Weekly Meanderings

Gotta love them ducks!

Post of the week by Sarah Bessey — her six year old daughter said she wanted to lose weight …

Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan … cool.

Stop yourself a bit, slow down, and read this exquisite piece by Ann Voskamp.

Age revolutions: “Swimmer Dara Torres, 45, is still sprinting in the pool; she is a favorite to qualify for her sixth Olympics when trials begin next week.  Pitcher Jamie Moyer, 49, is still striking out batters; he became the oldest pitcher to win a game in the majors in April and followed with another win for the Colorado Rockies in May. Now, the Baltimore Orioles have their eye on him. Not bad, right? Now add more than 20 years. Japanese mountaineer Tamae Watanabe, 73, is still climbing; she set a world record last month, becoming the oldest woman to scale Mount Everest, the tallest mountain in the world. She broke her own record, set when she was 63. Expect more like these, fitness experts say — exceptionally healthy adults who are transforming our image of aging.”

The SBC permits motions from the floor at its Annual Meeting, and there’s at least one ringer every year. This one could be it for 2012. Dear Everyone, that’s a redemptive movie and we need more like it. Dadgummit!

Tim Gombis, on that Mark 14:7, that we will always have the poor with us: “Far from endorsing complacency about looking after the needy, Jesus is contrasting his imminent death with the fact that there are always going to be opportunities to serve the poor—opportunities that his disciples ought to jump all over!” [I’m looking forward to Tim’s commentary on Mark in the Regula Fidei series.]

Here are some cool libraries!

Maria Popova: “At first blush [dangnabbit!], a book titled How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read (public library) sounds at once sacrilegious in its proposition and wildly meta-ironic. Then again, it gets to the heart of a painfully familiar literary bind — that book about a fascinating sliver of science, written by a breathlessly boring academic; the fetishized Ulysseses of the world, reluctantly half-read and promptly forgotten; the Gladwellian tome that could’ve been, should’ve been, and likely at some point was a magazine article. Must we read those from cover to cover in order to be complete, cultured individuals? Beneath the no doubt intentionally scandalizing title, psychoanalyst and University of Paris literature professor Pierre Bayard offers a compelling meditation on this taboo subject that makes a case for reading not as a categorical dichotomy but as a spectrum of engaging with literature in various ways, along different dimensions — books we’ve read, books we’ve skimmed, books we’ve heard about, books we’ve forgotten, books we’ve never opened. Literature becomes not a container of absolute knowledge but a compass for orienteering ourselves to and in the world and its different contexts, books become not isolated objects but a system of relational understanding…”

Preachers, speakers, teachers: How to minimize uh’s and um’s.

Novelists and symbolism, intentional or not?

Meanderings in the News

By Emily Richmond: “In his commencement speech at San Diego State College, the President of the United States covered unsurprising territory in describing the challenges facing the nation’s public schools — inequities for minority students, a high dropout rate, and the need for better teacher training. What might be surprising is that the president was John F. Kennedy, and he was addressing the class of 1963. “Our current education programs, much as they represent a burden upon the taxpayers of this country, do not meet the responsibility,” Kennedy said on June 6, 1963 at what is now San Diego State University. “The fact of the matter is that this is a problem which faces us all, no matter where we live, no matter what our political views must be.” Five days after that graduation speech — and 49 years ago today — Kennedy delivered his historic speech on civil rights from the Oval Office. His commencement address “was a recognition of what needed to be done,” said Gary Orfield, an education professor and co-director of the Civil Rights Project at UCLA. “The last time the three branches of government worked together to do something about segregation started with that period.” And then this: “Researchers like Orfield note that the nation’s public schools are more segregated today than they were in the late 1960s. According to Orfield, part of that backslide is due to rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court over the past two decades. That includes a landmark 2007 decision invalidating Seattle Public Schools’ voluntary desegregation plan which used race as a factor in school zoning decisions. Many of the nation’s schools are segregated by ethnicity and poverty, and for some minority students — particularly the soaring Latino population — the segregation is also by language, Orfield said. While the nation’s racial barriers are lower in many ways, those advances have not been enough to cancel out the effect of inadequate political leadership and a “hostile” Supreme Court, he said.”

