Thursday, June 26, 2008

Quote of the Day: Cervantes

So, a little out of the normal for me, but I've been reading Don Quixote lately, and here is a few lines that caught my attention today:

"...I do not know what God will reply to your complaints, nor can I tell what His Majesty's response will be: all I do know is that if I were the King I should refrain from replying to the countless irrelevant memoranda handed him every day; for one of the most tedious of the many, many chores of a monarch is having to listen to everybody and reply to everybody; so I shoudl nto like him to be bothered by my affairs."

Cervantes, Don Quixote, part II, chapter VI

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

NYU and Polytech

There is a joke in New York concerning the two premier private universities, Columbia University and New York University, that due to their appetite for real estate, they will together take over all of Manhattan and eventually meet somewhere around Columbus Circle. But with NYU's recent takeover of the Engineering school, Polytech, this university is expanding outside of Manhattan into Brooklyn. So, what do you do if you are a university without a school of engineering? You go out and buy one!

Here is the article from the Chronicle:

New York Regents Approve Merger of Polytechnic U. and NYU

The New York State Board of Regents has approved the merger of Polytechnic University and New York University despite vehement opposition from some Polytechnic alumni and a critical report from the chairman of the State Senate’s Committee on Higher Education, NYU’s student newspaper, The Washington Square News, reported today.

Under the terms of the deal, the Brooklyn engineering school will be renamed the Polytechnic Institute of New York University. The state board approved an amendment altering Polytechnic’s educational charter to allow the merger.

The arrangement had been approved by trustees of both institutions, although it was bitterly opposed by some engineering alumni, who argued that Polytechnic was giving away control of their alma mater without assurances that it would benefit the institution.

In a statement on Polytechnic’s Web site, President Jerry Hultin called the merger “the perfect fit between two great universities.” The president of NYU, David McLaughlin, released a similar statement, calling it “a great day for NYU, for Poly, and for New York.”

Unconvinced, some Poly alumni, current and former trustees, and faculty members filed a petition to delay the vote and to remove the entire board of the Brooklyn university, the alumni group said. —Katherine Mangan

God is an African American Woman

Who knew? Or, at least, in a new fiction novel, "The Shack," God is depicted as an African-American woman. Jesus makes his appearance as a Jewish workman (pretty traditional). And the Holy Spirit shows up as "an indeterminately Asian woman" named Sarayu.
This book is written by an otherwise unknown author, William Paul Young:

"He chose to make God an African-American woman, he said, because he wanted to alter religious preconceptions. “It was just a way of saying: ‘You know what? I don’t believe that God is Gandalf with an attitude or Zeus who wants to blast you with any imperfection that you exhibit,’ ” Mr. Young said."

I had never heard of this novel until I saw an article about it in the NYTimes today. But evidently it is number 1 on the New York Times best seller list for fiction, beating out even Oprah's book of the month, "A New Earth," by Eckhart Tolle. Maybe I should look at the bestseller list more often.

So, in a world in which "Christian Fiction" usually means cheesy storylines or stereotyped end of the world scenarios, How did this book get there? Not by mass marketing campaigns or by celebrity endorsements, but by grass-roots word of mouth, sped up by the blogosphere, the electronic word of mouth. And, perhaps interest has been fueled by the Southern Baptist Convention and other conservatives labeling the book as heresy:

"Sales have been fueled partly by a whiff of controversy. Some conservative Christian leaders and bloggers have attacked “The Shack” as heresy. The Rev. R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, devoted most of a radio show to the book, calling it “deeply troubling” and asserting that it undermined orthodox Christianity. Others have said the book’s approach to theology is too breezy to be taken seriously."

If the SBC hates it, it must be good! ;) The book seems to take on a more affective cast, which may be part of the issue (SBC folk tend to be rationalistic and play down emotional elements, such as can be found among Charismatic and Pentecostal groups). Although the "undermining" may be that they feel a bit uncomfortable with an African-American Woman as God.

Nevertheless, I doubt I will ever pick it up, since I am just not into the "inspirational" reading material. That's why I study the Bible!

Quote of the Day: Augustine

I was perusing Augustine's City of God, and this passage struck me as perhaps still relevant:

"Peace and War had a competition in cruelty; and Peace won the prize. For the men whom War cut down were bearing arms; Peace slaughtered the defenceless. The law of War was that the smitten should have the chance of smiting in return; the aim of Peace was to make sure not that the survivor should live, but that he should be killed without the chance of offering resistance."

