Room for One More


Conspiracy theories have a definite attraction. In a world where governments are more known for keeping secrets than for carrying out the will of the people, they are often easy enough to believe. Elected officials are, of course, human. Humans have recourse to prevarication from time to time, but we do expect that a corporation that takes its secular tithe from our income should be honest about its doings. So it is that I find Room 237 endlessly fascinating. Room 237 is a documentary about Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. Winter is also an appropriate season to watch The Shining, so I took the ersatz experience of Room 237. This documentary, besides featuring some interesting conspiracies, also shows how religions may come to be.

Stanley Kubrick, as common knowledge goes, was a genius. In a day when movies are often pure escapism, much of it brainless, it might be surprising to consider a film-maker a literal genius, but anyone who’s watched one of Kubrick’s mature films is left in no doubt. The Shining, although based on the Stephen King novel, takes the story in very different directions, and there is much more going on in the film than first meets the eye. Room 237 interviews true Shining affectionados who find the “real” story line to be the genocide of Native Americans, the holocaust, a retelling of the minotaur myth, the faking of the filming of the moon landing, and a variety of other perceptions beyond the norm. Kubrick, known for the care he took in arranging every shot, clearly put subtexts into this film. What really caught my attention, however, was when one of the commentators said that he had his first real religious experience while watching 2001: A Space Odyssey.

2001 has always been one of my favorite movies. Simple and sometimes psychedelic, even with the novelization it is almost impossible to understand. With that haunting monolith, so like an outgrown iPhone, I found myself as a child believing in the evolution Kubrick suggested as a higher power led from ape to space in the instant of a bone toss. The majesty of that film that never lets humanity claim any true superiority still has the power to conjure nightmares that The Shining can’t. With the grand soundtrack of the opening of Also Sprach Zarathustra (himself the founder of a religion), I can understand how this might be a numinous experience. Movies function as modern myths, and, I contend, that is one reason that religious themes emerge so readily in great films. In Room 237 none of those interviewed considered any religious elements for The Shining, but no doubt, if an ape can walk on the moon, they’re there.

Snow Job

Snow does not get mentioned very often in the Psalms. Sometimes it surprises people unfamiliar with Israel that the Bible mentions snow at all. It does, and snow does fall once in a while on the higher elevations of the hills of the Levant. This year has been a memorable one for snow in the New York City area. Generally speaking, the coastal cities of the northeast are not known for their snow. This year, however, global warming is flexing its muscles as erratic weather brings storm after storm to the region. Interestingly, an internet rumor of a thirty-inch snowstorm (supposed to have come earlier this week) demonstrates just how gullible we’ve become. If it’s on the internet it must be true.

A story in the New Jersey Star-Ledger traces how the rumor began, starting with an experimental weather model by a credentialed meteorologist, which, in the keyboards of novices, grew to biblical proportions. Fact checking is something we just don’t bother with any more. The facile understanding of “global warming” as tropics for everyone shows that. The internet makes information—true or false—available at nearly the speed of light anywhere on the globe. Except where the power is out, perhaps due to weather. Not only does knowledge spread quickly, ignorance is just as fast. People weary of snow are perhaps more open to suggestion than others. We don’t hear our Minnesota or Wisconsin friends complaining (at least not too much).

There was a time when the standard sources of authority determined what we would believe. We didn’t accept just anybody’s word for it just because they had a Facebook account. For all the debunking that we hear about, it is easier to preach than to practice. Don’t get me wrong, sledging to work through piles of snow is not fun and the old circulation isn’t as vital as it used to be, so I have to add more layers than is practical to keep warm. But I’m not expecting palm trees and rain forests in Manhattan any time soon. Nor am I expecting a three-foot dump of snow. I know better than to trust what I read on the internet. After all, they even let me post things on it every day. Talk about your theoretical blizzard…


Which Bible?

