Saturday, February 27, 2010

And the Orchestra Played On

The other day, I found myself rummaging through a closet, searching for my old viola. This wasn’t how I’d planned to spend the afternoon. I hadn’t given a thought to the instrument in years. I barely remembered where it was, much less how to play it. But I had just gotten word that my childhood music teacher, Jerry Kupchynsky — “Mr. K.” to his students — had died.

In East Brunswick, N.J., where I grew up, nobody was feared more than Mr. K. He ran the town’s music department with a ferocity never before seen in our quiet corner of suburbia. In his impenetrably thick Ukrainian accent, he would berate us for being out of tune, our elbows in the wrong position, our counting out of sync.

“Cellos sound like hippopotamus rising from bottom of river,” he would yell during orchestra rehearsals. Wayward violinists played “like mahnyiak,” while hapless gum chewers “look like cow chewing cud.” He would rehearse us until our fingers were callused, then interrupt us with “Stop that cheekin plocking!”

Mr. K. pushed us harder than our parents, harder than our other teachers, and through sheer force of will made us better than we had any right to be. He scared the daylight out of us.

I doubt any of us realized how much we loved him for it.
Read the rest here.

"Armageddon was yesterday. Today we have a serious problem."

The gods must be crazy. How could tiny Greece, better known for turpentine wine and sheep cheese than for high finance, threaten the global banking system over the past two months?

And more importantly, what does the sudden blowup of debt worries on the southern tier of Europe mean for the United States, not long after we thought developed-world governments had successfully attacked this problem with the central-banking equivalent of carpet-bombing?

For answers to these questions, I turned to international-finance expert Satyajit Das, who has been our Homer over the past few years (and I don't mean Simpson) -- a guide to the epic myths told by bankers to politicians that prosperity was achievable by distilling money from math.

Das, who is based in Australia, observes first that the entire world has indulged in an economic experiment over the past decade, in which rising levels of debt have been used to promote high growth. The policy, a change from the old-fashioned capitalist virtue of earning the money used to expand, had the unintended consequence of vastly increasing risk in ways that were not fully understood by bankers, companies or regulators until it was too late.

Europe's Sovereign Debt Threat

We are now witnessing this experiment come to an end, Das says, slowly, erratically and painfully -- in Greece now and in many other countries, among them Portugal, Japan and the United States, later.
Read the rest here.

Disaster in Chile

The news is just coming over the wire that there has been a massive earthquake in Chile. Early reports put the quake at just under 9 magnitude. That is enough to bring down buildings that are built to rigorous earthquake codes. An urgent Tsunami warning has also been issued. It is far too early for any reliable damage and casualty estimates. However it is bound to be terrible.

Please pray for the people of Chile.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

British education bill to require Catholic schools provide information on accessing contraception and abortion services

Via Damian Thompson:
Catholic schools were the subject of an astonishingly ignorant and sneering exchange between Ed Balls and John Humphrys on the Today programme this morning, which you can listen to here. In it, Balls confirmed that the sex education Bill – to be debated in Parliament today – will require Catholic schools to provide information on how to “access” contraception and abortion.
Read the rest here.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Walter Russell Mead on the Episcopal Church

Via Alice Linsley over at Ethics Forum
There’s nothing like Lent for reflecting on the sins of other people; I thought I’d start at the top — with the bishops of my own church. As the Episcopal church along with the other mainline Protestant denominations diminishes, we don’t have to look far to see bishops and leaders who are largely failing in their core assignments: to tend to the health and promote the growth of the congregations in their area. Yet even as we have fewer and fewer effective and successful leaders, we have no shortage of political, ‘prophetic’ bishops. When they can, they meet with world leaders and jet off to exotic locales to bring peace and fight for justice. When they can’t do that, they sign statements of concern, issue reports and otherwise tug on the skirts of an indifferent public seeking attention for their political views.

