Thursday, April 30, 2015

I Just Liked the Headline

Trigger Warning: College Kids Are Human Veal
As a first-generation college student back way back when, one of the very greatest things about college was engaging with ideas and attitudes that were different than what you already knew. Attending Rutgers in the early ‘80s, you could walk from one end of the centuries-old College Avenue Campus to the other and encounter screaming matches over divesting the stocks of companies that did business in South Africa, whether Nicaragua was already a Soviet satellite, and the supposedly self-hating theology of Jews for Jesus.
Warning: As with much commentary these days, there is some raw language.

Nah, It was Nowhere Near His Chick-Fil-A [or, Guess the State]

Ohio man accidentally shot himself in Chick-fil-A while pulling up his pants: cops 

Forty Years Ago a Small Document was Composed at Hartford Seminary

As it turned out, it determined the course of practical theology for the next two generations.
This year marks the fortieth anniversary of the 1975 “Hartford Appeal for Theological Affirmation.” Some of us who were signers have been quietly reminiscing about the project. One of my fellow participants wrote me about it recently, referring to “the ‘historic’(?) Hartford conclave.” Putting the “historic” in quotes with a parenthetical question mark rightly distanced the Appeal from any status as a major ecclesiastical document. The Appeal may show up in an occasional footnote these days, but its actual theological content is seldom recalled.

Monday, April 27, 2015

An Obituary of Note

Actress Jayne Meadows Allen dies at 95

I mention this only because her father was the one-time rector of Christ Church in Sharon.

An Obituary of Note: An "Old School" Professor Who Defined Literature for Three Generations of Scholars

M.H. Abrams, literary scholar who edited Norton Anthology, dies at 102

He was also one of the last professors to teach in a jacket and tie and to smoke a pipe in his office.

Archaeological News, Lost Cities Edition

CNN: The real-life Indiana Jones who finds lost cities in the jungle

It's very light on geographic specifics, especially when one considers that Mexico, even when narrowed to just the Yucatan, is a large country, plus it contains the obligatory, and extremely tedious, "Indiana Jones" reference.  Seriously, is this 1981?

Friday, April 24, 2015

Friday Hootnanny

Bruce Meyers

 "I'm not smart, but I'm talented. I can draw, I have a good sense of proportions, I know a lot about fibreglass...I've raced at Bonneville, shaped surfboards, and I've never had a business plan."

I have been a habitue of car shows, swap meets, and auto races since I was about twelve.  I have owned an Austin-Healey Sprite, a Ford Torino GT, a BMW R45, a Porsche 944, a CJ5 and a large Ford Bronco [with a broken marque so that is was just a "Bro"] and a few other, less interesting, vehicles.

And, of course, my long-time companion that has earned the nickname "Surfmobile" from my nieces and nephew: The 2001 Ford Ranger

I have rebuilt five carburetors, changed countless spark plugs, refilled oil pans, and upgraded everything from radios to headlights to air intakes.  One of my proudest achievements was wiring an 8-track player into a car's glove compartment in order to keep the dashboard clean and prevent it from being stolen.  Yeah, that didn't really work.  It still got stolen.

Through all of this, I've met many people who really, really love their vehicles.  However, the greatest love I have ever witnessed was at a traffic light in Cleveland, Ohio one very cold January morning.  A driver was sitting in his vehicle next to ours wearing what looked like two winter coats, a ski mask topped by another knit hat, some very large industrial gloves, and ski goggles.  Despite all that, he still looked miserably cold.

This was because he was sitting in a vehicle better suited to the beaches of southern California: A Meyers Manx, the original and consummate dune buggy.  Given the mad love that I've seen manifest between Manx owners and their vehicles, this really didn't come as a major surprise.  In fact, it made me want to own one myself.

The Manx was invented by a quintessential Southern California crackpot by the name of Bruce Meyers, one of those figures common in American history who was a complete failure at every conventional occupation and endeavor, until one day, to quote from "Kid Charlemagne" by Steely Dan, "...[he] crossed the diamond with the pearl." 

Born in 1927, Meyers grew up a gearhead, not a surprise since his father had competed in the Indianapolis 500 each year from 1906 to 1908.  A decorated Navy veteran of World War II, and flush with post-war money made from working in fiberglass sailboat design and construction, Meyers desired to create a vehicle to compete in the beach dune racing that was all the rage in the early 1960's.  Most of the vehicles involved in that unlicensed and wholly illegal activity were ill-suited to the sport, as they were all street cars that had been modified, to greater or lesser extent, by their owners, so the stage was set for innovation.

After molding whole boats from one piece of fiberglass, Meyers wanted to try the same with an auto body.  In his Newport Beach garage he created something that looked like a cartoon character's ride, a four-wheeler named "The Manx", after the bobbed-tail cat.  The vehicle its features, but of an undeniable style.  While initially a sales failure, over time it became associated with the Southern California "lifestyle".

That really didn't matter, though, as Meyers had created the, vehicle...well, buggy to prove a point of pride.  In those days, bikers [and I mean those who ride Harley-Davidson's, not Schwinn's] would bomb down the deserted Baja peninsula in Mexico for about 1000 miles attempting to beat one another's travel times.  While unofficial and almost illegal [it was Mexico, after all], anyone who wanted to crush his kidneys, coccyx, rims, wheels, and skull would open the throttle wide and let their shade-tree modified hogs loose in the last grand Western experience of unlicensed freedom.

