July 20, 2021 by Jerry Kurtz
How I Belatedly Learned Right & LeftOne day, maybe a month ago, I noticed that my new socks came with letters. Letters from the alphabet. Well, only two letters, actually. One of them I at first believed to be a symbol for the corner of something — the kind of thing you see on your screen when you carelessly press a wrong key on a remote part of the keyboard. But then on the partner sock there was a different symbol — not a symbol but really an “R” — the letter “R”! At once I deduced that the symbol on the first sock was an “L.” In this way “They” were telling me that, you guessed it, one sock was designed to be worn on one particular foot, the other on the remaining foot. “Whew,” I congratulated myself, I’d done a good morning’s work. But how did I even know the difference between a right sock — or a right lane or turn, or right hand — and its left counterpart? How did I know which hand was my right hand? Wasn’t I supposed to know which was left and which right by feel? But didn’t this, for some unexplained reason, have something-or-other to do
August 19, 2020 by Jerry Kurtz
Is Trump a Murderer — or Just a Killer?The Trial of Donald the Imbecile For many it can be hard to pin down and fully characterize his behavior to any one thing. Would it be fair to say that he alternates between criminally incompetent and just outright malicious? It’s hard for me to understand — I’m truly puzzled — why people are so hesitant to call him a Murderer. As though calling him that were improperly harsh; as if he first needed to kill another hundred thousand individuals. Something must be confusing people. Does he seem somehow cute, so ridiculous and so out-of-touch with the world — as if we were talking about a chipmunk. I mean, you don’t bring a chipmunk to trial… On the other hand, his idiotic tweets and his latest deranged executive orders create confusion and chaotic non-understanding — like a natural disinformation machine. Can we bring such a creature-machine to trial? Let’s give him the benefit of the doubt and try him like a human being — responsible for his actions. (Many have called him, incorrectly, a dog.) Pre-Trial Introduction. That being agreed [i.e., that Trump should face trial as a human being], to me it seems like much of his tweeting and chatter is designed,
March 26, 2019 by Jerry Kurtz
How Leo Szilárd got me in trouble but it drove me to probably save the worldMaybe because I was noticing that people I knew have achieved something important — some of them — while others reach the end of their alive-time without… Or at least without my knowing of such accomplishments… Maybe because of this I was searching for something important I might have done. Could be, say, it was invading the offices of the most popular TV station in Baltimore, and getting them to send a crew to film the twelve antiwar students who, one-by-one, denounced President Nixon’s Christmas bombing of Hanoi and Haiphong. Or it could be something dramatic on the community level: organizing what proved to be an interracial sit-in of 65 individuals that carried on till 3 a.m. — rain notwithstanding; resulting in my firing being reversed and my evil boss being himself fired. Okay, so, actions that I’m proud of, but do they qualify? Are they truly important in the Grand Scheme? Well, I remembered I once had a 5-page résumé so I must have done something world-changing — even if I don’t remember with any precision what that thing I’d done might have been… But it turns out, oddly enough, that I might have in fact saved the world.
July 24, 2018 by Jerry Kurtz
Tirade Against: Wrong Amount of GlobalizationWhat would Italian food be without the possibility of a tomato? A question not to be asked. Or what about a steak — for those of you still eating them, or half-converted to Paleo — without a mashed potato? Or Chilli Crab without the chili pepper? Or, say, your morning without its cup of French Roast coffee? Well, if you lived in Europe before around 1500, these items were unknown, or maybe found only in mysterious rumors. To begin to make them known and ultimately available to a significant fraction of the European public required voyages of exploration, especially to the New World. Or, for the Ottoman Turks, to Yemen for coffee beans. And for the people in China unconsciously waiting to get their knives on the hot peppers that originated in Mexico, and to learn to cook with them, they had to wait for Portuguese and Arab traders. And much more recently – over, say, the past 15-20 years — what about the sudden improvement in British and Swiss cuisine? Likely this is a result of diversity and rising sophistication and worldwide standards of taste. So wouldn’t these appear to be benefits of globalization? Ah, but not so fast!