Augustine, City of God, 3.28.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Obama and Muslim Voters

Although I typically do not consider myself particularly political, I have noticed that a good number of my postings tend to be about politics, particularly politics and religion. I have posted a few times on Evangelical voters, Catholic voters, and the different candidates, partly because they seem to be getting the most press. But NYT has an article today on Muslim voters and Barack Obama, particularly Obama's apparent distancing himself from Islam and Muslim voters.

According to the article, many Muslim voters were originally enthusiastic about Obama as a candidate. And when Keith Ellison, the country's first Muslim congressman, volunteered to help out in Iowa last year, particularly to speak at a Mosque in Cedar Rapids, which has a sizable and older Muslim population, Obama's aides asked him not to do so because it might stir up controversy, quoting, "We have a tightly wrapped message," suggesting that a Muslim politician speaking at a mosque on Obama's behalf somehow does not fit that message. What message might that be? Whatever it is, it sent a message--Barack Hussain Obama wants to distance himself from Islam. but not overtly so.

There's more...unfortunately, much more. I quote from the article:

"While the senator has visited churches and synagogues, he has yet to appear at a single mosque. Muslim and Arab-American organizations have tried repeatedly to arrange meetings with Mr. Obama, but officials with those groups say their invitations — unlike those of their Jewish and Christian counterparts — have been ignored. Last week, two Muslim women wearing head scarves were barred by campaign volunteers from appearing behind Mr. Obama at a rally in Detroit."

On the other hand, Obama's aides have denied this, claiming that Obama's campaign is inclusive and inter-faith:

"Aides to Mr. Obama denied that he had kept his Muslim supporters at arm’s length. They cited statements in which he had spoken inclusively about American Islam and a radio advertisement he recorded for the recent campaign of Representative Andre Carson, Democrat of Indiana, who this spring became the second Muslim elected to Congress.

"In May, Mr. Obama also had a brief, private meeting with the leader of a mosque in Dearborn, Mich., home to the country’s largest concentration of Arab-Americans. And this month, a senior campaign aide met with Arab-American leaders in Dearborn, most of whom are Muslim. (Mr. Obama did not campaign in Michigan before the primary in January because of a party dispute over the calendar.)

"“Our campaign has made every attempt to bring together Americans of all races, religions and backgrounds to take on our common challenges,” Ben LaBolt, a campaign spokesman, said in an e-mail message.

"Mr. LaBolt added that with religious groups, the campaign had largely taken “an interfaith approach, one that may not have reached every group that wishes to participate but has reached many Muslim Americans.”"

It seems that Obama is walking a fine line. He is trying to maintain broad appeal to voters who remain wary or suspicious of Muslims in general (or worse), and an important constituency that he will probably need to win in November. Thus there seems to be a disconnect between his message of unity and change in his slogans and his campaign strategy.

What makes things worse is his language in response to rumors that he is a Muslim (or closet Muslim). While he has stated (on 60 Minutes) that such rumors are offensive to Muslims because they amount to "fearmongering," playing into the biases of the portions of the electorate that remain suspicious of Muslims in general, his website has recently listed this as a "smear"! In response, Muslim congressman Ellison says, “A lot of us are waiting for him to say that there’s nothing wrong with being a Muslim, by the way."

This constituency should not be ignored, as no constituency should. But, what is more, they CANNOT be ignored in the general election. Sizable Muslim populations exist in Florida, Michigan, Ohio, and Virginia (with smaller pockets elsewhere, such as Iowa, NY, etc.). Florida was the swing vote in 2000; Ohio, in 2004. Michigan tends toward Democratic, but can be swung. Virginia, as the 2006 mid-term elections demonstrated, can go either way as well. In fact, Virginia Muslims overwhelming voted for Jim Webb, who upset his opponent and now sits in the Senate! Obama and McCain cannot ignore this population especially in these states.

What is more, there appears to be a political awakening among these groups, especially in response to the policies put forth by G. W. Bush, such as, uh, the Patriot Act! They are engaged in state-wide and nation-wide campaigns to get Muslims registered to vote, to actually vote on election day. Before 9/11, Muslim political organizations focused on professionals (doctors, lawyers, etc.), but now they are moving grass-roots (taxi-drivers, etc.).

What probably does not help Obama is what he said and where he spoke the day after he clinched the nomination. I actually had jury duty that day and was sitting in a waiting room at a courthouse, watching coverage of Obama speaking with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a huge lobby in Washington, D.C.--and, by the way, Obama was not alone, because Hillary Clinton spoke there the same day. He basically presented a Zionist metanarrative and ended by saying that Jerusalem should be the capital of Israel--later he modified this by saying that it should be negotiated between Israelis and Palestinians.

I will quote the end of the article:

For Ms. Ghori and other Muslims, Mr. Obama’s hands-off approach is not surprising in a political climate they feel is marred by frequent attacks on their faith.

