The Mad Dash, the End of the Hyphen, and the Tree of Information

May 17, 2013

Just the other day, I read two articles online about vanishing punctuation marks, the exclamation point and the apostrophe to be specific.  The culprit in the case of the apostrophe is The Domestic Names Committee of the U.S. Board on Geographic Names, which was set up in 1890 by President Benjamin Harrison.  The article proposing abolition of the exclamation point has vanished into the mists of the internet since I first saw it.

For the fate of the hyphen, see http://sandsofchange.wordpress.com/2007/09/28/vanishing-hyphen-and-national-punctuation-day/  It’s the hyphen I would miss most.  Back in the early 1980s, when I was a federal employee myself, I chanced across an article about another hapless fed who lost his job for ordering “forty eight foot lengths” of steel piping.  What the job required, apparently, was forty pieces of pipe, each eight feet long.  What he got was forty-eight pieces of pipe, each one a foot long.  What he really needed, obviously, was a hyphen.

During the same period of employment, I kept having to read regulations about “PCB containing oil.”  What the authors of the regs meant was oil that contained PCB (a bad thing, in great need of regulation.)  What I could not keep myself from imagining was PCB that contained oil, a bewildering substance at best.  At roughly the same time, our local auto parts store was trying to sell me seat covers of “leather like vinyl.”  I assume they meant vinyl that resembled leather, but it sure looked like leather resembling vinyl.

Back when I was an English teacher, many of my students were techies, right-brain types who were better with graphs and numbers than with words.  In the course of teaching them, I discovered a couple of useful things.  One was that techies love diagramming sentences.  Probably reminds them of flow charts.  The other was that the hyphen serves an essentially algebraic purpose.  It links together a sequence of words that would not normally follow each other in a standard subject-verb-object, modifier-modifier-noun sentence order. It is thus a clue that what we have here is not the standard SVO/MMN word order.    Thus, a large person with homicidal tendencies is a “giant killer,” while a person who kills large people is a “giant-killer.”  It gives the reader more information. 

Finally, my very earliest discovery as an English teacher/proof-reader/copy-editor/blogger/lawyer was the Murphy’s Law that operates in communication: if anything can possibly be misinterpreted, it will be.  The job of the aspiring copy-editor-etc. is to read a text looking for any possible way to misinterpret it, and then to eliminate that possibility by skilful redrafting.  If we are to dispense with the hyphen, that job will be made harder.  Instead of “forty eight foot lengths” or the formerly preferred “forty eight-foot lengths”, we will have to say “forty pieces of ________, each eight feet long;” instead of “Jack the Giant Killer,” something like “Jack, the killer of giants,” and so on.

Getting back to the use of punctuation to provide information on how to interpret a locution, back in the good old days there was no punctuation.  Back in the really old days, there weren’t even any divisions between words.  “Therapist” could be either a headshrinker or “the rapist.”  “Literally” could be either not figuratively, or “lite rally,” (as opposed to a heavy rally?) “Together”/ to get her.  And so on.  This was the form in which both the original text of the Bible and texts of classics like Homer first appeared.  Today, while we are busily dropping apostrophes, hyphens, and exclamation points, we are at least keeping word divisions, commas (though fewer of them than our ancestors) and periods.  And vowels, except in the Semitic languages and Speedwriting (remember Speedwriting?)  Marshall McLuhan’s theory about all this (although so far as I know, he never applied it to Semitic languages or classical texts) was that there is a crucial difference between “hot” and “cool” media of communication.  “Hot” media provide just about all the information the reader/listener needs to interpret clearly.  There is no room for bloopers, puns, or poetic ambiguity.  “Cool” media require the reader/listener to supply some of the information. This gets her more involved in the process of interacting with the medium.  It may be a more effective form of communication. That is, it changes the person who reads or listens.  It conveys knowledge, not merely information.

