Saturday, August 28, 2010

* Does Your Mouth Do Your Thinking?

 Ancient human sacrifice (panel 3) in the Orozco mural at Dartmouth's Baker Library (ignore lights at top of first photo)
A famous French articulatory mold (with companions)

(reply to a friend)

Thanks for sending me this New York Times Magazine (8/28/10)article "Does Your Language Shape How You Think?" , D------ [see excerpts below].

I'm sure it's especially fascinating for you as you raise S-----: They say that having a baby and raising it ( there's that  insidious genderless pronoun !) forces you to re-imagine the world.

I disagree with the "rotating coordinates" postulation. In the exact same hotel situation I always say to myself FIRST, "How fascinating that this room is the mirror opposite of my room". In other words, I rotate it in my mind, BEFORE I relax into using it. And as a former apartment superintendent with 88 identical paired units on opposite sides of single hallway building, I have plenty of experience with this phenomenon.

I would like to know what the Peruvians (who point through themselves as if they were invisible) think about death and immortality or better, about flesh and life.

Recall the Inca human sacrifices at Machu Picchu----depicted in some of that huge mural by Orozco in the Dartmouth reading-room? Maybe an "invisible" body has no reality for them so murder (and cannibalism) have no reality?

MORE fascinating to me (as a former speech major at Ithaca College), and not
mentioned in this article, is how the SHAPING of the words exiting your mouth
( by adjusting your articulatory mold: glottis; epiglottis; roof of mouth; teeth; tongue; LIPS) may shape your attitude toward romance----- and war.

French (and unless you have tried to speak this lanuage you will not know it) FORCES you to shape your mouth like a KISS, over and over and over again. 

German forces you to shape your mouth as a weapon in violent configurations, almost as if it were a grinding, crushing, hacking, packing, slicing machine.

(Compare for example Eine Kleine Nachmusik with Petite Musique de Nuit  or gersundheit with à votre santé .)

What might a lifetime of creating such shapes thousands of times a day do to a human mind?

Have fun re-imagining the world with your beautiful three-year-old D------.

Thanks for the article.



Does Your Language Shape How You Think?

New York Times

Guy Deutscher is an honorary research fellow at the School of Languages, Linguistics and Cultures at the University of Manchester. His new book, from which this article is adapted, is “Through the Language Glass: Why the World Looks Different in Other Languages,” to be published this month by Metropolitan Books
Published: August 26, 2010

. . .
While we are trained to ignore directional rotations when we commit information to memory, speakers of geographic languages are trained not to do so. One way of understanding this is to imagine that you are traveling with a speaker of such a language and staying in a large chain-style hotel, with corridor upon corridor of identical-looking doors. Your friend is staying in the room opposite yours, and when you go into his room, you’ll see an exact replica of yours: the same bathroom door on the left, the same mirrored wardrobe on the right, the same main room with the same bed on the left, the same curtains drawn behind it, the same desk next to the wall on the right, the same television set on the left corner of the desk and the same telephone on the right. In short, you have seen the same room twice. But when your friend comes into your room, he will see something quite different from this, because everything is reversed north-side-south. In his room the bed was in the north, while in yours it is in the south; the telephone that in his room was in the west is now in the east, and so on. So while you will see and remember the same room twice, a speaker of a geographic language will see and remember two different rooms . . .

Nor is it easy to speculate about how geographic languages affect areas of experience other than spatial orientation — whether they influence the speaker’s sense of identity, for instance, or bring about a less-egocentric outlook on life. But one piece of evidence is telling: if you saw a Guugu Yimithirr speaker pointing at himself, you would naturally assume he meant to draw attention to himself. In fact, he is pointing at a cardinal direction that happens to be behind his back. While we are always at the center of the world, and it would never occur to us that pointing in the direction of our chest could mean anything other than to draw attention to ourselves, a Guugu Yimithirr speaker points through himself, as if he were thin air and his own existence were irrelevant. . .

As strange as it may sound, our experience of a Chagall painting actually depends to some extent on whether our language has a word for blue. . .

In coming years, researchers may also be able to shed light on the impact of language on more subtle areas of perception. For instance, some languages, like Matses in Peru, oblige their speakers, like the finickiest of lawyers, to specify exactly how they came to know about the facts they are reporting. You cannot simply say, as in English, “An animal passed here.” You have to specify, using a different verbal form, whether this was directly experienced (you saw the animal passing), inferred (you saw footprints), conjectured (animals generally pass there that time of day), hearsay or such. If a statement is reported with the incorrect “evidentiality,” it is considered a lie. So if, for instance, you ask a Matses man how many wives he has, unless he can actually see his wives at that very moment, he would have to answer in the past tense and would say something like “There were two last time I checked.” After all, given that the wives are not present, he cannot be absolutely certain that one of them hasn’t died or run off with another man since he last saw them, even if this was only five minutes ago. So he cannot report it as a certain fact in the present tense. Does the need to think constantly about epistemology in such a careful and sophisticated manner inform the speakers’ outlook on life or their sense of truth and causation? When our experimental tools are less blunt, such questions will be amenable to empirical study. . .

