Monday, April 28, 2008

The Prophetic Voice

While the remarks of The Reverend Jeremiah Wright may seem discordant and troubling, isn't that the role of the prophet? Isn't it the prophet's duty to speak "truth to power?" Several observers have likened Wright to the Hebrew prophets Jeremiah and Amos, preachers who used violent imagery.

Richard Landes points out a large flaw in this line of thinking:
As someone who has read the prophetic texts, and thought a good deal about them in the context of the tradition of self-criticism, I think these characterizations of the “prophetic stream” represent a profound misunderstanding. The prophets are ferocious in their criticism of their own people; they have relatively little to say about the real oppressive forces in the world of their day in the 8-7th centuries BCE. When the people of Israel get smashed by the Assyrians and the Babylonians, the prophets don’t go into a rant about how evil these vicious imperialists are; they invoke them as God’s agents in punishing Israel for their sins. When, under more normative conditions, when they chastize rulers and aristocracy for their treatment of the poor, they do so again with vigorous, even violent rhetoric, but they do so in the hopes of changing their people. The prophets, however rough they may be, love the people they chastize, and rebuke them for the sake of their transformation.
Just so.

Another thing that occurs to me as I watch the videos of the Reverend Jeremiah Wright's sermons is the reaction of his congregation to these harsh words--they are delighted to the point of laughing, dancing, and high-five-ing. The proper response to a prophet's words is repentance. In the time of the Hebrew prophets Jeremiah and Amos, this meant weeping and wearing sackcloth and ashes.

Racial McCarthyism?

Via Protein Wisdom:
The press, particularly ABC and Fox, have been very irresponsible regarding Reverend Wright. He has been used as a tool to smear Obama with the association; I think the apt label would be “Racial McCarthyism.”
In this formulation, that makes The Reverend Jeremiah Wright into Joseph Stalin.


The Future of American Power -- 1

There is engrossing reading over at in an essay The Future of American Power, by the always provocative Fareed Zakaria.

One characteristic of this article's appeal is that the ideas that crop up every two or three paragraphs call out for attendant essays. I won't have the presumption to write those essays, but I'd like to point out some paragraphs for commentary. Emphasis in the quoted paragraphs is mine.

The first topic is the U.S. educational system:
The U.S. system may be too lax when it comes to rigor and memorization, but it is very good at developing the critical faculties of the mind. It is surely this quality that goes some way in explaining why the United States produces so many entrepreneurs, inventors, and risk takers. Tharman Shanmugaratnam, until recently Singapore's minister of education, explains the difference between his country's system and that of the United States: "We both have meritocracies," Shanmugaratnam says. "Yours is a talent meritocracy, ours is an exam meritocracy. We know how to train people to take exams. You know how to use people's talents to the fullest. Both are important, but there are some parts of the intellect that we are not able to test well -- like creativity, curiosity, a sense of adventure, ambition. Most of all, America has a culture of learning that challenges conventional wisdom, even if it means challenging authority." This is one reason that Singaporean officials recently visited U.S. schools to learn how to create a system that nurtures and rewards ingenuity, quick thinking, and problem solving. "Just by watching, you can see students are more engaged, instead of being spoon-fed all day," one Singaporean visitor told The Washington Post. While the United States marvels at Asia's test-taking skills, Asian governments come to the United States to figure out how to get their children to think.
So this gets me thinking about the current revolt against the current U.S. exam-based fashion. In Washington State, this exam regimen is WASL, and it is the bane of students and teachers alike.

The push towards standardized exams came when the current urban school culture proved unable to deal with the cultural demands placed on schools. Children were dumped on the school's doorstep every September; and teachers were expected to perform all of the socialization, disciplinary, and character-building tasks that used to be seen as the responsibility of the parents. It's tough to teach anything when kids can't read. It's tough to maintain classroom order when children haven't been taught self-discipline at home. And heaven help the teacher who disciplines some hysteric parent's little darling.

But apparently we are doing something right. A previous paragraph reads:
But the aggregate scores hide deep regional, racial, and socioeconomic variation. Poor and minority students score well below the U.S. average, while, as one study noted, "students in affluent suburban U.S. school districts score nearly as well as students in Singapore, the runaway leader on TIMSS math scores." The difference between the average science scores in poor and wealthy school districts within the United States, for instance, is four to five times as high as the difference between the U.S. and the Singaporean national average. In other words, the problem with U.S. education is a problem of inequality. This will, over time, translate into a competitiveness problem, because if the United States cannot educate and train a third of the working population to compete in a knowledge economy, this will drag down the country. But it does know what works.
And so we see that the problem isn't with our educational model, it's with a one-size-fits-all solution that attempts to apply a solution developed to monitor inner-city school performance to all schools everywhere.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Misremembering Scripture--Updated!

