Sunday, February 28, 2010

Kass and U. Chicago

Leon Kass, who seems to believe that Murray Gell-Mann is a nihilist for doing physics without God, offers his endorsement of Roger Scruton's 2007 diagnosis on Faith and Feeling in "Culture Counts" (on the back dust jacket just above Robert Bork.)

Scruton, whose book is so devoid of content as to be a very light read, offers us that there are no values without faith because the species generates cultural knowledge out of religion.  No culture without religion.
Culture begins with burial, not with consciousness.  He has not yet argued for "no language without religion", but he has come close.  Curiously, at one point he seems to come quite akin to the later  Habermas. For all his attention to music, Scruton offers no mention of Langer. But imagine: linguists, braving Siberian summer insects, seeking to preserve a record of languages - but without a cross dangling about their neck or a holy book in their knapsack - surely it is obvious that they are victims of modernist nihilism.  Conservationists working anywhere on the global without a religious inspiration are only going through the motions.  But Scruton, a Kantian, has an option open to him to avoid this psychologism: the end is to transmit the sacred core of the culture.  It suffices that they teach the core: they need not believe it, just serve the end.  But ultimately, to what end?  And to ask that question is to already have succumbed to nihilism.  Start with faith, end with faith.

Scruton has paid too much attention to the merely trendy and the lowbrow post-modernist/deconstructionists to notice that science, history and literary criticism continue regardless of religious revivals.  What is most noticeable in the book is the lack of 20th century culture: those who fled the Nazis to England and America were not all pleading for a return to Torah and The Book of Revelation.  Modernism, in the hands of Scruton, was mere nihilism.  It makes a good sermon, but poor intellectual history.  Even Charles Taylor serves up better than this poor fair.

Contrary to Scruton, Gorecki can be appreciated by the atheist, the agnostic and the theist.  Even a coherent theology would be no guarantor of aesthetic judgment.  An atheist myself, Milosz remains one of my core poets of the century as I struggle to master enough Polish to assess his translators.

The real humbug has to be his appeal to Solzhenitsyn: the writer returned to Russia embracing Putin, talk radio and even further embarrassment.  They are not talking about Solzhenitsyn in Saint Petersburg - where they have not all returned to the Church.

The truly naive notion may be that an Islam that embraces science, art and history will not remain a threat to western freedom.  Even more naive is his total neglect of what has been achieved in nations which did not go through America's "revolution".  The romance of that War of Independence glosses over the fate of those who were loyal to the British throne and the revolutionary rhetoric which it spawned.  Scruton may know how America was spared townsquare slaughter, but he has not told us.  Nor has he explained away Jim Crow in a Christian nation.

Scruton's book is so sad because of the influence it may have on policy makers who need a light read.  A corrective to Scruton is to read literary critics of the DDR with their appreciation of Northrop Frye as the state prevented the rebuilding of churches.  Scruton is flat wrong: literary criticism and appreciation of the classics thrived in DDR, as did classical music.  These were Germans!  In a police state, but still Germans!

As a homophobe, Scruton may find his followers among Muslims in secular Turkey and in Egypt.  He will certainly appeal to the headmasters of Lutheran private schools across America.

The book is worth reading because of his true assessment that America remains a conservative Christian nation with no appreciation that neither history, nor science nor mathematics are in need of his God let alone the moral teachings of Jesus in the mouth of Saul of Tarsus (who never met the man.)

I stand by Elton John: Jesus was gay.  I stand by the gays of Holland: they should not be denied communion.

Scruton is a symptom of what befell Anglo-American philosophy when it was learned that Anscombe had secured a Catholic funeral for Wittgenstein: religion vindicated as essential.  It is difficult to convey to what extent the atheist Russell has been an embarrassment to a great many published philosophers.  The Ayers and Carnap doctrines combined with Ryle's behaviorism have all created an environment in which patent nonsense regains respectability: no values without God, no self without the soul, no evolution without design, no mathematics without God - and without God, only nihilism.

The anthropological facts are plain: a God as conceived by St. Paul or Augustine or Aquinas or Kant has not been necessary to all cultures.  It is simply not the case that in the absence of missionaries, that animism evolves into monotheism.  Not all cultures with respect for the bones of the ancestors are hiding deep-rooted theism.  A city of widows should be proof enough that not all is well under Krishna even without the missionaries of Christ or Mahomet (Scruton should take a look at the life of a Tagore.)

Rickie Gervais might wonder when Scruton will argue that the Viking custom of burial in a flaming ship is truly at the core of the Danish heart of English culture but masked by Guillaume le Batarde - and from there it is one step to throwing the wife on the teak vessel so that her life can be complete.  And why stop at tossing one wife into the flames?  Some undergraduate needs to remind Scruton that since the Salic laws, marriage in our culture has been understood as a contract.  Christianity came close to disavowing marriage altogether - as have various Christian sects in history.  Marriage based on the Bible was not an experiment that Kant himself attempted, nor did Spinoza.

The clue to Scruton may be in Kant on the subject of masturbation; maybe one of Scruton's students can enlighten us on that subject.

One baffling element: Scruton throws in a passing reference to Lessing.  What can he have been thinking?

The key pieces missing for his book to make anything like his argument that the core of culture is faith: a response to some of the great poetry to emerge in this century from poets very far from his standpoint (oh, yes, all poetry in English is only possible because of the translation of the Bible which itself engendered the very English we speak ... what was I thinking ... all poetry in German devolves from Luther's Bible ...)

Who might this book serve? Undergraduate believers who are feeling brow-beaten by students or lecturers versed in  Adorno?  But for all Scruton's attention to Adorno, not a single mention of Weber.  Porridge, when the late hour suggested a hot meal - and porridge served cold at that.

Humour: I wonder whether Ruth Padel had been reading Scruton when she decided to take on Derek Walcott? She merits one mention in his book, deservedly so, I would say - but the zealous moralizing, the naiveté ... it really does seem to fit.

I predict that Scruton has a future at the U. of Chicago and, regardless, is sure to be seen often in America at one of the many institutes or foundations now pandering to the thoughtful theist and the ready book.  Those theists: so much can be done with so little research (this book on secularism is almost devoid of references to accounts of the nature and rise of secularism.)  And in America, as in most cultures, there is always work for a homophobe.

We are not in a world besieged: in America we have seen the enemy - and they be us.

Scruton has seen first hand the role that religion played in over-throwing Communism is the DDR, in Poland and in the former Czechoslovakia: what he must answer is the question of the extent to which organized religion had itself undermined any alternative, any liberal option, to the conservatism which did so much to sustain Bolshevik and Communist extremism and disarm opposition when it was needed.

The thesis that religion is the ultimate vessel conveying culture into the future is one thing - that it is religion that will ensure the survival of what is best in our western societies is quite another (oops, mere Western civilization, and tawdry at that.)  Would the views of Scruton have kept the West from colonizing Africa, kept the missionaries at home, stayed us from forcing concessions in Japan and China?  Would his views have moderated "Manifest Destiny" and protected both the indigenous and the bison?

The role of religion in the confident onset of The Great War seems to have escaped Scruton.  Europe as a continent of wars is what America escaped.  Not a colony, she was not obliged to provide canon fodder for England.  This resource is the resource which would not be available to England.  This has escaped Scruton.  He is not a New Zealander.  Nor did his great-uncles from Punjab die in the trenches of Belgium or France.