For many years, our mother tongue was claimed to be a “prison house” that constrained our capacity to reason. Once it turned out that there was no evidence for such claims, this was taken as proof that people of all cultures think in fundamentally the same way. But surely it is a mistake to overestimate the importance of abstract reasoning in our lives. After all, how many daily decisions do we make on the basis of deductive logic compared with those guided by gut feeling, intuition, emotions, impulse or practical skills? The habits of mind that our culture has instilled in us from infancy shape our orientation to the world and our emotional responses to the objects we encounter, and their consequences probably go far beyond what has been experimentally demonstrated so far; they may also have a marked impact on our beliefs, values and ideologies. We may not know as yet how to measure these consequences directly or how to assess their contribution to cultural or political misunderstandings. But as a first step toward understanding one another, we can do better than pretending we all think the same.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

* Burning Ideas

Hot Topic: Minister's "Burn a Koran Day"

The same country whose Supreme Court says free speech protects cross-buring as expression, also saw The Catcher in the Rye burned in public places in the 1950's as a symbol of public outrage at its "corrupting" influence on the young (and maybe the old too).

This same country, The New York Times reports today, has produced a Florida evangelical minister who has announced his intention to burn Korans in public in what he calls "Burn a Koran Day."

The ghost of Florida's Anita Bryant and her orange-juice drinking anti-gay campaign of the 1970's still stalks Florida's flatlands.

Academia is not exempt from this extremism.

 Does anyone recall the 1969 cross-burning on the porch of a Cornell University African American house which resulted in the armed take-over of Willard Straight Hall by Black United Students?

Or the debate at Yale in the 1970's over allowing a "scholar" to speak who claimed that African Americans were inferior thinkers because of the smaller size of their craniums?

What a goulash (or ghoulash) of contradictions America is.

Monday, August 23, 2010

* Royal Flush

Thornton Wilder's home: "The house The Bridge built"
The late J.D. Salinger's toilet (not shown above) is for sale on eBay for 1 million dollars.
J.D. Salinger's secluded home in Cornish, NH
Holden Caulfield first popularized the reverse-brim hat-style in 1949, not Michael Jackson in his moonwalking 1980's.
Forbidden photograph of J.D.

Selling Literary Thrones

In 1976 (age 31) I was struggling to make a living in New Haven as a grad student at Yale Divinity School. I worked as an apartment superintendent for which I received free rent and a stipend.  I did  odd jobs (lawn mowing, painting) and I had a real estate license.  I sold two houses in a year for a total of $900 commission: Not much.

However, I showed dozens of houses and got to know the area from the inside out.  One of the houses I showed was the home of the recently deceased (1975) author, Thornton Wilder, 50 Deepwood Drive in Hamden, Connecticut, literally 100 yards from the New Haven town line.  Wilder had dubbed it "the house The Bridge built" because it was built with profits from his 1928 Pulitzer Prize winning novel, The Bridge of San Luis Rey.

It's a cliffside dwelling which snakes up a hill:  garage on the first level, then two levels above it. The terrace has a spectacular view of New Haven. Tallulah Bankead, F. Scott Fitzgerald and many other famous people partied there. Some say it was modelled after Goethe's cottage.

It has a lot of single bedrooms for family, but the showpiece is Wilder's panelled study over the garage.  Not that it was luxurious or beautifully decorated: simply that it was the site for nearly half a century where Wilder worked on so many famous manuscripts yet to come.

The author's lifelong companion and sister, Miss Isabel Wilder, then 76, told me after I showed the house, that she didn't understand what buyers expect. "I think they expect to see golden toilets" she said, referring to buyers' reactions to the fact that a famous author lived here for almost fifty years.

Well, golden toilet aside, the news has just flashed this bulletin in 2010:

J.D. Salinger's Used Toilet for Sale on eBay

Updated: Monday, 23 Aug 2010, 7:42 AM EDT
Published : Friday, 20 Aug 2010, 5:56 PM EDT

(NewsCore) - If you’re a J.D. Salinger fan and flush with an extra $1 million, one of the items featured on eBay Friday will give you a personal connection like no other: His toilet.

Yes, his toilet.

“J.D. Salinger Personally Owned & Used Toilet Commode” blares the headline, next to a picture of a very ordinary looking white porcelain toilet, followed by the perhaps unnecessary line: “Here’s an item you won’t come across everyday!

The seller, located in Winston Salem, N.C., says the toilet, dated 1962 under the lid, is from Salinger’s home in Cornish, N.H. and “will come to you uncleaned and in it's (sic) original condition.”

And that’s not all: It will come with “a letter from Joan Littlefield. Her and her husband are the new owners of Salinger's house and are the ones who had the toilet removed and replaced.”

The reclusive Salinger, perhaps best known as author of “The Catcher in the Rye,” died in January at 91.

“When he died, his wife inherited all of his manuscripts with plans to eventually release some of them! Who knows how many of these stories were thought up and written while Salinger sat on this throne!” trumpets the description.

The toilet is priced at $1 million, although any potential buyer can also make a “best offer.” The auction ends September 4. And there’s free shipping in the U.S.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

* Eye Soar: Good Graffiti


Guest Post

A colleague and friend allowed me to post  here this adventure he recently had with his son. Its first incarnation was as a letter-to-the-editor of our local paper.


Letter to the Editor:

My son Jacob is your average 18-year-old boy, in many respects: restless, impulsive, edgy. He craves excitement and danger; he takes risks that make me crazy. He drives too fast and jumps from too-high rocks into the Ottaquechee River. Jake drives a beat-up Saturn that he chose to spray paint so it looks like a blast from the 60s, adorned with flowers and peace signs. He's gangly and often loud and he likes to wear his pants so you can see his underwear. If he weren't my son, I'd be likely to label him as many others have done in recent years, as a punk, a troublemaker, a druggie.

One other thing: Jake is an artist with a predilection for spray paint. Uh-oh.

So there you have the stereotype. No wonder he was reported to the police when he was seen, bandanna covering his mouth, spraying his art work under the West Hartford bridge, committing, as he was initially charged, with criminal mischief. Write him up, process him, slap him with a fine and community service, make him paint it over--serves the vandal right. Right?

