Thursday, December 30, 2010

* Slouching Toward Macbethany?

"So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past."

Some say this is the greatest last line of any American novel.

"Call me Ishmael" is called the most famous first.

As I am now in the fourth day of my 67th year I wonder, what does literary or historical immortality matter?

They say Lincoln was obsessively concerned with how history would remember him.  

I'm afraid it remembers him more as the name of the longest highway or a marble monument or a Ford luxury car than it does for the courage it took to dare to sign in the absolute loneliness of office,  the most moral document in human history------The Emancipation Proclamation, which he (perhaps the most eloquent speech writer in history)  purposely composed in boring bureacratese to avoid inflaming political fanatics.

The agony and heartache which went into that decision in the White House in 1863 is the immortal struggle of a flesh and blood being which is worth signifying, and which gets lost in all the clatter we mortals make in history's wake.

I can think of nothing in history ---- at least American history ---- that equals Lincoln's act of moral courage.

Maybe the Bill of Rights, but that was merely moral leadership, not moral courage.

What Lincoln did took guts-----and could have ended his career.  It probably hastened the end of his life.

So, 67th year ticking away:  What will be remembered of 2011 a thousand years from now?

Will there be a great first or last line written in a novel?

A friend of mine claims that music scholars believe classical music  has reached its overflow point: that nothing now can be written that hasn't been written before in one variation or another.

Has that art been exhausted?

  I 'gin to be a-weary of the sun, And wish the estate o' the world were now undone.

(Macbeth,  Act V, scene v)

Is the world slouching toward Macbethany ? 

Or is this musing simply the solipsism of sixty-six summers ---- simmering in the winter sun? 

* The Gradgrind Foundation BAM Award Goes to Shanghai

Gradgrind Foundation Announces First  BAM 

(Bill and Melinda) AWARD 

Link to Gradgrind Foundation Blog

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

* End-of-Life-Plan: Scroogenomics


``Nothing!'' Scrooge replied.
``You wish to be anonymous?''
``I wish to be left alone,'' said Scrooge. ``Since you ask me what I wish, gentlemen, that is my answer. I don't make merry myself at Christmas and I can't afford to make idle people merry. I help to support the establishments I have mentioned [Poorhouses; Union Workhouses]: they cost enough: and those who are badly off must go there.''
``Many can't go there; and many would rather die.''
``If they would rather die,'' said Scrooge, ``they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population . . ."

Chapter 1
A Christmas Carol
Charles Dickens

The Christmas  Day headline in the New York Times reads :

Obama Returns to End-of-Life Plan That Caused Stir

The reason it caused a "Stir" and the reason it is the top story on Christmas Day in the New York Times, is because "End-of-Life-Plan" is a euphemism for Scroogenomics: " If the old are going to die, they had better do it in the most economical way possible. No extraordinary life-support for 97-year-old grandpa"(even if he is the famous Dr. DeBakey who several years ago received just such extraordinary care  at age 97 in a heart bypass operation--the very surgery he once pioneered).

Heart surgeon, Dr. Debakey, Dead at 99

* Egalitarianism at What Expense?

Cultural Collapse?

". . . Our schools as much as our universities are given away to these absurdities: replacing Julius Caesar by The Color Purple is hardly a royal road to enlightenment.  A country where television, movies, computers and Stephen King have replaced reading is already in acute danger of cultural collapse."

The Best of the Best American Poetry
Harold Bloom 1996

Saturday, December 25, 2010

* Dick Cavett's Christmas Humbug

The Hopes and Fears of All the Years  

. . .
Dick Cavett's Christmas piece in today's New York Times about his step-grandmother's repressed anger exploding one Christmas morning at her husband's gift (bribe) of a diamond ring after years of raising the six  children produced by the man's unwanted, forcible attentions, seems sour reading for Christmas Day.

I am prepared to be educated and enraged about the sexism in the world and the repressed anger of women imprisoned in marriage, any other of the 365 days a year, EXCEPT Christmas Day.

It is not that I am particularly pious, or even a professing  Christer.  