Among the incidents they cite are a statement by Mr. McCain, in a 2007 interview with, that he would prefer a Christian president to a Muslim one; a comment by Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton that Mr. Obama was not Muslim “as far as I know”; and a remark by Representative Steve King, Republican of Iowa, to The Associated Press in March that an Obama victory would be celebrated by terrorists, who would see him as a “savior.”

“All you have to say is Barack Hussein Obama,” said Arsalan Iftikhar, a human rights lawyer and contributing editor at Islamica Magazine. “You don’t even have to say ‘Muslim.’ ”

As a consequence, many Muslims have kept their support for Mr. Obama quiet. Any visible show of allegiance could be used by his opponents to incite fear, further the false rumors about his faith and “bin-Laden him,” Mr. Bray said.

“The joke within the national Muslim organizations,” Ms. Ghori said, “is that we should endorse the person we don’t want to win.”

What are the consequences of this tightwalking? I think it might mirror McCain's problems with conservative Christians in the Republican party (not equating Evangelicals and Muslims, but the similarity of the situation and how these two figures walk a tightrope between a particular constituency and broader appeal when those two things seem in tension). If the snubs continue, or, what I like to call, "embracing someone at arm's length," I doubt that Muslim and Arab-American (which includes Muslims, Christians, and Jews from the Middle East) constituencies will turn to McCain. At worst, like some Evangelicals might with McCain, they will either stay home on election day or quietly and with qualms vote for Obama.

Obama and Evangelicals

James Dobson has now fired at Barack Obama. He claims that Obama has distorted the Bible and has a "fruitcake" interpretation of the Constitution. See full AP Press story here.

The following caught my attention:

"Even if we did have only Christians in our midst, if we expelled every non-Christian from the United States of America, whose Christianity would we teach in the schools?" Obama said. "Would we go with James Dobson's or Al Sharpton's?" referring to the civil rights leader.

Dobson took aim at examples Obama cited in asking which Biblical passages should guide public policy — chapters like Leviticus, which Obama said suggests slavery is OK and eating shellfish is an abomination, or Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, "a passage that is so radical that it's doubtful that our own Defense Department would survive its application."

"Folks haven't been reading their Bibles," Obama said.

Dobson and Minnery accused Obama of wrongly equating Old Testament texts and dietary codes that no longer apply to Jesus' teachings in the New Testament.

"I think he's deliberately distorting the traditional understanding of the Bible to fit his own worldview, his own confused theology," Dobson said.

"... He is dragging biblical understanding through the gutter."

The first part of the quote is a series of excerpts from Obama speeches that Focus on the Family is going to include in an upcoming radio show. But I am not sure what the problem is according to Dobson (or Dobson's spokesperson).

Firstly, the excerpts are out of context. I have no idea what the larger point of the speech was. They claim that Obama is "wrongly equating Old Testament texts and dietary codes that no longer apply to Jesus' teachings in the New Testament." Again, without context, I am not sure what he is saying. He makes a valid point about Leviticus--we should not allow religious texts written thousands of years ago to determine our laws today. If you personally follow Leviticus and do not eat shellfish (as many observant Jews do today), that's fine, but it is not a matter of general law for the state. Although the sanctioning of slavery (or, more exactly, the assumption of slavery) is also in Leviticus, but only in the laws to release or redeem a slaver. The same is true, however, with the sermon on the mount--it is fine to live your life in accordance with it, but it is not a matter of law or Constitution. Although "Blessed are the poor" might just be good general social policy. But Obama's point is that you cannot run a defense department on these teachings. But this does not seem to be Dobson's point of equation. Dobson seems to claim that Leviticus was invalidated by Jesus, or the parts of Leviticus that he personally and, well, most Christians do not follow--he is probably more than happy to pull out Leviticus 18 which bans homosexual relations between men (but not between women!). Didn't Jesus invalidate this part as well? ;) But he seems to assume that Jesus did not follow Jewish law... There is no evidence for this at all. The gospels (especially Matthew) shows that he actually seems to have been active in debate about Jewish law--see the points of contrast of interpretation in Matthew 23. This is not abrogating or doing away with Jewish law, but providing a particular interpretation. He just did not follow the interpretation of Jewish law of his interlocutors (in Matt, the Pharisees). They each had their positions. Sometimes, in fact, Jesus' interpretation is the stricter one! Since Jesus' teachings are steeped in the Jewish lore (legal, as well as mantic, sapiential), it is difficult to sustain any argument that says that they do not apply to his teachings.

Perhaps Obama is right--folks haven't been reading their Bibles very carefully, and those folks are at Focus on the Family.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Lit Hum Desk Copies!

