Posted by: Patrick Allen Foster | June 21, 2015

Sunday Link Collection

1. At Crooked Timber, Gabriel Winant writes about the waning value of democratic citizenship:

Citizenship is waning. There are the obvious, brutal signs of this: the police apparently have a free hand to kill and cage certain citizens, more or less as they see fit; the fiscal state is crippled by the ability and willingness of its wealthier subjects to refuse taxation; voters must now share political space with corporations, their new legal equivalents in significant elements of democratic life. In many places, especially poorer places like Greece and Detroit, unelected bureaucracies now explicitly overrule the will of electorates. Then there are the more paradoxical data points indicating the civic crisis. As the value of democratic citizenship declines, for example, those who still have it behave more defensively, throwing up border walls and voting for neo-nationalists. The deportee prison, the mass drownings in the Mediterranean, the rise of Golden Dawn, UKIP, and the National Front: these phenomena signal the dissipation of citizenship as much as the overweening power of the European Central Bank or the quasi-colonial occupation of Ferguson do. When your portion is diminishing, you want to ration it out more stingily. If you’ve only got a little at all, though, what do you do?

Please do read the whole thing.

2. How would Ulysses be received if it were first released today? (H/T: 3 Quarks Daily.)

3. Noah Smith on the feminism of Mad Max: Fury Road.

4. Kelsey Snyder in Wired: Hollywood sets up its female superheroes to fail.

5. At Slate, Willa Paskin reviews Poldark: “Each episode of the series comes to resemble a procedural in the consistency of its beats: Poldark faces a setback, which he overcomes by throwing in not with his fellow gentleman but with the poor, achieving a near-happy ending. … Poldark has no patience for dramatic tension. It is always in a rush. It turns what should be a deliciously drawn-out love story into a fait accompli.”

6. How the Scooby Doo gang would dress throughout each decade of the 20th Century.

7. What is code?

Posted by: Patrick Allen Foster | June 18, 2015

Waterloo

Battle of Waterloo

The Battle of Waterloo was fought 200 years ago today.

In this post, Anderson pushes back against the popular/conventional assertion that Waterloo was one of the “Great” or Decisive Battles of history:

The battle was a famous victory, but TBA opines it was neither decisive nor particularly interesting. Napoleon was gambling that he could bloody the Allies’ noses so badly with a defeat in detail (i.e., defeating separated elements of their army) that he could negotiate a return to power. But the Allies were done with him, and had been since 1814. There is no plausible scenario where they would’ve accepted Napoleon’s return. Had he swept the field at Waterloo, another coalition army would have been put together.

Nor, close-run thing tho it may have been, was Waterloo a great battle as, say, Austerlitz was a great battle: a tactical masterpiece. For whatever reason, Napoleon’s tactical genius abandoned him, and he spent the day hurling troops into a frontal attack on a strong Allied (less than half British) position.

But mainly, this anniversary gives me an excuse to offer this xckd comic:

Image Credits: (1) Wikimedia Commons; (2) Randall Munroe, xkcd (CC BY-NC 2.5).

Posted by: Patrick Allen Foster | June 15, 2015

Game of Thrones Season 5

Hadrianswall2007

Game of Thrones wrapped up its fifth season Sunday evening.

The show had a strong finish for the season, but pacing was an issue all season long.* While the showrunners spent two full seasons developing plots adapted from the third volume of Martin’s series (A Storm of Swords), in season 5 they rushed through the material of two books in one season. This frantic pace meant that some plots were rushed — like the situation in King’s Landing, where the evolution of the Faith Militant and the rise of the High Sparrow did not have time to show the ominous, gradual, grassroots growth that shows in A Feast for Crows. And some plots were distorted and rendered unintelligible and meaningless by the process of condensation. The Dorne storyline was never my favorite storyline in the books, but the story on the page in A Feast for Crows was markedly better than what HBO delivered this season. The Sand Snakes fell flat, which is especially disappointing after Oberyn Martell (portrayed by Pedro Pascal) made such a splash in season 4. And whatever the weaknesses of the Dorne plot in the book, it is clear at the end that Doran Martell, Prince of Dorne, is a crafty man and most definitely has a larger plan, as much as Varys or Littlefinger. Basically none of that came across this season — which is almost a waste of an excellent actor.

On the plus side, almost everything having to do with the storyline at the Wall was executed very well.