It is simply that I see the Day of December 25th as a 24-hour truce on the madness of the chase, the debauchery of materialism and sensuality which so much of the adult world encompasses.

Time out.  
One day for fantasy.
Enough rubbing our noses in reality, Mr. Cavett. 
We know that smell by heart.


Thursday, December 23, 2010

* The December Day of Magical Thinking

  It's a magic worth believing in  for one day a year in this tired, battered world.

Santa sent a Dinosaur to play with my Dalmatian this year!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

* Dartmouth to the Deep Blue Seas



Saturday, December 18, 2010

* Now Gays and Lesbians can be Uniformed Murderers too!

Abu Ghraib, circa 2004
May 4, 1970, Kent State University

1906 Genocide of Muslim Moros trapped 200 feet down in the basin of an inactive volcano on Philippines by what Mark Twain calls "uniformed Christian assassins."  (see link in note * below)


The United States Senate, in today repealing the discriminatory 17-year-old " Don' Ask Don't Tell"policy, has finally made it possible for gay and lesbian men and women to become uniformed murderers along  with their straight compatriots.

On the other hand, they are not free to marry except in the 5 FREE STATES**. In the remaining  45 SLAVE STATES they are fettered by law.

Thus, under a nation whose currency advertises trust in God, gays and lesbians from all 50 states may now EXTERMINATE human life under cover of law while wearing a military uniform; however,  in that same God-trusting nation they may NOT CREATE human life as a married couple ( in or out of a military uniform) , in 45 of the 50 states.

 God We Shame.


* See  Mark Twain's description of  1906 American soldiers as "uniformed Christian assassins" (Autobiography of Mark Twain, Volume I, pp. 403-408)

In the United States gays and lesbians can legally marry in New Hampshire,Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, and Vermont, and Washington, DC.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

* A Christmas Story, 1972: Kent State

Happy Holidays

to all the unsung

Pop Fishers

across the nations 

of our


 2010/ 11  !

(0-4:40 video time)

Sunday, December 12, 2010

* Mourning Becomes Electric: The e-Funeral

Promise kept.
Mt. Carmel Burying Grounds, adjacent to Sleeping Giant Golf Course

Selling the Dead

My mother thought funerals were a colossal rip-off.

She coined the idea for Rent-a-Shell Coffins, beautiful mahogany coffin-shells which could be placed over plain plywood coffins for ‘viewing’ purposes, and removed to be rented again after the mourners had left the cemetery. Thus, the need for conspicuous consumption and ecological frugality could be satisfied simultaneously.

My mother was so poor during the Depression that she could not afford a dress for this photograph, in which she is draped in a camera throw.
Better Times at age 65

Brava Ma Mere!

When she died in 1985  my 71-year-old father capitulated to capitalism and bought an expensive carved wooden coffin ‘available’ at the funeral home ‘showroom.’

The Sleeping Giant, a mountain in Hamden, Connecticut

Its multi-thousand-dollar mahogany ‘craftsmanship’ (visible to mourners for perhaps 20-hours above ground) now disintegrates below ground for Eternity ---or until the next earthquake – at the Mt. Carmel Burying Ground near the foot of the Sleeping Giant in Hamden, Connecticut.

So much for the Departed’s wishes.
(BTW: Her unofficial directive was “Just throw me on the compost-heap when I die.”)*

Father, 70, Mother, 72

I took my mother’s merchandizing idea one step further, and lower, about 20 years ago.

I suggested that the inner lid of the coffin, which forms a kind of satin background to the Departed’s corpse at “viewing” hours, be transformed into a Rent-a-Space billboard.

Thus behind the sacred remains would be, not satin or silk finery lining the coffin’s lid but, advertisements for the Departed’s favorite products: in the case of my mother, the Pall Mall cigarettes which killed her at 73.

 (If you think this is sacriligious, you should have met my mother, who, btw, was a Sunday-school teacher for 30 years.)

The proceeds from the advertising would pay for the coffin itself, if not the entire ceremony, limousined motorcade and all.

