Friday, October 30, 2009

Divinipotent About Halloween Spooks

"There are nights when the wolves are silent
and only the moon howls."

 ~ George Carlin

Halloween is one of Divinipotent Daily's favorite days of the year. To be a child on this day, dressing up, traipsing through dark and chilly streets in a parade of other costumed children, ringing doorbells, shivering as you pass spooky old houses cloaked in immense dark trees, collecting candy and then, later, eating said candy while watching scary movies...what could be better? Those ever-so-slight brushes with what John Milton described as "calling shapes, and beck'ning shadows dire, and airy tongues that syllable men's names" open a child's mind to a different dimension — a place that temporarily lifts coddled young Americans from their shallowness.

How sad that fears of fates unspoken have ended traditional trick-or-treating in many areas, replacing the door-knocking with parties at schools and community centers. In some areas, objections to Halloween's pagan past, with its witches, goblins and ghosts, restrain the celebration even further.

For unfiltered memories of Halloweens past, Divinipotent Daily commends you to "Celtic Memories — Whispering Hope from the Past" a lovely essay by writer Maura Mulligan on the Mr. Beller's Neighborhood site. She writes about her Irish childhood and the stories she heard from her grandfather about the traditional celebration of Samhain (SOW-in). The Celtic harvest feast that is celebrated on All Hallows Eve, Samhain is the night when ghosts come out of their graves and the living carve jack-o'-lanterns from turnips to "light the way for the visiting dead."

The New York Public Library, which is a lot more fun than most people probably realize, offers another excellent way to pass a few Halloween minutes: check out the collection of vintage Halloween cards on its Facebook Page. When you're done, go here and  enjoy still more vintage postcards while listening to the great Lambert, Hendricks and Ross sing "Halloween Spooks."

"'Tis now the very witching
 time of night,
 When churchyards yawn 

 and hell itself breathes out
 Contagion to this world."

  ~ William Shakespeare

Go out and scare somebody. Happy Halloween!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Divinipotent About Black Tuesday

"There will be no interruption of our permanent prosperity."
~ Myron E. Forbes
   President, Pierce Arrow Motor Car Co., January 12, 1928

Just a brief post today to note an important anniversary: On this day eighty years ago the world fell apart. Beginning on Thursday, October 24, 1929 and culminating on Tuesday, October 29, 1929 — "Black Tuesday" — the U.S. stock market collapsed. The volume of trading that day set a record that remained unbroken until 1968.

"I cannot help but raise a dissenting voice to statements that we are living in a fool's paradise, and that prosperity in this country must necessarily diminish and recede in the near future."

~ E. H. H. Simmons
   President, New York Stock Exchange, January 12, 1928

Many observers had warned that the economic bubble known as the Roaring Twenties was about to burst, but those warnings were dismissed by the people in power. Apparently, it was simply inconceivable that the good times might stop rolling.

"The Wall Street crash doesn't mean that there will be any general or serious business depression...For six years American business has been diverting a substantial part of its attention, its energies and its resources on the speculative game...Now that irrelevant, alien and hazardous adventure is over. Business has come home again, back to its job, providentially unscathed, sound in wind and limb, financially stronger than ever before."
~ Business Week, November 2, 1929

Business Week was a new magazine in 1929; with predictions like that, it's surprising it has lasted this long.

“No one can possibly have lived through the Great Depression without being scarred by it. No amount of experience since the depression can convince someone who has lived through it that the world is safe economically.”
~ Isaac Asimov

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Divinipotent About October Music

"A painter paints pictures on a canvas. But musicians paint their pictures on silence."
~ Leopold Stokowski

Today is one of those rainy, windy days that — along with crisp, bright days — are so typical of autumn in the Northeastern U.S. The sunlight seems to be stuck on permanent dusk, and with the temperature in the low 50s, the chill settles into your bones.

On days like this, mother and her music come to mind.

She was a slender, ethereal woman with a deep and occasionally surprising spiritual streak. (Example: Although she was a devout Roman Catholic, she once called her sixth daughter in the middle of the night to discuss reincarnation.) She adored music, especially classical compositions with vast dramatic sweep and a tempestuous back-story. She played it herself on her beloved Steinway — her long fingernails softly clicking on the ivory keys — and also listened to it on her wooden, top-hinged, console hi-fi.

On days like today, as that music echoed through all three floors and every room of our rambling house, as the trees outside the window swayed in the wind and leaves swished this way and that in soggy heaps, Divinipotent Daily liked to imagine she was living in a Brontë novel.

So here's looking at you, mom. Welcome to some of the sounds and imagined melodramas of Divinipotent Daily's childhood. (Please click on the links, since embedding video is a skill not yet acquired.)

"Music is the mediator between the spiritual and the sensual life."
~ Ludwig van Beethoven

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Divinipotent About Discombobulation

"Confusion now hath made his masterpiece!"
~ William Shakespeare

Discombulation, uneasiness, confusion. These words and the state of mind they describe have been in Divinipotent Daily's thoughts lately. The cause would not be worth noting except that it brings attention to how easily we humans can be discomfited.

“Confusion is a word we have invented for an order which is not yet understood.”
~ Henry Miller

Several days ago, without warning, Facebook changed the look and function of users' home pages — not drastically but subtly. Drastic change might have been better, since the new page left people feeling mildly perplexed and not sure why.

"If you're not confused, you're not paying attention."

~ Tom Peters

Have you ever had a house guest who moved the milk to a slightly different position in the refrigerator? It's like that. What you want is still there, but not where you expected it to be. Not where it is supposed to be.

“He was obeyed, yet he inspired neither love nor fear, nor even respect. He inspired uneasiness. That was it!”
~ Joseph Conrad

Conrad might have been speaking of Facebook. One day it was just like a living room full of friends and the next, the laboratory of a large and impersonal corporation conducting a social psychology experiment. This is not as bad as waking up and discovering you are a cockroach, but it is bothersome.

"I believe that the moment is near when by a procedure of active paranoiac thought, it will be possible to systematize confusion and contribute to the total discrediting of the world of reality."

~ Salvador Dali

Dali may be right. Unexpected changes in familiar places, especially when made by a force you had lulled yourself into thinking was benign, do make a person slightly paranoid. "What will these tormentors change next?" — that is the question. 

"A perfection of means, and confusion of aims, seems to be our main problem."

~ Albert Einstein

And so a powerful force has made a change it considers trivial, and the change has had unintended consequences. New York City's Metropolitan Transportation Authority is famous for this sort of thing. Experience tells us that, eventually, either Facebook management will make accommodations or Facebook users will get used to the new look and grow comfortable with it (no doubt signaling the management that it's time to shake things up again).

