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Friday, August 27
THE PORNOGRAPHERS’ INSIGHT:
FROM THE INBOX AUGUST 27TH 2004:
It is now generally conceded, that those differences, which were once held to divide the Christian sects from one another, (as whether or not Confirmation were a necessary ordinance of the Church), can no longer be thought to place any obstacle against unity and charity between Christians; rather, the more of them we find to exist, the more laudable a thing it is that Christian men should stomach, now and again, these uneasy scruples, and worship together for all the world as if they had never existed. There is no progress in Humanity, without the surmounting of obstacles; thus, we are all now agreed that Satan, far from meaning any harm to our Race when he brought sin into the world, was most excellently disposed towards us, and desired nothing better than that we, having some good stout sins to overcome, should attain an eventful and exciting sort of virtue, instead of languishing for ever in that state of respectable innocence, which is so little creditable to the angels, who alone practice it. In like manner, all heresies and schisms are the very condition of Christian unity, and were doubtless designed to supply a kind of zest to the tedious business of Church-going, on the same principle that the digestion of poultry is improved, if they be allowed to have a little grit or gravel in their crops to assist them. So that there can be no more edifying spectacle, to the rightly-constituted mind, than that of two fellow-worshippers, one of whom is saying in his heart, great is Diana of the Ephesians and the other, O Baal, hear us, both which inward intentions they express by a common formula, when they profess openly with their lips, that honesty is the best policy.It is an enjoyable book, especially if you find minimalistic ecumenism and churchy language annoying or amusing.
— From the (Southern) Baptist Press, a useful analysis of what the pollsters find: Stem cell polling clashes over research that destroys embryos. The number of Americans who think embryonic human beings should be destroyed in research is alarmingly high, but not as high as the Harris Poll claims.
The Harris Poll reported 73 percent of Americans say embryonic stem cell research should be permitted, while only 11 percent oppose it. That marked a 12 percent increase in support of embryonic research from a Harris poll taken in 2001.A poll by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life,
which was performed by Princeton Survey Research Associates International, described an embryo as having "potential life."which will have affected the answers the pollers got. In contrast,
A survey commissioned by the National Right to Life Committee found 53 percent of adults oppose government funding of stem cell research that destroys human embryos, while 38 percent support such use of taxes. Meanwhile, 74 percent favor government funds for stem cell experimentation that does not kill human embryos, and 20 percent oppose it.I did, in my youth, do a little polling for political candidates, and was then, in my youthful innocence, shocked to find how consciously some pollsters designed their polls to get the answers they wanted. It's not hard to do. And, to be fair, sometimes it's entirely unconscious, simply because the pollster does not realize how his own point of view biases the questions he asks.
— From the English Catholic magazine The Tablet, Gaudí, the Blessed, on the saintly modernist architect, Antoni Gaudi, best known to Americans for his Church of the Holy Family, seen often during the last Olympics.
The article quotes one silly man who opposes the movement to canonize Gaudi because “Gaudí was a ‘universal artist’ who would be reduced by the Church’s attempt to canonise him. Gaudí . . . was appreciated by people of different religions or none; he belongs to everybody – not just to the Church,” and notes that secular Catalan nationalists
with a secular vision of a free Catalonia. . . . are forced to try to separate him from his deep Catholicism, just as, faced with the Sagrada Familia as the city’s icon, they once attempted to turn it into a “temple of culture”.The article goes on to discuss his work and his sanctity, which was as much an artistic work as his architecture.
The architect’s struggle against his natural inclinations – especially his bad temper – was titanic. “God has given me the grace to see things with absolute clarity at that moment,” he told a friend. “I have to say things just as they are, without beating around the bush, and of course people are annoyed.” But it is only asked of saints that they struggle, not necessarily that they succeed. “I am a fighter by nature,” he confided to his spiritual director the day before his accident. “I have always fought, and I have always succeeded, except in one thing: in the struggle against my bad temper. This I have not been able to overcome.” . . .And interestingly:
One of the signs of the congruence of his creativity and his holiness was that Gaudí’s greatness increased with age, unlike other artists – Mozart, say – who either burned out or died young. Like Bach, Gaudí worked every day of every week. After the Sagrada Familia commission, his life became for the next 40 years ever more geared to God.— From The Daily Telegraph, 9/11 and the American mindset, a study of the 9/11 Commission’s report by Amir Taheri, an Iranian journalist. He argues that
The writers of the report make two major mistakes. The first is that they pretend that there is no connection between Islam and Islamist terrorism. They reject any attempt at subjecting the Islamic belief system to critical scrutiny. This is like trying to understand the Inquisition with no reference to Christianity. To be sure, Islam cannot be reduced to terrorism just as Christianity is something bigger than the Inquisition. But to miss the link between the two is intellectually dishonest and politically suicidal.— Also from the DT, Bishop aims to woo worshippers back with sweet talk announces that
The Bishop of Manchester, the Rt Rev Nigel McCulloch, is attempting to swell attendance figures at harvest festival services next month by distributing thousands of credit card-style invitations and "goody" bags of free gifts, including chocolate.— From Chiesa.com, How to Speak of the Christian Faith Today, a review by Sandro Magister of two works just published in Italy on proclaiming the Faith. One is I Believed, and therefore I Spoke, published by the Diocese of Rome and the other an article from the Jesuit magazine La Civiltà Cattolica on the Our Father. In Magister’s summary:
Both of the writings go to the heart of Christianity: the Creed and the "Our Father." They deliberately insist upon the original and unique features of the Christian faith. When they place Christianity beside other religions, it is only to show that it can by no means be assimilated with them. . . .In the preface to I Believed, Camillo Cardinal Ruini, the pope's vicar for the diocese,
makes a critical assessment of modern skepticism and of its most famous proponent, Umberto Eco:
LEWIS VS. FREUD ON PBS:
Based on a popular Harvard course taught by Dr. Armand M. Nicholi, author of the book The Question of God, the series illustrates the lives and insights of Sigmund Freud, a lifelong critic of religious belief, and C.S. Lewis, a celebrated Oxford don, literary critic and perhaps this century’s most influential and popular proponent of faith based on reason.
