Can You Trust Memory

Français : Woody Allen au festival de Cannes.

Français : Woody Allen au festival de Cannes. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Believe the Survivors or the Science?
What the science of memory can teach
us about the Dylan Farrow/Woody Allen case

by Carol Tavris

Like many others, I read the passionate and polarized commentary that followed Dylan Farrow’s letter (February 1, 2014)
accusing Woody Allen of having sexually abused her in the attic 21 years ago, when she was 7. As is always the case with sensational charges of
child sexual abuse, most people leap to conclusions:
“Of course he did it”; “he couldn’t possibly have done it.”

I have no idea what happened that day so long ago, and neither do you. But
science and skepticism can, perhaps, help us ask the right questions and avoid emotional reasoning. For example, it’s one thing to be sympathetic to Dylan’s
account, but quite another to base one’s support mindlessly on the criterion of “believe all claims of abuse.” One blogger put it bluntly: “One of the bright, glaring, non-negotiable truths I have learned, though, is to believe survivors. Believe them, even if they don’t remember everything. Believe them, even if they remember almost nothing. Believe them, even if the person they say raped them seems like the nicest
person in the world to you. Believe them, even if it shatters your whole world to do so. Believe them, even if they don’t want to share details, or press charges, or ever talk about it again. Believe them, even if their story sounds implausible to you.”

That kind of argument makes my heart sink. Believe the children in the
Los Angeles McMartin preschool case, who claimed their teachers were molesting them in (nonexistent) underground tunnels and taking them on plane trips (on a preschool teacher’s salary?).
Believe the children in New Jersey, who accused their daycare teacher Kelly Michaels of, among other things, licking peanut butter off children’s genitals, making the children drink her urine and eat her feces, and raping the children with knives, forks, and toys, although no adult noticed and no child had symptoms? Believe the women who, after years of therapy, hypnosis and “truth serum,”
claimed that their fathers had raped them every day for 16 years only they forgot until now? Continue reading

Secrets of the Vatican


Vatican City

Vatican City (Photo credit: @Doug88888)

Inside the Closed World of the Vatican: Live Chat Wed 2:30 pm ET

Join us for a live chat about “Secrets of the Vatican” with filmmaker Antony Thomas, co-producer Jason Berry and guest questioner Elizabeth Dias from TIME Magazine. You can leave a question now.

If you missed Frontline last night you can watch the program here.

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Early morning on Sunday. I was going through some old papers while watching Canada win the gold medal in hockey. Both were exciting.

argueI found this letter tucked away in an old folder, written by me some 44 years ago, to my friend and graduate advisor, Professor Douwe Stuurman. If it has any interest to others at all, it would be about how we change over time. It is difficult for me to imagine writing this letter today.

November 30, 1970
Professor Douwe Stuurman, Department of English,
University of California

Dear Douwe:
I remember the advice you gave us as graduate students:
“Never, under any circumstances, be the chairman of an English Department.”
But like most advice I thought it applied to someone else. Sad. We recently had an election and I find myself in that position. Already I regret accepting the job. Your advice was sound. Somehow English teachers are just great people when they are alone but get them in a group, call the group a department and you get chaos. Everyone talks too much. Everyone has the corner on truth. Everyone needs so much ego massage. Obstructionist. Prima donna. Constant power struggles. Pre¬-meeting meetings. Bitching. It seems that we all have an image of individuality but not a realization of cooperation and interplay. Anyway, we’ll see how long I last. Any more advice? Continue reading

Sunday’s Sermon


Science and Technology Knowledge Quiz

It may seem odd to some to have a quiz on Sunday morning! Shouldn’t we be singing hymns instead of thinking??

But the topic of the quiz from the Pew Research Center is a very basic knowledge of science. And whether you believe that science and religion are irreconcilable or not it is important to have a bit of scientific knowledge.

Take our Science and Technology Knowledge Quiz to find out if you are more science-savvy than the average American.

Take the Quiz >

And after the quiz – now, a treat, dear congregants!

RGRichard Garnett C.B. was a scholar, librarian, biographer and poet. He was son of Richard Garnett, an author, philologist and assistant keeper of printed books in the British Museum.

Listen to an excellent story of his, The Demon Pope. (mp3 format)

Waste Land [poetry not politics!]

Just received a note from a former student who asked about me and T. S. Eliot; she wrote:

I just talked about you on the LBST Forum newsgroup, so I thought I should give you a heads up!

I mentioned your name and that you changed your majors after seeing Eliot read the poem.

I wonder, what was it about the poem or its author, that made you decide to switch your major from math to english?

I thought it was a strange poem and I thought about switching my major back to philosophy!!!!

My answer:

Actually it wasn’t “The Waste Land” that converted me; it was “The Hollow Men“. As it turned out I was a freshman Engineering student taking a required English course at the University of Texas in Arlington, Texas when T. S. Eliot came to SMU for a reading. I had never been to a poetry reading before. I went because we were reading him in my English class.