No doubt the Bible holds a privileged place in western civilization. Arguably, it is the most influential book that exists in terms of its cultural influence in this hemisphere. Not that the Bible has had an easy ride of late. Many are vocal about its shortcomings, notably its violence and steadfast consistency with its own social mores of patriarchalism and election. Unfortunately these critiques sometimes (often) discourage people from reading it. (It is a very big book.) Having spent a good deal of my career dealing with the Bible, however, it is like a friend. Most friends have a habit or two that drive you to the brink of madness, but still, you know and trust them and tend to see the good rather than the flaws. The Bible is a holy book with warts. I cringe when I read parts of it. I’m not quite ready to let it go yet, however.

One reflection of this ambivalence I see often is that scholars (among others) have now taken to spelling the Bible without a capital letter: the bible. Perhaps it is the latent editor in me, or perhaps it is the Chicago Manual of Style that hangs like Damocles’ dictionary above my head, but like it or not, the Bible is a proper noun. In English we capitalize proper nouns. On Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube (all of which my computer auto-corrects to capitalized proper nouns), I understand. Most hands don’t get sufficient pinkie exercise to make that stretch to the shift key. But in academic writing? I’m pretty certain that e. e. cummings had nothing to do with the title, and other than loss of prestige, I’m unsure how to explain it. I have read book proposals from biblical scholars (biblical, by the way, is an adjective and does not require capitalization unless it is part of a title) who leave Bible all in lowercase letters. Have we come to this?

Leaving the “Holy” out of the title is academically sound. After all, Holy is a confessional modifier, and scholars strive for neutrality. With the proliferation of bibles—everything from Beer Bibles to Gun Bibles are out there, all capitalized, I note—we should take care to treat the Bible with grammatical care. It shows nothing of one’s faith commitment to capitalize it properly. God, on the other hand, may be used as either a proper noun or a common noun. Usage dictates capitalization. In the Bible Elohim is more often a title than a name. I knew civilization was in trouble the day I saw the phrase “butt crack” in an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education. The least we can do to combat the decline is to stretch that pinkie once in a while as an offering to the god of good grammar.


Jesus, My Foot

A story going around the internet features pictures of Paula Osuna’s bruised second toe. According to the YouTube story, Osuna fell down the stairs then had her boyfriend rub some sacred dirt from the shrine of El Santuario de Chimayó in New Mexico over the injury. As part of the healing process, an icon of Jesus appeared on her injured toe. Now, New Mexico has a reputation for hiding some potent sites of paranormal import (at least 51 of them), but I had never heard of Chimayó before. It is apparently one of the most visited shrines in the country. Like Holy Hill, a local shrine I used to visit once in a while back in Wisconsin, the site itself is supposed to lead to healing. Healing sites sometimes hold their own irony.

When we lived in Wisconsin, my family used to be avid geocachers. We still go out once in a while to find the little boxes hidden in the woods, but in Wisconsin there were plenty of day trips to be had with minimal traffic (unlike our current setting). One day we drove to Holy Hill National Shrine of Mary, Help of Christians, a discalced Carmelite community built atop a glacial moraine that gives spectacular views of the southeastern corner of the state. Inside there were many abandoned crutches, as I knew from previous visits, but this time we were present to find a small ammo box filled with trinkets, hidden in the wooded grounds. As our GPS narrowed us in on the coordinates, I made the typical error of watching my device rather than my feet. I slipped on a pile of rocks and my left hand slid onto a broken beer bottle, slicing open my little finger. Fortunately our geocaching bag held a small first aid kit, but no amount of gauze and holding my hand over my head could stop the bleeding. After we’d logged our find, we drove to a local emergency room where I received about ten stitches. Although the injury took place on the grounds of a healing shrine, no Jesus appeared on my shredded pinkie. Nor did miraculous healing come because of the location.


Pareidolia is a most fascinating evolutionary development. One of the first things imprinted on a newborn person is the image of a human face. In remarkably short time the infant can register the intent of various expressions on a human face and will soon learn to mirror them. That desire to find a friendly face never leaves us. We see faces everywhere. There are entire websites dedicated to pareidolia. We like to think there is a watchful parent ensuring that we won’t stumble and fall. Life, however, is full of accidents and injuries. Some of them are even the results of visiting healing shrines. Belief is what makes the difference. Ironically, even when Osuna’s bruise lost the shape of Jesus, she still believed in the healing power of the dirt. Her story has been covered on television and is easily found on the web. It is a fame born of faith. Miracles are always there for the taking.