Anyway, some linkage (SPOILERS at all the links):

1. Dave Schilling, Grantland: “My god, the Sand Snakes. Can we talk about this? Did the writing staff of Game of Thrones add a 12-year-old to the room? I was half-expecting Kevin Sorbo or Louis Gossett Jr. to show up for an episode as Doran’s plot device/bodyguard, which frankly would have been an upgrade. After 10 episodes, the Sand Snakes accomplished two things: helping their mom kill Myrcella and fulfilling HBO’s nudity requirement. That could have taken half of one episode. You could have even skipped the nudity, folks. When was the last time Game of Thrones was even remotely titillating? After the 500th sexual assault and the millionth beheading, I’d be more excited by Dennis Franz’s bare cheeks on a rerun of NYPD Blue than this show.”

2. Jamelle Bouie, on the penultimate episode of the season: “So, my entire thought while watching that scene in the fighting pits with the Sons of the Harpy was ‘I wish dragons existed during Reconstruction,’ since — in the context of Game of Thrones — the Sons of Harpy are basically the Ku Klux Klan, and a world where Union soldiers soared through the Louisiana bayou burning Klansmen is a good world.”

Read More…

Posted by: Patrick Allen Foster | June 13, 2015

Saturday Link Collection

1. The North-South Divide on Two-Parent Families. (H/T: Althouse.)

2. A proposed footbridge in London is inspiring outrage.

3. Note to self: if ever climbing Mt. Kinabalu in Malaysia, do not pose for semi-nude photos at the summit.

4. This interactive map shows when different buildings in Los Angeles were built.
(H/T: Erik Loomis, LGM.)

5. Guardian: “Secret Aid Worker: After years in the field, I worry I’ve lost my compassion.” (H/T: Chris Blattman.)

Posted by: Paul A. Forsyth | June 12, 2015

Yoga and The Faith

Yoga in King George Square Brisbane-01=

In early 1962, Thomas Merton wrote as follows, in an essay entitled “Christian Culture Needs Oriental Wisdom” (originally published in Catholic World 195 [May 1962], 72-79):

Does this mean that the suggestion given in our title is strictly true? Does Christian culture need Oriental wisdom? It would certainly be rash to state this without further qualification. Yet we may ask ourselves a few pertinent questions on the subject.

First of all, it is quite clear that no non-Christian religion or philosophy has anything that Christianity needs, in so far as it is a supernaturally revealed religion. Yet from the point of view of the “incarnation” of revealed Christian truth in a social and cultural context, in man’s actual history, we know how much Greek philosophy and Roman law contributed to the actual formation of Christian culture and even Christian spirituality. We know too with what breadth of view and with what lofty freedom the scholastic doctors of the thirteenth century made use of Aristotle and his Arabian commentators. It can certainly be said that if a similar use had been made of Oriental philosophy and religious thought from the very start, the development of Christianity in Asia would have been a different story. Our Western Christian thought and culture would also have been immeasurably enriched and deepened.

Have we not been too ready to dismiss Oriental philosophy without really attempting to understand it? Do we not still shrug it off with a few easy generalizations?

(A Thomas Merton Reader, 301-02.)

I thought about the above passage when I read, late last month, about the latest ecumenical efforts by Fabian Bruskewitz, retired Catholic Bishop of Lincoln, Nebraska:

Retired Lincoln Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz stirred up debate this month with a letter he wrote to Women of Grace, a Florida-based Catholic organization.

The organization wrote a blog post that says the letter advised “Catholics to steer clear of yoga because of its basis in Hinduism and to take up other methods of exercise that don’t place the faith in unnecessary danger.”

Women of Grace describes itself as Catholic apostolate “whose mission is to transform the world one woman at a time.” The organization lists Bruskewitz as a member of its board of directors.

See also here:

In his letter, he urged women to find other forms of exercise that do not jeopardize their faith. The issue with yoga is that it is based in Hinduism — a religion the Catholic church has called “incompatible to Christianity.”

That’s not to say all yoga enthusiasts embrace Hinduism — in fact most Americans taking part in yoga do it for the physical and mental benefits of stretching, breathing and meditating.

But still, practitioners say Hindu phrases such as “namaste” — commonly translated: “the light within me bows to the light within you” — they assume poses with names like sun salutations and warrior, which have deep roots in the Hindu faith.

Uh-huh. And that led to this: “Hindus have asked the Vatican to discipline retired Lincoln Diocese Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz for telling Catholics that doing yoga could lead to serious sin. In a statement issued Friday morning, Hindu cleric Rajan Zed urged Pope Francis to discipline Bruskewitz for the unnecessary condemnation of yoga. …”

Yoga!

And then, on a related note, there’s this: “Is Yoga Religious? In India, It’s a Vexed Question” (H/T: Althouse):

Senior Muslim leaders in India are unhappy that some state governments are giving children compulsory lessons in yoga, which they say involves some practices contrary to Islamic beliefs.

Leaders say the practice of “surya namaskar” or sun salutation – a series of poses – goes against Shariah or Islamic law, which doesn’t allow Muslims to bend before anyone other than Allah, or God.