In the mainline churches, which is what I know best, the political views leaders express are generally those of what could be called the ‘foundation left’ — emotionally grounded in concern for the poor and development, historically linked to the ‘new left’ mix of economic and social concerns as developed in the 1960’s, shaped by an atmosphere of privilege and entitlement that reflects the upper middle class background of the educated professionals who run these institutions. The social sins they deplore are those of the right: excessive focus on capitalism, too robust and unheeding a promotion of the American national and security interest abroad, insufficient care for the environment, failure to help the poor through government welfare programs, failure to support affirmative action, failure to celebrate and protect the unrestricted right of women to abort. I am of course speaking very generally here and there are lots of individual exceptions, but many of these folks are generally tolerant of theological differences and rigidly intolerant when it comes to political differences: they care nothing at all about doctrines like predestination but get very angry with people who disagree with them about issues like global warming or immigration reform. Theological heresy is a matter for courtesy and silence, but political heretics fill them with bile.
Read the rest here. (This guy is not pulling any punches.)

Saturday, February 20, 2010

CPAC Presidential Straw Pole: And the winner is...


Calling this a surprising development would be putting it mildly. The annual convention of the Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC) held its straw pole for presidential candidates today. In a major upset the decisive winner was libertarian leaning congressman Ron Paul (R-TX) who has occasionally infuriated social conservatives and neo-cons with his unsparing criticism of George Bush's colonial adventurism in Iraq and the appalling lack of fiscal responsibility during his presidency.

Rep. Paul is an advocate of among other things...
  • A mind our own business foreign policy (translation: he is an old fashioned isolationist).
  • Sound money (ending the fiat paper currency and returning to the gold standard).
  • Balanced budgets. Yea they all say that. But unlike most Washington pols; he really means it.
  • A policy of governmental neutrality when it comes to the culture wars. He believes that it's not the government's job to legislate religious or moral beliefs.
I have no idea if this is a fluke or not. But I find it rather encouraging. For the record I think Ron Paul is a man who desperately wants to turn the clock back to the 18th century. And no, I am not really comfortable with everything he advocates for. But I do respect him greatly. He is (for a politician) relatively honest and you always know where he stands.

Read the story here.

Update: More encouraging signs... the ultra rightwing birther- militia- secessionist- the Bible is the US Constitution crowd over at Free Republic are having a collective stroke over this.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Patriarchal Encyclical On the Sunday of Orthodoxy defends ecumenism

Patriarchal and Synodal Encyclical

On the Sunday of Orthodoxy

(February 21, 2010)


By God’s Grace

Archbishop of Constantinople-New Rome

and Ecumenical Patriarch

To the Fullness of the Church, Grace and Peace

From our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ

Our most holy Orthodox Church today commemorates its own feast day, and – from this historical and martyric See of the Ecumenical Patriarchate – the Mother Church of Constantinople directs its blessing, love and concern to all of its faithful and dedicated spiritual children throughout the world, inviting them to concelebrate in prayer.

Blessed be the name of the Lord! Those who endeavored over the ages to suppress the Church through various visible and invisible persecutions; those who sought to falsify the Church with their heretical teachings; those who wanted to silence the Church, depriving it of its voice and witness; they all proved unsuccessful. The clouds of Martyrs, the tears of the Ascetics, and the prayers of the Saints protect the Church spiritually, while the Comforter and Spirit of Truth leads it to the fullness of truth.

With a sense of duty and responsibility, despite its hurdles and problems, as the First-Throne Church of Orthodoxy, the Ecumenical Patriarchate cares about protecting and establishing the unity of the Orthodox Church, in order that with one voice and in one heart we may confess the Orthodox faith of our Fathers in every age and even in our times. For, Orthodoxy is not a museum treasure that must be preserved; it is a breath of life that must be transmitted and invigorate all people. Orthodoxy is always contemporary, so long as we promote it with humility and interpret it in light of the existential quests and needs of humanity in each historical period and cultural circumstance.

To this purpose, Orthodoxy must be in constant dialogue with the world. The Orthodox Church does not fear dialogue because truth is not afraid of dialogue. On the contrary, if Orthodoxy is enclosed within itself and not in dialogue with those outside, it will both fail in its mission and no longer be the “catholic” and “ecumenical” Church. Instead, it will become an introverted and self-contained group, a “ghetto” on the margins of history. This is why the great Fathers of the Church never feared dialogue with the spiritual culture of their age – indeed even with the pagan idolaters and philosophers of their world – thereby influencing and transforming the civilization of their time and offering us a truly ecumenical Church.