Confusion is not, in itself, a bad thing. Divinipotent Daily finds it endlessly comforting that Albert Einstein once admitted he would "go away for weeks in a state of confusion." Of course, he was trying to work out the fine points of previously unimagined laws of the universe, not simply plug into his social graph.

"I pretty much try to stay in a constant state of confusion just because of the expression it leaves on my face."
~ Johnny Depp

Johnny Depp, it seems, has embraced confusion; one might say he has moved into it and made it his home. Perhaps that's the right attitude. It is working for him. For the rest of us, the words of Emerson will have to suffice.

"People wish to be settled; only as far as they are unsettled is there any hope for them."
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Monday, October 26, 2009

Divinipotent About the Status of U.S. Women

"If particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation."
~ Abigail Adams

Today is the 62nd birthday of Hillary Rodham Clinton, a woman of many accomplishments. She is the current U.S. Secretary of State, runner-up for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination, former New York State senator, former First Lady of the United States, and an attorney with degrees from Yale and Wellesley who graduated in an era when few women were accepted into law programs.

"No one can argue any longer about the rights of women. It's like arguing about earthquakes."
~ Lillian Hellman"

Secretary Clinton's birthday comes at a time when debate about women's progress is alive and well in the media. Much of the discussion centers on "The Paradox of Declining Female Happiness," a report issued last May by Professors Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers of the Wharton School. The study's primary finding — that women's sense of personal well-being has declined over the past 35 years, despite expanded opportunity, labor-saving technology and increasing wages — sparked a debate that flared up in a major way in the past few weeks.

Some recent highlights:
  • September 17: Author and motivational speaker Marcus Buckingham published "What's Happening to Women's Happiness," the first in a series of articles for Huffington Post. Buckingham uses the Wharton study as a jumping off point leading inexorably to his new book, Find Your Strongest Life: What the Happiest and Most Successful Women Do Differently, published on September 29, 2009. 
  • October 13: Sociologist and author Barbara Ehrenreich attacked the Wharton study's methodology and its conclusions in an article titled, "Are Women Getting Sadder? Or Are We All Just Getting a Lot More Gullible?" for the online magazine Guernica. Ehrenreich rejects the entire idea of measuring happiness saying, "Happiness is an inherently slippery thing to measure or define....when we ask people if they are happy, we are asking them to arrive at some sort of average over many moods and moments. Maybe I was upset earlier in the day after I opened the bills, but then was cheered up by a call from a friend, so what am I really?"
  • October 15:  The Center for American Progress and NBC Correspondent/First Lady of California Maria Shriver released "The Shriver Report," new study on the status of U.S. women. Based on a nationwide survey, the report describes many important achievements but also notes that women still earn only 75 cents on the dollar v. men, remain rarities at the top of large companies and struggle with finding that ever-elusive work-life balance.
  • October 22: New York Times blogger Judith Warner tried to put things into perspective with a post under the self-explanatory headline, "When We're Equal, We'll Be Happy." Looking back to the 1970s, she wrote, "There was definitely a feeling in the air that women’s lives were changing in a positive way. There was a sense that everything was possible, that life for women was getting better, that if things hadn’t yet come together as well as they should have, they inevitably would. Down the line. Like, today."
  • October 24: Joanne Lipman, former deputy managing editor at the Wall Street Journal founding editor of Condé Nast Portfolio, weighed in with "The Mismeasure of Women," a New York Times op-ed. Her article argues that women's progress has not met the expectations of women like herself. Lipman explains that she and her cohort entered the workforce in the "post-feminist" 1980s, a time when many women rejected the previous decade's feminism and believed that equality was a done deal.
“I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat or a prostitute.”
~ Rebecca West

Divinipotent Daily is a pre-post-feminist who entered the workforce in 1970, a time when women had to battle every day to be taken seriously. After growing up with parents who considered women equal to men, it was a shock to discover that society didn't agree. Most men and many women looked at professional women as hobbyists — as if careers were a phase and we'd all return to our senses any day now. It should also be acknowledged that many women did not want careers outside the home and felt pressured to change their lives to fit in. (Now that it takes two incomes to support a family, that dispute, at least, seems moot.)

"Because I am a woman, I must make unusual efforts to succeed.  If I fail, no one will say, 'She doesn't have what it takes.'  They will say, 'Women don't have what it takes.'" 
~ Clare Boothe Luce

The 1970s were also the days when the sexual harassment came with the territory and domestic violence and even rape were sporadically reported and rarely prosecuted. The belief that so many deep-seated attitudes and resentments would dissolve in just a decade was at best optimistic.

“Our struggle today is not to have a female Einstein get appointed as an assistant professor. It is for a woman schlemiel to get as quickly promoted as a male schlemiel.”
~ Bella Abzug

Many aspects of women's lives have changed for the better in the past few decades. And yes, much remains to be done. The fact that almost 40 years after Gloria Steinem, Bella Abzug, Shirley Chisholm and others first marched for women's rights we are still debating about progress only underscores the complexity of the challenge. Today, while 50 percent of all workers are women, only a handful are CEOs of large corporations. Even now, only 17 of 100 U.S. senators and only 75 of 435 U.S. congressional representatives are women.

To Secretary Clinton, a woman who has bucked all of those statistics, Divinipotent Daily wishes a very happy birthday.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Divinipotent About Deadly Salesmen

"The magic formula that successful businesses have discovered is to treat customers like guests and employees like people."
~ Tom Peters

Divinipotent Daily is thinking of running a want ad. It would look something like this:

Although the "no pool" clause rules out both YMCAs and the New York City Parks Department's fabulously inexpensive recreation centers, finding a gym like that should be easy. This is New York City, one subway stop from midtown, not Loup County, Nebraska.

The truth is, however, Divinipotent Daily's neighborhood has no history with gyms. The Italian and Irish families who once dominated the area did quite enough physical working out on the job, thank you. And while gyms are among the amenities offered by the luxury high-rises that have sprung up here like Brobdingnagian kudzu on a southern roadside, they are for residents alone.

"Sales are contingent upon the attitude of the salesman — not the attitude of the prospect."
~ W. Clement Stone

And so it came to pass that yesterday Divinipotent Daily stopped to check out a second-floor gym she noticed on her way to lunch with a friend. The lures: the flapping of colorful "Grand Opening" flags overhead and the "$24.99 a month!" sign on the sidewalk. Semi-convenient? Check. Cheap? Check. Likelihood of having a pool: zero. Likelihood of having treadmills and other contraptions: high.

