Sunday, August 2, 2015

A Question about Freud, and the Wrong Answer

Image result for Benjamin Spock

Somebody in Yahoo!Answers recently asked the following very broad question:  "How does Freud, Jung or other psychoanalyst explain the development/ manifestation of the Oedipus/ Electra complex within a gay?"

It isn't only very broad, it is ungrammatical. The verb should be either "do" or "did." If we think of the proper names as shorthand for their ideas/texts, then present-tense "do" is better. 

Anyway, it is a fascinating question, though perhaps of diminishing significance as the authority of those names/texts recedes. I'm not scholar enough to take it all on, but I did answer a bit of it as best I could, thus:

My understanding is that in Freudian theory, sexual identity is determined in adolescence, as the 'latency phase' comes to an end. A growing boy 'should' resolve his oedipal conflict by identification with his father, so his father is no longer a rival, and by the development of a sentimental affection for Mom, which displaces sexual ambition. But in some cases Mom is too dominant an influence to allow for that displacement, or Dad is absent, and for either reason the resolution can fail, so that the Oedipal conflict is repressed, still unresolved, and homosexuality is one of the possible results. In more recent decades, the 1950s and '60s, authorities such as Benjamin Spock were taking these notions as gospel.

I have since realized that I was actually referencing the Freudian attitude toward schizophrenia. I don't know whether it is or was also proposed as an etiology for homosexuality. I linked to the following as a source, although all you will find sourced there is the general closeness of Dr. Spock to Freudian orthodoxies. 

OBVIOUS OVERUSED PUN WARNING: One would expect a Vulcan to be more logical. 

Anyway, I submit the following as inducement to my readers. If any of you would like to school me in the psychoanalytic theory vis-a-vis these matters, I'm curious and open minded.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

A Good Opening Sentence

Image result for Dreadnought Priest

I like the opening sentence of the steampunk novel DREADNOUGHT, by Cherie Priest.

"Down in the laundry room with the bloody-wet floors and the ceiling-high stacks of sheets, wraps, and blankets, Vinita Lynch was elbows-deep in a vat full of dirty pillowcases because she's promised -- she'd sworn on her mother's life -- that she'd find a certain windup pocket watch belonging to Private Hugh Morton before the device was plunged into a tub of simmering soapy water and surely destroyed for good."

There are several things to love about that sentence. There's the simple fact that it immerses you in an environment and in a story without any throat clearing.

There's the layered way in which it does so, starting with "where" (in the laundry room), proceeding to "who" (Vinita Lynch), then "what" (she's looking for a watch) and finally "when" (before it is destroyed). Each of the first three of those layers gets a good deal of specificity to it, enough to threaten to turn this into a run-on sentence, although the threat i evaded.

Further, there is a neat use of sibilance here. Sibilance, that is, alliteration involving the letter "s," enters the garden of this sentence only in discussing the element of time. Then we get the nature of the threat to the watch from "simmering soapy water...surely...." It helps bring the sentence to a dramatic close.

Good work, Ms Priest.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Block Island Fishing

In addition to listing the sort of events I mentioned yesterday, the Block Island newspaper also includes a regular fishing column, by Capt Chris Willi and Hank Hewitt, On July 18th, this column included an item on the lure of the week.

A client of Capt. Chris "hook into an Atlantic bonito, not a rarity, but definitely a little early in the summer for them to be around" using something known as the Hurley's sand eel lure, "made up of a soft rubbery plastic and ... impregnated with sand eel oil for scent."

I quote this so that I will, in this blog, employ the tag "sand eel oil" at least once.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Block Island Events

I'm looking (not for any good reason) at THE BLOCK ISLAND TIMES for July 18th, 2015. Block Island, as many of my readers surely know, is a summer tourist haven off the southern coast of Rhode Island, with wonderful beaches and fishing, and some fascinating Native history/archaeology.

Because I'm feeling lazy, I'll let you know what events there were advertised in the newspaper above referenced.

A four week discussion series is underway there of a new theological work entitled DID GOD KILL JESUS? SEARCHING FOR LOVE IN HISTORY'S MOIST FAMOUS EXECUTION by Tony Jones. The book is to be discussed every Thursday beginning with July 18th at Harbor Church.

Also, there was an opening reception at the Spring Street Gallery showing the work of Kate Bird. I've included a photo of that artist here.

There is a summer concert series underway, featuring such musicians as Martin Soderberg, vocalist Megan Bisceglia, singer/songwriter Kevin Briody, and pianist/cellist Jonathan Tortolano.

I'll just include one more item on this shortened list. On Thursday, July 23d, the Block Island Historical Society hosted a cemetery tour-- the cemetery is on West Side Road.

Fascinating things go on anywhere, if you look for them.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

A New Plagiarism scandal

Image result for George Jefferson

The always-unpleasant spotlight on public exposure of plagiarism falls now on Matthew Whitaker, formerly a professor at Arizona State University. No, that isn't Whitaker pictured here. That's Sherman Helmsley as George Jefferson. More on Jefferson in a bit.

An anonymous blogger, one with a laser-like focus on the issue of plagiarism, brought the matter of the plagiarized passages in a book 'authored' by Whitaker to the public's attention and, now that Whitaker has been demoted from full professor to associate professor, that blogger is taking a bow.

