Category Archives: News

In Other News

Thanks to the DPLA, images like this are accessible to all!

The DPLA has launched, yesterday while I was too busy presenting at a conference to join in the festive announcements across the history blogosphere. The DPLA (Digital Public Library of America) is an ambitious project which casts itself as the first step toward a global, free access library that will include the fullest possible amount of material (i.e. everything not covered by copyright). It is a social leveling project as much as an intellectual endeavor, allowing students at community colleges, in poorer regions of this country and eventually the world, and all the academically disadvantaged to have access to archives at places like Harvard. Relying on a variety of charitable institutions, the DPLA in its present form is a centralizing service that allows scholars–or curious web browsers–to search across a wide range of participating institutions in a single place and be linked directly to the material in those archives. It promises be, whether or not it fulfills its utopian vision of an equal academic play field, a tremendous resource for research (even as it is also likely to thwart the efforts of young scholars trying to think up excuses to get research funding to visit Boston). A link to the DPLA can now be found enshrined on my Resources page.

In less exciting news, the church institutional continues to disgrace itself on a variety of fronts. The Episcopal Church has won a “victory” in its civil case against itself before the Virginia Supreme Court.

The panel affirmed a lower court’s decision that the 3,000-member congregation, which voted in 2006 to leave the Episcopal Church, did not have the right to keep the sprawling property known as the Falls Church.

The Falls Church property is one of the country’s largest Episcopal churches and is a central landmark in downtown Falls Church.

The breakaway congregation, now called the Falls Church Anglican, has been worshiping in the Bishop O’Connell High School auditorium in Arlington County while it sought to overturn the Fairfax County Circuit Court decision from last year.

On Thursday, the Supreme Court affirmed that the property was rightly given to the mainline denomination but said some of the nearly $3 million in church coffers belongs to the Falls Church Anglican congregation.

I put “victory” in scare quotes because it hardly seems appropriate to call either side victorious when both have so miserably failed the basic standard of Christian charity and forbearance, applied particularly to this situation by Paul in 1 Corinthians 6. “Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded?” Probably because Paul’s churches never had anything like three million dollars in its “church coffers.” If it did, maybe Paul wouldn’t have been so quick on the draw with that “to have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat to you” nonsense.

The Orthodox Church global is having its own struggles. At the end of a long saga that has witnessed significantly more diligence than Catholic handling of sexual misconduct, Bishop Matthias has resigned. The head of the Chicago diocese of the Orthodox Church in America could no longer bear the odium of his sexual misconduct scandal and finally yielded to pressure from above to step down. In a deferential address–a momentary lapse from his conspiratorial theories about a liberal plot to manufacture his ouster–he expressed hope that “my stepping down will end the ordeal, allowing the diocese to move toward healing,” and asked “for everyone’s forgiveness for my failings, my mistakes and sins.” He then graciously offered to forgive everyone else, for what is not entirely clear. Maybe he forgives the woman who misunderstood his “inappropriate words that I thought were being received as humorous.” That certainly is the way this sincere apology feels: “I am sorry that my kindness and generosity to this person was viewed with suspicion and ulterior motives.” Growing up, when I made apologies like that I got slapped. I suppose being stripped of your diocese is the ecclesiastical equivalent.

In Prague, a much bigger fish has been fried by a much sexier scandal. Metropolitan Krystof, the head of the Orthodox Church in the Czech Republic and Slovakia, has stepped down after scandal broke about his lascivious life. The prelate is alleged to have had an affair with the wife of one of his priest’s and of fathering numerous illegitimate children. With all the talk of progress in Europe, it seems they are still very much medieval over there.

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Denying the Holocaust: Albany Teacher Suspended for Teaching Nazism

The Nazis are stealing your children!

The Nazis are stealing your children!

Nazis are bad. I learned that lesson in high school like everyone else, though, let’s be honest, we all knew that Nazis were bad before we ever made it to high school. Nevertheless, that is the lesson I was taught. Nothing more; nothing less. At Albany High School in New York, one teacher tried to take this lesson a little further in three sophomore English classes:

As part of the 10th grade English persuasive writing assignment, the Albany High students were asked to pretend their teacher is a Nazi government official who must be convinced they believe Jews are the source of Germany’s problems: “You must argue that Jews are evil, and use solid rationale from government propaganda to convince me of your loyalty to the Third Reich!”