What’s the difference between knowledge and information?  Knowledge transforms the person who acquires it.  (Martin Buber says that in any serious relationship, between persons, between a person and the Holy One, between a person and a religious tradition, each of the parties accepts the possibility of being changed in and by the relationship.)  Information, on the other hand, can be transmitted from one person to another, and another, and another, in discrete packages that need never be unwrapped, capsules whose contents need never be digested. 

To put it another way, nobody reads a phone book or a dictionary or an encyclopedia from cover to cover.  You look up the particular piece of information you need, find it, appropriate it, use it for your predetermined purpose, and then go on to the next one.  Now that we have “cut-and-paste” in our word processors, we can do it without even reading the info packet first. We can even create a program to do it for us.

If Adam and Eve had eaten from the Tree of Information, we would all still be living in Eden.  The point of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge was that it transformed those who ate from it.  It transformed Adam and Eve so much that the Holy One could tell right away by looking at them (or trying to—they hid themselves because they had discovered they were naked.)

 Back in the 1960s when the National Student Association, a CIA front, was operating on various Ivy League campuses, members who knew about the CIA link referred to each other as “witty.”  If you were a member of a CIA front and knew it, you had become a different person.   To us today, that link has no particular personal meaning; it is now mere information.  But at the time, being a knowing member of a CIA-front organization made you a very different person from most of your classmates or fellow alumni. 

 Effective use of hyphens (and apostrophes) makes our language a “hotter” medium of information.  It prevents ambiguity (intentional or unintentional.)  As an editor/English teacher and so on, I’m all for that.  It minimizes the effect of Murphy’s Law on communication.  But the Buddhists tell us that confusion is fruitful, that ambiguity creates possibility.  Maybe as an occasional poet, I’m not so keen on the hyphen?  Maybe we should be working our way back to the original texts, without punctuation, word divisions, or vowels?  Thisdeservesfurtherthought.  In fact, thsdsrvsfrthrthght.

 Jane Grey

 

Terrorism, Bad Spelling, and National Defense Fellowships

April 28, 2013

Does anybody else remember the National Defense Education Agency? They were set up shortly after the Russians put a satellite in orbit, back in the late 1950s or thereabouts. Our leaders determined that the Russians’ having beaten us into space proved that our educational system was dangerously outdated, and that we especially needed to encourage people to study science, math, and foreign languages. This produced what was probably the best-educated generation in our history. And that generation in turn brought us — wait for it — THUH SIXTIES! Sex in our streets! Rock music in our earphones! Pot smoke in the air! Woodstock! Hair! (and “Hair”!)

I sometimes think that Our Leaders concluded from that episode that maybe we shouldn’t be working quite so hard to educate our younger generation, and in fact, that maybe we need an educational system designed to lower our consciousness and our expectations. But OTOH…

We didn’t catch Tamerlan Tsarnaev because the FBI couldn’t spell his name right. How humiliating is that? I can remember when sports writers — not exactly the intellectual elite of the journalistic profession — could spell Carl Yastrzemski. When music critics could not only spell but pronounce Gennady Rozhdestvensky. When a food writer could not only eat but spell canthaxanthin.

Some of us actually tried to help out. When I sent my FOIA request to the FBI many years ago, I included half a page worth of possible misspellings of my first, middle, and last names. You live in the US with three names subject to almost infinite possibilities for misspelling and you get used to this.

But one can hardly blame Tsarnaev, who was not a citizen and had been in the US only ten years or so, for not being more helpful. He probably never got past Stage One of the name game in the US. Stage One is what happens in a nation of immigrants when a person repeatedly hears his name (the most personal attribute of his being, actually sacred in some cultures) mangled beyond recognition, perhaps even badly enough to put him in the wrong alphabetical file folder (that happens to me occasionally.) After a while, he snapped. (Are the profilers considering this possibility?) If he had learned enough equanimity to get to Stage Two (where you do whatever it takes to get the right spelling across to strangers), obviously he would never have gotten into terrorism in the first place. (I’m sure Gandhi spent a lot of time telling well-intentioned Brits “no, the ‘h’ comes after the ‘d’.” But he was Gandhi.)