But Scruton is infatuated with America.  It is good for academic business.

Corrective to Scruton: Raymond Aron on philosophy of history
Corrective to Scruton: international maritime law without religion
Corrective to Scruton: a ban on torture, without mention of religion
Corrective to Scruton: a ban on draglines over coral reefs without mention of "God for Cod".

Recent lesson: fundamentalist US President with no regard for international law or the role of the UN or prohibitions on torture.

Question: what possible end is served by protecting the great apes if doing so serves to foster secularization?
Scruton's Answer: Because he likes to have his cake and eat it, too.

The conservative education credo: teach them the classics.
The American conservative education credo: teach them the classics in expurgated translation.

Corrective to Scruton: Richard Feynman in the exotic dancers bar.
Motto: keep bongos near your deathbed

A vacation tip for Scruton: visit multicultural Toronto on a busy summer day mid-week and listen to the languages spoken on Yonge Street between the old railway station and Bloor to the north.  All that, and without a revolution.  Oh yes, they tagged God on when they got a constitution.  Habit.  And the PM of the day was a closet RC.

The final corrective to Scruton and kin will come when a Scandinavian nation becomes predominantly atheist while producing films which people want to see and books which they will want to translate.  And maybe one major poet per century (and do you really need more than that?)  But no cartoons about the Prophet, if you please.

Roger: Jesus was gay!
A better read: "A House for Mr. Biswas"

Robert Irwin and Jeff Wall at the Walker: perspective.

Robert Irwin's Slant/Light/Volume ended today at the Walker in Minneapolis.  It was  available during a time that the immense Cibachrome, Morning Cleaning, Mies van der Rohe Foundation, Barcelona  by Jeff Wall was also on display in another room.

Sadly, the Irwin installation was in a space containing a rectangular concrete pillar, a structural element of the gallery building.  This impeded being able to traverse the room at an optimal distance to have the respective diagonal distances coalesce and vanish.  An entrance way to the right permitted complete right-angle view of the slanted wall of illumined scrim.  Had the back left door been permitted to open, a path could have been suggested that the visitor might follow.

The Jeff Wall, however, was in a space that allowed traversing from a few feet to the right of the image, across through roughly what I took to be the photographer's perspective and then a few feet farther past the left extent of the frame.  From the view right of the image, your perspective is that of a green wall of glass leading left, but by the time you arrive on the left, with the image to your right, you are at a veneer wall and the green glass is cramped and distant far to the right - as if the entire twin panels had morphed with your passage like sparse trees in a prairie landscape sweeping past you on a highway.

It is a shame that they could not have been in adjacent galleries with a path (the Walker offered pads on which to sit and meditate before the Irwin, a static view which negates the change so inherent in Slant/Volume/Light for the mobile, the pedestrian visitor.)  The Jeff Wall seems to invite taking a position near the pillar (the pillar in the photographic image) and adopting a static viewpoint.  But the cleaner was moving, the water was moving, we are not the statue, all those who entered this space were moving, as were all those who entered the Irwin space or the Walker.

Space, movement, time.  And now the Irwin will be gone tomorrow.  Yesterday I left a favourite scarf at a poetry slam.  I begin to forget the Arthur Ganson mobiles in Boston at the MIT museum, his face, his voice, his manner that put my son at ease, a mobile fountain in Basel, the first time my children rotated the cams of a movable sculpture.  We reach an age when time seems more unreal, spring again so soon, the past collapsing  in irregular accordian folds as if memory itself had begun to wheeze.

"petites personnes", suspicion and distrust

The many readers of "Herzog" were not mere nobodies in the literary career of Saul Bellow.

Eliade, Ricoeur and Taylor. The latter, the Canadian philosopher, finds himself referenced in the Vienna lectures on recognition, but somehow a credit to Gabriel Marcel on the gift is missing.

Marcel converted, but I am not aware of a note by Ricoeur on his remaining a Protestant and his distance from the Catholic Church (so very different for the Anglicans or American Lutherans and Episcopalians.)

Les Fonds Ricoeur, in an official response to Robert Lévy, offer us des petites personnes and their preoccupations, I suppose.

In France, Ricoeur came to be recognized - the fulfillment of his career, his professional life. In America, he was at none other than U. Chicago.

I cannot help wondering if he may have seen the flawed Russian film, "The Return", prior to his lectures in Vienna on recognition.

Consider these nobodies. Some remain without any distinguishable religious beliefs but remain uncomfortable when it is announced that there will be a new assessment by eminent scientists of what behavior (not behaviour) distinguishes our own species from earlier primates and hominids.

Eliade was required reading in so many colleges, required by professors who were certain that there is always the need for faith.

Taylor is so crass as to toy with his readers: "Is that all there is?"

I wonder about capable scientists and judges whose careers meet with no acclaim: a few publications and few  judgments over-turned on appeal and those appeals upheld.

In one collection of Taylor's essays in technical philosophy, a "grey essay" appears: an unpublished "paper".  It is now common to create posthumous "Collected Works" in which each and every scrap finds its place in the master's legacy.  But the fate of the "grey papers" of Ricoeur?

Ricoeur's own turn of phrase in the English translation seems most apt for Taylor: "the rhapsody of ideas".  Eliade will eventually be placed with Arendt, a "writer" and not a "researcher" and a writer with an agenda.

Against the lot, I prefer Milosz responding, if you will, to Raja Rao, or Avishai Margalit's "argument" against what has no spiritual reality for him.  Milosz has his contradictions, Margalit his modesty.

But then there is Jaspers and his letters to Arendt.  Jaspers is in Luxembourg, already stripped of academic office, under a publishing ban, and he does not manage to get his wife, a Jew, to Switzerland.  Yet he will take exception to post-war legislation and exile himself to Basel.  With Husserl stripped, Jaspers stripped, Ricoeur heads off for a summer of '39 in Munich.

The little people, the mere readers, are to follow Ricoeur in his meanderings, in his distrust of science.  We could ignore Sartre, who knowingly took the philosophy teaching post of a sacked Jew, from whom there is almost nothing to be learned.  Almost nothing.

Then there are the elderly readers: new publishers spring up in Berlin, Dresden, Leipzig, publishing Festschrift and more, plump with a nostalgia for their old days in the DDR, all their plays produced, all their books in the schools, summer cottages, travel abroad.  We may have lingering hopes of transcendence, they had literature, quoting Northrop Frye and Marx and Stalin and never a mention of the Stasi.  No, "I regret having informed on your son, having over-heard him talking in his room to his friends when I was a guest in your home."  For that we have "The Lives of Others".

Ricoeur's lectures close with a false opposition of Levinas-Husserl.  There is a gap. The between.  The attentive reader knows that it is bridged for Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, Taoist, Catholic, Protestant.

The real attack on science and technology is, I believe, actually an attack on science and history.  "Teknik" is a smokescreen, not unlike Leiss on "domination".  After a lifetime devoted to "lived experience" and "co-constitution", all that I have left is a confidence in poesis and a willingness to continue to read.  And a growing measure of disgust.

But there is also validation, when the reader recognizes in the learned author the same longing, the same nostalgia for the transcendent.  At that point the author must be trusted.

Missing from the Ricoeur narrative is the avowal of a past falsified, an apology to Gusdorf.  My only corrective is to re-read Beckett's "Murphy", Beckett having been a true hero of resistance.  Not just another liar, poseur, windbag.

