During her 2008 presidential campaign, Hillary Clinton talked a great deal about religion. At one point, she and Barack Obama faced off in a “Compassion Forum” in which they were interviewed about their beliefs. Clinton used the occasion to continue assailing Obama for his quote that some embittered Americans "cling to guns or religion":
… from my perspective, the characterization of people in a way that really seemed to be elitist and out of touch is something that we have to overcome.
You know, the Democratic Party, to be very blunt about it, has been viewed as a party that didn't understand and respect the values and the way of life of so many of our fellow Americans.
And I think it's important that we make clear that we believe people are people of faith because it is part of their whole being; it is what gives them meaning in life, through good times and bad times. It is there as a spur, an anchor, to center one in the storms, but also to guide one forward in the day-to-day living that is part of everyone's journey.
Contrast that to the speech Clinton gave last Thursday at the Women in the World Summit in New York:
Yes, we’ve cut the maternal mortality rate in half, but far too many women are still denied critical access to reproductive health care and safe childbirth. All the laws we’ve passed don’t count for much if they’re not enforced. Rights have to exist in practice, not just on paper. Laws have to be backed up with resources and political will. And deep-seated cultural codes, religious beliefs and structural biases have to be changed.
That last sentence was an applause line, as you can see from the video (at 8:55). The italics are mine, but they reflect the emphasis Clinton put on these words through a change in tone, cadence and gesture.
The remark can be decoded in a variety of ways, but a reasonable reading is that Clinton called for efforts to change religious beliefs that oppose abortion. (I directed an email to the campaign press operation to ask if this was so, but received no response.)
Didn't Christopher Dawson--or someone, maybe Nietzsche?--trace the excellence and superiority of the West back to the Greeks? Now this: "The Greeks are not Western."
"The imperial giant driving a wedge through European unity and the tiny state drowning in debt are locked in a controversial canoodle. Call it an Orthodox big wet kiss, but modern ties between Greece and Russia are cementing ancient ones."
Clinching argument: Greece became independent of the Ottoman Empire only in 1830. Would this make the U.S. the cradle of civilization? May Zeus forefend.
In his comment on Michael Peppard's post "Transcending Polarization" below, Peter Steinfels writes; "The Catholic Common Ground Initiative was the first major effort to address the issue of polarization in the U.S. Catholic church. I think that its charter statement bears rereading." Joe Komonchak made the same point in the thread. I would like to echo their emphasis--and add my own concern about the Notre Dame event.
What I find find to be a shame about this event at Notre Dame is that it appears to be completely ignoring the Catholic Common Ground Iniitiave, which attempted to do the same thing--and in a theologically repsonbile and sophisticated way, as the charter statement shows. And which is still ongoing, although in a smaller fashion. There doesn't even seem to be one person in the Notre Dame event who was invovled in the Common Ground Initiative, and not one person from the Iniative (now housed in Chicago) was apparently invited to this event.
Why is that? I have to say I think this attempt to reinvent the wheel without learning form the recent past is unfortunate. One lesson from the past might be relevant: The Common Ground Iniative had trouble attracting conservatives (who saw no need, since they were on the political and ecclesiastical upswing at this point in time); in contrast, this event seems to be full of political onservatives. This time, will it be the progressives, who see themselves on the ascendency, who won't come?
Consider, for example, this passage from Called to Be Catholic:
- What will it take for the Catholic Church in the United States to escape from this partisanship and the paralysis it threatens to engender?
- Jesus Christ, present in Scripture and sacrament, is central to all that we do; he must always be the measure and not what is measured.
- Around this central conviction, the church's leadership, both clerical and lay, must reaffirm and promote the full range and demands of authentic unity, acceptable diversity, and respectful dialogue, not just as a way to dampen conflict but as a way to make our conflicts constructive, and ultimately as a way to understand for ourselves and articulate for our world the meaning of discipleship of Jesus Christ. This invitation to a revitalized Catholic common ground should not be limited to those who agree in every respect on an orientation for the church, but encompass all--whether centrists, moderates, liberals, radicals, conservatives, or neoconservatives--who are willing to reaffirm basic truths and to pursue their disagreements in a renewed spirit of dialogue.