What does this have to do the NDEA, of blessed memory? It is, obviously, time to reinvent it, this time to provide fellowships and government funding for the study of spelling. (If you watched the Scripps National Spelling Bee this year, you would have notice that almost all of the top spellers in the United States of America are of South Asian extraction (perhaps fellow countrymen of Gandhi.)) A non-Asian young friend of mine was in the semifinals last year and is probably headed for the finals this year, but, so far as I know, she has not been offered any NDEA college money to continue her studies in orthography. She is exactly the kind of person we should be encouraging and subsidizing. Now that we are approaching this year’s terrorism season (yesterday, the Taliban announced its official opening, a bit later than spring training in major league baseball, a bit earlier than soccer and football and hockey) we need to start thinking about this more seriously. Defend freedom! Learn to spell!

CynThesis

More Constitutional Revisions: Cities, States, and City-States

April 24, 2013

Those of us who still remember studying ancient history in the 6th grade or whenever know the concept of the city-state.  Athens, Sparta, Thebes, those guys.  The cognoscenti attribute their rise to the peculiar geography of Greece (and, later of Italy—you know, Rome, Milan, Venice and so on, especially during the Renaissance)—you couldn’t go much of any place without fording a river or climbing a bunch of mountains.  The only currently operating city-state is Singapore, though it is large enough, rich enough, and peculiar enough to be worth taking seriously despite its uniqueness. 

 

It might be worth looking at the federal system in the US in relation to our cities, if we are going to talk about revising the Constitution at all.  ATRORM (see http://www.aleksandreia.com/2010/03/02/eliminate-the-senate/), there are 38 states with smaller populations than New York City, and 26 smaller than Los Angeles. Each of those states gets two senators and at least one congresscritter. The cities get precisely none. Most states are cobbled together from one or two large cities and their environs plus a “downstate” or “upstate.” Senators, generally, get to be senators by juggling the interests of cities and downstates (or sometimes upstates), and only the congresscritters from the cities get to represent interests of those cities, in which the largest number of Americans live.

 

The larger cities clearly have more in common with each other than any of them has with the other residents of the state in which it is located.  According to the latest information, the largest cities in North America, by population, are Mexico City, New York City, Los Angeles, Toronto, and Chicago.  Mexico City and Toronto are, obviously, not under discussion here.  Yet.  But I suspect that the next ten probably deserve consideration here too (that’s Houston, Philadelphia, Phoenix, San Antonio, San Diego, Dallas, San Jose, Jacksonville FL, Indianapolis, and Austin.)  And maybe a few others as well, like Atlanta, Miami, San Francisco, and Cleveland (or everybody with a major league sports franchise?)

There have been a few serious proposals about reshaping the states, most notably Joel Garreau’s Nine Nations of North America (1981), “How to Make a State” (http://blog.constitutioncenter.org/2012/08/how-to-make-a-state-three-ways-to-redraw-the-u-s-a/), “Electoral college reform (fifty states with equal population)” (http://fakeisthenewreal.org/reform/), and “The US Redrawn As 50 Equally Populated States(http://politics.slashdot.org/story/13/02/17/1334255/the-us-redrawn-as-50-equally-populated-states). I’m not sure any of them really deal with the urban-vs.-everyone-else dichotomy which is the real fault line here. 

 

One of the things that the original city-states often did (both in Greece and in Italy, and still later, in Germany) was form leagues for purposes of trade (mostly) and self-defense.  Perhaps that should be a structural alternative for the smaller cities (everybody but the Big Three?)  Maybe Northern, Midwestern, Southern, and Western leagues of cities? Each of the Big Three and each League would have the constitutional status now held by the states. Assuming that each state (minus its ranking cities) would retain its current status, that would leave us with fifty-seven states, 114 senators, and a major but perfectly feasible job of reapportionment for the House of Representatives.

