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May 26, 2005
ITEM ONE: Today’s commentary, “A Common Culture in the Age of Blogging?,” takes a look at Terry Teachout’s analysis of the loss of a common culture and the rise of the blogosphere. Teachout’s outstanding artblog, About Last Night, is worth bookmarking. Now, some of Teachout’s fellow critics are bemoaning their loss of influence. In ‘Critical Condition,” Scott Timberg of the Los Angeles Times reports that the elite critics are watching as their influence melts. “You get arts journalists together these days, and it’s what they talk about: their declining influence,” commented Doug McLennon, editor of ArtsJournal.com. What these critics seem to miss is the obvious point that Americans decided not to listen to critics whose worldview and elitist tastes dripped with hostility toward the very values that made this culture possible. It’s about far more than taste, dear critics.
ITEM TWO: From About Last Night: “Blogging has become the intellectual’s TV set.” Don’t touch that dial!
ITEM THREE: Cambridge University philosopher Simon Blackburn’s new book, Truth: A Guide for the Perplexed, is due to be released May 30. Blackburn is the author of several works on philosophy, most directed at a popular readership [or, whatever now passes for a popular readership when it comes to books on philosophy]. His last work considered the issue of lust [he was basically for it--see my review]. Reviewer John Banville, writing in The Guardian [London], reports that Blackburn takes on the likes of Richard Rorty and other “fuzzy” postmodernists. Here’s an excerpt: “There are real standards. We must fight soggy nihilism, scepticism and cynicism. We must not believe that anything goes. We must not believe that all opinion is ideology, that reason is only power, that there is no truth to prevail. Without defences against postmodern irony and cynicism, multiculturalism and relativism, we will all go to hell in a handbasket.” Blackburn is an ardent secularist, so it will be interesting to see how he establishes a claim to truth. My copy is on advance order. Stay tuned.
ITEM FOUR: Back before Election Day 2004, sociologist Alan Wolfe of Boston College was testing his thesis that America isn’t really divided into two distinct worldviews–a thesis he defended in his book, One Nation After All. Here’s how he looked to the election and its meaning in The Wilson Quarterly: “In the current age, there’s no doubt that politics matter greatly to those who are deeply immersed in politics. Nor is there any doubt that Americans are faced in 2004 with choices that have demonstrably important consequences for the future of their country. What’s not clear is whether ordinary Americans are caught up in the passions that motivate our political and media elites. Nor are we any closer to solving the longstanding mystery of what motivates people to go to the polls and cast their ballots. But because each new election tells us a little more about who we are, we’ll have a better sense, when this year’s election is over, of whether the purported cultural divisions that have dominated our society for more than two decades will continue, or even be exacerbated, or whether they’ll begin to recede into insignificance, in the face of all that unites us.” Well, the election is over, and the electoral map is more divided than ever–or at least since the mid-nineteenth century. Is Wolfe ready to revise his thesis? Reality is a difficult concept.
ITEM FIVE: Pulitzer-prize winning historian David McCullough’s long-anticipated book on George Washington and the American revolution, 1776, is now at the bookstores. As expected, the book is superb, offering a respectful but critical evaluation of Washington and his strategic role in history. Against the revisionists, McCullough maintains a view of Washington’s central leadership role in the revolution and in the founding of the new nation. Here is a key statement: “He was not a brilliant strategist or tactician, not a gifted orator, not an intellectual. At several crucial moments he had shown marked indecisiveness. He had made serious mistakes in judgment. But experience had been his great teacher from boyhood, and in this his greatest test, he learned steadily from experience. Above all, Washington never forgot what was at stake and he never gave up” [page 293]. A master is at work here. My full review will be forthcoming. In the meantime, read the book. For a special treat, listen to McCullough’s reading of the book in audio edition. His voice and his words will make you want to take a long car trip just to complete the experience. Amazon.com has an audio excerpt available.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: “If their treason be suffered to take root, much mischief must grow from it.” King George III of England, speaking of the American revolutionary leaders.
May 25, 2005
Meeting in Atlanta, Georgia over the weekend, the American Psychiatric Association voted to support same-sex marriage. By a voice vote, the APA assembly adopted a statement demanding legal recognition of marriage for same-sex couples. According to press reports, the statement reads: “The American Psychiatric Association supports the legal recognition of same sex civil marriage. Heterosexual relationships have a legal framework for their existence through civil marriage. Same sex couples therefore experience several kinds of state-sanctioned discrimination that can adversely affect the stability of their relationships and mental health.”