So well did the Manx behave on sand dunes, and so sturdy was the one-piece fibreglass bolted onto the chassis of a Volkswagen Beetle [the original, not the modern silly ones that satisfy government regulation and nothing else] and powered by that bulletproof, air-cooled VW engine, Meyers was convinced that not only could it make it all the way down the Baja, but a Manx could do so faster than a motorcycle.  When he was ridiculed for that statement by members of a local, Meyers set his cap to prove his point.

Beginning from the traditional starting point of Tijuana and busting down the Sonoran desert to La Paz, Meyers and his partner-in-madness Ted Mangels [both are pictured above; Meyers on the left and Mangels on the right] pored over maps, found the route least likely to leave them permanently impaired, and loaded their Manx with gasoline, filling not just the fuel tank, but also a few empty oxygen bottles and a couple of empty milk cartons [about 65 gallons of potential, hellish immolation] that they then strapped to the exterior or held with their legs.  Yes, that's right.

By the time they reached La Paz, Meyers had proved his point.  The dune buggy had made the trek in 34 hours and 45 minutes, a full five hours faster than had been done by any motorcycle.  Because Meyers' wife was a publicist for a car magazine, the entire gearhead world knew of his feat within six weeks.

Little did he realize it, but along with creating the most iconic of wheeled surf culture artifacts, Meyers also created the sport of off-road racing.  Not only does every state in the union offer some form of this sport for amateurs and professionals alike, his trail through the Sonora has since become the prestigious, and wildly profitable, annual race known as the Baja 1000.  Meyers himself has been a competitor in the race, the final time at the age of 78.


The Manx is still made and sold, in updated form and styling, and dune buggy clubs are so popular worldwide that a few years back there was parade of them held in Le Mans, France during the weekend of the famous 24 hour race.  Over 1100 buggies and drivers followed Meyers in his original Manx around the track to the wild applause of the members of the gearhead universe.

Bruce Meyers is still alive and active as he nears his 89th birthday.  He still grants interviews and makes speeches before those who understand that a silly bit of brightly colored fiberglass is more than just a beach bum's bauble, but a benchmark in the glorious expression of the American creative soul when it is un-regulated, un-bounded, and un-daunted.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Well, This is Pungent

USA Today:
Religious persecution of Christians is rampant worldwide, as Pew has noted, but nowhere is it more prevalent than in the Middle East and Northern Africa, where followers of Jesus are the targets of religious cleansing. Pope Francis has repeatedly decried the persecution and begged the world for help, but it has had little impact. Western leaders — including Obama — will be remembered for their near silence as this human rights tragedy unfolded. The president's mumblings about the atrocities visited upon Christians (usually extracted after public outcry over his silence) are few and far between. And it will be hard to forget his lecturing of Christians at the National Prayer Breakfast about the centuries-old Crusades while Middle Eastern Christians were at that moment being harassed, driven from their homes, tortured and murdered for their faith.

Note that the opinion's author is a former atheist who, a few years ago, was introduced to the Episcopal Church.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

No, It's Not. Not Ever.

Washington Post: Nurses make fun of their dying patients. That’s okay.

Then there is this:
"That’s not to excuse all humor by health-care professionals. For example, mocking disabilities and using racial, ethnic or other cruel epithets go too far."

Right, but mocking helpless, and often heavily medicated, people in their final, painful days is totally okay. This may be why fewer and fewer hospitals employ chaplains.  We might interfere with the staff's sense of "sport".

I suddenly look at the people who care for my parishioners, and my dying mother, in a much different light.

I appreciate that it is difficult to deal with the dying as part of one's job.  Because of that, I understand that there is a psychological temptation to reduce the dying from human beings to the butt of mediocre, unfunny references.  However, it is just that: a temptation.  Temptations are harmful to the soul and the heart, which is why they are to be avoided.

Also, because I work not just with the dying and the dead, but with their families, I know that they can tell how nurses and other health care professionals truly feel about their loved ones.  It cannot be hidden and it merely increases their pain at a time when anyone who gets paid to care about healing should, rather, be dedicated to its reduction.

[Note: This was updated because it was the most read and most linked posting of the last month.  It is also an issue that is close to me both professionally and personally these days.]

I Want This. No Question.

Is there anyone willing to tow me?

Four Jobs Our American Universities Don't Do Anymore

Second, campuses encouraged edgy speech and raucous expression — and exposure to all sorts of weird ideas and mostly unpopular thoughts. College talk was never envisioned as boring, politically correct megaphones echoing orthodox pieties.

Friday, April 17, 2015

It's Friday and Time for Baseball Music

Rocky Colavito

"You can't tell how much spirit a team has until it's losing."

If you have never done so, at least once before you die buy yourself some "fan gear" for your favorite team [if you don't have a favorite team, at least borrow one for a day or two] and go to a baseball game.  Even if it's just a hat or a t-shirt, wear it with pride and notice how you are in the midst of a great number of people who are doing the same.  Seriously, put down The New York Times, turn off NPR, and enjoy a less precious existence for a few hours.  It's almost as restorative as a good liturgy.

It was something I learned from my grandfather, who came to the United States from Scotland after being laid off from the Clydebank shipyards.  Goodyear Tire and Rubber was hiring foreigners, so off he went, intending on staying in the U.S. until he could be re-hired back in the home land.  After living a short time in this new country, he realized its superior potential for advancement, gloried in its absence of a rigid class structure, and personally celebrated its encouragement of innovation.  So much so that, rather than return, he sent for his wife and daughter to join him in this new adventure.  He was 40-years-old and should have been settled in his ways; I cannot tell you how glad I am that he resisted that convention.

There was only one problem, though: European football was not played in the U.S.  Since generations of my family have lived and died along with the fortunes of the Glasgow Celtic Football Club [aka one-half of "The Old Firm"; aka "The Bhoys"; aka "The Hoops"], he needed to find a replacement.  Its unlikely source was baseball.  Specifically, the Cleveland Indians.