The event was in a metal Quonset Hut on the campus at SMU. It was packed. Eliot read several poems. As he started on “The Hollow Men” it started to rain. The rain on the metal roof, the monotonous voice of the poet; they seemed together to created a magical moment and my heart and mind opened to the words of that poem. “We are the hallow men…”

The next day I changed from Engineering to English. It was my one conversion experience until later when I went on to study philosophy. As I would write later, “I have studied in many disciplines and will offer a private report of what it is that we are supposed to be teaching: from literature we learn point of view and how to imagine being in another’s shoes, from mathematics we learn order and the beauty of coherence, and from philosophy we learn humility, or the awareness of limits – we do not know everything.”

My history with “The Waste Land” includes no conversion moments, but I do have the variorum edition of the poem with all of Ezra Pound‘s suggestions and criticisms. The one I always remember is Pound’s comment in the margin that “In order to parody Pope you have to write better than him. You can’t; so don’t.”

Good advice!

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Human Nature and War

alphaAfter reading the recent series by justinthecanuck on human nature and evolutionary forces, my friend, the Reverend Doctor John Alexie Crane, was prompted to reply.

Lex Crane is retired now but is still writing and thinking about the issues that he has been writing and thinking about since his first degree was awarded him after WWII, where he served as an artillery expert in Europe, and witnessed the ravages of war first hand. He has been a friend and mentor for 50 years now and I remember warmly the discussions we had in his office in the Unitarian Church in Santa Barbara. He also authored the foreword to my first book, Reading the Bible. In what follows Lex applies the lessons of evolutionary psychology and philosophy to a real and present danger.

Humanity at Hazard: The Essential Causes of War

by Lex Crane

The intelligence which has converted the brother of the wolf into the faithful guardian of the flock ought to be able to do something towards curbing the instincts of savagery in civilized men. – Thomas Henry Huxley

I. War in the World

The Japanese people attacked the US at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii in late 1941, led by a former general who had become their powerful prime minister, Hideki Tojo. This surprise air attack sank most of our Pacific fleet.

Another powerful (though more benevolent) male, President Franklin Roosevelt, declared war on Japan. Japan was an ally of Germany, which was led by still another forceful male, Adolf Hitler. The result was that our nation was then engaged in the second world war of the 20th century.

II. Human Potential

Given the current state of the world – physical, social, and political – it appears humanity may well be headed for significantly serious trouble. While there are grounds for hope, unless we soon take creative action it’s possible we may destroy ourselves. Many people alive today understand the problem. They recognize the disquieting evidence.

First, for example, we have tried repeatedly to put an end to warfare among us, and failed repeatedly. Second, we have developed weapons of mass destruction (chemical, biological, and nuclear), weapons so strikingly lethal that, in the event of another world war, we could severely cripple, if not end, human life on earth. Third, as a side effect of our intellectual, scientific, and technological genius, we have heavily polluted the environment that supports our lives – land, rivers, sea, and air. This has led in turn to a clearly evident warming of the planet. Fourth, the population of the world is increasing steadily, pushing the carrying capacity of the earth toward its lim-its. The water problem around the world is an early sign.

If all the evidence now available has not convinced everyone of the validity of these assertions, it is not likely that any additional argument would change their minds. As a result, the validity of the evidence will be taken for granted here.

III. The Most Urgent Problem

Human beings are extremely creative at making weapons and war, but they are persistently inept at achieving lasting peace. Why is this? It is the aim of this paper to find an answer or answers to this puzzling question.

Many individuals see religion as the cause of most wars. This appeared to be the case between the 4th and 17th centuries when religion dominated Western thought. But even then, no religious war began until a powerful leader emerged to organize and focus the energies of the believers. The dynamic Pope Urban II, for example, launched the first Christian Crusade in 1095. He also organized the Roman Curia to help run the Church, and it still exists today.

However, religion was in no way a cause of World Wars I and II. The 21st century terrorist attacks on the West by Muslim fundamentalists did not begin until a powerful leader, Osama bin Laden, emerged to marshal believers into a fighting force. Which is to say, it is not religion that causes wars – religion is incidental – rather, it is the highly aggressive leaders who take the initiative to lead believers into battle.

Continue reading

Sunday’s Sermon: David Simon

David Simon on America as a Horror Show

“The Wire” is, simply put, one of the greatest TV series ever. And its creator has become one of the angriest writers in America. First, if you haven’t already, watch his speech from Australia.

There are two Americas. In one, bankers get golden parachutes, insider traders return to society as well-paid consultants, and influence is for sale. In the other, opportunity is scarce and forgiveness scarcer, jail awaits those caught possessing recreational drugs, and cries for help are ignored. Society preaches forgiveness for the rich and retribution for the poor. Entrenched inequality and its companion, poverty, are the dark side of the American dream for a citizenry united by name, but not by rules.


Then a recent interview with Bill Moyers: David Simon on America as a Horror Show.