Salvation Army thrift store receives an unlikely donation reports that a Salvation Army outlet in Houston, Texas, has received an unlikely donation:  six works of art by the surrealist, Salvador Dali.

The Salvation Army is so very, very traditional. Salvador Dali … isn’t.

Here’s a detail from one of the donated works:

Le Jungle Humaine, detail

The donor stipulated that the proceeds of the sale must be used in a program which rehabilitates adults with addictions.

ABC has video online. I got a chuckle out of the shopper saying, “I don’t know what is the meaning for this.”

Tradition and transformation

“a practice or worldview handed down from past generations.”

“a significant change in form or condition: e.g., an egg changing into an animal; a larva changing into an insect” — implying a decisive break with the past.

The new name of this blog, “Tradition & Transformation”, is an oxymoron. It would seem impossible to preserve the past and simultaneously cast it aside. And yet, it happens all the time.

There’s no such thing as an idea that arises ex nihilo:

The Latin phrase ex nihilo means “out of nothing”. It often appears in conjunction with the concept of creation, as in creatio ex nihilo, meaning “creation out of nothing” — chiefly in in philosophical or theological contexts, but also occurs in other fields.

In theology, the common phrase creatio ex nihilo (“creation out of nothing”), contrasts with creatio ex materia (creation out of some pre-existent, eternal matter) and with creatio ex deo (creation out of the being of God).

The phrase ‘ex nihilo’ also appears in the classical philosophical formulation ex nihilo nihil fit, which means “Out of nothing, nothing comes”, and which was considered a proof of the existence of God.

Ex nihilo when used outside of a religious/metaphysical context also refers to something coming from nothing. For example, in a conversation, one might raise a topic “ex nihilo” if it bears no relation to the previous topic of discussion.

“Out of nothing, nothing comes”. Which is to say, every thing arises from some earlier thing; every “new” idea arises from existing ideas. At one and the same time, we have tradition (existing ideas) and transformation (the “new” idea). The new idea decisively breaks with the past; yet that very past provided the raw materials which gave birth to it.

We even have a popular expression which captures this paradoxical human reality: “the same, only different”.

The principle applies in the realm of art, religion, science — every aspect of culture and human society.

I plan to make this principle the organizing motif of my blog from now on. Previous posts (since April 2005) have always been about whatever topic was preoccupying me at the moment. (Sometimes the “moment” lasted for a year or more. I am rather obsessive/compulsive in my pursuits.)

When my son Benjamin joined me as co-blogger, our primary focus was on politics. (Indeed, politics had preoccupied me for more than a year before Benjamin’s arrival, during the run-up to Barack Obama’s election.)

With Benjamin’s departure, it seemed like a good time to revisit the purpose and focus of the blog. Goodbye, punditry.

The intersection between tradition and transformation — between pre-modernity and modernity — has fascinated me for a long time. That is the case with respect to Christianity; likewise, with aboriginal culture.

Laurie Houseman-Whitehawk, Circle of Life, 1995Laurie Houseman-Whitehawk, “Circle of Life,” 1995

At least two topics will be regular features on the blog: exploration of scripture texts, and analysis of art (particularly aboriginal art, which is strongly rooted in tradition). But I think the principle has a broader application.

Art, religion, science, and culture: old wine in new wineskins.

That’s the motif! We’ll see what emerges as the months pass. And I suspect I’ll still offer occasional posts on other topics, when I am sufficiently motivated to do so.


Laurie Houseman-Whitehawk’s “Circle of Life” was exhibited in Beyond Tradition, at the Great Plains Art Museum, at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. The exhibit celebrated “Native American artists active in the past 50 years whose work expresses innovations while affirming the continuity of past and present.”

