Here are some links worth reading this weekend.
1. The late Supreme Court justice, Antonin Scalia, was known for his peppery prose. He wrote with flourishes so that law students would be more likely to read and be interested. He also, in most cases, wrote with a verbal accuracy that reflected his respect for the power of words. This article in the Wall Street Journal explains Scalia's approach.
Scalia, too, considered himself a language snoot. His father, a professor of Romance languages, used to critique his judicial opinions and urge him not to sully the subjunctive. In his 2003 dissent in Lawrence v. Texas, Justice Scalia flouted a language rule and found himself misunderstood by the Associated Press. “I have nothing against homosexuals,” the AP quoted him saying, seeming defensive and patronizing. What Scalia had actually meant was: “I have nothing against homosexuals’ promoting their agenda.” But because of the phrasing, he had left off the apostrophe before “promoting.”
A grammarian would call that flub a fused participle—which sounds ominous, like what a coroner would write on the death certificate after a nude welding accident. It’s actually straightforward: “Sing” is a verb. But “singing” can act like a noun. If you love the tenor’s performance, you enjoy his singing—not him singing.
By breaking the rule, Scalia had brought the misquotation on himself. “I decided to be ungrammatical instead of pedantic,” the justice told William Safire. “God—whom I believe to be a strict grammarian as well as an Englishman—has punished me.”
2. Pornography has been in the news recently, with the RNC identifying porn as a public health crisis (while preparing to nominate someone who has posed for the cover of a porn mag). This article from the New York Times discusses one man's journey from porn advocate to anti-porn fighter.
In 2011, Mr. Rhodes was lost and in search of support. He created a discussion forum on Reddit on the topic of abstaining from masturbation and pornography. He realized he was far from alone and began his stand-alone site soon after.
After college, he continued to build the site while working as a contractor for Google, specializing in data analysis. He said he earned good money and was able to put a good amount into the website (calledNoFap.com, from a slang term for masturbation). But he was still using the supposed vice he was railing against. It took another failed relationship to get him to quit.
“I think I was relying on pornography as some kind of emotional crutch,” he said. “If anything bad would happen, you would go to porn, because it would always be there.
“I knew it was bad for me,” he said. “But I also realized it was bad for women I was involved with, and that was the moment that I said: ‘I need to leave this thing behind. It is completely distorting my sexuality to the point where it could actually be harmful or at least not enjoyable for other people who I am involved with.’”
3. Joseph Sunde at Acton University identifies the way that Kentucky schools are rethinking the idea of college and career readiness. This is an important conversation that the nation needs to have as we continue to encourage largely unqualified people to spent a great deal of money on college education that they really don't need and may not finish.
Fueled by a mix of misguided cultural pressures and misaligned government incentives, college tuition has been rising for decades, outpacing general inflation by a wide margin. Yet despite the underlying problems, our politicians seem increasingly inclined to cement the status quo.
Whether promoting increased subsidies for student loans or promising “free college” for all, such solutions simply double down on our failed cookie-cutter approach to education and vocation, narrowing rather than expanding the range of educational and vocational possibilities.
Fortunately, despite such an inept response from the top-down, schools at the local and state levels are beginning to respond on their own. In Kentucky, for example, PBS highlights innovative efforts to rethink the meaning of “career-ready” education and retool the state’s incentives and accountability structures accordingly.
While “college-” and “career- readiness” have become buzz words that are assumed to be all but equal, Kentucky has awoken to the reality that they ought not be so lumped together so hastily. Alas, we have tended to amplify college not only to the detriment of career, but to college itself.
4. Demonology has been relegated to the dustbin of religious nuts--and my friend Patrick, who is writing a dissertation on the topic. Here, however, is a psychiatrist arguing that demon possession seems to happen--if rarely--and that maybe there is something to the world besides the material.
I’m a man of science and a lover of history; after studying the classics at Princeton, I trained in psychiatry at Yale and in psychoanalysis at Columbia. That background is why a Catholic priest had asked my professional opinion, which I offered pro bono, about whether this woman was suffering from a mental disorder. This was at the height of the national panic about Satanism. (In a case that helped induce the hysteria, Virginia McMartin and others had recently been charged with alleged Satanic ritual abuse at a Los Angeles preschool; the charges were later dropped.) So I was inclined to skepticism. But my subject’s behavior exceeded what I could explain with my training. She could tell some people their secret weaknesses, such as undue pride. She knew how individuals she’d never known had died, including my mother and her fatal case of ovarian cancer. Six people later vouched to me that, during her exorcisms, they heard her speaking multiple languages, including Latin, completely unfamiliar to her outside of her trances. This was not psychosis; it was what I can only describe as paranormal ability. I concluded that she was possessed. Much later, she permitted me to tell her story.
5. An article from BBC that talks about how babies learn while in the womb. This provides evidence that babies are both human, cognizant, and maybe--just maybe--might deserve the right to be born, even if it is inconvenient for the parents. The article doesn't move in a pro-life direction, but anyone thinking about the issue will likely realize the logical conclusion.
While pregnant with my first child, I heard unsolicited advice typical of that showered upon expectant mothers.
"Don't eat spicy food," and, "Avoid garlic, especially when you're breast-feeding." But as a spicy food-lover I was sceptical, and reluctant to take heed. Human cuisines vary all over the world. Surely babies born to mothers in some of the world's spice capitals must learn to get used to breast milk with more flavoursome notes?
It was pure speculation on my part, but my personal experiment – played out with an unscientific sample size of just one – offered some support. My tiny experimental subject expressed his prenatally-learned love for Thai curry and garlic-spiced breast milk by way of contented guzzling, then guzzling some more.
Some more rigorous scientific research also supports the idea that babies learn taste preferences before they are born. In fact, prenatal learning is not limited to taste. Nor is it limited to humans. What is emerging from the experiments is evidence that all sorts of animal species great and small learn about the world before entering it by paying attention to the tastes, smells, sounds – and even sights – available pre-birth.
6. Sometimes it is trendy to lament the Protestant Reformation. People like to think that it would have been better if Martin Luther hadn't "divided the Church" so that we would still be united. Timothy George, a church historian known for his appreciation of the "great tradition" and desire for catholicity, writes that the reformation was a tragic necessity.
It is not hard to find champions on one side of this antinomy or the other. The tragic side of the Reformation is obvious to those who care deeply about the unity of the church and who feel keenly the dys-evangelical impact of a fractured Christian community and its muted witness in our world today. All Christians repeat Jesus’s prayer for the unity of his church, and yet who can deny the open scandal of the followers of Jesus excluding one another from the Lord’s Table, all the while proclaiming “one Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Eph. 4:5)?
But the necessity of the Reformation is also evident to those who hear in the teaching of Luther, Zwingli, Bucer, Calvin, Cranmer, and others the good news of God’s free and unfettered grace. The Pauline-Augustinian message of grace found expression in the doctrine of justification by faith alone—not “alone” in the sense of being divorced from a life of holiness and love, but “alone” in the sense of unmerited, “apart from the works of the law.” Necessary too was the recovery of Bible-based proclamation at the heart of the church’s worship, for as the Second Helvetic Confession of 1566 puts it, “The preaching of the Word of God is the Word of God.”