But some elements of Jake's case defy the stereotype under which the police were mistakenly laboring. First, the bridge support which he used for his palette had already been spray-painted with ugly, artless profanity. He covered it over with a colorful, playful, G-rated mural of a dinosaur. Second, Jake sought and obtained permission--he called the Hartford Police Department, who then referred him to the town highway department. Someone there, after hearing Jake's proposal, told him to "go for it." Trouble is, no one will own up to giving this permission now. Admittedly, I am biased. I believe my son when he tells me he got permission, but any savvy reader would ask, "How do you know he was telling the truth?" Unfortunately, our phone's caller ID record doesn't go back far enough to obtain the number he called. The police haven't yet returned my query about their record of calls. However, my son makes a very good point. If he didn't feel he had permission, why would he have been committing this act of "criminal mischief" in broad daylight over a series of several days? He never tried to hide because he felt he had nothing to hide.

Thankfully, after several tense hours of discussion with the police, Jake is no longer facing criminal charges. I am grateful to the Hartford Police Department for putting this incident in context and going beyond the stereotype. However, the matter has been referred to another agency where Jacob and a representative from the highway department will meet. This could result in a judgment forcing Jacob to, at the very least, paint over his work.

I urge two things. First, to the person at the town highway department who spoke to my son, giving him permission--come forward. Second, to everyone: Go see the mural Jacob has painted under the West Hartford bridge. Bring your kids, your grand-kids; they'll enjoy it. Weigh in with the highway department. Let them know, before this meeting takes place, if you think what Jacob created is an act of vandalism perpetrated by some "rebel-without-a-clue" teenager, or actually an improvement to what was there before. Vandalism or spontaneous community service? Help the highway department decide.

Alan Haehnel

Reaction from RR

You know, Paul, I'm amazed by your friend's defense of his son's vandalism. Because that's what it is. If he painted the mural on the side of your house would that be alright? As we old farts say, "in my day" my mother would not have taken my side in defense of my mischief. These kids who spray paint public buildings need another outlet for their creativity. No one has the right to do it and no one has the right to give "permission" to do it. Whether it's good or bad has nothing to do with it. By the way, all of the graffiti I have seen, no matter how good it may be deemed,  is like all tattoos, still just bad art.

Am I starting to sound like a Republican?

Well written, anyway.


Alan Responds

Well, RR, you accurately characterize yourself as an "old fart," and by referring to yourself that way, you are at least partially acknowledging that your opinion comes more from unreasoned obeisance to petrified personal preferences than from logic.

 Your claim that my son's painting was vandalism seems to be based on two criteria: first, that it was on a public building and second, that it was created with spray paint.

To the first point: Surely you've been to cities where intricate murals grace public buildings. These works were not merely done with permission; they were commissioned. Vandalism? And since when does a particular medium patently disqualify something from being legitimate? Calling everything created by spray paint vandalism is tantamount to saying any sound created by a harmonica must be just noise. Surely music can't come from such a gauche instrument!

Finally, while I like your comparison of graffiti to tattoos since they both have a rebellious, underground feel; while I personally dislike most graffiti and I particularly dislike tattoos, I would never be so arrogant as to dismiss all of these creative expressions as "bad art." Who has that right? I teach my students that a truly educated person is able to appreciate something he doesn't personally like. I am sorry to say that you seem to fail in this regard.

Ultimately, however, my son and I are both gratified that you have an opinion about what he created. Art should provoke a response. This did. Thank-you for sharing yours.

Alan Haehnel

By the way, if Jake had asked me if he could paint the mural on the side of my house, and if I had said yes, then of course it would be all right.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

* facebook: the town-meeting of the digital colonies

No Yuks for Zuck

So Mark Zuckerberg, the 26-year-old billionaire Harvard graduate and founder of facebook, doesn't like The Social Network, a film about his digital creation, because it depicts him as human: Ambitious, power-seeking.

Worse things to be accused of.

At first I ignored facebook.

Then I opened a page just for the heck of it. I use it mostly to advertise this blog, The Anti-Yale and my latest posts.

Recently though, as I've added friends to my wall (which I admit I have done VERY sparingly), I've been surprised and comforted by small interactions with people I haven't seen in years.

An even more endearing feature has been the creation of albums. I put 75 photos in one album for my nephew to look at and he started tagging them. Since he has lived 3000 miles away from my East Coast world all of his life, this was a kind of virtual old time "flipping through the album together" type of experience.

And then, surpise of surprises,  facebook becomes a 21st Century Society Page for the Egalitarian World : My nephew announces his engagement on facebook and sends photos to the world of the  bride-to-be and the ring, within hours of the presentation event!

I found this very satisfying.

In short, I'm a facebook convert and now fan----whether or not it feeds Mr. Zuckerberg's ambition and thirst for power.

BTW----an NPR program today credits facebook with starting a South American protest movement, getting Betty White her hosting gig on Saturday Night Live,  and with breaking the real facts about the horrific fate of New Orleans' residents after the government's incompetent reaction to Hurricane Katrina.

Facebook may already be the town meeting of the digital colonies.

Who knows what it may become as we continue to erect On-line realities? (So long, that is, as the Net remains egalitarian and democratic: An avenue of freedom.)

And that, I believe, is Mr. Zuckerberg's true ambition.

   A colleague who has a facebook page cannot access my page and I cannot access his page, even though other people access both of our facebook pages with no problem.  Could it be because he has Apple apps and I have Windows?  Any help would be appreciated.

* Grave-Misconduct

These little exchanges between TheYale Daily News posters and myself over racism and elitism, speak for themselves. (Photos are my addition.)

