Justice Louis Brandeis

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Joseph Lamar died in January 1916. An otherwise forgettable tenure on the High Court remains notable for the subsequent succession battle it unleashed. A week after Lamar’s funeral, President Woodrow Wilson asked the Sec’y of the Treasury, his friend Wm McAdoo, whom he might suggest to take the late Justice’s seat. McAdoo offered the brilliant Louis Brandeis, a profound liberal thinker, attorney, and social activist of the day. Wilson asked McAdoo if he thought Brandeis could be confirmed. “Yes,” McAdoo said, “but it will be a stiff fight.”

Nobody could then have known how stiff that fight would prove.



For all of his admirers, Brandeis had an equal number of enemies. Wall Street regarded him as an untrustworthy radical. Conservatives saw him as a troublemaker, an attorney who was known to rely on sociological and psychological data. The strict constructionists considered him dangerous because of his activism. Even former President William Taft privately called Brandeis’ nomination “one of the deepest wounds that I have ever [suffered] as an American and a lover of the Constitution.”

What was unspoken? Brandeis was a Jew.

To President Wilson, who had appointed the first Jewish professor at Princeton and the first Jewish Justice to the New Jersey Supreme Court, Brandeis’ faith was immaterial. What was important for Wilson was to correct what he considered his biggest mistake as President – having nominated the rabidly conservative and anti-Semitic James McReynolds to the High Court two years earlier.

Throughout the 19th century, Supreme Court nominations were usually minimally controversial processes that resulted in voting the same day that the nominee was presented. This changed with Brandeis. The Eastern Establishment lined up petitions and testimonies to bemoan and denounce the Brandeis candidacy. The Senate Committee on the Judiciary announced an investigation of the many charges leveled against Brandeis; McAdoo shrewdly urged Brandeis to ask the committee to hold their hearings in public, as he figured most of the objections would fade in the light of day. In February 1916, more than forty witnesses – largely Boston Brahmins and those on the losing sides of cases that Brandeis had prosecuted – paraded before the Senate cloaking their prejudices in rhetoric about dishonorable and unprofessional conduct.

Supporters countered. Felix Frankfurter and Walter Lippmann defended Brandeis in the press, and former Harvard President Charles Eliot sent the committee a ringing endorsement, as did nine of Harvard Law School’s eleven law professors. Former Chief Justice Melville Fuller called Brandeis “the ablest man who ever appeared before the Supreme Court of the United States.” Speaking for himself, Wilson wrote, “I cannot speak too highly of his impartial, impersonal, orderly, and constructive mind, his rare analytical powers, his deep human sympathy, his profound acquaintance with the historical roots of our institutions and insight into their spirit, or of the many evidences he has given of being imbued to the very heart with our American ideals of economic conditions and of the way they bear upon the masses of the people.”

The four-month confirmation process was as brutal as any the country had ever seen. It also opened the doors for future examinations of judicial nominees, who were soon required to defend themselves in person before the Senate.

The arguments came down to a partisan vote in committee. The full Senate confirmed Brandeis in June 1916 by a vote of 47 to 22.

Brandeis went on to a distinguished career.

But whenever Brandeis spoke in judicial conference, Justice McReynolds was known simply to rise and leave the room. He went so far as to avoid official Court pictures because he did not want to be photographed with a Jew. And when Brandeis retired in 1939, leaving an enviable legacy of decisions behind him, he received the customary laudatory letter of thanks, signed by all of his colleagues.

All except one.

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[Copyright 2013 @ The Alienist’s Compendium]

Death Takes A Holiday (XV)

to wit, a middle-aged peripatetic shrink undertakes the Great American Cross-Country Road Trip with help from little leaguers, German bikers, the King of Rock ‘n Roll, porn stars and an abandoned brothel, a flock of domesticated ducks, the Department of Homeland Security and the West Memphis police, a decommissioned atomic warhead, some dodgy motels… and a strange rider in the back of a 2013 Ford Fusion.




After hundreds upon hundreds of miles of driving across vast open spaces and through urban congestion, we finally crossed the Mississippi River on the Desoto Bridge (I-40) at West Memphis and entered the Blues City. The river looked brown and muddy, but the sky was blue and bright, and the day filled with promise of seeing the Mother Lode of Kitsch.