The teacher is on leave, facing possible termination, because school officials and government leaders were appalled. Said Superintendent Vanden Wyngaard, “You asked a child to support the notion that the Holocaust was justified, that’s my struggle. It’s an illogical leap for a student to make.” Said New York City Councilmen David Greenfield, “The teacher responsible for coming up with and assigning students with this task must be held accountable for attempting to indoctrinate children with anti-Semitic beliefs.” Said Director of the Jewish Federation Shelly Shapiro “It’s not how you teach about how prejudice has led to genocide.”

Well it certainly was not how I was taught that prejudice led to genocide. I learned, “Prejudice leads to genocide. It happened with the Nazis. So don’t be prejudiced like the Nazis.” And that was it. Something tells me that Shapiro is short-selling the pedagogical value of what is happening here. These students, in addition to learning a valuable lesson in English (because no creative writer has only had to write the perspective of laudable characters with whom everyone agrees), would take away from this assignment a powerful and deep understanding of not merely the tired truism that “prejudice has led to genocide” but an experience of precisely how it led to genocide. It teaches the student, in the most basic way, what it was to be a civilian in Nazi Germany, under a government that flooded the intellectual marketplace with antisemitic propaganda and expected you to learn a new cultural script to mirror it. The applications extend far beyond merely a better grasp of the history of 1930s Germany to a life lesson in the way propaganda continues to be employed and continues to shape the thinking of citizens around the world. Some clever honors student might even have concluded that the consumption of media in contemporary America might be shaping his or her thought in similar ways.

Renowned scholar of religion and American culture Stephen Prothero draws much the same conclusion:

I think it’s Greenfield who is lacking in common sense here. And it’s the superintendent who is being illogical.

I suppose it is possible that the teacher is a closet Nazi attempting to reconstruct the Third Reich in Albany. But isn’t it more likely that he or she is trying to teach students about the dangers of propaganda and the horrors of the Holocaust?

Consider the student who felt “horrible” about doing this assignment. Is that really a bad thing? How are high school students today supposed to feel about Nazism and the Holocaust?

Apparently, what they are supposed to feel (and think) is nothing, because the lesson high school teachers are going to take away from this fiasco is to avoid this topic at all costs, lest they risk losing their jobs.

Prothero points to a further dimension of “this fiasco,” the special place of the Holocaust in the American imagination. Historian John Fea has pointed out that if the principles espoused here to teaching the Holocaust were universally applied, teachers could no longer teach the thinking of Puritans who killed witches, settlers who killed Native Americans, southerners who kept slaves, nativist who oppressed Catholic immigrants, etc. What a moralistic history we are left with! And an incomplete history at that, a half history. Of course, no one would ever suggest hamstringing historians on those topics because they are not blessed by the kind of special pleading that surrounds the Holocaust. There is no villain like Hitler, no enormity like the Holocaust, and no racism like antisemitism. That, in the end, is the kind of lesson we were taught by the two-dimensional treatment of Nazism in school. No depth, no perspective, because the history of Nazism is alone a truly simple matter in history. It is a lesson against thinking for most students, and it is a tragedy that this teacher should suffer for bringing thought–in the form of an entertaining thought experiment the like of which I never enjoyed in high school or college–back into the subject of Nazism.

I hope the teacher is reinstated, because termination over something so ridiculous is unthinkable. I also hope the teacher is fired, because to take any punishment, even a slap on the wrist, and then return willingly to that environment of educational repression strikes me as a tacit admission that the teacher actually did something wrong. Of course, the teacher is probably sitting at home now worrying about paying bills, working long enough to retire some day, and coping with social ostracism. So what I really hope is that whatever the teacher wants happens. It’s a shame that it had to go this far.

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The Cows, a Sequel to Hitchcock’s the Birds

Photo by Ryan Thompson

Remember that cow that got shot outside the primary school in the UK? You know, the one that got shot, and then got shot again, and then got shot again, and then was finally killed? The one the police insist they definitely did not miss, because it is better to be inhumane than inaccurate? Of course you remember–unless you’re from Oklahoma, in which case you’re excused. Well, after promising to take seriously the “significant public interest” in the not-at-all-disproportionate response–four marksmen, one sergeant, five officers, four PCSOs, five patrol cars, and a police van–to a cow loose in a residential area, the Lincolnshire Police issued a statement:

“The animal’s presence in a residential area posed a serious risk to safety. A significant amount of resources were committed to containing the animal. The intention was to safely remove the animal from the area without destroying it if at all possible.