It will soon be 26-years since my mother died in 1985, and I have come of dying-age now myself at 66 (12/28/44).

A hillside in Vermont

I confess that 'putting things in order’ does run through my mind. I’ve already done the tombstone and plot, but the manner of disposal is up-in-the air (not down- in-the-ground), so to speak.

My brother was cremated five years ago. I don’t favor this inferno-process from hell since rumors are that the ‘remains’ in the urn could be anybody’s ashes, and if I am going to pay for a cremation, I want to make sure I get what I pay for.

My brother, Chris, his son, Jon, and a happy St. Bernard

The public viewing and motor-parade seems excessive, especially if one dies in winter in Vermont (where I now breathe above ground) and the roads are too treacherous for a drive to the funeral home and later to the cemetery. Besides, any family I have left are scattered thousands of miles apart, and I wouldn’t subject them to a Homeland Security pat-down just to walk-around in a procession with my former self in a horizontal position.

Actually, if the ground is frozen, they just store the ‘remains’ in a stone mausoleum (burial vault)  at the base of the cemetery, till thawing season. By that time your ‘box’ may be on a shelf with several other ‘boxes’ in the little field-stone-freezer, just like  products in a grocery store,  minus the glass doors.

How poetic.

And that brings me to my point: the e-Funeral.

I suggest that the whole thing be conducted on video, and viewed at an e-Funeral Home on-line.

No one would have to leave the comfort of their homes and the mourners could offer condolences via Skype, to be taped and sent on disk to the survivors. My mother’s idea of a rentable-coffin-shell could be employed, since the final interment (lowering) is NEVER conducted in front of family, a convenient moment to remove the rental apparatus. 

A mock motorcade could be videotaped for every season of the year and inserted into the ceremony, appropriate to the season. Survivors could be video-taped in their finest attire as they entered the funeral home and left it on the day of making arrangements, or in front of a limousine or even exiting their own homes..

The completed video would be offered to the public on the day of “the funeral” and available for Eternity on the internet, appropriately, stored in  'the cloud'

As for religious services, these could be filmed in advance at various denominational edifices, and the Departed’s name inserted in key parts of the service.  St. Patrick's Cathedral could offer a video service for a "donation" of $1000.

The Temple Beth Mishkan Israel in Hamden, CT could do the same. (Where local legend from my childhood had it that Arthur Miller married Marilyn Monroe.)

(One caveat: the officiating clergy person might him or herself pre-decease the object of the service and the video-tape might be rendered useless thereby. Suggestion: only the voice of the clergy person would be heard, not their face filmed.)

Eulogizers can be videotaped in the comfort of their homes and the entire service can be spliced together by a computer-editor in two hours’ time!) 

And think of the redundant sadness and tears which could be avoided thereby.

And  joy of joys, the object of all this attention (the future 'Departed') could plan the entire videotape in advance----including eulogizers---much like the 101-year-old Queen Mother planned her own state funeral ten years befor her death, right down to the streets the parade would take on its way to the FRP (final resting place).

Voila: the e-Funeral!

PS: I have been reading Mark Twain's autobiography ---- can you tell?


*  I did keep one posthumous promise to my mother. Her cemetery is next to the Sleeping Giant Golf Course where she used to play a round of nine with friends. I promised to put a golf ball on a tee over her grave at the ceremony whenever that event occurred   --- and I did.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

* Grind, Grind , Grind those Delicate Souls!

The Founding Father:
Bill and Melinda Gradgrind Foundation
Thomas Gradgrind
( Hard Times by Charles Dickens)
Thomas Gradgrind, a Utilitarian school governor with political aspirations, believes his young charges should strive for unemotional perfection through rigid, crushing repetition of facts, and facts alone ("Facts alone are wanted in life."). Decorations such as pictures of horses drawn by the children will never adorn his walls, because in real life, would horses ever appear on actual school walls? If not, then they are "fancies," products of the dreaded human imagination, and are to be avoided at all costs.