Today I picked up my desk copies for Literature of the Humanities fall term. Only TWELVE books for just the fall term! They really weigh you down! Although carrying them home made for a good workout. students will be reading:

Epic of Gilgamesh
The Bible (RSV)
Homeric Hymn to Demeter
Aeschylus, Oresteia
Sophocles, Oedipus trilogy
Euripides, Medea
Aristophanes, Clouds
Plato, Symposium

So the year-long course that ends with Virginia Woolf is very antiquity-heavy, but being an antiquarian, I'm not complaining! So, we have three epic poems (four if you include the "epic" of the Bible), an epic hymn, four playwrights, two historians, a philosopher, and a partridge in a pear tree.

George Carlin, RIP

I am saddened to hear that famous comedian and originally Morningside Heights native, George Carlin, died today of heart failure. His incisive wit, philosophical humor, and outright obscenity will all be missed. Here is a quote from his on religion:

"The whole problem with this idea of obscenity and indecency, and all of these things — bad language and whatever — it's all caused by one basic thing, and that is: religious superstition," Carlin told the AP in a 2004 interview. "There's an idea that the human body is somehow evil and bad and there are parts of it that are especially evil and bad, and we should be ashamed. Fear, guilt and shame are built into the attitude toward sex and the body. ... It's reflected in these prohibitions and these taboos that we have."

See an article from yahoo here.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Quote of the Day: Leviticus 19:30; 26:2

את־שבתתי תשמרו ומקדשי תיראו אני יהוה

(Lev. 19:30; 26:2)

For you non-Hebrew readers, this says, "Observe my Sabbaths and venerate my Sanctuary. I am YHWH." Both quotations come from a part of the Pentateuch called the Holiness Code (Lev. 17-26). Some distinctive elements of the Holiness School (which produced the Holiness Code) is God's self assertions, as in this passage: "I am YHWH." And the first-person singular possessive: "my Sabbaths" and "my sanctuary." Moreover, HS tends to give quite an increased reverence for the Sabbath. Taking a look at this passage, as well as how the Sabbath is interwoven in the instructions to build the Tabernacle and the actual building of the Tabernacle (Exod. 31:12-17; 35:1-3; the entire instructions are Exodus 25-31; 35-40), the question arises: "What does the Sabbath have to do with the Sanctuary?" Why bring them together, and, in this case, even seem to privilege the Sabbath over the Sanctuary? The Rabbis suggested that this meant that even the construction of the Tabernacle does not supersede Sabbath observance (Sifra, Qedoshim 7:7). There may be something to that. But this layer of the Pentateuch elevates the Sabbath, magnifying its importance to ever-new heights. In short, the Priestly texts (including HS) place the Sabbath's sanctity on par with the Sanctuary, the typical benchmark of holiness. For example, in this layer, the Sabbath is added to the list of festivals, and, contrary to previous parlance, becomes a day of "proclaimed holiness." The language for violating the Sabbath is similar to defiling the Sanctuary--חלל (Exod 31:14; Lev. 21:12, 13). The punishment is karet. Most of all, the Sabbath becomes a "sign of the covenant" at Sinai. Overall, the Sabbath and the Sanctuary become equivalent in holiness as the HS elevated the Sabbath to the sanctity of the Sanctuary: they are qualitatively equivalent in holiness. Put another way, the Tabernacle expresses God's holiness in space and the Sabbath expresses God's holiness in time. Both, in turn, relate to Israel's holiness--by constructing the Tabernacle, observing the Sabbath, and obeying the commandments (Leviticus 19), Israel becomes holy as God is holy.

Henry Chadwick

The great church historian, Henry Chadwick (1920-2008), died this week. I always appreciated his very lucid translations of ancient works. I think the first work of his I ever read was his translation of Augustine's Confessions. For a very nice reminiscence, see Mark Goodacre at NTGateway.

Requiescat in pace

Monday, June 16, 2008

Trivial Pursuit after Trivial Pursuit

This past Saturday my significant other and I decided we would like to play Trivial Pursuit. But neither of us actually had a copy of the game. So, we decided to go to Toys R Us in Times Square, but they only had Trivial Pursuit for Kids and they had the Disney version. We went to several bookstores, such as Borders (which has few games by the way) and Barnes & Nobles, but, again, to no avail.

So, we hopped in the car and headed to Queens. There we went to Target and another Toys R Us--again, neither had a regular Trivial Pursuit or a Trivial Pursuit for adults. We also went to a mall with some non-chain toy stores, again to no avail.