“After more than two hours of working towards this aim, it became apparent that it was not achievable. Several options, including sedation, were considered. The RSPCA and the owner of the animal were consulted.

“As more members of the public turned up to watch the incident, prompted by online commentary on the situation, the animal became increasingly distressed and there were fears that it would jump further fences and re-enter a residential area.”

A compelling argument.

Meanwhile, on the continent, the Austrians are dealing with a full blown cowpocalypse.

A police statement says the 43 steers defied attempts by police and volunteer firefighters to recapture them after wandering off Thursday and heading toward the Upper Austrian town of Freistadt. After being chased away from the railway station, they endangered motorists by stampeding onto a two-lane highway before running into a town suburb.

Two firefighters who tried to stop them were injured and needed hospital treatment.

The statement says 18 of the animals remain on the loose Friday. The rest have been corralled or tranquilized.

Oh, the humanity! Of all people, the Austrians should have a keen cultural awareness of the danger of appeasement techniques like corralling and tranquilizing. Lives are on the line, and the casualties are racking up. After two hours days of trying to control these stampeding menaces, surely it is time to take off the kid gloves and bring in the amateur marksmen with the seventy-two rounds necessary to fell eighteen cows. The real question for Americans is, if Austria solicits military aid in this time of crisis, should we send troops or should Obama just call in a drone strike?

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Cow Shot, Shot Again, Then Killed

In front of an elementary school, it would appear:

Police were slammed yesterday after shooting dead an escaped cow in a primary school car park. The Belgian blue went on the run for almost three hours after fleeing its field.

Armed officers eventually cornered the terrified beast outside a primary school. Marksmen were ordered to shoot to kill and opened fire with a high-powered rifle.

But the cow survived the first two shots and did not die until it was hit by two further bullets 15 minutes later. Horrified locals accused police of animal cruelty…

“It kicked its back legs for another five or 10 minutes.

“The so-called marksman was less than 100 yards away. It was a joke.”

I’m not sure what about the cornered cow was so threatening. Or why they needed to take a coffee break between shooting it the first couple of times and finally killing it. I’m not sure why they don’t have tranquilizers. I thought the police weren’t as trigger happy in the UK as they are here. So much about this doesn’t make sense to me.

Almost as tragic was the decision of the journalist to caption the picture in the article “Udder disgrace.”

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In Other News

Continuing to bring you the latest from the Orthodox world, this offer from the Orthodox Church of Cyprus is rightfully making waves:

The head of Cyprus’ influential Orthodox church, Archbishop Chrysostomos II, says he will put the church’s assets at the country’s disposal to help pull it out of a financial crisis, after lawmakers rejected a plan to seize up to 10 percent of people’s bank deposits to secure an international bailout.

Speaking after meeting President Nicos Anastasiades Wednesday, Chrysostomos said the church was willing to mortgage its assets to invest in government bonds.

The church has considerable wealth, including property, stakes in a bank and a brewery. Tuesday’s rejection of the deposit tax has left the future of the country’s international bailout in question.

Whether or not anything will come of the offer–and whether or not the church’s assets are enough to make a substantial difference in Cyprus’s financial crisis–it strikes me as precisely the right move for the church, which has been roundly and rightly criticized from all corners and in most developed countries for being inexcusably wealthy. I wonder what kind of dent the US churches could have made in 2008 if they had made a similar offer. Of course, they didn’t, and they lack the institutional unity to make such a gesture even if they had wanted to. No longer living in an age when the apostolic heirs can honestly say “Silver and gold I have not,” the Cypriot church has made a gesture that powerfully displays the way sacrifice on a church-wide scale can influence society.

Even so, there are many who would argue that the world is becoming an increasingly churchless place no matter what denominational bodies do. This “none” movement is constituted in part by those postmodern Christians enamored of the idea that Jesus never went to church, so why should they? Launching off of a quote from Toby Mac (“Jesus didn’t hang out in the church”) that appeared on the Huffington Post, Revelation rock star Rick Oster has thoroughly debunked the notion of a church-free Jesus:

Since everyone knows there was no Christian church in existence in the days of Jesus’ earthly ministry, this statement is designed for its rhetorical impact, rather than its historical accuracy. Sometimes, though, rhetorical statements have a life of their own, and hearers forget the limitations of rhetoric. More probably the rhetoric of this statement was meant to emphasize the viewpoint that Jesus did not spend time associating with religious/Jewish organizations or hanging out in Jewish meeting places or chillaxing with the officialdom of Jewish religion. A fact-check of this viewpoint led me to conclude that it did not represent the whole story of Jesus.