M.Div. '80

Judge dismisses Apache suit against Skull and Bones 

By Nora Caplan-Bricker
Staff Reporter

Montgomery Burns of The Simpsons: the most famous Yale Skull and Bonesman
The Yale Daily News
Geronimo's Grave
Two future U.S. Presidents and a Grave Robber (?)  and wives
Published Monday, August 9, 2010

It looks like the public will not be learning any times soon whether the secret society Skull and Bones keeps an Apache warrior's skull in its tomb.

A District of Columbia judge on July 27 dismissed a case that had been brought against the mysterious society, as well as the University and senior members of the U.S. government, in February 2009. The plaintiffs are 20 descendants of the legendary Native American chieftain Geronimo hoping to reclaim their...

#1 By Long live the lawyer 5:44a.m. on August 10, 2010

Ramsey Clark fought for the Kent State issue 40 years ago and is still going strong. Long live the lawyer!


#2 By I know it's summer... 12:24p.m. on August 10, 2010

...but come on:
Slobodan Milošević

#3 By Coit 2:23p.m. on August 10, 2010

Keys has it.

#4 By Pasta Keane 8:58p.m. on August 11, 2010

Ahhhh the long hibernation is over. I look forward to waking up to some nice AntiPasta

#5 By radical civil libertarian? 6:42a.m. on August 13, 2010 ends a long piece on Ramsey Clark with the following question. (Can they actually believe in a conspiritorial view of history? Maybe he's just a radical civil libertarian.)


"What is Ramsey Clark: dupe, kook or spook? Has a well-intentioned but none-too-bright Clark been duped by the WWP cadre? Or has his reasoning become unhinged for reasons of personal psychology? Or, is he a deep-cover spook, whose real Devil's pact is with sinister elements of the US intelligence community, his mission to divide and discredit any resistance to Washington's war moves?

You decide."

#6 By Y10 6:47p.m. on August 13, 2010

@Coit: says who?

#7 By aaron 10:24p.m. on August 13, 2010

let me get my thoughts together and write my response. never in my life have i felt the need to respond to something as to what i feel. what has happened to this country? being half native american, this is clearly a mistake.

#8 By @6 6:20a.m. on August 15, 2010

Maybe Scroll and Key, another secret society.

#9 By mark albino 11:38a.m. on August 16, 2010

What is wrong with this country! Native American Indian or not he was still an American and a human being. No one has the right to own someones remains. They should be returned to the family for proper burial! I guess because it is Yale and the people there think they are privileged and entitled they can do anything they want. The judge is wrong and should do the right thing and force skull and bones to return Geronimo's remains back to his family! If not, then his family has the same right to desecrate not only the judges family remains but the Bush family and all those involved as well. Maybe after this their feelings of entitlement will change!

#10 By Wag 12:17p.m. on August 16, 2010

Is the judge who made this ruling a member of this "secret" society? Just wondering...

#11 By Grave-Misconduct 9:00p.m. on August 16, 2010

@ #9

The white man's religion hasn't done much better: their own God's body was stolen from its tomb at the Garden at Calvary; grave robbery extends as far down the centuries as Dickens's Jerry Cruncher in A Tale of Two Cities. And grave-misconduct with the remains of the dead has its most shocking example right into this very year of 2010 with the mislabelling and downright loss of thousands of soldiers' bodies at Arlington National Cemetery.

The members of Skull and Bones would treat the remains of Yale's BULLDOG with more respect than they have bragged about treating the skull of Geronimo.

And this is considered to be the legendary(but historical) Yale practical joke of the grandfather of TWO Presidents of the United States!?

We steal the Indian's land; we exterminate his people; we rob his graves; and then we send our children to Yale to learn how to trivialize these events.

Proud to be an American.


#12 By Correction 9:33p.m. on August 16, 2010

I should have said "grandfather and father of TWO Presidents of the United States" not "the grandfather of TWO Presidents of the United States". (Even that correction sounds odd, as if he fathered TWO and grandfathered TWO. Oh well, the limits of language.)

#13 By med '10 3:09a.m. on August 17, 2010

And Yale Medical students used to steal the bodies of New Haven citizens to practice upon. Is PK going to get on his high horse over that? If you hate Yale so much, why do you continually post nonsense here? Really, go bother Harvard or something.

#14 By Ghoulish 1:21p.m. on August 17, 2010

@ Yale Med '10

Many of my relatives, descended from my great grandmother five removed, who was a Pequot squaw, have been buried in New Haven or nearby over the last century, so I am certainly willing to get on my high horse about Yale med students stealing New Haven bodies for research.


(Like drinking out of Geronimo's skull).

And BTW, no one FORCES you or anyone else to read my posts. If you and Yale are "bothered" by them, the "bother" is self-imposed.

Just ignore them.

I hope if anyone with my name ever comes under your care -- or knife --that you will be professional and put your "botheredness" aside.

Solzhenitsyn's motto is on the masthead of my blog, The Anti-Yale: ("Faithful are the wounds of a friend; but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful." Proverbs 27:6.)

I don’t hate Yale: I hate Yale’s self-intoxication (much as a son hates not his mother but her alcoholism).

M.Div. ‘80

#15 By Easy 1:43p.m. on August 18, 2010

You know what would get a real investigation done quickly?

Protests here on the campus.

#16 By Invite 5:44p.m. on August 18, 2010

How about inviting the descendants of Geronimo to campus to request the skull in person?


#17 By AC 12:19a.m. on August 19, 2010

There's absolutely no way that any judge is going to rule in favor of the Native Americans. Their case is based on a LEGEND. They don't have any proof whatsoever. The words "innocent until proven guilty" come to mind. Ridiculous.