CASHING IN ON KERRY?
259 people recommended The American Prophecies : Ancient Scriptures Reveal Our Nation's Future in addition to Unfit for Command: Swift Boat Veterans Speak Out Against John KerryNormally, the first recommendation is for a book that makes a good companion to the main book; the second is for a book that people think you should read instead of the main book, and it is usually a book that takes the other side of an issue, or perhaps is a much better book on the subject.
In this case, I have no idea why this book, American Prophecies, would have anything to do with a book about Kerry. But 356 people put it on the site nonetheless. Is this a conspiracy?
Perhaps, but one to sell the book: American Prophecies is listed as Number Two at Amazon.com. This is find hard to believe. What is the book about?
According to author Michael Evans, a fundamentalist Christian minister, biblical prophets already predicted that America is doomed to collapse unless its government stops accommodating the Arab world for the sake of oil and instead offers full military and diplomatic support to Israel. He believes that God wants Israel to have full control of the West Bank and Gaza, and Americans are risking God's wrath by not fully supporting this biblical mandate.Well, last but not least, back on Amazon’s page for the anti-Kerry book, the on-line bookstore has posted a large notice:
Important note from Amazon.com: We've decided to suspend our normal customer review policies and rules for this title. For example, we usually prohibit ad hominem attacks. That policy in particular seems to be incompatible with presidential election year politics. Therefore, short of obscenities, reviews on this book are now a free-for-all. We take no responsibility for the following discussion. Aren't presidential election years great? Have fun!No thanks. But there is no discussion there on the site. Is Amazon, tongue-in-cheek, putting in their two cents on the book?
During my first day of school I was going over a hand out entitled "Great Expectations" -- a summary of what I, my students, and their parents should expect this year. One of my expectations for my students was: "I expect you to make mistakes and learn from them."
Thursday, August 26
I just “stumbled” into what will, without a doubt, remain my primary website: Gregorian Chant on a “24/7” basis. It's only available via the web best I can tell. What an incredible gift for the many hours of desk-time while at work!— In an old article I just stumbled across, the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster declares that We need to be saved in a reflection on Hell published in the English (and generally secular) magazine The Spectator. He doesn’t say anything you don’t already know, but that he says it in such a place is cheering.
— And here is something light but perhaps of interest from the latest issue of The Spectator: We’re all going on a summer pilgrimage by John Laughland. The article’s heading says that “There is still a lot of camaraderie on the road to Santiago de Compostela, John Laughland discovers, but serious Christianity is being replaced by New Age ‘self-discovery’.”
— Also from the latest Spectator, a review of a new biography of P. G. Wodehouse. The reviewer writes:
Wodehouse was quite simply a great novelist, but his greatness doesn’t reside either in his understanding of the world or in the profundity of his themes. McCrum sums up his claims at the end of his biography: ‘In the lives of most great writers, there are usually two lasting themes, love and work. With Wodehouse these are indistinguishable, and both prevail.’ The trouble with this claim is that, on its own, it would not explain why Wodehouse is better than, say, his friend Denis Mackail’s Greenery Street, or indeed any number of books with no merit at all. Many of Wodehouse’s novels, really, are about nothing at all; many of the best, indeed. Their merits lie not in their themes, but in the intricate patterning of their brilliant plotting, and, above all, in their linguistic inventiveness.I know tastes vary, but I must admit to finding it hard to understand someone, a bookish man anyway, who does not love Wodehouse. Not caring for his writing is like being indifferent to the smell and look of roses or yawning at the sight of the Himalayas.
I think the reviewer is right in his judgment of Wodehouse — pronounced “Woodhouse,” by the way — including his judgment of Wodehouse’s wartime broadcasts.
— One of our regular readers and respondents, Danny DeBruin, wrote An Inside Look at Voice of the Faithful for last January’s issue of Crisis, which I’ve just come across. VOTF is not the diverse, theologically neutral group it claims to be. Readers in other churches will probably find the story representative of events in their own churches.
— One of our sister journals, Modern Reformation magazine offers a very useful chart of the development of modern denominations.
By the way, our contributing editor Gillis Harp is a contributing scholar of the journal, which I had not known till I looked at the list on their website. MR's site does not offer any articles by him (and actually, few of anyone's) but Gil has recently written for us “Mall Christianity” (not online), Requiem for the Comic Book, and an analysis of Phillips Brooks, A Once and Former Evangelical.
