Aug 14, 2018

Why I like Fifth Century Thinkers like Socrates and Confucius


Confucius and Socrates Represent a Renaissance of Thought
I was trained to begin with Socrates. But what about Confucius standing next to Socrates? Confucius was Socrates’s contemporary. "They probably never met," you say. A Queens taxi cab driver told me their meeting was possible – how could there have been such a confluence of ideas in both East and West without either Socrates or Confucius never having met? The fifth century before the birth of Jesus of Nazareth was a renaissance of thought. It was a time of emerging thought, of dynamic ideas that would forever change the course of human history.

To begin with the story of Socrates is to ask the question of how philosophical thought emerged among us mere mortals. I go to Socrates for two reasons – one is shallow and the other personal. The shallow reason is his placement in the conventional timeline of history first. The second reason is personal I like Socrates. Or, at least I like the characterization of Socrates that has been passed down through the historical record. And I have spent time with him through Plato's Socratic dialogues (through which we know of Socrates at all) more than any other fifth-century thinker.

There is a debate milling about among academics about the historical Socrates. Did Plato invent him? He never wrote anything down on paper so was he really just a fictional mouthpiece? To know the historical Socrates removed from Plato is probably impossible. But is it the historical truth that is paramount here? I was never much interested in that debate but it is interesting to think of some of the incidental details that have been attributed to him. Socrates was the son of a stonecutter. He spent most of his life milling about the wide open spaces of Athens, discussing high concepts with the youth of the upper crust. Socrates was presumably not a handsome fellow; he had bug-eyes, was short and pudgy  at least that is how he is portrayed in the plays written about him during his lifetime. Socrates comes off as the opposite of the ideal Greek figure of beauty and was satirized as a dunce with a white cap or as an insufferable navel-gazer  which has become the stereotypical image of the philosopher  a useless nag.

In 399 B.C.E., when Plato was about twenty-eight years old, Socrates was put on trial by his own Athenian comrades. The charge: corrupting the youth and creating his own gods. According to history, Socrates was put to death by what today would be called lethal injection. He was forced to drink the poison hemlock.

For me, Socrates represents the start of something worth investigating. My gut says Socrates was not compelled to write down what he thought because he was always wandering, going from the busy agora in the city center of Ancient Athens, to the open spaces outside the city walls. Socrates was in his element discussing abstract concepts with young people who themselves were on their own journey their own quest for truth. Not that Socrates abhorred writing but rather maybe he figured it was more fun to toss around ideas, trace ephemeral ideas in the sand with his finger, travel to the port and to the marketplace arousing curiosity. Socrates liked the attention. And he was charismatic.

Perhaps we think of the intellectual hunched over a book. Socrates was out and about claiming he knew nothing (which we know was a ruse). At his trial, Socrates famously is quoted as saying "the unexamined life is not worth living." He also talked a lot about perplexing others because he was utterly perplexed himself. I like that humility even if it comes from someone who was most likely a genius of his generation. It is perhaps my favorite quote from the annals of philosophical, pithy sayings.

Image Source: Writing Endeavor

Aug 10, 2018

What does the Great Wall of China Have in Common with Supermarket Swivel Chairs at Checkout?

Guard Tower, Great Wall, Simitai, China © 2017
When I was sitting at this sentry gate at the Great Wall last Summer with our school group - I first thought about the many soldiers who had to man their posts at these gates. Then I thought about swivel chairs (which I will explain in a bit).

The wall is dotted with guard towers like this one in the Simitai portion of the Great Wall north of Beijing. How did the soldiers get up here - what was the supply line like when they had to stand guard and maybe were hungry? How many men or women had to stand guard here? What whispers were spoken? What tragedy was befallen?

I am also sad that Airbnb canceled its prize of a night at the Great Wall. It was a thing and now it's not.

I am then reminded of today's workers who have to endure jobs where you stand in one place for like eight hours. It boggles the mind that in the United States grocery store clerks have to stand at their posts. Wouldn't it be a great idea if we gave workers at our grocery stores sleek work chairs that swivel? 