From the 1930's through the late 1950's there was a train that ran directly by the stadium so that Gramps and his "mates" [they were all Scottish immigrants] could attend games.  Around the time the train stopped running, he had a grandson with whom he could share this transplanted love and a son-in-law who could drive him [like many of the immigrant class of his generation, Gramps never bothered to learn how to drive], and so it was that I was introduced to that cathedral of Doubleday that sat on the shores of Lake Erie.

I attended my first professional game here; I plan on attending my last game at its replacement.  I don't remember much about the game itself as much as I recall the sheer theater that was the crowd, but there was one name that I kept hearing over and over again from the loudspeaker, from the fans around us, and from Gramps.  A musical name, rendered even more so in the manner in which it was pronounced in a Glaswegian accent:  Rocky Colavito.  Without question, he was the best the Indians had to offer and the one with whom the hopes and dreams of the city rested.

I imagine every team in baseball, a sport that is rife with superstition, has its version of the Red Sox's "Curse of the Bambino".  For those who don't know what I reference, in 1919 the Boston Red Sox traded Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees, a supernatural folly that ensured that Boston would not win the World Series until 2004.

Cleveland, too, had its curse and, as with Boston, it involved a very ill-conceived trade.  Rocky Colavito was not only a talented right fielder and formidable hitter, but his personality was well-fitted to that of the working class Clevelanders who came to watch his art.  As the Indians are perennial losers, often with the most mediocre of players, Colavito stood out not only for his talent, but for his positive attitude.  He would even stay in the stadium to sign autographs, even if those seeking them numbered in the hundreds.  There were those in the corridors of power who were seriously talking about having him stand for mayor upon his retirement from baseball.

And then, in 1960, he was summarily traded to the Detroit Tigers.  I know!  What?!  Not only were the Indians robbed of their best player, the people of Detroit really didn't like Rocky and attacked him in their sports pages on a daily basis.  For this, the gods of baseball ordained that Cleveland would never know anything other than frustration in their quest for the sport's holy grail.

This remained true when the new manager of the Indians decided, at great cost to the starting line-up, to bring Colavito back to Cleveland in 1965.  His return was greeted as something akin to Mohammed's return to Mecca.  In thanksgiving to his favorite city, he made the All-Star team in 1965 and 1966 and placed fifth in the 1965 MVP vote with 108 RBI and 93 walks, a league record that year, finishing in the top five in home runs, hits and runs.  The Indians still didn't get close to the World Series, but what the heck; Rocky was back in town.

Unfortunately, my grandfather had died the year before and we weren't able to share in the great return [he died peacefully right after watching an Indians/Tigers game on television; the Indians had lost, of course], although in his spirit I have made sure that a trip to a ball field with my step-son and sister's kids is required annually.  I always buy them a pin and/or cap.

Colavito would retire from playing and become a coach for the Indians and, later, the Kansas City Royals.  In a moment that was found embarrassing in Kansas City but admirable in Cleveland, he would make the news again in 1982 when, after being clobbered in his car by a drunk driver, he would be arrested for assaulting a couple of police officers who were a little too lippy with him as he was administering "street justice" to the offending motorist.  [I'm the first to admit that my hometown has a fluid and feisty ethical sense.]

The next year I recall idly watching a Yankees/Royals game on television [I was living in NYC at the time] when I saw a bench-clearing fracas over an argument about the amount of pine tar that was used on a bat.  In the middle of the action, I recognized a familiar face arguing with an umpire so successfully that he was ejected from the game.  Regardless of the circumstances, it was always nice to see Rocky on a ball field.

While he played or otherwise worked for many teams during his career, Colavito has had three books written about his influence on Cleveland and its team, is a member of the Indians' Hall of Fame, and was voted "most memorable personality" in the history of Cleveland baseball.  Still active into his 80's, he blew out the candles on his birthday cake before a full stadium in Cleveland just last year.

Back in the days when there was little to cheer about with our hometown team, it was always heartening to watch a player who cared as much about spirit as victory and brought passion to every inning of every game.  It is on such small and humble things that memories are built, and those I cherish with greater devotion as my years increase.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

And Thus, the Last TV Show I Actually Still Watch [that isn't about sports] Comes to an End

I guess I'll have to read more in the evenings.

The Atlantic [formerly Monthly]: Justified: A Neglected Rebel Amid Television's Golden Age

As with Stadiums, So with Churches

I don't like gratuitous change.  In that, I hope I'm in the majority.  I lamented the destruction of the old Municipal Stadium in Cleveland, the place that was home to both the Cleveland Indians and Cleveland Browns from my childhood to my young adulthood.  Heck, I even saw The Rolling Stones and some other well-known bands perform there once upon a time.

But, objectively I knew the stadium was old, in disrepair, suffered from poor design, especially for the TV age, and although just the right size for football, always made even the best-attended baseball games look rather spare.  The best thing about it was the ample and convenient parking lot. Subjectively, it's where my immigrant grandfather, who developed a love of baseball while developing a love for the United States, took me to see my first baseball game.  I was six.  He bought me a cap and a pin.  I still have the cap.

However, the replacement stadium, originally named Jacobs Field but now known by the more prosaic name of Progressive Insurance Field, is beautiful and nicely located downtown.  It has lousy parking, of course, but I think that's a feature in contemporary stadium design.  When I heard that the 21-year-old stadium was to get a re-design this past year, I thought that was a bit premature.