Memphis looked to have several interesting tourist sites, amongst them the pyramid on Mud Island, the Memphis Belle, Beale Street, Sun Studios, and the old city trolleys. We were, however, on a mission, and only one brief stop in advance could keep us from our appointed destination.

The Grim Reaper and I exited at N. 2d Street and followed it south for just a few blocks, coming to the Kooky Canuck Burger Emporium at the righthand corner of N. 2d and Union Avenue. We easily parked in front of the Kook – there wasn’t much foot or auto traffic despite being a weekday downtown – as what we really wanted was just across the street.

The present-day iteration of the Peabody Hotel was built in 1925 after its namesake, opened just after the Civil War, had burned to the ground 18 months earlier. The famous Italian Renaissance edifice is known to generations of southerners and Memphians alike, and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places; sadly, it filed for bankruptcy in 1965. The building went through several subsequent corporate owners (e.g., Sheraton Hotels International) and a $25M renovation. Back in business, it now serves as a cornerstone and catalyst for downtown Memphis’ revival (the cartoonish Canuck across the street notwithstanding).

As elegant as are the accommodations, and as famous as have been some of its visitors (e.g., Tommy Dorsey, the Andrews Sisters, several U.S. Presidents), the Peabody is inarguably best known for its famous marching ducks. Although some claim the tradition of keeping mallards in the lobby fountain dates to the 1870s, it is more likely a residual of Frank Shutt’s hobby. Shutt, you see, was the general manager in the early 1930s, and an avid duck hunter. Every day that he wasn’t working, he was hunting. Some of his friends thought it would be funny to put a few of Shutt’s favorite quarry in the fountain to make his time at work seem less like, well, work. This was at the height of the Great Depression, and as the guests staying in the hotel at the time thought it was amusing to see ducks swimming in the fountain, Shutt perceived that what had started as a joke might actually be a good marketing ploy. A bellman was appointed to be Duckmaster, and he trained the ducks to waddle each morning from the elevators to their water-filled marble home on the main floor, and then back again each evening (their permanent quarters being up on the roof).

To this day, as they walk along the red carpet, Sousa’s King Cotton March is played overhead to the delight of bystanders.

Here’s a brief video that shows the daily ritual.

Much as celebrities are given the key to a grateful city, those famous who come through town are often anointed as Duckmaster for the Day; honorees have included Paula Deen, Joan Collins, Molly Ringwald, Kevin Bacon, Peter Frampton, Emeril Lagasse, the late Patrick Swayze, Oprah Winfrey, and Queen Noor of Jordan.

Watching the ducks is actually a bit of an anticlimax; I’d be more impressed if the ducks called for the elevator while still on the roof and pushed the ‘L’ button themselves, instead of being herded by an employee. But since it’s cultural history, it was fun to see once. Scratch another item off the bucket list.

I headed back to the car, checked on Boney, still covered in the back seat, and drove down state route 51, the name of which soon changes. In less than nine miles, we entered the Whitehaven district and what looks like any other non-descript commercial avenue in America. Until, to the left, we came upon 3764 Elvis Presley Boulevard.



Like a shining city on a hill, Graceland is a remnant of the time when the area was largely rural, the auto dealers and check-cashing businesses having then yet to arrive. In the spring of 1957, Elvis was completing his second Hollywood movie, Loving You, and his first movie soundtrack album. He had two studio albums and 48 singles already under his belt and two years of nearly nonstop live appearances behind him. The hardworking son of Gladys and Vernon Presley was already his family’s primary breadwinner by then, and looking, at the tender age of 22, to purchase them a new home. With a $1,000 cash deposit against a sale price of $102,500, Elvis agreed to purchase Graceland on 19 March 1957. Officially, Graceland was where Elvis, his parents and his grandmother Minnie Mae lived, but unofficially, it was also the home/ hotel/ clubhouse for the entire ‘Memphis Mafia,’ the ever-changing cast of childhood friends and sycophants who surrounded and often drew salaries from Elvis.

