Slaughter of the innocents

Mass murder of little children! Matricide! Unfathomable evil. What can be said about the school shootings in Connecticut?

(I’m on the road, posting from my phone. Could someone post links to the story as it unfolds?)

Independence for Scotland?

Scotland is gearing up for a referendum, to be held in the Fall of 2014, that could lead to secession from Great Britain.  The prospects for voters approving independence are, according to polls, quite good.  The British Prime Minister David Cameron is no Lincoln.  Cameron has said the United Kingdom would abide by the vote (though only England and Wales would be left in the union that was once the “United Kingdom”).   If Scotland leaves, the new nation would take with them the priceless North Sea oil fields, though Scotland still wants to use the British pound for its currency, rather than join the Eurozone.

See the op-ed piece by Alex Salmond, the first minister of Scotland:  Why an independent Scotland deserves U.S. support – The Washington Post.

I thought we were in the age of globalism, of national unions, of world government!

William Wallace and Robert the Bruce would be glad.

Dave Brubeck and the arts

E. J. Dionne’s tribute to the late, great Dave Brubeck contains some important insights into the arts in general:

Too often in the arts, the fact that someone is accessible is taken to mean that he isn’t truly creative. This is a very wrong idea, and it’s especially mistaken in the case of Brubeck, an extraordinary innovator in rhythm and meter. His music is now so familiar that we forget how daring he was as a composer.

He also defied the romantic image of the troubled and distant artist. It’s almost as if his being a generous soul, a loyal family guy, and a quietly and thoughtfully religious man — “Forty Days,” one of his best pieces, was inspired by Jesus’ wanderings in the desert — were held against him. Yet over the years, earthly redemption came his way. It turned out you could be both good and great.

“Art may not have the power to change the course of history, but it can provide a perspective on historical events that needs to be heard, even if it’s seldom heeded,” Brubeck said in a 2009 interview with Commonweal. “After all the temporary influences that once directed the course of history have vanished, great art survives and continues to speak to each generation.”

via E.J. Dionne Jr.: Dave Brubeck — a love affair – The Washington Post.

Great art can be accessible (contra the purposeful obscurity of much art and literature today).  Great artists can be normal human beings and solid citizens (contra the myth of the bohemian, that artists are unbound by bourgeois conventions).  Great art lasts; indeed, great art is pretty much the only thing that lasts from past civilizations and historical eras.

More on the gutting of literature from the curriculum

We blogged earlier about how the latest educational reform program being pushed in the public schools would require that 70% of the reading in public schools be “informational” rather than literary.  Here is Alexandra Petri’s take on the issue:

New Common Core standards (which impact 46 out of 50 states) will require that, by graduation in 2014, 70 percent of books studied be nonfiction. Some suggested texts include “FedViews” by the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, the EPA’s “Recommended Levels of Insulation,” and “Invasive Plant Inventory” by California’s Invasive Plant Council. . . .

I like reading. I love reading. I always have. I read recreationally still. I read on buses, in planes, while crossing streets. My entire apartment is covered in books. And now, through some strange concatenation of circumstances, I write for a living.

And it’s all because, as a child, my parents took the time to read me “Recommended Levels of Insulation.”

Oh, “Recommended Levels of Insulation.” That was always my favorite, although “Invasive Plant Inventory” was a close second. (What phrases in literature or life will ever top the rich resonance of that opening line? “The Inventory categorizes plants as High, Moderate, or Limited, reflecting the level of each species’ negative ecological impact in California.”) . . . .

“It is important to note that even Limited species are invasive and should be of concern to land managers,” I frequently tell myself, in moments of crisis. “Although the impact of each plant varies regionally, its rating represents cumulative impacts statewide.” How true that is, even today. Those words have brought me through moments of joy and moments of sorrow. They are graven on my heart. I bound them as a seal on my hand.

My dog-eared, beaten copy of “Recommended Levels of Insulation” still sits on my desk. I even got it autographed. Their delay in making a movie of this classic astounds me. That was where I first learned the magic of literature.

“Insulation level are specified by R-Value. R-Value is a measure of insulation’s ability to resist heat traveling through it.” What authority in that sentence!

And then came the table of insulation values. I shudder every time that table appears. It is one of the great villains in the history of the English language. Uriah Heep and Captain Ahab have absolutely nothing on it. In fact, I do not know who these people are. I have never read about them.”

Petri goes on like this for awhile, but then she drops the sarcasm:

This increased emphasis on nonfiction would not be a concern if the core worked the way it was supposed to, with teachers in other disciplines like math and science assigning the hard technical texts that went along with their subjects. But teachers worry that this will not happen. Principals seem to be having trouble comprehending the requirement themselves. Besides, the other teachers are too busy, well, teaching their subjects to inflict technical manuals on their students too, and  they may expect the English department to pick up the slack. And hence the great Purge of Literature.