- Chief among those truths is that our discussion must be accountable to the Catholic tradition and to the Spirit-filled, living church that brings to us the revelation of God in Jesus. To say this does not resolve a host of familiar questions about the way that the church has preserved, interpreted, and communicated that revelation. Accountability to the Catholic tradition does not mean reversion to a chain-of-command, highly institutional understanding of the church, a model resembling a modern corporation, with headquarters and branch offices, rather than Vatican II's vision of a communion and a people.
So let the Notre Dame organizers do their own thing. But there still is a question for all those who were or are involved in the Catholic Common Ground Iniative: what went wrong? Should we try to revivify it? It's no secret that it was the dying Cardinal Bernardin's project--and that Cardinal George didn't have much use for Catholic Common Ground. But it's a new day in the Windy City.
As the "Trans-Pacific Partnership" makes its way through the U.S. Congress, the trade agreement (with Pacific and Asian countries) is being amended to penalize BDS (Boycott, Divest, and Sanctions) efforts against the West Bank Settlements.
The amendments from House and Senate committees "require U.S. trade negotiators to 'discourage politically motivated actions' by foreign countries and international organizations that aim to 'penalize or otherwise limit' commercial relations with Israel or 'persons doing business in Israel or in territories controlled by Israel."
"Territories under the control of Israel," of course, refers to the occupied land beyond Israel's 1967 borders. The measures are directed primarily at European countries and businesses who are increasingly opposed to the West Bank Settlements and to Israel's refusal to recognize a Palestinian state. The Occupation of the West Bank is against international law. If passed, these amendments would contervene long-standing U.S. policy opposing the Settlements.
Recall that the BDS movements was started as a non-military, non-violent protest against Israel's Occupation of Palestinian Territory. The movement has garnered more sympathy in Europe than in the U.S.; but even in Europe little has come of it.
How exactly is the U.S. Congress empowered to limit the free speech and political decisions of European countries? Why not ask your Senator or Representative?
What can be done about polarization in the American Catholic Church? A conference next week at the University of Notre Dame aims to address the causes of polarization and advance ideas for healing some its wounds.
Monday night’s opening panel will be live-streamed here, with contributions from Most Rev. Daniel Flores (Bishop of Brownsville), Rev. John Jenkins, CSC (President, Notre Dame), Prof. Julie Hanlon Rubio (theology, St. Louis Univ.), Prof. Christian Smith (sociology, Notre Dame), and Michael Sean Winters (journalist for The Tablet and the National Catholic Reporter).
This will be followed by Tuesday sessions and working groups. I’ll be part of a group proposing constructive actions that can be taken to heal divisions in the church. In preparing for that, I’ve been working through some of the causes of political polarization in the United States, to see which of these might have explanatory power for polarization in the church.
Political scientists agree that the United States has become increasingly polarized over the past forty years. Analyzing the possible causes has become a hot topic for peer-reviewed scholarship, op-ed pages, and blogs. (Some recent round-ups of scholarship can be found here and here.) Was polarization catalyzed by Roe v. Wade? Or Bush v. Gore? Or the partisan onslaught of 24-hour cable news? In any case, it’s hard to remember the map before it showed red and blue states.Read more
For four out of five Americans, earnings from capital gains amount to well under 1 percent of annual income. For the richest one percent, on the other hand, these gains from investments amount to over a third of their income and for the top tenth of that one percent, about half their income. No surprise, then, that these gains are taxed at much lower rates than ordinary wages. And no surprise that questions have been raised about the wisdom and justice of that differential.
When liberal politicians raise those questions, they are of course waging class warfare. When Laurence D. Fink raises them, he is, well, he is Chairman of BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager, overseeing something approaching $5 trillion of investments.
Last week Mr. Fink sent a letter to the chief executives of Fortune 500 companies. His basic point was that instead of using corporate earnings to build up productive capacities—like “innovation, skilled work forces, or essential capital expenditures necessary to sustain long-term growth,” he wrote—too many corporate leaders were buying back stock and paying out dividends, even with borrowed money, to please shareholders and aggressive investors with quick returns.
A major incentive for this short-term outlook, Mr. Fink argued, is the capital gains tax advantage.Read more
There have been vague rumors and news snippets that Starbucks has started to lock up its bathrooms. It's true!