Today, Graceland – open to the public since 1982 and, like the Peabody Hotel, on the National Register of Historic Places – is preserved exactly as Elvis left it. It is the second-most visited residence in America, behind only 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, and sometimes tied with the Biltmore Estate.

My calcified friend and I arrived and parked in the lot for visitors across the street. Covering the Bonemeister with my jacket once again, I went inside the visitors’ center to purchase a ticket. The lady behind the desk asked if I were military or law enforcement. I flashed my (very handy) DPS badge and got a 20% discount. I boarded the shuttle, and soon the pre-recorded tour guide was providing information as the vehicle lurched across the street and up a gentle hill to the front door.

Graceland is a large lovely structure, but not one so massive or ostentatious that it wouldn’t fit in many high-income residential gated communities today. What sets it apart is not the building itself – tan limestone, white columned portico with circular drive, twenty three rooms including eight bedrooms, commanding a gentle elevation – but the size of the lot, at almost 14 acres. Originally part of a working farm, the land was owned in the 1920s by S.C. Toof, a wealthy Memphian businessman. When he died, his daughter Grace inherited the mostly undeveloped fields which her father had named after her. Before long, she gifted the land to her niece, Ruth Moore, and it was Moore and her husband who in 1940 built the present Colonial Revival manse.

After he purchased the then-seventeen year old structure, Elvis undertook renovations to suit his somewhat quirky tastes. The wrought iron gate at the front, shaped like a book of sheet music with notes worked into the design, is now as famous as is the property itself. The impressively 1970s-tacky Jungle Room is now world-famous. Still other improvements – the Meditation Garden out back where Elvis and members of his immediate family are now buried – are less immediately recognizable to all but obsessed devotees.

Walking through the house, I was struck immediately by the size of the rooms. They’re not big. The house’s floor plan may have a large footprint, but the corridors are narrow and the rooms cramped, in keeping with the age of its original construction. And while the interior of the abode has been slammed by critics – called alternately “fit for a brothel,” “nothing worth a dime,” “gaudy and garish,” and my fav, “tacky cast-off white trash haute couture” – I found it fascinating as a time capsule from an era in which shag carpeting, stained-glass peacocks, and floor-to-ceiling mirrors were still considered by some to be the height of fashion and opulent living.

The second floor of the residence is off-limits to tourists, though it should be noted that the bathroom in which Elvis expired is located directly overhead as one stands in the front entranceway.

After traversing the kitchen, the basement, and the Jungle Room, one exits to the backyard and passes Elvis’ shooting range (a converted smokehouse), the horse stable and grazing field, the pool, and the racquetball court, the latter which contains the so-called trophy room (constructed to house Elvis’ awards, memorabilia, and now a number of his sequined and gold lame suits and Priscilla’s wedding dress).

For those who are not Elvis’d-out by this point, taking the shuttle back across the street will allow them to see the King’s car collection (including his pink Cadillac) and both of his private jets, the Lisa Marie (a Convair 880) and the Hound Dog II (a Lockheed JetStar).

Not bad for a poor kid from the wrong side of the tracks who earned a ‘C’ and was told he had “no aptitude for singing” by his 9th grade teacher at Memphis’ Humes High School.

Still, visiting Ground Zero of American Pop Culture, as interesting as it is, left me with my own blues: sadness for premature loss, sadness for talent cut short, and most of all, sadness at how the American Dream can morph into a grotesque and garish parody of success, with all of the toadies and faux-friends that sudden wealth and fame always seem to generate.

Back at the car, Creaky was still covered up in the back seat, no worse for the wear. We had to hit the road, as there was still a long drive – the final leg of the trip – yet ahead of us.

[to be continued…]

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[Copyright 2013 @ The Alienist’s Compendium]

Our Shrinking World

Technology really is amazing, and the world, both socially and commercially, shrinks daily because of its effects, intended and otherwise.

