno as I likes it this year, though. Setting it off when we’re at war and everything. Seems to me that shooting off a cannon’s not right. There are boys dying over there.”
The old man was the town’s only Quaker. Actually, he wasn’t too sure about his Friendly status: his was a Society of one in Northridge, but he stuck to the teachings he’d learnt as a lad, seventy and more years ago. He studied his Bible, his work-roughened fingers scratching across the onion-skin paper as he followed the words. Of late, though, the old man had found reading by the light from candle and oil-lamp difficult, so Arthur had taken the book and read out loud. Coincidentally, the declaration of war had been made within a day of reading the Sermon on the Mount, and the conversation between the two men had been spirited, culminating in both admitting they had no understanding of the biblical passage at all, and quite possibly never would.
But there had been no debate about the most important question: the rightness or otherwise of the war. Both men, young and old, put their faces against the very notion of warfare, and that, they said, was that.
Of course, nothing is ever quite that easy, and further questions had arisen in the nearly three months since the declaration of war in Europe. Already, the idea of conscription was being raised in Wellington, but it seemed that it wouldn’t be adopted as policy for a long while yet: the army was having trouble coping with the number of volunteers that had come boiling out of the small nation’s hinterlands. From boys as young as 14 to men in their 50s, they had come to the Recruiting Offices in their scores, and the Sergeants had a richness of choice. Many had been turned away as being too young or too old. Other had been rejected for medical reasons; short-sightedness, flat feet, rickets. One plucky youngster had made it through the first intake before it was discovered he had a wooden leg.
“If you think setting off the mortar’s a bad idea, Grampa, you should tell her.”
“And feel the edge of her tongue? Not bloody likely, boy.”
They enjoyed an easy relationship, strengthened by mutual respect and love. Their conversation was often punctuated by long periods of silence, as each allowed the other time to formulate and hone their thoughts. The old man’s devotion to the younger man was fierce, but he was equally hard on Arthur, especially if he made a weak argument in the matter before them. Often, either one would act as the devil’s advocate, taking a contrary position simply in order to thoroughly thrash ideas out. The talk around the blast furnace wasn’t the rough men's talk out-of-towners may have expected, for the old man was a disciple of Socrates, and kept a well-thumbed copy of Plato’s “Republic” on the small table beside his easy chair. On any given evening it was a toss-up as to what book he’d pick up first: Plato, or the Bible. Discussions on any given subject could and would ricochet around the workshop for days, often culminating inboth men admitting they'd need to consult with either their own library, or the small thousand-volume public library Old Man Smith, Jayne Francis, and Whetu Ngamoki from down the pa had established at the back of the General Store.
The mortar thumped for the fourth time that evening, and Arthur cleared his throat and asked “Exactly what is a Callithumpian, Grampa?”
“A Callithumpian, boy, is – well, a Callithumpian is –“
“You don’t know, do you?” Arthur grinned, his teeth white in the gloaming.
“No, but I do suspect that it has an awful lot to do with making loud noises, and drinking beer and whisky.” The old man scratched his chin, and continued. “That’s what I think, anyway.”
“Sounds fair. An English thing?”
“American, I believe.”

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