Today, Orthodoxy is called to continue this dialogue with the outside world in order to provide a witness and the life-giving breath of its faith. However, this dialogue cannot reach the outside world unless it first passes through all those that bear the Christian name. Thus, we must first converse as Christians among ourselves in order to resolve our differences, in order that our witness to the outside world may be credible. Our endeavors for the union of all Christians is the will and command of our Lord, who before His Passion prayed to His Father “that all [namely, His disciples] may be one, so that the world may believe that You sent me.” (John 17.21) It is not possible for the Lord to agonize over the unity of His disciples and for us to remain indifferent about the unity of all Christians. This would constitute criminal betrayal and transgression of His divine commandment.

It is precisely for these reasons that, with the mutual agreement and participation of all local Orthodox Churches, the Ecumenical Patriarchate has for many decades conducted official Panorthodox theological dialogues with the larger Christian Churches and Confessions. The aim of these dialogues is, in a spirit of love, to discuss whatever divides Christians both in terms of faith as well as in terms of the organization and life of the Church.

These dialogues, together with every effort for peaceful and fraternal relations of the Orthodox Church with other Christians, are unfortunately challenged today in an unacceptably fanatical way – at least by the standards of a genuinely Orthodox ethos – by certain circles that exclusively claim for themselves the title of zealot and defender of Orthodoxy. As if all the Patriarchs and Sacred Synods of the Orthodox Churches throughout the world, who unanimously decided on and continue to support these dialogues, were not Orthodox. Yet, these opponents of every effort for the restoration of unity among Christians raise themselves above Episcopal Synods of the Church to the dangerous point of creating schisms within the Church.

In their polemical argumentation, these critics of the restoration of unity among Christians do not even hesitate to distort reality in order to deceive and arouse the faithful. Thus, they are silent about the fact that theological dialogues are conducted by unanimous decision of all Orthodox Churches, instead attacking the Ecumenical Patriarchate alone. They disseminate false rumors that union between the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches is imminent, while they know well that the differences discussed in these theological dialogues remain numerous and require lengthy debate; moreover, union is not decided by theological commissions but by Church Synods. They assert that the Pope will supposedly subjugate the Orthodox, because they latter submit to dialogue with the Roman Catholics! They condemn those who conduct these dialogues as allegedly “heretics” and “traitors” of Orthodoxy, purely and simply because they converse with non-Orthodox, with whom they share the treasure and truth of our Orthodox faith. They speak condescendingly of every effort for reconciliation among divided Christians and restoration of their unity as purportedly being “the pan-heresy of ecumenism” without providing the slightest evidence that, in its contacts with non-Orthodox, the Orthodox Church has abandoned or denied the doctrines of the Ecumenical Councils and of the Church Fathers.

Beloved children in the Lord, Orthodoxy has no need of either fanaticism or bigotry to protect itself. Whoever believes that Orthodoxy has the truth does not fear dialogue, because truth has never been endangered by dialogue. By contrast, when in our day all people strive to resolve their differences through dialogue, Orthodoxy cannot proceed with intolerance and extremism. You should have utmost confidence in your Mother Church. For the Mother Church has over the ages preserved and transmitted Orthodoxy even to other nations. And today, the Mother Church is struggling amid difficult circumstances to maintain Orthodoxy vibrant and venerable throughout the world.

From the Ecumenical Patriarchate, this sacred Center of Orthodoxy, we embrace all of you lovingly and bless you paternally, praying that you may journey in health through the holy period of contrition and asceticism known as Holy and Great Lent in order that you may become worthy of celebrating the pure Passion and glorious Resurrection of our Savior Lord with all faithful Orthodox Christians throughout the world.

Sunday of Orthodoxy 2010

+ Bartholomew of Constantinople

Fervent supplicant to God for all

+ Constantine of Derkon

+Evangelos of Perge

+ Kallinikos of Lystra

+ Michael of Austria

+ Alexios of Atlanta

+ Joseph of Proikonnisos

+ Demetrios of Sevasteia

+ Irenaios of Myriophyton and Peristasis

+ Chrysostom of Myra

+ Emmanuel of France

+ Makarios of Gortyna and Arkadia

+ Amphilochios of New Zealand


From the you can't make this up file

Agents and officers of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security reported that 289 of their handguns, shotguns or automatic rifles had been lost or stolen between 2005 and 2008, with weapons left in places ranging from fast-food restaurant restrooms to bowling alleys to clothing stores, the agency's inspector general said in a report released Thursday.

