Thursday, July 29, 2010

* Yale's West Campus: An Acropolis of Acronyms ?

" . . . Among the crown jewels are three fully operational technology centers and five scientific research institutes in various phases of start-up. As this special edition of ELIne shows, West Campus—with 136-acres including 1.6 million square feet of office, research and warehouse space—is well on its way to becoming what Michael Donoghue, vice-president of West Campus Planning and Program Development, calls a transformational asset for the university in both the sciences and arts. "

The Yale Eline
West Campus Edition
July 2010

Even I (who am philosophically wary of surrendering the Academy hook, line, and sinker, to scientific imperatives) am impressed by the potential for scholarly, scientific discovery implicit in Yale's new West Campus. (See quote from the Eline, July 2010, West Campus Edition, above.)

May I presumptuously propose then that, in the midst of this dramatic new scientific campus, Yale plop down a Poet in Residence?

S/he would have as her/his mission not only to reflect on the ethical and social implications of what is brewing in this Ivy League-scientific-tsunami, but also to act as a kind of humanizing watchdog over what could become a nightmare of professional jargon, an appalling apotheosis of acronymity.

Let's build poetic insight and humor into the place in the beginning, before we discover we have created  a wasteland of scientific babble punctuated by quantums, quarks, and quotients.

Where is T.S. Eliot when we need him:

Scuttling across the Gulf of Mexico floor?

Sunday, July 25, 2010

* Deity Dumbed Down or Masses Raised Up?

Yale Alumni Magazine

Fred R. Shapiro's article (YAM July/August, 2010) "You can quote them" has a sub-heading which reads "Did Alcoholics Anonymous 'dumb down' the Serenity Prayer?" a question the article poses based on Elizabeth Sifton's book The Serenity Prayer (2003).

Sifton is the daughter of theologian Reinhold Niebuhr who is the disputed author of the "Serenity Prayer" itself.

I have read Ms. Sifton's book and it is a colossal exercise in theological name-dropping from her childhood of imbibing the fumes [sic] of a famous and controversial religious and social thinker of the early and mid 20th Century.

'Dumb down' is the wrong way to look at Ms. Sifton's complaint that the theological concept of 'grace' and the 'plural' pronouns (us) have been removed from the prayer.

I prefer to think that Niebuhr was streamlining his own prose for a century tired of rhetoric and soaked in war blood; a little less Henry James and little more Hemingway please, a lesson Ms. Sifton might learn for her next literary effort.

Or to put it another way: Niebuhr was praying with the masses and not for them.

Paul D. Keane
M. Div. '80

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

* Kvetch-22

Note:  As U.S. Ambassador to the United Kingdom, former Yale president, Kingman Brewster, Jr., arranged for Christopher Hitchens to begin the long journey toward American citizenship, which culminated in 2007 with a ceremony arranged at the Jefferson Memorial.


"Sarcasm I now see to be, in general, the language of the Devil; for which reason I have, long since, as good as renounced it."

Thomas Carlyle, Sartor Resartus (1833-1834), book II, ch. IV


Chrisopher Hitchens's autobiography, Hitch-22, ends with Hitch's quandry: Uncertainty is the only certainty in life and yet, like his father ( "the Commander" ), Mr. Hitchens hopes to act as if he knows "what he is supposed to be doing." (kindle p.7491, large print)

I came away from this reading as I came away from reading Hitchens's god  is not Great [sic] with a sense of the emptiness and vanity of wit.

For all of Oscar Wilde's quotability, the hubris of his aphoristic brilliance (like the hubris of Hitchens's scalpelizing wit which cuts out any opponent's heart or entrails in the blink of a subordinate clause) leaves me feeling empty and lonely, as lonely as the prison cell in which the source of that aphoristic brilliance ended his days.

There are SOME certainties in life, Christopher.

One is, genetic fate (aka biological determinism):

      If your father died after being diagnosed with esophageal cancer, don't turn your own esophagus into a 40-year incinerator for tobacco smoke ----and brag about it,  even to the point of choosing a smoke-enclouded self-portrait for your autobiography's cover. (In the middle of my reading of his memoir, the news item came across the wires that Mr. Hitchens, sadly,  was suspending his book tour because he had been diagnosed with esophageal cancer and was to undergo chemotherapy.)

Another is the dissociating quality of sarcasm:

     Carlisle's quote (Sarcasm I now see to be, in general, the language of the Devil; for which reason I have, long since, as good as renounced it.) says it metaphorically: Sarcasm separates you from your self (a Hell with you as Satan), makes you a kind of performer always in search of a reaction from a sought-after audience: A literary device Hitchens uses in his autobiography is the two selves of Chris/Christopher with which he has Janused the last half century.