— From the Daily Telegraph, an obituary for Elisabeth Kubler-Ross. I would commend Ron Rosenbaum’s essay on Dr. Kubler-Ross, “Turn On, Tune In, Drop Dead,” which originally appeared in Harper’s magazine and has been reprinted in his essay collection The Secret Parts of Fortune: Three Decades of Intense Investigations and Edgy Enthusiasms. He exposes her increasingly peculiar attitude to death, which culminated in leading her devotees to have sex with the dead. I did not make that up. The dead man turned out to be a live con man.
While looking for a link to the essay on the web (I couldn’t find one), I found the transcript (not cleaned up for publication) of a lecture he gave, which some of you might enjoy, on “The Journalism of Ideas”. For those of you who don’t know his writing, Rosenbaum is a writer much like Tom Wolfe, when Wolfe wrote a lot of journalism.
— Another example of original sin in action, among that set of human beings in which its operations are often most obvious and stupidest: Internet Gives Teenage Bullies Weapons to Wound From Afar.
— A friend sends the link to Heart and Mind magazine, a Catholic homeschooling magazine she calls “terrific.”
LIBERALISM’S SEX ADDICTION:
Absent any short-term hope for a cure, the activists seem determined to make the band play on — that is, to preserve maximum sexual freedom for all, no matter what the cost. In Bangkok, all discussions on abstinence were dismissed; out in front of the convention center was a giant condom, described as a “victory monument.”The liberationist party acts a lot like an addict, here and elsewhere. They cannot give up sexual license, even when it contradicts their established ideological commitments, commitments from the holding of which, if I may speak ad hominem, they derive a great deal of personal satisfaction.
You see the same kind of thing among Episcopal liberals who have spent decades fawning upon the Third World until the Third World Anglicans too loudly opposed the liberals’ homosexualism. At this point, the liberals began treating the Africans like impertinent children. They did sometimes catch themselves and translate their contempt into a pained explanation of the Africans’ ignorance of modern western pluralism, the insights of contemporary biblical scholarship, and the like, which was really just as patronizing.
Ms. Barbara Harris, then the suffragan bishop of Massachusetts, famously described the African bishops at the last Lambeth Conference as being bought off with “chicken dinners.” She had a certain gift for ideological writing, but would not have been elected to her comfortable and privileged (and privileging) position were she not of her sex and race, yet she felt comfortable in describing the African bishops in a way that would have, if said by someone else, been denounced as racist (and surely denounced by Ms. Harris herself) — men who had earned their places as Anglican elders and often lived in danger of their lives.
But they were saying no to Westerners intent on sexual liberation, and therefore in that world justifiably abusable. I never heard any liberal Anglican rebuke Ms. Harris, and these are people who can go from equanimity to righteous fury in .024 seconds.
The principle “It’s all about sex” over-simplifies the problems of the western mainline churches, but it is a useful one nevertheless. It is wise, when reading some liberal activist pronounce on church policy, to ask if someone else whose opinion might affect his life (African Anglican bishops, say) is telling him to keep his hands to himself and his pants zipped up — to do what, as an addict, so many liberal activists cannot and will not do.
BETTER DEAD THAN OFF-DUTY?
Family Research Abstract of the Week: Better Dead than Divorced?This reminds me of observations that I have heard from other experts that, similarly, children who grow up without a father because the father either died or was killed in war do better psychologically than children who are fatherless because of divorce or abandonment. It is easier to explain to a child, of course, that a father can’t be with them because of death than to explain why he doesn’t bother with them even though he is still living.
The Arms Embargo
Wednesday, August 25
FROM THE INBOX 25 AUGUST 2004:
China’s National Population and Family Planning Commission reported Aug. 11 on a Care for Girls pilot project that provides financial incentives to rural families that give birth to and rear girls, according to China Daily. Government inducements for families with only daughters include insurance, educational fees, housing, employment, job training and welfare.Interestingly, and disturbingly, the article reports that South Korea has a birth ratio of 116 boys to 100 girls without any government policy, a figure a Chinese official uses to excuse theirs, and by extension the practice of forced abortions they need to make the policy work.
— From the New York Times, an article on the West’s abuse of sex. Sex, Sex, Sex: Up Front in Bookstores Near You, describes the mainstreaming of pornography by major publishers and bookstores. Books that the average bookstore didn’t sell at all a few years ago recently appeared in their own section — I noticed this with some surprise at our local Borders when I got to the end of the fiction section and found the ceiling-high “Erotic” section — and now, according to the story, are being sold on the tables right near the door.
The story includes something for your Wicked Euphemism file:
“I don’t publish pornography,” said Judith Regan, president and publisher of ReganBooks, an imprint of HarperCollins. “I publish smart books about sex. A lot of people try to imitate what I do but they don’t do it well.”And add to the euphemism, sanctimony:
The key to her assertion that Ms. Jameson’s book is smart, Ms. Regan said, is in the subtitle. “This is a cautionary tale for this culture,” she said, referring to the book’s frank descriptions of Ms. Jameson’s rape by a relative of her boyfriend, her drug addiction and other trials.Offering a salacious story and justifying it as an exercise in morality is a very old dodge. I have read that much of the softcore pornography of the fifties and early sixties — stuff I’ve never seen, I hasten to say — presented itself as offering lessons in hygiene and warnings about venereal disease and promiscuity. You can tell a cautionary tale without clinical descriptions of a smorgasbord of sex acts.