The message of Ricoeur is that phenomenology will be of no avail.  I disagree.  We require now a phenomenology of combat, to understand how we came it embrace grapeshot, boiling tar, fragmentation grenades, landmines that only maim, machine guns.

One of the pioneers of powered flight could not bear that we would fly to murder.  Not kill in combat.  Murder.  The synchronization of machine gun with propeller was a major triumph.  Now we are faced with theocracies who are in pursuit of nuclear arms, an Islamic nation with nuclear arms which is only one step from theocracy.  A liar aims for the American Presidency and another liar occupies the highest effective office in the secular state of Turkey.  Turkey, whose armies were stopped at Vienna.

If we cannot embrace science and history without religion, ethics without religion, law without religion, then we may not be armed well enough to survive the collective slouch to reassuring fundamentalism.  Fundamentalism is not some marginal deviation.  It is the core.

Roman Catholics, Anglicans and Episcopalians would have us believe that we can have science and history and all the old certainty in the God who would watch a boy hang for a piece of bread, a girl buried alive. We can be reassured.  We must restore the strength of our institutions, ensure the soundness of our library collections, our curricula.

So far blind trust in a Bible-believing President has brought us only a war in Iraq after a botched effort against the Taliban. Distrust and suspicion was not enough to prevent a pointless war against an Iraqi dictator, a modest dictatorship when compared to North Korea, Cuba or China.  A war begun with remote-control missiles, cruise missiles.  A war that claims precision, but cannot perform an inventory of ammunition dumps (what could the rag-heads use artillery shells for anyway?)

When we read our political commentators for insight, when we try to form an opinion, we do go forward with a certain trust.  There is a rhetoric which ensures this trust.  To read the apologies for the old DDR and its writers and critics is a lesson I will not too soon forget.  And there is a rhetoric of the philosophers who write about "the really big questions" - especially those who seem to have no one answer, no system to offer us, such as Ricoeur, a Protestant, and Taylor, a Catholic.

With the doyen of American philosophers, Hilary Putnam, having made a complete tour of the positions available to him, the little people might be excused for believing that there is no progress in philosophy and that perhaps a theology which suits the President is not so disreputable after all.  Anthony Flew finds his God.  (it could be an effect of the aging brain and no President would confess a loss of faith.)  And we, the mere readers, are still waiting for even a small group of philosophers to emerge who are able to address those of us who are reluctant to concede that all and anything that separates us from the hominids before us is our brain anatomy and chemistry, our social relations of dominance and exchange, and behavior (linguistic and emotive.)

To read a philosopher and know him to have failed to address his greatest public failings (were the camps for Officers not public arenas with publishing? ) - to read that Gusdorf elided the profanity and obscenity that punctuates military speech - and then you have heard the man.  Ricoeur was sent to make amends at a school which had been exemplary during the war.  Knowing what we now know about the extent of French collaboration - knowing something of how very differently the Poles comported themselves - perhaps the University of Chicago needs to reflect on the buffoons and worse whom it has ensconced on occasion: beginning with Tillich, Arendt, Eliade, Ricoeur and now Taylor.

I was taught that what was different about the Kennedy administration is that he brought in brains from Chicago.  Now we have a taste of Chicago in the White House and a President, a lawyer, who may still consider a vague theology and disreputable sermons to be somehow more fundamental than science and history.

Einstein claimed that science cannot give you the taste of the soup.  In many ways he was wrong, as our new views of beaches, clouds and human feeling amply demonstrate.  Professors assure their students that philosophy is not about the meaning of life, but also guide their best students away from disciplines such as history and philosophy of history, literature and philosophy of literature risking that those fields can tolerate mediocre efforts with little harm.

Major universities use their endowments to help ensure that work that is deserving of publication is published and often that every notebook and every set of lecture notes appears in bound collected works.  Most of us will only see the volumes that were aimed at the intelligent reader, the discerning reader (although the need to translate German and French texts for English markets might lead you to wonder how serious those readers are thought to be, unilingual, under-educated or merely language-challenged.)

Translations of lectures by a philosopher, published by a university press, suggest that this work merits reading.  With few books of philosophy finding their way into American public libraries, my copy of The Course of Recognition from might yet be replaced by Le Parcours from a participating inter-library loan institution.  I wonder: were these lectures a strange avowal of his personal need and of his feeling of being threatened given what befell Eliade?  Did he see himself in a portrayal by Bellow?  Had his wife died without knowing why a Croix de Guerre with such connections had been consigned to resume teaching in a backwater?  Had we known, would there have been an interdiction?  Should there have been?

My own suspicion is that Ricoeur had read pre-war writing of Jaspers that were easily misread.  Mikel Dufrenne is gone, Gusdorf is gone, and so we, mere readers, not scholars, may never have an answer.  On the shelf behind, first to hand, the books of Paul Ricoeur.  Books on almost everything ever dear to me.  Husserl.  Metaphor.  Narrative.  Freud.  Books in which the author's best hunch, his hard-earned insight, his daring direction, are essential to the reader and his reading and what he shapes from this reading in his very own speech and thought and musings.  In what he advises his children, his friends.  Imperfect.  Flawed.  But not "essentially" flawed?

In these writers there can be no separation of the writer from his work.  This is not science, this is not history, this is not mathematics.  They do not offer an argument, a line of argument, from which you might divorce them, abstract them.  They are in the lineage of Lessing, Nietzsche and Heidegger - they must themselves be read - and any unadvised reader will be hostage to the translator.

If we were to discover evidence that Jeshua, the Nazarene, a stone-cutter, had left behind a wife somewhere along the Ganges, the wife who taught him to speak and ensured more work for him, his father, his brothers, would that, could that, now be irrelevant?  If the Vietnamese on the Chinese wife of Ho are any indication, it is not so.  This would not be youthful indiscretion.  Behold the man.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

A Note on "Der Oger", the play by Veza Canneti

English-speaking students of German literature who have not encountered works on the last years of Vienna and its empire, may miss a connection in the play.

This is a mention, in the 1st scene of the 3rd act, of a "Kinderblindenheim".

In our day, neonatal blindness is largely prevented by preventing neonatal jaundice and is a world health concern.

But blind children in Vienna have another connection: brothels and syphilis.

Later in the same scene, references shift to Waisenkinder.

The play is not set in Vienna, but there can be no doubt that it is the work of a progressive Viennese writer.

There is also the the mention of "betteln".  The blinding of children to produce beggars is one of the more disturbing urban aberrations recorded.

I would suggest that the view that there are always the blind, always orphans, always beggars as there are always the desperately impoverished is one of the urbane views to which Veza Canetti held a life-long visceral opposition.

That there is "of course" a need for a "home" for the blind children and a "home' for the orphans and that our task is to fund these by appealing to the very perpetrators of these ills - this should strike the reader.

There will be no "Plakat" at the brothel, no titled notice of who spent more than whom at any given brothel.

Draga, in the home of Iger, finds herself in an inversion of sorts: those who arrive at the door ask for money rather than paying their money.  The play closes with the key element of the Bankbuch: money in, money out, rather as the play opened.

Another key element in the play, is the state of Draga when not on view, and the demand that Draga come out on view, and that where she is living is not, in fact, a "Haus".

Some readers will doubtless be dissatisfied by the end of the play: Veza Canetti was committed to social change and the need for persons to speak and to act.  The young Anglo-American reader may not be aware of the extent of the plague of syphilis in the world before the Great World War and after.