One neat twist on this case: Whitaker had parlayed his academic prominence into a role with the City of Phoenix, AZ. He was supposed to help train that city's police officers to be culturally sensitive as they do their jobs. That contract is now at an end.

The text in question is a history of "modern Black America" from the second world war to the presidency of Barack Obama, with the evocative title PEACE BE STILL. This was brought out by University of Nebraska Press in January 2014.

So ... what was the problem? Here's an example. Whitaker writes about a television show, The Jeffersons, broadcast in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and what this program said about the culture's perception of nouveau-riche African-Americans. Here are Whitaker's words, from p. 152 of the book.

"The Jeffersons focused on the lives of a noveau-riche African American couple, George and Louise Jefferson (Isabel Sanford). George Jefferson was a successful businessman, millionaire, and owner of seven dry-cleaning stores. He lived with his wife in a ritzy penthouse apartment on Manhattan's fashionable and moneyed East Side. `We're movin' on up!' intoned the musical theme of the show opener that featured George, Louise and a moving van in front of `their deluxe apartment in the sky.' The Jeffersons was the first television program to feature an interracial married couple, ... and it offered an uncommon, albeit comic, portrayal of a successful African American family. Lastly, The Jeffersons is one of several programs of the period to rely heavily on confrontational humor...."

This seems to have come directly and without attribution from a reference website, the Archive of American Television. Here is what AAT said:

The Jeffersons ... focused on the lives of a nouveau riche African-American couple, George and Louise Jefferson. George Jefferson was a successful businessman, millionaire and owner of seven dry cleaning stores. He lived with his wife in a ritzy penthouse apartment on Manhattan's fashionable and moneyed East Side. `We're movin' on up!' intoned the musical theme of the show opener that featured George, Louise and a moving van in front of `their de-luxe apartment in the sky.'....The Jeffersons was the first television program to feature an interracial married couple, and it offered an uncommon, albeit comic, portrayal of a successful African American family. Lastly, The Jeffersons is one of several programs of the period to rely heavily on confrontational humor."

This was only one of the many examples of lifting adduced by critics. I took that one not from the above-referenced blogger, but from the comments section of

Saturday, July 25, 2015

If the word "chair" packed a punch

Image result for comfy chair drawing

If the word "chair" packed an emotional punch: if for example, people measured their neighbor's worth by the number of chairs owned, considering it a disgrace even to visit a house with an inadequate number of chairs, then there would of course be lots of disputes over the meaning of the word.

What exactly is a chair? As a first approximation, we might define a chair as a piece of furniture designed to seat one person. But this counts a stool as a chair, and that might be controversial. In our hypothetical world, elitists who were proud that they had a lot of chairs in their homes might resent the poseurs who boost their numbers by bringing in inexpensive stools.

As a more demanding definition: a chair might be defined as a piece of furniture, defined with a single seat, that is also supplied with a back. But does it need to have arms as well? Is it something that looks a lot like the paradigmatic chair portrayed above?

There might be semantic pressure in the opposite direction, from populists proud of their sparsely furnished homes who think their sofas and love seats ought to count. Why aren't they chairs? Is the one-person requirement arbitrary?

This is an example of what Ludwig Wittgenstein called a "language game." It isn't one of his examples (he did have an example involving a chair, but he developed it along different lines from those above). Still: the above is a fair example of the style of his thought. I believe that it is likewise fair to say that through the growth of his understanding of the game-like nature of any human language, he freed himself from the logical positivism/atomism of his early phase, that of the Tractatus.

Now, excuse me, I'm trying to remember the right verb for the act of presiding over a meeting. And is the word the same even if the presiding official is standing the whole time?  

Friday, July 24, 2015

President Trump? Please

Gary Weiss

Donald Trump can't even run a profitable casino. The itch to gamble may be the most powerful known addiction, and in cities where casinos are allowed, there is no such thing as the free entry of potential competitors: the established players have their safe niche. An inability to make a profit in this circumstances should be, well ... suspicious as to one's chief-executive cred.

Yet Trump's Atlantic City casinos filed for bankruptcy protection twice.

A very perceptive observer of the financial scene, Gary Weiss, has explained some of the background:

He sold junk bonds to finance his casinos and, by 1991, was so overleveraged that he was seeing his empire stripped by the banks. "Already more than $3.8 billion in the hole and sliding perilously close to a mammoth personal bankruptcy, the brash New York developer had no choice but to accept the dismantling of his vast holdings," Time magazine reported. Leave it to Trump to fail in a business that became a money machine when run by high school dropouts like Meyer Lansky.


In January 2002, the Securities and Exchange Commission filed cease-and-desist proceedings against Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts Inc. for making misleading statements in the company's third-quarter 1999 earnings release. "The Commission found that the release cited pro forma figures to tout the Company's purportedly positive results of operations but failed to disclose that those results were primarily attributable to an unusual one-time gain rather than to operations," said an SEC release at the time. I view this as one of Trump's most towering achievements: He actually got Harvey Pitt's SEC to do something! Just think of the kind of motivator he would be as president of the United States.

Thus, I have included a photo of Weiss, not of his Hairness, above.