From Chapter II
 (Murdering the Innocents)
 Hard Times
THOMAS GRADGRIND, sir. A man of realities. A man of facts and calculations. A man who proceeds upon the principle that two and two are four, and nothing over, and who is not to be talked into allowing for anything over. Thomas Gradgrind, sir - peremptorily Thomas - Thomas Gradgrind. With a rule and a pair of scales, and the multiplication table always in his pocket, sir, ready to weigh and measure any parcel of human nature, and tell you exactly what it comes to. It is a mere question of figures, a case of simple arithmetic. You might hope to get some other nonsensical belief into the head of George Gradgrind, or Augustus Gradgrind, or John Gradgrind, or Joseph Gradgrind (all supposititious, non-existent persons), but into the head of Thomas Gradgrind - no, sir!

In such terms Mr. Gradgrind always mentally introduced himself, whether to his private circle of acquaintance, or to the public in general. In such terms, no doubt, substituting the words 'boys and girls,' for 'sir,' Thomas Gradgrind now presented Thomas Gradgrind to the little pitchers before him, who were to be filled so full of facts.

Indeed, as he eagerly sparkled at them from the cellarage before mentioned, he seemed a kind of cannon loaded to the muzzle with facts, and prepared to blow them clean out of the regions of childhood at one discharge. He seemed a galvanizing apparatus, too, charged with a grim mechanical substitute for the tender young imaginations that were to be stormed away.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

*Who the Hell is Helen Caldicott, M.D.?

Dooming Dartmouth

I just watched Helen Caldicott, M.D. (on a Public Access TV rerun)  address a Dartmouth College audience (March, 2010)
in which she said "I came to Vermont to shut down Vermont Yankee [Nuclear Power Plant]."  

She claimed  that a radiation leak from that plant sent upwind toward Hanover would "end Dartmouth."

This 71 -year-old whirlwind of activism and brilliance is highly persuasive. How come I never heard of her until today?

Read, listen, and and learn (below):

"You are the planet's Intensive Care Unit."
Helen Caldicott, M.D.

* Who Shot J.L. ?


Note; This article was originally published thirty years ago in the final edition of Holy Smoke: Opinionation from Holy Hill (1976-80) at Yale Divinity School under the title "Lennon Killing Suspect"

Who shot J.R.?  It was a cute obsessive international game promulgated by the media these last six months.

Suddenly though, the game has been played out with grisly results at the Dakota Apartments in New York City; and we are left to know that the question: WHO SHOT J.L.? will now be answered by thousands of journalists across the world until we are as familiar (PLEASE: See the root "family" in this word) with the life of Mark David Chapman as we are with those of Lee Harvey Oswald) (John Wilkes Booth), James Earl Ray, Sirhan Sirhan.

One of the witnesses to the aftermath of the Lennon-murder described Chapman as  "pudgy." A policeperson called him a "wacko."

Did either of these persons know him? Their characterization seems more an attempt to hurt him than to tell us who he is.

But ironically, those mild words of cruelty do tell us who he was: he was hurt.

In this society of ours where "the beautiful people" and the "cool" are worshipped with an intensity that makes us depict even GOD himself as an aloofly poised, Teutonically handsome patriarch, Mark David Chapman was the outsider --the disenfranchised.

And when one looks at the pictures of Lee Harvey Oswald and James Earl Ray and Sirhan Sirhan, one's gut reaction, (conditioned by years of rehearsal on the God-making medium: television) tells us WHO THEY ARE: "What losers!" our hearts say with self-satisfied smugness.

I would suggest (and the New Testament would declare) that we --- the survivors of our assassinated ---
are the real losers.

Not only have we lost the promise of their unfulfilled lives  but we have lost the desire to let the God-in-us redeem the meaning of  Jesus's  unfulfilled life: To bring about a new creation in which everyone --- the ugly and the awkward as well as the beautiful and the poised --- are made to feel family in our world, instead of stranger.

Or to put it in the words of a Newer Testament: "To give love a chance."