Nancy, Nancy, Nancy.

(Imagine me saying that in my best Cary Grant impersonation voice.)

I've tried to help you out with this Bible thing before. Back in December of 1995 I helpfully pointed out that the "Bible scripture" that you were quoting wasn't in the Bible at all! At least it wasn't in any of the translations to which I have access.

But you weren't listening. Not that I blame you, really. You are a big-shot Democrat, I'm a nobody Republican. You are from San Francisco, I'm from a small town in Puget Sound.

But you're still doing it; and you're still using the same oddball misquote. In your press release for 2008 Earth Day, you write:
“The Bible tells us in the Old Testament, ‘To minister to the needs of God’s creation is an act of worship. To ignore those needs is to dishonor the God who made us.’ On this Earth Day, and every day, let us honor the earth and our future generations with a commitment to fight climate change.”
I'm still scratching my head over this quote. I'm not the only one.

But, I'm a big man. Maybe you do know better than me. I read neither Hebrew, Koine Greek, nor Aramaic. So I am writing you via your big shot Congressional Speaker's website's "contact" page:
Speaker Pelosi;

In your press release "Celebrating Earth Day," you quote the Old Testament using the following scripture:

‘To minister to the needs of God’s creation is an act of worship. To ignore those needs is to dishonor the God who made us.’

Would you please tell me where in the Old Testament that this quote is found? I understand that there are many translations and that quote may not be word-for-word, but where can I find this quote's source?

Thank you for your time and attention.

-Whidbey Islander
I promise I will post your reply here.

UPDATE: No, not a reply from Ms Pelosi. But of course I'm not the only person trying to get to the bottom of this quote. CNSNews has tried for two days to get a reply from Speaker Pelosi's office to source the quote. They have also surveyed several Biblical scholars to see if they could provide a plausible (or even implausible) source for the quote:
John J. Collins, the Holmes professor of Old Testament criticism and interpretation at Yale Divinity School, said he is totally unfamiliar with Pelosi's quotation.

"(It's) not one that I recognize," Collins told Cybercast News Service. "I assume that she means this is a paraphrase. But it wouldn't be a close paraphrase to anything I know of."

Claude Mariottini, a professor of Old Testament at Northern Baptist Theological Seminary, told Cybercast News Service the passage not only doesn't exist - it's "fictional."

"It is not in the Bible," Mariottini said. "There is nothing that even approximates that."

Other scholars agree that nothing remotely resembling it can be found in any version of the Scriptures - Old Testament or New Testament.

"The quote does not exist in the Old Testament, neither in the New Testament," said the Rev. Andreas Hock, a doctor of Scripture who teaches in the Roman Catholic archdiocese of Denver's St. John Vianney Seminary.

"Even in pieces or bits, (it) cannot be found in the Old Testament," he added.
The problem with the "paraphrase" theory is that her press release enclosed the questionable text in quotation marks.

CNS also review the fact that Speaker Pelosi uses this quote more than an Evangelical uses John 3:16:
  • December 2005, in a Christmas message to the U.S. House of Representatives, Pelosi said: "And as the Bible teaches us, to minister to the needs of God's creation is an act of worship, to ignore those needs is to dishonor the God who made us. Let us vote no on this budget as an act of worship and for America's children."

  • Feb. 8, 2007, in remarks before the U.S. House Science and Technology Committee, when it held hearings on global warming, she used the same quote, verbatim, as in her Earth Day release.

  • April 6, 2007, in congressional remarks before the Easter recess: "In this Holy Week, we are reminded of these words in the Old Testament: 'To minister to the needs of God's creation is an act of worship. To ignore those needs is to dishonor the God who made us.' We must move quickly to honor God's creation by reducing greenhouse gas pollution in the United States and around the world."

  • April 25, 2007, in a speech to the League of Conservation Voters in Washington, D.C.: "We are now charging ahead to tackle one of humanity's greatest challenges yet - global warming. We will do this because we hold our children's future in our hands - not our grandchildren, or great-grandchildren, but our own children. "As it says in the Old Testament, 'To minister to the needs of God's creation is an act of worship. To ignore those needs is to dishonor the God who made us.'"

  • Oct. 22, 2007, in a television interview with PBS host Tavis Smiley, she used it in discussion of her roots, attributing the quote to the book of Isaiah: "I'm raised in a family in Baltimore, Maryland, my father was the mayor. He was in Congress when I was born. And we were devoutly Catholic, very patriotic. We love America. Devoutly Catholic, deeply patriotic, proud of our Italian American heritage, and in our case, staunchly Democratic.