One might take Ms. Regan, a very powerful person in the publishing world, which by itself is a depressing fact, a little more seriously if the story did not mention other such works appearing under her imprint, which are even less able to be rationalized as “a cautionary tale” or “a smart book about sex.”
— From the Times, an article on an unrelated subject: Building Better Bodies by Nicholas Kristof. It begins:
For a glimpse of what post-human athletes may look like beginning in the 2012 or 2016 Olympics, take a look at an obscure breed of cattle called the Belgian Blue.— From the Maclaurin Institute, an interview with Nancy Pearcey, author of a new book titled Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity. Information about the book can be found here. In arguing for the importance of a consciously Christian worldview, Pearcey argues that
Today the fact/value split has become the single most potent weapon for delegitimizing the biblical perspective in the public square. In any society, the dominant definition of truth functions as the cultural gatekeeper; it defines what is to be taken seriously as genuine knowledge, and what can be dismissed as mere private bias. To have any cultural impact, you first have to get your ideas past the gatekeeper.Her comments on “How Women Started the Culture War” (the last question and answer) are especially interesting.
— From Chiesa.com, The Future of Iraq’s Christians Will Be Decided at the Tomb of Alì by Sandro Magister. It includes at the end an interesting short article on the history an therefore the contemporary importance of Najaf.
— From The Daily Telegraph, Germany breaks the Hitler taboo with a movie, one of the most expensive German movies ever made, about Hitler’s last twelve days.
A decades-long taboo was broken in Germany yesterday with the launch of a feature film in which Adolf Hitler appears for the first time in a central role, not as a ranting demagogue but as a soft-spoken dreamer. . . .One reads the headline with some alarm, but after reading the article and reflecting for a moment I thought that the movie might be quite good, and a realistic portrayal of Hitler good for the Germans to see.
There is no contradiction between being soft-spoken, avuncular, dreamy, and fond of chocolate cake and being a thoroughly evil man. In fact, if you want to be a successful thoroughly evil man, you might well choose to be soft-spoken, dreamy, etc.
— Another article from The Daily Telegraph, this one announcing that Family Snaps [Snapshots] Keep Sheep Happy. It begins:
Lonely sheep, like lonely people, are much happier when they see pictures of friends and family, according to a study published yesterday. . . .The story also offered this (to me) surprising information about sheep:
Sheep can remember at least 50 sheep faces, even in profile. The animals can also remember 10 or more familiar human faces.I suppose I should not have been surprised, since our Lord told us that sheep know their shepherd’s voice.
— And a third from the DT, this one examining Institutional racism from the East, in Noel Malcolm’s review of Ian Buruma and Avishai Margalit’s Occidentalism. After criticizing Edward Said’s famous and influential book Orientalism, the reviewer asks
Is there a unifying factor underneath it all — the equivalent to imperialism in Said’s theory? Not really. In some cases there is the experience of being imperialised; but not in the case of Russia or Japan. The most important factor seems to be the process of modernisation and industrialisation, which has involved much slavish copying of the West and much weakening of traditional values. Of the sprawling slum-suburbs of the Third World, the authors write: “To idle youths living in these cultural wastelands, globalisation can be a source of endless seduction and constant humiliation.”Which point the reviewer proceeds to develop, and I commend the review to you.
Christendom was not an abstraction for Gilson. When he asks where it is, he responds that he has met it in churches the world over, and describes them. He had found it in the church near the railway station in Chicago, in which nothing “disturbed the silence, save for a thin trickle of water from Lake Michigan that fell drop by drop in a grotto of Lourdes. Where was I? Neither in America nor in France, nor at any geographical point on earth. Yet I had surely reached a journey’s end, since I was at home: I was in Christendom.” He had met it as alien visitor to the church in Bloomington, Indiana, where an altar boy had approached him with a threat of excommunication from the pastor “if you do not take breakfast with him,” and learned that “the Christian is not a stranger in any parish, for wherever there is a parish he stands on Christian soil.” It fascinated him particularly, perhaps, as a layman, as being a third human society, between the church and the state, to which “all disciples of Christ” belong. (p. 256; quotations from Gilson were published in 1956.)I think this is true. While one cannot equate a church building with the Church, on the other hand, especially in church buildings of a certain traditional type, there is something that transcends mere matter. The Lord does not dwell in houses made with hands, but the faith of the members of Christ’s Body has been made manifest in some important measure in these old churches. They are built around the keeping of the Lord’s Supper. Generations of Christians have built places where even two or three gathered can know the Lord’s Presence “in the breaking of the bread.”
When one stands in a place where this single, most concrete act and inheritance delivered and mandated to the apostles has been observed by the saints gathered generation after generation, one in a sense does stand in a place outside time, beyond latitude and longitude, at the foot of the Cross upon which was slain the Lamb before the foundation of the world. The meridian and equator of Christendom meet together where the arms of this Cross meet, and the real estate of Christendom runs out in all four directions along those arms, as He who was lifted up draws the whole universe to Himself, from the beginning of time until time ends, for he is the Alpha and Omega.
Gilson saw all this, I think, in that church in Chicago.
A NEW WAY TO RETIRE?
