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Archive for April 2011

Apr/11

30

Christopher Hitchens & the KJV

Via Vanity Fair, here’s a fine account from Christopher Hitchens of the—King James Version—greatest of all the English translations of the Bible.

As always with Mr. Hitchens, there’s room for a good anecdote:

After she was elected the first female governor of Texas, in 1924, and got herself promptly embroiled in an argument about whether Spanish should be used in Lone Star schools, it is possible that Miriam A. “Ma” Ferguson did not say, “If the King’s English was good enough for Jesus Christ, it’s good enough for the children of Texas.”

Those were the days.

And then there’s this:

Until the early middle years of the 16th century…torture and death was the attempt to print the Bible in English. It’s a long and stirring story, and its crux is the head-to-head battle between Sir Thomas More and William Tyndale…Their combat fully merits the term “fundamental.” Infuriating More, Tyndale whenever possible was loyal to the Protestant spirit by correctly translating the word ecclesia to mean “the congregation” as an autonomous body, rather than “the church” as a sacrosanct institution above human law. In English churches, state-selected priests would merely incant the liturgy. Upon hearing the words “Hoc” and “corpus” (in the “For this is my body” passage), newly literate and impatient artisans in the pews would mockingly whisper, “Hocus-pocus,” finding a tough slang term for the religious obfuscation at which they were beginning to chafe. The cold and righteous More, backed by his “Big Brother” the Pope and leading an inner party of spies and inquisitors, watched the Channel ports for smugglers risking everything to import sheets produced by Tyndale, who was forced to do his translating and printing from exile. The rack and the rope were not stinted with dissenters, and eventually Tyndale himself was tracked down, strangled, and publicly burned. (Hilary Mantel’s masterpiece historical novel, Wolf Hall, tells this exciting and gruesome story in such a way as to revise the shining image of “Saint” Thomas More, the “man for all seasons,” almost out of existence. High time, in my view. The martyrdoms he inflicted upon others were more cruel and irrational than the one he sought and found for himself.)

One can only agree, pausing only to note that, during the course of his recent visit to the UK, the current pope had the gall to lecture the English on the virtues of the bleakly proto-totalitarian More.

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Apr/11

30

Mitch Daniels: Still Looking at 2012?

Apr/11

30

Less Church, More England

Blogging about the royal wedding over at the Corner yesterday, I noted that the C of E needed a little less church and a little more England.

Via the Daily Telegraph, here’s the sort of thing I meant:

Jerusalem, a hymn which has been banned, been an official anthem of the England football team and was once chosen by former Prime Minister Gordon Brown for Desert Island Discs, was hailed as one of the triumphs of today’s royal wedding.

And quite rightly so, the twinning of William Blake’s madcap, lovely words with a majestic, somewhat martial tune written—in the middle of the First World War—almost a century later, makes ‘Jerusalem’ one of the finest of English hymns (and there are plenty to choose from) and, for, that matter, a pretty good alternative English national anthem. Under the circumstances we should not, I suppose, be surprised that some clerics have objected:

The verses were banned in 2008 from being sung by choirs or congregations at Southwark Cathedral because the words do not praise God and are too nationalistic, according to senior clergy. The Dean of Southwark, the Very Rev Colin Slee, advised guests at a private memorial service that the hymn would not be sung because it was “not in the glory of God”.

Jerusalem had been banned before by clergymen who do not believe Blake’s poetry to be Christian. In 2001 it was banned from the wedding of a couple in Manchester because the vicar deemed it to be too nationalistic and inappropriate to a marriage ceremony.

To repeat myself, less church, more England, please.

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Is soullessness a job requirement for “education reformers?”  I have never seen evidence to the contrary.  The latest travesty to roll out of the ER factory is the so-called “Common Core” state standards initiative, a voluntary set of learning goals for K-12 education developed by the “National Governors Association Center for Best Practices” and the “Council of Chief State School Officers ,” organizations whose very names start mountainsides of red flags a-waving. 

I have no objection to a national curriculum, unlike some conservatives, so long as it demanded that students master the greatest monuments of imagination and analytic thought that human beings have produced, without concern about widening the achievement gap or failing to bolster students’ self-esteem.   Predictably, these Common Core standards seem instead to favor the acquisition of “skills sets” and “modes of learning,” all the while encouraging vacuous group learning.  But these latest standards add a truly terrifying, heartbreaking detail that I have not seen before in the vast intellectual and cultural wasteland that is progressive pedagogy.   The English standards actually require that literature in English classes be gradually supplanted by informational materials, according to the New York Times:

While English classes will still include healthy amounts of fiction, the standards say that students should be reading more nonfiction texts as they get older, to prepare them for the kinds of material they will read in college and careers. In the fourth grade, students should be reading about the same amount from “literary” and “informational” texts, according to the standards; in the eighth grade, 45 percent should be literary and 55 percent informational, and by 12th grade, the split should be 30/70.