Most of the losses could have been prevented, DHS Inspector General Richard L. Skinner reported. In one case, his office stated, a border officer left a weapon in his idling vehicle at a convenience store. Both the weapon and the vehicle were stolen. In another case, a shotgun and semiautomatic rifle were stolen from an officer's closet at home. Other agents left firearms in truck beds or on vehicle bumpers, where weapons fell off as they drove away.
Read the rest here.

In the good old days in Japan, a samurai who lost his sword was expected to commit ritual suicide. Not suggesting anything here... but yea.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Dad Pleads Not Guilty on Violating Court Order For Taking Daughter to Church

A Chicago man who defied a court order and took his toddler to a Catholic Church service was arraigned today on a charge of indirect criminal contempt in a custody battle that is threatening to put him in jail and draw new boundaries in divorce cases.

Joseph Reyes pleaded not guilty for allegedly violating a court order issued by Chicago family law Judge Edward R. Jordan who had barred Reyes from taking his 3-year-old daughter to church following a dispute over religion with his estranged wife. Reyes' wife, Rebecca Reyes, is Jewish.

Reyes, a veteran of the Afghan war, made a motion to have his contempt charges heard by a different judge, a motion that was granted. He was arraigned before Judge Elizabeth Loredo-Rivera.

If found guilty of indirect criminal contempt, Reyes could be sentenced to up to six months in jail.

The next court date is on March 3, when Reyes is expected to file a motion to dismiss all charges against him.

In a statement issued after the hearing, Reyes said, "There's a strong possibility I could end up in jail. It's really sad it's come to this."

Reyes and his wife are in abitter divorce battle, and the question of what faith their child should be raised in is pushing the boundaries of child custody arrangements.

Reyes' decision to baptize his daughter without his wife's permission resulted in what some are calling an extraordinary court order: Jordan in the Circuit Court of Cook County, Ill., imposed a 30-day restraining order forbidding Joseph Reyes from, according to the document, "exposing his daughter to any other religion than the Jewish religion. &"

The couple married in 2004. Joseph Reyes was Catholic, but he converted to Judaism to please his in-laws. He has said the decision wasn't "voluntary."

Despite his conversion, Reyes, 35, said he never stopped practicing Catholicism.
Read the rest here.

She has legal custody of the child. That's all that needed to be said. How can you baptize a child you do not have custody of? On a side note this is an excellent case for why people should avoid religiously mixed marriages.

Party Gridlock in Washington Feeds New Fear of a Debt Crisis

WASHINGTON — Senator Evan Bayh’s comments this week about a dysfunctional Congress reflected a complaint being directed at Washington with increasing frequency, and there is broad agreement among critics about Exhibit A: The unwillingness of the two parties to compromise to control a national debt that is rising to dangerous heights.

After decades of warnings that budgetary profligacy, escalating health care costs and an aging population would lead to a day of fiscal reckoning, economists and the nation’s foreign creditors say that moment is approaching faster than expected, hastened by a deep recession that cost trillions of dollars in lost tax revenues and higher spending for safety-net programs.

Yet rarely has the political system seemed more polarized and less able to solve big problems that involve trust, tough choices and little short-term gain. The main urgency for both parties seems to be about pinning blame on the other, before November’s elections, for deficits now averaging $1 trillion a year, the largest since World War II relative to the size of the economy.

Mr. Bayh, the centrist Democrat from Indiana, lodged his complaint about excessive partisanship and Congressional gridlock on Monday by way of explaining his decision not to seek re-election. But he is hardly alone in sounding an alarm about the long-term budgetary outlook, which has Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security costs growing at unsustainable rates and an inefficient tax system that cannot keep up.

“I used to think it would take a global financial crisis to get both parties to the table, but we just had one,” said G. William Hoagland, who was a fiscal policy adviser to Senate Republican leaders and a witness to past bipartisan budget summits. “These days I wonder if this country is even governable.”
Read the rest here.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Georgia Seeks Return of Luger's Body

TBILISI, Georgia–Georgian officials said Monday they were working to return the body of luger Nodar Kumaritashvili to his mountain hometown for burial in a cemetery beside its small Georgian Orthodox church.