So, I think, did the writer of this article, who is the dean of sports reporting in northeastern Ohio.  As he and I are of the same age and both grew up watching the Indians in the old stadium, it appears we share the same world view.  However, as I read his article, I began to think about change and, by extension, that which is happening in my own professional world.

Cleveland Indians changes to ballpark make sense, even to an old guy like me

Of the quotations that stand out, I offer the following:
My idea of going to a baseball game is not standing in a sports bar in right field, watching the game either live or on large-screen televisions.
Then again, I don't play fantasy baseball. I don't text someone who is 10 feet away from me, or tweet out pictures of myself at a game.
But I know a lot of people do just that.
Many people now watch baseball in different ways than they did in the middle 1990s, as they seem to use their telephones to do everything except to make a phone call.
That's why I like most of the changes at Progressive Field. It's not about me, or the fans of my generation.
I like baseball, and I want others to fall in love with the game.
Now, replace the word "stadium" with "church" and "baseball" with "Christianity", as one may see where my perspective rests these days.  This is why I urge change, even physical change to the seating arrangements and position of the altar.  As much as we want our parishes to be promontories in times of change, we also need to make them spiritually and physically accessible to the generations yet to come.

I love the freedom of expression that is present in true religion; I deeply appreciate that Christianity serves as a nexus for the liminal expression of, as Shakespeare said, "the forms of things unknown", mainly using art and music to further human inquiry and appreciation of the barely knowable.  I would like to see that continue, but to do so may very well mean embracing a newness that may seem disquieting to those who wish our spirituality to remain inert.  It may not be what we prefer, but we also recognize that it may mean that we will be able to fulfill our call to evangelize.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Moralistic Therapeutic Deism

Next month marks the fifteenth year since I earned a doctoral degree for my work studying the spirituality of adolescents.  Some of my research was referenced in other works, of course, including the one mentioned in this link, which is now a decade old.  Since those adolescents are now entering their thirties [and many of the students with whom I worked now entering their forties], this is becoming the mainstream perspective on spiritual life in our culture.  Yikes.

1.  A god exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth.
2.  God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.
3.  The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.
4.  God does not need to be particularly involved in one's life except when God is needed to resolve a problem.
5.  Good people go to heaven when they die.

I've noticed that this more or less serves as the standard outline for sermons preached in the Protestant tradition, especially Congregational Reformed churches.

I confess that I find the spirituality of those approaching middle-age, especially after the re-interviews I did this past summer with my former research subjects, immature and simple-minded.  It's as if they were never encouraged to progress past a fifteen-year-old's world view.

Wait, You Mean Money Doesn't Buy Happiness?

The New Yorker: The Guilt of the Video-Game Millionaires

Hey, fellas?  Have you ever heard of faith organizations or charities?  Those might help you feel better.

Matthew 7:15

Independent Women's Forum:
The Food Babe has one clear mission: to scare moms so bad that they stop buying all that convenient and reasonably priced food they've grown to love and which makes their lives a little easier.  Because progress is your enemy, ladies!

She’s not asking much…just that you do your best to act more like her: eat only food produced by raw, whole ingredients that you cook yourself. Oh, but wait, it can’t be just any whole ingredients; they have to be organic and non-GMO. The evidence she provides to her readers that this strategy will lead to a healthier life? Exactly nothing.

The Food Babe’s main objection to the chemical axodicarbonamide is that she can’t pronounce it. That’s right. It’s a toughie for her so AWAY WITH IT!

We never lack for advice in this world.  Good, informed advice, on the other hand....

Everything You Know is Wrong, Cholesterol Edition

Cleveland Clinic:

Monday, April 13, 2015

Let the First Amendment Do its Job

Whether you’re Christian, Muslim, atheist, gay, straight, or trans, the First Amendment was written for you.

College Students are Intellectually and Culturally Superior

In a response to a letter from a Brown University student to which we linked the other day, another Brown student patiently explains that his generation is being confronted by societal forces NEVER ENCOUNTERED IN THE ENTIRETY OF HUMAN HISTORY!

Jeez, kid, relax a little.  Look on the bright side, you never had to carry a draft card during the Vietnam War.

Here's some sagacity by this new voice among the social justice warriors:
The current rally that generational pundits make against me and my peers in college today is that we have forsaken freedom of speech and multiple viewpoints for ‘comfort'.  I’m afraid that it is a product of jargon that is too easily mistranslated by opinion columnists hoping to pass a deadline.  If delved with any honest intent into the vast discourse of social justice, they would see how far from the mark they really are.”
"Generational pundits"?  Jargon vs. jargon it is, then.
When I say your argument makes me uncomfortable, it is because I am greatly concerned that you have not done the requisite thought and research into generating an inclusive thesis that considers as many nuances as necessary to deliver a sound debate.
So, we haven't done our homework and that makes him, in his words, "uncomfortable".  Man, when will I finally be too old to have to do homework?  "Warriors" of my generation were made of sterner stuff.

If I hadn't taught two generations of American youth, I would be distressed at this condescending and self-centered world view.  Instead, I recognize it for what it is and know that once the "nuanced" realities of life away from Thayer Street present themselves, when the demands of secular employment and mundanities like student loan payments and mortgages become reality, a less cloistered appreciation of life will develop.

In the meantime, I guess I'll have to do my homework so that I might serve this pantheon of human experience and achievement.  Or, maybe, I'll just go wax my surfboard and change the spark plugs in the truck.

Related news from Planet Nuance:
From cost to employment prospects, the state of American higher education is dismal for students. 