Ramsey isn't a kook, he's just taking these Apaches for the proverbial ride. I bet he's loving raking in his hefty retainer!

#18 By Pro Bono 6:24a.m. on August 19, 2010

@ 17

Stop speculating and paste this url into your browser search window and watch Ramsey Clark speak about the case himself on this Youtube clip:

You don't understand civil libertarians if you think he's getting a big fat fee. Just type in a google search for "ramsey clark pro bono" and see what comes up.


#19 By Y2010 7:44a.m. on August 19, 2010

I would be upset by this ruling if I believed Skull and Bones actually had the skull.

They don't have it.

#20 By What was going on at Yale 100 years ago! 12:38p.m. on August 20,

Let me get this straight.

In the same list of contents for this YDS on-line edition I see that on the hundredth anniversary of Geronimo's death (Feb. 17, 2009) a Yale secret society is being sued for recovery of Geronimo's grave-robbed skull; and on the hundredth
anniversary of Yale Professor Bingham's discovery of the treasures at Machu Picchu Yale itself is being sued for recovery of those Inca artifacts.

What was going on at Yale 100 years ago that made Yalies (both undergraduate and faculty) think it was OK to steal?

Could it be that people of red and brown skin were not seen as human and therefore not embraced by the long WHITE Judeo-Christian arm of the Ten Commandments?

Ironic since the authors of the Decalogue ( the Ten Commandments) had browner skin than Obama.

Give the skull back. Give the artifacts back. And maybe Yale should give whatever buildings were built by slaves back. (But to whom?)

In any of these three instances, has any spokesperson thought of simply offering a sincere apology?

Oh, an apology suggests guilt.

Can't do that.


#21 By Y10 12:36p.m. on August 21, 2010

There are actually a lot of bones in Skull and Bones. Maybe they just can't keep track, you know.

Scroll and Key's not that big on bones-- they're much more into intellectually ethereal stuff, so I doubt they have it.

#22 By Yalie 4:19p.m. on August 21, 2010

@ PK

Take a bit of your own advice and stop speculating yourself. You're wasting your time crying for the return of items which have not even been shown to be stolen in the first place.

Maybe you should start asking Santa to give back all of those milk and cookies while you're at it?

#23 By Santa under oath 5:12p.m. on August 21, 2010

The point of Ramsey Clark's suit is to compel testimony under oath. Then the speculating stops. Even Santa tells the truth under oath: No, Virginia.


#24 By Yalie 3:05p.m. on August 23, 2010

Oh yes! I've heard that even O.J. Simpson tells the truth under oath.

#25 By Cross-examined 6:23a.m. on August 24, 2010

@ 24

CROSS-EXAMINED under oath.


Wednesday, August 18, 2010

* Back from the Dead?

The Living End
(They tend to, anyway.)

Staring Death in the Face

My honorary son, Joe, gave me a great gift a few weeks ago: a story to tell.

He put me in the ranks with Mark Twain, who , upon reading his own obituary in a newspaper, sent word that "Reports of my death are greatly exaggerated."

On his vacation as a Marine Sargent, Joe and his fiancée were up from the flatlands visiting in Vermont for a few days and went to pay their respects at Joe's mother's grave. 

Little did they know that I had bought a plot and installed a tombstone a hundred feet away.  On his way out of the cemetery he saw the stone which has my first and last name on the front, and he did a double-take.  "No". 

There is only a birth year on it; maybe they haven't got around to putting the final year on it yet. Wonder if . . .

The next day he and his fiancée were having supper INSIDE a Dartmouth hang-out where I always eat on Tuesday night.  I sit at a cafe table on the sidewalk in good weather and the people inside don't see the people eating outside. Two different worlds.

Get the picture?

As they leave the restaurant and see me happily munching my burger at the sidewalk table, Joe does a triple-take, definitely not expecting to see me after yesterday.

"You gave me a scare yesterday. I went to the cemetery.  I thought you were dead!"


It was worth the price of the tombstone just to have this story to tell.

As a friend  of mine said, "That was pretty expensive practical joke!"

Thanks for the story Joe.


If you look at the photo of my stone above you can see the flash from the camera reflected in the black granite.  If you look closely, you can also see me on my knees, taking the photo: Staring Death in the Face as my friend Alan said.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

*The Pequot Blood in My Veins (Check-out those Cheekbones!)

My Great Grandmother and Grandfather, Christina and Charles Nugent
Her Great Grandmother was a Pequot squaw.
(Note Gramma Nugent's Pequot high cheekbones and rugged features.)
My Grandmother (note the Pequot high cheekbones)
Alice Nugent Ward

My Mother (note the Pequot high cheekbones)
Barbara Ward Keane
Paul Keane
(Pequot high cheekbones hidden by glasses)

Sunday, August 15, 2010

* In Google We Trust: The Digital Divine

Felix Mendelssohn and The Cloud


A revival of interest in Bach's music occurred in the mid-19th century. The German composer Felix Mendelssohn arranged a performance of the Passion of St. Matthew in 1829, which did much to awaken popular interest in Bach. The Bach Gesellschaft, formed in 1850, devoted itself assiduously to finding, editing, and publishing Bach's works.

Denton Bach Society

Send in the Clouds

For eighty years after his death, Bach's works were ignored and fell into disarray. Some perhaps have been lost.

It was due to the 1829 staging by Felix Mendelssohn of Bach's St. Mathhew's Passion that Bach was saved from the anonymous dissolving influences of history.

Could such a dismal fate befall any musician or writer or artist today?