Mr. Kumaritashvili died in a training accident hours before the opening of the Winter Olympics on Friday when he lost control of his luge on the final turn of the track at the Whistler Sliding Centre and hit a steel support at 90 miles per hour.

"The funeral could be in two or three days but nothing is clear yet," said David Kumaritashvili, the luger's father.

The athlete will be buried in Bakuriani, the quiet ski resort where he lived all of his 21 years and became a local hero. The town of about 3,000 inhabitants, set high in the Caucasus Mountains about 110 miles kilometers west of Tbilisi and surrounded by fir-covered peaks, is a close-knit community and expects a deluge of mourners.
Read the rest here.

Rod Dreher on the Great Pew Controversy

...Yesterday I mentioned to Julie that I didn't like pews, because they made me feel as if I were part of an audience watching a performance on the altar. Without pews, I felt more like someone gathered around a bonfire. The author of this essay puts it more harshly than I would, but the insight is essentially the same. You wouldn't have convinced me several years ago when I first walked into an Orthodox church that the experience of worshiping without pews would make me feel more integrated into the liturgy (as opposed to merely tired from standing), but having worshiped this way for almost four years, I've experienced the difference, and love it! It makes one feel personally more integrated into the liturgy, I find.

Roman Catholics used to go to mass like this too, but it appears that the Reformation also brought pews into Catholic churches as well (Byzantine Rite Catholics generally still observe the older tradition of standing during mass, though I've attended two Byzantine Rite churches in the US that have pews). It surely must strike most American Christians as interesting, at the very least, to think that pews in Christian churches are a relatively recent innovation in the history of Christianity. For three-quarters of our history, most Christians stood at corporate worship.

Let me ask my Orthodox readers for their thoughts on having pews inside our churches. I'd also like to hear from Catholic and other non-orthodox readers on the topic.
Read the rest (and the comments) here.

For the record I agree with Rod. Pews are OK but given a choice I prefer the more traditional practice.

The Fast Begins

I sometimes get questions from inquirers and others who are not Orthodox asking what our fasting rules entail. Here in brief are the rules for the Lenten Fast.

Starting on the first day of Lent (we begin on Monday not Ash Wednesday) Orthodox Christians are to abstain from all meat, fish, wine, oil and dairy/animal products during weekdays. Also normally only one meal is taken each day. On weekends this is relaxed somewhat with two meals permitted and wine and oil are allowed. The first week of the Fast (called Clean Week) as also Holy Week are observed very strictly. Those able to do so keep a strict fast on Clean Monday (no food) and eat as little as possible thereafter until the weekend. The monastic discipline (which is the standard towards which we should strive) calls for only two meals between Monday and Friday. Holy Week also gets rough starting on Great and Holy Wednesday until the Fast is broken by taking Communion on Pascha (Easter). Great and Holy Friday is a strict fast day (no food) and Holy Saturday is very nearly a strict fast with only a little fruit and nuts normally allowed.

Now that I have probably frightened off any inquirers let me throw out some mitigating words. First the Church calendar contains a number of days during lent where wine and oil are permitted. Also there are two days (the Feast of the Annunciation and Palm Sunday) where fish wine and oil are allowed. Secondly (and very importantly) we are not insane and we do understand human limits. In practical terms and for obvious reasons few laymen can keep the fast this strictly. But for everyone the Fast during Clean Week should be kept as strictly as individual circumstances permit as also the last several days of Holy Week.

Food and drink taken for reasons of health are always permitted. Most priests routinely relax some aspects of the fast for their spiritual children especially for reasons of age or health. The rules outlined above were written in a day and age when people generally ate much less and had far more limited diets all year. Also the influence of diet on health was not understood as it is today.

The object in the fast is not to satisfy some legalistic requirements dating to late antiquity or to see who can inflict the most damage on their health. Rather it is to stretch ourselves spiritually by denying the flesh one of its favorite comforts. The Fast is first and foremost a form of spiritual medicine intended to help with the process of decluttering our lives for the 40+ days of Lent and get us refocused on God.