No nursing home for us. We are checking into the Holiday Inn!
DRAINING THE PASSION:
By rewriting the rules of movie marketing — bypassing the Hollywood sales machinery in favor of direct appeals to churchgoing Christians — Mel Gibson turned “The Passion of the Christ” into this year’s most unlikely movie blockbuster. Now, with DVD’s and videos of the film going on sale next week, Hollywood is courting the faithful, hoping to turn “The Passion” into one of the industry’s biggest sellers.You will notice that the writer does not mention Hollywood’s hostility to the project — remember that late in the production of the movie they were not at all sure how many theatres would even show it, because that “Hollywood sales machinery” didn’t want to sell it — which forced Gibson to try other ways of reaching viewers. But leaving that aside, notice also that the movie succeeded only because Gibson proved an innovative marketer, and that Hollywood is going to make the dvd version succeed.
The article goes on to describe a fairly obvious marketing program, much of which is driven not by Hollywood but by the stores that will be selling the dvd. And revealingly, even the stores don’t need to do much:
“One of the difficulties we struggled with is, what is appropriate?” Robert Cummins, Best Buy’s movie business team manager, said. “For some it is a personal purchase. We did not seek out overtly promotional opportunities for the movie.” Best Buy will put up posters and store displays, but will not join with other companies, like cup or T-shirt makers, to promote the DVD. And unlike the way it handles other popular titles, it will not begin selling “The Passion" at midnight on the eve of its release day.If Mr. Cummins is right, a huge number of people will buy the dvd because they want to see the movie, not because Hollywood courted them. The reason for the movie’s popularity is not the marketing — oh how the Times wishes it were — but the story.
But this is a dangerous concession for secularists to make, that the story of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ in Jerusalem so long ago still has the power to move people, is still news. For if it is, in that sense, news, it may well be Good News, which is Bad News for those who wish Christianity did not exist.
ORDER “LAST STAND” NOW:
Tuesday, August 24
FELLOWSHIP WITH THE CATHOLIC SCHOLARS:
SAME OLD STORIES
it is . . . in the hour of his first success, that the most subtle temptation comes to the artist, to let the genius that created his public be directed by that public. Once he has won them, they always keep asking for the identical pleasure they experienced the first time. So the painter sells himself to the dealer who is certain he can place any number of copies of the same work with his customers . . . . The novelist rewrites the same novel. The musician repeats the same songs. The artist . . . becomes his own disciple and calls upon his talent to exploit the creations of his genius.Murphy notes that Gilson himself “knew very well the dangers of playing to an audience.” “He was also one of the great intellectual stage performers of his generation. . . . He was an artist in words, and one who could woo an audience with laughter.” (We could use a few funny philosopher-theologians--of his caliber.)
DANGEROUS NAIL FILES:
Re: Confiscated clippers
FROM THE INBOX 24 AUGUST 2004:
new voters are trending pro-life on abortion. . . .— Why Lines Must Be Drawn by Charles Krauthammer, which ends with a (to me) surprising twist, though I certainly don’t endorse all his argument. My thanks to Amy Wellborn’s blog for the link.
— A friend sends the link to an interview with Mary Ellen Bork, titled “A Return to the Female Biblical Role”
— In Here's how to get on my longlist the English novelist Tibor Fischer gives an inside look at the Booker Prize, England’s biggest literary award and, more interestingly, summarizes what the publishers thought the best books to submit:
Distaste for the middle class was one common denominator. Writers are entitled to berate and conjure whatever they want, but it was curious to see how the middle class (particularly the white, home-counties middle class) got clobbered: racist, xenophobic, childkillers or just generally evil.This explains the critical appeal of Joyce Carol Oates, who seems to write the same story over and over again.
Fischer offers some hope for would-be novelists: his first novel Under the Frog, he writes, was short-listed for the prize although 56 publishers had turned it down.
— In Feeding the Minotaur, Victor Davis Hanson describes what he calls the West’s “Minoan agreement” with the Islamic terrorists and their rational treatment of the West (I commend the analysis) and then argues that
Islamofascism is brilliant in its reading of the postmodern West and precisely for that reason it is dangerous beyond all description. . . .He then goes on to describe the sort of Western mind that gives such people ideological cover.
— Our contributing editor Phillip Johnson sends the link to Who's still afraid of Keith Windschuttle from The Australian, which describes the slightly hysterical reaction among professional, and reliably leftist, Australian historians to Windschuttle’s challenges.
I have no idea who is right in the debate about the treatment of Australia’s Aboriginal peoples, and would not be surprised to learn that the professionals were right and Windschuttle wrong (believing, as I do, in original sin and in Acton’s remark that “power tends to corrupt”), but I am sure from my own experience that the article’s picture of the academics is dead on. Readers will notice that the academics, faced with an effective public challenge to their orthodoxies, flirt with speech codes and other ways of restricting the competition, and with an annoying mixture of righteousness and helplessness.
— A provactive article arguing that Islam has had a Reformation but that it needs a Renaissance: A Leonardo, Not a Luther by Stephen Schwartz, who is, he writes, a Sufi Muslim. I should warn Calvinist readers that he is quite rough on Calvin.
My thanks to Charlotte Hay’s “Loose Canon” weblog for the link.