A walk in the Green Mountains of Vermont to the remnants of a colony, a settlement for syphilitic Union Civil War veterans and their families, may give another clue to this "Kolonie" in Der Oger and an alternate village with a "bridge" to an "Apotheker".

For a different reading of "Kinderblindenheim" - this one by a scholar - see "Sozialismus und Psychoanalyse: Quellen von Veza Canettis literarischen Utopien" by Angelika Schedel with its much richer reading of the references in the play to a Viennese audience.

But in my defense, I would only note that at various points in the opening scene of the play, there are references to a woman alone at a bridge or "Bazar" as being viewed as a prostitute - and the obvious Haus to which a prostitute is destined.

Elias Canetti must surely figure in both the father and the husband: while Simone de Beauvoir may have accepted Sartre, cash in pocket, and his "putes", Veza Canetti may have been conflicted - in that Elias, averse to having money on his person, frequented women she knew even as early as the time of her writing "Der Oger".

Given the parallel in the openings of "Die Gelbe Strasse" and Musil's "Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften", it would be interesting to look for a connection [Rettungswagen, Sanitätswagen and Lastwagen, Kraftwagen] in when Elias Canetti or Hermann Broch first heard Musil read from his work.

related: dissertation of Lois Zweck.

Keller and Koko

As a student, in discussions among philosophers, psychologists and students, nothing that I was ever told or heard about Helen Keller was clear enough about one known fact: that she was almost two years old when stricken blind and deaf.

I say "almost two" because in this instance - for the case of hearing - I am counting the last few months of gestation.

The child had been exposed to human speech and to its role in affection, play, nourishment and multiple other aspects of the life of the neonate, infant and toddler.

Now I find that I must look for details of Koko, Washoe and Nim.  The latter spent most of the first year of life in a laboratory.  While Washoe lived with a family, I find myself wanting to know about her first months.

I recall that during the first months of life, Bonobo infants and human infants appear to follow a similar developmental pattern.  Some apes used in language acquisition experiments had been the victims of poaching, but for some reason I recall Nim "Chimsky" as having been born in captivity.  But after months in a laboratory, what was the structure of his behavior in interactions with his human keepers?  From a group of randomly selected toddlers, would he have been within  1 sd of the norm for his cohorts from normal ape family groups?

At least one street urchin has gone on to win prizes in science, but we seem to now recognize the importance of the first years of life if a human is to thrive.  This is a recent development in western civilization.

Perhaps comparable - for students of philosophy - are the first reports of the visual world of those blinded by cataracts upon the restoration of sight, a topic reviewed by Oliver Sachs in "An Anthropologist on Mars".

But if we had discovered the use of syntax in Nim, surely our efforts to save Orang habitat in Sumatra would have been redoubled.  Without some other primate species which buries their dead, the lesser primates are likely doomed to have their natural worlds expropriated by the dominant species.

related: Great Ape Trust

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Signs and circumstances

Milosz  "Encounter" (1936) in translation: that in the fields, a hare crossed the track which the wagon was following and a hand gestured.

Whatever one might not care for in the translation, or in the poem in Polish (two stanzas more follow), it is unlikely that Quinean scepticism need enter the picture for philosophy to ensue.

Another writer with a Nobel observes that he saw cranes (perhaps he saw herons or egrets) along a pond and that in some poses he noted what oould have been characters in some alphabet.

One might suppose that in that observation he came close to what Jaspers had meant- what could be seen as cypher in some living forms.

Inch backwards in geological time, our biological time, to an imagined circumstance preserved in no poem or notebook.

The shorter one says, "But unlike them, we speak a language."

If this were to translate some "first" for our species, even if soon forgotten by those present, I would not be quite convinced.  Try this:

   "Those others! Bah! Us-true-people speak true-words! Right!?!"

This seems closer, seems to have the more convincing weight and tone.


   "Prav Vlad Lud Slav"

has a closer hint to a proto-language than

   "True, People Words, to-speak!"

"prav" for both truth and right-handed.
"vlad" for those who rightly rule in this valley or these hills
"lud" for us, the people - Pan, if you prefer ... or Dene or Nihon-jin.
"slav" for both clever and famous and words recounted in tales (in some repetition of words and dance)

(By way of preface, in Polish the calumnious word for their western enemy was also that for the cockroach)

The more difficult is "those others". Are they to be imagined "speaking" as they cower there at the feet of the victors, murmuring or pleading? Were their males already dead? These may have been older sisters seeking to console, quiet the younger, lest they provoke further carnage with their weeping.

The moment of philosophy would almost be there were the superfluous observation made that "those others" also weep. If made by a son, a nephew, a clout to the head will correct the misapprehension. But if made by a courageous warrior...

When I was a child we were taught that only our species laughs and weeps. Now we hear the Pan paniscus laugh in its exhaling and inhaling.

You can read that the Greeks arrived at an understanding of themselves in relation to the speakers of barbaric through the invention of oral history.

It is noteworthy that in seeking to dominate the other through force, you need only look at the case of Vietnam where we see both France and the USA resorting to outrageous lies - as did the Third Reich with regard to the mechanized slaughter of the Poles - the pretext for war.

From the Old Testament, David must repent of contriving the death of Uriah.

The video recordings of the troupe of macaques capturing the old ladies in mourning about the fallen patriarch would seem to give us one hint of our beginnings. What is missing is the repetition of some mournful, grieving sounds. Imagine one observant old auntie suddenly emits a loud shriek, the same shriek emitted when the conniving, murdering male raped her daughter while she was still breast feeding: "J'accuse".

But how many thousands of times did some such beginning have to play and replay, repeat, be reinstated, re-engendered? You can imagine the powerful silver male soundly beating the females when he hears them at that mumbo-jumbo within his hearing, disturbing his nap with some intruding image of some misdeed of his or some fate that might befall him.

It is not for nothing that our cousins were named Pan troglodyte.

Homo sapiens sapiensis seems not quite right once a species has become explicitly reflective, even to the exclusion of the others, indeed via the exclusion of those others.  I suspect that we became

   homo sapiens sapiensis (excl)

perhaps even sooner than

   Pan techné

I wonder if swarming hominids without rudimentary signs could have annihilated - however slowly - any other species than hominid.

If we were the end of the Neanderthal, the big cats, the giant sloths, the passenger pigeon, do we not then merit a clearer designation as a species?

   Pan subcidé

the species that may annihilate that which is other, lesser, hated or vulnerable - and so named, "those others", the "slow-ones", the "cave-killers", the "barbarians".  Homocide, fratricide, matricide, genocide, infanticide - all that is missing is the term for those who wipe out a language, while enslaving its people - or simply by enforcing their own laws, their ancient teachings.

[noted at a time when languages continue to disappear and numerous primate species are understood to be at risk of utter extinction]

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

wikipedia and the teenager

This quote at anglo-american wp may be notable:
The series received generally negative reviews from most mainstream critics when it began broadcasting, but was extremely well received among viewers
My last teenager, a daughter recognized for her talent as a fantasy writer and art photographer here in Minnesota, will not watch the thing - not even to tell me about it.

The key word is mainstream.  It is the shibboleth of the resentful conservatives in America and their resentment of representative government without any form of proportional vote (they don't know that is their issue.)  I cannot imagine how the term could be used within Canadian media: try to envision a program for Cégep students filmed by the Vatican in Thunder Bay, running in a community channel on Rogers Cable and then it's critics as "mainstream".