So basically, we spent all day looking for Trivial Pursuit, but ended up empty. I guess you just cannot get Trivial Pursuit in New York City. By the way, there are about 30 versions of Scrabble--Scrabble is very popular in NYC--and about 50 versions of Monopoly. One version of Monopoly that I did not see, however, was Socialist Monopoly... ;)

Friday, June 13, 2008

Quote of the Day: Job 14:4

Last night a friend of mine asked me to translate the Hebrew version of Job 14:4 for her friends. Her Greek and Latin are excellent, having been largely trained in Classics and Ancient History, but her Hebrew was a bit rusty. Since I was reading it, I thought I would make it the quote of the day in Hebrew (Masoretic), Greek, and Latin (Vulgate):

"Mi-yiten tahor mitame' lo' echad"
"Who can make a clean (thing) from an unclean (thing)? No one!"

"tis gar katharos estai apo hrupou; all' outheis."
"For who will be clean from unclean? But no one!"

"Quis potest facere mundum de immundo conceptum semine? nonne tu qui
solus es?"
"Who can make clean from an unclean seed? Is it not only you?"

Interestingly, the Latin is closest to the Hebrew for the first part, since both maintain the transitive sense of "making" something else clean, whereas the Greek takes cleanness/uncleanness as the status reflecting back upon the "who." By the way, the "can" in the Hebrew is just understood and is not found their literally, but the Latin makes this explicit. Concerning the second part, the Greek is closest to the Hebrew, both saying "no one," whereas the Latin turns to "is it not only you" (supposedly God).

I have to admit, this is hardly a verse that has ever stopped me in my tracks before. I only read it and thought of it because it stopped someone else in her tracks and she needed more information about it. But it does illustrate quite nicely how text traditions develop and change form translation to translation--and Job famously varies quite a bit in general from the Hebrew to the Greek. I have not done enough work in the Vulgate to see how this works out in Latin, but, if this verse is any indication, sometimes it will be closer to the Hebrew than the Greek and sometimes it will be further.

We should also note that the variances of translation are acts of interpretation, adapting texts to new contexts or drawing out possible latent meanings within the text, which, in turn, allows for the development of new meanings--demonstrating, luckily for me, that the act of interpretation is ongoing and neverending. Indeed, taking a second look at the larger passage, this line comes in the context of one of Job's "despondent" prayers to God, this one being about the inevitability of death and, interestingly enough, the impossibility of a new life (as can be found in nature). In a later period, where belief in life after death (outside of the shadowy world of Sheol--Job 14:13) would be more widespread and Job would be accepted as authoritative (among those same people), how these despondent lines of Job would be understood would also change. Perhaps 14:12 allowed some room for reinterpretation: "so mortals lie down and do not rise again; until the heavens are no more, they will not awake or be roused out of their sleep." Job probably understood this in terms of "never," but after the development of the apocalyptic tradition, where there were many predictions of the earth and heavens being destroyed and replaced, this could have appeared as a sentiment promoting resurrection: resurrection when the present heavens and earth are removed.

I will be teaching Job this fall, and I am looking forward to delving into this rich text a little more deeply than I have before!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

What is going on at Harvard Divinity School?

In the Chronicle, the following job posting is listed for Harvard Divinity school:

Harvard Divinity School
Junior Positions in New Testament and Early Christianity

Harvard Divinity School seeks to make two junior, tenure-track appointments in New Testament and Early Christianity, with preference for specialization in Gospels or early Christian and Jewish apocalyptic (including the Dead Sea Scrolls). The successful candidates will complement the current field of New Testament and Early Christian Studies at HDS which focuses on the interdisciplinary study of Christian literature (canonical and extracanonical), history, exegesis, and theology in the context of the ancient Mediterranean world, with special emphases in hermeneutics, feminist interpretation, and material culture.

Applicants must hold a doctoral degree by the time of assuming the position in the fall of 2009, be familiar with forms of analysis that address race, gender, and social location, and be able to teach and advise at the doctoral and master's levels, including the M.Div. program. In addition to students in the Divinity School, successful candidates will teach undergraduates and graduate students in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.

So, my question is, why does Harvard Divinity School need/want two junior appointments? TWO!!! Are they expanding their NT/Early Christianity field? Is someone retiring? Elizabeth Schlussler Fiorenza is probably nearing retirement age.... If you have some info, let me know (and if you don't feel comfortable displaying this info publicly, email

Of course, I personally think I fit the latter descriptor (early Christianity and Jewish Apocalyptic with some work in the Dead Sea Scrolls--and oddly enough, some work in the Nag Hammadi Codices).

Quote of the Day: Montaigne (again)

Both of the following quotes are from Michel de Montaigne's essay, Judgment's on God's ordinances must be embarked upon with prudence. The first quote contains the opening lines and the second the closing lines of the essay.