This anti-institutional view of Jesus has a long history, but it stands in stark contrast to the picture of Jesus given us by the major writer of the New Testament, Luke, and also by John the prophet.

…To be sure, the validity of Christian ministry is determined by the authenticity of its message and accompanying lifestyle and not by its location. Bars and brothels are certainly within the purview of modern Christian ministry, but we need to be clear that this was not the fundamental approach used by Jesus. Most of Jesus’ time was spent in synagogues, in travel through the Jewish countryside, and in Jewish homes. It does not seem to have been an erratic choice when Jesus decided to give his inaugural teachings in synagogues (Lk. 4:14-15).

…We contemporary believers just might need to reconsider whether we want to recapture apostolic belief by acknowledging and confessing “that Jesus is not a parachurch Messiah” ([Oster’s commentary on Revelation] p. 89), but a churchy Jesus, notwithstanding all the abuses and heresies propagated by his ostensible followers, both past and present.

Meanwhile, will Pope Francis go to Moscow? It’s hard to care when you consider the momentous event that just occurred in Melfort, Saskatchewan:

Wally and Kerry LaClare raise cows on their farm near Melfort, and have seen hundreds of calves born. But last week when one of their cows gave birth, they witnessed something they’ve never seen before.

“Kerry came into the barn, and noticed the cow was straining a bit,” said Wally LaClare. “I checked the cow and there was another calf, so we delivered it. We figured that was it, you never imagine triplets. When I came back in an hour later she was delivering her third,” he said.

The chances of a cow giving birth to triplets are so rare, about once in every 105,000 births, that a person has a better chance of hitting a hole in one.

I wonder how the chances of Orthodox-Catholic reunion stack up to that.

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Two Men Go to Church Together: What Could it Mean?

Big things continue to happen in the Orthodox world, this time less comic and more significant than the Russian equivalents of Westboro Baptists demanding Alaska back. For the first time in nearly a millennia, the Ecumenical Patriarch will Catholic Mass for the installation of the new bishop of Rome:

The Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople will be present for the installation mass for Pope Francis on Tuesday. This is the first time an Ecumenical Patriarch has been present for this Catholic mass since the Great Schism of 1054, when the Eastern and Western Church cut ties with one another.

In an interview with a television network in Istanbul, Turkey, Bartholomew explained that the decision to attend was a gesture to showcase improving relations between the two Ancient Churches.

“It is a gesture to underline relations which have been developing over the recent years and to express my wish that our friendly ties flourish even more during this new era,” said Bartholomew.

Other faith leaders, including other Orthodox Church officials, are expected as well. Metropolitan Tikhon, the head of the Orthodox Church in America, will be present. The Russian Orthodox Church’s Patriarch will be sending his envoy.

Archpriest Leonid Kishkovsky, chairman of the Department of External Affairs and Interchurch Relations for The Orthodox Church in America, told The Christian Post that the attendance was “a significant gesture.”

Fr. Kishkovsky’s cool diplomacy probably rightly touches the limits of reasonable optimism, but who wants to be reasonable when the irrational optimism is boundless? It is hard not to be hopeful that such a substantial gesture is not the beginning of a quickening toward communion, toward the greatest stride toward Christian unity since…well since Christians started fracturing in earnest in the fourth century. Can you imagine the implications of the Catholics and Orthodox reestablishing communion? Neither can I. Of course, Kishkovsky is probably right when he says that union is “not in prospect at this time,” but I confess I have never wanted a priest to be so wrong since the sixth century condemnation of Origen’s doctrine of apocatastasis.

Fingers crossed.

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Clean Monday: Straightening Out Alaska

Normally my Clean Monday thoughts tend more toward the devotional side. (I’ve already had some lagana this morning, have you?) But as I was perusing news from the Orthodox world, this little tidbit struck me as too delicious not to share.

US President Barack Obama must have known that his support of gay marriage would bring him trouble. But of all possible repercussions, a demand to roll back Alaska’s 1867 sale to the United States was one he was unlikely to have seen coming.

And yet that was the very claim that an ultraconservative religious group made in a Moscow arbitrage court, citing the need to protect fellow Christians from sin.

Obama’s alleged plans to legalize the “so-called same-sex marriage” threaten the freedom of religion of Alaska’s Orthodox Christians, who “would never accept sin for normal behavior,” the nongovernmental group Pchyolki (“Bees”) said.