Out and about in NYC in the last two weeks, I have taken advantage of Strbcks ubuquity to have my favorite, a Grande Capuccino caffinated and whole milk with lots of foam. While not personally in search of a bathroom, the five Starbucks I have been in had people, perhaps tourists, shocked to find the bathrooms "unavailable." I chalked that up to too many tourists.
Today, in my non-touristy neighborhood, in my own Starbucks, the bathroom had a large combination lock on the door. Shocking! When a woman asked the barista for the combination, she was reluctant to give it, I asked why. According to the barista there had been a change in policy meant to close the bathrooms to non-customers. And customers too? I asked. She gave the woman the number--written on a piece of paper (with invisible ink?).
I have always thought that Starbucks went above and beyond with its open bathroom policy. Truly altruistic. Truly philanthropic. So Now? Once again, the decline of civilization.
David Kertzer's biography The Pope and Mussolini: The Secret History of Pius XI and the Rise of Fascism in Europe was awarded a Putlizer Prize earlier this week. Kertzer was able to write it because of the recent opening of the Vatican archives covering Pius XI’s papacy. The complex details of the seven years it took Pius and Mussolini to negotiate two agreements--a political treaty that recognized the pope’s sovereignty over Vatican City and a concordat that regulated the church’s position in the Italian state--is the subject of this book, told through vivid biographical sketches of Pius and Mussolini's personal lives leading up to their positions of power, and how these personalities both clashed and compromised:
With strong opinions and an increasingly authoritarian manner, the pope shared the fascists’ opposition to communism even as he continued to distrust their sincerity and press for greater influence over Italian society.
If you're thinking of reading it, James Sheehan wrote a great review for us last September.
How to read a collection of essays on the “childless by choice” called Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed? You could take the title as an accurate indicator of what’s inside, your assumption reinforced by the book’s subtitle: “Sixteen Writers on the Decision Not to Have Kids.” It’s bad enough getting unsolicited, aggrieved explanations for a life-defining decision without getting them from a bunch of people who provide their unsolicited thoughts for a living.
Of course, that’s the anticipatory response editor Meghan Daum meant to provoke in selecting those words for the cover in the first place. I can’t speak for every mother and father, but there comes a point in the slog of child-rearing when a parent looks enviously (murderously?) on those who’ve opted out of procreation and issues – silently, or not so – just that verdict. Most of the contributors here report having been condemned in similar fashion, the opprobrium overt and subtle, coming from family, friends, and strangers, from quarters low, high, and in between. Pope Francis himself, in declaring early this year that “life rejuvenates and acquires energy when it multiplies,” said explicitly that choosing not to have children is “selfish,” which in spite of the slightly more nuanced context of his larger remarks won’t endear him to those who feel they have good reasons for not participating in the “valiant attempt to ensure the survival of our endangered species and fill up this vast and underpopulated planet.”
That line comes courtesy of Geoff Dyer, one of three men represented in Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed. I dispense with him early because he, along with contributor Tim Kreider, has the relative luxury, I think, of deploying humor in his effort to explain (Kreider: “Whenever someone asks me whether I’d like to hold the baby, I always say ‘No thanks.’ I have been advised this is an impolitic response”). This has the effect of distancing its user from the matter at hand: As men, even men who’ve thought about it carefully, they can afford to joke about it, and they seem to know it. The more sober assessments come from those representing the other half of humanity, whom the question concerns in a significantly more encompassing way.Read more
Zenit reports on the pope’s earth day message:
“I exhort everyone to see the world through the eyes of God the Creator," the Pope said, namely that "the earth is an environment to be safeguarded, a garden be cultivated.”
“The relationship of mankind with nature," the Jesuit Pope stated, "must not be conducted with greed, manipulation and exploitation." Rather, he said, "it must conserve the divine harmony that exists between creatures and Creation within the logic of respect and care."
It is interesting to juxtapose this with recent conservative worries about the upcoming encyclical. As rendered by the Action Institute’s blog, the main issues are (a) the climate is always changing, so we shouldn’t be too hasty in saying we have a problem, (b) international government action is the wrong way to go about acting, (c) materialism is a “cultural” problem, but not a problem with the free capitalist economy itself.