    "And that faith was related to our Democratic values. That is to say, the gospel of Matthew: 'When I was hungry, you gave me to eat.' You know, the least of our brethren. So that's an inspiration in the New Testament. In the Old Testament, Isaiah says, 'To minister to the needs of God's creation is an act of worship. To ignore those needs is to dishonor the god who made us.'"
So, until I hear from you, Nancy, I'm going with the explanation provided by Professor Mariottini:
"People try to use the Bible to give authority to what they are trying to say," he said. "(This) is one of those texts that you fabricate in order to support what you want to say."

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Alien Nation

The Alien Nation made-for-TV movies have been released to DVD.

I have said before that I have a soft spot for genre-bending science fiction television shows. Alien Nation was the best sci-fi cop-buddy-comedy-soap opera ever done. (And yes there have been several---if you stretch "sci-fi" to include the "supernatural horror" like they do in the island's video rental store.)

The series was canceled by Fox TV back in its early days, setting a pattern for disappointing everyone who didn't care for teen soap opera. I am going to order the one complete season on DVD and see if it stands up. If so, I may order the movies--that will give time for their price to fall.

...And am I the only one who gets the multi-layered pun in the title?

Thursday, April 03, 2008

...Don't Amount to a Hill of Beans

Rumors come and go, but this is a doozy.
But now Madonna has stunned the movie industry with plans to remake Casablanca – and this time set it in Iraq.
Go read the article while I speculate on this....

Does this mean that herself endorses Bush's entrance into the war? After all, the theme of Casablanca is the end of American isolationism, "I bet they're asleep now. I bet they're asleep all over America." And, "Welcome to the fight. Now I know our side will win."

Perhaps she treasures this line of Ilsa's: "I love you so much. I hate war so much. " But that comes from the mouth of a veteran of a resistance movement.

I don't doubt that hack writers will be hired to re-write the script and make up into down and wrong into right. And I don't doubt that if they do so, audiences will stay away in droves, making this yet another Madonna bomb.

P.S. Remember that Ingrid Bergman was 27 when the original Casablanca was made. Madonna is turning 50 in August 2008. She has been workin' the gym, but I think it would take a whole unit of ILM to make her look the ingenue.

Not just Anybody can Do This

Joe Queenan reviews Paris Hilton in The Hottie and the Nottie.
Though it is a natural impulse to believe that the excruciating film one is watching today is on a par with the excruciating films of yesterday, this is a slight to those who have worked long and hard to make movies so moronic that the public will still be talking about them decades later. Anyone can make a bad movie; Kate Hudson and Adam Sandler make them by the fistful. Anyone can make a sickening movie; we are already up to Saw IV. Anyone can make an unwatchable movie; Jack Black and Martin Lawrence do it every week. And anyone can make a comedy that is not funny; Jack Black and Martin Lawrence do it every week. But to make a movie that destroys a studio, wrecks careers, bankrupts investors, and turns everyone connected with it into a laughing stock requires a level of moxie, self-involvement, lack of taste, obliviousness to reality and general contempt for mankind that the average director, producer and movie star can only dream of attaining.
Mr. Queenan reveals the what and why of his choice of Worst Movie Ever Made:

While it may disappoint those who welcome my occasionally unconventional opinions, I am firmly in the camp that believes that Heaven's Gate is the worst movie ever made. For my money, none of these other films can hold a candle to Michael Cimino's 1980 apocalyptic disaster. This is a movie that destroyed the director's career. This is a movie that lost so much money it literally drove a major American studio out of business. This is a movie about Harvard-educated gunslingers who face off against eastern European sodbusters in an epic struggle for the soul of America. This is a movie that stars Isabelle Huppert as a shotgun-toting cowgirl. This is a movie in which Jeff Bridges pukes while mounted on roller skates. This is a movie that has five minutes of uninterrupted fiddle-playing by a fiddler who is also mounted on roller skates. This is a movie that defies belief.

A friend of mine, now deceased, was working for the public relations company handling Heaven's Gate when it was released. He told me that when the 220-minute extravaganza debuted at the Toronto film festival, the reaction was so thermonuclear that the stars and the film-maker had to immediately be flown back to Hollywood, perhaps out of fear for their lives. No one at the studio wanted to go out and greet them upon their return; no one wanted to be seen in that particular hearse. My friend eventually agreed to man the limo that would meet the children of the damned on the airport tarmac and whisk them to safety, but only provided he was given free use of the vehicle for the next three days. After he dropped off the halt and the lame at suitable safe houses and hiding places, he went to Mexico for the weekend. Nothing like this ever happened when Showgirls or Gigli or Ishtar or Xanadu or Glitter or Cleopatra were released. Nothing like this happened when The Hottie and the Nottie dropped dead the day it was released. Heaven's Gate was so bad that people literally had to be bribed to go meet the survivors. Proving that, in living memory, giants of bad taste once ruled the earth. Giants. By comparison with the titans who brought you Heaven's Gate, Paris Hilton is a rank amateur.

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