Weekly Meanderings, 17 November 2018

Weekly Meanderings, 17 November 2018 November 17, 2018

Hello from Denver. Kris and I are at the annual meeting for the Society of Biblical Literature, which for us began with dinner with Richard Hays, speaker for the IBR Lecture.

Common Core — is it enough?

The Common Core Standards do not require reading complete long works of literature. Even by the time we arrive at the 11th and 12th grade set of standards for reading literature, the standards only refer to “stories, dramas, and poems.”

There are, throughout the standards, references to Shakespeare and “foundational works” or literature. But the standards do not suggest that students should, at some point in their academic career, read an entire book. Appendix A provides highly technical explanations of how to consider text complexity and quality, but somehow avoids discussing the value of reading an entire novel. Appendix B provides “exemplars,” of reading selections, but the exemplars from novels are all short passages.

This interest in passages and excerpts dovetails nicely with the standardized testing now associated with the Common Core Standards (or whatever name your state has given to them). The PARCC, the SBA, and other big standardized tests cannot, by their nature, ask students to read and reflect on entire complex works of literature. Instead, we find short poems, short articles, and passages excerpted from longer works.

Both the standards and the tests are focused on “skills,” with the idea that the business of reading a play or a story or any piece of text is not for the value of that text, but for the reading skills that one acquires and practices in the reading. The standards suggest that students should have some knowledge about some texts, but that’s not the focus (and it won’t be on the test).

All of this has had an effect on how teachers teach literature. One of the more subtle effects of test-centered teaching is the rise of the excerpt. We don’t need to read all of Hamlet or Grapes of Wrath or Huckleberry Finn; we just need to read some select excerpts from them. Just tear a couple of pages out of the text and throw the rest of the book away. There are, in fact, businesses like the website CommonLit, a website that offers an entire library of short stories, poems, and excerpts from novels, along with lessons, testing materials that tie to plenty of pretty data charts and analytics. If you have any doubts about what motivates teachers to use a service like this (and many, many do), consider one satisfied customer’s statement about the need that CommonLit met.

A 9 Darter:

Darts is one of the biggest spectator sports in Europe. An event in February in Germany attracted about 12,000 fans, the most for a live darts competition since World War II. Although, when ESPN spoke to numerous fans ahead of a match in 2017, half of them claimed they’d never watched darts before.

The majority of the crowd on hand at the Grand Slam of Darts on Wednesday in Wolverhampton, England knew enough about darts to know that what Dimitri Van den Bergh was doing was spectacular. Van den Bergh recorded the 53rd televised perfect nine-dart finish in history, and the crowd loved every second of it.

True darts heads will probably get mad at me for describing it like this but my understanding of the game is that you throw darts at spaces on a board that are worth a certain number of points and your throws have to add up to exactly 501. The quickest possible way to get to 501 is with nine darts, which had only been accomplished by 24 players in televised competition.

Van den Bergh became the 25th player to pull of the feat, sending the fans and announcers into a sort of frenzy I don’t think I’ve ever seen for a perfect game in baseball. Van den Bergh not only won his match against Stephen Bunting to advance to the quarterfinals, he also earned a bonus check for £25,000 ($32,000) for the nine-darter.

Refugees and our faith:

Nearly forty years ago, a minister, a rabbi, and two priests went to the White House, and together with the President and other religious leaders, they planned a special series of Thanksgiving observances. Their Thanksgiving events, however, did not feature turkey feasts and English Pilgrims. Rather, the Thanksgiving they planned called for fasting and church fundraisers to collect money to aid Southeast Asian refugees.

The year was 1979, and a humanitarian crisis was unfolding in Asia. “Boat people” were escaping Vietnam in droves, while Hmong and Lao refugees were fleeing the Pathet Lao. In neighboring Cambodia, Pol Pot had fallen from power that year, after killing a fifth of the Cambodian population, and those who had managed to survive were starving and seeking refuge in Thailand.

After a day of meetings, the religious leaders held a press conference with President Jimmy Carter. After announcing his plans to increase government spending on refugee relief and resettlement, President Carter urged religious communities across America to “match the government effort” and give generously to refugee aid groups. “I ask specifically that every Saturday and Sunday in the month of November, up until Thanksgiving, be set aside as days for Americans in their synagogues and churches, and otherwise, to give generously to help alleviate this suffering,” he said.