May 25, 2005
Most Americans would probably be surprised to know that women are now deployed in military units that put them directly in the line of fire. The Pentagon has a policy that bars women from service in direct ground combat, but combat support and service units are often so close to the action that the risk faced is virtually the same as that experienced by the ground combat units. In recent weeks, the House Armed Services Committee considered legislation that would have required the Pentagon to seek Congressional approvel for any change in the policy that would put women in ground combat units.
May 24, 2005
The ‘Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act of 2005” was passed by the House of Representatives late this afternoon. The 238-194 vote falls short of the two-thirds vote needed to override a promised veto by President George W. Bush. The bill, pushed by a group of ‘centrist’ Republicans, would allow the use of ‘discarded’ human embryos in stem cell research. [See breaking news from CNN.]
May 24, 2005
A group of 14 senators announced a brokered deal on Monday night, effectively taking the so-called “nuclear option” off the table–at least for now. At this point, it is hard to evaluate the “bipartisan agreement” fully, but it is already apparent that this is not good news for most of President Bush’s judicial nominees, and it spells trouble for any nomination to the Supreme Court. According to the agreement [see text], the 14 senators agreed to bring nominees William Pryor, Janice Rogers Brown, and Priscilla Owen to the floor for a vote.
May 23, 2005
Leland Ryken, Professor of English at Wheaton College, has written an excellent and important introduction to the issue of Bible translation. Without ducking the hard questions, Ryken compares the dynamic-equivalence and formal-equivalence approaches. In Bible Translation Differences, he argues that the formal-equivalence method [based in an attempt at an 'essentially literal' rendering] produces a more accurate translation.
May 23, 2005
I was honored by the invitation to serve as the commencement speaker for Union University’s Class of 2005. An edited text of my commencement address is published as today’s commentary. The second part will be published tomorrow.
May 23, 2005
President George W. Bush delivered the commencement address at Calvin College on Saturday, bringing national attention and unprecedented stature to the college’s commencement ceremony. Unfortunately, his presence also brought controversy. Something like a third of Calvin’s faculty signed an open letter protesting the President’s visit to the campus. According to The Grand Rapids Press, the letter, published as an advertisement in the paper, lambasted the President for “neglecting the needy to coddle the rich, desecrating the environment, and misleading the country into war.” These deeds, the statement declared, “do not exemplify the faith we live by.”
May 22, 2005
The New York Times reported last week that as many as 5,000 children are expelled from preschool programs each year. Researchers at the Yale Child Study Center released a research study that indicated an expulsion rate for preschoolers that ran three times higher than rates for school-age children. “In the past, in a school of 150 kids, you might have one or two kids with behavior problems, but now it may be up to 10 percent of the kids,” commented Susan Glaser, an educational psychologist and preschool director in Cleveland, Ohio. Surprised? Today, the paper is out with a commentary by Jennifer Steinhauer that agues that the problem might be what is expected of preschool programs.
May 21, 2005
Graduation ceremonies for four Brevard County, Florida high schools became the focus of both controversy and court action this past week as a small group of students and parents objected to the site for the ceremonies–a local church facility.
May 20, 2005
President George W. Bush warned Congress today that he would veto any bill that would allow federal funding for research that would lead to the destruction of additional human embryos. “I made very clear to Congress that the use of federal money, taxpayer’s money, to promote science which destroys life in order to save life — I’m against that,” the President said. “Therefore, if the bill does that, I would veto it” [see report in USA Today]. President Bush was responding to developments in Congress, where ‘moderate’ Republicans are pushing the “Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act of 2005.” Sponsors of the legislation claim to have enough votes to pass the bill. President Bush has yet to veto any piece of legislation. This statement puts Congress on notice that he will veto this dangerous bill.
May 19, 2005
The federal government’s policy on embryonic stem cell research, announced by President George W. Bush on August 9, 2001, is now facing a challenge from Congress. The move is led by a group of ‘moderate’ Republican members of Congress who are seeking to pass legislation that would expand the policy. Their effort would allow the destruction of human embryos that would be donated through fertility clinics. The legislation, known in the House of Representatives as the “Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act of 2005,” is co-sponsored by Rep. Michael N. Castle (R-Del.), who claims to have more than enough votes to pass the bill in the House.