“The resistance that you fight physically in the gym and the resistance that you fight in life can only build a strong character.”
~ Arnold Schwarzenegger

She should have known life is rarely that simple. The last time she attempted to see what a gym had to offer, the management insisted she fill out forms and choose a membership plan first. Well, no. No thank you.

“The gyms you go to are crowded with guys trying to look like men, as being a man means looking the way a sculptor or an art director says. Like Tyler says, even a soufflé looks pumped.”
~ Chuck Palahniuk

At the top of the industrial-style stairs it was deja-vu all over again. Two extremely fit young gym managers insisted that forms be filled out prior to even a peek at the gym equipment and, within moments, Divinipotent Daily was out the door.

Is this a gym-industry trend? Is some "expert" advising gym owners that creating barriers to doing business is a good idea? Surely they've noticed that clothing stores don't make you fill out a form before showing you their store windows. Do restaurants demand your name, address, age and health issues before showing you a menu? They do not.

This peculiar attitude is especially self-defeating today, when for the first time in decades, U.S. citizens would rather save than spend. Gym industry, snap out of it.

And so the quest continues.

“The fight is won or lost far away from witnesses — behind the lines, in the gym and out there on the road, long before I dance under those lights.”
 ~ Muhammad Ali

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Divinipotent About Random Acts of Illustration

“People say graffiti is ugly, irresponsible and childish. But that’s only if it’s done properly.”
~ Banksy

Today's edition contains a mystery. Can readers solve it?

Divinipotent Daily is accustomed to exceptional displays of the aerosol art. That's because she lives within two blocks of the monument to graffiti known as 5Pointz (at right).

Every New Yorker who likes to walk is also familiar with official graffiti like the glyph at left, which shows bike riders where they're supposed to hurtle headlong into traffic.

Those who walk or ride their bicycles on the city's many bridges are also familiar with the stencil at right, which is meant to prevent horrible collisions between pedestrians and bicyclers moving in opposite directions. Moving in the same direction? You're on your own.

Still, this was a surprise. Had the stencil makers at the Department of Transportation staged a creative coup?


And there were more. This...

    And this...
   And this...

And this...

 And these little guys, who seem to be playing hide-and-seek...

And then — oh, bliss — tumbling across the wall in a joyful somersault.

Divinipotent Daily is transported. The question now: whose work is this? Surely not the New York City Department of Transportation's. It has to be a stencil-loving aerosol artist.

 Was it this one?

Or maybe this one?

Actually, the odds are good that it's this one, but that raises another question — are the stencil man and the, ahem, interesting poultry carcass related?

While we wait for a definitive answer, let's just admire the craft and imagination of a mysterious artist who has imparted some exuberant creativity to one of the ugliest bridges in New York City.

Eat your heart out, Venice — you can have your Bridge of Sighs. Queens and Brooklyn now have their Bridge of Whimsy.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Divinipotent About the Myth of Youthful Idealism

“Idealists...foolish enough to throw caution to the winds...have advanced mankind and have enriched the world.”
~ Emma Goldman

"If you're not Liberal when you're 25, you have no heart. If you're not Conservative when you're 35, you have no brain" is a popular saying among smug, small-minded people who then go on to misattribute the line to Winston Churchill (he said no such thing). In Divinipotent Daily's experience, liberal values and idealism are in no way phenomena of youth. They are not fads, they are belief systems that last a lifetime.

Today's musings were prompted by a visit to a winsome little Web site called myparentswereawesome.  The concept is simple: young people post photos of their parents in their youthful glory days. As the home page says,
"Before the fanny packs and Andrea Bocelli concerts, your parents (and grandparents) were once free-wheeling, fashion-forward, and super awesome."
It's like awkwardfamilyphotos with love instead of embarrassment. The result is completely disarming. Not said but, based on personal experience, highly probable: those glowing, carefree parents, though older and less beautiful on the surface, are just as awesome as ever within.

Let's take a step back.

The Web site iStrategyLabs notes that Facebook usage among people 55 and over increased 513% in the first six months of 2009. And an article by Anita Gates in the March 22, 2009 New York Times hints at why: "Finding or being found by old, old friends, all the way back to grammar school, can be a real kick." And as Gates says, "How many 14-year-olds have truly long-lost friends?"

Divinipotent Daily is a baby boomer and, on trend, has reconnected with a growing contingent of long-lost friends since joining Facebook. Whether the friend is from elementary school, high school, art school or the rock and roll business, everyone looks different but thinks the same. Countercultural idealism is alive and well in social media, and as the election of Barack Obama illustrates, it translates powerfully into political and social action.

So spend a little time on myparentswereawesome. And as you click through the photos, remember that while hairlines, waistlines and responsibilities have changed, the same minds that lived within these people when they were "super awesome" are still at work today.

"If you didn't have some sense of idealism, then what is there to sustain you?"
~ James Carville

Update: A new article posted on Psychology Today's blog somewhat fleshes out the psychological underpinnings of the Awesome Ones. It suggests that while the idealism of baby boomers was for many years muted by career concerns, "The volunteerism of the Clinton years seems to have taken root among those unfulfilled boomers. I could see that there was a real concern about social well-being that goes back to the core values they developed in college."

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Divinipotent About Good Manners

"Manners are a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others.  If you have that awareness, you have good manners, no matter which fork you use."
~ Emily Post

Divinipotent Daily has long believed good manners are the glue that holds society together. As Emily Post pointed out, good manners are not about tableware. Having good manners means having empathy and acting on it.  

“Manners are of more importance than laws... Manners are what vex or soothe, corrupt or purify, exalt or debase, barbarize or refine us, by a constant, steady, uniform, insensible operation, like that of the air we breathe in.”
~ Edmund Burke

It's hard to overestimate the importance of good manners in a large, diverse, crowded city, where behavior is not always reined in by standardized cultural norms. A close encounter with bad manners — someone elbowing ahead in line, pushing past in a crowd or slamming a door in one's face — can unleash a titanic rage.

"Rudeness is the weak man's imitation of strength."

~ Eric Hoffer

According to a 2006 global study by Reader's Digest, New York is the most courteous city in the world. The study's authors do offer some evidence, but as a lifelong New Yorker, Divinipotent Daily is not completely convinced. For example, it's generally true that the only New Yorkers who will give up their subway seats for a pregnant woman are other pregnant women. It's also true that tourists, flush with the feeling of anonymity the city offers, sometimes indulge in appalling behavior. Still, if New York were even half as rude as some maintain, there would be brawls on every street corner every hour of the day.