The pope’s brief message is a clear response to these points. First, the pope seems clear that the beginning of any solution must be to acknowledge the problem. Words like respect, care, protection, and harmony are not the words that spring to mind in characterizing present practice. Would Mr. Jayabalan argue that in fact we are exercising these things? Second, the environment is the quintessential common good; it is inherently something that is shared. For a long time, strongly free market economists have tried to argue that even problems of pollution can be solved by market transactions; but the language of protection signals that there is no way for the environment itself (nor for future generations) to be a part of the contractual transaction. Shared action is necessary, and it should be on the appropriate scale. The appropriate scale for the atmospheric issues involved in climate change is the global one. Third, “greed, manipulation, and exploitation” may not be inherent properties of markets, but they are all too often systemic problems in our present form of globalized markets. I am the first to say that personal virtue is absolutely necessary to address environmental problems, and Americans should be first in line in renewing practices of restraint, of minimizing waste, and the like. But let’s not pretend that our present system is somehow neutral: consumer capitalism thrives on a lack of restraint, a lack of respect, a lack of conservation. Markets aren’t the problem; globalized consumer capitalism, on the other hand, is not interested in conservation, thrift, and the like.
In all of these cases, there is a denial of reality, because acknowledging the reality would require giving up the ideological claim that free markets and limited government are always best, and that they have some special relationship to Christianity, as well. On this Earth Day, it would be nice to imagine that the encyclical would at least lead to an acknowledgement of reality, so that perhaps those who favor different courses of action might get together and collaborate on creative ways forward. Can markets help solve environmental crises? Sure. But in order to have that conversation well, it needs to be recognized that there are serious problems in the present, and by their nature, they are not going to be addressed simply by markets or by proceeding largely with the status quo.
In a one-sentence bulletin released this morning, the Vatican announced that Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City-St. Joseph, who was convicted of failing to report child abuse in 2012, has resigned. Pope Francis accepted Finn's resignation "in conformity with canon 401, paragraph 2"--the statute that covers bishops who cannot fulfill their duties because of poor health or "other grave reasons." News of the resignation follows months of speculation, which had intensified over the past week, that Pope Francis was poised to remove Finn. In September 2014, the National Catholic Reporter revealed that a Canadian bishop had been sent by the Holy See to Kansas City to investigate Finn. Just last November, Cardinal Seán O'Malley of Boston, president of the pope's new commission on child protection, told 60 Minutes that the Holy See had to "address urgently" the case of Robert Finn. Less than six months later, Pope Francis has done just that.
What might it mean?
1. Yes, Pope Francis is serious about accountability for bishops. Pope Francis's early comments on the sexual-abuse scandal were hardly encouraging. But before long he sent a message to the world's bishops asking them to get behind his new commission for the protection of minors. Over the past year, some members of that commission have suggested that they would walk if they didn't see accountability for bishops who enabled abusers. They had seen the pope move against the so-called Bishop of Bling for financial mismanagement. They knew that he had ousted Bishop Livieres in Paraguay, but the Holy See's statements about that decision curiously avoided acknowledging that it had anything to do with the fact that Livieres had promoted a priest long accused of sexual misconduct. More recently, two members of the pope's child-protection commission openly criticized his decision to appoint Chilean Bishop Juan Barros to a new diocese, despite allegations that he had covered up--and witnessed--acts of abuse committed by his mentor. Just yesterday, one of those commission members, Marie Collins, told Crux that the pope was considering a proposal on bishop accountability. She even name-checked Finn: "I cannot understand how Bishop Finn is still in position, when anyone else with a conviction that he has could not run a Sunday school in a parish." That won't be a problem anymore.Read more
Now that hostilities have ceased between the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, it is hard to resist the temptation to declare a winner. Certainly, the conclusion of the whole unfortunate episode, with this week’s release of a brief and anodyne “joint final report” and follow-up meeting between LCWR leadership and the pope, has been as positive an ending, from the sisters’ perspective, as anyone could have hoped for. Some credibility was salvaged for the CDF, as (and, I would argue, because) the sisters held their ground on their commitment to collaborative leadership and mutually respectful dialogue. But nobody really won—no one could have won a conflict that never should have happened this way to begin with, one that exposed real fault lines in the church relating to sex and power and the relationship between the two and ended without directly addressing, much less repairing them.
