Two planes

February, 2016

I wish to call attention to two plane events.

In today’s Washington Post, Jenna Johnson writes

As a few thousand people waited for Donald Trump to arrive for a campaign rally in an airplane hangar in northwest Arkansas on Saturday afternoon, the theme song from the 1997 movie “Air Force One” began to play.

In the cloudless blue sky, the billionaire businessman’s jet appeared. It swooped past the hangar and disappeared as hundreds of phones recorded the spectacle.

“Oh, my God, there it is — wow!” a middle-aged woman said, as she recorded a video she would later post on Facebook. A 66-year-old retiree wearing a camouflage-style campaign hat burst into tears at the sight and declared the plane “more impressive than Air Force One.” Two women wondered what Trump was saying onboard and if he even knew which state he was in on his whirlwind tour. “Here we go,” a dad said to his young son, who was sitting atop his shoulders. A young couple debated whether the lettering spelling “TRUMP” was gold leaf or just paint.



When I taught Film Studies at Goshen College I frequently showed Leni Reifenstahl’s “Triumph of the Will.” It features the 1934 Nazi Party Congress in Nurenberg.  Attendance — about 700,000 Nazi supporters. I learn from Wikipedia that “Hitler commissioned the film and served as an unofficial executive producer …  The film’s overriding theme is the return of Germany as a great power, with Hitler as the leader who will bring glory to the nation.” In class I pointed out how the film began — Hitler in a plane (god) descending to the multitudes who looked up in adoration.

A troubling double.


February 27, 2016

(Dedicated to the friends with whom I had lunch today.)

On this lovely day the last thing you want to do is read a lecture on semiology. OK, I won’t lecture. Just this. The human utterance “camera” if you say it long enough sounds odd. Over time and the influence of culture, people use that utterance as a sign to refer to the object here beside me. If you want to make the sign more complete, you might say “a Nikon D 300.”  But strange, some people in the world don’t sign by saying “camera.” Instead they say “fotoapparat.”  As if that’s too simple, there are other people who know to say “.מַצלֵמָה .”

So the cat is out of the bag. Humans make signs in a variety of ways to represent the world around them. They will even make a couple of signs to identify the object.

These human used signs are not the same thing as the object signified. Hold on. Let me say that again. What is beside me and the word “camera” are not one and the same. The latter is a human way of labelling the former.

I hope you aren’t yet yawning because I am going to go on a bit further. The way humans sign can be downright confounding. That is, a sign or signs they use which clearly refer to an object might, for strange reasons, be used for some other purpose. For example, a couple of sentences ago I was not referring to a cat nor a bag. I used an “image” to describe the fact that contrary to our manner of communicating, not everyone signs in the same way.

Here in this blog I will not further explicate the confoundedness of signing. Rather, I want to talk about our, or rather my, limits in signing. That is, “though I speak with the tongues of men and angels,” there are occasions when I don’t have words to express a particular object or phenomenon or moment that is important to me.  As they say, “I am at a loss for words.”

I’ll tell you some territories where my word-making skills are benumbed. I can’t find words to convey ecstasy, deep sorrow, reverence, bliss, awe and there are quite a few additional territories.  I can’t find words to denote God.  I can’t find words to let you know what eternity is. And my tongue is stilled when I try to say “universe,” knowing  there are millions of galaxies.

In fact, I’m of the humble opinion that I as a typical wordsmith haven’t gone beyond the anteroom of lexicography. But two kinds of people help me quite a bit.

The first grouping are scientists. One day on campus a co-ed came rushing up to me. “Please come along. I want to show you something.” She took me to the biology lab, directed my eye into a microscope which she had pointed to a culture. It was an “awe” sight, something like a huge forest, a world of a million pieces per square inch, color and texture I’d never seen. She knew it and wanted to share her — well perhaps it was ecstasy. I saw it and the only thing that came to my mind was “Crap, I know so little of the world around me.”  We said nothing to each other yet I knew that we, without signing, reached together into wordless territories that scientists express in formulas and codes well beyond me. I’m pleased that scientists can go quite beyond my words.

The second grouping are poets. Todd Davis wrote this one:


I love the church
of the osprey, simple
adoration, no haggling
over the body, the blood,
whether water sprinkled
from talons or immersed
in the river saves us,
whether ascension
is metaphor or literal,
because, of course,
it’s both: wings crooked,
all the angels crying out,
rising up from nests
made of sticks
and sunlight.

The poet approaches big stuff, mysteries let’s say. They too can’t find the exact word to sign what they want to signify. So they move to metaphor and image, to sounds and rhythms. Somehow, and here is another mystery, their indirections help me to move into the gaps where language fails me.

Of course there are other resources for my wordlessness. Music, for example. Sometimes a painting. And may I suggest that even a good story can jump up and out of its original setting to become a universal signifier of something a paragraph of my words can never touch.

The bell has rung. Class time is over. You can expect this material to be on the final exam.



February 26, 2016

Today, again, I came upon the association of Donald Trump with Fascism. Thus I spent some time reading definitions  and explanations of Fascism along with a variety of opinions.  I will report some of these without comment.

Wikipedia    “Fascism is a form of radical authoritarian nationalism.”   

Merriam Webster     Fascism is “a political philosophy, movement, or regime that exalts nation and often race above the individual and that stands for a centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition.”   