Horse Sense

In an article in last month’s Federalist, Tom Nichols lamented the death of expertise. Well, not exactly. Expertise is not so much dead as lost in the wash. In the days of internet reality, it is difficult not to feel an expert after half an hour on Wikipedia and with a glance at a few headlines. What concerns Nichols, however, is that those who have done the hard work of going through educational programs and heavy research to learn materials minutely and intimately, are no longer considered any more qualified to speak the truth about their subject than anyone else. The web is full of self-proclaimed experts, and even I was always a little alarmed at student papers that took online resources at face value (I warned students about us bloggers). We have truly entered democracy—intellectual democracy—and it is scarier than anyone might have imagined.

I’m not a snob. I grew up in a blue collar home and I generally trust blue collar people more than my more educated colleagues. In the working class, at least in my experience, if someone intends to harm you there is usually some warning shot fired across your bow. In the world of business and finance the unseen and surgical strike is carried out with far more finesse. Experts can make brutally efficient killers. It was only after years and thousands of dollars I had not yet earned that I could claim to be an expert on ancient religion. From the first day in the classroom (particularly at Nashotah House) I found myself face-to-face with self-acknowledged experts who put up with my instruction only by dint of ecclesiastical command. Being an expert meant I was to be mistrusted. I was the one who might lead astray. The internet was already out there, but it was only lurking in the background. In religion, expertise had been dead long before Jesus showed up on the scene.

The problem with religion is that nobody can have the whole truth. I used to show my students a photograph of the silhouette of a horse against a sunset/sunrise. You can’t tell which way the horse is facing—toward the camera or away. When I asked them which way the beast faced, some would say away, but most said, predictably, towards them. Then I would reveal that not one of us in the room knew the answer. Religion is like that. The photographer who stood near the horse knows, but the person behind the camera may as well be in heaven for all it helps us. I was an expert because I’d spent years learning arcane languages and looking at texts in as close to the original format as we had available. All I had learned is that no one knows the direction that horse is facing. Tom Nichols is right: we face a crisis of expertise. But for me the only source of truth may be found astride a noble steed.

Photo credit: Waugsberg, WikiCommons

Photo credit: Waugsberg, WikiCommons


ChristMythTheoryEither there was, or there wasn’t. An historical Jesus, I mean. I just finished reading Robert M. Price’s The Christ Myth Theory and Its Problems, and I have to admit that it raises some interesting points. In short, Price positions himself among the Christ Myth school—scholars who doubt that there was an historical Jesus. This proposition may come as a shock to many who are raised never to question the orthodoxy of religion handed down from parent to child. Given the popularity of Christianity worldwide, it may seems like a difficult premise to accept. Price suggests that the figure of Jesus might’ve been a midrash (commentary) on Hebrew Bible texts. When you look closely at many of the Gospel episodes, they are couched in language from the Hebrew Bible, and for those familiar with ancient midrash, the elaborations he proposes aren’t that far-fetched. The real question, for me, is a bit more broadly based—how do we ever know what really happened? Religions, as I suggested yesterday, are echoes from the past. The past, despite the internet, is inaccessible to us beyond what ambitious writers and artisans have left behind for us. The bulk of making history is interpretation.

This should give us pause. Yes, there are undeniable events, witnessed and recorded by many. What really happened, however, is an atomistic enterprise. Take Lincoln’s assassination, for example. It happened, we’re pretty sure. What happened, we reconstruct from what we have left for us in witness accounts. But as National Treasure 2 shows, a little imagination can throw the whole picture askew. Or even closer to our own time—what really happened at John F. Kennedy’s assassination? Some of the facts we have, others we never will. Some posit high-level withholding of information. Try to put that together with a truly messianic figure that some claim is actually divine. The Gospels differ a bit on the details, particularly after Jesus’ execution. What really happened? A harmonization of the Gospels? Anything at all? Who was there to see it?