Princeton University Turns Up Trumps

Faculty adopts statement affirming commitment to freedom of expression at Princeton

Dig this jewel:
In a word, the University’s fundamental commitment is to the principle that debate or deliberation may not be suppressed because the ideas put forth are thought by some or even by most members of the University community to be offensive, unwise, immoral, or wrong-headed. It is for the individual members of the University community, not for the University as an institution, to make those judgments for themselves, and to act on those judgments not by seeking to suppress speech, but by openly and vigorously contesting the ideas that they oppose. Indeed, fostering the ability of members of the University community to engage in such debate and deliberation in an effective and responsible manner is an essential part of the University’s educational mission.
Now that's more like it.  Even a dumb hillbilly like me [well, with Princeton master's and doctoral degrees] knows that if you can't discuss ideas at a university, then higher education is purposeless.

Which is What I've Come to Expect When The Times Writes about Either Religion or Guns

The NRA Convention starts today, in Nashville, Tennessee. And so, rather predictably, the New York Times has started its day by lying about it.

Bonus: Apparently, according to further reports in the Washington Times, neither the Daily News nor the Times bothered to actually contact anyone associated with the convention leadership.  As the NYDN story was edited by a former student of mine, I'm rather disappointed.

Update: The NYT has issued a rather sour correction.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

The Passion of Jesus seems much more believable these days

Once upon a time, such efforts, despite their crudity and bad taste, may have had some value. I am just old enough to remember the last gasps of an era when Christianity in Britain was often little more than an expression of social respectability. This was a strange way of dealing with the most explosive story in the history of the world, and it deserved to be satirised and challenged. But those days are long, long gone, as dead as men in the City of London wearing bowler hats. The playwrights who think they being are “shocking” and “subversive” are colossally out of date. The religion whose moralistic, puritanical, self-appointed spokesmen badly need challenging today is not Christianity, but Islam. You won’t see many brave new would-be avant-garde plays taking that one on, funnily enough.

The Bishop of Rome Alters the Vatican's Historic Diplomatic Strategy, and About Time, Too

Pope Francis set off a diplomatic storm yesterday when he referred to the genocide of the Armenians at a service in St. Peter’s Basilica this weekend. The Turkish Foreign Ministry denounced the remarks as baseless and unfair, and summoned the Vatican’s Turkish representative to appear for a tongue lashing. By the standards of Vatican diplomacy, this was an explosion. Conscious of the vulnerability of Christian minorities around the world, popes are usually circumspect when touching on controversial diplomatic topics. Francis’ words will certainly provoke a harsh response from Turkey where, despite very slow and painful progress at coming to grips with the legacy of violence and persecution that shaped modern Turkey, it remains illegal to refer to the Armenian massacres as a genocide. . . . Pope Francis, who is well aware that Christians across much of Africa live in the presence of something that is beginning to look like a fully fledged if relatively low-intensity religious war, seems to have decided that a strategy of silent conciliation is no longer adequate given the rising threat. His denunciation of a century-old genocide isn't just about ancient history. It is an intervention in contemporary politics, and a warning that the danger of religious conflict continues to grow.

Friday, April 10, 2015

It's Friday and I Need Some Twangy Bass

Hart Crane

“One must be drenched in words, literally soaked in them, to have the right ones form themselves into the proper pattern at the right moment.” 

The history of art and literature is filled with interesting, sometimes stirring, personal stories of people who have overcome tremendous odds to explore, often without recognition, new ways of looking at life, the world, and the human spirit.  Some have received fame, others have surrendered to obscurity, yet all have contributed in one manner or another.

The artists and writers I lament are those who once showed great promise, constructed worthy and interesting poetry or prose, but through a combination of unfortunate events or experiences, disappeared from the arts or from life.  One of those artists was the poet, Hart Crane.

It's hard to find and I'm told that it's meant to be.  The first time I saw it was by accident, as I was tooling around the area of Cleveland known as The Flats, a collection of old warehouses by the eastern and western sides of the Cuyahoga River that splits the city.  Most of these warehouses closed in the 1960's and 70's only to be reopened as nightclubs and entertainment venues in the 80's and 90's.  The scene is no longer quite what it was, but at the time I came across Hart Crane's statue, The Flats' second waning period had not yet begun.

I was there in the daytime escorting an artist friend around the old railway bridges that resembled not so much gigantic erector sets but the desiccated exo-skeletons of enormous and extinct insects.  As it was a gray and overcast day, he was hoping to produce some stark and urban black and white photos of the area. 

There are few things duller than being a guide to someone who speaks mostly to his camera, so I found myself wandering around the gritty parking lots that served the businesses that were closed on that Monday holiday, staring into the gray blackness of an industrial river, looking across the stream at the closed nightclubs, their façades looking far less inviting when not illuminated and their interiors not filled with the energy of celebratory crowds.

Between a small electronics shop and a windowless bunker that bore the unlikely name of "Club Ooo-La-La" I found the tribute to Crane, one of the lost poets of the early 20th century.  My home town is known for many things, some of which I've highlighted in these Friday illustrations, but it is rarely associated with one of the distinct voices in the lyrical arts.  So forlorn, so out-of-place was the statue that I called my photographer friend over to take a few pictures.

I'm rather glad I did as, some years later, which was the next time I was that deeply into downtown, the statue was gone.  While that area had been cleaned up and named "Hart Crane Park", the bronze had been replaced by...well...what appeared to be the colorful viscera of a large cartoon character.

While some of the objects bear verses from Crane's poems, it looked more like a generic urban art project that one can find littering most of the open spaces of the Rust Belt.

A little disappointed, I started a minor quest to find what happened to the bronze.  As Hart Crane had moved from Cleveland to New York before he became a recognized poet, I was a little concerned that the bronze had followed him to a city that was over-packed with tributes to minor artists.