"Politeness is to human nature what warmth is to wax." 
~ Arthur Schopenhauer

When it comes to bad manners, the Internet is a free-for-all, with anonymous blog comments serving as poster children for rudeness. The University of Wisconsin, Kent State, Empire State College and other educational institutions offer online etiquette guidelines. (Example: "Do not type in all caps.") For the business world, an entire site, NetM@anners, is devoted to e-mail etiquette. Etiquette tip of the day:
"Always capitalize all your sentences. Not doing so can give the impression you didn't make it out of grade school."

For a slightly more comprehensive approach, Web publisher Albion offers Netiquette by Virginia Shea, a book that cautions the online community to "remember the human" at the other end of the conversation.

A few final words about good manners:

“Manners are one of the greatest engines of influence ever given to man.” 
~ Richard Whately

"Good manners:  The noise you don't make when you're eating soup."
 ~ Bennett Cerf

“The hardest job kids face today is learning good manners without seeing any.”

~ Fred Astaire

"Beware of a man with manners."
~ Eudora Welty

Monday, October 19, 2009

Divinipotent About Humor

"Analyzing humor is like dissecting a frog. Few people are interested and the frog dies of it."
~ E. B. White

Humor is one of those phenomena, like teenagers, that everyone knows about but nobody can really explain. The New Yorker magazine, where E.B. White was a contributor for six decades, is a treasure trove for connoisseurs of humor in the whimsical-satirical-absurdist style.

"Common sense and a sense of humor are the same thing, moving at different speeds. A sense of humor is just common sense, dancing."
~ William James

The New Yorker Festival is a weekend-long series of events, conversations, performances and laughs that the magazine has sponsored for the past nine years. On Sunday afternoon, Divinipotent Daily attended the final event of the 2009 Festival, the Humor Panel.

"A joke is a very serious thing."
~ Winston Churchill

The Humor Panel brought together thirteen of The New Yorker's funniest writers and coerced them into reading their stories. Actually, little coercing was likely involved since many of the writers turned out to be gifted hams.

"Comedy has to be based on truth. You take the truth and you put a little curlicue at the end."
~ Sid Caesar

The multitalented Noah Baumbach performed his his hilarious story "Buzzed" — a look through the crazed, cocaine-addled eyes of a homicidal honeybee. Jenny Allen read "I Have to Go Now," in which a weekend house guest gradually escalates from mild discomfort to all-out panic as she pokes through her hosts' kitchen in search of a coffee filter. Other writer-readers included Yoni Brenner, Ian Frazier, Patricia Marx, David Owen, Amy Ozols, Simon Rich, Paul Rudnick, George Saunders, Paul Simms and the wonderful Calvin Trillin; all were funny and charming. The final guest was long-time New Yorker contributor Woody Allen, who read a story the magazine had rejected. Although still funny, Allen's writing has acquired a Gaudi-like ornateness, with curlicues not only at the end but at the beginning, in the middle, everywhere; every line is stuffed with fusty $10 words. One hopes he re-reads his copy of E.B. White and William Strunk's Elements of Style soon.

Many people, including some very funny people, have given serious thought to humor. Here's a brief selection of their observations. The last is a personal favorite.

“It is a curious fact that people are never so trivial as when they take themselves seriously.”
~ Oscar Wilde

“A person without a sense of humor is like a wagon without springs. It's jolted by every pebble on the road.”
~ Henry Ward Beecher

“There is hope for the future because God has a sense of humor and we are funny to God.”
~ Bill Cosby

"Comedy is simply a funny way of being serious."
~ Peter Ustinov

“Imagination was given to man to compensate him for what he is not; a sense of humor to console him for what he is.”
~ Francis Bacon, Sr.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Divinipotent About Dictionary Day

“Language is not an abstract construction of the learned, or of dictionary makers, but is something arising out of the work, needs, ties, joys, affections, tastes, of long generations of humanity, and has its bases broad and low, close to the ground.”
~ Noah Webster

Today is Dictionary Day, created to honor Noah Webster, who was born October 16, 1753. Dictionary Day is a major holiday for Divinipotent Daily. This entire enterprise is a response to Oxford English Dictionaries' campaign to save endangered words (including divinipotent). The goal is to get words like divinipotent into more common use and back into more dictionaries. Merriam-Webster, are you listening?

"Dictionaries are like watches, the worst is better than none and the best cannot be expected to go quite true."
~ Samuel Johnson

Noah Webster was born in Hartford, Connecticut, approximately two decades before the American Revolution. He was a descendant of two Colonial governors, John Webster of Connecticut and William Bradford of Plymouth Colony. He attended Yale College and, after graduating in 1778, became a teacher. Given the revolutionary spirit of the times (and Webster's membership in the Connecticut militia), it's not surprising he decided American students should learn from American books.

Wikipedia's Noah Webster entry includes this note: "The appropriate standard for the American language, argued Webster, was, 'the same republican principles as American civil and ecclesiastical constitutions,' which meant that the people-at-large must control the language; popular sovereignty in government must be accompanied by popular usage in language."

“I was reading the dictionary. I thought it was a poem about everything.”
~ Stephen Wright

Webster's first textbook was the three-volume A Grammatical Institute of the English Language; consisting of a speller, a grammar book and a reader, it was published in 1785. The speller was renamed The American Spelling Book in 1786  and changed again in 1829 to The Elementary Spelling Book. In addition to improving the vocabularies and literacy of American children, the book is said to have been a key inspiration for spelling bees.

Webster published his first formal dictionary, A Compendious Dictionary of the English Language, in 1806, when he was 42. The following year he began work on An American Dictionary of the English Language, an exhaustive work that took 27 years to complete.

"Dictionaries are like watches, the worst is better than none and the best cannot be expected to go quite true."
~ Samuel Johnson

Merriam-Webster Online notes that Webster's belief in a distinctive American language led to innovations: "He was the first to document distinctively American vocabulary such as skunk, hickory, and chowder. Reasoning that many spelling conventions were artificial and needlessly confusing, he urged altering many words: musick to music, centre to center, and plough to plow, for example." Less successful: efforts to change the spelling of tongue to tung and women to wimmen.

Beyond writing dictionaries, Webster was a devout Christian whose intolerant views on other religions show that even a writer of dictionaries has a lot to learn.