Monday, August 23
FROM THE INBOX 23 AUGUST 2004, SET # 2:
Aware that the worsening of Church-state relations might lead some to propose the end of public financing of the Church, the prelate advocated a Church "without provisions."Readers may be interested in Mr. Thomas’ Frankly Misguided, responding to Congressman Barney Frank’s arguments for homosexual “marriage.”
— And the first of four items on the differences between believing Christians:Jim Forest of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship sends the link to a lecture readers may find of interest: Thomas Merton's Journey to the Undivided Church.
— For those of you who like good ecclesiological debates, with a little shouting and the occasional punch (about half above and half below the belt), Pontificator offers his First Law. The author of the blogsite declares:
When Orthodoxy and Catholicism agree on something over against Protestantism, Protestantism loses.And the participants go at it. He starts a second intense discussion in Orthodoxy and the Bodily Assumption of the Theotokos.
— Related to the previous item, readers may find of interest or use the work of the Ecumenical Society of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
— From the Midwest Conservative Journal, which is an Episcopal blogsite, comes a tart commentary on a bishop of the Church of England who wanted to ban a patriotic hymn, Slam Dunk.
— A Southern Baptist archaeologist casts doubt on the John the Baptist cave.
— And a curiosity from the Daily Telegraph which has nothing to do with Mere Christianity or any normal Touchstone topic but which I found interesting: Pigeons to be 'flavoured' to put off the predators about an English plan to save racing pigeons from the birds that eat them. It included this, to me, surprising information:
"Some people have paid more than £100,000 for stud birds and they commonly pay £500 to £1,000 for pigeons they will race.”
DESPAIR AND HOPE IN ZAMBIA
Hope in the midst of despair
Just by itself that figure is staggering. Has the age expectancy of any other people in the history of the world been this low?
Wegener makes it clear that sexual promiscuity is the medium of this disease.
We met with some other missionaries this past weekend; one shared how it had become apparent that those trying to instruct about abstinence and AIDS prevention were forced to go to 2nd and 3rd graders to find children who were not yet sexually active. Another missionary shared a story of how testing was done in a maternity ward way out in the bush, away from trucker's routes and prostitution spots. The HIV testing results showed that every woman in the ward was HIV-positive.
The message closes on a slender but impressive thread of hope:
Hope.Tina Chonde came to [our missisonary team] four years ago with a background as a Nurse. She has been doing her internship these past three months and David recently evaluated her work. Using her medical background, she has been ministering to people with AIDS. Daily, she makes the rounds to homes in the poorest compounds, where she gives out various medications and also speaks a word of hope and shares the gospel, praying with those on the verge of death. Nine have died in her presence. Her love for these women and for Christ is overflowing.
The Price of Plagiarism,
stressed-out perfectionists and lazy no-goods alike can Google their way to an astounding array of plagiarism Web sites. Many companies sell term papers, essays and book reports by the thousands, for as much as $250 a pop, all just a click and Mom's credit card away, and all in the privacy of an undergraduate's dorm room.
Needless to say, this new availablity has greatly increased recourse to plagiarism on American campuses.
While 10 percent of college students admitted to Internet plagiarism in 1999, that number rose to around 40 percent in 2003, Donald L. McCabe, the founder of the Center for Academic Integrity (C.A.I.) at Duke University, said in a telephone interview. Many students simply crib what Google dredges up free, but McCabe estimates that 2 percent of students purchase papers online. That's how many admit it, anyway.
If the latter is the case, then McCabe's "estimate" is way off, I would suggest.
Moral attutudes toward plagiarism seem currently to be much like moral attitudes towards other matters.
The sheer ubiquity of the sites, and what is now almost a lifetime of habitual Internet accessibility, might explain why the majority of college students tell McCabe they don't think copying a sentence or two from the Web is a big deal. Students are fuzzy on what's cheating and what's not. ''A lot of students will tell us, 'It's out there, it's on the Internet,' '' Diane M. Waryold, the executive director of C.A.I., said in a telephone interview. ''They say, 'Isn't it for public consumption?' ''
Hansen researched this subject with considerable effort, far more than I would have anticipated for an article in the book review section of a daily paper.
I wanted to see whether the online atmosphere made cheating easier. I was also curious about what exactly these little Internet elves wrote about and if the papers were any good. I bought a couple of book reports, those three-to-five-page papers students write for introductory English classes, from Superior-Termpapers, or the Paper Experts. (Superior-Termpapers, like most of the sites, features a disclaimer about plagiarism, stating that their papers are merely for research.) Superior-Termpapers is special because it offers the ever-tempting, but costly, custom-written book reports, an option that other sites stay away from. Customers can buy an original paper written on a specific topic for anywhere between $20 and $45 a page, depending on how quickly they need it. So, for example, a five-page custom paper, written and delivered that day, adds up to $225.
For the budget-conscious, however, there are hundreds of prewritten book reports to choose from, some as cheap as $25. The topics, advertised in short blurbs, range from a standard book report on ''The Scarlet Letter'' to the surprising discovery ''a personal response to the book 'Who Moved My Cheese?' '' to a review of a story by the eminent writer ''Carol Joyce Oates.'' David Remnick's Pulitzer Prize-winning ''Lenin's Tomb'' is, strangely, deemed a journalistic failure: ''Facts and truth will not be gotten from this book,'' the blurb declares. Dave Eggers's ''Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius'' suffers a similar fate, albeit in more mysterious language: ''We can see obvious hypocrisy in the work that is resented [sic] here in the author's opinion of irony in the scope of the writing he shows.''.