Religions are deeply tied to past events. Even the modern religions that are constantly emerging—new ones are formed on a nearly daily basis—soon distinguish themselves because of their histories. To get at those histories that we didn’t witness, we need to rely on the records of those who did. Some of those religions just won’t take off—the Shakers, for example, are slowing going extinct. The Oneida Community is already gone. Others, like the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, scrape the stratosphere with their success. And these are just examples of religions from the Second Great Awakening. Did Joseph Smith really meet all those figures he claimed? How can we know? When it comes to Jesus, we might think we’re on solid ground (as Smith would agree, if he existed). Price asks us to consider that assumption anew. Direct evidence may not be plentiful, but on the strength of ancillary evidence, most of us see Jesus as historical. Of his life we have very little. What you make of him, however, is a question of faith. And interpretation.

Past Imperfect

WiredPastReligion is inextricably tied to the past. So when I noticed an article in Wired entitled “The End of Then: Past? Present? Online, It All Runs Together,” by Paul Ford, I determined to read it once I could figure out whence that musky aroma arose. Maybe it is just my imagination, but the order of the major advertisements in Wired seems like a pre-packaged sexual scenario. Near the beginning of the magazine is an aromatic ad for Chanel for men. A few pages on is a more than full-page ad for Viagra. A few pages on is a short piece on Trojan lubricants, followed coyly by that rare cigarette ad. (I’m probably reading too much into this, but I’m a creature of the past.) Where was I? Oh yes, the End of Then. Ford’s point in the article is that the internet has made access to the past incredibly facile. Anyone with a portal into the web can find scads of information about the past, making past and present indistinguishable in a sense. My thoughts turn to the future.

The future seems to be the true unknown country. Not long ago I saw a story on the internet about how scientists conclude time travel to be impossible because we have not found messages from the future on the web. But we have found the past. Or have we? Ford mentions our fascination with Babylonian tablets, and suggests future historians will be equally intrigued by our continuous electronic chatter. But I turn back to that clay tablet. Those tablets, many of which were already in the deep past well before the Bible was scrawled, preserved what was important for a pre-industrial society: receipts, court records, and myths—the stories of the gods. And their command to build a round ark, at least according to Irving Finkel, whose book seems not to be available in the United States. Those myths, adapted to biblical proportions, have long been in the public domain, and yet, are they really in any sense present? Try giving students a quiz and find out.

We have a past that will always remain inaccessible. The present, for better or worse, is all we’ll ever have. Religion, however, is tied to the past. True claims are based on historical events, some less believable than others, that are permanently out of reach. We can watch how religions play out in the present and decide later. In the future. But the past haunts us forever. I, for one, had thought that cigarettes were on their way to extinction. But I need to put this edition of Wired down because that cologne ad is making me dizzy. And it leaves me wondering about future prospects and what religion has to do with any of it.

‘S No Day in New York

“You’re waiting for a train. A train that’ll take you far away. You know where you hope this train will take you. But you can’t know for sure.” Yet you’ve been standing on the windy platform in Newark for twenty minutes and they’ve announced the next train to New York will be an hour late.  A man you don’t know says the PATH train will take you to New York, but New York is a big city, and you only go there to work.  It must be a snow day.  Well, almost.  I work for a company that only closes when New York City Public Schools close for weather.  Today, kids, school’s open; but all is not lost—field trips are cancelled.  And so, the constellation of companies who take their cue from NYPS truck (sometimes literally) their New Jersey-based employees across or under the river, into a city where slush half a foot deep awaits them on every street corner, and that doesn’t slow those muck-flinging cabs down at all. 

With the weather we’ve been experiencing this year, I hear a lot of people saying that Mother Nature is still in charge.  Allow me to differ.  You see, I’ve been researching the weather and the Bible for years now and I’ve come to a slightly different conclusion.  In the Psalms, anyway, it is clear that God is in charge of the weather.  Given that New York is such a sinful place, I guess none of us should be surprised.  Still, I’m not sure the Bible has got this one quite right either.  After all, I’ve walked through ice-crusted snow up to my knees for a good part of my walk to the station, and I have my coat open so the cold breeze will cool me down a little bit before I have to walk into work with crazy hair and a scowl frozen on my face.  Didn’t some great theologian once say “sin boldly?”  No, it is not Mother Nature in charge.  It is not even the deity.  It is something far more powerful than God—money.  Can’t lose a red cent when there are human resources to be utilized.

