Monday, February 26, 2007

Book Review: The Heart of Redness

The Heart of Redness
by Zakes Mda

This novel is set in a modern-day Xhosa community in South Africa and brilliantly weaves a contemporary, fictional narrative into a facinating historical event that divided the Xhosa people and drove them to near self-annihilation in the mid 19th century.

In April or May 1856, a young girl, Nongqawuse, and her friend were sent to shoo the birds from the fields. When she returned, Nongqawuse told her uncle and guardian Mhlakaza, a Xhosa spiritualist, that she had met three spirits or "strangers" who told her that the people should destroy their crops and kill their cattle, the source of their wealth as well as food.

In return, the ancestors would arise from the sea and chase away the european settlers; they would also replenish the granaries and fill the kraals with healthy cattle. At the time, many Xhosa herds were plagued with "lung sickness," possibly introduced by European cattle, and many cattle were dying.

Mda illustrates how the Prophetess' message divided the people into those who believed her message (those who killed their cattle and destroyed their crops) and those who did not. As more and more Xhosa killed their cattle and destroyed their livlihood, and the people grew anxious for the arrival of the ancestors, the Prophetesses (three by this point) insisted that the ancestors would not arrive until all the Xhosa complied with their requests.

As a result, the "believers" turned on the "unbelievers," raiding their farms, killing their cattle and creating enduring division within the Xhosa community until the present day. This is presented in the novel as a feud between families, decendents of a pair of twins--one, a believer, the other an unbeliever. However, in the modern-day context, the lines are drawn between those who welcome modernity and "civilization" and those who prefer their traditional culture. The "believer" family is on the side of tradition, while the "unbeliever" family welcomes modernity.

Nongqawuse, Prophetess of the Xhosa, left
Mda presents the debate over the development of their ocean-side village by outsiders as the modern day "prophesy" that claims it will bring prosperity to the village. There are those who believe this prophesy, and those who believe that it will only bring more hardship on the people.

I really enjoyed this book. It provides (from what I can tell) an accurate depiction of modern village life in South Africa, and also recreates for the reader the complexity and multiple layers of conflict, both inter- and intra-cultural, facing the modern Xhosa person.

For more on Zakes Mda, see here.




Sunday, February 25, 2007

Foiled

Mary and I discovered this when we went searching on wikipedia for how aluminum foil is made...I still don't know. Obviously, we got sidetracked.

During his friend Kirk's absence, Lucas Trerice, who was trusted to house-sit wrapped Kirk's entire apartment in aluminum foil--a project that took five days. He wrapped every book, every cd, even the change in the change dish. See more photos here.

Zydeco Wonder Boy


See part two Here.

This video is from a documentary called The Music in Me that profiles six young musicians between the ages of 7 and 12 who share a love of music and amazing talent on their instruments--in this case, the accordion.

Book Review: Reinhold Niebuhr

Reinhold Niebuhr: A Biography
by Richard Wightman Fox

I knew nothing about Niebuhr before reading this book. And if you are in the same boat, I don't recommend spending the time. While the author gives copious detail about the life and writings of Reinhold Niebuhr, it is a very dry read, the print is small...one wonders (as with the Rauschenbush biography) why anyone would want to read about this man's daily life.

Permit me a little aside about biographies. I read biographies to become inspired by the events, actions, trajectory of a person's life. I cannot dispute the claim that Reinhold Niebuhr was one of the most influential and significant American theologians of the 20th century, but his biography does not make it evident why this is so. It seems to be the case for many individuals that their thoughts were much more interesting and profound than the mundane details of their lives. I would need to read Niebuhr's writings to arrive at a true understanding of the man--but this biography, unfortunately, does not inspire the inclination to do so.