Sarah Eekhof Zylstra‘s report of the first African American SBC President, Fred Luter.

Authority ping pong: David Brooks said Yes, his critics said No, Philip comes back with a Yes: “Let’s go to first principles. Freedom cannot exist without functioning authority — to enforce contracts, safeguard common resources, and provide stability and predictability in social interaction. The need for authority in a free society is not a philosophical preference but a practical necessity. A crowded society requires common choices. Without a traffic cop saying go or stay, society descends into gridlock. The paralysis of modern American government has several causes, but the most insidious is the breakdown of authority up and down the chain of public responsibility. In the name of law, we have created a structure in which humans can no longer make sense of daily choices.”

Bill Keller’s tongue-in-cheek agreement with Bill Donohue’s belief that Catholics who don’t agree with Catholicism should just go.

Kevin Drum: “But if I were an employer or a professor in charge of grad schools admissions, I’d have to judge that a random UC graduate on average (I’m not talking Ezra Klein), and regardless of native talent, can probably write and think analytically on the same level as a typical student starting his or her third year at Grinnell or Beloit. Public universities, desperate to prevent a flight of bright and relatively well-off students, are obscuring a basic fact: the result of less money spent on real teaching must, over time, be less learning.”

Are men less moral than women?

Sword-fighting’s story debunked. “Only recently in the last decade or so has this extraordinary and all but forgotten material finally come to be properly examined and studied. Reconstruction of these remarkable teachings offers an unparalleled view into how fighting men prepared and trained themselves for duels, street-fights, and battlefield encounters. Their manner of fighting with swords is not the classical Western style we see today, which is largely a contrived 19th-century gentleman’s version of a narrow, aristocratic Baroque style. What the surviving sources show us is wholly different from the familiar pop-culture version, as well as being dramatically distinct from what has gone on for years in assorted reenactments and contrived living-history efforts. Rather, Medieval and Renaissance sword fighting was a hell of a lot more violent, brutal, ferocious, and astonishingly effective. The way in which these swords were held, the way they can be maneuvered, and the postures and motions involved, differ substantially from common presumptions and modern-era fencing styles.” And if you get a blade to the side, you say “Stink!”

Steven Pinker on Group Selection.

Oliver Burkeman, on the most unique museum in the USA: “In an unremarkable business park outside the city of Ann Arbor, in Michigan, stands a poignant memorial to humanity’s shattered dreams. It doesn’t look like that from the outside, though. Even when you get inside – which members of the public rarely do – it takes a few moments for your eyes to adjust to what you’re seeing. It appears to be a vast and haphazardly organised supermarket; along every aisle, grey metal shelves are crammed with thousands of packages of food and household products. There is something unusually cacophonous about the displays, and soon enough you work out the reason: unlike in a real supermarket, there is only one of each item. And you won’t find many of them in a real supermarket anyway: they are failures, products withdrawn from sale after a few weeks or months, because almost nobody wanted to buy them. In the product-design business, the storehouse – operated by a company called GfK Custom Research North America – has acquired a nickname: the Museum of Failed Products.”

Report of the week: Patrick Radden Keefe on how much them dang money drug cartels haul in: billions. “So in a spirit of empirical humility, we shouldn’t accept as gospel the estimate, from the Justice Department, that Colombian and Mexican cartels reap $18 billion to $39 billion from drug sales in the United States each year. (That range alone should give you pause.) Still, even if you take the lowest available numbers, Sinaloa emerges as a titanic player in the global black market. In the sober reckoning of the RAND Corporation, for instance, the gross revenue that all Mexican cartels derive from exporting drugs to the United States amounts to only $6.6 billion. By most estimates, though, Sinaloa has achieved a market share of at least 40 percent and perhaps as much as 60 percent, which means that Chapo Guzmán’s organization would appear to enjoy annual revenues of some $3 billion — comparable in terms of earnings to Netflix or, for that matter, to Facebook.”