I’ve never been on a Port Authority Trans-Hudson train before, and I’m not sure where this one stops.  I heard someone say 33rd Street, and that sounds encouraging, so when the train stops I follow him across the platform.  Sheep, as any shepherd knows, will follow a random person who looks confident enough.  I emerge from the dark underground, not quite sure where I am, and I just can’t find a Psalm in my heart at the moment, unless it’s an imprecatory one.  I stepped out of my front door into freezing rain three hours ago.  My trousers are wet to the knees, and I’m a little sick from facing the wrong way on the PATH train for a lengthy ride.  The cars, I notice, are shaped like Krell.  Yes, this is a forbidden planet and I don’t know where I might end up.  Excuse me, Mr. Mayor, but I think you got it wrong.  Field trips are not cancelled after all.  And I’m not sure I’m even worshipping the right god.

Deceptively peaceful

Deceptively peaceful

Engineering Meaning

ExistentialPleasuresofEngineeringEngineers have been a part of my life in many ways. My mother’s father was an engineer. Although she did not know it, my grandmother’s grandfather was also an engineer. My wife’s father is an engineer, and grandparents on both sides of her family were either scientists or engineers. My daughter is studying engineering, and other relatives have made it their profession. In fact, had the peril of my everlasting soul not caught my early concern, I would likely have headed into the sciences myself. Not that I would have made it in the profession, but the interest is certainly there. Many years ago my wife bought me a copy of Samuel C. Florman’s The Existential Pleasures of Engineering. Unlike my claims about engineering, I can boldly declare myself an existentialist. The moment I found out what existentialism was, I knew it was my outlook. Now that I am firmly settled in a profession about as far from science and engineering as I can be, I decided to read the book.

Quite surprisingly, I found Florman turning to religion from time to time. Existentialism isn’t inherently religious, but engineering is inherently empirical. Florman notes that the New Testament, with its spiritual values over the physical, often presents serious problems to engineers, enmeshed, as they are, in this universe. That made sense, even if it surprised me a little. A few pages later, however, I was astonished that Florman praises the “Old Testament” for its more earthy viewpoint that has a great appreciation for the physical world its god has created. Perhaps there was a reason my life took this track after all. Although I’m not Jewish, I always felt an attraction to the Hebraic outlook. Maybe I should’ve been an engineer.

Toward the end of his extended essay, Florman once again turns his thoughts toward the spiritual. Noting that massive works of engineering tend to evoke the divine—the most obvious, but by no means only, example being cathedrals—we glimpse a sense of the sublimity in the greatest of human edifices, sacred or secular. The engineer still has recourse to the spirit which is, to a frustrated scientist, a cause for great hope. When I pulled a book on engineering off the shelf, I certainly did not expect to find any religion in it at all. Of course, the book was written before science and religion had become entrenched in such a shrill standoff as they seem to be today. There is balance here, and an appreciation of beauty. And when the engineer does the impossible, it is indeed a work of human divinity.

Ham on Nye

Bill Nye, the Science Guy, comprised a good part of my thirties. My daughter was young and we were living in a religious environment sometimes openly hostile to science. Nye is funny and fastidious, and completely devoted to the empirical worldview. His videos (yes, it was that long ago) were fairly inexpensive in VHS format, and even as parents we learned a thing or two. When Bill Nye came to the New Jersey Green initiative conference (I don’t recall what it was called) we were in the audience to see him live. It was rather like an epiphany. Despite his wit and charm, many of his colleagues are now advising him that he’s made a wrong turn. According to NBC, he is set to debate Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis in a no-win debate, that of creation versus evolution. Some of the top lights of science have been bloodied by lower profile conflicts because—and this is the crucial point—religion and science do not agree on basic ground rules. It’s a schoolyard scrap, and those who try to adhere to laws of reason are often ill equipped.