What we learn from the details of Niebuhr's life is that he was a prolific writer, a work-aholic, an absent parent and husband, a difficult friend (especially to women) and flip-floped on almost every major issue to which he committed himself during his life. First he was a pacifist, then a socialist, then he promotes war, then he blasts the communists, first he rails against Roosevelt's New Deal, then he supports it. With every flip and flop, Niebuhr alienates many who had been lifelong friends.

The picture Fox paints of Niebuhr's life is not attractive, and must have appeal only to those who have already been wooed by Niebuhr's ideas. I regret that I have not had the pleasure, because I have a sense that the truest picture of Niebuhr is available only through his own words.
The true situation is that anything short of love cannot be perfect justice. In fact, every definition of justice actually presupposes sin as a given reality. It is only because life is in conflict with life, because of sinful self-interest, that we are required carefully to define schemes of justice which prevent one life from taking advantage of another. Yet no scheme of justice can do full justice to all the variable factors which the freedom of man introduces into human history.
Reinhold Niebuhr, Love and Justice, p. 49

Niebuhr also authored the Serenity Prayer (see below)

Prayer for Serenity

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Mohammed's Wife

The Life of Khadijah
by Khadijah Al-Hashim,
Islam for Today


Khadijah was born in the year 555 C.E. Her parents were Khuwailid and Fatimah bint Zaidah. By the time she reached the age of forty she had attained quite a reputation for herself. She was known as a wealthy, noble, fine-natured business woman.

Khadijah heard about Mohammed's reputation for being an honest and upright young man. She sent him a proposal to ask him to handle some of her business affairs. On the return from one trip to Syria, he reported a profit that doubled that which anyone else had done for her. Needless to say, that impressed her greatly!

Khadijah's satisfaction with her new employee was soon to turn into love. Despite their age difference of 15 years, she desired to marry him. She confided this desire to he friend, Nufaysah, who in turn approached Mohammed. This confused him. How could such a noble woman, who had turned down the marriage proposals of the noblest and wealthiest Quraysh men, desire to marry him?! Mohammed uncle Abu Talib and Khadijah's uncle 'Umar ibn Asad sat down to arrange the completion of the marriage. Little did any of them know just what the future had in store for this new couple!

Allah bestowed upon them six children. They were given two boys, Qasim and 'Abdullah, but neither survived infancy. They were also given four daughters, Zainab, Ruqaiyyah, Umm Kulthum, and Fatimah.

Mohammed would often go to Mount Hira for meditation. On returning one day, Khadijah could see he was quite shaken and upset. She inquired about this and he told her what had happened. She found out that today had been unlike any other in that, today, he had been given revelations from God! He had thought that he was possessed and was going mad. Khadijah tried to console her terrified husband by saying:

"Rejoice, O son of my uncle, and be of good heart. Surely by Him in whose hand is my soul, I have hope that you will be the prophet of this people. You have never done any wrong to anyone. You are kind to others and you help the poor. So Allah will not let you down."

He then asked for a blanket and she quickly fulfilled his request. Shortly thereafter, he fell asleep. when Mohammed woke, Khadijah took him to her cousin, Waraqah bin Nawfal. He was Christian and quite knowledgeable of the scriptures of the Torah and Bible. He confirmed Mohammed's prophethood and said:

"This is the same one who keeps the secrets (angel Gabriel) whom Allah had sent to Moses. I wish I were young and could live up to the time when your people would turn you out."

Just a few months later Gabriel came again and ordered him to start warning the people. Khadijah supported him in this by financially supporting the family and his teaching. She was also content to raise the children and handle the family affairs so that he could preach.

During the next 10 years, she proved herself to be a loving wife. She supported him when nobody else would. She consoled him when rough time hit them. She comforted and encouraged him when the Quraish did all they could to stop him from preaching. She remained the only wife of Mohammed until her death at the age of 65. She died on 10 Ramadan 620 C.E. in the 10th year of prophethood. Long after her death, Mohammed remembered and honored her often.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Quartet

Eshu

From www.mythencyclopedia.com:

Eshu, also known as Elegba or Legba, is a trickster god of the Yoruba people of Nigeria in West Africa. He is unpredictable, sly, and fond of pranks that can be cruel and disruptive. Eshu, who knows all the languages spoken on earth, serves as a messenger between the gods and people. He also carries up to heaven the sacrifices that people offer to the gods.

