10.30.2009

Paranormal Activity Redux

Some say Paranormal Activity is the most frightening movie ever. From the trailers (and my understanding of Psi anomalies) I'd guess "the demon" turns out to be psychokinesis (poltergeist) emanating from the girlfriend. I'm no fan of scary movies, but I've got to see this one. And I'll no doubt see The Fourth Kind (click through to see the trailer) also, if for no other reason than because the Whitley Streeber book Communion--about alien abduction--used to freak me out. TFK arrives on November 6.

Happy Halloween, all you ghosties and goblins.
LD

10.29.2009

The Break In The Market


October 28 and 29 of this year marked the 80th anniversary of The Great Crash of '29. We are reminded by the WSJ blog Market Beat that those days in October were not the worst nor really the beginning of The Great Depression. By April of '30 the stock market was almost back where it was...sort of like today. By Easter the New York Times was referring to The Crash as "the break in the market"...sort of like today.
Danger, Will Robinson.
LD

The Brothers K

The Phillies got off to a great start last night, beating the Yankees 6-1 in the first game of the World Series. I am hoping (as always) for a seven game series. I hate to see the season end. At most, I've got six games to enjoy, plus whatever old games I can catch on MLB TV, until Spring Training. Currently, I have Nolan Ryan's last no-hit game saved to the DVR, just waiting for the right miserable winter weekend when I need a lift. And Gaylord Perry's 300th win game awaits me, too. I'm praying they'll re-play the Kirk Gibson Miracle Home Run game between now and spring.

No doubt I will score both of those historic games and several of the Series games. Scoring a baseball game is a creative outlet for me, not to mention a great way to keep your head in the game. I came to scoring late in life but now I am a fanatic. I feel guilty watching a game without scoring...

I have a love affair with baseball. Like most boys born in the 50's, the passion started young. For me, it began playing catch with my Dad, matured through Little League and became unrequited in the Pony League, when my skills no longer matched my desire. But my love continued vicariously through Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, John Roseboro and the rest of Walter Alston's LA Dodgers.

Baseball was (and is) an art form, passed down from generation to generation back then. Now, that father/son bonding via The Greatest Game doesn't happen so much. It did (and still does) with my two boys. And luckily, Mrs. LD enjoys the game, too. Baseball has been a glue, one of the shared, ongoing experiences that defines our family. Something to all enjoy and share together.

That's why, no matter how bad the economy gets, I will not give up our Durham Bulls season tickets (four rows up the steps, section 200, with the fourth seat in dead behind home plate). That's why (well, one of the reasons) I bought that Chrysler convertible. I wanted us to drive home from the games with the top down, still talking together about the game with the cool rush of air around us. I wanted to create the future, when, with me long gone to the never ending season, one of they boys might say to the other something like: "Remember when we were little and Daddy had that convertible, and we'd ride home from the game with the top down? That was fun." Something to hold on to, now and later.

But now the season is close to ending. The only good thing about that is taking my battered copy of David James Duncan's novel The Brothers K off the shelf for the annual winter read. This is my favorite novel and not just because baseball and its binds is a significant part of the narrative.

Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov, hailed as one of the great works of literature, acts as Duncan's touchstone. Both novels portray a strong patriarch, four brothers (with similar characteristics in both works) and a family dealing with themes of religion and free will, morality and the faith (or lack thereof) that creates one's beliefs and guides one's actions. Duncan's title, other than as a short form tie to Dostoevsky, is ironic in that "K" is the symbol in scoring a baseball game for a strikeout.

The Russian philosopher Nikolai Fyodorov's view of Christianity had a strong effect on Dostoevsky (and no doubt Duncan) and that view plays out--in my mind at least--as the most significant theme in Duncan's work, if not both. It is a view of Christianity that allows redemption and "resurrection" as an earthly possibility, via sons who pay for the sins of their father through sacrifice, resulting in a more unified and universal world family. In this case, the father's sins are not those of "Papa Toe", the boys' father, but rather the sins of any of us responsible for this wicked world.

What else do we pass down to our children other than baseball? What else unifies us, for better or worse?

There is plenty of sacrifice in The Brothers K. Through the draft dodger, the conscientious objector who is sent to Viet Nam, the philosopher son and the narrator Kincaid, the reader will find himself, even if not a child of the sixties. This is, after all, a work that uses the inglorious sixties (and baseball) to explore universal and timeless themes.

There are two pristine first editions of The Brothers K on the bookshelf awaiting my sons. Soon they will be ready.

From the publisher:
David James Duncan's first novel, The River Why, met with such enthusiastic praise for its journey of self-discovery that it became a contemporary classic, with readers comparing Duncan to J. D. Salinger, Ken Kesey, and John Irving. Yet, as one reviewer noted, "His [style] is not merely a patchwork quilt....His is a genuinely new, genuinely original voice in American fiction, a voice which is not quite like any you've read before." (San Jose Mercury News)

In The Brothers K, Duncan amplifies the considerable accomplishment of his first book as he centers this tender and powerful story around a Pacific Northwest family in the early '60s. The Chance family is wild about baseball and cantankerous about religion. Papa is a gifted but luckless minor-league pitcher whose big-league hopes are fading. Mama is a devout Seventh Day Adventist, constantly in motion to save her wayward sons. When a mill accident crushes Papa's thumb, and Mama's inexplicable fanaticism threatens to shred what little the family has in common, parents and children find themselves embattled over the ideals represented by baseball and religion.