"The real field and subject of deception are things unknown: firstly because their very strangeness lends them credence; second, because they cannot be exposed to our usual order of argument, so stripping us of the means of fighting them. Plato says that this explains why it is easier to satisfy people when talking of the nature of the gods than of the nature of men: the ignorance of the hearers provides such hidden matters with a firm broad course for them to canter along in freedom. And so it turns out that nothing is so firmly believed as whatever we know least about, and that no persons are more sure of themselves than those who tell us tall stories, such as alchemists and those who make prognostications: judicial astrologers, chiromancers, doctors and 'id genus omne.' To which I would add if I dared that crowd of everyday chronicles and interpreters of God's purposes who claim to discover the causes of everything that occurs and to read the unknowable purposes of God by scanning the secrets of his will..."

"We must be content with the light which the Sun vouchsafes to shed on us by its rays: were a man to lift up his eyes to seek a greater light in the Sun itself, let him not find it strange if he is blinded as a penalty for his presumption. 'Quis hominum potest scire consilium dei? aut quis poterit cogitare quid velit dominus?' [For what man can know the counsel of God: or who shall conceive what the Lord willeth? (Wisdom of Solomon 9:13)].

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Laptops in the Classroom

In the Chronicle today there is an article about a Law professor who has banned laptops from his classroom. The article notes that in this day and age, doing so is a very bold move by a professor. Some students claim that they can't receive a good education without their laptops. While some students need to take notes on a computer due to some learning difficulty, most students in my experience just surf the net, play games, do some online shopping, and IM their friends (who also may be in the class). When I TA, I often now sit up front so that I don't have to see the sea of computers with everything on their screen except their note sheet. Is banning them the solution? One could argue that, with laptops or not, students will be distracted. They will just stare listlessly out the window, or, uh, do what I did when I was bored in class--doodle.

But doodling is NOT as much a temptation as whatever games you have on your computer, checking your email, and IMing your friends. After a few minutes of doodling, you get bored with that too, so you might as well listen to the lecture. With the laptops a greater number of students seem to be distracted than without them. The biggest problem here is the internet. With more and more campuses going wireless, laptop distraction is much worse than when having a laptop meant the only distractions would be minesweeper.

Proponents of keeping laptops in classrooms claim, however, that they can enrich the discussion. I have seen this happen perhaps once or twice in the past few years...the professor forgot something very specific like a date or the result of a particular court ruling and a student found it within seconds on the internet and we could discuss a document that was on the internet easily because it was on everyone's screen.

This law professor says that by banning the laptops, there was a marked increase in class participation.

In a discussion-based classroom, the laptop, I think, should be banned. 1) In a discussion-based class, you probably aren't taking very many notes to begin with, because you are supposed to be engaged with your classmates and the discussion leader. 2) laptops, in addition to the distractions on the internet, create psychological distance between the speaker and everyone else--in discussion, we need to see your face and the laptop creates a barrier. A discussion-based class has a different advantage, however...I have heard of professors who walk around during discussions, and, by doing so, they can monitor students' screens.

For a lecture-based class, I am not sure... On the one hand, students will probably be taking LOTS of notes, and therefore the laptop seems to be the way to go. But those classes are also more likely to use tests (midterm and final) more than a discussion-based class, and oftentimes students who are now used to typing on their laptops get pretty bad hand cramps when writing out their in-class finals. Although I never used a laptop in college and I still got hand cramps on final exams. During my orientation for teaching Lit Hum next year, we were told that it might be a good idea to give some in-class writing assignments throughout the semester just so that we can get the students used to writing out a lot to prepare them for the handwritten final.

One final problem here is pedagogy: most college professors have terrible pedagogy. They have not been taught how to teach and, although this is changing at the moment, usually professors are rewarded far more for research than for their teaching abilities--so, guess where they spend most of their time? Because so many professors lack pedagogical training, they can be dreadfully boring in class. In such cases, people will be doodling or surfing the net.