According to one story, Eshu became the messenger after playing a trick on the High God. He stole yams from the god's garden, used the god's slippers to make footprints there, and then suggested that the god had stolen the yams himself. Annoyed, the High God ordered Eshu to visit the sky every night and tell him what happened on earth during the day.

Eshu enjoys confusion. Many stories tell of tricks he plays that cause arguments between friends or between husbands and wives. In one myth he lured the sun and moon into changing places, which upset the cosmic order. As the god of change, chance, and uncertainty, Eshu is sometimes paired with Ifa, a god representing order. In one tale Eshu claimed that he would ruin Ifa, who laughingly replied, "If you transform yourself, I shall do the same, and if I die, you will die, for so it has been ordained in heaven." In this way, order and disorder are forever paired, and neither can exist without the other.

For more on Eshu, see here.


Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Yeelen (Brightness)

Set in the powerful Mali Empire of the 13th century, Yeelen follows the journey of Nianankoro, a young warrior who must battle the powerful Komo cult of his elders--depicted as a stagnating and oppressive system of mystical powers. The hero, Nianankoro, and his mother have been fleeing his father, Soma--a dangerous and corrupt wizard--for ten years.

Soma uses his dark magic to find and attempt to destroy his son, who also displays a powerful magic. Following his mother's advice, Nianankoro undertakes a pilgrimage in search of his uncle, Soma's twin brother, traveling over the arid Bambara, Fulani and Dogan lands of ancient West Africa.
On his journey, he learns to fight and seduces the wife of a king. He reunites the magic eye of Kore with the Wing, which thus restores the Wing's power, and enables him to encounter his father in a final fatal showdown that brings about a new order.

Director Soulymane Cissé
uses landscape, light and sound to produce a unique and striking cinematic style.

*For a more complete review, see here: Yeelen

Words of Wisdom


"Either he's brilliant, or that's the dumbest thing I've ever heard."

- Statler
You know, I've found myself thinking the same thing so many times these past two years...

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Talking Dogs!

Trivia

Our distinguished professor, Harvey Cox, told us a story today about the inscription over Emerson Hall...initially, it was supposed to display the quote by Protagoras "Man is the measure of all things." President Elliott approved the architectural design, but crossed out the inscription, preferring "What is man, that Thou art mindful of him?" (Psalm 8:4) I wonder why they didn't find a good quote from Self-Reliance?
(Harvey Cox, by the way, holds the oldest endowed professorship in the United States--the Hollis Chair of Divinity, established in 1721.)

Monday, February 19, 2007

Book Review: Sister Aimee

"You may believe Aimee Semple McPherson to be a messenger direct from God Almighty to save His erring world. Or you may believe her to be the most unblushing fraud in the public eye today. Some do one, some the other; and there is every shade of opinion between. But the one fact that stands out is that her influence is incredible, that it carries as that of few evangelists has ever carried, that she is to-day one of the most amazing phenomena of power in this feverish, power-insane United States."

Sarah Comstock, Harper's 1926


It’s remarkable to me that I had never heard of Aimee Semple McPherson. Accoring to Epstein, she was once the most famous woman in America, attracting audiences greater than Houdini, Teddy Roosevelt or P.T. Barnum could draw, preaching often to crowds of 30,000. She healed blindness, deafness, physical infirmities. And yet it’s interesting that the names of the movie stars of her era are more familiar to me than the details of Aimee’s extraordinary life and career.