“DICTIONARY, n. A malevolent literary device for cramping the growth of a language and making it hard and inelastic. This dictionary, however, is a most useful work.”
~ Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Divinipotent About Greed

"Earth provides enough to satisfy every man's need, but not every man's greed.”
~ Mahatma Gandhi

Under the headline "Wall Street on Track to Award Record Pay," an article in the October 14, 2009 Wall Street Journal (subscription required) calmly reports that top financial firms — the same people who brought the world economy to the brink of total implosion — are expected to give themselves startlingly high pay hikes this year. Among the statistics cited in the story:
  • Total compensation for top banks and securities firms is expected to jump 20% from 2008.
This spectacle of entitlement at a time when people continue to lose their homes and unemployment hovers near 10% is as infuriating as it is abhorrent.

“Poverty wants much; but avarice, everything.”
~ Publius Syrus

Let's just say it. Greed is not good. Everyone wants to earn a decent living, but Wall Street has forgotten something humanity has known for thousands of years. The Bhagavad Gita says greed, like lust and anger, is one of the three gates of hell. To Roman Catholics, greed is one of the seven deadly sins. And the Old Testament considered the worship of money and possessions a form of idolatry.

"Money doesn't talk, it swears."
~ Bob Dylan

On today's Wall Street, the idolatry seems to have a new twist: self-worship. Wall Street's smart boys consider themselves not only worth their gluttonous pay packages, but indispensable. They are so enamored of their ability to wring money from the economy that they feel entitled to do so, regardless of the cost to society. Their attitude is reflected in this statement by libertarian radio talk show host Neal Boortz:
“Greed: A word commonly used by liberals, low achievers, anti-capitalists and society's losers to denigrate, shame and discredit those who have acquired superior job skills and decision-making capabilities and who, through the application of those job skills, achieve success.”

"My major problem with the world is a problem of scarcity in the midst of plenty...of people starving while there are unused resources...people having skills which are not being used."
~ Milton Friedman

Divinipotent Daily is no economic expert, but logic suggests that if massive amounts of water are diverted from a river upstream, those living downstream will not have enough to drink. Medieval theologian Thomas Aquinas seemed to agree. He said of greed, "It is a sin directly against one's neighbor, since one man cannot over-abound in external riches, without another man lacking them."

At times like these, the impulse to head down to Wall Street and lock people up in old-fashioned stocks — the type used in Colonial days — is strong. Divinipotent Daily will restrain herself and instead hope that the exhaustion Erich Fromm mentions below sets in quickly.

"Greed is a bottomless pit which exhausts the person in an endless effort to satisfy the need without ever reaching satisfaction."
~ Erich Fromm

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Divinipotent About Nobel Prizes

On this day in 1964 Martin Luther King, Jr. was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. He was 35 at the time, which made him the youngest person ever to receive it. His acceptance speech includes these words:
"I refuse to accept the idea that man is mere flotsam and jetsam in the river of life unable to influence the unfolding events which surround him. I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality."
Several days ago, President Barack Obama awoke to the surprising news that he, too, was a Peace Prize winner. Divinipotent Daily leaves it to others to debate who deserves what, when and why;  instead, today's post is devoted to some thoughts of other prize winners, prize haters and prize coveters.

"Nobel prize money is a life-belt thrown to a swimmer who has already reached the shore in safety."
~ George Bernard Shaw, Literature 1925

George Bernard Shaw disliked awards and was particularly antagonistic toward the Nobel Prize.  As he said, “I can forgive Alfred Nobel for having invented dynamite, but only a fiend in human form could have invented the Nobel Prize.” Still, when he was awarded the prize for literature in 1925, he accepted it; apparently, his wife convinced him to consider it a tribute to Ireland. Shaw did reject the money, however, and according to Wikipedia, requested that it be "used to finance translation of Swedish books to English."

“If I could explain it to the average person, I wouldn't have been worth the Nobel Prize.”

~ Richard Feynman, Physics 1965

Throughout his life, the brilliant physicist Richard Feynman  encouraged scientists, starting with himself, to remember how little they know. As he put it, “I was born not knowing and have only had a little time to change that here and there.”

"History will be kind to me for I intend to write it."
~ Winston Churchill, Literature 1953

Winston Churchill is best remembered as the inspiring, uncompromising Prime Minister of the England during World War II. But it was his skill at historical biography, not wartime leadership, that led to his Nobel Prize. He also had a way with one-liners like this one: "A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on."

"Many people would rather die than think. In fact they do."
~ Bertrand Russell, Literature 1950

Philosopher, logician, mathematician, historian, anti-war activist, anti-imperialist and all-around pain in the neck of power Bertrand Russell believed that logic, not idealism, would save the world from itself. As he said, "All movements go too far." He received his Nobel "in recognition of his varied and significant writings in which he champions humanitarian ideals and freedom of thought."

“I'd kill for a Nobel Peace Prize”
~ Steven Wright

Steven Wright remains at large.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Divinipotent About Dreams

I dream, therefore I exist.
~ August Strindberg (1849–1912)

English is a bountiful language. With its constant infusion of neologisms and its habit of absorbing fetching terms from every other language it encounters, modern English now includes anywhere from 650,000 to 1,000,000 words; experts believe English has more words than any other language.

Given the lushness of the English language, how did it come to pass that one word, dream, encompasses both our greatest unrealized aspirations and what Carl Jung defines as the small hidden door in the deepest and most intimate sanctum of the soul, which opens to that primeval cosmic night that was soul long before there was conscious ego and will be soul far beyond what a conscious ego could ever reach"?

“For my part I know nothing with any certainty, but the sight of the stars makes me dream.”
~ Vincent van Gogh (1853–1890)

Both meanings of dream share Middle English roots in the Dutch word droom and the German traum, but that does not explain the dual meaning. The Online Etymological Dictionary states confidently that dream in the sense of 'ideal or aspiration' is from 1931, when author J.T. Adams coined the phrase American dream. That assertion is, to put it kindly, unlikely. To put it less kindly, it is ridiculous.

Consider the phrase Hope is a waking dream. Aristotle first said it way back in the fourth century B.C., and English-speaking scholars have known of it for centuries. A pleasant browse through Bartlett's Familiar Quotations makes it clear that great thinkers and writers have been using dream" in both senses, in many languages, just as long.

Perhaps nightime dreams about future glories were once commonplace. (After all, Divinipotent Daily's friend Mary once dreamed she'd won the Olympics.) If any readers can shed light on how or why so much meaning came to be crammed into one, short word, please step up. Meanwhile, let's give some famous dreamers a chance to have their say.