The debate isn’t really over the question of how we got here. The real prize is power. Creationists cannot win on purely scientific grounds; anyone who’s tried to read Henry Morris’s books knows that you can’t get very far without a curious hand raking your head. The science is flawed but the conviction is solid. Truth, the creationists know, is not open for debate. His scientific colleagues fear for the intrepid science guy, noting that this is just another instance to give creationism faux credibility in what is really a public relations scam. Ham’s creationist museum has dinosaurs on the ark, which, in an unrelated story on NBC, is drawing righteous ire from the self-same Ham. (I’ve posted on the round ark before, and likely will again.)

If I understand the first article correctly, the debate will be taking place tonight. If I understand science at all, the world will continue to evolve tomorrow. Creationism has a curious relationship to the world, viewing it through a Bible-shaped lens. A close look at the Bible reveals that it does not support the creationist viewpoint in any literal way. Too many dragons and contradictions make implausible any but a heavily harmonized version of Genesis 1. Biblical scholars, however, are among the worst of sinners, according to the creationist camp. We might be the very ones exposing their children to Bill Nye and other questionable truths such as television and electricity that don’t even exist in the Bible. I’ve got my fingers crossed for Bill Nye, but then, superstition has nothing to do with it.

Devil’s Advocate

At fives and sixes, the Pope who gave us the devil's advocate.

At fives and sixes, the Pope who gave us the devil’s advocate.

When two people in completely isolated incidents tell me the origins of the term “Devil’s advocate” within a week, I figure it’s time to do a post about it. We’re all familiar with the term, and we know that it means taking the point of view of the “bad guy,” just for argument’s sake. In fact, the Devil’s advocate may not believe his (usually it is a he) own arguments, presents them to make sure the results are correct. The Devil’s advocate was an official office in Roman Catholicism beginning in the late 16th century. The actual title was Promoter of the Faith and the reason such an office was necessary was that so many people had been put forth as potential saints that the church experienced an embarrassment of riches. Canonization, the process of becoming a saint, has a number of hurdles to clear for the would-be paragon. Claims, often extraordinary, were made for miracles associated with the favored ones and the Devil’s advocate was intended to research and present contrary evidence. This made it more difficult to achieve sainthood, but in theory, at least, kept the number of candidates down to only the most deserving. There was no literal devil involved.

Those of us who grew up Protestant often had recourse to only faulty knowledge of Catholicism. We were sometimes taught that it was based on magic, what with the priest speaking in Latin and making mysterious motions with his hands. That meant, for some, that Catholics seemed particularly gullible and would believe things the rest of us wouldn’t. The Catholic Church, however, has often providing its own policing. Not as eager as Pentecostals to accept mundane miracles, when a pareidolia-inspired leakage of water or an anomalous burning of toast occurs, the Catholic Church is quick to debunk claims of miracles just because an underpass stain or a bit of bread looks like a famous religious figure. If you squint enough. The Devil’s advocate was a similar safeguard.

On the opposite side of the equation, I’ve often heard sermons among some evangelical groups claiming that we’re all saints. (Their membership, that is.) Who shouldn’t claim the name when they walk the walk? Many of these saints fail to inspire in the way of those of yore. Some of the beloved cultural heroes that keep coming back in various forms have saintly origins: Santa Claus and Saint Valentine are two that come to mind at this time of year. Some Protestants who may not have been perfect, however, should somehow qualify. Martin Luther King, Jr., another figure of the winter season, by his contributions to justice issues, might be one who would qualify. I’m sure there are many others. The fact is that making a principled stand against the wickedness that sometimes passes for the status quo is difficult and leaves one open to criticism and resentment. A Devil’s advocate might be just what society needs when looking to make saints out of mere mortals.

Porcine Prognostication

Punxsutawney Phil phled his shadow this morning, leaving many despairing another six weeks of winter, which meteorology seems to dictate anyway. I used to tell my students that Phil is a most peculiar prophet, in that he is, presumably, neither Christian nor Jew, but rather of the rodent religion (whatever that may be). People pretend the little guy has powers beyond those of the average mammal when it comes to predicting vast, chaotic systems. If a groundhog flaps his eyelids in Pennsylvania, prepare for plows and shovels and more thermal underwear. Playing into this annual phenomenon is the provocative persistence of the idea that prophecy is prediction. As much as scholars attempt to expunge the idea that foretelling wasn’t what prophets were ever really about, the populace likely wouldn’t have paid them any attention, had the possibility not presented itself that these preachers knew something the rest of people didn’t.

