Tucson shootings & political rhetoric

Conservative polemics are being blamed for the shooting in Tucson that critically wounded Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and killed nine others, including a judge and a little girl. The killer shows clear symptoms of insanity, though, and was evidently motivated by schizophrenia rather than politics. And the liberals are ignoring their own history of demonizing their opponents and violent rhetoric. (There was a book, a play, and a movie fantasizing the assassination of George W. Bush.)

But still. . . .Do you think our polarized politics and the inflammatory rhetoric from both sides might have created a climate that could push a lunatic over the edge so that he actually does what many people have been advocating metaphorically? Or even if that is unlikely to happen, does our rhetoric create a negative ethos that is harmful to the country? Or is the problem greatly exaggerated? (We see great animosity in our entertainment media, but don’t we get along pretty well with our neighbors and family members despite political differences?)

Some lawmakers are proposing special laws against threats or symbols of threats (e.g., the tea-party cross-hairs targeting enemy politicians) against office holders or political figures.

Is there an ethical issue in the use of flamethrowing rhetoric? Does it violate the commandment against bearing false witness, as the Small Catechism defines it? (“We should fear and love God, so that we do not lie about, betray or slander our neighbor, but excuse him, speak well of him, and put the best construction on everything.”)

What do you think?

‘Huck Finn’ without the N-word

A new edition of Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn will leave out all of the N-words, which have caused some people to charge the novel with racism, even though the point of the book is to combat racism.  From a CNN report:

What is a word worth? According to Publishers Weekly, NewSouth Books’ upcoming edition of Mark Twain’s seminal novel “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” will remove all instances of the N-word — I’ll give you a hint, it’s not nonesuch — present in the text and replace it with slave.

The new book will also remove usage of the word Injun. The effort is spearheaded by Twain expert Alan Gribben, who says his PC-ified version is not an attempt to neuter the classic but rather to update it.

“Race matters in these books,” Gribben told PW. “It’s a matter of how you express that in the 21st century.”

Unsurprisingly, there are already those who are yelling “Censorship!” as well as others with thesauruses yelling “Bowdlerization!” and “Comstockery!”

Their position is understandable: Twain’s book has been one of the most often misunderstood novels of all time, continuously being accused of perpetuating the prejudiced attitudes it is criticizing, and it’s a little disheartening to see a cave-in to those who would ban a book simply because it requires context.

On the other hand, if this puts the book into the hands of kids who would not otherwise be allowed to read it due to forces beyond their control (overprotective parents and the school boards they frighten), then maybe we shouldn’t be so quick to judge.

via New edition of ‘Huckleberry Finn’ to lose the N-word – CNN.com.

So I wonder if those who support this bowdlerization would also support cutting out the profanity and the sex scenes from the modern novels taught in schools.  At any rate, what do you think about this?  Should a work of literary art be altered away from the author’s own words and intentions, if that work could thus be made palatable to more readers?

List of common misconceptions

Something really interesting from Wikipedia:  An extensive List of common misconceptions in history, science, religion, sports, travel, and technology.  The list includes my pet peeve, the myth that the ancients believed that the earth is flat, as well as many similar urban legends and scholarly bloopers.

Did any of these surprise you?  Do you want to challenge any of these misconceptions to argue that they are correct conceptions?

HT: Joe Carter

True Grit

We saw True Grit over the weekend, the Coen brothers’ rendition of the  novel by Charles Portis, which had also been made into a movie that earned John Wayne an Oscar.  I’m a fan of the novel and both movies, including this one.

The John Wayne movie is an iconic Western, and I like icons.  This one is darker and, well, grittier, and I like that too.  The Coen version is especially good in bringing to the forefront the novel’s language.  The 19th century was a time of greater formality than our own, with an attention to codes of good manners and the use of a more flowery language than we usually do today, in our hyper-casual culture.  That was also the era of black and white morality, when the Bible was on everyone’s lips.  And yet, at the same time, on the American frontier,  the era was also wild, violent, barbaric, and squalid.  The Coen brothers capture both of those co-existing dimensions perfectly, and it’s a sight to see.

The performances by Jeff Bridges as the drunken U. S. Marshall Rooster Cogburn and Hailee Steinfeld as the formidable 14-year old Mattie Ross out to avenge her father’s murder are as good and as memorable as anything you will find in the movies.  I also loved the movie’s score, based on 19th century American hymns (e.g.,  “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms”).