 

At the same time, we ought to get rid of the current 435-member cap for the House (set in 1929, for pete’s sake!) and go back to the 30,000 to 40,000 citizens per representative that the Framers originally had in mind.  The 1929 cap, by the way, was originally set because 435 was the largest number of desks the House chamber could accommodate.  These days, desks are probably the least important furnishings in the chamber.  One comfortable chair and a table large enough to hold a laptop computer (or maybe just a tablet) per representative would easily suffice. Or the chamber could be enlarged.  Or both. 

 

Along with all of this geographic rejiggering, if we Wired Sisters had our druthers, we would like to see a constitutional requirement that all reapportionment be done by non-partisan, non-political entities on the basis of natural or geometric boundaries, to end the current practice of politicians choosing their constituencies, rather than vice versa.  Given how long (roughly 200 years) it took the Supreme Court to come up with the Baker vs. Carr requirements for one-person-one-vote districts, it would undoubtedly take a constitutional amendment to accomplish this.

 

We will probably be coming up with some other revisionist proposals in the coming months—it seems like a good way to avoid the news.  Let’s hope next week is better than this week has been.

 

CynThesis

 

 

 

What Would You Add to the Bill of Rights?

April 24, 2013

Apparently I’m not the only person doing this thought-experiment — http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2013/04/what-would-you-add-to-the-bill-of-rights/275250/.  Privacy seems to be on everybody’s mind.  I’d like something saying “No citizen or resident of the United States shall ever be required to testify under oath in any proceeding whatever about sex between consenting adults.”  Take that, Ken Starr!  And the Second Amendment should be revised to include precisely what its Framers originally intended—the right of citizens to keep and bear smooth bore muskets and flintlocks.  And how about “the right of citizens and residents of the United States to travel within and among the several states shall not be infringed”? 

 

Red Emma

All In the Family

April 2, 2013

The tradition of the “Roman father” is long gone and so utterly forgotten today that most of us don’t even remember what the phrase means.  It goes back to the early days of the Roman Republic, when Lucius Junius Brutus executed his own sons for plotting to restore the monarchy.  We no longer expect public officials to rule impartially upon the guilt or innocence of our own family members.  Instead, we often require them to recuse themselves from any case in which they have even a hint of personal involvement. 

A couple of recent instances:  a student of mine twenty-odd years ago, who was a strong evangelical Christian, who told me that if his daughter came home pregnant, he would certainly not stop loving her, but he would tell her to leave his house.  And then, on the other hand, Senator Rob Portman (R-Ohio), whose son “came out” to him as homosexual a couple of years ago, has recently announced his support of same-sex marriage. 

I certainly don’t blame Portman for taking his current position, which is one that I share.  I would never expect him, or anyone else, to cut off all contact with a child who had done something he disapproved of, however strongly.  What raises questions for me is his previous position of opposition to same-sex marriage.  How much principle could have been involved in his fervent backing of the GOP’s opposition to gay rights, if he could abandon it to spare his son pain?  After all, every homosexual is somebody’s son or daughter.  My student in the previous paragraph shocked me by his willingness to sever connections with a pregnant daughter.  But on the other hand, I had to respect the seriousness of his principles, even though I do not share them.

I think most Americans these days side more with Portman that with my unnamed student.  It used to be fairly common for gay teenagers to be thrown out of the house by their parents (usually their fathers.)  It doesn’t happen much these days.  We don’t do a whole lot of “never darken my door again” to any of our family or friends, for any reason, these days.  I think that’s generally a good thing, a sign that our “family values” have become kinder and gentler. 

But it’s also a sign that most of our principled positions have limits.  The Wired Daughter says that most conservative legislation or proposed legislation includes in invisible ink the phrase “except for me and the people I care about.”  Most of us are willing to accept not only same-sex marriage, but abortion, unwed pregnancy, and cheating on taxes from our nearest and dearest, no matter how enthusiastically we denounce such behavior among strangers. 