Prophecy is a strange phenomenon. We claim that we would like to know the future, but I’m not sure that we really would. Knowing that we’ve set ourselves on many tracks that inevitably lead to tears, do we really want to know? After taking my daughter back to college, we sat in a fast-food place to grab a bite on the way home. It had been snowing again, as it will do in the winter, and the television in the corner was blaring on about another apocalyptic band of snow. A bearded and burly Pennsylvanian at the next table turned to me, attracted, I supposed by my own facial hair, and said, “What about this global warming?” I nodded politely, not being very burly myself, but I thought of the fact that global warming does mean more severe winters in some places and warmer conditions in others. It is marked, scientists predict, by erratic weather, not a constant sauna in those regions accustomed to snow.

Although a Pennsylvanian by birth, I have noticed that my ancestral New Jersey does not receive much snow. Until this year. We’ve had the white stuff on the ground for over two weeks in a row. Yes, it snows in winter, but not usually here. I shiver and think of global warming. It is a chilling thought. Punxsutawney Phil may live far enough inland not to have to worry about learning to swim, but the same can’t be said of the inhabitants of most of the major cities of this country. We know it is coming, but we turn a blind eye. Progress in the name of unbridled big business interests brighten a future otherwise a bit more gloomy than we might prefer. Phil ducks back into his burrow and the rest of us clutch our coats a little tighter around us. Prophecy is a mixed blessing indeed. We already know the outcome before the groundhog awakes.

An agnostic groundhog ponders the inevitable (photo credit: I. EIC)

An agnostic groundhog ponders the inevitable (photo credit: I. EIC)


Hebrew can be an obstinate language. And computer software companies can be immature. In a biblically inspired pulling out of the hair and rending of mine cloak, I am trying to submit an old manuscript for publication. You see, I have been a loyal Apple user from the beginning; Moses himself was one of my original teachers. This was back in the day when the processor took up proportionately about 90 percent of the space, and the screen was about the size of, say, an iPad. Monitors were black-and-white then, kids, and you had to save everything on devices called “floppy disks.” In any case, Macs died and Macs resurrected—actually, they never really die, as an attic full of aging, but document-rich Macs attests. Operating systems evolved at a frightening rate, and the document I want to submit was originally written *gasp!* about eight years ago. The Dark Ages. Before OSX. Before Keurig individual serving machines. When fax was still used.

The publisher made a simple request: send us a Word document. The problem, you see, is that Apple no longer runs software based on Microsoft platforms (Bill and Steve, play nice!). That means instead of Word I now use Pages. That’s mostly fine, but then Hebrew can be an obstinate language. It is written backwards. The vowels are above and below the consonants. It has letters that English doesn’t and most English speakers can’t even pronounce. So geeky font-makers came to the rescue and devised clever fonts to fill the gaps. In Word. I convert my old file into Pages so I can open it on a laptop that actually connects to the internet (the laptop on which it was written never could quite manage that) and guess what? Pages can’t display the fonts. I convert them, but like stubborn infidels, they remain the same on my screen. It is like driving through a blizzard with windshield wipers that don’t work. I can’t be sure what a PC reader, using that antique software, Microsoft Word, will see on the screen. I’m not sure what I’m writing.

I remember the rejoicing in heaven the day Apple announced that you could open a PC file in Word on a Mac. My life was easier, except for the fact that I was unfortunately working at Nashotah House—but that is a different story of archaic woes, for I could slip in a floppy disc (consult your dictionary) and share it with a less-sophisticated PC user. Now Mac OSX no longer supports Microsoftware and I can’t read my own fonts. I decide to copy the file onto a flash drive and submit it unchanged. My old laptop scratches its metaphorical head at this strange device I’m inserting into it and tells me this wondrous USB-deity is beyond its capacity to fathom. My Hebrew is stuck in the past. Along with my head, which, as you’ve been given to understand, is now bereft of hair.

In the beginning was Word...

In the beginning was Word…