Overall, with the advance of technology, there always seem to be drawbacks!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Quote of the Day: More Montaigne

So, it is obvious now that I have been perusing some of Michel de Montaigne's collected essays--I have to teach them next year. His essays, by the way, are a series of exercises in intense self-reflection that perhaps exceeds Augustine Confessions. In a post-reformation world, Montaigne remained a devoted adherent of the Latin rite (the earlier name of what was later called the Roman Catholic Church), while also partaking of the ongoing humanist movement. Thus, although he was French, his father set up that his primary mother-tongue would be classical Latin (literally, his entire family and everyone around him only addressed him in Latin when he was a young child). With this in mind, I read the following in his essay, That it is madness to judge the true and the false:

"We ought to judge the infinite power of Nature with more reverence and a greater recognition of our own ignorance and weakness. How many improbable things there are which have been testified to by people worthy of our trust: if we cannot be convinced we should at least remain in suspense. To condemn them as impossible is to be rashly presumptuous, boasting that we know the limits of the possible. If we understood the difference between what is impossible and what is unusual, or between what is against the order of the course of Nature and what is against the common opinion of mankind, then the way to observe that rule laid down by Chilo, Nothing to excess, would be, Not to believe too rashly: not to disbelieve too easily."

Commentary: This seems to be a respectable position: one is not to be too impressionable either way--both believing and disbelieving too easily are to be too impressionable. The things that appear, at first glance, to be completely unbelievable, may not exceed the limits of the possible, and, therefore, one should in such situations "remain in suspense" between belief and disbelief. For to declare something unbelievable is to claim to know the limits of the knowable, something "rashly presumptuous." I particular like the phrasing in the end about trying to discern between what is unusual and what is impossible (for some things that seem impossible, are just unusual possibilities) and between what is against nature and what is against common opinion (perhaps common opinion what what is against Nature, but which may not, in later reflection--perhaps even generations later when knowledge has changed--actually be against Nature). While Nature (with a capital N) became a surrogate religion, a surrogate god, in Enlightenment thought, one must remember that Montaigne was a devout Catholic. When he is speaking about "Nature," he is speaking about the Nature that God put into order. In fact, when one places all of this back into context, it becomes a defense of miracles. But not just any miracle, but those that have been declared such by a reputable authority--perhaps Plutarch, whom Montaigne clearly adores, but mainly the Roman Catholic Church. In fact, this piece that exhorts one to remain thoughtful and not jump to conclusions too rashly seems to give up the effort of thought itself, since, in the end, he declares that one should totally submit to the judgment of the "ecclesiastical polity." Such a reputable authority, in fact, can declare what is against the order of Nature (i.e. "the ordered Nature determined by God") and what is not (namely, the miracles and mysteries of the Church).

In fact, at this point, the reflections on maintaining critical thought that is not jumping to conclusions or being "rashly presumptuous" sounds frighteningly similar to the positions staked by rather conservative evangelical creationists in recent public school science curriculum debates. As Wade has been posting on Evolution of the Mystery, most supporters of "scientific creationism" and "intelligent design" try to get their views of creation to be taught in science classes side-by-side with evolution through the language of demonstrating the strengths of weaknesses of scientific theories (i.e. evolution--as Wade points out, they are probably not going to be discussing the strengths and weakness of atomic theory). They too are relying upon their "reputable authority" (i.e. their interpretation of Gen. 1:1-2:3) to determine the possible and are questioning the scientific community position of evolution (which is not at all controversial in scientific circles) as being "rashly presumptuous" and claiming to know what is knowable and what is not knowable. Again, the end result is again remaining in "suspense"--at the very best, not knowing anything. Not being too impressionable, neither believing nor disbelieving, leaves one without a position at all, allowing another to decide the position for you. The result of all of this thoughtfulness seems to be thoughtlessness, allowing the reputable authority to do your thinking for you. The problem is, who defines "reputable" and how did that "authority" become an "authority" and how did it become "reputable"?

Harry Potter and Politics

In what I take to be a good case of religion and politics and in keeping with my previous post, I must relate what I saw...perhaps you have seen the same thing.

As I was walking my dog, Daphne, today, I saw the following slogan on a bumper sticker just outside my building:

"Republicans for Voldemort"

Who is Voldemort, the dark lord who must not be named? Is it Bush? Is it McCain? Or just any Republican presidential candidate?

This reminds me of a friend of mine, who asked, "Is it wrong to fancy Voldemort?" (spoken with an English accent)

Quietly Courting: McCain and Evangelicals

I have been posting a series on religion and politics in this campaign season. And, considering that evangelicals were about one quarter of the voting block in 2004, their relationship with the different candidates has been and will probably continue to be a consistent topic in the news. As such, NYTimes has an article on McCain courting evangelicals.