Some times that audience is found  through employing scintillating scarcasm [sic] (Freudian slip?) and other times by carnalizing one's youthful attractiveness, which Hitchens slyly allows that he once possessed in his pre-portly incarnation.

The exhaustion I feel after reading Hitchens's book is not merely the exhaustion of one of modest intelligence trying to keep up with someone of brilliant intelligence; it is the exhaustion of one giddy on the empty high of  a hubris which looks down its nose at anyone who doesn't meet its self-inflating standards:
     Kissinger, Mother Teresa, Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter (all frauds) and ---in    the end --- even his friends, Edward Said and Susan Sontag.

Gargantuan appetites for food, drink, knowledge, experience: all of these Mr. Hitchens possesses. Yet I feel empty at the end of reading his autobiography, despite gorging myself on  these nourishments vicariously in devouring the record of Hitchens's provocative life.

The one time in the book when Mr. Hitchens does not turn his narrative into a prose necklace of  dropped names, sexual, intellectual, idealistic, epicurean and hedonistic  adventures, is in his hymn to a young American soldier who was killed in Iraq, having enlisted to fight in the war after being inspired by Hitchens's essays.

More of this calm writer I would like to read.


From Hitch-22:

I began this highly selective narrative by citing Auden on the unadvisability of being born in the first place  - - a view from which he quickly waltzed to Plan B: make the most of the dance (or, as Dorothy Parker elsewhere phrased it , "You might as well live"). In better moments I prefer the lyrical stoicism of my friend and ally Richard Dawkins, who never loses his sense of wonder at the sheer unlikelihood of having briefly "made it" on a planet where crude extinction has held such sway, and where the chance of being conceived, let alone safely delivered, is so infinitesimal. (kindle, p. 7459-62, large print)

Friday, July 2, 2010

* Solstice: Found along the road in Vermont


Solstice is the name the vet gave her. She's 14-weeks-old and I adopted her three days ago. She was found all alone, at the side of a Vermont road, when she was 8-weeks-old and transported to the veterinarian.

Roland Bainton, the great Reformation scholar who spent 70 years at Yale as both student and professor, once lamented to me the impersonality of "institutionalized giving" as a substitute for face-to face-charity.

I did not know what he meant at the time (circa 1980)  and I'm not sure I know even now.

However, as I reflect on the protection and care and resources I am affording this tiny bundle of life, and juxtapose that with the immense suffering in humankind all over the world, I wonder how I can justify spending my money and time on a frivolity like a kitten, when I could be sending that money to a charity for starving children!

Perhaps what Dr. Bainton was getting at was the loss of "connection" which the modern world has so neatly accomplished by aggregating everything into bureaucratic units ("delivery systems"----which, by the way, if Haiti  and Hurricane Katrina are  examples, don't  always "deliver").

This kitten is a "delivery system" of joy to me.

I marvel at its courage in confronting and taming my dogs at just 14-weeks-old.  Within a day she way playing with their tails and  the Bassett Hounds' ears, as if they were toys.  I had forgotten the  explosion of energy which babies in all species exhibit, and then their sudden conk-outs ,as sleep overcomes them. 

 Yesterday she fell asleep sitting up.

And I feel useful in having saved one tiny link in the chain-of-being from hardship and loneliness.

I recall a friend of mine who refused to get another pet when he was 70 years old and his dog and cat had died.  He said, it "wouldn't be fair to them" since "he didn't know how long he would live."

Today he is 97 and lived, fully mobile by himself,  until 96.  All those 26-years without a pet, protecting them from the death that has not arrived even now. Few dogs or cats would have outlived that 26 years.

I'm 65. I could live another 30 years or another 30 minutes.

In the meantime, I'll take care of my pets. Trotter is fourteen years old ( (98+ by human standards) and Nemo, the Bassett Hound, is around nine ( 56 in human terms).  Solstice at 14 weeks is nearing two human years.

As Candide says in Voltaire's work of the same name, Il faut cultiver notre jardin.  

It is necessary to cultiavte our garden.

I put the emphasis on the personal pronoun: OUR garden, as opposed to the world's garden. (Ironically, this blog defies that injunction, cultivating the world's garden, minding everyone else's business , instead of my own! Ah technology!)

And perhaps that is what Dr. Bainton meant: give to those in your own sphere of influence, not an institution's sphere of influence.


And receive.