A quick trip to a research library one hundred and five blocks away at Case Western Reserve University eased my concern, however.  In an exchange worthy of an Abbott and Costello routine, I asked the reference librarian if she knew what had happened to the bronze statue that had once been in the The Flats.  In response, she jerked her thumb over her shoulder and said, "It's there."  I assured her that I had been all over the park, all 200 square feet of it, and nothing was there except some elementary school sculpture.

"No, it's there."  Again with the thumb jerk.

"No, I mean the bronze.  A sculpture of his actual likeness.  He's holding a hat", I said in what I hoped was a helpful tone.

With some impatience, she lead me to the window behind the reference desk and pointed.  "See?  It's there."

And so it was.  In a city with 31 public and 8 university libraries, I had managed to stumble across the one that now hosted that obscure object.  It was indeed in the back of the library in a small outdoor seating area, set behind the building so that the considerable traffic noise was obscured.  It was not so much placed to be a point of reverence as it was for solace, which made it rather perfect for its subject.

Hart Crane was not born and raised in Cleveland but in the small town of Garettsville in 1899.  He was a a child of privilege as his father is credited with being by creator of Life Savers candy.  His parents divorced while he was in high school, an act that scandalized his family in small town Ohio, and made Crane a bit of an outcast.  He moved to Cleveland as soon as he could, it was, after all, the big city, and began working a series of jobs and attempting to hone his senses through writing.

While living in Cleveland, Crane was introduced to poetry by his grandmother who exposed him to the dynamic works of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Walt Whitman, whose style he sought to compliment. Upon graduation from high school, he was accepted into Columbia University and moved to New York. Once arriving in New York, he surrendered any pretense of being a college student [good move, btw] and, while receiving funds from his parents, worked for some small literary journals that enabled him to find a community of like-minded artists.  Soon, he would find his own compositions printed in those and other journals.

Family complications and a failed attempt to enlist in the military during World War I required Crane's return to Cleveland for factory work and, after the armistice, as a reporter for The Plain Dealer, the city's daily newspaper, and also as a clerk for his father's company.  As can be the case between fathers and sons, this latter vocation lead to estrangement between Crane and his father.  After working a variety of other jobs in Cleveland, he returned to New York and, in between even more odd jobs, eventually produced his first slim volume of poetry.

It was an interesting time in the lyrical arts as the post-WWI period was producing popular, if cynical and depressive, works about nature and the world, typified by poets such as e.e. cummings and T.S. Eliot.  [What is it with poets and double initials?]  While certainly capturing a portion of the zeitgeist, Crane, a young man who had not witnessed the carnage of The Great War, had a more hopeful and positive sense of the world and wished to create a counterpart to that type of poetry.

With each work, as Crane became more confident and bold, he became determined to write an epic poem that would capture his vision of the world in the same way that The Waste Land had captured Eliot's.  The work would be entitled The Bridge, based as it was on the vision of the Brooklyn Bridge that Crane had from his apartment window and on those vast, industrial, and insectoid bridges he knew in Cleveland. 

The Bridge is constructed of 15 individual poems, written in lyrical styles that range from Elizabethan pentameter to free verse.  Interestingly, it was one of the first poetical works to recognize the influence of 1920's era jazz music in composition, as the poem shifts tone and metre sometimes in the middle of stanzas, offering an interplay such as one hears in jazz between the established musical rhythm, or blue notes, and the barely restrained excesses of improvisation.  Nothing quite like it had been seen before and, as it required greater concentration from the reader than did the works of any of Crane's contemporaries, it was a delight to the critic and fan of poetry and a vexation to the casual reader.

No matter, with the publication of The Bridge, Crane became a recognized and celebrated new poet by the time he was thirty-years-old.  It was then that all of his promise began to disintegrate.

Due to a powerful addictive disorder, not uncommon in the creative class, and irresponsible behavior in his interpersonal relationships, Crane's fleeting fame, which brought him a certain amount of financial comfort, also permitted him to indulge in his demons.  His work, his art, his life began to suffer for it.  Fleeing New York for Mexico for a year, ostensibly to work on another epic, Crane's friends found a very different man when they visited him.  His features were those of the dissolute, his hair prematurely gray, and his poetry far less innovative or interesting.  As his depression deepened, so did his vices.

Encouraged to return to New York, Crane set sail on the S.S. Orizaba and, after some controversial activity on his part, on April 27, 1932, he climbed the railing on the ship's stern, gave a hearty wave, announced "Goodbye, everybody", and jumped into the Gulf of Mexico.  His body was never recovered. 

All of Crane's poetry is still in print, with online versions available for free.  The Library of America has all of his poetry, and some of his letters, collected in one volume.  A handful of biographies have been written about him, with the most recent being The Broken Tower, which was published fifteen years ago.  As with Malcolm Lowery, whom we remembered a couple of years ago, it is a harrowing and ultimately tragic story.

Of his influence, however, a number of writers have been quick to identify Crane's importance in their own endeavors.  Eugene O'Neill, William Carlos Williams, and Robert Lowell all cite Crane as having an effect on their work.  In fact, if one reads the ending stanza of "The River", one of the poems in The Bridge, and compares it to the opening verses of T.S. Eliot's "East Coker" in Four Quartets, one may find that Eliot was more than casually influenced by Crane.

Additionally, Harold Bloom, the well-known Yale-based literary critic, credited Hart Crane [along with William Blake] with interesting him in literature, and Tennessee Williams once wished that upon his own death that his remains be surrendered to the deep at the coordinates of Crane's final dive into the Gulf. 