If ever there were proof needed that education professionals lack the slightest instinct for beauty or the Eros of learning, this is it.  The idea that a school literature class should squander its precious opportunity to immerse students in the grandeur of imaginative language in favor of, say, a debate on whether global warming is man-made or natural is simply breath-taking in its idiocy.  Students will have all of life to encounter “informational” prose, alas; they have little choice.  Few of them, however, will seek out literature on their own, or know what to look for.  Such guidance should be the unavoidable responsibility of teachers, who are fearless in declaring: This is a great book– whether Wind in the Willows, Winnie-the-Pooh, The Yearling, or Huck Finn –you must read it because your life will be poorer without it.  (E.D. Hirsch is almost alone in having the guts to name names in his core knowledge curriculum.) 

Moreover, as much as I do not believe that education in the classics needs to justify itself in terms of vocational skills, the implicit claim here that mastering Melville’s mind-bending language and majestic vision, say, does not develop useful mental skills shows utter ignorance of the richness of literature. 

It’s hard to say if this Common Core movement will actually catch on; scarily, conservative education theorist Chester Finn appears from the New York Times article to give it his imprimatur.   If this notion of a virtually literature-less English class becomes popular (and you can bet that there are plenty of ed-school grads cheering on the concept), we will have further betrayed our loving duty towards the geniuses of the past and impoverished our culture.

Apr/11

26

Magical Thinking Watch: Endless Female Victimhood

You might have thought that as research accumulates on the biological aspect of human conduct, radical feminists would have lightened up a bit on their charge of widespread institutionalized sexism, especially since they have dominated the institutions that they finger as major sexist offenders for decades now.  Today’s front-page article in the New York Times claiming discrimination against girl athletes in college depressingly shows the opposite.  The evidence provided for ongoing violations of Title IX is even more tendentious than usual: astoundingly, the fact that schools are virtually kidnapping girls to get them to participate on sports teams is presented as proof of discrimination against females, rather than as discrimination in their favor. 

The schools can’t find enough girls interested in sports to create a proportional number of female athletes, and so instead, writes the Times in outrage:

many [colleges] are padding women’s team rosters with underqualified, even unwitting, athletes. They are counting male practice players as women. And they are trimming the rosters of men’s teams.

How does this demonstrate discrimination?  The Times provides not one example of a school stiffing eager female athletes.  And of course, college bureaucracies are now almost as female-heavy as the participants in Orgasm Night at the Womyn’s Center.  Yet the Times presumes some phantom source of sexism that never needs to be located but that explains why “women make up 53 percent of the student body at Division I institutions yet only 46 percent of all athletes.”  I’m actually surprised that the ratios are that close. 

It is long past clear: Title IX is by now nothing other than a powerful weapon in the male-hater’s tool chest.   This vapid article kicks off an entire Times series on Title IX; presumably they’re leading with their strongest suit.   Gird yourselves for further demonstration of the desperate intellectual condition of contemporary feminism.

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Apr/11

25

Eric Holder does not play the race card

Federal district court judges are ignoring Congressional sentencing rules regarding crack defendants, but the Justice Department, to its credit, is opposing this judicial rewriting of the law, reports the New York Times’s Adam Liptak.  In 2010, Congress narrowed the disparities between federal sentences for crack and cocaine trafficking, but did not make the revision retroactive.  Some district judges are choosing to apply the 2010 revisions to defendants who committed their crimes before the law took effect, even though it is Congress’s prerogative, not the judiciary’s, to decide the scope of a law. 

Senators Richard Durbin and  Patrick Leahy, the principal sponsors of the revised sentencing law,  wrote to Attorney General Eric Holder asking him apply their law retroactively in Justice Department prosecutions.  Not only did DOJ not take up their offer, it appealed a recent sentence imposed on a crack seller in Maine on the ground that it was too lenient under the relevant sentencing law. 

Whatever one thinks of the federal crack penalties, such adherence to the plain meaning of a Congressional statute is admirable.  If Durbin and Leahy erred in not making the revisions retroactive, they should amend the law through the usual procedures, not pressure DOJ into doing their work for them.  Perhaps, however, Congress did not intend retroactivity.  That Holder would buck their pressure is particularly admirable,  since there are few areas more susceptible to racial demagoguery than federal crack penalties.

Here, for the record, are some common misconceptions about the federal crack law: (more…)

Apr/11

23

First Amendment Burned in Michigan?

Cross-posted on the Corner:

On the face of it, the First Amendment does not seem to be in terribly good shape in Dearborn, Michigan:

DEARBORN, Mich., April 23 (UPI) — A constitutional law professor says a trial and the brief jailing of two Florida pastors who wanted to demonstrate outside a Michigan mosque is “bizarre.”

Florida pastors Terry Jones and Wayne Sapp were briefly jailed Friday in Dearborn after refusing to pay a $1 peace bond following a trial that found they would breach the peace if allowed to hold a rally outside the Islamic Center of America, the Detroit Free Press reported Saturday.

“The judge should have thrown out the case,” said Robert Sedler, constitutional law professor at Wayne State University.