Portman’s move is, one suspects, the death knell of cultural conservatism.  We are no longer up to the demands of Roman fatherhood.  We are becoming nicer people than our grandparents raised our parents to be.  Ain’t that too damn bad1

Red Emma

On Not Dying in Vain

April 2, 2013

How does victory confer retroactive meaning on the deaths of the winning side’s soldiers?  For that matter, what is the “meaning” of a death?  Obviously, I have been nudged into this line of inquiry by the wave of second thoughts about the war in Iraq now that we have been fighting there for ten years.  Which in turn recalls to my mind the ten-year war in Vietnam. 

And (given the Lincoln film and the wave of other Lincoln material on my not-so-secret vice, the History Channel) the Civil War and so on.  “That these dead shall not have died in vain…” – aside from the elegant use of the future perfect verb, which I can’t imagine even the best speechwriter daring to use today, this requires some mental gymnastics, looking back at the past war deaths from the viewpoint of a yet-unformed future.  Did Lincoln mean that, at the time he was actually speaking, those deaths were (had been?) in vain, and would continue to have no meaning unless the United States conferred meaning on them in some way? The battle of Gettysburg was pretty close to the end of the war, but that might not have been readily apparent to Lincoln or those who heard him at the time; so was he only saying “we have to stay with this war, finish it, and win it”?  Or was he saying (as Garry Wills tells us) that the people of the United States can confer meaning  on the Civil War deaths only by committing to his vision of freedom and equality as the outcome of the war?  Or (skilled politician that Lincoln was) was he allowing his listeners to take their choice of commitments?

At the most basic level, most of us die for nothing.  The privilege of dying for a purpose is rare, dearly bought, and usually an integral part of living for a purpose. 

Some of us die as “martyrs” to our freedom to smoke tobacco or eat fatty foods or drink alcohol or ingest various other drugs or drive fast cars or have unprotected sex.  Most of us just die “for lack of another breath,” as the old epitaph puts it.  Why should we demand more for those who die fighting in a war?  (We rarely, by the way, insist on conferring meaning on the deaths of civilians in wartime.  There is no monument to the Unknown Civilian, though perhaps there should be.  The closest we get is G.B. Shaw’s imagined monument to Jack Falstaff*.)

The “meaning” and “honor” of death in battle are among our oldest social/ religious/ political sancta.  The Iliad doesn’t quite have Achilles telling his buddies that Patroclus should not have died in vain (which is just as well, given the difficulty of using the future perfect in Homeric Greek), but it comes pretty close.  And I think it all connects to guilt.  The soldiers who died in battle died serving us (whoever “us” may be—Greece, Troy, Christians, Muslims, France, Germany…), and “we” (who in many instances are still alive because we dodged the draft or in some other unworthy way avoided military service) can’t do much to compensate them except to be appropriately grateful to them for making our lot better in some way than it would have been without their sacrifices.  It is they who have conferred meaning on our lives, rather than the reverse.

Is there no meaning to be found in a losing battle?  The Alamo?  Masada?  Thermopylae? Two of these three were actually losing skirmishes in ultimately victorious wars, and acquire their meaning after the victory to which they contributed.  Masada, perhaps, is sui generis.  It is part of a much longer “war” on a much more significant, well-nigh cosmic level. 

And, of course, there is always the Lost Cause.  I grew up in the American South, when Robert E. Lee was an eternal presence in our history and our geography, the 800-pound spiritual gorilla in the room.  It has, finally, lost most of its meaning, mainly by being outweighed by other, newer martyrs.  It lasted as long as it did mainly because the culture of the American South did, after all, survive to tell its story.  History is not always written by the victors, but it is almost always written, or at least preserved, by the survivors.  Sometimes it is the survivors on the other side, who demand the credit due to those who nobly defeat a noble foe (as opposed to the Crips defeating the Bloods, or maybe even the Capulets and the Montagues, or the Hatfields and the McCoys.)