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  • Joe Canner

    Fascinating article on um’s and uh’s. My favorite quote: “…while too much ummm-ing has been associated with a lack of intelligence, it’s actually correlated with having a large vocabulary. The intelligent person has many words to choose from, and so sometimes gets caught up in taking pains to pick just the right one to express himself…”

    I knew there was a good reason for it!

  • RJS

    Nice column by Kevin Drum. You give the conclusion, but the argument leading to the conclusion should be read carefully. I don’t think this problem is as big where I am – but good teaching requires contact and feedback.

  • Paul D.

    Where are the pictures of Scot McKnight’s library/study?

  • Pat Pope

    I didn’t see The Blind Side, but if the use of the curse words and racial slur were not gratuitous, but rather a representation of what really happened, I see no problem with it. The selling of Amazing Grace was supposedly okay because it was about a man’s struggle for God, but The Blind Side was a feel-good story based on real-life events. Does EVERYTHING always have to be about somebody getting saved in order for it to okay for some Christians?

  • CGC

    Hi Everyone,
    There is proper speech and there are words that cut and are sharp. There is respectable speech and there is the subversive speech of the prophets and Jesus and the Apsotles. We have sanitized our Bible translations to soften the graphic language or imagery being portrayed but have we really done others a favor by doing this?

    Or to come back to the SBC, redeeming movies like ‘the Blindside’ with some real life-situations and language should not be the focus of what is sold in Baptist bookstores but what about all the superficial fluffy theology books, the marketing of the church and turning the gospel of Jesus into another marketing strategy books, and all the souvenirs and trinkets that have no redeeming value except to cash in on whatever is popular and faddish for the moment. How come nobody brings up those issues on what is sold at their Christian bookstores?

  • Pat Pope

    Good point, CGC. But I think all of that “stuff” is seen as pointing people to Christ, so in some circles, the means seems to justify the end. Plus, let’s not forget, at the end of the day, they’re businesses, Christian or not, and are there to make money and unfortunately fluff sells.

  • JohnM

    CGC #5

    I’ve never seen The Blind Side, but as for the fluff and trinkets in Christian (and not only Baptist) bookstores, I very much agree with your point.

  • Fred

    I liked that article too. I wish that we in the church would learn something about learning from those who understand the process. Jesus would be a good start.

    Pat Pope
    I’ve not seen either movie mentioned. My favorite is The Shawshank Redemption where a fellow gets saved by crawling through five hundred yards of “shit.” It is one of those rare cases where the movie is better than the book. 😉

  • tomK

    Re: Kevin Drum, I’m glad I read the article. The quote is not Kevin Drum’s words, but written in response to an article Drum had written. The whole response is fascinating and provoking: is much of the shallow intellectualism we read due to poor mentoring in the academics?

  • Re: Kevin Drum. It’s a opinion piece, so he can create all kinds of fallacies and inferences.

    Just to shed light upon this: what constitutes an education in the humanities has been contested for 50 years. No one agrees on this, but everyone quotes each other to poke holes in the other’s argument. Including the all-important question of learning: what kind of learning is taking place?

  • TJR

    Scot, thanks for the link to the dylan/cash sessions.

  • Scot McKnight

    MikeK …

    1. It’s not as contested as you say.
    2. Debate doesn’t nullify the substantive agreement in so many areas.

  • DRT

    #Kevin Drum, despite my degrees being only from public schools I have great respect for the folks who are from the top schools since I have had the opportunity to work with them quite closely. There is a big difference between learning facts and learning to think creatively and the top schools teach the later because you get to experience a lot of creative thinking.

  • Thanks for including me, Scot – truly honoured.