Whether the term means more than "progressive" or "left-wing" or "liberal", I will not venture to say.  The appeal to this notion is the closing of dialog, debate or reflection - that much I will suggest.

Could it be less than "editorial" and does it require a reference according to wp rules?  How long will it remain unedited?

The sociology, psychology and anthropology of the adolescent has a troubling history.  I spent one year lecturing on "adolescent psychology" for a Canadian university, so I venture to have an opinion - not simply for having marvelled at my spouse for her gifts, inspiration and hard work in raising three children to young adulthood (herself a student of literature and often-times a lecturer) "Teenager" is a confused notion - confusion compounded with clichés in the public mind, clichés from novels, film and television.

In the Canadian context I would offer "Métis" as being as problematic a term in that culture as "teenager" in American culture (the attitudes of the Canadian poet Kim Morrissey, my cohort, with her derision for my great-grandfather brought this home to me most clearly.)

The history of childhood is interwoven with the history of religion and of law as it relates to family life.  For all their great literature, one might imagine Italy and Ireland - for their opposition to divorce - to be ignorant of the realities of women and children in the context of family life in an urban world.

As a child, I clearly recall that counter to the moral shibboleths: divorcée.  It was pronounced with the lewd accent.

Puerile is a failing we excuse in the young as is sophomoric excused in its turn.  But "mainstream critics" - will there soon by "mainstream film critics", "mainstream literary critics" and "mainstream professors of ethics"?

I pass on "extremely" as it seems to have occurred in a phrase conveying a tautology.

Saul Ascher and the publisher

There is no article on Saul Ascher at (it is now suggested that we translate German articles on German authors - a curious idea, naively encyclopaedist and pedestrian.)

Not surprisingly, there is likewise no article on André Thiele.

My first inclination was to add an article first at the wiki or some other web nexus.

Ascher: often remembered for his attack on the public antisemitism of Fichte.

A curious lacune at the internet encyclo of philosophy article on Ricoeur: prisoner of war, croix de guerre, but no mention of Ge. Gusdorf and the known pamphlets.  Had Sartre written such articles while a prisoner it would be headlines in the Review of Books.  But he was a writer: we are talking about the reputation of a philosopher, sometime guest at U. of Toronto and Chicago.  Would this not be another "tension" in his work fit for some "archeology"?  But the encyclo is "peer-reviewed" - which is not all that makes scientific bulletins reputable.

The readers of both Derrida and Searle ignored Gusdorf (who went into brief exile in '68.)

Also on Ricoeur: phillweb

On the foibles of encyclopedia: French Wikipedia on the French Empire under a new name post-1945: Union_française in which article there is not even a mention of Vietnam.  One footfold in the anglo-english wp: Leclerc on the topic of war and negotiate in a France where so many communists - for all their folly - had survived resistance betrayals.

For Michel Dufrenne, see Mikel Dufrenne

Footnote: Napoleon reinstated the legality of slavery in the French possessions (abolished again in 1848)

Note for Veza Canetti: Ho (Nguyễn Sinh Cung) and the Chinese Magd, Tăng Tuyết Minh.

poesis and readers

An early letter of Henry Miller to Lawrence Durrell shows Miller trying to attract some attention to his tropos, "The Tropic of Cancer" (the language which so shocked will appear more than fifty years later in the notebooks of Northrop Frye) and Michael Hamburger in "The Truth of Poetry" relates the efforts of Gottfried Benn to draw attention to his work.

Yesterday I read of Veza Canetti, remaining exiled in London, styling herself Veza J. Canetti, burning what she then felt no one would ever want to read, no one ever publish. Die Magd.

Les grisettes. Des lorettes.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Distance and Separation

Franz Baermann Steiner, "Gebet im Garten"

Franz Steiner and the Bushmen (whom he made known to Canetti, per Michael Hamburger)

Li Po, borne across centuries on the prose of Arthur Waley,
a near cousin of the anthropologist,
the Bushmen divided by language
separated by secret aspects
preserved in couplings
dictated by some successful hunt,
(the slow exhaustion of one terrified giraffe -
perhaps each spear, each dart, had an almost name)

Distance collapses, separation expands,
the past remains not quite compressed,
leaving a trail of glass beads,
not the dull, selenic powders of the unexploded moon,
these beads in strands, invisible, twined cosmic dust,
terminating in tiny layers of deadly buds.

Of what and who is other than us
[we, the people, we, the Dene]
singers are permitted to exaggerate.
No one will demand a polite tone
and a respectful story -
they were snakes and liars
only do not inflate their misdeeds
or we may look weak,
our elders foolish.

(My mother's uncle confided,
"Not all their women looked so,
or we had not kidnapped them -
or murdered their sons")

for W.B.Sinclair (WhiteDwarf Books)

Murphy blinkered by seven veils of his own selecting, the chair of his platonic cabinet a wheel not yet known to the Academy, rocks as does the sinking crescent moon as we promenade along a line of longitude against which is surveyed a rectilinear beach traversing the known globe with our western eyes.

Some son of Murphy, staring into the blue to first detect hilal, stricken by a headache so seizing his forehead he spends the next month in near total darkness thus being denied (or so she told him) a fine view of a rare and total eclipse, unexpected, unpredicted, like a brief death.

acute cité cesse cécité Cécile Celia ciel Stella scellé Cecilia cilia cils astral

points, orbs yet no circumference, a radius far too vast, radiant

[ <<La Muse malade>> et "Solaris" de Stani Lem ]

liens obscurs

green stars,
her emerald locks, lifted by the stream,
coiffure verdâtre

a bottle uncorked and that cork happily lost underfoot

Rebol 3, still alpha

Many mornings I begin in EeeBuntu linux on an Asus netbook and do
  cd rebol3
first to see if there is another release of the alpha and then to check for new posts to the Rebol3 chat server.

It is not easy to form an opinion.  A rebol wiki, web pages and a text chat server appear to have become an immense anchor dragging in mud, impeding the entry of  a beta from being cleared into a safe harbour.

Perhaps the core of the Rebol code will see changes from struggles with a server, with multitasking issues, TCP/IP issues.  Perhaps an opinion could be informed by following the new rebol3 exchanges in the R3 world at

Maybe with economies so depressed, it is possible to imagine that there is no real urgency.  But the iPad is released an there is no Rebol option to Objective-C.

I am biased.  My interest is held more by ObjectIcon and Curl web content for poetry and poetry translation and for the last phases of adult foreign language learning.

There are other new languages of great interest: Io and Converge among others.  But as a web language, Rebol has always seemed to me to be an alternative to even Seaside in Smalltalk - and certainly an alternative to any language relying on regex.

It is not just that there is the imprint of one inventor over a group: that is the case with Io and with Falcon (the case of Icon after the death of Ralph Griswold is such a difficulty with at least three talented individuals on separate forks.)  In the case of Smalltalk, there was no standard and Self, Strongtalk or Slate were promising new directions - and now there is Io.

It may be that a beta with a graphical library is closer at hand than I am aware now that so many more developers are active in building modules for the R3 core.
And doubtless a Rebol 3.1 would be the version to await  for any major commercial project.