But, History Channel buff that I am, I long for a different view of historical meaning.  I long for a monument to the Unknown Civilian, to those who not only died (everybody dies, after all) but who first endured, who gave us not the cheap flashy courage of the NASCAR driver or the fake courage of a John Wayne, but the deep-rooted long-lasting courage of the Middle Passage, of Leningrad, of Sarajevo, of Robben Island, of the Warsaw Ghetto.  That kind of courage, we can all attain, and it can give meaning to all of our lives.

CynThesis 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


* The real  Falstaff, Sir John Oldcastle, actually was a martyr, burned at the stake for his commitment to his proto-Protestant Lollard heretical beliefs.  Shakespeare chose to play him for laughs mainly for political reasons.  Although his martyrdom is memorialized in Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, he seems to have no physical monument, unless you count a pub named for him in Farringdon, UK.

On Not Dying in Vain

March 31, 2013
  • How does victory confer retroactive meaning on the deaths of the winning side’s soldiers?  For that matter, what is the “meaning” of a death?  Obviously, I have been nudged into this line of inquiry by the wave of second thoughts about the war in Iraq now that we have been fighting there for ten years.  Which in turn recalls to my mind the ten-year war in Vietnam. 

    And (given the Lincoln film and the wave of other Lincoln material on my not-so-secret vice, the History Channel) the Civil War and so on.  “That these dead shall not have died in vain…” – aside from the elegant use of the future perfect verb, which I can’t imagine even the best speechwriter daring to use today, this requires some mental gymnastics, looking back at the past war deaths from the viewpoint of a yet-unformed future.  Did Lincoln mean that, at the time he was actually speaking, those deaths were (had been?) in vain, and would continue to have no meaning unless the United States conferred meaning on them in some way? The battle of Gettysburg was pretty close to the end of the war, but that might not have been readily apparent to Lincoln or those who heard him at the time; so was he only saying “we have to stay with this war, finish it, and win it”?  Or was he saying (as Garry Wills tells us) that the people of the United States can confer meaning  on the Civil War deaths only by committing to his vision of freedom and equality as the outcome of the war?  Or (skilled politician that Lincoln was) was he allowing his listeners to take their choice of commitments?

    At the most basic level, most of us die for nothing.  The privilege of dying for a purpose is rare, dearly bought, and usually an integral part of living for a purpose. 

    Some of us die as “martyrs” to our freedom to smoke tobacco or eat fatty foods or drink alcohol or ingest various other drugs or drive fast cars or have unprotected sex.  Most of us just die “for lack of another breath,” as the old epitaph puts it.  Why should we demand more for those who die fighting in a war?  (We rarely, by the way, insist on conferring meaning on the deaths of civilians in wartime.  There is no monument to the Unknown Civilian, though perhaps there should be.  The closest we get is G.B. Shaw’s imagined monument to Jack Falstaff*.)

    The “meaning” and “honor” of death in battle are among our oldest social/ religious/ political sancta.  The Iliad doesn’t quite have Achilles telling his buddies that Patroclus should not have died in vain (which is just as well, given the difficulty of using the future perfect in Homeric Greek), but it comes pretty close.  And I think it all connects to guilt.  The soldiers who died in battle died serving us (whoever “us” may be—Greece, Troy, Christians, Muslims, France, Germany…), and “we” (who in many instances are still alive because we dodged the draft or in some other unworthy way avoided military service) can’t do much to compensate them except to be appropriately grateful to them for making our lot better in some way than it would have been without their sacrifices.  It is they who have conferred meaning on our lives, rather than the reverse.

    Is there no meaning to be found in a losing battle?  The Alamo?  Masada?  Thermopylae? Two of these three were actually losing skirmishes in ultimately victorious wars, and acquire their meaning after the victory to which they contributed.  Masada, perhaps, is sui generis.  It is part of a much longer “war” on a much more significant, well-nigh cosmic level. 