Ask The Cloud.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

* And the winner is . . . Nipohc

St. Saens

For about five years now, I have had this thought whenever I hear a favorite piece of classical music:  Who is the one composer whose music, if I had to choose, I could not live without? (Not just one piece, but the entire corpus.)

It always boils down to these five composers: Bach, Beethoven, Chopin, Dvorak and St. Saens.

And the winner is:  Nipohc

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

* Shacking-up with the Trinity

From The Shack:
(Jesus to Mack)
"But I can give you freedom to overcome
any system of power in which you find yourself, be it religious, economic, social or political." (kindle, large text, 2888), Briefly
Publisher Has Court Date In Dispute Over ‘Shack’
Published: July 13, 2010

A federal judge is expected to hear arguments next month in the legal skirmish that has broken out over the novel “The Shack,” a story of redemption and loss with Christian themes that has sold more than 12 million copies, The Los Angeles Times reported. William Paul Young, the book’s author, sued his former partners at Windblown Media and his marketer and distributer, Hachette Book Group, in a California state court in November, arguing that he had been deprived of more than $8 million in lost royalties from sales of the book, The Los Angeles Times reported on Tuesday. In March Windblown Media countersued for $5 million in federal court, calling Mr. Young’s lawsuit “ridiculous.” Hachette jumped in with its own motion on July 2, saying the case belonged in federal court. Judge John F. Walter of the United States District Court in Los Angeles is expected to hear arguments on Hachette’s motion in August.

Upping the "Primacy Problem*" a Notch

*(Christianity's assertion that ONLY through Christ can one come to God)

(Warning: Parts of this review may be hard trudging for those not familiar with theological gobbledygook. It's worth the trudge, though.)

I was going to post this under the heading "Redemption?"  a heading which I created below as a title for my reaction to the last third of the book.  Instead I am placing it here, at the beginning.

Credit Where Credit is Due

 First,  let's acknowledge that The Shack belongs to  a genre: Christian literature.  As such it is entitled, indeed expected, to have Jesus and the Trinity function as a deus ex machina in the plot.  And indeed they do.

I do not find their answer to the abduction and murder of Mack's six year old daughter, satisfactory; but,  I am sure many readers of Christian literature will find it so.

However, let's give credit where credit is due: despite  falling into the age-old trap of "exclusiveness" (see below) the book does some surprisingly  controversial things in the service of shocking American Christians out of their ethnocentric cocoons: God is a black female named Papa; the Holy Spirit is an Asian woman named Sarayu; Jesus is a modern carpenter in bluejeans who is facially "ugly".

One  unintentionally surprising thing which the book does is reserve until its final pages a  'springing'  which  may unsettle  even readers of Christian literature. 

Hear these words from Papa (aka God). God has the murdered six year old daughter of Mack appear from the dead and later God describes  to Mack how she [Missy] "has already forgiven him [the murderer]."  God is about to ask Mack to do so also.

" She has [?]. . . How could she," says Mack.

God answers: "Because of my presence in her. That's the only way true forgiveness is ever possible." (my emphasis)  (kindle, large text, 3618-22)

I suspect that springing this word "ever" would be news even to readers of Christian literature.

Does it mean that  the non-trinitarian gods of other religions do not provide their followers the "possibility" of  "ever" experiencing "true" forgiveness?

And is the forgiveness  second-best or invalid when offered to others by those who do not believe in a trinitarian god  ?

This seems like upping the "Primacy" assertion of Christianity even a notch higher. 

Now, it is not only necessary to experience the Father by way of the Son, but true forgiveness cannot ever be possible unless the presence of the trinitarian god resides in the would-be forgiver.


But then, Christian literature was meant for those who accept such exclusiveness.

Such a pity to alienate so many people this way.

Mine  is not an opinion which Christian readerships are hungering to proclaim.

And here is another ethnocentrically jolting sentence: At one point the author has Jesus tell Mack "Who said anything about being a Christian. I'm not a Christian."  (kindle, large text, 2897)

This is factually true. If there was a "historical" Jesus (see Albert Schweitzer's In Quest of the Historical Jesus) then his name was Joshua ben Joseph---- not Jesus or Christ----and he was Jewish from the day he was born to the moment he was crucified. Christianity was created 70 to 90 years after his death.

Many readers of Christian literature either do not know this, or prefer to deny it.  So it is surprising and refreshing to have the author tweak their self-imposed  ignorance here with this assertion from the Master's own "ugly" lips.

But if Jesus is not a "Christian" why the insistence on the Trinity as the access code to the Father (through the Son)? 

At one point in Mack's weekend with the Trinity, Mack  is introduced to Sophia who, once upon a time,  was the Goddess of Wisdom in ancient Greek mythology.

It looks for a moment as if the Trinity is about to get a "fourth" person, and a female one at that. 

(Jung says Sophia already was incorporated into the Christian godhead with Pope Pius XII’s 1950 encyclical making the physical assumption of the Virgin Mary into heaven a Church doctrine. See: Carl Jung, The Answer to Job)

Rather than challenge the 1700-year-old Nicene Creed (which solved the political problem of "many gods vs. one god" by creating the Trinity--THREE persons in ONE God) , the author leaves the Trinity intact with this adjustment : Sophia is "the personification of Papa's wisdom," not a goddess herself, just an attribute in God's personality.


Wouldn't want to make all those fourth century Fathers turn in their Nicaean graves! (After all, 1700 years is an admirably long time for a political settlement to last---let's stick with a winner!)

Finally, a quote from Papa "herself" : "Papa again interrupted, 'You see, Mackenzie, I don't just want a piece of you and a piece of your life. Even if you were able, which you are not, to give me the biggest piece, that is not what I want. I want all of you and all of every part of you and your day.'" (my emphasis) (kindle, large text, 3308)

I do not know why anyone would find this attractive. It sounds creepily voyeuristic and obsessively micro-managerial to me, Divine Love or not.