Sedler said the entire process was “bizarre” and that “the whole thing is unconstitutional.” He cited U.S. Supreme Court cases backing up Jones’ right to protest. The Michigan ACLU also criticized the case.

“This is a complete abuse of the court process, and all those involved should be ashamed,” said Rana Elmir of the ACLU Michigan office. “The prosecutor’s office and the Dearborn court turned the First Amendment on its head. What happened today should never have happened. This is a true miscarriage of Justice.”

As so often with anything involving Jones, there’s plenty of confusion to go round. Volokh has more here.

Meanwhile in Indonesia, there is this (via the Daily Telegraph):

Islamic militants involved in a plot to bomb an Indonesian cathedral ahead of Easter celebrations planned to film and broadcast the inferno. Indonesian police said 19 suspects, who had planted bombs beneath a gas pipeline at the Christ Cathedral near Jakarta, were part of a new terrorist cell inspired by al-Qaeda.

The bombs, which were defused in a 10-hour operation on Thursday, had been rigged to go off just as services at the 3,000-seat Roman Catholic church were taking place for Good Friday. Maj. Gen. Anton Bachrul Alam, spokesman for the national police, said the 19 suspects who led authorities to bombs planted beneath a gas pipeline near the Christ Cathedral Church just outside of Jakarta did not appear to be part of any large, existing terrorist organisation. Other bombs were left in bags not far from the entrance.

“At this moment, it looks like a new cell,” Maj Gen Alam said, adding that the suspects, all in their 30s and many of them university graduates, told police they had been planning to film the fiery explosion.

“They wanted to make a movie and then broadcast it … that was the plan,” he said.

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Apr/11

23

Pachamama!

Cross-posted on the Corner:

Yes, yes, my bad; I’m late for Earth Day, but here, via Religion Dispatches, is a piece that discusses the ‘rights’ of the Earth, the eco-system and, well, just about everything. Yes, it’s an absurd premise, and one for which the writer clearly has some sympathy, but this extract from the new (2008) Ecuadorian constitution is still worth noting:

Nature or Pachamama, where life is reproduced and exists, has the right to exist, persist, maintain itself and regenerate its own vital cycles, structure, functions, and its evolutionary processes. Any person, people, community, or nationality, may demand the observance of the rights of the natural environment before public bodies.

This somewhat sinister drivel presumably partly reflects the influence of the work of Bolivia’s somewhat sinister president Morales, the man who, in 2009, was declared by the president of the United Nations General Assembly, one Rev. Miguel D’Escoto Brockmann, to be a “World Hero of Mother Earth”.

Doctor Who didn’t get the call, apparently

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Apr/11

23

Great Dreyfus’s Ghost!

Poor old “Piss Christ” has been in the wars again. The Guardian reports:

When New York artist Andres Serrano plunged a plastic crucifix into a glass of his own urine and photographed it in 1987 under the title Piss Christ, he said he was making a statement on the misuse of religion. Controversy has followed the work ever since, but reached an unprecedented peak on Palm Sunday when it was attacked with hammers and destroyed after an “anti-blasphemy” campaign by French Catholic fundamentalists in the southern city of Avignon…The photograph had been shown in France several times without incident. For four months, it has hung in the exhibition I Believe in Miracles, to mark 10 years of art-dealer Yvon Lambert’s personal collection in his 18th-century mansion gallery in Avignon. The show is due to end next month, but two weeks ago a concerted protest campaign began.

Civitas, a lobby group that says it aims to re-Christianize France, launched an online petition and mobilised other fundamentalist groups. The staunchly conservative archbishop of Vaucluse, Jean-Pierre Cattenoz, called Piss Christ “odious” and said he wanted this “trash” taken off the gallery walls…On Saturday, around 1,000 Christian protesters marched through Avignon to the gallery. The protest group included a regional councillor for the extreme-right Front National, which recently scored well in the Vaucluse area in local elections. The gallery immediately stepped up security, putting plexiglass in front of the photograph and assigning two gallery guards to stand in front of it.

But on Palm Sunday morning, four people in sunglasses aged between 18 and 25 entered the exhibition just after it opened at 11am. One took a hammer out of his sock and threatened the guards with it. A guard grabbed another man around the waist but within seconds the group managed to take a hammer to the plexiglass screen and slash the photograph with another sharp object, thought to be a screwdriver or ice-pick. They also smashed another work, which showed the hands of a meditating nun.

It is impossible not to wonder whether these folks haven’t taken a lesson or two from the more extreme followers of another religion I could mention.

Mind you, read the rest of the article, and it appears that the vandals have issues that are specifically their own, a suspicion somewhat confirmed by this interview (in French) with the archbishop of Vaucluse, who seems to hint that freemasons may be somehow to blame for the exhibition.

Freemasons?

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Apr/11

19

Update to Previous Post

In a very friendly & gentlemanly email, Nick Schulz assures me that his post on the AEI blog was meant as a fun tweak, not a sneer.  My apologies to Nick.

After all those columns I’ve written about everyone being far too quick to take offense nowadays, perhaps I’ve inhaled a bit of the zeitgeist at last.

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