Sunday, February 18, 2018

Lenten Wave #4

"Let us learn upon earth the knowledge that will continue with us in heaven." —St. Jerome

Friday, February 16, 2018

True Dat

"Truth is incontrovertible. Panic may resent it, ignorance may deride it, malice may distort it, but there it is." - Winston Churchill

Lenten Wave #2

“Love is our true destiny. We do not find the meaning of life by ourselves alone-we find it with another.” - Thomas Merton

Tatiana Proskouriakoff

I'm not sure what it is about those of us from southern Ohio, where I was born, who are educated in Pennsylvania, as I was, and then find themselves drawn, through some strange inevitability, to the ruins of Mayan culture in Mexico, Belize, and Guatemala.  It is usually through peculiar set of coincidence, as was certainly true for me and for today's profile.

I occasionally write of archaeologists, as that field was the object of my first, true academic affection, and it was where I met the academics whom I admired then and admire still.  As fortunate as I've been having great professors, scholars, writers, translators, and historians provide my education, including one Nobel Peace Prize winner, it is the archaeologists who carried best that balance between esoteric knowledge and hard-headed pragmatism.

Permit me to quote from myself:
Once upon a time, when I studied archaeology, my world was divided into two distinct groups: Diggers and Squints.

Squints worked in laboratories with elaborate machines that were known by esoteric terminology and were so complicated that they looked like something from one of Jack Kirby's nightmares or sparky whirligigs from the old Universal Pictures "Frankenstein" movies.  Squints would take items of great antiquity, place them in their infernal devices, and then tell us, with rather smug precision, how old the piece was, what it was made from, and whether or not it was important enough to study further or place within the museum's permanent collection.

Diggers, on the other hand, were those in the field who, sometimes at great personal peril, found the remote treasures of the past using the eldest tools of the human race: Shovels and trowels.  Diggers were at turns historians, contractors, linguists, soldiers, diplomats, and detectives.  Those talented in the sciences tended to become Squints; those less easy to categorize favored the ranks of Diggers.  Naturally, I, and everyone I knew, wanted to be a Digger.

The view from the top of the Culhuacan Pyramid with The Coracle's host
It has always fascinated me, when a particular Hollywood movie character was invented, how many biographers and curators sought to tie their subjects with a fictional person.  At any given time during the last nearly forty years, Sylvanus Morely, Hiram Bingham, T.E. Lawrence, Roy Chapman Andrews, Gertrude Bell, Percy Fawcett, Giovanni Belzoni, and even Sir Richard Burton have been referred to as "the real Indiana Jones".  Nothing could be more absurd, especially since the creators of "Jones" admit he was based not on a real-life person, but on other movie characters.  Still, the temptation to make fiction real is narcotic.

However, in the real world of archeology, one finds people who are beyond any Polo Lounge "artist's" limited and cartoonish imagination, as truth is often far more vivid and inspiring than fiction.  One marvelous example of this is Tatiana Proskouriakoff, from whom anything we know of the Mayan culture is due to her brilliant work.

While born in Russia in 1909, Proskouriakoff moved with her family to Dayton, Ohio during the Russian Revolution.  At an early age she displayed remarkable linguistic aptitude, reportedly able to read both Russian and English by the age of 3 and to draw with mature lucidity.  From that time forward, art and words would serve as her media.

By her senior year in high school, Proskouriakoff's family had moved to Pennsylvania and, as she was her class valedictorian, she was readily accepted into the Keystone State's university system, originally receiving a degree in architecture.  However, her innate ability for language and art brought her to the attention of the burgeoning archeology and anthropology program at the University of Pennsylvania, where she began to work for the progenitor of Mayan studies, Lincoln Satterthwaite.

Archaeological work had just begun on what would become a premier site for the study of the Maya, a culture that resists revealing all of its secrets even in our contemporary, technology-driven age.  In the Usumacinta River basin in Guatemala, in the late 19th century, a German archaeologist named Teoberto Maler had stumbled across some well-preserved stones bearing pictographs and hieroglyphs.  The stones, known as stela [pronounced as "steel-la"] were of such significant value that Maler, who abhorred the practice of his era of ripping such stela away from its site and transporting it to labs and museums, mostly kept the discovery quiet in order to maintain the site's integrity.  He did, however, take numerous photographs of the evidence.

By 1931, the photographs, which had been filed away at the Peabody Museum at Harvard, had been re-discovered by Satterwaite and his colleagues.  As no significant progress had been made in their translation, what is now the University of Pennsylvania's Museum of Archeology and Anthropology funded a major, multi-year expedition to Guatemala to study the undisturbed site.  One of the chief goals of the expedition was correctly to catalogue the Maya construction captured in Maler's photos, with special consideration of the Maya's curious language.