A while back, I fell heir to a wonderful old camera. It wasn’t just any camera. It was a full-plate American daguerreian camera from the mid 1850s. Only a few in this size and of this age are know to still exist.

the camera

the camera

Louis-Jacques-Mande Daguerre (1787-1851) was a French artist who is recognized for developing the photographic process that bears his name. Daguerreotypes – not tintypes, which are far more common and date later in the century – were originally created using a copper plate that had been immersed in an electrolic silver bath. After the silver was applied, the plate was exposed to iodine and bromine to sensitize it, and then was polished to mirror-like quality. Once exposed, taking minutes not milliseconds, the plate was treated with mercury, sodium thiosulfate, and gold chloride to produce a silver-mercury amalgam on the mirrored surface, and thus a visible image – primitive and toxic, but effective.

My camera was made by W.H. Lewis in New York; the lens’ serial number indicated a manufacture date of 1857, making it one of the latter models employing this technology before daguerreotypy went obsolete.

As lovely and unique as was the camera, it was BIG, delicate, and difficult to store or display.

Plus, I needed the funds for servicing other debts. I made the decision to sell it.

Something this unique wasn’t going to sell by placing an ad in the local paper next to the high school sports section. Likewise, it was too large and fragile to mail to an auction house in New England or Manhattan, and I didn’t have the time to drive it all the way up there. So, eBay became my avenue for de-accession.

[don’t laugh – there are some really good items on eBay, this being one of them, but you need to have the patience to sort the wheat from the chaff]

I posted the camera as a ‘buy it now,’ with the disclaimer – in bold letters prominently displayed – that the buyer would have to pick it up. I wasn’t about to risk shipping. I was confident, though, that even with this stipulation, those who appreciate this sort of rarity would come out of the woodwork, and at least one would offer to make the journey to fetch a new treasured possession.

Little did I know just how far that one might journey.

Once it appeared on eBay, I rec’d a number of interested inquiries in the first few days.

“That’s an amazing camera! I’m interested. Will you ship to Idaho?”

“That’s a great camera! I’m interested. Will you ship to New York?”

“That’s an awesome camera! I’m interested. Will you ship to Arizona?”

“That’s a fantastic camera! I’m interested. Will you ship to Ohio?”

No. No. No. And No.

But before I could further lament the dumbing-down of America – “what part of ‘local pick-up only’ don’t you understand?!” – I receive an automated notice from eBay that the item had sold AND that I had already been paid!

Talk about speedy! I went to the website to find the buyer’s contact information so we could arrange to connect here in North Carolina.

It was then that I saw that the buyer lives in Seoul, South Korea!

Exasperated, I wrote to the buyer to explain, once again, that ‘local pick-up only’ meant just that!

To my utter amazement, he wrote back and said he was going to fly to the US to pick it up himself! I would have thought that this was an internet scam, except the full purchase price had already been deposited into my account, free and clear.

It turns out that the buyer was none other than Professor Lee Juyong, a renowned international artist and academician. His works – which span daguerreotypy to holographic images – are exhibited currently at the Pyo Galleries in Seoul, Beijing, and Los Angeles. He has also exhibited in the Phillipines


as well as Nepal, Taiwan, Japan, India, and Austria.

When executing works using archaic technology – daguerreotypes, for example – Professor Lee uses the actual tools and chemicals of the era. Here, for example, is a haunting image of a young woman, done by daguerreotypy and appearing to be from the mid-19thc, but instead dating from only a few months ago. That’s why he wanted my camera; he actually intends to USE it!

an example of Lee's work

an example of Lee’s work

His exhibit at the National Museum of Korea, entitled ‘Memory Of The Moment,’ opened last September, and he told me that he wants to do some restoration to the bellows of the camera, and then display it there.

Intrigued, and amazed at the distance that Juyong was willing to travel, I agreed to meet him in DC to deliver the camera (I think a trans-Pacific journey negates strict adherence to the ‘local pick-up only’ stipulation)

The day of his arrival dawned, and I headed off for DC, camera boxed but not sealed (as I knew that he’d need to show it to customs and security). I worried that there would be some travel glitch at the last minute. But there wasn’t… we found each other right outside of the National Gallery of Art on the Mall. Total strangers from 10,000 miles apart, we shook hands, took a quick selfie, and I handed over the box. He graciously thanked me and gave me a copy of his exhibition book.