Her success has many contributing factors. It was clear after her mother was expelled from her role as the Business Manager for Aimee’s multi-million dollar operation, that the material success of her career was due largely to Minnie’s shrewd, if un-democratic, business sense. Then there’s Aimee’s enigmatic charm and charisma, the source of which is difficult to know. But it may have helped her from a young age to have had the destiny narrative that her mother must have repeated to her. Minnie had consecrated her to the Lord’s service, in the way that Hannah promised to give Samuel to God.

The combination of a destiny narrative, a strong-willed teenage rebelliousness (against her parents’ religious practices) and the simultaneous conversion experience and falling in love with an Evangelist set her on her path. It seems also that temperamentally, Aimee was passionate, compassionate and incredibly energetic.

She also arrived on the scene at a particular historical moment when the general public was ready fora more active, energetic expression of religion—perhaps as a result of the popularity of a kind of grand scale, live entertainment or spectacle that was popular in the pre-film era. One can’t help seeing the parallels between Aimee’s “illustrated sermons” and vaudeville theatre or circus performance. In fact, vaudeville is characterized by music, comedy, athletic feats, magic, animal acts, opera,acrobatics, gymnastics and lectures by celebrities and intellectuals—not a far cry from Aimee’s Angelicus Temple performances. She certainly knew how to draw on the dramatic and sensational to illustrate her gospel message. In this way, Epstein writes that her ministry tore down “the walls between religion and secular life, between lost souls and the redeemed. She was making way for a new spiritual possibility in the twentieth century.” (320)

Despite the many controversies surrounding Aimee’s healing techniques, her intimate relationships, her mysterious “kidnapping”, and all the other scandals the press was eager to bring to light, I can’t help finding Aimee Semple McPherson mesmerizing for her sheer confidence alone. As Epstein writes, one might think that “this passionate woman was either horribly right, or stark raving mad.” (163) Either way, to me her audacity and profound confidence (for better or worse) is inspiring.

This is a great read for the religious and non-religious alike. Though Epstein includes many wonderful descriptions, I wish he had included more photos and illustrations in this book. But there's a lot available online. See here for an audio recording of one of Aimee's sermons.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Northern California



Mark Stephen Rosera
Northern California

Proverb


“The lizard that
jumped
from the high
iroko tree
to the ground
said that
he would praise himself
if no one else did.”

From Things Fall Apart
by Chinua Achebe

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Genius

Weekend

Yesterday, I read Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart for the second time. A very captivating and enlightening book. I highly recommend it. Today I started reading Daniel Mark Epstein's biography of Aimee Semple McPherson called Sister Aimee. Epstein writes vividly about the confident and charismatic young woman who became one of the founding pillars of Pentecostalism in the U.S. Her audacity is astounding and inspiring. I'm only 100 pages into it...have to finish it tomorrow.

Today I also planted the pink Plumeria that I brought back from Hawai'i. It hasn't been happy sitting in my freezing room in Cambridge, unplanted, but I had to prepare equal parts soil and sand, so a trip to the beach was necessary. I finally got the sand I needed, and a bowl of clam chowder in Ipswich.

Plum Island, Massachusetts - February 2007

Friday, February 16, 2007

Reflections on Emerson

“Most people are not even aware of their need to conform. They live under the illusion that they follow their own ideas and inclinations, that they are individualists, that they have arrived at their opinions as the result of their own thinking—and that it just happens that their ideas are the same as those of the majority.”
Erich Fromm, The Art of Loving, p. 13

This quote by Fromm highlights what, for me, is one of the most significant themes in Emerson’s thought—that of conformity. I think it’s impossible to read Emerson without considering his critique of education in relation to our present circumstances. We are trained to value certain lines of thinking, methods of critique and analysis rather than being nurtured to articulate our particular contribution to human thought and action. In Emerson’s words, we are “made a satellite instead of a system.” Emerson believes that the law of all nature, and the divine idea, is manifest in the human being and that we thus have a responsibility to recognize and live out our full potential, which he puts in terms of the active soul. In unconsidered compliance with social norms, the soul loses authentic identity, its unique contribution. In imitation, it can be annihilated completely. If the soul falls short of its rightful state—Emerson’s Man Thinking—it can become a victim of society; “a mere thinker, or still worse, the parrot of other men’s thinking.” While I appreciate our examination of Emerson’s ideas from the angle of their historical relevance, I think it wouldn’t hurt to “subjectify” them a little bit—to entertain them as if directed toward our individual lives and experiences. What can we learn by taking Emerson’s challenge of non-conformity to heart?