Now a few closing thoughts on fasting. The above rules are the guidelines in the book. The real rules are the ones your spiritual father/confessor prescribes for you. One of the most frequent mistakes committed by those new to the Faith is to dive into the Fast and try to do it all the first time around. That is in almost every case a recipe for failure and frustration. I have been Orthodox for four years now. I have yet to keep Lent strictly and probably never will for various reasons. Few people outside of monasteries do. But we need to try as best we can. If you fall down (we all do) then pick yourself up and try again.

Finally, avoid discussing the fast with others. Your fast is your business. The only one you should be talking with about it in detail is your spiritual father. Remember you may be keeping a stricter fast than others and discussing it could cause them to feel bad or make them attempt something they are not ready for. Or you may be doing less than someone and that too can cause issues. The Fast should be kept discretely. Efforts should be made to avoid those circumstances where you may be tempted to break the fast or show off to others who are not fasting. This last part is quite challenging in our culturally Western country in which fasting as a religious discipline has been more or less abandoned. My own spiritual father has gone so far as to say that it is better to break the fast than cause scandal or show off. If you are a guest and someone puts food in front of you, you eat it. With that view in mind keep your social engagements to a minimum.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

A Deep Bow

On this the eve of the Great Fast and bowing low, I wish to ask forgiveness from anyone who I may have injured through any word, action or negligence, and most especially by anything which I may have written or allowed to be posted on this blog. Please forgive me.

During Lent

In keeping with my custom of some years, there will generally be no posting on Wednesdays and Fridays during Great Lent. Additionally there will be very little posting during "Clean Week" and none after Great and Holy Tuesday until at least Bright Monday. (I do plan to post sometime this week on my experiences serving as a juror in a First Degree Murder trial.) I wish each and everyone a blessed fast.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

A Modest Proposal

Via the Midwest Conservative Journal...
A guest editorial by Katharine Jefferts Schori

First of all, I would like to thank Christopher Johnson for giving me the opportunity to communicate with you in this space. It is encouraging to know that every now and then, we can overcome our differences, as vast as those differences all too often are.

The humorous cartoon posted below was actually quite funny. Nobody likes a good joke more than I do. Actually, I’ve been told that just about everyone likes a good joke more than I do but that’s beside the point.

What, you may ask, is the point? The point is that Mr. Johnson’s cartoon gets at something we must not ignore and cannot allow ourselves to evade any longer.

The Episcopal Church is in a serious financial crisis, the most serious in its history.

Why? One could point to a variety of reasons. The bad economy. The fact that consecrating an openly-gay bishop didn’t turn to be as monetarily-profitable a move of the spirit as we were led to believe that it would be. The fact that too many of you are stupid, reactionary, hypocritical, homophobic bigots. One could go on and on.

But the point is not to assess blame but to find solutions. And a solution has recently been suggested that seems to show a way forward that will not only lift the Episcopal Church out of its financial valley of the shadow of death but lead it into a future where we can finally begin to realize God’s dream of shalom.

Selling indulgences.
Read the rest here.
Hat tip to Bill (aka The Godfather)

Friday, February 12, 2010

Vatican to hold Days of Russian Spiritual Culture

Via Interfax:
“Today the Moscow Patriarchate and the Roman Catholic Church prepare a number of joint projects in the field of culture as, for example, the Days of Russian Spiritual Culture in Vatican in spring 2010,” Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia writes in his article published in the Expert magazine.

According to the Russian Church Primate, Christians need to find “new language and new creative ways to preach Christian values in modern-day conditions of the constantly changing world so that this sermon can be heard and properly taken,” the article further reads.

The Patriarch noted that first of all, he meant cooperation between the Roman-Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church “as they have shared views on actual problems of social and economic ethics, bioethics, family, personal morality and others.”

“As we understand that Europe is facing serious challenge of losing its personal civilizational and cultural identity, it becomes very important to mutually search for new opportunities to make Christian values attractive for a modern-day European,” Patriarch Kirill stresses.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Peter Schiff on why the jobs bill won't work

How Christian Were the Founders?

LAST MONTH, A WEEK before the Senate seat of the liberal icon Edward M. Kennedy fell into Republican hands, his legacy suffered another blow that was perhaps just as damaging, if less noticed. It happened during what has become an annual spectacle in the culture wars.