A contemporary poet, Gerald Stern, summarized Hart Crane's work and life thus:
Crane is always with me, and whatever I wrote, short poem or long, strange or unstrange—his voice, his tone, his sense of form, his respect for life, his love of the word, his vision have affected me. But I don't want, in any way, to exploit or appropriate this amazing poet whom I am, after all, so different from, he who may be, finally, the great poet, in English, of the twentieth century.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Everything You Know is Wrong, Sodium Edition

Washington Post: More scientists doubt salt is as bad for you as the government says

It's Come to This

A student at Harvard University published an op-ed on Wednesday complaining that her school’s “safe spaces” are just not safe enough.

When I was this student's age, I sought out "dangerous spaces".

Even in things as innocuous as weekend movies, it seems the world is too strong for the young.  In college, I was the campus social director who got to choose the weekend movies that were shown.  I would try to select thought-provoking films and documentaries and, when feasible, would host a discussion afterwards.  On one occasion, the documentary's director came and led the discussion. Every weekend, the auditorium was filled.


Really, kids?  You should watch "Hearts and Minds" sometime.  Do you know what the social justice warriors of Ann Arbor watched instead?  "Paddington Bear".  Yes, that's right.  Borrowing as much as $250,000 in student loans seems a bit much to simply be placed in young adult day care.

From the people who set the educational standards for the nation

LA Times: Maya Angelou's new stamp features quote that wasn't hers

To be honest, except for her calypso music in the 1950's, I've always found Angelou a minor writer for whom I can summon no quotations from memory.

Bonus: This insane gibberish from a defensive bureaucrat -
A spokesman for the Postal Service, Mark Saunders, did not deny that the quotation may have originated with Anglund. "Had we known about this issue beforehand, we would have used one of [Angelou’s] many other works," he said. "The sentence held great meaning for her and she is publicly identified with its popularity."

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

When I Think of Government Leaders, I Think of Vegetables

A key federal panel says that eating vegan will help you and the planet.

Okay, so they were wrong about red meat, about carbohydrates, and about salt, but this time they're right on the money.

Why does the government seem more and more to be lecturing us peasants about our lives and how they should be lived?

When I Think of Easter, I Think of Teasing and Scolding

Washington Post: Obama teases his critics at the White House Easter Prayer Breakfast
Obama noted the biblical call that Christians are called to love each other. But he said he sometimes hears “less-than-loving expressions by Christians.” He added, “but that’s a topic for another day,” to applause and some jeering and laughter, “I was about to veer off. I’m pulling it back.”
No reference was made to the 150 Kenyan Christians [mostly Anglican/Episcopalian] who were slaughtered just four days before just because they were Christian.  That, too, was "less-than-loving", but was committed by those who were not Christian, so never mind.  The president's speech had been written a week before and there was no chance to alter it before Tuesday because...well, I don't know why not, especially since he was willing to "veer off" for a portion of it.

I know he's the official politician of the Episcopal Church for whom no criticism must be voiced, but I'm really not interested in Christian comportment lectures from a guy who thinks Sundays are for golf.

Maybe the Governor Should Scream about Indiana Some More; It Seems to Distract the Press

Comptroller: Connecticut State Deficit Increases To Nearly $173 Million

I Appreciate That the News these Days Doesn't Report the Truth, It Merely Reinforces the Prejudices of its Audience, but Really....

In the era of the Rolling Stone/University of Virginia journalistic debacle, the media now tell stories, not report on facts.  Still, they need to be held accountable.  This is especially true of things such as found in this article:

National Rifle Association bans working guns from annual convention

I could biopsy this, but this fellow does a better job:
From this nugget, the writer at the New York Daily News has erroneously concluded that the NRA is full of hypocrites, who are against gun rules everywhere except their own convention.
This, I’m afraid, is nonsense. For a start, there’s no “this year” about it. At the NRA Convention, the display guns are always nonoperational, and they are never, ever for sale. Why? Well, a) because it’s a trade show, not a bazaar; b) because the rules governing interstate purchases are extremely complicated; and c) because there is simply no way that there would be enough guns available to satisfy the demand. This isn’t an aberration, it’s standard operating procedure. The author might as well ask why you can’t buy cars at the New York International Auto Show.
 Ordinarily, I wouldn't care about such minor things, except that I have grown fatigued by ordained colleagues and fellow residents of my county in Connecticut sniffing at me about gun ownership.  If I thought they were actually interested in the issue and its history within our republic, that would be grounds for intelligent conversation.  Instead, it's simply class snobbery dressed up as superficial social concern.  Just as there are people with whom I work at school who think me a dolt because I believe in God, so there are people who think me a lower-class Midwestern troglodyte for owning guns.  It is for them that such stories are written by the Daily News.

Good for This Guy

The Atlantic: Why I Teach Plato to Plumbers: Liberal arts and the humanities aren't just for the elite.

A Community Without God Will Worship Any Passing Fancy

Kanye West Replaces God in New Bible

Best Thing That I've Heard Out of Brown University Since...Um...Give Me a Minute

You have a right to be safe on campus. The creators of safe spaces usually have good intentions. If students actually have a panic attack during a lecture given by a controversial figure, they should have a safe place in which they could recuperate — I imagine a dorm room would probably suffice. Puppies and Play-Doh seem a little infantile to me, but I understand the intention. No one should be harmed by an educational event, but since we can generally avoid lectures, talks or screenings with which we disagree, I have trouble understanding why students would attend an event knowing it would harm them.