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Book Review: The Kingdom is Always but Coming

The Kingdom is Always but Coming: A Life of Walter Rauschenbusch

by Christopher H. Evans

My first impression of this book is that it is too long. From the very beginning, the important points of Rauschenbusch’s life were evident, and Evans presented them again and again through different examples. I was left feeling that I didn’t know Rauschenbusch very deeply—the anecdotes of his family life were the most telling about the man…

The main details to take away from the book are that Rauschenbusch was moved by his experience in New York to reflect on the condition of the “working man”, and the inequity of class system created and perpetuated by capitalism. He suggests that the Kingdom of God is an earthly possibility—and sees it as an evolution of social consciousness such that people (specifically Americans) would seek and develop social and economic justice for all, preparing the world for the coming of Christ. Rauschenbusch sees this as a political process, led by Protestant Americans.

I identified with Rauschenbusch’s passion for reading the message of Christ as one of social justice, yet we see throughout the book Rauschenbusch’s paradoxical beliefs and paternalism towards the lower classes and his pursuit of higher social status for himself. He theorizes about the necessity of the suffering that the cross represents, but we do not see that he put this into practice himself, (despite the fact that he worked very hard) in any efforts of gaining solidarity with the poor. He also makes some disturbing differences between the “working poor” and the immigrant community.

Rauschenbusch was the son of a German Baptist minister and was brought up in and around the Rochester Theological Seminary, that his father had a hand in founding. Throughout the book we learn that the younger Rauschenbusch was more liberal than his father and his father’s colleagues, though he was respected by them and eventually accepted a teaching position at RTS, first in the German dept, then the English dept.

The most significant turning point in the book seems to be the publication of Rauschenbusch’s Christianity and the Social Crisis which gained him substantial publicity, notoriety and praise. He received many letters from ministers who claimed that Rauschenbusch’s book gave them reason to continue with renewed energy in their ministries by helping to build the Kingdom of God.

I suppose that Rauschenbusch would be seen as the “window” to the era of the social gospel—the reorientation of Christianity toward its social mission and responsibility. He seems to have become the prominent representative, although not the initiator, of this effort. However much I desired, while reading, to like Rauschenbusch, the impression I am left with is that Rauschenbusch is a paradoxical figure, unable in many personal and professional examples in his life, to unify theory and practice. I’m left feeling that I still don’t know Rauschenbusch very well. I’m not sure if this is due to Evans’ writing style, or to the character of Rauschenbusch himself.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Book Review: My Life in the Bush of Ghosts

I think I'm going to need a litte directon from my professor on this one...
It's hard to classify this book. It's not mythology exactly, and I resist the term "primitive" that some ascribe to its style. We wouldn't call Lewis Carroll primitive for writing
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, and that is the comparison that came to my mind as I read the tale of a boy running away from men with guns who stands under a tree, eats two fruits and suddenly finds himself in the "bush"--a place inhabited by all manner of ghosts, vile and disgusting creatures, most of whom are out to eat him or use him for their own profit. Throughout his adventure he is transformed into various animals, he is trapped inside a log, inside a pitcher...
I'm sure this book has been interpreted in numerous ways, but I'm not certain of the author's intent in writing such a story. It reads like one's account of a very vivid and involved dream (again, like Alice). There are hints that the ghosts may represent vile and disgusting aspects of the colonizer or slave-trader--at one point the boy remarks (while chasing a ghost that he finds so ugly he has to see her ugliness to his satisfaction) that "this will be a great surprise to everybody to hear that I see something which is more interesting for me than the 'death' which is coming behind to kill me."
Please stay tuned for an update to this review. I need more info!