And in fairness, we are sure to see a Rebol 2.7.8 before Icon 9.5 - but still this has been a sobering story for anyone interested in the sociology of invention, if that is how best to understand such innovations  as computer programming languages on the edges or margins of science.  Not quite Esperanto and not the decoding of genomes.  An apposite analogy escapes me.

"Der Oger" and "The Syrian Bride"

Last evening we finally watched "The Syrian Bride".  Hearing Russian and French and Arabic was almost as much a treat as had I been allowed popcorn.  But the disappointment: at my elbow in my work-corner of the sofa is Veza Canetti, "Der Oger".  It is impossible to notice that the first son and his wife and son, (sons all bearing the name of the patriarch,) could not be living in an Israeli city, that she could not be a Jew, not even an unbelieving Russian Jew and certainly they could not be speaking Yiddish, let alone living in Vienna.  We know they could not be living in Lublin or Vilna.  They live in Russia.
The foreign wife's name was surely Helen and she would be a healer.  She does not have a wide face and thick, dark hair.  She is slender.  I know as surely as I know anything that Veza would have felt outrage.  Only worse would be if he had rescued his Russian bride from one of the reinstated Baltic states.  Where was the lack of courage? He could have found an ethnic Lithuanian in Kazakhstan from that other Diaspora or any other.
That she is blonde is the very worst cliché - the easiest, most facile sign of the other for the Druze family.
Yes, the blonde and red-haired Hasidim, I met them on the streets of Outremont where they would not acknowledge my existence let alone that I understood their Yiddish (unlike the urbane Orthodox who were even inter-married, who met in DP camps and on boats when crossing to us over the Atlantic.)
Do we really imagine that Putin could have helped resolve the impasse on the Golan?  He only envies the cult of personality achieved in Damascus and fears the cruel political satire of the Israeli press.
Yet Israel Film and Berlin Brandenburger participated in this French film project (have we already forgotten the role of France in the preposterous borders?)
Borders.  At least the fool, the uni-glot Kohl, committed to the Polish border, an essential prerequisite to tolerating reunification.  And who remembers the present circumstances of a Kaliningrad?  And where is Lublin?

GRC and the accountants

More than twenty years ago on a visit to KPMG, an audit manager pointed out to me the great number of Toyota's on their floors of the underground parking - a question of resale value.

Friday, February 19, 2010

The recent comfortable theism of many philosophers

Reviewing notes on Frye's diary and life at University of Toronto in the 1950's I learned that the Religious Knowledge course had been required in each of the four years of the undergraduate degree.  The concepts of "communication" and "media" were taking shape and there were departments of Ethics.  Bioethics was being invented.  J.L. Synge was in the Physics Department.

Here in America, more than 50 years later, each time I read thinly veiled revelations of personal theism in the works of aging philosophers I bristle: the tendency of these sometime theologians manqués is to offer the insight, the hard-won understanding, that this dilemma or that dilemma now facing us has arisen due to The Enlightenment or The Age of Reason.

But here in America, outside of academe, you feel that we are only one small step from blaming all of our ills on the freethinkers, the atheists and their unrelenting, creeping socialism.  In a country with state highways and a federal interstate system and a federal post office, these "socialist" hate-mongers might be considered the lunatic fringe.  But they believe in the physical resurrection of the damned and eternal hellfire.  We may be in the last days.  One can readily imagine a day when an exposed agnostic will only manage to keep her retirement room at the Community Christian Retirement Center if she can prove that she had been baptized or that at least one parent had a true church funeral with officially sanctioned if not licensed prayers both in the obsequies and the interment and that a like funeral has been pre-paid for herself.

The present obstacle is the foolish claim that atheism is itself a religion and that agnostics are simply too confused to be able to name their religion.  The shrewd Pentecostal churches carefully rename their new and larger sanctuaries "Community" and "Alliance".  Young converts may never even come to know who was John Wesley, his bother or the Methodists.  Speaking in tongues and laying on of hands leave us ill-equipped to form opinions about the billing of health insurers for chiropractics, naturopathy or to judge the the tax status of the brazen Scientology.  The next President of the United States may be unable to say whether she is Arminian or Calvinist but only that she is Bible-believing.

When Franz Brentano first took issue with pronouncements of Rome we were still far from the physical ascension of Mary, Mother of God and partner in the Mystic Union.  The expanding Marial cult worldwide is mistakenly viewed as a gender correction, a reassertion of the female, the Venusian.

One hope in America is that non-religious Jews will affirm their cultural heritage and social identity without bending to the weight of nostalgia, grief, regret and disappointment.

The current neglect of the philosophers Susanne Langer and Karl Jaspers has seemed to be symptomatic.  Recent volumes by Charles Taylor have no attention to Hans Jonas.  The Jonas renunciation of Heidegger -attacked by Arendt before we knew of her on-going affair with the master - is an incident in recent history of thought and reflection in America which should give pause:  renunciation of Heidegger being more grievous than mere atheism - as grievous as the efforts to build a philosophical anthropology as free of theistic presuppositions as it would be free of naive scientism.

The Catholic Church, quietly embracing evolution as a fact and setting aside creationist geological claims and intelligent design engineering claims, is correct in thinking that the soul and the trinity stand untouched.

Charles Taylor has had the temerity to report the canard that American Christians may be the object of discrimination, at a time when talk of church activities is the norm in America at the gym, at the mall and most anywhere else.  In Memphis and in Minneapolis, people are more likely to invite a new acquaintance to their church than to their home.  Corporate managers routinely let drop conversational openers in brief weekly chat sessions with employees, testing the waters very shamelessly with mew employees - most will respond, few will object.  Cubicles in high tech all over the country sport calendars for Missions in the Dominican Republic, images of their family church drawn by their children at Sunday school or at their denominational academy.  Are they concerned that so few malls include a chapel?

-- "What are you doing on the weekend ?
-- "Well, after church on Sunday, ... "

-- "How's it going?"
-- Great actually!  You know I usually have Bible study on Wednesday night, but last night ...

Add invitations to attend this Church basement fund-raiser or that ... these candies from this Church youth group or that.  Your child will have a music recital?  Expect it to be in a church.

Charles Taylor, at home at U Chicago and Harvard, commentator on the western world, and yet so appalling ignorant of the American reality.  Has he never arrived at an American high school on "rally around the flag" day?

And when you do visit the home of some new acquaintance in the USA, whether it is the picture of Jesus on the wall or the embroidered prayer hanging in the kitchen ... most often you will know where you stand: alone.

It is said that atheists are the most hated persons in America.  They are the group identified as that from which Americans would not want to gain a son-in-law or daughter-in-law.   The best predictor that an American first marriage which has lasted two years will  later end in divorce is regular religious attendance by both partners in the faith to which both were born (except for African Americans.)  Even if the explanation proves to be that women in these cases tend not leave the marriage, it remains an indicator of the impact of religion in America.

But few Americans actually know an atheist, let alone tolerate the company of an atheist.  Agnostics, fine.  Depressed?  A church will be part of the answer.  Alcohol an issue? God will be part of the answer.

It has been my experience that in the case of Pentecostals such as Palin, children can be denied visits with non-Pentecostal cousins if there is a risk of any discussions of dinosaurs, dinosaur posters or just playing with toy dinosaurs.