    And, of course, there is always the Lost Cause.  I grew up in the American South, when Robert E. Lee was an eternal presence in our history and our geography, the 800-pound spiritual gorilla in the room.  It has, finally, lost most of its meaning, mainly by being outweighed by other, newer martyrs.  It lasted as long as it did mainly because the culture of the American South did, after all, survive to tell its story.  History is not always written by the victors, but it is almost always written, or at least preserved, by the survivors.  Sometimes it is the survivors on the other side, who demand the credit due to those who nobly defeat a noble foe (as opposed to the Crips defeating the Bloods, or maybe even the Capulets and the Montagues, or the Hatfields and the McCoys.)

    But, History Channel buff that I am, I long for a different view of historical meaning.  I long for a monument to the Unknown Civilian, to those who not only died (everybody dies, after all) but who first endured, who gave us not the cheap flashy courage of the NASCAR driver or the fake courage of a John Wayne, but the deep-rooted long-lasting courage of the Middle Passage, of Leningrad, of Sarajevo, of Robben Island, of the Warsaw Ghetto.  That kind of courage, we can all attain, and it can give meaning to all of our lives.

     

    CynThesis 

     

     

     

     

     

     

     


    * The real  Falstaff, Sir John Oldcastle, actually was a martyr, burned at the stake for his commitment to his proto-Protestant Lollard heretical beliefs.  Shakespeare chose to play him for laughs mainly for political reasons.  Although his martyrdom is memorialized in Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, he seems to have no physical monument, unless you count a pub named for him in Farringdon, UK.

Does Stephen Hawking Watch “The Making of…”?

March 17, 2013

We learn from various documentaries on making movies and TV programs that directors almost always do scenes in some order other that what the viewer (and probably the screenwriter) would consider chronological.  All the scenes that take place in a particular location are shot together, for instance. Or all the scenes in which a particular actor, or stunt person, or other crucial functionary, appears, who may have to get someplace else for some other production or something.  Or all the scenes that take place in a particular season, even in different years.  Then the editor gets to sort them out and put them into “chronological” order.  (Which may also not necessarily be the order originally set out in the book or play on which the screenplay is based.)

Which makes me wonder (when staying up late and watching TV movies alternating with Stephen Hawking) whether the order in which we experience events is necessarily the same as the order (or meta-order?) in which they occur Out There in Reality?

Jane Grey

A Very Hypothetical Question

March 17, 2013

Let us imagine, quite hypothetically, a Roman Catholic Pope, in his 80s, who is told by his physician that he is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s.  The Pope in question is well-read in canon law and church history, and therefore has a pretty good idea of the implications of such a diagnosis for somebody in his position, and for the Church as a whole.  The Church has dealt pretty successfully with evil popes, like the Borgias and a lot of the guys around AD 800 or so (of whom 1 out of 3 died violently, or so I heard today.)  That is to say, none of them did anything that affected the soundness of church doctrine or practice beyond their own lifetimes.  But there is no recorded instance (that I can find, anyway, by googling “Papacy dementia”) of a Pope who developed dementia while in office. 

 

(See “Ask a Catholic”, which tells us:

             Historically, I don’t know of any Papal cases. There probably were Popes that were removed from office by reason of health or political reasons. Never-theless, it is important to note, the Pope doesn’t stand alone. He is surrounded by all kinds of Cardinals and Secretaries of State and people who are in high res-ponsible positions around the Vatican and when they notice a Pope is failing for any kind of reason, I’m sure they get together and either would ask for his resig-nation or vote; after all they put him in the office. They can’t vote him out, but there can be a recognition that he is not fully himself at this time. It is so impor-tant to emphasize that, unlike our Presidency in the United             States, if something happens to the President, the Vice-President assumes his office — there is no vice-Pope; there is no assistant Pope. The Holy Father MUST resign of his own free will for it to be a valid resignation. If he doesn’t want to, then all you can do is pray that God takes him soon. The             First See (Rome) is judged by no one. We had a heresy called Conciliarism in which an ecumenical council thought they could depose a Pope. No one can depose the Pope even if he’s immoral or             loss his marbles.