I urge you to read what Stanley Fish has to say about this movie in his blog post via Narrative and the Grace of God: The New ‘True Grit’ – NYTimes.com..  The postmodernist literary critic, who now seems to be going beyond postmodernism in a good way, got his start, like me, as a literary scholar specializing in applying Reformation theology to 17th century literature.  He says this about the movie:

The new “True Grit” is that rare thing — a truly religious movie. In the John Wayne version religiosity is just an occasional flourish not to be taken seriously. In this movie it is everything, not despite but because of its refusal to resolve or soften the dilemmas the narrative delivers up.

Fish takes a key line from the movie:  “You must pay for everything in this world one way and another. There is nothing free with the exception of God’s grace.” He then offers what I would call a Calvinist interpretation of the film.

A Lutheran interpretation might take the grace bit a little differently, agreeing that everyone is a sinner but showing God’s hand in the vocations being carried out in the story.

At any rate, True Grit is  great fun, and it will also stay with you.

If you’ve seen it, weigh in.

Parent one & parent two

U. S. passport applications will no longer ask for “mother” and “father.”  Instead, they will ask for “parent one” and “parent two.”  From the Washington Post:

Goodbye, Mom and Dad. Hello, Parent One and Parent Two.

The State Department has decided to make U.S. passport application forms “gender neutral” by removing references to mother and father, officials said, in favor of language that describes one’s parentage somewhat less tenderly.

The change is “in recognition of different types of families,” according to a statement issued just before Christmas that drew widespread attention Friday after a Fox News report.

The announcement of the change was buried at the end of a Dec. 22 news release, titled “Consular Report of Birth Abroad Certificate Improvements,” that highlighted unrelated security changes.

The new policy is a win for gay rights groups, a vocal and financially generous Democratic voting bloc that has pushed for the change since Barack Obama began his presidential transition in late 2008. The decision follows last month’s vote to end the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, which gay leaders consider one of their biggest victories in years.

via Parentage goes ‘gender neutral’ on passport form.

First of all, every human being does, in fact, have a female mother and a male father, whether they are married to each other or not.  Since citizenship is established by the place of biological birth, surely “father” and “mother” is relevant on a passport.  But beyond that, what do we learn from this “victory” about the agenda of gay rights groups?

UPDATE: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has ordered that “mother” and “father” be retained along with the new wording. The forms will call for “mother or parent 1″ and “father or parent 2.”

Organic chemicals on Mars

That Viking lander that did experiments 30 years ago on Martian soil found organic chemicals after all:

More than 30 years after NASA’s Viking landers found no evidence for organic materials on Mars, scientists say a new experiment on Mars-like soil shows Viking did, in fact, hit pay dirt.

The new study was prompted by the August 2008 discovery of powerful oxygen-busting compounds known as perchlorates at the landing site of another Mars probe called Phoenix.

Scientists repeated a key Viking experiment using perchlorate-enhanced soil from Chile’s Atacama Desert, which is considered one of the driest and most Mars-like places on Earth, and found telltale fingerprints of combusted organics — the same chemicals Viking scientists dismissed as contaminants from Earth.

“Contrary to 30 years of perceived wisdom, Viking did detect organic materials on Mars,” planetary scientist Christopher McKay, with NASA’s Ames Research Center in California, told Discovery News. “It’s like a 30-year-old cold case suddenly solved with new facts.”

“If the Viking team had said ‘Well, maybe there’s perchlorate in the soil,’ everybody would have said they’re crazy — why would there be perchlorates in the soil? It was only by having it pushed on us by Phoenix where we had no alternative but to conclude that there was perchlorate in the soil … Once you realize it’s there, then everything makes sense,” McKay added.

The Viking team’s verdict that Mars lacked organics was the lynchpin argument against another Viking experiment that looked for signs of microbial life. In the experiment, a bit of nutrient-laced water was added to a sample of Martian soil.

The air above the soil was then monitored for signs that the nutrients had been metabolized. The instrument detected tracer gases the first time the experiment was done, but subsequent runs did not. The results were considered inconclusive and remain contested.

New evidence for organics on Mars does not mean Viking found life, cautions McKay.

“Finding organics is not evidence of life or evidence of past life. It’s just evidence for organics,” he said.

But if NASA had realized there were organics on Mars, there might not have been a 20-year hiatus in sending landers for follow-up studies, said Rafael Navarro-González, with the Institute of Nuclear Science at the National Autonomous University in Mexico.

“We might have had continuing missions,” Navarro-González told Discovery News.

NASA plans to launch a follow-up mission to look for organics on Mars in November.

via Viking Found Organics on Mars, Experiment Confirms : Discovery News.

But do we know of “organics” apart from organisms?  Do organic chemicals exist in nature apart from life?  Maybe so.  Perhaps some of you can enlighten us.  But this seems pretty important in the quest to find extraterrestrial life.


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