These are good intentions, but it will be vital to make sure the execution is as good, or we will head down the road usually paved with good intentions. There, in the ninth circle, students who would otherwise have been tearing through Milton and Shakespeare with great excitement are forced to come home lugging manuals of Exotic Plants.

All in all, this is a great way to make the kids who like reading hate reading.

via The Common Core’s 70 percent nonfiction standards and the end of reading?.

Persecuting “religious pathologies”

The French government is planning a crack-down on people with what is being called “religious pathologies,” including those that are overly orthodox and traditional, want to be separate from secular society, or believe in creationism.   From Reuters:

France will deport foreign-born imams and disband radical faith-based groups, including hardline traditionalist Catholics, if a new surveillance policy signals they suffer a “religious pathology” and could become violent.

A French Islamist shooting spree last March that killed three soldiers and four Jews showed how quickly religiously radicalized people could turn to force, Interior Minister Manuel Valls told a conference on the official policy of secularism.

His warning came two days after President Francois Hollande announced the creation of an agency to track how the separation of church and state is upheld in this traditionally Catholic country with Europe’s largest Muslim and Jewish minorities.

Valls and two other cabinet ministers told the conference on Tuesday evening the Socialist-led government would stress the secularist policy called “laicite” that they said was weakened under the previous conservative President Nicolas Sarkozy.

“The aim is not to combat opinions by force, but to detect and understand when an opinion turns into a potentially violent and criminal excess,” he said.

“The objective is to identify when it’s suitable to intervene to treat what has become a religious pathology,” said Valls, whose ministry oversees relations with religions.

France’s official secularism sidelines faith in the public sphere, but a trend towards a more visible religious identity among some Muslims, Jews and Catholics has made defending it a cause for the traditionally secularist left-wing parties.

Valls stressed the focus would be not only on radical Salafi Muslims recruiting among disaffected youths, but also on groups such as Civitas, a far-right lay Catholic movement that protests aggressively against what it calls insults to Christianity. . . .

Valls said the government had a duty to combat religious extremism because it was “an offence to the republic” based on a negation of reason that puts dogma ahead of the law.

Giving examples of religious extremists, he mentioned creationists in the United States and the Muslim world, radical Islamists, ultra-traditionalist Catholics and ultra-Orthodox Jews who want to live separately from the modern world.

via France steps up struggle against religious radicals | Reuters.

Notice the psychologizing of the issues.  Religion will not be persecuted because of their beliefs but because those who hold those beliefs will be considered to have a “pathological” condition.

Do you think this will spread from France?  Is this what Christians will be facing everywhere, including in the United States?  Perhaps a mental hospital if you believe in creationism?

 

HT:  Trystan Bloom

Women in the “band of brothers”

Four women in the U. S. Army have filed a lawsuit  in federal court demanding that the military drop its practice of excluding women from combat.  Robert H. Scales, a retired Major General with combat experience, raises a concern that I haven’t heard before:

Infantry and armor soldiers alone do virtually all the intimate killing. Here’s where the issue gets hard for me. Intimate killing is done in small units, normally squads and teams. In these engagements they fight and often die not for country or mission but for each other. We borrow a phrase from Shakespeare’s “Henry V” and term this phenomenon the “band of brothers effect.” This is the essential glue in military culture that causes a young man to sacrifice his life willingly so that his buddies might survive. Contemporary history suggests that U.S. infantry units fight equally well when made up of soldiers of different ethnicities, cultures, intelligence and social background. The evidence is also solid that gays make just as good infantrymen as do straight men.

I’ve been studying the band of brothers effect for almost 40 years and have written extensively on the subject. We know that time together allows effective pairings — or “battle buddies,” to use the common Army term. We know that four solid buddy pairings led by a sergeant compose a nine-man, battle-ready squad. The Marine squad is slightly larger. We know from watching Ranger and special forces training that buddy groups form often spontaneously. But the human formula that ensures successful buddy pairings is still a mystery, and that’s the key stumbling block in the debate. Veteran SEALs, special forces, Rangers, tankers and line infantrymen will swear that the deliberate, premeditated and brutal act of intimate killing is a male-only occupation. But no one can prove it with data from empirical tests because no such data exist from the United States. They just know intuitively from battlefield experience that it’s true.

To be sure, women soldiers may be fit, they may be skilled and they may be able to “hang.” Many have proved with their lives that they are willing to make the ultimate sacrifice. But our senior ground-force leaders, as well as generations of former close combat veterans from all of our previous wars, are virtually united on one point: The precious and indefinable band of brothers effect so essential to winning in close combat would be irreparably compromised within mixed-gender infantry squads.

via Not yet time for women to serve in infantry – The Washington Post.

“Intimate killing.”  “Band of brothers.”  “Battle buddies.”  One would think that the intimate two-person bond between “battle buddies” would also be affected by homosexuality.  At any rate, it would seem that we should identify what the different units in our military are for and then determine what arrangements would make them more effective towards that end.


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