The first thing that strikes me about the “final report” released last week is that it is a “Joint Final Report.” The whole thing started with the CDF attempting to bring the allegedly out-of-line nuns to heel with an exercise of authority whose origins were muddled and unexplained. It was hard to imagine back when Cardinal Levada was charging the LCWR – a stand-in, it seemed, for various individuals and communities among its member organizations, who went mostly unnamed in the CDF’s complaints – with being soft on doctrine and derelict in supporting bishops’ initiatives and priorities that the whole episode would end with anything other than another authoritative “assessment” from the Vatican. One could only hope the CDF’s conclusion would be a little more informed about what the LCWR actually is and does and a little less hostile to the work sisters do and the faith that informs the choices they make. But enter Pope Francis – and Cardinal Gerhard Müller as the new head of the CDF, and Archbishop Peter Sartain to take charge of the CDF’s reform mandate – and, praise the Lord, we find ourselves ending with a collaborative statement signed by both bishops and nuns, as though they had been pleasantly investigating each other all along.
The statement, it seems clear to me, is designed to allow both sides to save face. It describes various measures being undertaken by the LCWR, but few radical changes – the revision of the LCWR’s statues was already underway before the investigation began, and the promises that speakers and publications will be responsibly vetted seem to address the CDF’s broad concerns while not necessarily requiring any departure from the LCWR’s current procedures. The most embarrassing parts of the CDF’s assessment, meanwhile, are ignored. There is no response to the expression of concern that “feminism” might be taking root among women religious. There is no reference to the accusation that the sisters have been “silent on the right to life” or have not spent enough time and effort on supporting their bishops’ priorities. And the whole thing concludes with a kind of mission statement that reads more like a commendation than an admission of fault or a concession of defeat:Read more
Our Spring Books issue has just been posted to the website. Among the highlights:
Jackson Lears on William Deresiewicz’s Excellent Sheep, “a devastating critique of the idea that college education is simply about learning marketable skills [and a] compelling case for the humanities. … One thing is clear from Deresiewicz’s interviews [of college students]: the ‘meritocratic’ atmosphere is death to intellectual seekers, who feel they’ve been sold a bill of goods and often keep searching after they get out. Somehow the job at Goldman Sachs just doesn’t satisfy.” Read the whole thing here.
Gary Gutting on Michael Ruse’s “kinder, gentler atheism”:
[I]n popular discussions of religion, the “new atheists” (led by Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens) have made quite a splash with their aggressive attacks on religion. But Michael Ruse, a distinguished philosopher and a reflective atheist, is not impressed. “They are,” he writes, “hectoring and arrogant; they are unfair to and belittling of others; they are ignorant of anything outside their disciplines to an extent remarkable even among modern academics.” … [Ruse’s new book] is in fact a refreshing contrast to much of the polemics of the New Atheists. Although he too writes for a popular audience with verve, wit, and passion, his discussion is far more informed and intellectually sophisticated.
Maria Bowler on Edward Mendelson’s Moral Agents: Eight Twentieth-Century American Writers:
With each subject, Moral Agents focuses on the tension between the private writer and the public man who wrote to lead. Mendelson reads Lionel Trilling’s diaries, full of conflicted ego, as if to say, “Aha! I knew it.” The diary entries reveal that Trilling associated creative genius with amoral chaos, and so was irritated at having to present himself as a civilized gentleman; his moral struggle took the form of repression. With Bellow, Mailer, and Kazin, the conflict appears as a subverted masculinity that haunts their work and their lives. The moral concerns taken up in their art are set against the background of their actual behavior, including how they treated their wives. Perhaps unsurprisingly, their abstract commitments didn’t always translate into kindness or humility.
Read the whole thing here.
Also featured: Poems from Nellie Hill and Sarah M. Brownsberger, Cathleen Kaveny on the “fundamental difficulty with RFRA jurisprudence” made clear by Indiana’s recent religious-freedom legislation controversy, and Agnes R. Howard and Thomas Albert Howard on the smallness of “Big History” (subscription). See the full table of contents for our Spring Books issue here.
A video released by ISIS yesterday appears to show the execution of Ethiopian Christians in Libya, placed amid a larger narrative of the fate of Christians under ISIS rule. This New York Times article gives background on ISIS's presence in Libya, as well as details on the video's propaganda.