Those who have compared our life to a dream were right...We sleeping wake, we waking sleep.
~ Michel de Montaigne (1533–1592)

I am accustomed to sleep and in my dreams to imagine the same things that lunatics imagine when awake.
~ Rene Descartes (1596–1650)

All that we see or seem is but a dream within a dream.
~ Edgar Allan Poe (1809–1849)

“A dreamer is one who can only find his way by moonlight, and his punishment is that he sees the dawn before the rest of the world.”
~ Oscar Wilde (1854–1900)

Nothing happens unless first a dream.
~ Carl Sandburg (1878–1967)

“While we are asleep in this world, we are awake in another one.”
~ Salvador Dali (1904–1989)

Ideologies separate us. Dreams and anguish bring us together. ”
~ Eugene Ionesco (1909–1994)

“You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one.
~ John Lennon (1940–1980)

Monday, October 12, 2009

Divinipotent About Doors and Doorways

"Every doorway, every intersection has a story."
~ Katherine Dunn

When in need of a multipurpose metaphor, one cannot go wrong with a doorway. Writers and poets are wild about the symbolic potency a threshold possesses. Whether a door is open, closed or transitioning from one to the other, it seems that change, enlightenment, delight or  a man with a gun are always just steps away.

Actual, three-dimensional doorways are another matter. Although we pass through them every day, both at home and in our travels, writers and poets generally ignore them. This is a shame, since doors themselves can be fascinating.

As Wikipedia illustrates, all door parts have formal names, from lintels and jambs to stiles and mullions. Doors can be flush or recessed, swinging, sliding or even revolving. The classic hinged door is the type this observer finds most alluring — the older and more peculiar the better. Take the photo above, for example. It's a doorway on the south side of Pittsburgh. A humble abode, for sure, but who would not be cheered by the sight of it? It's a touch of the Caribbean in the Steel City.

“The world is full of people who have never, since childhood, met an open doorway with an open mind.”
~ E. B. White

The photomontage below is a collection of doorways in Charleston, S.C. The sight of them fills Divinipotent Daily with a powerful desire to hop on a plane and go for a stroll there, maybe rattle some doorknobs and peek in a window or ten.

Some doors are weathered and some are carved and polished; some are bronzed and muscularly riveted while others are inset with delicately etched or stained glass. Divinipotent Daily has a soft spot for Dutch doors, in which the top half can be opened independently, as in a horse's stall. Her childhood home had a Dutch door. Although it was not like this fine old specimen on a French farmhouse — ours was much newer and painted white — it still seemed special. Probably special enough to have kindled all this door-love in the first place.

"In Paris they have special wheelchairs that go through every doorway. They don't change the doorways, they change the wheelchairs. To hell with the people! If someone weighs a couple more pounds, that's it!"
~ Itzhak Perlman

One last doorway, an old one located somewhere in Brittany. For all Divinipotent Daily knows, this house is filled to the rafters with cheese and mice. But imagine all the history it has welcomed or obstructed. Who needs metaphors?

Friday, October 9, 2009

Divinipotent About Buying Books

“A man should keep his little brain attic stocked with all the furniture that he is likely to use, and the rest he can put away in the lumber-room of his library, where he can get it if he wants it.”
~ Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

People who write are people who began an affair with books at a tender age. In Divinipotent Daily's case, Peter Pan led to a world of temptations, starting with the leather bound, gold-embossed classics on her parents' shelves. Those fancy-dressed books begged to be handled. But then, so did the scruffy and faded, well-read collections of Nancy Drew, the Curlytops and the Bobbsey Twins that had belonged to Divinipotent's older sisters.

“Where is human nature so weak as in the bookstore?”
~ Henry Ward Beecher

Books at home lead to books at school, in the public library and in stores. In each of these places, the browser can touch the paper, inhale the ink, measure the heft, study the cover front and back, peruse the flyleaf, consider the author's bio and photo and finally crack the book open and read a little before making a decision.

“I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.”
~ Jorge Luis Borges

What a luxury this book-browsing process would seem to an early collector like Alexander the Great; according to the Encyclopedia Britannica, his Museum and Serapeum at Alexandria held between 200,000 to 700,000 papyrus rolls; those papyri not acquired from others would have been handmade-to-order by scribes. Even in first century Rome, where a well-off citizen could go to a scriptorium and hire a scribe to copy a book, readers needed to know what they wanted to read ahead of time.

"A bookstore is one of the only pieces of evidence we have that people are still thinking."
~ Jerry Seinfeld

Today, of course, a greater and greater share of book sales happen online. While convenient, the online process rules out the pleasures of handling, inhaling, measuring and perusing in advance. As in ancient Rome or Alexandria, we must know what we want before placing our order.

Online booksellers are happy to tout the latest big books from big-name writers and publishers, but a reader in search of something new and different is faced with a quandary. One can, as Divinipotent Daily has done, make lists of titles discovered in book reviews or recommended by friends. But this does not replace the pleasure of the serendipitous find.

“I went to a bookstore and asked the saleswoman, 'Where's the self-help section?' She said if she told me, it would defeat the purpose.”
~ George Carlin

Happily, book-loving online entrepreneurs have devised some ways to help. Flashlight Worthy is a Web site dedicated to book lists and recommendations contributed by avid readers (including Divinipotent Daily). Lists featured on the home page right now include "Six Children's Books Grownups Will Love," "What New Yorkers Read on the Subway," "Books Narrated by Killers," "Teacher Memoirs" and many more. While not the same as visiting a library or bookstore, Flashlight Worthy's 305-and-counting lists and thousands of individual book reviews allow a browser to discover a new title, author or genre before making the commitment to buy.

Another fun place to find new books is Goodreads. Here, members (it's free) share their own reviews with friends and discover what books their friends have read and liked (or not). Whenever a friend adds a new title, Goodreads sends out an update. Members can also browse lists and read reviews by topic.

Divinipotent Daily encourages everyone to keep stocking their little brain attics with books and to support independent booksellers, who provide both the advice and exotic flavors that make reading exciting.

“If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.”
~ Marcus Tullius Cicero

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Divinipotent About Nonsense

"Don't talk to me about a man's being able to talk sense; everyone can talk sense. Can he talk nonsense?"
~ William Pitt

Let's talk nonsense. One of the most e-mailed articles in the New York Times this week is "How Nonsense Sharpens the Intellect." Its subject is new research into the way the mind reacts to absurdities. Study masterminds Travis Proulx, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and Steven J. Heine, a professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia, maintain that the brain has evolved to search for patterns, and because encounters with nonsense encourage us to discover patterns we might otherwise overlook, it can lead to breakthroughs.

