May 7, 2022

1. Standing Stones

I was walking in a Conservation Area in Smithfield, Rhode Island, and I came across this stone:

I believe it’s a “standing stone,” erected by Indians. Like the Indian structures I discussed before, it seems to have kept its position over the centuries (millennia?), as if the Indians gave it a solid foundation. I think it’s fair to say that the Indians were expert stone-workers.

The stone is 6 feet tall (not counting what’s under the ground), and probably weighs thousands of pounds. It stands erect. Natural stones almost never stand at a 90-degree angle, and if they did, they would probably wobble over the course of time, they wouldn’t keep their erect position.

So I think it’s safe to say that this stone was set up by humans. European settlers didn’t set up this kind of stone in this way, but Native Americans did. If European settlers set up a gravestone, it would be marked, usually with the name and dates of the deceased. If they set up an unmarked gravestone (Quakers may have done that), it was much smaller than this stone.

If Europeans set up a boundary stone, it was marked with the first letters of the towns it separated, and the date of the survey. This stone is unmarked, and it’s near a river, so it couldn’t be a boundary stone; the river itself would be the boundary (in the Boston area, many towns are bounded by the Charles River).

In my view, it’s not a coincidence that this stone is near a river (the Woonasquatucket River). Indians had a special feeling for water, and their structures are often near water (but far enough from the river to be unaffected by a flood). They used the word “poag” (or “paug”) for standing water, “pee” for moving water. Examples of “poag” are Ponkapoag and Massapoag; examples of “pee” are Chicopee and Mashpee.

The shape of this stone is a shape for which the Indians had a particular fondness. It’s taller in the center, sloping at the sides, like the head and shoulders of a person. A stone with this shape is sometimes called a “manitou stone.” In an earlier issue, I showed another manitou stone:

What does the standing stone symbolize? Why would Indians erect such a stone? Perhaps they didn’t know themselves, perhaps they were following a custom, a tradition; perhaps they did it this way because this is the way it was done.

It’s difficult to get inside the mind of the native. A standing stone might be art or religion, it might commemorate a person or an event. My favorite interpretation is that it puts a “personal seal,” a “personal touch” on the land, without markedly changing the land; it makes one feel more at home on the land. The important point is that the stone has no practical significance, so it must have some sort of cultural significance.

Standing stones aren’t unique to New England, or to North America, they’re found in Europe and other parts of the world. A famous example is Stonehenge. But European standing stones don’t seem to have the “manitou shape” that the NewEngland stones have.

Here’s another standing stone that I found about a quarter-mile from the first stone:

The above stone is much smaller than the first stone — only 20-30 inches high. It’s placed on the ground, not embedded; it leans against other stones. It has the “manitou shape.” I don’t think Nature could have given it the erect posture that it has, and I don’t think white settlers would have placed it where it is, so I think it must be an Indian stone. Many Indian stones are just lying on the ground, not firmly embedded.

A local expert on Indian stones, Daniel Boudillion, took this picture of a small standing stone in Boxborough, Massachusetts:

Websites that deal with Indian stones are faced with a dilemma: Should I publicize the stone? Should I show the stone, but not reveal its location? If I provide too much information, will that lead to theft or vandalism?

Since the Smithfield standing stones are near a road, near a trail, near a river, and near a pond, one might think that people would notice them. But I haven’t found anyone who’s aware of them — not even a local naturalist who wrote about the trail, not even a local historical society. Indian stones tend to blend with the landscape, and go unnoticed.

The public’s attitude toward old stone structures varies from “under-belief” to “over-belief.” The professional scholar often refuses to believe that Indians made any stone structures; his attitude is “under-belief.” Meanwhile, the lay scholar often constructs elaborate theories of European druids coming to the Americas, etc.; his attitude is “over-belief.”

More on Indian stones
Solstice Stones, Boxborough MA
Estabrook Woods, Concord MA
Great Brook, Carlisle MA
Beebe Woods, Falmouth MA
Maudslay State Park, Newburyport MA
Queen’s Fort, Exeter RI
Smithfield RI (some overlap with this page)

2. What’s Worth Fighting For?

From the Wall Street Journal:
“The pollster asked: What would you do if you were in the same position as Ukrainians are now, stay and fight or leave the country? Shockingly, more than half of Democrats (52%) said they would cut and run if the U.S. homeland were invaded.... 1 in 4 Republicans said they’d flee.”

In Europe, too, one finds the attitude that there’s nothing worth fighting for. Benjamin Tallis wrote,

The now infamous open letter by “intellectuals and artists” calling on Germany to stop supporting Ukraine (and, effectively, for Ukraine’s capitulation to Russia) is very revealing.... Many of us have been truly inspired by Ukraine’s incredible struggle to survive, but for others it seems that this rare show of courage [and] the valiant defense of country, values, rights and ideals is deeply troubling. Why?

Because it shines a light on their own unwillingness to do so. It threatens to reveal the deep cowardice, cynicism and selfish will for an easy life (never mind the suffering of others or the lost potential for progress at home) that is all too common.... Like the obnoxious complaints (in Germany but also around Western Europe and in the Brussels bubble) about Ukraine’s “excessive nationalism” — supposedly incompatible with the EU and “European values.” “We’ve overcome all that nasty outdated stuff”....