And then he was gone. And my erstwhile camera is now in a museum exhibit in Seoul.

Thanks, Pierre Omidyar!

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[Copyright 2013 @ The Alienist’s Compendium]

An Uncomfortable Situation

TIME magazine’s cover story this week is entitled, ‘What I Learned From My $190,000 Open-Heart Surgery.’ It is a thought-provoking op-ed piece on how we might contain medical costs by having large medical centers run their own insurance networks, thus cutting out the commercial middlemen. U.S. healthcare reform is a thorny and complex topic that has eluded sweeping change for over half a century (Obamacare, regardless of what you think of it, is really only a few steps in that direction). Certainly, I cannot add much to the canon of what has already been composed on the topic; instead, I recently had a (fleetingly) uncomfortable experience of my own, one that I had not encountered before – but one with which many Americans have lived daily and seemingly permanently. That is why I feel the need now to put (cyber) pen to paper.

Like the author of the TIME article, I too have had an open-heart procedure in 2012, though mine ‘only’ cost $165,000 – an ungodly amount for all but the uber-wealthy or fully insured. I have been fortunate, however, that ever since I finished college and fell off my parents’ insurance, I’ve had good healthcare coverage of my own. I’ve never been without a job for more than a weekend (i.e., finishing one on a Friday and starting the next one the following Monday). COBRA (the federal law that mandates insurance access for eligible workers after leaving employment) is something with which I’ve never had to deal. Being without full-time benefits is utterly foreign to me… which is fortunate as I’ve suffered more than one ailment that needed expensive treatment in the past.

Recently, however, I left my position as Director of Mental Health Services for the Department of Public Safety, which I had held since 2006, and moved into another professional role. My last day as Director was in early December, and therefore my old health policy was paid through that month. The start date for my new position was at the end of December, leading me to believe that my insurance coverage would be seamless.

I arrived for orientation on 29 December, only to find that there was a waiting period of one pay-cycle (i.e., two weeks) before healthcare coverage under my new employer’s plan would become effective. And there wasn’t then enough time to get gap coverage through COBRA.

There I was – with a complicated personal medical history stretching back to the 1980s – soon to be without any health insurance at all!

At the stroke of midnight on 31 December/ 1 January, rather than toasting the upcoming New Year, my first thought was “I just lapsed.”

I didn’t mention this to my family, not wanting to concern them when nothing could be done. And I wasn’t able to hide inside the house under a blanket and wait for the calendar to set me free. But suddenly, I perceived risks everywhere. Traffic seemed increasingly chaotic, with individual drivers most reckless. That previously solid ladder that I use almost every weekend? It felt wobbly as I climbed. I’m not hypochondriacal, but my back started to hurt when I picked up boxes. I stumbled over curbs more than ever. Black ice abounded. Everyone was wheezing and coughing around me, spewing infectious agents from floor to ceiling. I watched the hours and days go by. I could see the finish line, and nothing bad had happened. Yet.

But for many, there has been no finish line, and each day/ week/ month/ year is greeted with the uncertainty of bankruptcy and financial ruin should medical fate so dictate.

I went to bed last night feeling as if I had dodged a bullet. I awoke at 0200 and rolled over, smiling because my insurance had again taken effect at one-minute after midnight as I slumbered.

I try to keep the Alienist apolitical. But as a physician and a dual US-Canadian citizen – yes, I hail from that awful socialized country to the north – I cannot help but express what seems self-evident, even though there are still many here who oppose what is otherwise obvious. The US cannot continue as a stable advanced nation in its current trajectory of gross societal inequalities, be they in terms of income, of life aspirations, of access to education… or of health maintenance. And it’s foolhardy to presume that every one of us is not already paying for the uninsured anyway, be it through increased prices for our own services, or through taxes to fund universal coverage.

I was lucky. I am lucky. But why can’t we all be honest and compassionate, and do what needs to be done, without the political drama and obfuscations?