Valentine


Jim Dine, Woodcut Heart. Original color woodcut, 1993.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Nature

"The greatest delight which the fields and woods minister is the suggestion of an occult relation between man and the vegetable. I am not alone and unacknowledged. They nod to me, and I to them."

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Girls 1, Boys 27


The new President of
Harvard University:

Drew Gilpin Faust

"This is a great day, and a historic day, for Harvard," said James R. Houghton, the senior member of the Harvard Corporation and chair of the presidential search committee. "Drew Faust is an inspiring and accomplished leader, a superb scholar, a dedicated teacher, and a wonderful human being. She combines a powerful, broad-ranging intellect with a demonstrated capacity for strong leadership and a talent for stimulating people to do their best work, both individually and together..."
More here, from the Harvard University Gazette.

Grown








Saturday, February 10, 2007

Someone Else's Reality




I was just about to throw this into the fire...
"Vacation homes have become major multitaskers these days, as more and more families are savoirng their private comfort zones with frequent year-round visits. Like the mammoth so-called cottages of past opulant gilded eras, today's second or third homes seem to be getting bigger and more luxurious..."
Design New England, Jan/Feb 2007, p. 55


Book Review: Facing Mount Kenya

Facing Mount Kenya: The Tribal Life of the Gikuyu. Jomo Kenyatta.
London: Secker and Warburg, 1938

This book presents an anthropological study of Kenyatta's ethnic group, the Gikuyu, and their modes of social organization, morality and cultural activity prior to contact with Europeans. Kenyatta gives a very thorough and clear picture of Gikuyu life and custom, painting an almost utopian picture of their social norms and the
sophisticated codes by which all aspects of the society were governed.

In contrast to the idyllic image he presents of traditional Gikuyu life, he points to the confusion that ensues when, in the present day, the religious rites and traditions are no longer observed by the whole community.

"Moral rules are broken with impunity, for in place of unified tribal morality there is now...a welter of disturbing influences, rules and sanctions, whose net result is only that a Gikuyu does not know what he may or may not, ought or ought not, to do or believe, but which leaves him in no doubt at all about having broken the original morality of his people." (p. 241)

While I appreciate the fact that Kenyatta was aiming to demonstrate to a European audience that pre-colonial African societies were well-organized, democratic, and harmonious, I feel that from an objective, anthropological standpoint, his presentation of the culture is a bit too glorified. Either that, or we should all be adopting Gikuyu-style democracy. It sounds a little too harmonious to be true!


Friday, February 09, 2007

Nematodes Are Your Neighbors

Last night, I went to hear a lecture by E. O. Wilson. I learned some very interesting little "facts", although Wilson readily admitted that scientists really don't know anything for sure:
  • There are 5000-6000 species of bacteria in one spoonfull of soil.
  • There are 700 species of bacteria living in the human mouth.
  • Four out of every five living creatures on the planet is a nematode.
Wilson began his lecture with an open letter to an Evangelical preacher, suggesting that the religious right and the scientists should work together to preserve and protect the biodiversity of creation. However, his lecture turned into a very basic lesson about preserving the environment through a slide show of endangered species and receding tropical forests. I walked away thinking, "I learned all of this in middle school."

I'm tired of identifying the problem. I feel like we all know about the major problems in the world--poverty, environmental degradation, global warming, etc. But I want somebody to stick it to us. Tell us what we should DO about it! I had a similar reaction to Al Gore's movie,
An Inconvenient Truth. The title implies the discomfort we will need to accept in order to resolve the problem. But again, the film didn't really hold the individual responsible for the contributing factors that are under his or her control.