“We don’t believe in praying to the sun,” said Mohammad Abdul Rahim Quraishi, spokesman for Lucknow-based All India Muslim Personal Law Board.

Yet, Mr. Quraishi said that schools in the states of Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh have made yoga sessions compulsory, and the lessons include “surya namaskar”. He said that the sessions also require chanting of the word “Om” or other Sanksrit verses or shlokas, which he believes are connected to Hindu religion.

“They are trying to impose Hindu religion. On that, we have objection,” Mr. Quraishi said.

Over the weekend, the Muslim Law Board said it would constitute an action committee to look into whether compulsory yoga teaching at schools violates Indians’ constitutional rights, said Mr. Quraishi.

India’s ruling Bharaitya Janata Party says yoga is a secular activity. Yoga “is a science that deals with the well-being of the human mind and body,” said BJP spokesman Nalin Kohli. “There is no religious angle to this at all.”

I wish that I had more to say about all of this, but the whole controversy just leaves me…speechless.

So, offered without further comment.

Namaste, y’all.

Image Credits: (1) Yoga in King George Square, Brisbane. Photo by John, July 2013. Used under a CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 license. Source: Flickr. (2) Photo by Matt Olsen, May 2008. Used under a CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 license. Source: Flickr.

Posted by: Patrick Allen Foster | June 10, 2015

Book Reviews

1. At Howl at Pluto, LFC reviews Sovereignty: Moral and Historical Perspectives, by James Turner Johnson: “Johnson is an expert on ‘the just war tradition,’ and in Sovereignty he considers the co-evolution of ideas about sovereignty and just war. Indeed the book probably should have been called something like The Just War Tradition and Sovereignty, since that would have more accurately indicated its contents than the title it actually carries.”

2. In the NYRB, Cass Sunstein on Friedrich Hayek on John Stuart Mill: “Hayek died in 1992, but the University of Chicago Press is continuing with a multivolume edition of his collected works. Readers are discovering essays by Hayek that were never published, were not easily available, or were not widely known. What would Hayek have to say about a great champion of liberty, in some ways his intellectual ancestor, who ended up embracing socialism? How stunning, then, to find that the volume has only a few snippets on that question. Instead it largely consists of a book, first published in 1951, that grew out of an enormous, uncharacteristic, and somewhat obsessive undertaking by Hayek, which was to assemble what remains of the correspondence between Mill and his eventual wife, Harriet Taylor (one or the other destroyed numerous letters, probably including the most interesting), and to use it as the basis for a narrative account of their mysterious love affair.” (H/T: Althouse.)

3. In the LA Review of Books, Andrew Heisel reviews Brett Martin’s Difficult Men: “Discussions of the new golden age usually just translate the standards of the higher arts into this besmirched sphere. Hence the medium is often called the new film or the new novel. The first golden age was 1950s teleplays. Neither Martin’s new book nor the critics of the time included I Love Lucy. The second golden age, first described in a 1997 book by Robert J. Thompson, lasted from 1978 to 1994 but omits Taxi, The Cosby Show, and other sitcoms. Instead, Thompson focuses on dramas with lower ratings and less staying power like Hill Street Blues, St. Elsewhere, and China Beach. Likewise, while comedies have drawn much attention from critics in recent years, think pieces about the present golden age rarely mention them except in passing. (It’s telling that light-on-laughs Louie is the most revered one.) And though a BuzzFeed piece recently knocked The New York Times’ TV critics for “resistance to seeing value in the popular,” the highest rated programs of this era—like NCIS and Two and a Half Men—are almost universally ignored in these discussions. But sometimes the point is less the validity of the ‘golden age’ claims than what they say about the speaker. To be fair, many TV critics now only use the phrase in scare quotes, and some, like Slate’s Willa Paskin and Todd VanDerWerff, formerly of The A.V. Club, fully recognize how the term can limit approaches to the medium and want to put it to rest. It’s actually a little surprising the term could still have such restrictive power anyway. At this point, it is nearly drained of all former associations. The final triumph against the past has been to rewrite the very term by which it was appreciated, to make “golden age” a mere replacement for ‘really good.'” (H/T: 3 Quarks Daily.)

Posted by: Patrick Allen Foster | June 9, 2015

Tuesday Art Blogging: Flaming June

Flaming June, by Frederic Lord Leighton (1830-1896)

Frederic Leighton, Flaming June (or, June flamboyante), circa 1895.

Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Last year, we wrote about the conviction and sentencing of three activists who broke into the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. Judge Thapar sentenced the defendants Walli and Boertje-Obed to 62 months; the other defendant, Sister Megan Rice, got 35 months. This was in February 2014.

Earlier this month, the Sixth Circuit reversed the convictions of the sabotage count and remanded for resentencing.