In Belgian supermarkets, clerks use ergonomic swivel chairs.

Aug 2, 2018

Short Time Lapse Video of the Garbage Train that Runs from Bushwick to Virginia



A CSX garbage train rolls underneath 41st Avenue in the Elmhurst neighborhood of Queens. Waste collected by New York City's Department of Sanitation is picked up by the train in Bushwick, then it wends its way through Middle Village, then into Elmhurst and in Astoria, it crosses the Hell’s Gate bridge where CSX takes that trash to Virginia - the home of cheaper cigarettes.

Jul 31, 2018

Today is Harry Potter's 38th Birthday

Harry Potter turns 38 years old today (and yes, I am keeping up with the birthday of a fictional character). Also, it's J.K. Rowling's 53rd birthday. If you don't know what I am talking about, then you can pick up a copy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone and start reading.


Greig Roselli Wears a Harry Potter themed Halloween Costume on Halloween in New Orleans, Louisiana
In 2008, I dressed up as Harry Potter

Our lives have run parallel, Harry. When you were 11, you were on your way to Hogwarts School of Magic and Wizardry. I was in Sixth Grade set for middle school in Louisiana. At 38, you were a husband with three kids and slightly depressed working for the Ministry of Magic. At 38, I was gay and single, working as a High School English Language teacher.


Where do our storylines lead us now? Will J.K. Rowling write stories about a forty-something Harry Potter? Has the world had its full of Harry Potter and his wizarding world?

Jul 30, 2018

Three Observations from People Watching on a Recent Trip to Washington, D.C.

*** Two women from Nanjing ask me how to find the track in Penn Station for their Amtrak train to D.C. The women are surprised I know how to say "Hello" in Mandarin. Coincidentally, I am boarding the same train, so I help them out. *** Two deaf teenagers have an in-depth conversation in sign language at the Gallery Place-Chinatown Metrorail station. Their signing is rapid-fire, and they apparently have a lot to talk about. I feel happy for the two of them. *** Two would-be customers in the food court at Penn Station at 10:15 in the morning are slightly miffed that KFC and Pizza Hut aren't open yet. *** When I board the train at the Anacostia Metrorail station, I notice two five-year-old kids seated side-by-side on the train. One of them wears a charcoal gray t-shirt that says: "Cheer up, Dude."

***

In the East Hall of Union Station, waiting for a friend, I watch two professional photographers take photographs of the station. I am inspired to take my own. Creativity is contagious.


A mural of a Centaur killing a stag in the East Hall at Washington D.C.'s Union Station
A centaur aims his bow at a fleeing stag



***

I slightly embarrass my friend in public by shouting out exuberantly - "Hey, miss you!" - to the official portrait of President Barack Obama, whose likeness hangs in the National Portrait Gallery.

Image Credit: Greig Roselli © 2018 East Hall, Union Station, Washington, D.C.

Jul 23, 2018

The Killman Family Story Constructed Through Census Records, Oral Tradition, and Family Photographs

I was going through old papers, and I found this family project I had done based on the 1930 United States Census, that my friend Bonnie Bess Wood encouraged me to complete.

At the time, my great-aunt Ida Killman Spiehler had spent some time with me during Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and because of our close proximity, I learned a lot about my maternal family tree. I wanted to learn more about my family, so I started to put together details. Thankfully, my Aunt Sandra, (who was also Ida's niece and my mother's older sister), had already done a lot of work. So we teamed up and created a fuller picture of what life may have been like in New Orleans, Louisiana from the turn of the century, to the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927, leading up the 1930 census.

Here is the letter I wrote to my Aunt, a kind of gift I had given her after I had done some genealogical research.

Dear Aunt Nen*,

A Story Gleaned from the United States 1930 Census 

I wrote the following ‘story’ based on information from the United States 1930 Census**. It’s neat what you can find out from genealogical research!

When a Census Taker Comes A-Knocking

On April 17, 1930, in the Gentilly neighborhood of New Orleans, Louisiana, Mr. Frederick Schell knocked on the door at 5141 Arts Street (Between Elysian Fields and Franklin Avenues, and a few blocks South of Dreux Avenue) to get information for the United States Census (being conducted that year). 