Congressman stabs homeless person, steals shoes

Not really. But Matthew Yglesias plays let’s pretend, in order to make a serious, legitimate point:

I’ve come to be increasingly baffled by the high degree of cynicism and immorality displayed in big-time politics. For example, Senators who genuinely do believe that carbon dioxide emissions are contributing to a global climate crisis seem to think nothing of nevertheless taking actions that endanger the welfare of billions of people on the grounds that acting otherwise would be politically problematic in their state. In other words, they don’t want to do the right thing because their self-interest points them toward doing something bad. But it’s impossible to imagine these same Senators stabbing a homeless person in a dark DC alley to steal his shoes. And what’s more, the entire political class would be (rightly!) shocked and appalled by the specter of a Senator murdering someone for personal gain. Yet it’s actually taken for granted that “my selfish desires dictate that I do x” constitutes a legitimate reason to do the wrong thing on important legislation.


The new MuteMath disc is out! I’m thrilled!

The video for “Spotlight” —

And “The Nerve”, performed live in Tokyo —

MuteMath is the most exciting rock band to arrive on the scene in years. Live, they generate incredible energy!

Mute Math: Armistice

(Re)inventing tradition

Here’s an interesting piece of logic from Ezra Klein :

Things were different then, and because of that, they need to be different now.

The point is, society must adapt its established institutions to keep pace with other changes in the society.

I tend to agree with Klein’s logic, but I don’t think the proposition is inarguable. Maybe some institutions (or values, or principles, or mores) should remain constant, even while other elements of society are in flux.

Klein is commenting on what might be called a Founding Father fetish:

All the founder-worship is a bit bizarre. These guys kept slaves. They whored around. They loved France. They wore wigs. Some of them didn’t even believe in the divinity of Jesus Christ. For all that, they wrote an uncommonly concise and effective constitution, but they were men, not gods. America was not a superpower. It did not have 50 states or 300 million people. There was no Internet or lobbying industry. Senators did not have Twitter accounts. Women could not vote. Facebook did not exist. As such, Sarah Palin could not have been foreseen.

That’s where Klein interjects, “Things were different then, and because of that, they need to be different now.” In particular, Klein questions the arrangements that produce a federal government that is relatively weak (vis-à-vis state governments).

Lots of people think things are fine just as they are. If the federal government is weak, it’s because because the Fathers, in their great wisdom, designed the system that way. Maybe we shouldn’t tinker with the arrangement, even if “things are different now.”

That’s how conservatives tend to think — not least, religious conservatives. Religious conservatives have their own version of the Founding Father fetish, except the Fathers are people like Moses, Jesus, and Mohammed.

In my own, idiosyncratic way, I am a follower of Jesus. Nonetheless, I tend to agree with Klein’s logic. “Things are different now” implies that even if we keep on doing the same things, we’ll get different results.

For example, if I wear a swastika on my sleeve in India, I am making a cosmological statement, and bystanders will approve. If I wear a swastika on my sleeve in Jerusalem, I am making a political statement — and bystanders will be infuriated.

Same swastika, different social context, different result.

Klein’s statement offers a point of entry to a topic I’ve been meaning to discuss on the blog.

Crazy in America

At the grocery checkout today, I snapped this photo of a tabloid cover:

Sarah Palin on the cover of Star

How perfect is that?! Surely Sarah Palin’s core demographic is the same segment of the population that reads supermarket tabloids!

But Palin may laugh last. Tabloid readers are voters — and there are lots of them.

Coincidentally, immediately after my shopping trip, I read a Washington Post article, “In America, Crazy Is a Preexisting Condition ,” written by Rick Perlstein.

The title refers to the healthcare protests (hence “preexisting condition” ). Perlstein argues that the craziness we’re seeing now is a perennial phenomenon in America. Actually, not quite perennial:  “the crazy tree blooms in every moment of liberal ascendancy”.

Perlstein gives a series of illustrations of his thesis. Here’s a sample:

My personal favorite? The federal government expanded mental health services in the Kennedy era, and one bill provided for a new facility in Alaska. One of the most widely listened-to right-wing radio programs in the country, hosted by a former FBI agent, had millions of Americans believing it was being built to intern political dissidents, just like in the Soviet Union.

So, crazier then, or crazier now? Actually, the similarities across decades are uncanny.


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