Similarly, Papa "herself" tells Mack that his ("her") locus is in "DNA, your metabolic uniquesness, the quantum stuff that is going on at the subatomic level, where only I am the always-present observer."  (my emphais) (kindle, large text, 1475)

The exclusiveness problem aside, (Is Papa present at the sub-atomic level in Jews, Muslims, atheists?) it seems a bit unkind to fetuses with spina bifida that an "always-present" observer powerful enough to have created the entire universe, observes the DNA as it is translating the code for "interior spine" erroneously into an "exterior spine" in a fetus; yet this all powerful being does NOT intervene to correct it. 

Papa later claims that he (or she) doesn't manipulate human beings, that they must come to him (her) on their own 'free will' and that although he could have prevented the murderer from killing Mack's daughter, Missy, he "did  not" do so. 

Free will was the rationale for not intervening with post-partum human beings like Missy's murderer;  but, a fetus does not have free will so why not intervene on the subatomic level without anyone knowing it to correct the error?

Seems cruel.

I, for one, have always preferred non-anthropomorphic descriptions of deity.

For  three decades I have said that if you changed all the words "Jesus" and Christ" in the bible to the word "Forgiveness" (with a capital "F") Christianity would make complete sense, without the problem of having a "person-god".


Sublime Emersonian heresy.

My reaction to the first third of the book:

I am reading on my kindle  The Shack  by Paul Young. It has been on the NY Times best seller list for a long time.  I'm only half way through it, so I really shouldn't write this post.  But I got curious and read a few reviews of the book midway through it, one of which was a devastating lambasting of the guy as a poor writer.

I feel a need to come to his defense.

He says he wrote the book for his children and I believe him.

The fact that it has been on the bestseller list for so long doesn't surprise me, for we all are children in our knowledge of theology; even I am, and I went to divinity school.

We're perfect clients for this literary approach.

Let's give the guy credit.  He tries to make the Trinity understandable to children : Us.

And that ain't easy.

He surrenders to a lot of the canned phrases from the Bible ("I am that I am", etc.) and even a phrase or two from Paul Tillich "the ground of my being". 

And he falls into the trap of country-club exclusiveness (Jesus says he is "the best" way to understand his "Papa" ---- who in this book, btw, is a black woman --- and  also to understand the third part of the godhead, the spirit part--- which is portrayed as an Asian woman in this book). 

Exclusiveness is always a way to make Jews, Muslims and other non-Christians feel second best and arouse their ire.

But so far, exclusiveness aside,  he hasn't made the Trinity intelligible to me at all.

Someone once said that there are only three people in the world who understand Einstein's Theory of Relativity. 

I'd say the same thing about the Trinity. 

I recall in div-school studying Theodore of Mopsuestia and homooosion and homoouision (terms about  divine substance: three persons, one susbtance /one person, three susbtances) and the Nicene Creed, the final compromise at the Council of Nicaea in  325 CE  solving the polytheism vs. monotheism battles by making many gods (polytheism) one substance (monotheism) in this political compromise called the Trinity.

Perhaps it's ponotheism or mollytheism.

Paul Young leaves me baffled.  No idea.

The Trinity remains  a remote theological construction.

So give the guy credit and cut him some slack:  He's trying to make an idea many people think is critically important to their faith, intelligible to the ordinary Joe and Joan.

I'm reserving judgment till I finish the book; but, I wanted to get this off my chest . . .

The Primacy Flaw (second third of the book):

I am now 2/3 of the way through the book and have 14 pages of highlights from it on my kindle.

One of those highlights I repeat here for it is a completely unsatisfactory answer to the problem presented in the opening chapters of Mack's six-year-old daughter's kidnapping and murder.

Jesus (at the shack) gives Mack this reassurance (after his morning-long experience with "Sophia," the "personification of Papa's wisdom" NOT a fourth person in the Trinity) :

You dont need to know "all the details [of the murder]. I'm sure they won't help you. But I can tell you there was not a moment that we were not with her.  She knew my peace, and you would have been proud of her.  She was so brave!" (kindle, large text, 2753)

This simply doesn't wash. A six year old girl forcibly abducted from her father's campsite and murdered "is brave" and "knows peace" through it all?!


Ask Charles Lindbergh?  Or the absolved Mr. and Mrs. Ramsey, Jon Benet's parents?  Or the thousands of parents of children slaughtered or mutilated in African wars?

Divine accompaniment of these innocents on their way to being murdered is not enough comfort for me: It does not wash.

Nor does the "relationship" model of the Trinity satisfy. 

Here, a completely modern,  New Age, pop-psychology phenomenon (the turning of "Relationship"  with a capital "R" into an answer for everything and the highest form of human developmental experience) is offered by Young as  a definition of a concept arrived at in 325 CE at the Council of Nicaea to  prevent a theological war from breaking out between polytheists and monotheists: The Trinity
(monotheism and polytheism amalgamated : ONE God/ THREE persons).

These fourth century theological  intellectual combatants would find  Paul Young's 21st Century  explanation laughable if not irrelevant: the Trinity as an archetypal example for perfect "Relationship"? 

Theodore of Mopsuestia might say, "So what?"

Doesn't work, especially if women are considered a part of that "Relationship" which they definitely were NOT in the fourth century.

It (The Shack's beatification of "Relationship" as the behavior being modelled in the Trinity) may help modern Americans make sense of their own cultural idols ("Relationship" being one of them) but it does not make sense of the Trinity.