For such a goal, the expedition needed an artist with a facility for language and there were no better candidates than Proskouriakoff.  She had already displayed her talents for artistic renderings of ancient structures as a volunteer at the university's museum, so Satterwaite knew that she was perfect for the job.  In 1936, Proskouriakoff arrived at the site, known by its expedition name of Piedras Negras.

An aside:  For those wondering, it was not unusual for women to be members of archaeological expeditions.  Since scientific archaeology's earliest days, women had not only served beside men at dig sites, and certainly in the labs and museums, but had even led expeditions.  Well-funded expeditions tended to permit rather comfortable camp sites for those involved, too.

Proskouriakoff pioneered the field of what came to be known as reconstructive archaeology.  Similar to the facial reconstruction that's used for the discovered skulls of ancient peoples, and even victims of crime, remnant structure is the basis of a re-created appearance using scientific logic and generally accepted attributes.  Proskouriakoff studied the structure of the Mayan temple and buildings, in particular those framed by the existing stela, and created a panorama of drawings that brought life to the dormant structures, enabling an appreciation of how the Mayan cities appeared at the height of the culture.

For example, with the aid of the archaeological team's input, this becomes...
...this.  The Temple of Xpuhil in its former glory.
While without a university degree specific to the study of Maya culture, once Sylvanus Morely [previously profiled in The Coracle] saw her panoramic drawings upon Proskouriakoff's return to the U.S., he secured funding for expeditions to other Maya sites in Honduras and the Yucatan which, in turn, lead to her receiving a position at the Carnegie Institution of Washington D.C.  From there, using her drawings and notes, Proskouriakoff began a serious study of the Mayan language.

The reigning theory in her day was that the hieroglyphs contained information about subjects such as astronomy, the Mayan religion, or prophecy.  Not finding much progress with this theory, Proskouriakoff began anew by returning to the original stela of Piedras Negras and noting, with the aid of an older theory posited by Yuri Knorozov, a Russian linguist, and through the repetition of certain pictographs, that the hieroglyphs were instead about the lives of the various rulers, including information about the events that formed their dynasties.  Once this theory was realized, like any formerly un-crackable code, the language of the Maya ceased to be opaque and revealed much about this lush, vibrant, and remarkable culture that thrived, and then disappeared, between 2000 B.C. and the 18th century A.D.

By the time her initial translations were completed in the late 1950's, Proskouriakoff was named honorary curator of the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology in Cambridge, Massachusetts, a sinecure from which she was able to continue her work in translation and publish over twenty scholarly books on the subject.  She would be awarded numerous honors and honorary degrees during the remainder of her life, including the Alfred V. Kidder Award in archaeology [subsequent recipients of this honor receive a medal that was designed by Proskouriakoff herself as she wasn't all that fond of the original design] and the prized Order of the Quetzal, Guatemala's highest civilian award.

While one may still find copies of her popularly written books, including a collection of her reconstructive archaeological drawings, the best way to come to know Proskouriakoff is to tour the Peabody Museum, where her drawings and the stela that she studied are on display, or the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, which also houses some of her studies and the subsequent work that has been built on her translations.

After her death at the age of 76 in 1985, Proskouriakoff's remains would be entombed in the foundation of one of the ruins in Piedras Negras, where a simple plaque marks their presence.  It has become, in recent years, a place of pilgrimage for those who continue to study the stubborn mysteries of the Maya.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

In Cleveland, Stealing Perogies May Be a Capital Offence

Royal Canadian Mounted Police searching for perogies stolen from Ukrainian Catholic Hall

Lenten Wave #1

In honor of the surfing expression, "You learn something from every wave", we offer a quotation a day during the season of Lent as a focus for seasonal meditation.  Unless otherwise noted, these will be accompanied by photographs offered by Robbie Crawford Arts of Huntington Beach, California.

"People travel to wonder at the height of the mountains, at the huge waves of the seas, at the long course of the rivers, at the vast compass of the ocean, at the circular motion of the stars, and yet they pass by themselves without wondering." - St. Augustine

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Even a Worm Will Turn

No, that quote in the title doesn't quite sound right in this day and age, does it?  Even though it sounds like something from those execrable books, it is, in fact, attributed to a proverb by a 16th century playwright named John Heywood.  It speaks as to how even the lowly may become formidable if provoked.

