Archive for the ‘Personal History’ Category

“CASTING STONES,” LIVING FICTION, AN EXCITING READ BY JAY BECK

Monday, February 25th, 2019

by Barry Jagoda

In case you may have thought the Cold War had long ago concluded one may look no further than “CASTING STONES,” the new thriller set in Greece by Jay Beck, who knows more than most about the continuing battle—the democratic fight between Communism and Capitalism.

Casting StonesInstrumental in Jimmy Carter’s Presidency and now an old hand in the political battles between East and West, and much in between, Beck has turned those first hand experiences into fiction—-readable and believable.

There is certainly a large readership for international intrigue but even the great John Le Carre gave up his cold war spy series with the pause in overt battles between the former Soviet Union and the United States.  But from his own experience Beck has taken the characters of the old Soviet and Western conflicts, and now revitalized them into today’s threats to America with a captivating plot.

Readers will soon find that the ancient Greeks used to vote by casting stones.  This novel includes throughout a sub plot going back to the Gods of Olympus, and a contemporary focus on the beginnings of the modern age of terrorism.

A reason Beck’s characters are so absolutely compelling is that they are largely the progeny of leaders from the Cold War—-on both sides.  Most important, Beck has served the West as a political expert so he has been on the front lines.

When we read of Ambassador Igor Andropov’s shenanigans, a bell is rung tying him to his father the late Soviet boss.  Though a bit of a stretch, the American idealist spy Mark Young is a cipher for Beck himself.

The prose is excellent, the plot moves right along and voila! a story for our times, is etched out of the history of our times, for never truer has the cliché “Past is Prologue” been employed so effectively.

Jay Beck brings a lifetime of experience in writing “Casting Stones.” In 1985 he worked in the Greek election described in this novel.

Beck, now approaching his seventies, has been a mainstay of the Carter/Mondale political legacy operating out of the Atlanta, Georgia Library and Center.  He knows everybody who was part of that movement and is the glue holding together a proud legacy.  On the side he is a fiction factory, with “Casting Stones” just one volume in a series of compelling novels where the Cold War is re-visited for his readers.

Earlier Beck had written Panama’s Rusty Lock, another thriller, this one set there with the first Presidential election in 16 years.  Not surprising in that novel–as in real life–Manuel Noriega has stolen an election, making for compelling reading. That book was a best seller on Amazon Kindle, and  “Casting Stones,” is now available there as well.

For this reader, delving into Beck’s cold war history, the reminder is to see again that the times are never past.  But for the author quite apparently the spiritual pleasure is derived mainly from the creation of these memorable persons and the exercise of his wonderful skill at using the English language.  The work itself is the reward for Jay Beck and now again for his readers.

LESSONS FROM OUR OWN HISTORY

Thursday, April 13th, 2017

by Barry Jagoda

Reunions to celebrate the “good old days” are privileges of growing older. Three such emotional, memorable events have been experienced in April, 2017.

Joining 200 high school friends and acquaintances brought back warm memories of growing up in the suburbs of Houston 50 years ago.

Then, after 40 years, getting back with Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter—in Atlanta and in Plains—reminded one of the power of the ideas, the moderation and the passion that enabled the election of the 39th President of the United States in 1976.

And a 50th reunion of the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University marked a passage back to 1966-1967 underscoring what had helped turn a young Texan into a reporter—a professional journalist–with commitments to keeping an eye on government.

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As the poet John Dunne wrote, “Make new friends, but keep the old—for these are silver and those are gold.” Friendships and bonds of attachment characterize these reunion meetings. As one participant, viewing a photograph from our adolescence, wrote, “We could not possibly have been that young but now it is impossible that we are that old.”

As one survives into an eighth decade a wise friend from earlier times now writes, “Health is Everything,” appreciated less if one currently suffers from no debilitating illness.   And, the half-joking admonition from another half-century long pal, “If you do get sick make sure it is something they can fix,” becomes more real as one ages into the 70s and beyond.

The luckiest among us may be those who still have meaningful family connections—children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews. A very few still have a living parent. At some time in the growing up process we leave childhood homes, with their rules and their unconditional love. We develop our own set of values and new aspirations. And now, looking back over the decades, pictures of “what formed us” become clearer.

Neuroscientists and others puzzle over the competing claims of nurture and nature—our genetic inheritance and our lived life experiences. But in the lingering last years of life one sees overlap, the near impossibility of sorting out just what came along with our embryos versus what we have learned over the ages. Curiously, though, as a wise friend jokes, “At age 30 I thought I knew all the answers but now, at 70, I realize how very little I know.” This charming comment is not necessarily true: A wonderful discovery of older age is to find new old mistakes to correct, new life-lessons that can still be gained.

A goal of life, as expressed by psychologist Abraham H. Maslow, is to become “self-actualized,” to be dependent on one’s inner life for meaning, perhaps the opposite of David Riesman’s “other-directed” personality. But none can deny the deep benefits of the power of “significant others,” who have come into our lives and—with luck—are still there, in real life or influencing us from the grave.

It is perhaps at night as one tumbles off to sleep that there is best the realization of how fortunate one might be to have another with whom one might share the slings and arrows—as well as the ice cream—of being human. But life lessons are still there to be had: An art gallery curator’s recent comment helps put this into perspective with a summing up of culture that transcends, yet also populates: Asked the meaning of art, the gallery expert explains, “Art fills the soul.” And, “Where is the soul?,” asks the skeptical journalist. “The soul is where love and joy reside,” says the wise professional.

Another approach to the soul is often associated with teachings from the various religions. Listen to the Ten Commandments or understand the urgency of the teachings of the Islamic Prophet. Knowing that such creation stories are all about us, hard to miss, one can fall back, perhaps, on the Golden Rule, dealing with others as one would hope to be treated.

For a secular individual—having no belief in a deity—there is the additional challenge of sorting through ideas inherited from the centuries to find one’s own values, ethics, moral principles. And herein is a great virtue of being a mere human being. It is said that we each have primitive brains, derived intellectually from the Darwinian tradition. Our rational faculties are even taken over by these earlier constructs which try to focus us. As this understanding may be true, the human challenge is shown to be even more difficult.

Finding decency is a quest not to be undervalued. But for an older human the chance for a second look—a glance back—makes a reunion another chance to mull over what has come before. One might revel in the good fortunes but not forget what may have gone wrong. Perhaps too late for much change but at least having history’s lessons for intellectual satisfaction.