“We see it as our duty to protect their right to freely practice their religion, which allows no tolerance to sin,” the group said in a statement on their website.

The groups charges that the contract for the sale of Alaska is null and void because of a technicality about the method of payment. Ironically, this lawsuit is only coming to light now because of the group’s own inability to abide by the legal technicalities of their own system.

Something tells me this isn’t the kind of cleanliness Clean Monday is supposed to be about. It’s a shame that Lent starts so much later for the Orthodox this year than for Catholics and Protestants–my preference would always be to observe them simultaneously–but, if nothing else, let those observing the Western fast season allow today serve as a reminder of the purity you committed yourself to back in February. Your Orthodox brothers and sisters around the world join you today in offering themselves as living sacrifices. If only for two weeks, Christians everywhere will be united in a period of self-reflection, purification, and anticipation of the resurrection.

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Animal Advocacy in North Stonington

Todd Caswell is still on the loose, but animal rights advocates are seizing the Angel shooting as an opportunity to improve the system of justice for cows, among others.

A bipartisan group of legislators, including state Rep. Diana Urban (D-North Stonington), is introducing a bill that would allow court-appointed advocates for animals during legal proceedings that concern the animals’ welfare or custody.

It a logical extension of the near universal practice in the US judicial system of appointing advocates for those without a voice, and it will almost certainly be a big step forward in animal rights law (one they’ve already taken in Rhode Island). Unfortunately, we still only care about violence against animals as an indicator of future violence against humans.

Urban cited data, which she noted has been available since 1971, that point to animal abuse as an early indicator of violence against humans. She has already authored legislation, now a law, that requires cross reporting of animal-abuse and domestic-violence cases. About 80 percent of school shooters were once animal abusers, she said.

“I just want society to take this seriously,” she said.

It’s too bad society won’t take seriously shooting a cow in the face, fatally wounding her, just for thrills and then conspiring to conceal your crime unless it can be shown to somehow threaten human well being. Baby steps, I guess.

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Connecticut Takes Their Cows Seriously

And why shouldn’t they. There have been fascinating new developments in the Angel assassination case. I must say, as necessarily corrupt and unjust as our legal system inherently is, I find the seriousness with which they people of North Stonington are taking the death of the Palmers’ cow both intriguing and–in the interest of confession–a little reassuring. Though the trigger man remains at large, they have caught the getaway driver and the owner of the truck and gun, both of whom are being treated with righteous severity. According to The Day, Judge John J. Nazzaro has declared Max Urso, driver and senior at Wheeler High School,

a threat to the community and ordered him placed on intensive pretrial supervision, including GPS monitoring and home confinement except for medical, legal and educational outings, while his case is pending.

This in addition to being held for a time on a $25,000 bond and being in the process of getting expelled from school. It is an overwhelming reaction to what, in the minds of many, amounts to little more than the destruction of private property. The Christian response to violence is, of course, forgiveness, something which ought to be counseled particularly to members of the same church as is the case here. Yet, a secular evaluation of the progress in the protection of animals from recreational cruelty cannot help but reassure.

I can be less conflicted about the response of the community to this travesty.

After the shooting, state Rep. Diana Urban, D-North Stonington, known as a champion of animals, established “The Angel Fund” at Chelsea Groton Bank to raise money for the Palmer family. More than $3,500 has been raised. Farmer George Palmer told state police the replacement cost of the cow is $1,500, veterinary fees were $139 and it cost approximately $200 in labor to care for and move the injured cows.

Palmer’s son, Asa, had been raising the cows. He said Tuesday that he was angry that people he knew from school and church would do such a thing to the animals.

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Michael Jackson Finally Convicted

In the ongoing parade of atrocities that has become the staple of cow news here, the New Zealand Herald reports this “worst case of its kind” abuse case:

West Coast farmer Michael Jackson, 43, admitted breaking or injuring 230 cows tails trying to usher them into his milking shed.

Jackson pleaded guilty to a charge of failing to alleviate pain or distress in 230 injured dairy cattle under Section 11 of the Animal Welfare Act 1999.

At Christchurch District Court yesterday he was sentenced to 300 hours of community service, ordered to pay reparation of $223 for veterinary costs and was banned from owning cows for five years.

The question that leapt immediately into my mind was how many tails did he need to break before they would ban him from owning cows indefinitely. Somehow, I get the suspicion that if I were to break or injure the tails of 230 golden retrievers, I might fair worse than Michael Jackson has.

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