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[Copyright 2013 @ The Alienist’s Compendium]

The Shepheard’s Hotel

Originally called the Hotel des Anglais upon opening in the early 1840s, the premiere inn of Cairo, Egypt, had been renamed the Shepheard’s Hotel after its then-owner, Englishman Samuel Shepheard, by the 1860s. It was famed for its grandeur and opulence, though a frequent complaint – one of its very few – was that its cuisine “le[ft] much to be desired.” Extensively renovated in 1891, 1899, 1904, 1909 and 1927, it survived both WWI and WWII – during the former, it served as the HQ of the British Near-East Command, while during the latter, it housed offices of the U.S. State Department and OSS, foreign press wire services, the Greek government-in-exile, and Gen’l Bernard Montgomery’s staff.

Many famous figures, including Lawrence of Arabia and Lord Kitchener, were frequent guests.

Shepheard's Hotel, c1925

Shepheard’s Hotel, c1925

An American official wrote this of the Shepheard’s after his visit in late 1943: “‘Famous’ is not adequate to describe all the unique wonders of the hotel. Its large front terraces where everyone met during the day for tea or cocktails faced the busiest street in Cairo, and it was oft-said that if you stayed on the terrace long enough you were bound to meet someone you knew. In the back of the hotel there was a beautiful flower garden filled with roses and exotic plants. Next to the garden, the Shepheard’s had its own little zoo. Of course, there was a camel or two, and several young Arabian horses… but the zoo director’s favorite animals were his gazelles. He had at least twelve of them and he claimed that they were the most elegant and graceful on earth. These gazelles were quite tame and a delight to children who petted and played with them…. [Also] outside your room’s door [or just down the hall] were [stationed attendants which] the British called the ‘Nubian slaves.’ They weren’t slaves at all, but usually very large [liveried] Africans [who performed as butlers and] gave you confidence in the security of the hotel. My Nubian… was named Ulysses and I never did find out how he got that name.”

[sidebar I: the Shepheard’s check-room was renowned for keeping personal items long after guests had left, assuming they’d come back eventually to retrieve. One tale, apparently true, is that Winston Churchill left a small package there in 1918, and retrieved it, dusty but unopened, in 1943]

[sidebar II: there was also the famous hotel bar, just off the lobby, at which was reportedly invented the S&B cocktail, favored by combat aircrews on leave. ‘S’ and ‘B’ purportedly stood for ‘Suffering Bastard,’ and it was claimed that three of the brandy-based drinks would make you forget entirely about the war and not give a damn about anything]

[sidebar III: the Grand Hotel des Bains on the Lido in Venice, standing in for the Shepheard’s, was the backdrop for at least one scene in The English Patient (1996) – this because the two hotels are of similar age and appearance]

Another visitor to the Shepheard’s, arguably less famous, was my father, then a captain and flight surgeon in the 34th bomb squadron, 17th bomb group, 15th Air Force. Dad was never much of a talker, so the details are long lost. But while stationed in either Tunisia or Sardinia with the USAAF, he was given the opportunity to go on R&R in Cairo, and he accordingly stayed at the Shepheard’s – room no. 61, to be exact.





I know the room number because he ‘forgot’ to return the room key when he checked out. Though the key itself is long lost, I still have its heavy brass fob. I’ve searched the Internet high and low, but have been unable to find anything similar. Given that the hotel and all of its contents were burned to the ground in anti-British riots in 1952, I suspect this fob may be one of few, if any others, extant today.

And no word if Dad had an S&B while a guest.

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[Copyright 2013 @ The Alienist’s Compendium]

Dryden’s Rule, and the Grammar Nazis

Many writers in Restoration-era England felt that they had vastly improved the quality of domestic literature over that of their Tudor and Elizabethan forebears. The 17th century poet John Dryden opined, “the language, wit, and conversation of our age are improved and refined above the last… the absurdities which those poets [e.g. Shakespeare] committed [were due to] the want of education and learning.”

The education to which Dryden referred included a mastery of Latin, a language which he and his peers revered.

In Latin, one cannot end a sentence with a preposition.

Dryden, et al., said that it shouldn’t be allowed in English either.

Given his influence in learned circles, many listened to Dryden, including Bishop Robert Lowth, a fellow of the Royal Society of London and author of A Short Introduction to English Grammar (1762). An extremely popular textbook on the subject, Short Introduction included what came to be known as “Dryden’s Rule,” although even Lowth acknowledged that ending a sentence with a preposition was not only dominant “in common conversation [but also that it] suits very well with the familiar style in writing.”