It is young Kincaid, the easygoing middle child, who chronicles the humor and spiritual beliefs that alternately sustain and confound this family in a small Washington mill town. And it is in his maturing voice, as his brothers leave town to enter one of the country's most bewildering decades, that we hear the inescapable tensions wrought from one American generation testing another's vulnerabilities. Through the Chances, David James Duncan asks sublime questions about life, self-sacrifice, and enduring love in an ever changing world.
LD

10.18.2009

Paranormal Activity

My Town is famous for many things including the Durham Bulls, the Duke family that made Durham the world's tobacco capital for over a hundred years and endowed Trinity College which became Duke University, and for the old Rice House and rice diet program that brought the rich and famously fat to Durham to lose weight (including Elvis, it's said). And on the outskirts of Durham Station on April 26, 1865 at the Bennett Farm, the largest surrender of Confederate forces ended the Civil War.

Yet to me, My Town's most fascinating claim is as the birthplace, in 1930, of the more formal scientific, quantitative and statistical study of "parapsychology", begun by J.B. Rhine with and under the auspices of William McDougall, head of the Psychology Department at Duke University. Parapsychology--or extra-sensory perception (ESP)--is a still controversial offshoot of psychology (and more recently electrical engineering, due to the electrical nature of the brain) that studies (simply put) the possibility of human knowledge not derived from the five senses. ESP is "the sixth sense."

There had been much earlier research. The Society for Psychical Research was founded in London in 1882. In 1885 the American Society of Psychical Research was formed in New York. And in 1911 Stanford University began laboratory experiments, yet these groups were primarily engaged in qualitative psychical research more aligned with mediumship, spiritualism and the possibility of life after death. Through the Duke Parapsychology Laboratory's use of dice and specialized cards, a statistical model of research evolved and became the standard for other researchers.

Areas of research include(ed) Telepathy (transfer of information on thoughts or feelings between individuals by means other than the five classical senses); Precognition (perception of information about future places or events before they occur); Clairvoyance (obtaining information about places or events at remote locations, by means unknown to current science); and Psychokinesis (the ability of the mind to influence matter, time, space, or energy by means unknown to current science).

The investigation of things that go bump in the night would sometimes be undertaken, but for the trained scientist, in the context of the other areas. As an example, William Roll, a researcher at the Duke Lab for many years, investigates poltergeists but from the perspective that the paranormal activity may derive from the psychokinesis ability of someone associated with "the haunting" of a place rather than from the possibility of some ghostly or demonic activity.

Through the years, J.B. Rhine and Louisa, his wife and research collaborator, became the preeminent researchers in the field and the faces of parapsychology. Upon his retirement from Duke in the early 60s, Rhine founded the Foundation for Research on the Nature of Man (FRNM) in Durham. The study of Parapsychology at Duke--already on the rocks due to the university's concern over negative publicity generated by skeptics--ceased.

The 60s and 70s were active periods for parapsychology research, but research generally has waxed and waned in the US since. Yet there are still many groups and researchers dedicated to the field. The UK became and remains a strong foothold for study. In 1995 the FRNM was renamed the Rhine Research Center and is still active from its headquarters in Durham, having persevered through the years.

This Lucky Dog is honored to be associated with the RRC. I have fostered a curiosity and appreciation for the field since a science project in seventh grade found me calling upon the FRNM for help and information. I was assisted in my research by Dr. John Freeman who was a Baptist minister and researcher. He was studying ESP in children at the time and I was to become his "assistant" in rounding up kids from my school to volunteer for testing on Saturdays.

Within the last few years I have re-established a relationship with RRC and count Sally Rhine Feather (J.B.'s daughter and RRC Director) and others associated with The Rhine as personal friends. The Rhine and other groups such as Windbridge Institute, Institute of Noetic Sciences, Parapsychology Association and other organizations do important work in the field of human consciousness.

Interest in paranormal activity seems to be in vogue again. I'm wondering what has fueled the interest. Often, bad times move us closer to spirituality and we look inward to our consciousness for solace. We want to connect to some Higher Power, whether our God or the vast unknown of human potential. The last decade certainly has been a trying time for many. We search for something bigger and stronger than ourselves. Perhaps it's just a cyclical, generational lift. Baby Boomers and their children are, in my mind, decidedly more open than previous generations to the possibility of "human potential".

Certainly television is helping fuel interest in the paranormal. Cable channels are full of ghostly reality t.v. like Paranormal State on A&E. Dan Brown's new novel The Lost Symbol includes a "noetic scientist" character supposedly patterned after the Director of the Institute of Noetic Sciences. Their web site is experiencing significant hits since publication, I've heard.

And The Rhine is experiencing an uptick in layman membership and general interest in part due to the recent publication of the book Unbelievable, the story of J.B. Rhine and the Duke Parapsychology Lab, by Stacy Horn. There is a movie screenplay being prepared. Horn has a great active blog about the subject of parapsychology and the book (linked above).

By following this link you will be taken to the vimeo site where you can view various videos about The RRC and parapsychology, including a program with Stacy Horn and Dr. Sy Mauskopf, whose book on parapsychology and the Rhine Center, The Elusive Science, was published in 1980.
LD