Religious leaders reiterated his call. Rabbi Bernard Mandelbaum proposed a Thanksgiving dinner where Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish people would gather to eat “what a typical Cambodian eats on a day when he’s starving.” His suggestion for an interfaith Thanksgiving feast where people would eat close to nothing was perhaps made in jest. Nonetheless, Rabbi Mandelbaum was deeply serious about the shared conviction of the government and religious leaders who had gathered that day at the White House. “I think it’s good for America that all of us stand together in this prime response of religion which is ‘Love your neighbor as yourself,’” he said. [HT: JS]

Jamin Hübner takes on The Nashville Statement:

In 2006, a thirty-one year old Navy specialist underwent sex re-assignment surgery to become a woman; Fox Fallon then enrolled in women’s cage fighting. In 2014, (s)he brutalized a female opponent, leaving her with a concussion and a damaged orbital bone—attributable (in part) to a clear physiological advantage. More recently, a man-to-woman transgender charged with rape sexually assaulted four women after being sent to an all-female prison.[86]

Is this, to borrow language from the NS, what it looks like for human beings to rebel against God’s ordained design for man and woman in the twenty-first century? Is this what Abraham Kuyper meant by “Modernism, which denies and abolishes every difference, [and] cannot rest until it has made woman man and man woman”?[87] Perhaps it is. But if CBMW’s Nashville Statement is supposed to provide an effective, persuasive, and decisive Christian response to such rare spectacles, it has a long way to go.

This assessment is even more true for the common situations involving homosexuality, bisexuality, and patriarchalism. Despite a handful of agreeable propositions, the NS generally confuses, patronizes, and exhibits an attitude of unidirectional power and control. There is not even a mention of the well-known abuses and mistreatment of girls, women, and LGBTQ persons by professing Christians and their leaders.[88] Nor is there any concession that “complementarian” or “traditional” gender roles simply do not fulfill their promises (i.e., self-identified evangelicals are as abusive and adulterous as those in secular culture). Instead, there is a polarizing morass of seemingly contradictory assertions, perplexing terms, simplistic assertions and above all, a morally disturbing subtext.

Now more than ever, the church should remember that actions speak louder than words. People feel loved when they are loved, not when they are simply told that they are loved. Positive change happens by authentic relationships embodying the Spirit of Christ, not by official documents passed down from a theologically narrow subset of primarily white American evangelicals. When the church is being Christ’s body, onlookers will say as they did centuries ago: “Look . . . how they love one another . . . and how they are ready to die for each other.”[89]

California’s fires:

BILLINGS, Montana (AP) — Creating fire buffers between housing and dry brush, burying spark-prone power lines and lighting more controlled burns to keep vegetation in check could give people a better chance of surviving wildfires, according to experts searching for ways to reduce the growing death tolls from increasingly severe blazes in California and across the West.

Western wildfires have grown ever more lethal, a grim reality that’s been driven by more and more housing developments sprawling into the most fire-prone grasslands and brushy canyons, experts say. Many of the ranchers and farmers who once managed those landscapes are gone, leaving neglected terrain that has grown thick with vegetation that can explode into flames when sparked.

That’s left communities ripe for tragedy as whipping winds and recurring drought that’s characteristic of climate change stoke wildfires like the ones still raging in Northern and Southern California that have killed at least 51 people in recent days.

Hundreds of thousands of people were told to leave their homes ahead of the blazes to get out of harm’s way. Yet some experts say there’s been an over-reliance on evacuation and too little attention paid to making communities safe, as well as not enough money for controlled burns and other preventive measures.

Search crews found many victims inside their vehicles, or just next to them, overcome by flames, heat and smoke as they tried to flee. Survivors of the blaze that nearly obliterated the Northern California town of Paradise and nearby communities spoke of having just minutes to escape alive and narrow roads made impassible by flames and traffic jams.

“There are … so many ways that can go wrong, in the warning, the modes of getting the message out, the confusion … the traffic jams,” said Max Moritz, a wildfire specialist with the University of California Cooperative Extension program.

As deadly urban wildfires become more common, officials should also consider establishing “local retreat zones, local safety zones” in communities where residents can ride out the deadly firestorms if escape seems impossible, Moritz said.

That could be a community center, built or retrofitted to better withstand wildfires, which can exceed 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit, leaving little trace of ordinary homes.

Such fire protection measures in buildings can include sprinklers, fire- and heat-resistant walls and roofs, and barriers that keep sparks out of chimneys and other openings, according to the International Code Council, a nonprofit that helps develop building codes used widely in the United States.