Anti Media quoting Noam Chomsky on what gives rise to Fascism   “Fear, along with the breakdown of society during the neoliberal period. People feel isolated, helpless, victim of powerful forces they do not understand and cannot influence.”     Fourteen characteristics of Fascism

  1. powerful and continuing nationalism
  2. disdain for the recognition of human rights
  3. identification of enemies/scapegoats as a unifying cause
  4. supremacy of the military
  5. rampant sexism
  6. controlled mass media
  7. obsession with national security
  8. religion and government are Intertwined
  9. corporate power is protected
  10. labor power is suppressed
  11. disdain for intellectuals and the arts
  12. obsession with crime and punishment
  13. rampant cronyism and corruption
  14. fraudulent elections

Wikipedia      Fascism rejects assertions that violence is automatically negative in nature, and views political violence, war, and imperialism as means that can achieve national rejuvenation. 

Moyers  and Company   “Donald Trump should have been kicked out of the Republican Party the moment he began talking about violating the Constitution. The first time he hinted about assaulting the journalists covering his rallies, he should have been shown the door. When he openly advocated torture (“worse than waterboarding”), he should have been ushered away. When he began speaking of closing houses of worship, he should have been expelled. He has solemnly pledged to violate the First, Fourth and Eighth Amendments of the Constitution, at the least.

Also today I heard a report claiming that 51% of prospective voters say they are scared. I do not know whether these voters are scared of our national moment, scared of Mr. Trump, or scared of more particular things such as economic survival, violence, ecological disaster, Ziki or something else.  Yet I think it sobering to know that fear is with us.

What if

February 25, 2016

In this season of candidates for the American presidency fighting for delegate votes, what I miss is silence.  Just as a page of small type needs white space, so I need relief from cacophony.

But a season of quiet won’t get us a President. As is our tradition, and the tradition in many other nation states, an election campaign is a noisy, nonetheless petty war. Yet I wonder about a particular “what if.”

What if a smart, motivated, informed, experienced and articulate person — male or female, Black or white, strait or gay — used the strategy of Dr. Ben Carson, but did it better. I don’t want to use this blog to put Carson down, but from the start he didn’t have the qualifications for President. He was an expert surgeon. My “what if” pertains to a person schooled in statesmanship and the political process, a person who used a soft voice and the intellect behind it to discuss the very big issues of the day that won’t be waved away in the manner that the shouters’ claim.

Many of these issues are far beyond the vote of the House and Senate, far beyond the signature or veto of the President. They demand long term commitments to creative thought, painstaking analyses, the building of international alliances, the commitment of a populace.

Thus I’d like for a candidate to discuss the party platform slowly, quietly, naming those who can help address the big questions, identifying his or her own limitations thereto.  If there were such a candidate, we wouldn’t have these silly debates. Instead we’d hear  intellectual argument based on historical precedent, logical reasoning, human considerations and the survival of this planet.

What if?

The weather

February 24, 2016

Here in Indy a rain record may be set for this day of the year.


Not far north of us snow measures more than six inches. To the southeast tornadoes have touched down, rather close to the coast. That storm is moving northward. As of 6 PM seven people have been killed in accidents related to the storm.

As a retired person able to sit inside, and at this moment in front of a friendly fire, weather news is innocent fascination. To those in snow plows, those up on poles trying to reconnect electrical service, those digging through rubble that was their house yesterday — to those, today’s weather is cruel reality.



February 23, 2016

Today I am copyediting a manuscript. And proofreading.  Do you know that the professional buzz says writers often aren’t good proofreaders?  The good ones, so they say, are logical, compartmentalized, minutely focussed.

By implication we writers are illogical, generalizers, attentive only on the story line. I can’t defend myself. You surely find many copy errors in my blog.

Today I am trying to remember rules, and, at the same time, to distinguish American rules from British rules that have largely been adopted by Canadians. From Canada comes this manuscript. Labour, centre, favour.  Punctuation outside the quotation mark at the end of a sentence.

The second to last item in a series is not followed by a comma.  Right?

You don’t capitalize a staff position such as principal or foreman.  Right?

While we capitalize the East when designating a territory, we do not capitalize eastern Maryland.  Right?

And the troubled pairs: its and it’s, there and their.

I hope that other writers and proofreaders carry deeply regarded pet peeves.  I do. I abhor sentences that begin with It, That, These, They or any other indefinite pronoun.  Abhor to a fault.

By far the biggest issue, however: no matter whether I proofread seven (never the number 7 when less than ten) or thirteen times, the final product will have an embarrassing proofreader’s overlook at a very obvious place.

Making the job more pleasant today was the sun, slanting in from Louisville, Kentucky. Thus I am not grouchy.


Reserved lands

February 22, 2016

A number of ranchers in Oregon won’t agree with me: I celebrate the reserved federal and state lands among us. Indiana has huge state forests and memorable state parks. The one closest to me is Benjamin Harrison State Park which I call Fort Ben.  I’ll share some photos from my walk this afternoon.

One may take a two-mile walk on a paved loop.


Seldom do I make a complete loop because I get sidetracked in the grand forest.


On the far side of the loop is Duck Pond, probably my favored spot.


I leave the path and poke along the side of the pond.


By this time of winter, most seeds have flown.


Today the sun came out intermitantly allowing for beautiful reflections.


Leaving Duck Pond, I traverse a muddy path to Fall Creek.


Did I say Duck Pond was my favorite?  Oh, Fall Creek is no less.


Always, always there is much to see.


We’re two inches behind in rain this year, which accounts for the exposed sand.


I’d love to have this tree in our living room.



Lots of moss along the Creek.


Quite a few islands now rise above the surface, islands that are covered after heavy rains.


Finally I come around again to Delaware Lake.


The east side is ringed with some kind of tail.



I’ve got editing to do. Time to leave.  I hope you enjoyed Fort Ben.