We must consider the possiblity (as Hansen does later) that some of these reviews are written deliberately to sound like they were composed by today's high school students. If they were better done, teachers would certainly become suspicious. Having read a lot of term papers over the past half-century, some of this stuff sounds very authentic!
We also learn a few hard truths from these snippets: that ''A Farewell to Arms,'' which is called ''Hemingway's first book,'' is ''much more than a love story'' (this is a ''high school level'' paper, but still); that Newland Archer's fundamental problem in ''The Age of Innocence'' is his lack of ''tools'' to deal with Countess Olenska; and, reassuringly, that the crucial theme in ''Invisible Man'' is ''the subject of race and racial relations.'' Just think, your children might be spending their drinking money on this stuff.
For some reason Hansen concentrates on F. Scott Fitzgerald:
I bought a prewritten paper on ''The Great Gatsby.'' Dr. T. J. Eckleburg, ash heaps, stupid rich people -- what could go wrong? I also ordered a custom paper, on what I innovatively titled ''The American Dream and 'The Great Gatsby,' '' to see if there was any difference between the two types of book reports..
What are the differeces, and do you get what you pay for?
Surprise: the prewritten paper, on the idea of the hero in ''Gatsby'' (''What is a hero?'' it begins, and later: ''Muscles do not make a hero''), coming in at a reasonable $35, was terrible. The sentences run on, as in this clunker: ''Moreover, the fortune that Gatsby did amount was gained through criminal activities as he had experienced the finer things in life and wished to have a better social position, again he knew that this could only be gained through the status of wealth, in this way Gatsby sought to win the heart of the woman he had fallen in love with, Daisy.'' Faux-elegant words like ''whilst'' butt up against the jarringly conversational: ''Then Nick the narrator discovers who he is bang goes his secret.'' Bang! The paper becomes increasingly sloppy, mimicking the writing patterns of a tired and confused freshman. Maybe this is the point.
Indeed, most teachers would smell the authenticity of this thing right away. These writers are clearly masters of the style.
Hansen goes on to suggest why Gatsby may be an excellent subject of such papers:
Another surprise: the custom-written paper, delivered in three days for $180, a tenth of a community college's annual tuition or the weekend allowance of a wealthy Ivy Leaguer, was a decent piece of work. One passage that probably few undergraduates could dream up even on a good day, after a couple of writing workshops, reads: ''Those who go from rags to riches don't find nirvana or some special land where they are immediately happy, content and removed from earthly worries. They, like Gatsby, find that the reality is that the world is still ugly ... and that money and power just allow one to ignore those dichotomies a little bit easier.''
Not all the writing is equally bad, however:
Occasionally, the paper even strives for the poetic: ''Idealizing that which has little substance is like saying that once you draw a perfect circle, all of life's secrets will be discovered therein -- the circle is still hollow,
Yes, it does, but then again, vacuity is the metaphor here.
And compared with the standard paper -- whose dizzy take on the American Dream goes like this: ''Gatsby is the archetypal hero figure, yet he has tasted the bitter ashes of poverty, but then there were so many poor during the turn of the century that he is not alone in that and so like many others of his age he wished never again to be poor'' -- the custom paper is worth coughing up more dough. A's don't come easily, after all.
It was bound to be the case that efforts would be made to put a stop to this kind of thing. The same technology that encourages plagiarism can also be employed to discourage it:
And although these sites may proliferate, thanks to the hungry Web marketplace, they won't go completely unchecked. Colleges can sign up for plagiarism-detector Web sites like Turnitin.com, which allows professors to submit papers for an originality check (incidentally, newspaper and magazine editors might be interested in checking out its publishing arm -- iThenticate.com).
Still, one supsects that the remedial technology will always lag a step or two behind the criminals. At least Hansen found it so:
But can those search engines detect custom-written papers, like my $180, A-plus ''Gatsby'' paper, assuming it's an original? No, not this book report, anyway. It passed with flying colors. Now that it's part of Turnitin's database, however -- and supposing that even the hard workers at the Paper Experts get lazy once in a while -- pity the 19-year-old who goes shopping online for some quick help with the American Dream.
I confess that, as far as I'm concerned, students can plagiarize on the theme of Fitzgerald all they want. If they ever start to do this with real literature or other serious subjects, however, we should probably look into it.
FROM THE INBOX 23 AUGUST 2004, SET # 1:
It does not necessarily follow that most Muslims will try to impose their beliefs on this country by violence. We see all around us the evidence of hundreds of thousands of people living peacefully and productively with their neighbours. But it perhaps does mean that we cannot just regard Islam in Britain as a charmingly exotic addition to the English country garden.— In 'Sorry, Harlequin,' She Sighed Tenderly, 'I'm Reading Something Else', the New York Times reports on the dip in sales of “romance” novels. The biggest publisher of such wretched stuff — much of it is softcore pornography, published in series with titles like “Desire” and “Blaze” — Harlequin,
published 1,113 romance novels in 2002, more than half of the 2,169 romance titles released that year by the entire industry, according to the Romance Writers of America, a trade group. . . .This isn’t, however, good news for those of us who wish that even peoples’ light reading were edifying reading as well. Harlequin’s sales seem to have dropped because they’ve lost some of their favorite authors (they don’t pay enough) and because readers are currently buying both hardcover “chick lit” equivalents like The DaVinci Code and chick lit published by other publishers.