Over two days, more than a hundred people — Christians, Jews, housewives, naval officers, professors; people outfitted in everything from business suits to military fatigues to turbans to baseball caps — streamed through the halls of the William B. Travis Building in Austin, Tex., waiting for a chance to stand before the semicircle of 15 high-backed chairs whose occupants made up the Texas State Board of Education. Each petitioner had three minutes to say his or her piece.

“Please keep César Chávez” was the message of an elderly Hispanic man with a floppy gray mustache.

“Sikhism is the fifth-largest religion in the world and should be included in the curriculum,” a woman declared.

Following the appeals from the public, the members of what is the most influential state board of education in the country, and one of the most politically conservative, submitted their own proposed changes to the new social-studies curriculum guidelines, whose adoption was the subject of all the attention — guidelines that will affect students around the country, from kindergarten to 12th grade, for the next 10 years. Gail Lowe — who publishes a twice-a-week newspaper when she is not grappling with divisive education issues — is the official chairwoman, but the meeting was dominated by another member. Don McLeroy, a small, vigorous man with a shiny pate and bristling mustache, proposed amendment after amendment on social issues to the document that teams of professional educators had drawn up over 12 months, in what would have to be described as a single-handed display of archconservative political strong-arming.

McLeroy moved that Margaret Sanger, the birth-control pioneer, be included because she “and her followers promoted eugenics,” that language be inserted about Ronald Reagan’s “leadership in restoring national confidence” following Jimmy Carter’s presidency and that students be instructed to “describe the causes and key organizations and individuals of the conservative resurgence of the 1980s and 1990s, including Phyllis Schlafly, the Contract With America, the Heritage Foundation, the Moral Majority and the National Rifle Association.” The injection of partisan politics into education went so far that at one point another Republican board member burst out in seemingly embarrassed exasperation, “Guys, you’re rewriting history now!” Nevertheless, most of McLeroy’s proposed amendments passed by a show of hands.

Finally, the board considered an amendment to require students to evaluate the contributions of significant Americans. The names proposed included Thurgood Marshall, Billy Graham, Newt Gingrich, William F. Buckley Jr., Hillary Rodham Clinton and Edward Kennedy. All passed muster except Kennedy, who was voted down.

This is how history is made — or rather, how the hue and cry of the present and near past gets lodged into the long-term cultural memory or else is allowed to quietly fade into an inaudible whisper. Public education has always been a battleground between cultural forces; one reason that Texas’ school-board members find themselves at the very center of the battlefield is, not surprisingly, money. The state’s $22 billion education fund is among the largest educational endowments in the country. Texas uses some of that money to buy or distribute a staggering 48 million textbooks annually — which rather strongly inclines educational publishers to tailor their products to fit the standards dictated by the Lone Star State. California is the largest textbook market, but besides being bankrupt, it tends to be so specific about what kinds of information its students should learn that few other states follow its lead. Texas, on the other hand, was one of the first states to adopt statewide curriculum guidelines, back in 1998, and the guidelines it came up with (which are referred to as TEKS — pronounced “teaks” — for Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills) were clear, broad and inclusive enough that many other states used them as a model in devising their own. And while technology is changing things, textbooks — printed or online —are still the backbone of education.
Read the rest of this rather long but interesting article here.

The Church of England will ordain women bishops. Get over it – or leave

From Damian Thompson...
I don’t belong to a Church which makes decisions about something as fundamental as the ordination of women priests by voting in a quasi-parliamentary General Synod. But, if I did, and if that Church then prepared to take the logical step of ordaining women bishops, I’d ask myself a simple question. Will these ordinations be valid? Then I stay. Invalid? Then I go.
Read the rest here.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

I'm Back

I am back online and expect to be posting again shortly. Also I am happy to report that the trial I was a juror on has now ended. It has been a remarkable and frankly challenging experience. Sometime in the next few days I will likely be posting on my experiences as a juror in The People vs Jose Zavala.

More articles on the case can be found here, here and here.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Positive signs

The trial on which I am a juror has progressed much faster than anticipated. Originally scheduled to run through Feb 19; we now expect to hear closing arguments tomorrow. I ask for your prayers as the matter I and my eleven co-jurors are sitting in judgment on is quite serious.

More good news... after a lot of delays I am hopeful that my computer problems will be resolved by the end of the week.