Consider what has occurred to the author of the Harry Potter books:

An Interesting and Provocative Open Letter to Harvard's New President

As you told a University of California audience last year, “if you’re not managing change, you’re not leading, you’re presiding.”

What might that mean in Harvard’s case? It could mean redefining the emphasis on diversity beyond race and gender also to encompass ideology. It could mean reaching even more students via online courses and the extension school, so that the university shifts its measurement of success away from how many tens of thousands of applicants it rejects, and toward how many it educates.

It could mean expanding geographically beyond relatively prosperous, and politically liberal, Cambridge and Boston, toward more economically challenged and politically diverse parts of the state. Tufts has a veterinary school in Grafton, Mass. and its medical school founded a rural community health center in the Mississippi Delta. Harvard has a forest in Petersham.

With NYU operating in Abu Dhabi, Cornell in Qatar, and Yale collaborating on a college in Singapore, it’s harder to make the case that Petersham, in Central Mass., or even, say, Pittsfield, in Western Mass., are so remote from Cambridge that ramping up activity there would prevent effective control or definitely dilute the brand.

Needlehooks: "The Intoxication of Moral Superiority"

I occasionally come across quotations that snag my attention like a needle-hook to yarn.  I may or may not agree with the writer's perspective, I may find them derivative or vulgar, but they represent something that stirs my curiosity and, sometimes, thinking.

From time to time, I'll share them and their source, but caveat emptor.
I thought love trumps hate. That’s what I’ve been led to believe by an effusion of t-shirts, bumper stickers, and social media postings from the self-styled anti-Trump Resistance™. As my friend Roger Kimball likes to say, there really is nothing like the intoxication of moral superiority.
The syrupy slogans promulgated by the ruling class, ruling class wannabes, and fellow travelers on the Left aren’t fooling anyone, not even, I would guess, the people who say, wear, and post them. Truth is, they really don’t like the rest of us. No problem, we have our own lives and families. But it’s only not a problem until such disdain is combined with a sense of political entitlement and the coercive power of government.
Not long ago, while at a clergy meeting, I imagined that, were I not clergy and not used to common conversation within the Episcopal Church leadership, I would understand that it was an organization dedicated to hating the current occupant of the White House and seeking a deity's intervention in punishing him for not being as morally evolved as clergy.  Actually, the word I heard more than once in regard to the current occupant was "loathing".  There was also considerable commentary noting that the current occupant was not a member of the same social class as eastern Episcopal clergy.  We are, of course, all free to believe what we want about ourselves and our relation to the greater world, but it's hard to reconcile this attitude with a church that states in its Baptismal Covenant that we strive to "respect the dignity of every human being".

I wondered if it has occurred to anyone that one of the reasons for the rapid decline in membership in the Church is that it is determined to associate with an increasingly narrow band of the American public.  Nah.  When I mention this, my colleagues either fall silent or respond with "Who would want those people, anyway?"  Oh, well, as they say: Get Woke, Go Broke.

Speaking as a half-breed, Midwestern hillbilly, if I extend that attitude, it means I'm not wanted in The Episcopal Church, which makes me rather glad that our spiritual life is in the hands of God, rather than those intoxicated by their sense of superiority.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Perhaps Their Lettuce Wraps are Popular in the Newsroom

Always Be Cautious of Moral Posturing

In an interview, Weinstein said that people generally misunderstand what happened to Polanski at sentencing. He's not convinced public opinion is running against the filmmaker and dismisses the categorization of Hollywood as amoral. "Hollywood has the best moral compass, because it has compassion," Weinstein said. "We were the people who did the fundraising telethon for the victims of 9/11. We were there for the victims of Katrina and any world catastrophe."

Christianity and the "Alt Right"

This is fascinating and should be read in its entirety.
As you may know, many young conservatives have left Christianity,” the message begins. “Although I was raised Catholic, I too am leaving Catholicism, as I believe it is no longer a healthy religion.” The young man’s name is Dan, and he explains why he is apostatizing. “The Church has become the number one enemy of Western Civilization. Soon the only people left in Christianity will be third-world immigrants and a handful of self-hating whites.”
In recent months, emails like Dan’s have been sent to several Christian academics and clergy. His name is likely phony, but for a growing number of young men, the sentiments he expresses are real. Their ideological movement is called the “alt-right,” a name coined only eight years ago.
For those wondering, yes, I and many of the clergy whom I know received the same e-mail about six months or so ago.  It wasn't based on our race or politics [as a half-breed libertarian, I hope not], but seemed addressed to anyone who is a part of general catholic [small "c"] tradition.