"A little nonsense now and then is relished by the wisest men."
~ Roald Dahl

Divinipotent Daily can never get enough of life's absurd and nonsensical encounters and thinks of them as glittering little treasures to be pulled from memory and marveled at. As an example, some years ago, during one of New York City's rare blizzards, the following nonsensical sights were noted during a brief walk in midtown Manhattan: people skiing down Third Avenue; a city bus repeatedly slamming into the back of another city bus; a Department of Sanitation snow plow stuck in a snowdrift; and best of all, a man at a bus stop reading a newspaper while sitting in an armchair atop a huge pile of snow.

"I like nonsense, it wakes up the brain cells. Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living, it's a way of looking at life through the wrong end of a telescope. Which is what I do, and that enables you to laugh at life's realities."
~ Theodor Geisel (Dr. Seuss)

If Divinipotent Daily ruled the world, the nonsense researchers would get together with Professor Kalina Christoff, who has conducted a study indicating that the parts of our brains dedicated to complex problem-solving are very active when we daydream. Collaboration should be simple enough to arrange since Christoff, like Steven Heine, labors in the salt mines of the Department of Psychology at the University of British Columbia. Imagine the possibilities: solutions to complex absurdities such as Congress or, who knows, even Fox News.

"Forgive me my nonsense, as I also forgive the nonsense of those that think they talk sense."
~ Robert Frost

By the way, what an interesting place the Department of Psychology at the University of British Columbia must be. And how resourceful its researchers are to initiate research into the naturally nonsensical, daydreaming state of the average student. Perhaps next they can turn their attentions to the potential beneficial effects of zoning out during overly long stories and explanations or the "dead brain" state so typical of audiences at PowerPoint presentations.

“Nonsense is an assertion of man's spiritual freedom in spite of all the oppressions of circumstance.”
~ Aldous Huxley

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Divinipotent About the Worth of Good Writing

"Writing is easy. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein."

~ Red Smith

For professional writers*, the Internet is becoming a digital sweatshop. It's not uncommon for experienced writers to be asked to do their work "for the exposure" — a euphemism for "free." Most traditional publications now have two pay rates; if the rate is $1.50 a word for the printed version, the Web site is likely to pay $1.25, $1.00 or even less. Things are far worse at online companies where articles are known as "content"; there, the going rate is usually less than $0.10 per word.

Writer Steve Silberman (@stevesilberman), who has been writing for Wired and other national magazines for years, put it this way on Twitter: "We're all 22 year old interns again."

"One must be drenched in words, literally soaked in them, to have the right ones form themselves into the proper patterns at the right moment."
~ Hart Crane

When publishers buy articles, what exactly are they paying for? Assuming they care about good writing, it's a lot more than words. The best writers draw on a lifetime of experience with words. They have learned not only the rules and craft of writing, but the art as well. They can use words the way composers use notes, forming them into phrases, sentences and paragraphs that pull readers along. They can make complex concepts simple, understandable and even interesting. They can deliver information painlessly and convince the reader entertainingly.

"Words — so innocent and powerless as they are, as standing in a dictionary, how potent for good and evil they become in the hands of one who knows how to combine them."
~ Nathaniel Hawthorne

It's a strange paradox that a time when writers are arguably in greater demand than ever, their work is so little valued. But perhaps the problem is that so much of today's "content" is meaningless drivel commissioned to fill up space. And perhaps, also, many freelance writers lack the experience to do a professional job.

"All good writing is swimming underwater and holding your breath."
~ F. Scott Fitzgerald

Divinipotent Daily would like to make this radical proposition to online publishers:
  • Restrain yourselves. Stop piddling away reader interest and goodwill with articles about nothing that have been dashed off in 15 minutes by a desperate person earning $0.06 a word. Insist on content that provides actual value to your readers. And pay a professonal to write it properly.
"Easy reading is damned hard writing."
~ Nathaniel Hawthorne

*Full disclosure: Divinipotent Daily is a professional writer.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Divinipotent About Outlaw Acidheads

“Progress is man's ability to complicate simplicity.”
~ Thor Heyerdahl, born October 6, 1914

On October 6, 1966, lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD for short, "acid" to its friends) was outlawed in California.

The drug was originally discovered in 1938 by Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann. In 1947, pharmaceutical giant Sandoz Laboratories introduced LSD to the market as a psychiatric medication. By the 1960s, it was being used for everything from alcoholism to cancer pain to off-label and illegal government experiments.

Researchers were drawn to the drug because of the otherworldly, profoundly mystical experience it produced. However, it wasn't long before users discovered that LSD's psychedelic cascade of colorful visual distortions and sound effects could also be a lot of fun.

“The paradox of reality is that no image is as compelling as the one which exists only in the mind's eye.”
~ Shana Alexander, born October 6, 1925

In the early 1960s, Harvard psychologist Timothy Leary and his associate Richard "Ram Dass" Alpert decided to dedicate their lives to the drug. Like Johnny Acidseeds, they set up a research facility in a Milbrook, New York, mansion and advised anyone who asked to "turn on, tun in, drop out." Unfortunately for Leary, the Assistant District Attorney of Dutchess County at the time was former FBI agent, eventual Watergate co-conspirator and font of righteous indignation G. Gordon Liddy. Liddy quickly set his sites on Leary and instigated a series of FBI raids on Leary's property. In 1965, New York became the first state to make possession of LSD a crime.

“Our own epoch is determining, day by day, its own style. Our eyes, unhappily, are unable yet to discern it.”
~ Le Corbusier, born October 6, 1887

In 1966, with research at Millbrook shut down by repeated FBI raids, Leary fought back by creating a religion, the League for Spiritual Discovery, that made LSD its holy sacrament. Around the same time, the gifted amateur chemist Owsley Stanley began manufacturing remarkably high-quality LSD and virtually giving the drug away for free in the San Francisco area. Next thing you knew, love was breaking out all over, the sun was shining in and on January 14, 1967 — three months after acid was criminalized in California — some 20,000 people headed to Golden Gate Park for the first "Human Be-in."

LSD was subsequently outlawed by several additional states and was criminalized nationally in 1968. For anyone interested in the early days of the drug's legal history, this 1966 article from Time Magazine offers an interesting account.

