Opposing the word “religion”

Michelle Boorstein writes in the Washington Post about how virtually everybody–liberals and conservatives, New Agey “spirituals” and Bible-believing Christians–have been turning against the word “religion.” [Read more…]

“The least untruthful manner”

James Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence, had been asked in a Congressional committee if the U.S. government was collecting data on millions of Americans.  He said, no.  But now with news about PRISM and other data mining programs, he is being accused of perjury.  But what I want to draw attention to is his defense and a great phrase he has entered into the English lexicon:

“I responded in what I thought was the most truthful, or least untruthful manner by saying no.”

[Read more…]

What is a nation?

As college classes, including my own, conclude for the Summer, I will reveal an academic secret:  professors often learn from their students.  Being an audience of one for all of those papers has its rewards.  In my Shakespeare class, several students wrote about some aspect of the emerging view of nationhood in Shakespeare’s history plays.  The nation-state, after all, was a fairly recent development in the 1590’s when Shakespeare wrote his histories, with England transitioning from the feudal system, with its personal loyalties to local lords, to a highly-organized central government commanding citizens with a strong sense of their “Englishness.”

But, as Shakespeare’s plays suggest, there are different understandings of what constitutes a nation:  (1)  a geographical locality; that is, a land, a place (“this sceptered isle”);  (2)  a people  (“we band of brothers”); (3) a government; that is, a sovereignty embodied in the monarch (“Henry V”);  (4) a distinctive spirit or ideology (not so evident in Shakespeare, except for perhaps hints of English liberties and differences with France).

It occurred to me that these same different views of nationhood are still with us today and that we Americans have not really arrived at a consensus about it, resulting in some of our confusions.  [Read more…]

Benching sports metaphors

Figures of speech are not just ornamentation.  They can shape the way we think about what they express.  Dana Milbank, annoyed with the way Barack Obama  keeps saying everything is a “game-changer,” points out how the use of sports metaphors in discussing politics and government today is distorting the way we think about them. [Read more…]

Swimming the Elbe

Those who convert to Catholicism are said to have “swum the Tiber,” referring to the river that runs through Rome.  Those who convert to Orthodoxy are said to have “swum the Bosphorus,” the strait in Turkey that separates Europe from Asia.  So what is a person swimming who converts to Lutheranism?  I have heard “Mississippi” for those who join the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, based in St. Louis.  But Anthony Sacramone gives the definitive solution (whether he came up with it first or someone else did, I don’t know) when he refers to “paddling the Elbe.” [Read more…]

From spam to bacn

I have learned a new word, though I’m quite familiar with the reality.  From  BBC News – Why your inbox fills with bacn instead of spam:

Bacn is becoming what spam once was – the nuisance that fills up your inbox and makes it hard to pick out the important messages you have to read and which require a reply.

Bacn is all those reminders, newsletters, notifications, limited offers, alerts and other ephemera sent by websites, e-tailers and other services you have used ever since you made your first mouse clicks on the web. [Read more…]


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