So, evidently McCain has a balancing act to perform. He cannot just come out and make faith-based statements as G.W. Bush did in 2000 and especially 2004. 1) Most Evangelicals don't believe him when he makes any faith-like statement. McCain was raised an Episcopalian. He started going to a Baptist Church (American Baptist or Southern Baptist, I don't know, although it makes a HUGE difference) when he married his most recent wife, although, according to the article, he has never been baptized into the new congregation. Finally, when he campaigned for President in 2000, he called the Bush-supporting Evangelical leaders like Jerry Falwell and Co. "agents of intolerance." In February, when McCain was about to clinch the nomination as the presumptive Republican candidate, James Dobson of the Evangelical radio show, "Focus on the Family," said that he would stay home and just not vote (evidently he has now retracted and said that he would vote, but remain highly critical of McCain). 2) In addition to the conservative base finding McCain's faith lacking (and, by the way, they do NOT find Bush's faith lacking, although they are now flagging in their previously more enthusiastic support of Bush), McCain has to maintain the middle--yes, even in such seemingly polarized environments as the past couple elections, there is a middle portion to the electorate that will go back and forth between Republican and Democrat. The middle, though, are the most disenchanted with the Republican party and the Bush regime. These middlers, who often vote Republican, but are not particularly devoted to the party, often find the more hard-core conservative and Evangelical Republicans and their positions repulsive. Thus, if McCain reaches out too much and too publicly to Evangelical voters, he may lose the middle...and, according to the article, if he loses the middle, he loses the election. Thus, McCain has been sending substitutes and staffers to send emails and visit Evangelical leaders, he has been appearing at events without much media hype--basically, he is reaching out, but under the radar. To them, he is emphasizing his opposition to the newest same-sex marriage rulings (for the actual performance of the marriage in California, and the recognition of such California marriages in other states, like my own New York), his opposition to abortion, but, at the same time, playing down his support for stem cell research (a position of his that actually may help him maintain the centrists).

At the same time, Barack Obama is more openly courting Evangelical voters. He has openly spoken of his faith in public throughout the campaign. The now famous remarks of his pastor, however, have made this a bit more difficult for him, but with that controversy probably largely in the past, one can probably expect a bit more faith-speak from Obama--especially since he does it more convincingly than McCain does. Evidently, too, Obama has hired a full-time staffer whose sole job is to reach out to Evangelical voters. As is true overall for Obama, though, if he is able to appeal to Evangelical voters, he will probably generate more support among younger voters than the older ones.

The big question is: will disenchantment with the Republican party (because of the policies of Bush--ranging from domestic issues like education to foreign policy like lack of diplomatic skill and waging an extraordinarily unpopular and costly war), the evangelical dislike and distrust of McCain personally, and Obama's charismatic appeal lead to a reconfiguration of the electorate? Or, will these factors chip into the Republican base just barely enough for Obama to emerge victorious in November? Or will McCain be able to balance the evangelical base (which at the very best will just vote for him reluctantly) and the centrists?

Monday, June 9, 2008

Quote/s of the Day

April DeConick at Forbidden Gospels has a practice of posting "Apocryphotes" or quotes from Christian "apocrypha" (ancient Christian writings that were not including in the later orthodox canon/s). I thought I would post some quotes from time to time (not nearly as regularly as she does) from the much more random sources of lines here and there that strike me as interesting (thus, not nearly as coherent of a group of sources that she is drawing from). we go:

"Only fools have made up their minds and are certain."

"If you want it to be so, history can be a waste of time: it can also be, if you want it to be so, a study bearing fruit beyond price...."

Michel de Montaigne, On Educating Children

For a follow-up on that first quote:

"For doubting pleases me as much as knowing."

Dante, Inferno 11.93

Friday, June 6, 2008

The Naughty Bible

The following was in USA Today (and I found out about it from Paleojudaica):

"Examine Bible stories top to bottom — particularly the "bottoms" — and you will find a blue vein of sexual and scatological humor not-so-hidden in the verses, say two scholars of Hebrew Scriptures and an evangelical satire writer.

"Their new book, The Uncensored Bible: The Bawdy and Naughty Bits of the Good Book, in stores Monday, raises such questions as "Which 'bone' was Eve made from?"

"Or whether, in the Book of Judges, a king's assassin escapes through a latrine in a tale laden with euphemisms for feces."

That last bit is the story of Ehud, the left-handed judge (Judges 3:12-30). It is not a story you hear in church or synagogue very often, but, if you read carefully, it is funny. And, uh, the key to the Genesis story is that the "bone" may be something other than Adam's "rib."

How might this be, though? The Bible clearly states that Eve was made from one of Adam's "ribs" (Tsela'). Perhaps the next verse, "Bone (etzem) of my bones," is the relevant portion here... If you point Tsela' with a patakh instead of a kametz, however, it can mean "limping" (or "stumbling"). I hope for Adam's sake, the authors of this new book are referring to the "bone of my bones" verse, rather than Eve being made out of Adam's "limp thing."

The Bible truly is such a bawdy book! (shock to many of you, to be sure, but others, not so much)