The problem arises when the idea of “a right to be safe” is extended to “a right to be comfortable” — and demanded. I found an example of this overreach in an online piece from Bluestockings Magazine entitled “Geographies of Safety: Mapping Safe Spaces for Students of Color at Brown University.” On Google Maps, the author, Aanchal Saraf ’16, purported to show a map of safe and unsafe spaces at Brown for students of color. Green indicated “safe,” while red marked places that she deemed were “unsafe.” And each marker had comments submitted by students specifying the reasoning behind a particular delineation.

And Politicians and Academic Grant-Holders Tell Us That Science is Settled

Brontosaurus Is Back: New Study Says the Dino Is Real After All

Monday, April 6, 2015

Public Elementary School = Emotional Abuse

Parents Outraged Over School's BMI Reports

I wish that schools would simply teach the basics and not serve as social engineering tools for the political class.

If You're Looking for a College, Here You Go

LA Times: Pepperdine University has a Surf Chapel.  That's all.
First they listen to Bible passages and break up into small groups to share emotional highs and lows. Then many of them don wetsuits, grab boards from a Pepperdine recreation department truck and hit the waves.
My only issue is that the writer is clearly uncomfortable writing about Christians, so she loads her prose with corny comments.

The Pattern Continues, and Locally, too

Danbury High Teacher Charged With Sexual Assault

As we've noted before here and here.

Dan's Still Hoping for a Cabinet Post

In case you needed more proof that the recent backlash against religious freedom laws is grounded in pure ignorance, look no further than Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy. Malloy, a Democrat, just announced on Twitter that he plans to sign an executive order banning state travel to Indiana due to the midwestern state’s recently enacted Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

I don’t know how many staffers, lawyers, and advisers currently work for Malloy, but it’s a real shame that not a single one of them told the governor that Connecticut has had an expansive RFRA on the books for over two decades. That’s right: Connecticut passed its own RFRA law on June 29, 1993. You can read the law for yourself here. The inanity of Malloy’s move doesn’t stop there, though. What makes his grandstanding particularly absurd is the fact that Connecticut’s RFRA provides far greater religious liberty protections than Indiana’s or even the federal government’s.

Connecticut's RFRA grants me, an ordained priest, the right to participate on boards and committees of the local government, allows Jewish delis and Muslim restaurants not to have to serve pork, and permits the indoor burning of sage or even the consumption of peyote by members of the state's American Indian tribes.  Yeah, I can see why this is troubling to politicians, Hollywood people, and software billionaires.

More to the point, Connecticut's RFRA gives us the freedom to ring our church bells on Sunday mornings and construct a nativity scene on our lawn.

Related: Flashback! When religious freedom didn't have scare quotes in The New York Times

Also related: All snarking aside, this refusal to engage people with different moral perspectives in exactly the kind of thing that Brian Doherty and I warned would be bad for social progress in a classically liberal cosmopolitan society.

More related: Indiana has focused attention on RFRA laws, but it’s stupid to focus on Indiana. These laws are all over the place. Understand them. Understand how they apply in many different scenarios and how they are limited by courts in their application. Understand that if we’re going to relieve religious believers of the burdens of generally applicable laws, courts are going to have to avoid preferring one religion over another. You can’t accommodate the religions you agree with or think are sweet and fuzzy and say no to the ones who seem mean or ugly. We need to figure that out. If, in the end, you think the Indiana RFRA is a bad idea, check that map and see if your state has RFRA (or a RFRA-like state constitutional provision) and push for repeal in your state. And get after Congress. Congress started it. Unless you’re Hoosier, leave Indiana alone. Stop otherizing Indiana. AND: I had to wonder What does Garrett Epps think about this? Because Garrett Epps wrote a whole book about how terrible it was for the U.S. Supreme Court to deny special exceptions to religious believers, especially in that case where Native Americans wanted the freedom to use peyote. As I predicted, Epps is otherizing Indiana.”

Of course, the question I'm left with is: Why do we need special "freedom laws" in the United States when the overriding document of our nation already guarantees such?

It is, and Not Just "Somewhat"

Some reality about the latest media-created moral panic:

It’s somewhat disconcerting when one of the wealthiest and most powerful men on the planet tells a group of religious minorities that he doesn't think they have legitimate religious issues and that they shouldn't have won their cases.

Yeah, It's Time

Scientists at Large Hadron Collider hope to make contact with PARALLEL UNIVERSE in days


Is It Time to Move to That Wi-Fi-Free Island, Yet?

Taylor Swift Tops Fortune’s List Of World’s Greatest Female Leaders

Related: Taylor Swift Hates Rhode Island Surfers

Maybe the Dumbest Tweet I Saw During Holy Week

Gotta keep that energy up during the Solemn Collects, you know.  Never mind that it's a fast day.  Oh, and "Happy Good Friday"?  He's dead, you goobers.  There is nothing happy about that.

Honestly, if you don't know anything about a religion, don't use it as a feature in your advertising.

Why Does the Military Keep Training to Fight Americans?

U.S. Special Operations holding urban warfare drills in Broward County

I mean, I'd like to think it's because they wanted to show off their jaunty berets on the beaches of Fort Lauderdale during spring break, but considering that the U.S. government has purchased enough ammunition over the last couple of years to kill every American citizen eight times, I'm beginning to think they don't trust us.

Good News

Washington Post: There are more museums in the U.S. than there are Starbucks and McDonalds – combined

Well, It's Probably How Many of Them Got There

Academic dishonesty at Stanford: What compels elite students to cheat?

Mais alors, je suis très cynique.

The Sexually Conservative Millennial

The Atlantic: Young Americans may be more demographically diverse than older generations, but many embrace surprisingly traditional views on relationships.