“It's good to have money and the things that money can buy, but it's good, too, to check up once in a while and make sure that you haven't lost the things that money can't buy.”
~ George Lorimer, born October 6, 1867

Everything old is new again, and as this Web site shows, Swiss scientists are once again exploring therapeutic uses for LSD. In particular, they are studying whether the drug's ability to induce a mystical cosmic connection can reduce anxiety in people with terminal illnesses.

* * *

(The answer to your question is yes.)

Monday, October 5, 2009

Divinipotent About Willful Stupidity

"Never attribute to malice what can be adequately explained by stupidity."

~ Hanlon's Razor

Divinipotent Daily is in high dudgeon about willful stupidity today. The immediate cause is this video of interviews with protesters at last month's 9/12 Teabagger rally in Washington. The video was made by a group with progressive politics, so it is not without bias. However, bias cannot account for the fact that many of the people who traveled to D.C. were loudly and proudly ignorant — protesting everything from healthcare bills they hadn't read to imaginary militias and innocent figures of speech. Some examples:
  • The young man who says he came to protest the healthcare bill, but when asked for details, can think of nothing to say.
  • The woman carrying the sign saying "Bury Obama Care with Kennedy" who talks about how good Medicare is and says it should probably be expanded to include more Americans.
  • The man carrying a "Joe Wilson for President" sign who says, without irony, "I am not supporting Joe Wilson for President" when confronted with an uncomfortable fact about Wilson's voting record.
  • The man who says "Fascism is a form of socialism" and then adds, "They're all intertwined. Communism, fascism, socialism."

"Conservatives are not necessarily stupid, but most stupid people are conservatives."
~ John Stuart Mill

And then there is the matter of metaphors. About halfway through the video, the interviewer talks to people who either cannot or will not accept metaphorical meanings.
  • A woman in a red "Tea Party" t-shirt insists that when the Obama administration called for an "army of volunteers," they were, in fact, talking about a private army that is "armed as well as the army is."
  • Perhaps the most worked up over nothing were the anti-czarists. One angry woman said, "A czar is a Russian king. Here, Jesus is our king." Another lectured the interviewer about the origin of the word czar in the Roman Caesars before asking, "Are they going to be given land and power over the government?" When the interviewer explains that the term is symbolic and that czars are just advisors to the president, one protester responds, "You know this how?"
"You know this how." That should have been the theme of the entire day.

"There is nothing worse than aggressive stupidity."
~ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

"Wise men talk because they have something to say; fools, because they have to say something."
~ Plato

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Divinipotent About Eccentrics

“A civilized society is one which tolerates eccentricity to the point of doubtful sanity.”
~ Robert Frost

Today is National Virus Appreciation Day. Divinipotent Daily can find nothing appreciative to say about viruses and instead will use this day to appreciate eccentrics.

Erik Satie (1866–1925), the composer best known for his three "Gymnopédies," was a notorious eccentric whose oeuvre included titles such as "Driveling Preludes for a Dog," "Jack-in-the-Box" and "Dried Embryos." Seemingly benign titles also held surprises. Satie instructed pianists attempting his composition "Vexations" to rest well before playing it "840 times in succession." When Satie died, dozens of identical umbrellas, 12 identical velvet suits and 84 identical handkerchiefs were found in his home. Some may call this obsessive-compulsive disorder; Divinipotent Daily calls it blissful eccentricity.

With his upturned waxed mustache, cape and walking stick, surrealist Salvador Dali (1904–1989) was another unusual specimen whose odd exploits are the stuff of legend. Of his many bizarre pronouncements, Divinipotent Daily is most fond of this one: “The naked truth about me is to the naked truth of Salvador Dali as an old ukelele in the attic is to a piano in a tree, and I mean a piano with breasts.”

Eccentrics are mocked, abused and medicated for their idiosyncratic ways, but they know the truth. As Dali said, "I am not strange, I am just not normal." May they prosper.

“Eccentricity has always abounded when and where strength of character had abounded; and the amount of eccentricity in a society has generally been proportional to the amount of genius, mental vigor, and courage which it contained.”
~ John Stuart Mill

Friday, October 2, 2009

Divinipotent About Librarians

"It's funny that we think of libraries as quiet demure places where we are shushed by dusty, bun-balancing, bespectacled women. The truth is libraries are raucous clubhouses for free speech, controversy and community. Librarians have stood up to the Patriot Act, sat down with noisy toddlers and reached out to illiterate adults. Libraries can never be shushed."
~ Paula Poundstone

Librarians are more than dispensers of books. They are guardians of knowledge and free thought. On the final day of Banned Books Week 2009, let's remember to support our local libraries and the men and women who safeguard what Andrew Carnegie called a "republic of letters, where neither rank, office, nor wealth receives the slightest consideration.”

"My mother and my father were illiterate immigrants from Russia. When I was a child they were constantly amazed that I could go to a building and take a book on any subject. They couldn’t believe this access to knowledge we have here in America.”
~ Kirk Douglas

"When I got my library card, that's when my life began."
~ Rita Mae Brown

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Divinipotent About Blasphemy and Obscenity

“Of all the strange 'crimes' that human beings have legislated of nothing, 'blasphemy' is the most amazing — with 'obscenity' and 'indecent exposure' fighting it out for the second and third place.”
~ Robert A. Heinlein

As Banned Books Week 2009 nears its end, Divinipotent Daily cannot fail to comment on blasphemy and obscenity, categories of censorship that are as personal as they are irrational.

Prosecutions in modern times tend to focus on well-known names. Comedian Lenny Bruce was arrested for obscenity multiple times in the so-called "Swinging Sixties"; in that same decade, mobs of the angry and easily manipulated, led by fame-seeking radio hosts and ministers (sound familiar?), smashed and burned Beatles records after John Lennon simply said, "We're more popular than Jesus now."

In the 1970s, George Carlin was arrested for his famous "Seven Words" rant and British gay rights activist Denis Lemon was charged with blasphemy for publishing a poem in his paper, Gay News. In the most famous blasphemy case of the 1980s, Salman Rushdie's novel The Satanic Verses resulted in a fatwa calling for the author's death.

Even in this age of Internet porn-on-demand, the urge to control and silence is very much with us. Just last year, over 500 challenges were brought against everything from the Gossip Girl TV show to best-sellers like The Kite Runner and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and classics including The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Catcher in the Rye and In the Night Kitchen.

Here, in celebration of the First Amendment, we offer the late George Carlin speaking the forbidden seven words. Please note: even now, this is not safe for work or suitable for young children.

"Not when truth is dirty, but when it is shallow, does the enlightened man dislike to wade into its waters."
~ Friedrich Nietzsche