What I'm seeing is that it is easy to identify a problem, but we always let the individual off the hook, we excuse the individual and blame industry, government. In doing so, we
E. O. Wilson
disempower the individual. We neglect to remind people that their action is power. Their inaction is also power. No one ever presses the individual into a corner and says, "hey YOU!" I was waiting for Al Gore to do it. Rather, there were little suggestions interspersed with the credits... "Buy a Prius."

E. O. Wilson called the audience last night at Harvard Divinity School, a "potent group." But he let us all walk away from his talk without asking us to commit to anything. Teach us how our daily behavior eliminates species, deforests the tropics! Challenge us to make a change! Without such a prod, I don't see the point of any more talk of the world's problems.

I think we know what the problems are. I think we also know what we would need to do to make some headway. But the fact is, we don't want to. We want to feign concern while carrying on with our comfortable lives. Now THAT is an inconvenient truth.

"A society is defined not just by what it creates but by what it refuses to destroy." -John Sawhill

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

...Cold As Ice...

Today I slipped on the ice and fell off my bike in front of one of my Harvard "colleagues." He walked right on by without concern, without glimmer of human decency. I got back on my bike with a bruised knee and hurt feelings.
What are we learning in this respected institute of "higher" learning, if at base we care nothing for civility, if an expression of genuine concern is beyond us? I think Harvard needs to raise its standards in the congeniality department...People around here are lacking some very basic and essential social skills.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Am I German?

This is from my mom's cousin, Ed, who keeps a blog about the Merck family (my maternal grandmother was a Merck).
When I was young we always referred to ourselves as being German because my Dad's family spoke the German language in their home. It never did enter my mind that we should refer to ourselves as Russian or French. Yet my Dad, his father and grandfather were all born in South Russia (now Ukraine). Their ancestors came from Alsace (now France). Alsace was part of the Holy Roman Empire until 1648, was added to France in 1697, and became part of Germany in 1871 when several German-speaking states joined to form the German Empire. This was long after Engelhard Merck had left to help settle the village of Elsass in South Russia. Engelhard was born in Alsace, as was his father and grandfather, in German-speaking communities.

I have also wondered why we say we're German...my theory is that as Germans from Alsace, we were accustomed to asserting our cultural identity. Many Alsacians identify as either German or French, depending on their language, mostly. Those who identify as Alsacian are another group entirely.

Our family maintained their German language and identity through three generations in Russia! It ended with my grandmother, who learned English when she reached America and refused to speak German to her children.

Culture

"According to the etymology of the word 'culture', it derives from the idea of tilling or cultivating land, a process that involves helping crops to grow by giving them the needed care and attention. Culture thus involves care, nurture, promoting the development of something."

from Tradition and Modernity: Philosophical Reflections on the African Experience, by Kwame Gyekye

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Reflection on Kennedy

To follow up on the Kennedy quote, I thought I'd also present this thought, from the introduction to Capitalism and Freedom by Milton Friedman:
President Kennedy said, "Ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country."... Neither half of that statement expresses a relation between the citizen and his government that is worthy of the ideals of free men in a free society. "What your country can do for you" implies that the government is the patron, the citizen the ward. "What you can do for your country" assumes that the government is the master, the citizen the servant. Rather, you should ask what I, and my compatriots can do through government to help discharge our individual responsibilities to achieve our several goals and purpose, and, above all, protect our freedom.


Saturday, February 03, 2007

Truth, Lies and Myth

A visit to the JFK Memorial Library today yielded this quote:

"As every past generation has had to disenthrall itself from an inheritance of truisms and stereotypes, so in our own time we must move on from the reassuring repetition of stale phrases to a new, difficult, but essential confrontation with reality.

For the great enemy of truth is very often not the lie--deliberate, contrived and dishonest--but the myth--persistent, persuasive, and unrealistic. Too often we hold fast to the cliches of our forebears. We subject all facts to a prefabricated set of interpretations. We enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought."

J. F. Kennedy, Yale Commencement Address, June 11, 1962