The Shroud of Turin went on display on Sunday for the first time in five years. The Wall Street Journal looks at the veneration of relics within Catholicism.
Ross Douthat has a long article in The Atlantic on Pope Francis's position between the divisions in the church, and his "quest for balance." As we've seen from his New York Times column, Douthat is concerned about Francis deepening divisions rather than reconciling them.
The New Yorker has an extensive reported piece on the extortion of migrants, a market that lives "in the shadows of our fierce immigration debate."
Marco Rubio describes himself as an orthodox Catholic, but the Daily Beast suggests his is a patchwork faith, similar to many Americans.
As the penalty phase begins Tuesday for Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who cast himself as an avenger of crimes against Muslims, it might be interesting to consider what Islamic law says about capital punishment.
Like U.S. federal law, under which Tsarnaev was convicted, Islamic law permits capital punishment for severe crimes such as murder or treason. Where Islam differs markedly is that victims, including relatives of the dead, may actually be allowed to decide whether the convicted person receives life or death.
Although U.S. law allows victim impact statements to be considered in sentencing, victims don't get to argue in court for or against the death penalty. Of course a number have already expressed their opinions elsewhere.
Most compellingly, Bill and Denise Richard, whose 8-year-old son was murdered and 7-year-old daughter lost a leg, told the Boston Globe that they favor life without parole, as long as Tsarnaev waives any right to appeal. But the court alone will decide Tsarnaev's fate, and I'm grateful for that.Read more
Cardinal Francis George, who served as archbishop of Chicago for nearly two decades before retiring in November, died this morning after a years-long struggle with cancer. He was seventy-eight. Read the Chicago Tribune obituary here. The archdiocese's memorial page here. Live coverage here. Archbishop Blase Cupich delivered the following remarks this afternoon:
A man of peace, tenacity and courage has been called home to the Lord.
Our beloved Cardinal George passed away today at 10:45 a.m. at the
Cardinal George’s life’s journey began and ended in Chicago. He was
a man of great courage who overcame many obstacles to become a priest.
When he joined the priesthood he did not seek a comfortable position,
instead he joined a missionary order, the Oblates of Mary Immaculate,
and served the people of God in challenging circumstances – in Africa,
Asia and all around the world.
A proud Chicagoan, he became a leader of his order and again traveled
far from home, not letting his physical limitations moderate his zeal
for bringing the promise of Christ’s love where it was needed most.
When he was ordained a bishop, he served faithfully, first in Yakima,
where he learned Spanish to be closer to his people. He then served in
Portland, where he asked the people to continue to teach him how to be a
good bishop. In return, he promised to help them become good
Cardinal George was a respected leader among the bishops of the United
States. When, for example, the church struggled with the grave sin of
clerical sexual abuse, he stood strong among his fellow bishops and
insisted that zero tolerance was the only course consistent with our
He served the Church universal as a Cardinal and offered his counsel
and support to three Popes and their collaborators in the Roman
congregations. In this way, he contributed to the governance of the
Here in Chicago, the Cardinal visited every corner of the Archdiocese,
talking with the faithful and bringing kindness to every interaction. He
pursued an overfull schedule-- always choosing the church over his own
comfort and the people over his own needs. Most recently, we saw his
bravery first hand as he faced the increasing challenges brought about
Let us heed his example and be a little more brave, a little more
steadfast and a lot more loving. This is the surest way to honor his
life and celebrate his return to the presence of God.
As we celebrate in these Easter days our new life in the Risen Lord,
join me in offering comfort to Cardinal George’s family, especially
his sister, Margaret, by assuring them of our prayers, thanking God for
his life and years of dedication to the Archdiocese of Chicago. Let us
pray that God will bring this good and faithful servant into the
fullness of the kingdom.
May Cardinal George rest in peace.
I'll update this post throughout the afternoon.Read more
When public schools across Long Island gave this year's New York State English Language Arts assessment test to students in grades 3 to 8 this week, there were a lot of empty seats. A new survey by Newsday of most Long Island school districts found that more than 2 in 5 students declined to take the test.
That's a sign of how deep the parental opposition is to the school "reform" movement's emphasis on standardized testing as the chief solution to poor educational performance.