The appellate court’s opinion is here (PDF, 14 pages). From the beginning of the opinion:

In the dark of night on July 28, 2012, in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, an 82 year-old nun and two Army veterans, ages 57 and 63, cut their way through four layers of fences and reached a building where the Department of Energy stores enriched uranium. There the trio spray-painted antiwar slogans, hung crime tape and banners with biblical phrases, splashed blood, and sang hymns. When a security guard finally arrived, the group offered him bread and read aloud a prepared message about “transform[ing] weapons into real life-giving alternatives to build true peace.” Then the group surrendered to the guard’s custody.

The group’s actions caused about $8,000 of damage to government property. The government eventually charged them with trespassing in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 2278a(c) and injuring government property in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1361. When the defendants refused to plead guilty to those charges, however, the government pulled the trespassing count (which was only a misdemeanor) and instead charged them with violating the peacetime provision of the Sabotage Act, 18 U.S.C. § 2155(a), which Congress enacted during World War II. That provision applies only if the defendant acted “with intent to injure, interfere with, or obstruct the national defense,” and authorizes a sentence of up to 20 years. A jury convicted the defendants on the sabotage count and the injury-to-property count. On appeal, the defendants argue that, as a matter of law, they lacked the intent necessary to violate the Sabotage Act. We agree; and thus we reverse their sabotage convictions and remand for resentencing.

As I write, my understanding is that all three defendants have been released from custody pending resentencing; it is likely that the district court will sentence them to time served.

More on this in a later post.

Posted by: Patrick Allen Foster | April 16, 2015

Collected Links

1. Generalissimo Francisco Franco is still dead: the Spanish Royal Academy of History will finally designate Franco as a dictator, 40 years after his death.

2. On April 12, Pope Francis referred to the Armenian genocide as, well, a genocide. In response, Turkey has recalled its ambassador to the Vatican.

3. “What Libertarians Get Wrong About American History.”

4. Anderson on persuasive writing.

5. Megan McArdle: “Seven Reasons We Hate Free Range Parenting.” See also these related thoughts by Freddie deBoer.

6. An interview with Dani Rodrik. (H/T: Chris Blattman.)

7. Rose Woodhouse has this favorable review of the first episode of Wolf Hall. Encouraging.

8. Saga Was One Of The Most Challenged Books In US Libraries Last Year”: “The ALA’s list, released to celebrate National Library Week, documents the 10 books that received the most complaints from the public, asking to have them either removed from public libraries or stricken from reading lists for public school curriculum. For the first time, three comic books were in the top 10…”

9. The best anime and manga for beginners.

10. Given the Internet’s long memory, is this the future of our political life?

We have noted before that one of the jobs of the Tennessee Attorney General is occasionally informing the General Assembly that some harebrained piece of legislation is almost certainly unconstitutional.

I am happy to report that our new attorney general is fulfilling his duty in this area — this time with regards to a bill that would designate the Bible as the “official book” of Tennessee.

From the Chattanooga Times-Free Press: “A bill seeking to make the Bible the official book of Tennessee would violate separation of church and state provisions in the federal and state constitutions, state Attorney General Herbert Slatery said in a legal opinion Monday.”

The AG Opinion is here. An excerpt:

Like the Ten Commandments, the Bible is undeniably a sacred text in the Christian faith. Legislative designation of The Holy Bible as the official book — as an official symbol — of the State of Tennessee, when viewed objectively, must presumptively be understood as an endorsement of religion and of a particular religion. Irrespective of the legislation’s actual purpose, common sense compels the conclusion that designation of the Bible as the official state book in practice and effect conveys a message of endorsement. Such an endorsement violates the Establishment Clause of the federal Constitution, regardless of whether the message of endorsement is intentional or unintentional and regardless of whether the message is conveyed in reality or only in the public perception.

Especially precious is the comment of the bill’s sponsor in response to the AG Opinion:

Sen. Steve Southerland, R-Morristown and a lead sponsor of the measure, said he plans to move forward despite the legal opinion: “That’s his opinion. I’ve got a different one.”

14789132

So, did the AG Opinion give the members of the House pause and lead them to table this bill? Of course not. The House passed the bill earlier today, 55-38.

Also worth noting (from the Times-Free Press article): “Although Slatery’s legal opinion can’t prevent lawmakers from passing legislation, it means that the attorney general’s office would have to recuse itself from any litigation stemming from the law.”

This bill still might fail in the state Senate. News reports note that similar legislative proposals failed in Mississippi earlier this year and in Louisiana in 2014.

Image Source: Meme Generator.

Update (Friday, Apr. 17, 2015, 10:10 AM): the Senate has sent the bill back to the Senate Judiciary Committee, effectively killing it.

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