Nonetheless, since Lowth, like Dryden, felt that “placing the preposition before the relative is more graceful,” and since those two literary giants were in favor of it, many adopted the style. By the dawn of the 20th century, it had taken on the characteristics of an inviolable rule, especially amongst elementary and high school teachers. And Grammar Nazis.

Not everyone bought into Dryden’s Rule, however. When Henry Fowler published A Dictionary of Modern English Usage (1926), he called Dryden’s Rule “a cherished superstition.”

I confess that, personally, I cringe when I see a preposition ending a sentence, and while almost all of us do it in our spoken communications, I still never allow a preposition to end a sentence in my writings – old habits die way too hard. But to highlight the ridiculousness of always adhering to this structure, I quote the late great Winston Churchill, hardly a slouch himself when employing the Queen’s English. He is quoted as having said, when asked about Dryden’s Rule, that “this is exactly the sort of English up with which I will not put.”

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[Copyright 2013 @ The Alienist’s Compendium]

Poltergeist (And Dog) Needed

Anyone who has sat around a campfire with scouts, played with a Ouija board, or listened to ghost stories in the company of impressionables late at night, knows what can overtake even the most seemingly rational of beings.

“What was that noise?!” “Did you hear that?!” “I saw something!” “Arrgghh!”

Psychiatrists call this an illusory effect.

A delusion, you see, is a belief held with unshakeable conviction despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. It is a symptom often seen along the psychotic-spectrum of mental disorders. An example is the mindset experienced by the person who is convinced that the FBI is constantly following her, despite not having a criminal record or any history of actually breaking the law or consorting with real live scofflaws.

A hallucination, another psychotic symptom, is a waking perception in the absence of actual external stimuli, one that is nevertheless perceived by the sufferer as real. An example is that experienced by the person who hears voices of those not physically present and in the absence of any other source of such a sound, and which is undetectable by others in the vicinity.

An illusion, on the other hand, is a distorted sensory perception, but not one that is fulminantly psychotic. Illusions warp reality, but arise from actual environmental stimuli, and are commonly experienced by most if not all of humanity without the imprimatur of any mental pathology.

Enter the group-think regarding ghosts referenced above, in which those present ‘feed’ off one another’s misperceptions and magnify the entire situation. A branch knocking against the window, noisy water pipes, shadows cast by the moon – all the stuff of illusions.

Which brings me to my desired experiment.

When I was living in Sullivan Co, Tennessee, years ago, there was an old stage coach tavern nearby that had been converted into a trendy restaurant in the historic part of town. The waiters at the eatery often said that closing the establishment late at night was spooky because of odd sensations that most, if not all, of them had felt. The tavern had been used as a hospital during the Civil War (and the attic contained still-visible painted numbers on the walls that corresponded to patient beds, long since removed). It is not known if some of the soldiers who expired during the conflict were buried on the property. Either way, given the documented history and the tendency of old buildings to creak anyway, it wasn’t difficult to understand how such illusory effects infected everyone who worked in that old manse after dark.

I moved away from the area before I had a chance to meet the proprietor. But had I been fortunate, I would have asked if he would allow me to stay overnight in the building, alone.

Well, alone… except for a very large dog (and my stainless steel .357 Ruger snubnose revolver – I realize that lead is of no use against spirits of another dimension, though arguably of use against ne’er do wells of this dimension.)

Dogs, as far as we know, not only have more sharpened sensory abilities than do humans, but they aren’t affected by the suggestible hysteria of otherworldly visitation. A dog will react to what its senses actually perceive, but otherwise will sleep contentedly while its master lies awake hearing the ‘ghost noises’ that every passing breeze renders audible in the rafters.

Seriously, I would like to do this experiment. I will leave the heat at home, but will need Cerebus to accompany me. If anyone out there knows of such a venue, please contact me at vadocdoc@aol.com and we’ll discuss.