The school "reformers" -- that assemblage of bi-partisan political backers, foundation leaders, corporate executives, cheerleaders in the news media, think tank thinkers, etc. -- are very fond of using data to judge others' performance. So here are the numbers Newsday reported:
Nearly 65,000 students in Long Island elementary and middle schools refused to take the state English Language Arts test this week -- 43.6 percent of those in grades three through eight eligible for the exam, a Newsday survey of more than 80 percent of districts Islandwide found.
In 100 of the Island's 124 public school districts, 64,785 of 148,564 children opted out of the exam, according to figures the districts reported.
"Parents are speaking and are saying 'Enough is enough,' and they have had it with students spending this amount of time taking tests," the paper quotes the superintendent of a district where two-thirds of the students did not take the test.
What these numbers show is that the school reformers get an F when it comes to maintaining school relations with parents, a critical element in the educational process.
Do yourself a favor and read the brief, humble, forthright, heartfelt and eloquent statement from Bill and Denise Richard on the front page of today's Boston Globe asking the Justice Department not to seek the death penalty for convicted Boston Marathon bomber Dzokhar Tsarnaev:
"We are in favor of and would support the Department of Justice in taking the death penalty off the table in exchange for the defendant spending the rest of his life in prison without any possibility of release and waiving all of his rights to appeal.
We understand all too well the heinousness and brutality of the crimes committed. We were there. We lived it. The defendant murdered our 8-year-old son, maimed our 7-year-old daughter, and stole part of our soul. We know that the government has its reasons for seeking the death penalty, but the continued pursuit of that punishment could bring years of appeals and prolong reliving the most painful day of our lives."
A federal jury convicted Tsarnaev last week on 30 counts related to the Boston Marathon bombings and the ensuing week-long manhunt two years ago. Most locals would agree that nobody has a greater right to cry out for vengeance than the Richards. That they do not, but instead offer a plea to spare Tsarnaev's life may be shocking to some, but I suspect it's not at all surprising to those who know them, their parish community of St. Ann's, and the Ashmont section of Boston's Dorchester neighborhood in which they live.
The AIGA (American Institute for Graphic Arts) has just published this overview of what it calls the “quietly beautiful” work of artist and designer Emil Antonucci.
Emil Antonucci redesigned Commonweal in the latter part of 1964, during the months when the journal marked its fortieth anniversary. The new design appeared at the beginning of 1965. I was a lowly editorial assistant but, as the son of artists, an intensely interested participant in the discussions around Emil’s ideas.
Had the magazine previously been consciously designed? Or had it merely evolved piecemeal? The dull gray look was reinforced by the cheap paper stock on which Commonweal was then printed. Headlines were merely larger versions of the text type; the only variation was between Roman and italic, and the only bits of life were the small black-and-white drawings, some of them excellent, that all too rarely broke up the columns.
Emil believed that the magazine needed contrast and distinctiveness. He provided it in three ways: the use of a bold, black Poster Bodoni font for heads matched with light italic subheads; a “signature” line of black bullets to mark off sections of the magazine and accompany the heads; and a re-rendering of many of the existing line drawings in strong silhouette or white-on-black scratchboard art. These drawings, along with the old ones, were catalogued under the range of topics that Commonweal often addressed and pulled out as needed. The magazine was still a weekly, and with its tiny staff in a pre-computer day, there was no time for outside artistic consultation on individual issues.
Emil’s redesign had another historic impact.Read more
Literary biography is perhaps the hardest genre to get right. Though spending lots of time in the archive is necessary, it isn’t sufficient. You need to turn this research—the lunch receipts and discarded drafts and report cards and love letters—into a compelling narrative; you need to present not just a sequence of events but a life, with its recurring motifs and central dramas, its rising action and sudden reversals. Likewise, though citing from the work is crucial, it’s not enough. You need to be a critic, able to tell us how the poems or novels or plays work, how they fit into the broader fields of literary and social history.
Finally, and most importantly, you need to have a theory of how the life and the work relate to one another. You can’t reduce the work to the life, but you have to show how the life informs the work. You can’t claim that biography explains any given poem or novel, but you have to show how the alchemical transformation happens.
There are so many ways to screw things up, and the list of those literary biographers who have screwed things up is long and venerable.Read more