            Now God forbid, if a Pope did get that way, maybe they might lock him in the closet or something like that, but you cannot remove him from office. I’m should there would be plenty of people that             are loyal to the Church and would take care that no damage would be done.

            On the issue of Infallibility: Even if, God forbid, a Pope was demented, infallibility would still be present. The Holy Spirit would stop him for saying something like “Jesus is really Mickey Mouse.” Infallibility is a negative charism, where the Holy Spirit would prevent him from making such a statement binding in faith and morals on the faithful. Whether or not he, himself, believes he             is Mickey Mouse, is not a part of infallibility so he might think he is a different character, but it is not part of infallibility.

            Infallibility only applies to the Pope’s teachings and the universal Church. This is where Catholic faith comes in. There was a Cardinal from Germany that has urged John Paul II to resign but you can never compel him to resign. This Office is so unique.On several related issues: If a priest has dementia, the bishop will take care of him fast. Some bishops have had this too and in these situations the Holy See will step in.

            Fr. Levis and Fr. John Trigilio from EWTN)

 

This raises at least as many questions as it answers.  For instance, if those who “step in” around a demented Pope make doctrinal pronouncements, will the Holy Spirit guide them and make them infallible? One would think it’s the least She could do. 

 

And, perhaps more to the point, just because the historical record apparently contains no instance of a demented Pope, that does not necessarily mean there has never been one.  Statistically, over 2000 years and 265 Popes, many of them of fairly advanced age, it’s hard to believe that at least one or two of them did not suffer from dementia, either age-related or from some other more common etiology.  We can only conclude that those around them did one helluva job of damage control and public relations, and/or that they did not “lock him in a closet,” but more likely hastened his heavenward journey. 

 

At any rate, with these issues facing him, our hypothetical Pope might very well choose to save the Church and everybody else a lot of trouble by retiring.  Is this hypothesis really off the wall?  I’m not a Catholic, I just read a lot, and have had a lot of experience with mental health in the civil legal system. 

 

Jane Grey

Listen to the Mockingbird

March 17, 2013

I have read that “Sununu”, in Arabic, means “little bird.” Hard to resist punning on that. John Sununu, on July 17, in a Fox interview, is quoted saying about Obama, “He has no idea how the American system functions, and we shouldn’t be surprised about that, because he spent his early years in Hawaii smoking something, spent the next set of years in Indonesia, another set of years in Indonesia, and, frankly, when he came to the U.S., he worked as a community organizer, which is a socialized structure, and then got into politics in Chicago.” Read more: http://thepage.time.com/2012/07/17/sununu-classic/#ixzz22JMAb6SD And later went on to say “I wish this President would learn how to be an American.” Presumably the first step would be staying away from Hawaii and Chicago, and maybe also politics?

So, let’s see, it doesn’t even matter whether Obama can produce a valid Hawaii birth certificate because Hawaii isn’t really American anyway (so why are the birthers wasting our time, and their own?) and neither is Chicago. (What? Okay, Indonesia really isn’t the US, but so what? Romney’s family spent a couple of generations in Mexico to evade prosecution for polygamy, but nobody is sideswiping him with any Frito Bandito labels.) Being a community organizer is a “socialized structure” (socialized? As in “people getting along with each other”? I think the organization he worked for was established under Section 501 ( c) (3) of the US Internal Revenue Code, which is about as unsocialist as you can get. Can’t imagine what else he could mean by “socialized.” Never thought I would be accusing myself of lack of imagination when examining American politics.)

Sununu did later apologize for “using those words,” though not with any degree of specificity. We don’t really know which words he was apologizing for—the slurs on the Americanness of Hawaii and Chicago, which could conceivably lose Romney a lot of votes in those places, and among people with family from those places? The evocation of bizarre images of the infant Obama smoking “something” in his cradle? The impolitic slur on Indonesia, which does after all have a history of authoritarian anti-communist government and a good deal of oil under its territory, both things “real Americans” tend to like? The mind reels.

And above all, what does it really mean to be an American, and how does one learn it? Watch this space.

Red Emma


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