It’s a way of reinforcing this facade of superiority, but it’s haunted by the recognition that they themselves would not undertake this struggle and have, in too many ways, given in to cynicism about (geo)politics, ideals and progress more widely. It’s that attitude of false superiority and patronizing selfishness, combined with a lack of will to actually fight (metaphorically and literally) for progress... that is the real danger to Germany and Europe’s future, not World War III.1B

John Stuart Mill: “A man who has nothing which he is willing to fight for, nothing which he cares more about than he does about his personal safety, is a miserable creature who has no chance of being free, unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself.... As long as justice and injustice have not terminated their ever-renewing fight for ascendancy in the affairs of mankind, human beings must be willing, when need is, to do battle for the one against the other.”

3. Biden

A couple weeks ago, I cycled through my neighborhood, and I was struck by the large number of anti-Biden signs. This is consistent with what pollsters are saying: anti-Biden feeling is widespread. Biden has caved to the left wing of the Democratic Party, and he’s at least as divisive as Trump was. Since Biden is old, he’s determined to show that his views aren’t old, that he’s in tune with the times, that he’s in tune with the new, radical ideas.

People object to Biden’s wild spending, and his desire to forgive student loans; Biden has mis-managed the economy, and ignited inflation. But what people object to most is Biden’s border policy: he’s allowing some 10,000 people a day to pour across the southern border. Most Americans realize that the border defines the nation; if you don’t have a border, you don’t have a nation.

Time was, many felt pleased, proud, privileged to be Americans, but if anyone in the world can become an American by simply walking across the border, the word “American” becomes meaningless. Under Biden, American citizenship is being diluted, cheapened, as Roman citizenship was cheapened in Rome’s latter days.

Border-control has been a problem for a long time. In 1985, the Democrat George Kennan lamented our “inability to control the immigration into our midst of great masses of people of wholly different cultural and political traditions.”1 What’s new about Biden’s approach is that he doesn’t even try to control the border, he doesn’t see illegal immigration as a problem. Indeed, during the Democratic primary, Biden called for a “surge” at the border.

Biden’s message to illegal immigrants was, Don’t come now. This suggests that, at some point in the future, it would be okay to enter the country illegally. The President’s message should be, Don’t come illegally, apply through the proper channels.

A few months before Biden was elected, Thomas Sowell said that, if the Democrats gained control of the White House and Congress, the country would pass “the point of no return,” it would become impossible to save the sinking ship of state. But even Sowell couldn’t have anticipated how bad things would get under Biden. And Biden would have moved even further left if Joe Manchin hadn’t prevented him.

Anyone who cares about national defense must be concerned about Biden’s policies; with so much social spending and debt-service, there will be little money left for defense.

4. Films

A. Free Solo (2018) is a documentary film about Alex Honnold’s attempt to be the first to climb Yosemite’s El Capitan without ropes. It’s a gripping, powerful, unforgettable film. Your palms will be sweating, your stomach will be in knots, you’ll wish you’d chosen a different movie, but when it’s over, you’ll be glad you saw it.

B. Drive My Car is a 3-hour Japanese movie from 2021. It won many awards, and received rave reviews from critics, but it was less popular with the public. It’s about a Japanese director who’s staging Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya. He becomes close to a young woman who’s working as his driver. Their relationship has some similarities to Uncle Vanya. These similarities escaped me until I read a NewYorkTimes review of Drive My Car. I should have anticipated that, if there’s a play-within-a-play, a story-within-a-story, a play-within-a-movie, there are probably some connections between them, some echoes of one in the other.

In Drive My Car, the director and his chauffeur decide to accept life, with all its suffering, in the expectation of eventual rest or happiness, much as Uncle Vanya and his niece decide to keep on living, keep on working, keep on helping others, despite their sufferings, despite the apparent pointlessness of their lives.

Both the director and the chauffeur feel responsible for the deaths of people close to them, as Proust’s narrator felt responsible for the deaths of his grandmother and Albertine. Was the author of the story on which the movie is based influenced by Proust?

The plot of Drive My Car is somewhat complex, so it might be more enjoyable on a second viewing. I found it somewhat quirky — no classical simplicity here. I find it hard to accept the idea of a multi-lingual production of Uncle Vanya — five actors speaking five different languages. I pity the audience that had to watch the actors while simultaneously reading subtitles. But the movie holds your attention, it has a certain bleak poetry, and a certain philosophical depth. You “suspend your disbelief,” you’re drawn in, the world of the movie becomes a real world, you believe that these are real people.

© L. James Hammond 2022
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1B. On July 3, Tallis posted a Twitter thread that called attention to a piece by Timothy Snyder, a piece criticizing the German philosopher Jurgen Habermas’ attitude toward Ukraine. Tallis criticizes the idea of a “post-heroic” society, an idea fostered by Habermas and others. Tallis argues that we really do need heroes. Tallis writes, “not everyone who tries to be a hero is a Nazi — how conveniently screwed up that idea is. No wonder there’s such reluctance in Germany to actually take responsibility, to take a decision, to risk something and do the right thing.” back
1. At A Century’s Ending, “Containment: Then and Now,” p. 114 back