— Another article on young adult fiction, especially the “problem novel,” which we’ve discussed here before:Why Teachers Love Depressing Books .by Laura Miller. It is, I think, an unconvincing argument for the books, but worth reading if you’re interested in the subject.
— From the English magazine The Tablet, John Cornwell writes on England’s approval of cloning embryo’s for stem cell research. Britain, he notes, “has emerged as the sole pioneer in this work in the West” when Germany, France, and Italy and most other countries forbid such work, and even the European Parliament last year failed to approve it.
After carefully discussing the scientific and commercial temptations for creating human to experiment on it and then kill it, he concludes:
The Catholic view of the status of the embryo, which is shared by a wide constituency of pro-life groups as well as many individual scientists, has hardly gained purchase in official and public circles in Britain today, although that view has strongly affected opinion throughout Europe and North America. The situation suggests that Britain is a country that easily accepts the notion that is okay to do bad things in order to achieve widespread good: which is no different from the ethics of some forms of terrorism. There is, of course, another diagnosis: that Britain is currently a country dominated by scientific pragmatism, commercial advantage, and widespread public indifference.The article also offers an example for the Wicked Euphemism Alert: Prof. Roger Pedersen, an American teaching at Cambridge,
wants to stop calling embryos “human beings”, he says, and to use the term “unique genetic entities”.I’m sure he does.
— In a very short article titled Clones from Newcastle, C. Ben Mitchell of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School analyzes “the logic of utilitarianism” behind the English decision to allow experimentation on embryonic human beings. Oh, sorry, “Unique genetic entities.”
— An encouraging story: Tiniest Preemie Now an Honor Student, about Madeline Mann, who weighed less than a can of Coke when she was born and is now an honor student. My thanks to the Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity for the link.
— From the same issue of The Tablet, a review of a new book on spirituality, that examines the rise among the young of interest in “spirituality” and the decline in their interest in the churches. He reports that in the United Kingdom,
f church attendance fell by a fifth during the decade of the 1990s. At that rate there won’t even be a church to grieve over in 50 years’ time. And yet, over approximately the same period, reports of spiritual experience in Britain increased by around 60 per cent. The French sociologist Yves Lambert told me recently that the statistics regularly gathered across nine countries by the European Study of Values (ESV) indicate that something similar is happening throughout the continent. More and more young people who say that they are religious or spiritual are anxious to add that they have no link with the Church.I think this is indeed a problem, and one most Christian leaders have not faced, but from the review I have no idea whether the book is a helpful study. The reviewer is a little more suspicious of the “spiritual” youth than the average writer on the subject, which is good.
This is not a claim I would take at face value, because for some it would mean genuine searching and for others unconscious posing. He who seeks, finds, as our Lord promised, but a lot of these "spiritual" searchers never find anything, which suggests they weren't looking, or weren't looking very hard.
And, I might add, he who seeks, finds, even when the Thing to be found is carried in "the institutional church." We can do infinitely better in reaching out, but we should not be frightened to hear from this and similar writers that young people are spiritual without wanting to be part of any church.
HOW INTELLECTUAL HISTORY IS MADE:
When Blanche Knopf, wife of the publisher Alfred A. Knopf and an editor in her own right, bought the book on a trip to France, she was under the impression that it was "a modern-day sex manual" akin to the Kinsey report, Deirdre Bair writes in her biography "Simone de Beauvoir" (1990). Alfred Knopf, who thought the book "capable of making a very wide appeal indeed" among "young ladies in places like Smith," sought out Howard Madison Parshley, a retired professor of zoology who had written a book on human reproduction and regularly reviewed books on sex for The New York Herald Tribune, to translate Beauvoir's book. Parshley knew French only from his years as a student at Boston Latin School and Harvard, and had no training in philosophy — certainly not in the new movement known as existentialism, of which Beauvoir was an adherent.Parshley should have turned down the job when he got the manuscript.
The article includes a judgment I thought interesting, given that it appeared in the New York Times. Glazer describes the problems with the book, including its “breathless, rough-and-ready quality” which makes it hard to read, and
the tone of the book itself — analytical, almost cold — invited one of the most frequent criticisms: that she was unsympathetic and even hostile to women and to motherhood. "She has written an enormous book about women and it is soon clear that she does not like them, nor does she like being a woman," as Stevie Smith, the British poet and novelist, wrote in a review in 1953. Later, feminist critics complained that Beauvoir seemed to consider motherhood fundamentally incompatible with an independent life.You would expect, or at least I expected, the next paragraph to counter this criticism, which is fairly damning. But instead, Glazer writes:
Scholars like Bauer and Moi maintain that these flaws are magnified by a bad and outdated translation, which in places amounts to a basic misunderstanding of what Beauvoir is saying."These flaws" is not a judgement I would have expected from this newspaper.
THE PLANET IS PRIVILEGED, NOW ON DVD:
[T]he film explores the many ways in which Earth is ideally suited, not only for complex life, but also for observing the universe around us.
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