[Have an idea for a post topic? Want to be considered for a guest-author slot? Or better, perhaps you’d like to become a day-sponsor of this blog, and reach thousands of subscribers and Facebook fans? If so, please contact the Alienist at vadocdoc@outlook.com]

[Copyright 2013 @ The Alienist’s Compendium]

Auld Lang Syne

A common misperception is that Robert Burns’ Auld Lang Syne has been part and parcel of New Years’ celebrations since long before his death in 1796.

Sorry to deflate you, but Burns didn’t compose it, and its only been a ‘tradition’ since the 1930s.

You see, the euphony actually has nothing do to with a new year. Roughly translated from the Gaelic as “Times Gone By,” what we know as Auld Lang Syne is simply a soulful lament remembering old friends. Burns did write down the words in 1788 for the musical museum and archives in Edinburgh, but he stated at the time that, “this… song, a song of the olden times… which has never been in print nor even in manuscript until I took it down from an old man’s singing, is [of value] enough to recommend [it].” We’re not even certain of the original tune carried by the old man; Burns suggested that the lyrics he captured would go well with the truly ancient Scottish strain, Can Ye Labour Lea, the one we recognize as Auld Lang Syne today.

Mr New Year's Eve

Mr New Year’s Eve

The not-so-ancient New Years’ Auld Lang Syne tradition actually started with Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadian Band. They played the Roosevelt Hotel in NYC on 31 December 1929, a gig which was radio-broadcast by both CBS and NBC. As midnight approached, Lombardo decided to play Can Ye Labour Lea at the stroke of 12:00, though no words accompanied his performance. It was a haunting and beautiful melody with which Lombardo was familiar from many Scottish immigrants in Ontario, again without any specific New Years’ connotations.

Lombardo – a rock star of his age, known as “Mr New Year’s Eve” at the time but little know by younger generations today – was indeed influential. His rendition was a huge hit. The Royal Canadians played Can Ye Labour Lea, then referenced as Old Lang Syne, every New Year’s at midnight from 1930 until Lombardo’s death in 1977.

By then it had become a staple, outliving its two famous patrons, and remains so to this day.

[Have an idea for a post topic? Want to be considered for a guest-author slot? Or better, perhaps you’d like to become a day-sponsor of this blog, and reach thousands of subscribers and Facebook fans? If so, please contact the Alienist at vadocdoc@outlook.com]

[Copyright 2013 @ The Alienist’s Compendium]

2014 – The Year In Review

The Alienists takes this opportunity to thank his loyal readership, and to share some interesting stats from the year gone by.

Unique individual website views in 2014 totaled 9716, more than double the 4601 who visited the site in 2013. As a point of comparison, last year’s Internet traffic represents the equivalent of four sold-out shows at the Sydney Opera House.

The busiest day of 2014 for The Alienist was 6 July, with 154 visits to my comments on direct-to-consumer Rx advertising and the use of placebos. See it at http://alienistscompendium.com/vault-bane-professional-existence/.

The other top-performing posts included those of 1 January, A Medieval Quarrel http://alienistscompendium.com/a-medieval-quarrel/; 3 February, Hybristophilia http://alienistscompendium.com/hybristophilia/; 2 April, Mummia http://alienistscompendium.com/mummia/; and the still-unfinished year-long Death Takes A Holiday saga, the first installment being at http://alienistscompendium.com/death-takes-a-holiday-i/.

[resolution to self for 2015: really must complete that series soon…]

Most amazingly, in 2014 The Alienist had viewers from 102 countries (!!), up from ‘only’ 26 countries in 2013. The USA was the most common source of visits, but the UK and Canada were not far behind.

And luckily, although I posted about the late Kim Jong Il on 22 October in Modern Ozymandias, http://alienistscompendium.com/medical-records-dept-modern-ozymandias/, his son’s legions of hackers were too busy attacking Sony Pictures to pay much attention to me.

Happy New Year!

[Have an idea for a post topic? Want to be considered for a guest-author slot? Or better, perhaps you’d like to become a day-sponsor of this blog, and reach thousands of subscribers and Facebook fans? If so, please contact the Alienist at vadocdoc@outlook.com]

[Copyright 2013 @ The Alienist’s Compendium]