As a boy in a Canadian public school in Saskatchewan I would watch as the lone Jew and the lone Jehovah's Witness left the classroom before the weekly Bible lesson given by a preacher from the Salvation Army (Alexander School, North Battleford, Saskatchewan, 1959-63.)  Years later in a federally funded French school in Regina, Saskatchewan, my two oldest children and the one Moroccan Jew were the only ones excused in the entire school from weekly catechism classes.  Those children were the children of federal bureaucrats serving in government.  This is not France.  This is North America.

It is undeniable that churches played a key role in the undermining of the East German regime.  It may also be undeniable that Joan Baez played a key role in Havel's new Czechoslovakia - but that would not vindicate her music or ensure its place in a musical canon - not even for the Czechs.  Jazz was also important in Saint Petersburg under Communist repression.

In the history of American politics it remains unclear how Lincoln, surely a free-thinker, escaped the scrutiny of the press.  A Jew will be President of the United States long before an atheist.  A woman will be President of the United States long before an atheist.  A Moslem will be President of the United States long before an atheist.  A Chinese American - even if homosexual or transgender - who at least has an interest in Buddhism will be President long before an atheist.  These simple predictions few would contest.  America is one nation under a god.

The current scientific view is that religion is an integral feature of both culture and society (some Korean villages free of deities were anomalies somehow caused by that very integral function -  and the limited number of missionaries in the field in any one decade.)  I say "the current scientific view" because it is now the prevailing view of the social sciences.  It is not merely empirical: it is now sound theory. Secularization is out. Religious realism is in. That realism may soon find new support in neurology and the physiological basis for both faith and superstition.  Freud told Binswanger something similar about his "basement" - only in this case the neurosis will be health.

Here is a thought: when neurology finds the basis for religious experience of the cosmic "other" but does not find that same nexus of excited pathways in chimps or dolphins, will they then have been proven not to have a soul?

Given the current status of a feature of human life as fundamental as consciousness in the philosophy of mind, this facile theistic pandering by philosophers in the public eye is very troubling (Colin McGinn is a notable exception) - more troubling than the rampant mechanistic behaviorism against which philosophers such as Taylor fought (and which died out not because of theism and teleology but because the doctrines grew more uninteresting and their proponents retired - a social phenomenon - harmless even though embarrassing to recall.)

But I still recall the uniformed Salvation Army preacher in the classroom. Very clearly. And the modification of the Pledge of Allegiance to include "under God".  No state religion will be required - only a rejection of Jefferson's intention and Jefferson's explication as a basis for interpreting the First Amendment.  A Supreme Court which has already intervened in a presidential election without setting precedent and which indicates that precedent is merely that, precedent, is not reassuring.  This is the America that could not ratify an Equal Rights Amendment by 1982 and which nearly developed "neutron bombs" during that very ratification drive - and may yet free its citizens to own assault rifles again.  Any atheist in America could rightly feel uneasy and uneasy for her children.

A President who as a mayor thought that banning books was a test of loyalty for a town librarian may be naming Supreme Court justices after 2012.  It is not unreasonable to feel concern, if not alarm.  That demagogue calls for revolution, yet another tells millions that the nation is in imminent danger.  A "news" service broadcasts alarmist claims of impending doom - daily - and the need for Americans to wake up and do something.  As if this large, complex modern nation could address its problems and challenges without a "big" government with a budget in trillions.

In an America in which the Church of Scientology can intimidate the IRS into granting tax-free status, I would suggest that most anything is possible in the name of religion, whether that be a Constitutional Amendment to ban gay marriage or mandate life terms for even non-violent pedophiles (the latest television witch hunt, catching up under-age teens in its net.)  This is a nation in which in one state it is legal to marry a 14-yr old girl and in another sexual contact with that 14-yr old could mean a lifetime branded as a sex offender.  Imagine the day when telling a child that God does not exist becomes legally defined as ritual child abuse.  That would be this very America.  All that needs to be demonstrated is that belief in God is the cultural, linguistic, ethnic, social and psychological norm and we will require only a little research by neurologists with PET scans for the case for mandated theism to be made.  This will not be established religion, but scientific fact. Belief in God, not the Church.  One State, under God.  Now go pick your church.  Your non-denominational community church.  If Palin is the new model of the Bible-believer, no theology will be required and no establishment clause offended.  The credo is that simple: free exercise of the one true religion.

It is not enough to claim that such a fool could never become President in an age of mass media and the internet.  One did.  He served two terms and made appointments to the the Supreme Court.  Without the distractions of 9/11 and war in Iraq, one can wonder what direction the country might have taken.  Remember: that President believed that God wanted him there and that God would guide him and show him the way right into the Iraq war which his father had failed to prosecute to it natural end.  Lacking any plan to handle the disaffected and unpaid Iraqi military - let alone to secure the stockpiles of Iraqi munitions - many young Americans had to die for the simple choice of a fool for a president and an even bigger fool for vice-president.  Remember: the bulk of road side bombs - the improvised explosive devices - used artillery shells from stockpiles not secured while a boob who had evaded military service was declaring that the military job was done.

It was clearly possible that McCain/Palin would win in 2008 and that the elderly President would succumb and leave a nit wit as President.  Even a Dan Quayle had legislative experience.  Palin could have been President of the United States and she may yet be President Palin.  Even a Joe McCarthy never got this close to power or ever had this chance at power.

One thing that the apologists for God may have right is the critique of "progress".  Taylor goes so far as to mock British fair-play.  Concerning the bombing of of Wuerzburg or the sinking of the General Belgrano or the decision to go to war in Iraq, we can agree that Great Britain has often displayed something other than a sense of fair play.  But for atheists in Anglo-America, the sense of fair play is about all that we can count on.  And to survivors of tyranny in China, Germany and Russia, that must make us look like fools.

Three strands here: vague theism, a scientific basis for theism and the reach of a fundamentalist Christianity which - in actual practice - is dogma almost devoid of theology.  A bit like Communism without the dialectical materialism and related scientistic baggage only scarier for being so familiar and so readily embraced by the demagogues in the news industry.  This brand of fundamentalism may prove to be more of a danger than any fundamentalism in Islam.

Perhaps I am mistaken and this is such some revivalist cycle here in America and the scare will pass.  But if not here, then quite likely in some nation such as Uganda.  A recent post at a news feed showed puzzlement over the opportunities for missionaries in the predominantly Catholic Philippines - not a puzzle when you realize that for these Christians, the Pope in Rome is the Anti-Christ.  Conflict over Pentecostal conversions in India is a real problem.  It could be a tremendous problem if the Communist Party were to collapse in China.

The socialism of Charles Taylor - like the peculiar Canadian "Social Credit" dogmas - were doctrines preached in Canada by Baptists and related preachers.  The more recent political ambitions of Pentecostals in Canada rival only those of one other sect: the Scientologists in the US and France.

Of course there is always the other danger: mass hysteria concerning Free Masons did once spawn a political party in the USA.  Part of the hysteria in that case was the problem of "identifying" Masons - rather like "witches" and "communists" in that regard.  My personal answer for the new Fundamentalists is satire.  But I do remember that a program such as "The Daily Report" of Jon Stewart was unthinkable when I was a child.  Ah, yes: progress.

Milosz and the Animals

In the 1982 collection of essays translated by Richard Lourie and published as "Visions From San Francisco Bay" Czeslaw Milosz asserts his own variant of Catholic anthropocentrism.  It is not always so clear that scientism is his target: so often with Milosz it appears to be natural science that is loathesome.