December 12, 2017 by Jerry Kurtz
My Glacier HolidaysIt was 1957 when I first laid feet on the Athabasca Glacier in the Columbia Icefields near Jasper, Alberta. I was with my parents and my grandmother, 70 years old. We and twenty others went out on what was called a “snowmobile”: It had skis on the front so it could slide on the surface of the ice, and on the snow that had accumulated on top. It was July — summer, as my 13-year-old brain insisted. That was an eye-opener for me, and an experience that burst past the gates of memory with the brilliance of fireworks. Forty-nine summers later no grandmother, mother or father was still drawing breath. But my wife was alive, and we were making a trip across Canada. We’d got off the train at Jasper, rented a car, and spent a couple of expensive nights based at Lake Louise, about the most beautiful place I’d ever seen. Then we drove north, returning to the train. En route we found where the glacier lived — but it was unrecognizable. Less than a human lifetime had passed, but our glacier had aged along with us. Our poor glacier began a mile farther away… Did that mean
June 13, 2017 by Jerry Kurtz
Victory Day–Against Passports & so-called Secret PoliceSomehow we’d lost our passports the afternoon before. Frantically we’d searched for the embroidered little Chinese purse that held them — I’d given it to Hannah just ahead of the trip — which had suddenly gone missing from her wrist. We’d combed every section of pavement and scraggly patch of grass — everywhere that we’d walked, sat or talked over the previous hours. But we might have done better if we’d been less panicky and stood stock still… We had as yet no idea, much less a clear one, what we’d need to do to continue our trip, or even to get home from there; this was 1985, a Cold War year, and we were located deep within the Other. We had hopes, which some encouraged, that a good citizen might find our passports and pass them along to the police to return to us. Others, more cynical, imagined the passports were worth real money and would be used to move another person across a frontier like in the movies, or maybe transport valuable contraband. You know, “smuggling.” But meanwhile, the next day was May 9th, Victory Day throughout the USSR. And it was the fortieth anniversary of that historic
August 5, 2016 by Jerry Kurtz
Tirade Against Useless InformationMy mother loved to say I was a ‘Recessory for Useless Information.’ Presumably she believed information intrinsically had — or needed to have — utility, and that a lot of mine didn’t. But isn’t it true that no information is in fact entirely useless? Doesn’t so-called basic research in science yield the most important results and breakthroughs? I think even my mother conceded this, under duress. And how about that movie, the Academy Award-winning Slumdog Millionaire? Didn’t a few bits of information come in awfully handy?
May 10, 2016 by Jerry Kurtz
Childhood Fights: A Secret HistoryBack in the dark bunk after Vertigo, Alan, wavy blonde hair slicked back like the ‘hood’ he was trying to be (it was 1958), opened his big switchblade and stuck it in my arm saying, “You keep away from Iris, understand?” I nodded (I suppose), sleepily, as people will with certain kinds of threats, and partly grasped that what he was saying was no doubt important to know for my health. But what I remembered best was that the knife didn’t go in. It must have been too dull. To be sure I felt I was not in an ideal bargaining position. But that position was moot a few days later when
January 12, 2016 by Jerry Kurtz
When I’m No Longer in the Living World(An Anti-Tirade) What will it be like? A slightly colder place, albeit only infinitesimally. There will be others who come along; but no one with exactly my sort of humor to entertain them and offer them insight. No one with a certain love and generosity that helped sustain some. No one with the exact same grasping selfishness that few seemed to recognize but that in any case helped to drive me. There would be a small loss of liveliness, as though the laughter and excitement in the cafés that delighted me were dimmed a tiny notch and the chairs were empty a few minutes earlier. A few people would be sad. Maybe too the world will be slightly calmer, less frantic, its schedules less packed with stuff, with things I wanted to do or learn, papers I intended to read over but mostly never got to. But to speak truly, I think the world will be very largely the same. Wouldn’t it be arrogant and “grandiose,” as Barbara1 might say, to expect otherwise?
August 25, 2015 by Jerry Kurtz