Paul Keane
Holy Smoke 

Sunday, December 5, 2010

* Rewiring our Kids' Brains: OOPS! ( from Bill and Melinda Gradgrind Foundation )

Out! Damned Spot

A recent New York Times article suggested that computers are rewarding kids for "jumping to the next thing" and that that very reward process may be "rewiring brains" in ways we do not yet understand.

This is an inconvenient truth for those of us at Bill and Melinda Gradgrind Foundation, for we are spending millions of dollars under the assumption that "best teaching methods" can be filmed in classrooms and distributed to other teachers to imitate. 

If the brain is in a state of transition due to this "rewiring' process, the very methods we film and certify as VALID and EFFECTIVE, may already be becoming obsolete.

Oh well. We'll just plow ahead anyway.  

“I am in blood / Stepped in so far that, should I wade no

more, / Returning were as tedious as go o’er” (3.4.135–137)


Saturday, December 4, 2010

* Bill and Melinda Gradgrind Foundation

Please visit my new blog:

 Bill and Melinda Gradgrind Foundation 

Sunday, November 28, 2010

*Ex-Law-School-Dean Tries to Plug Wikileaks Dyke with Legal Thumb

  . . . The material was originally obtained by WikiLeaks, an organization devoted to revealing secret documents. WikiLeaks intends to make the archive public on its Web site in batches, beginning Sunday.
The anticipated disclosure of the cables is already sending shudders through the diplomatic establishment, and could conceivably strain relations with some countries, influencing international affairs in ways that are impossible to predict.
After Decades, Daniel Ellsburg's Heir-Apparent Emerges 
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and American ambassadors around the world have been contacting foreign officials in recent days to alert them to the expected disclosures. On Saturday, the State Department’s legal adviser, Harold Hongju Koh, wrote to a lawyer for WikiLeaks informing the organization that the distribution of the cables was illegal and could endanger lives, disrupt military and counterterrorism operations and undermine international cooperation against nuclear proliferation and other threats  . . .

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

* Happy Thanksgiving

Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) won the Nobel prize for literature for his History of Western Philosophy and was the co-author of Principia Mathematica.

The Prologue to Bertrand Russell's Autobiography

What I Have Lived For

Three passions, simple but overwhelmingly strong, have governed my life: the longing for love, the search for knowledge, and unbearable pity for the suffering of mankind. These passions, like great winds, have blown me hither and thither, in a wayward course, over a great ocean of anguish, reaching to the very verge of despair.

I have sought love, first, because it brings ecstasy - ecstasy so great that I would often have sacrificed all the rest of life for a few hours of this joy. I have sought it, next, because it relieves loneliness--that terrible loneliness in which one shivering consciousness looks over the rim of the world into the cold unfathomable lifeless abyss. I have sought it finally, because in the union of love I have seen, in a mystic miniature, the prefiguring vision of the heaven that saints and poets have imagined. This is what I sought, and though it might seem too good for human life, this is what--at last--I have found.

With equal passion I have sought knowledge. I have wished to understand the hearts of men. I have wished to know why the stars shine. And I have tried to apprehend the Pythagorean power by which number holds sway above the flux. A little of this, but not much, I have achieved.

Love and knowledge, so far as they were possible, led upward toward the heavens. But always pity brought me back to earth. Echoes of cries of pain reverberate in my heart. Children in famine, victims tortured by oppressors, helpless old people a burden to their sons, and the whole world of loneliness, poverty, and pain make a mockery of what human life should be. I long to alleviate this evil, but I cannot, and I too suffer.

This has been my life. I have found it worth living, and would gladly live it again if the chance were offered me.


* "Yes" after Lifetimes of "No!": THE LEGACY MOMENT

Doing the Unexpectedly Radical: Old Men in Search of a Legacy Change the World

President Richard M. Nixon and Chairman Mao Tse Tung

President Ronald Reagan and General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev

Benedict’s comments on condoms seem in some ways to be a profound provocation, indicating that although he is not changing church doctrine, he is insisting that condoms can be a responsible option in preventing disease.

New York Times 11/14/10