Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Pushkin on Jeopardy!

Or, How Do We Know What We Know? Tuesday, May 22, 2018 is a date that will be implanted in Abq Jew's otherwise cloudy with a chance of meatballs memory until he forgets it.

For on that date, Abq Jew heard Alex Trebek - in the category 'Famous Russians' - provide the Final Jeopardy! answer

In November 1836 this writer got a letter naming him
to the Most Serene Order of Cuckolds;
in February 1837 he was dead.


And Abq Jew immediately, without thought or contemplation, correctly, from his greyhound-adorned couch, responded

Who is Alexander Pushkin?


Now Abq Jew must remind you that he is, by the skin of his teeth, a graduate of the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). Where he received, appropriately, a BS degree in Engineering & Applied Science.


And Abq Jew must remind you that he is, without honors for utterly failing at the somber task of academic writing - but with tremendous gratitude - a graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America (JTS). Where he received, somehow, an MA degree in [Jewish] Education.


Where is Russian literature?

Abq Jew has read Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace. Many years ago, and more than once. Just don't ask him who's who in patronymic or, for that matter, matronymic.


Abq Jew has also read Fyodor Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment - also, many years ago. A delightful, thoroughly enjoyable axe-murder romp that reminds us that you can't chop your mama up in Massachusetts or in Saint Petersburg.

At least, not without some small measure of remorse.


There are those who, perhaps unkindly but not without some small measure of truth, suggest that Dostoevsky wrote one of his classics about Abq Jew

And Abq Jew has - of course - seen David Lean's wonderful, award-winning film made from Bernard Pasternak's Doctor Zhivago. But he's never read the book.

The point - and it's a major one -  that Abq Jew is trying to make here is that


On Tuesday, May 22, 2018 ...
Abq Jew knew nothing of the life and work of
Alexander Pushkin, 'The Father of Russian Literature'.

So, Abq Jew hears you, his loyal readers, ask, where did his immediate 'Alexander Pushkin' response come from?

To answer that question, Abq Jew turns to the purported master of Knowns and Unknowns, our former Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld.

There are known knowns is a phrase from a response United States Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld gave to a question at a U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) news briefing on February 12, 2002 about the lack of evidence linking the government of Iraq with the supply of weapons of mass destruction to terrorist groups. 
Rumsfeld stated: 
Reports that say that something hasn't happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. 
We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. 
But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don't know we don't know. 
And if one looks throughout the history of our country and other free countries, it is the latter category that tend to be the difficult ones. 
The statement became the subject of much commentary, including a documentary by Academy Award–winning film director Errol Morris.

In regular American English, Mr Rumsfeld claimed that there are
  1. Known Knowns = Things we know we know
  2. Known Unknowns = Things we know we don't know
  3. Unknown Unknowns = Things we don't know we don't know
What is missing from this series of statements?


4. Unknown Knowns = Things we don't know we know

How can there be such things - things we don't know we know? Where could such hidden knowledge come from? Where did such hidden knowledge go when we needed it? How can we get it back? How much will it cost? Will Medicare cover it?


The universe is full of mysteries.


Or, as Professor Abraham Joshua Heschel said -

Our goal should be to live life in 
radical amazement.
Get up in the morning and look at the world
in a way that takes nothing for granted.
Everything is phenomenal; everything is incredible;
never treat life casually. 
To be spiritual is to be amazed.


But back to Final Jeopardy! The Jeopardy! Fan website tells us that, of the three contestants that day
  1. Two responded 'Who is Tolstoy?'
  2. One responded 'Who is Dostoevsky?'
Only Abq Jew, from his greyhound-adorned couch,
was able to question the answer correctly.


And in case you were wondering -
In the fall of 1836, Russian poet Alexander Pushkin (author of the play Boris Godunov and the novel Eugene Onegin) was facing scandalous rumours that his wife Natalia was having an affair with French military officer Georges-Charles de Heeckeren d’Anthès. 
In amongst the scandal was a letter lampooning Pushkin. Heeckeren was accused of being the anonymous author of the lampoon. In an attempt to save Natalia’s reputation, Heeckeren married Natalia’s sister Yekaterina, but this was not enough to settle the conflict, and Pushkin was killed in the eventual duel. 
In the aftermath, Heeckeren was removed from Russia and lived out the rest of his life in France, serving as a Senator in the Second French Empire from 1852 to 1870.

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