One particularly troubling moment arrives in his reflections on the natural sciences, reflections in which he glides from animals to the observed behaviors of mutilated insects.

Writing in the language of a nation whose cavalry last rode into machine gun fire, obedient horses terrified by mortar shells, high-explosive ogives, whizzing and whining shrapnel, yet he fails to speak of animal suffering in a voice that I hear.

The Vatican has sought to bring some corrective to its words and statements promulgated over the years - a Vatican which was said to have opposed the creation of a humane animal mission within its walls (or was it within Rome itself?)  What, after all, are our responsibilities in the soulless behemoth, the cowering dogs, the devious cats and rats, the fickle hawks and foolish pigeons?  Where are their catacombs?

Years after his death, readers of Milosz may have leafed through a nature magazine as a series of photographs, no doubt faked, showed wolves hamstring and then harass a moose until, days later, it falls exhausted, enduring crows until blinded and then the arrival of the bears.  Lions and hyenas follow the same course.  The fate of the solitary wilderness moose must not be construed as either evil or even cruel.  And we would protect the last pristine forests of eastern Poland from shorter railways, shorter highways, shorter pipelines, shorter power lines - before we do some wrong.  No forest which has known such trespass has ever remained on its own course, to its own end.

Elias Canetti was also less than direct, but often more suggestive than Milosz of how our relationship to the animal world is evolving.  Jeshua rides into the city on the back of a donkey.  Another makes his escape while clinging to a goat.  Canetti leaves us no doubt about the donkeys in the city of Marrakesh.  And not to forget that the north African cites were so often cities of slaves and their traders and owners.

When to stop beating a horse?

Saudi morality police are said to have barred girls from exiting a burning building because of their uncovered heads.

Yes, the fate of a Sappho in any great city of Islam should concern us more than a comic-faced camel on market day.

Milosz never seemed to grasp that urwelt, mitwelt and eigenwelt would not be the cleft ontological regions of the categorized world knowledge for which he was as nostalgic as he was for an inspired deontic order like any poet untrue to his first marriage vows.

A journalist's notebook suggests that it is the rural world of  Orthodox Serbia wherein the lost world of Milosz's Lithuania can be sensed in fable and superstition - the world of a lost Lithuania and others, their people uncounted or never returned from forced exile.  Villages renamed.  Manor houses plowed under.  But here the rural life continues as it might have in a Lithuania unconverted - or Orthodox.

But which folk parables teach that the man cruel to an old horse will lose his fortune, cruel to an old rooster, will lose his wife?  A carp is fattening in a tub.  Geese are fed as we would rather not imagine.

In not so rural America, poultry parts bound for Russia begin their journey by "locking" the flightless wings behind the back of the fowl - which go silent, subdued, and are easily flipped, carried and slipped into their crates for their journey to evisceration - handled and mishandled by the poorest of the poor, night laborers traipsing back and forth from 18-wheeler into the "barn" until the feathers begin to settle and it is time for a wash, perhaps a toothbrush, and breakfast.  If your great-grandmother showed your grandmother how to lock those wings, she doubtless also showed her how to hold the hatchet, or to choke up on the haft of an ax.

Those were not chickens.  Call them "fryers". The eggs have been candled from broiler breeding hens and sit warm in the incubator racks and shelves. The stacked boxes from the hatchery arrive in a few days and a new cycle of life begins.

This is no plea for free-range poultry or vegan diet.  The extremes are always easier to advocate.

Entering the Weisman Art Musuem at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis on the south shore of the Mississippi - a distinctive Frank Gehry (Ephraim Owen Goldberg) building - a great wall painting cannot be avoided if you turn left - a wall of galvanized layer cages - layers, trapped in pairs, in a simple binary pecking order, for their eggs, their days shortened and cycling with clever clocks, timers.  Not the simple egg timer of a pleasant breakfast.  It is not my favorite work in the collection.

In these essays Milosz is telling us of how and where he finds himself, a Polish speaking poet on the western coast of California and anyone who has deep feeling for this regretted poet will have wanted to read these pages.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

John Murtha surgeon's error: was a checklist in use?

It is not just that we should be asking in the matter of the accidental death of PA Democratic Rep John Murtha whether a surgical assistant was present, but whether a checklist was in use at each critical stage of the procedure.

The failure to use a checklist can result in the surgical equivalent of an experienced and capable pilot landing an aircraft with the landing gear still up.

Aviation has had to learn some hard lessons about Cockpit (crew) Resource Management.  Other disciplines have been inspired to change by authors invoking the metaphor of "the surgical team" and "the operation".

The day is gone when any successful aircraft landing is one fro which you can walk away.  The day is gone of the successful operation (but patient died) as was the case of early "artificial heart" recipients too weak to survive major thoracic surgery.

Accidental nicks to the GI tract resulting in potentially fatal peritonitis are a surgical common-place.  So were various anaesthesia errors prior to the reform of equipment and procedure (reversing compatible gas line connections being notorious pre-op errors.)

The recent attention to Atul Gawande's "The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right" by Jon Stewart may be enough to ensure that someone will ask: was the lead surgeon following a checklist when that blade nicked the colon.

Those of us who are old enough to remember the Mayo Clinic as the place to get a gall bladder removed will know that there is no peritoneal surgery - even laparoscopic - without risk.  And there is no landing an aircraft without risk.  But risk can be reduced if the big ego is not in the way.  So what went wrong?

Did the nick occur due to the failure to correctly configure a surgical tool prior to retraction or repositioning?  If a checklist was not in use and if this was surgeon error, could a checklist have helped to prevent that error?

Official Google Blog: Google Translate adds 10 new languages...

There is a blog for Google Translate:
Official Google Blog: Google Translate adds 10 new languages...

Perhaps I should have linked it in my lame post.

Very lame: Google Translate and Russian

If you doubt how silly it is to offer Russian translations without the options of "stress" marks, just read the Amazon customer reviews of Kristine Kershul's "Russian in 10 Minutes a Day" which has gone through more than one printing.

In Russian, lexical homonyms - words appearing to be spelled the same - are not homophones and often not even cognates.  In English you might have "Cut a record" versus "Record a disk".  I believe that in most English dialects, the stress shifts for the noun as opposed to the verb.  In Russian, two such words could have entirely unrelated meanings, rather like "Tie a bow" and "Bow down before the king"

In English, it suffices to offer a phonetic equivalent to capture the difference.  Not so in Russian.  Russian  requires that you know the stress mark.

If you check the articles on some Russian persons of note at you should be able to see how often stress marks are being used.

In the past, in order to present stress, you required a separate font, such as that sometimes still used at

Since the advent of UNICODE stress marks, all that is required is to add an optional stress character after a vowel in the stressed syllable.

Just how silly this is at google translate can be seen by attempting to translate "opera and ballet" from English to Russian.  All is fine unless you intend to use these words in conversation.  Clicking on the "romanization" button is to no avail.

Sometimes a "phonetic romanization" will tell the story for those Russian vowels which are reduced when they do not occur in the stressed syllable.  One Russian variant of E - E with  a diacritic trema - only occurs in a stressed syllable.  But by and large, if you want to pronounce a Russian word that has more than one syllable, you must know where to place the stress accent.  Otherwise it can be more serious than simply placing the emPHAsis on the wrong sylLABle.

Of course, even last week, GMAIL spell-check rejecting "opthamologist" and "romanization" (also flagged in the editor here at is silly but does not render the tool next to useless.