This is what I found out by looking at the Census record (Combined with stories you had told me):

Mrs. Albertine Killman answered the door, and she told Mr. Schell that she was 41 years old and that Mr. Francis Killman, Sr. was the head of the household, her husband. They had married on July 9, 1913, when Albertine was only about 24 years old, and Francis was almost 30. Francis, Sr. was 46 years old at the time of the Census, and he worked a salaried job as an engineer at the local ice plant*** to provide for his family who lived with him on Arts Street. Mr. Killman had been in the Navy as a youth as a fireman first class from 1908 to 1912. His first assignment was on board the U.S.S. Colorado. 
A Postcard Depicting the U.S.S. Colorado (ca. 1908)
U.S.S. Colorado (circa 1908)


How Much Did a Family in New Orleans in 1930 Pay for their Rent Each Month?

The Killman family paid $18 a month for their rent ($509.07 in 2018 money) and did not own a radio of their own. They had four children who, in 1930, were all in school. It costs 7 cents ($1.07 in 2018 money) to take the streetcar to school. 

The Four Killman Kids (My Grandmother and You, Aunt Nen)

Everyone in the family was born in the United States, but Albertine’s parents, Margaret Frank and Friedrich Burkhardt, were born in Frankfurt Germany. They emigrated from Germany circa 1860.

Francis, Jr. was the oldest at 16 years of age, Frederick (Or, Freddie, as he was called) was 13, Ida was 11 and Dorothy was 7. All the children were in school at the time this census was taken, and the entire family spoke English.

Two months after this Census was taken by Mr. Schell, a tragedy struck the family. At approximately 14 years of age, Freddie drowned in the Seabrook area of Lake Pontchartrain near the neighborhood of Little Woods.

Click the link below to view family photographs:

Jul 19, 2018

Throwback Thursday: Greig is Poolside Wearing Floaties (Sometime in the Late 1980s)

In a family photograph, Greig Roselli eats potato chips and wears floaties at the beach.

Throwback Thursday: I'm pretty sure this photograph was taken in Pensacola, Florida (or maybe it's Destin). I remember this vacation well because as you can see, I'm learning to swim. I can still feel the chafing effect of the floaties on my skin - mixed with the chlorinated water. Also, that bag of Ruffles ® Sour Cream & Onion potato chips were all mine!

If you look closely, someone's hands (maybe mom’s hands) have inserted itself into the photograph. I'm thinking that's the hand that feeds you; or, someone is requesting that I relinquish my bag of potato chips

Jul 13, 2018

Review of Frederick Wiseman's "High School" (1969) and Jean-François Caissy's La Marche à Suivre (2014)

I am a teacher, so I am familiar with the strained relationship students sometimes have with authority. And most teachers - especially the best ones - are in tune with this tension between youth and adult, between power, and submission, obedience, and freedom.  However, taking a psychological view, High School is also an exciting time where teenagers are becoming self-reflective, and the adults in the room have a front row seat to their pupils' on-going development. I use the word becoming on purpose. Adolescence is messy progress.


La Marche à Suivre (2014)

High School (1969)

Jul 12, 2018

Throwback Thursday: My Mother at the Anubis Carnival Ball in New Orleans (Circa the 1970s)

Mom at the Anubis Ball in New Orleans, Louisiana (circa 1970s) 
Throwback Thursday: A few Thursdays ago, I posted a Throwback photograph of my maternal great-grandmother at the Anubis Carnival Ball in New Orleans. As a successor to that post, here is a photograph of my beautiful mother Pamela Roselli. She was a maid escort in the ball. The photograph is circa the 1970s - I'd say. As far as I can tell from my research, the Krewe of Anubis was a non-parading krewe - which basically means they did not have a parade during the Mardi Gras season. The krewe was originally established by local businessmen in the pharmaceutical industry. I don't think Anubis is still functioning as a krewe today. Does anyone in my family have an exact date on this photograph? I'd love to add it to my family history files.