Creating more buffers — whether parks, golf courses or irrigated agriculture, like the vineyards that helped keep 2017 wildfires in California’s wine country from spreading into even more towns — around new and old housing developments would help stave off wildfires threatening to overrun cities and towns.

Empty box stores for the homeless:

With the age of big box stores waning, all those massive abandoned retail facilities could be transformed almost instantly into housing for the homeless using a variety of plug-and-play prefab elements. The research and development studio at KTGY Architecture + Planning in Los Angeles considers what we seem to need space for the most in cities – housing people who tend to fall through the cracks as the cost of living continues to increase – and builds entire complexes of supportive spaces and services within the empty shells of stores like Sears and JCPenney.

“Re-Habit” doesn’t get rid of retail altogether. It just makes the shopping portions of each building smaller, and places bedroom pods, restrooms, kitchens, dining halls, offices, job training rooms and other spaces behind them. Each Re-Habit store would be a community-supported thrift boutique benefiting the transitional housing program.

The main goal of the project is to be self-supporting, the creators explain, by providing training, employment and housing for residents, who rotate chores like working in the kitchen or keeping the dining hall clean. The large, flat roofs of big box stores are ideal for rooftop gardening, recreation and solar panels, and many have outdoor plaza areas that could accommodate small pop-up shops and food carts.

Neanderthals and dangerous life:

NEW YORK (AP) — Life as a Neanderthal was no picnic, but a new analysis says it was no more dangerous than what our own species faced in ancient times.

That challenges what the authors call the prevailing view of our evolutionary cousins, that they lived risky, stressful lives. Some studies have suggested they had high injury rates, which have been blamed on things like social violence, attacks by carnivores, a hunting style that required getting close to large prey, and the hazards of extensive travel in environments full of snow and ice.

While it’s true that their lives were probably riskier than those of people in today’s industrial societies, the vastly different living conditions of those two groups mean comparing them isn’t really appropriate, said Katerina Harvati of the University of Tuebingen in Germany.

A better question is whether Neanderthals faced more danger than our species did when we shared similar environments and comparable lifestyles of mobile hunter-gatherers, she and study co-authors say in a paperreleased Wednesday by the journal Nature.

To study that, they focused on skull injuries. They reviewed prior studies of fossils from western Eurasia that ranged from about 80,000 to 20,000 years old. In all they assessed data on 295 skull samples from 114 individual Neanderthals, and 541 skull samples from 90 individuals of our own species, Homo sapiens.

Injury rates turned out to be about the same in both species. …

The classics and anti feminism:

Donna Zuckerberg didn’t expect to spend two years trawling through the corner of the internet defined as “the manosphere”, unpicking the grim alliance between pick-up artists, men’s rights activists, incels (involuntarily celibate men), the far right and the most ardent Make America Great Again advocates.

“It started as a curiosity,” she says, as we video call from her home in Silicon Valley, which she shares with her husband and two children. “But it took on a life of its own.” A classicist with a PhD from Princeton, Zuckerberg edits the online journal Eidolon, publishing scholarly essays on the Greco-Roman world from academics and students.

In the summer of 2015, she noticed an unprecedented level of traffic towards a piece entitled “Why is stoicism having a cultural moment?” and went down a rabbit hole to determine why. The results stunned her: men – or rather, misogynists – were using an armchair enthusiasm for the classics to justify manifestos of hate against women. The results were spreading online under a pseudo-intellectual guise, twisting ancient world philosophy to buttress a contemporary hatred of feminism. And it wasn’t a one-off.

“So, there are online communities that exist under the umbrella of what we know as the Red Pill, which are men connected by common resentments against women, immigrants, people of colour,” she explains. “What I was surprised to find was the extent to which they are using ancient Greek and Roman figures and texts to prop up an ideal of white masculinity.” …

“Classics are wrought with histories and narratives of oppression and exclusion,” says Zuckerberg. “By quoting Marcus Aurelius – as Steve Bannon is known to often do – Red Pillers perpetuate the idea that they, white men, are the intellectual authority under threat from women and people of colour.” While universities make progressive attempts to broaden the canon so students aren’t simply reading one dead white man after another, “the manosphere rebel against this. They see themselves as the guardians of western civilisation and the defenders of its cultural legacy.”

This twist is especially galling for Zuckerberg, an avowed feminist who has dedicated her career to the classics. “Anybody with an interest in the field of social justice should not ignore this trend,” she says. “These men are weaponising ancient Greece and Rome in service of their agenda and reshaping what that history means.”

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