And it does not encourage non-Christians to feel included when 'Relationship' depends on the Christian Holy Ghost (the Asian female character named "Sarayu" in The Shack ) for "all true power and authority":

"We [the Trinity: Papa, Jesus and Sarayu] want male and female to be counterparts, face-to-face equals, each unique and different, distinctive in gender but complementary, and each empowered uniquely by Sarayu from whom all true power and authority originates"  (my emphasis)(kindle, large text, 2334).

Don't get me wrong. 

The book is a compelling read.  But it has the "Primacy" flaw: without Christianity (and the Trinity) the full sweetness, the full peace,  the full complexity, of God cannot be experienced.

Offputting to Jews, Muslims and other religious folk, to say nothing of doubters and unbelievers.

And , irony of ironies,  "Primacy" is the very problem which The Shack says alienates man from God: "Men [the gender], in general, find it very hard to turn from the works of their hands, their own quests for power and security and significance, and return to me [Jesus]." (kindle, large text 2325). "This legacy of brokenness goes all the way back to Adam . . ." (kindle, large text, 2538)

 Please note the NY Times article in yellow text above stating that Young is suing his publisher for millions of dollars: A "quest for power" if I ever saw one.

Isn't the exclusiveness of the fourth century compromise called "The Trinity" precisely that which Young's God disparages in the preceding quote: a "quest for power and security and significance" on the part of the Nicene fathers?

Exclusiveness excludes !

Papa to Mack:
      "Like I said, everything is about him. Creation and history are all about Jesus. He is the very center of our purpose and in him we are now fully human, so our purpose and your destiny are forever linked." (kindle, large text, 3069-72)

Redemption? (Final third of the book):

I have one third of the book to go, so we'll see if he can "redeem" this Primacy Flaw.

Monday, August 9, 2010

* My Lie or Mi Lai?

Mr. James Wright, President Emeritus
Dartmouth College

Dear Mr. Wright:

      I just viewed on our  local public access Channel 10 your interview on Conversations with History by a Berkeley announcer the day after you delivered your Jefferson Lecture (which I have not read) .
      I was struck by your puzzlement over why Viet Nam veterans were treated poorly on their return to America. Shunned might be a better word, or, more accurately, ignored.
     They were simply absorbed back into society invisibly, with no fanfare, given no preferential treatment, no honorable mentions.
     I was struck too in your interview by several common threads in our backgrounds: I am 65, grew up ten miles from Yale, was the first to finish college in my family. My grandmother lived two blocks from Yale in a New Haven ghetto apartment, a third floor walk-up with no hot water.
     Unlike you, I did not enter the service. I went to school - - -and then the Draft ended.
     This summer I received a copy of a paper from my home town, Hamden, Connecticut, The Hamden Almanac. Inside was a close-up photo of Hamden's Veteran's Memorial, a huge bronzed wall of names in an outdoor setting.
     The close-up photograph showed six names in alphabetical order: Two of them were brothers who grew up five houses from me and were the my age and my brother's age. They both had been killed, apparently in Viet Nam. They had been dead for decades and I only discovered it , accidentally, when that close-up photograph randomly focused on their names on that plaque.
     My first reaction was survivor's guilt: that could have been my brother and myself.
     My second reaction was cultural guilt: Those kids weren't raised to see college as affordable or as an option, and so the service was their fate.
     My third reaction was disgust at the elitism of my high school which divided kids into college-bound and non-college bound, a fateful division for Eddie and Bobby H--------- (You can read my post on this on my blog at )
     And so I am mystified at your puzzlement over the invisibility of veterans when they returned from the war.
     You suggested that it went further than invisibility, that "we blamed the soldiers for the war."

     I think it's slightly different.

     We blamed the soldiers for shattering our fantasy, fed by propaganda, that America is right, that war is noble, that THIS particular war was necessary, and that our soldiers behaved properly. That shattering forced us to THINK about war, and about atrocities, and about minor matters (which I thought you trivialized) such as the Tonkin Gulf Resolution, a pretext for war, and the absence of any declaration of war since WW II.
     Those returning veterans were a mirror of our own denial about the true nature of American politics, egalitarianism, patriotism, and warrior nobility.       
     How could we do anything but look away from them when they returned, lest we have to confront our true selves?
     On yesterday's ABC This Week, a clip of an American soldier fighting in our current war was shown . In the clip the soldier said "the high you get from killing is better than any drug."


Paul D. Keane
M.A., M.Div., M. Ed.

On May 4, 1970 I was a graduate student at Kent State University and witnessed the shootings. I was struck by how no one --including my own parents --wanted to talk about the shootings after they occurred. It was the same "invisibility phenomenon", the same denial, which greeted Viet Nam veterans returning home. In fact, Kent State was the first homeland massacre of the Viet Nam War, a battle transported home 7,000 miles to Ohio for us to see firsthand, never acknowledged as such.



Thank you Mr. Wright for your kind reply.

I thought what was trivialized was the fact that no wars had been officially declared since WW II.

It seemed the way you expressed this was a bit euphemistic, almost to suggest it was a minor matter. In my opinion it is a crime to send soldiers to their deaths without an Official Declaration of War.

Yes you seemed puzzled that we "blamed" the soldiers for the war, but my point was that "blame" was simply a mask for our denial. We couldn't face our own complicity-by-silence in the atrocities of the Vietnamese and the slaughter of our own soldiers, just as we had to deny that we killed our own
children at Kent State at the hands of uniformed soldiers who were acting out society's (my parents' generation's) anger at long haired anti-establishment protestors.

I enjoyed your interview and especially enjoyed learning about your humble origins.


Paul Keane