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Prayer in schools: What god? Whose god? Who decides?

By Carole McNall

Once upon a time, a little girl was going to a public school. Her school began each day with all the students reciting The Lord’s Prayer. (This was a very long time ago.)

3561505_f260But the little girl was confused. She knew The Lord’s Prayer, but she had learned a very different ending. Is this the same prayer? she wondered. Was she remembering it wrong? All her classmates and her teacher were saying this other ending.

So she asked her mother. And her mother, who knew about these things and many others, told the little girl there were actually two versions of The Lord’s Prayer. One was the version she was hearing in school. The other, which was also right, was the version she had carefully learned.

Her mother even had a solution to what to do about this different ending. “Just say ‘Amen’ where you always have,” she told the little girl, “and let everyone else finish it the way they’ve learned.”
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2016: so far a bleak year, fettered by anger

anger_quoteI began 2016, the year in which I turned 70 years old, so damn angry.

More than sufficient reasons exist for all that anger. I, like many of you, am unwillingly steeped daily in the raw, heavily mediated sewage of billionaire-induced partisan politics; increasing and intolerable economic inequities; a deeply flawed educational system; conflicts in law, society, and government spawned by religion-fueled hostility; assaults on racial and ethnic sensibilities; the slow, agonizing death of democracy; and the decades-old rise of greed-driven, power-hungry oligarchy.

That’s just the background noise obscuring intelligent discursive signal about so many more problems — local, national, global — that the billions of us ruled by oligarchical forces sense are beyond our control or, often, our comprehension. Continue reading

WordsDay: Literature

H. E. Bates and the pleasures of fine writing…

H. E. Bates writes about war, romance and that delightful thing we know as English eccentricity with equal facility and with skill that makes one understand what is meant by the term “fine writing.”

H.E. Bates (image courtesy Wikimedia)

As I have made clear, I am a great fan of the writing of Somerset Maugham. He represents a school of English – and American – literature that daintily dances along the line dividing deliciously readable middle brow fiction of the sort I’ve written about here and here. Whether he’s detailing the muddle between high brow and middle brow literature or skewering a self-proclaimed “magic man,” Maugham delivers eminently readable, often profound observations on the human condition. He also inspired a number of younger writers to follow in his footsteps.

One of the best of these “sons of Maugham” is H.E. Bates. Best known to the American audience, perhaps, because of Masterpiece Theater’s broadcasts of London Weekend Television’s adaptation of his novel Love for Lydia, an adaptation well known for helping launch the careers of actors such as Jeremy Irons and Peter Davison, among others.

I was fortunate enough to find a copy of New Directions Publishing’s re-issue of Bates’s A Month by the Lake and Other Stories recently at my favorite used book shop. As I hoped, it is a delight. Continue reading

african mask

Harry Potter and the Racist Subtext

african mask“We know your hearts are good, but even with good hearts you have done a bad thing.” – Leo Quetawke, Head Councilman in charge of law and order for the Zuni people

Cultural appropriation is a difficult concept to understand for those of us who belong to the majority culture. We see the world as one unified whole. We measure the sun by Greenwich Mean Time, the seasons by the calendar of Pope Gregory XIII. For us, an African mask in a shop is a decoration, divorced of cultural significance. We congratulate ourselves on our enlightenment and modernity because we can recognize its beauty.

This state of affairs does not make us bad people. It does not make us responsible for colonialism or slavery, any more than African American or Indigenous American genes make their owners victims or losers. On the contrary, it presents us with an opportunity to rise above our past, to forge a new global fellowship built on trust and open communication. As with any educational pursuit, this requires hard work. Continue reading

CATEGORY: WordsDay

Art and commerce, art and communication

“No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money.” – Dr. Samuel Johnson

I was going to write today about Hilary Masters’ novel Cooper which I finished a couple of Anthony Burgess (image courtesy Wikimedia)days ago, but I started another book and the introduction to that book has been rattling around in my head since I read it, so I think I’ll write about that. You may ask, what could deter this disciplined professorial writer of literary fiction from his appointed rounds?

Well, the guy to the right of this text can. I had picked up a copy of H.E. Bates’s A Month by the Lake and Other Stories in the New Directions edition. The introduction to Bates’s collection is by Anthony Burgess, a name known to most people in association with his most famous novel, the brilliant and nightmarish A Clockwork Orange. The theme of Burgess’s introduction, which is both a wonderful appreciation of Bates and a screed of sorts against the literary world, is worth, I think, some consideration. Continue reading

Book-Review

Book review: The Accidental Salvation of Gracie Lee, by Talya Tate Boerner

The Accidental Salvation of Gracie Lee resonates like a National guitar with the voices of great Southern literature….

The Accidental Salvation of Gracie Lee by Talya Tate Boerner (image courtesy Goodreads)

Talya Tate Boerner’s novel The Accidental Salvation of Gracie Lee echoes with the history of Southern literature. There are the voices of the gothic South: Faulkner, Harper Lee, and certainly Eudora Welty. There are also suggestions of the “dirty South” of Carson McCullers, Harry Crews, and Richard Ford. This is all good and it gives the novel a gravitas that its subject natter deserves.

There is another school of writing that Boerner’s debut novel owes a debt to. This is what Joe David Bellamy terms “lifestyle fiction.” It has some notable Southern practitioners including Lee Smith, Kaye Gibbons, and Dorothy Allison. Boerner’s pre-teen narrator owes a good bit especially to the latter two authors mentioned, Gibbons and Allison. The Accidental Salvation of Gracie Lee, then, walks a narrow, meandering path, sometimes veering in the direction of Welty and Lee, sometimes in the direction of Gibbons and Allison.

An observant reader sees Boerner torn between which of these directions makes most sense for her work and that gives the novel a sometimes infuriating but always undeniable charm. Continue reading

Donald Trump

Who’d work for President Trump? Guess. Go ahead, guess.

Imagine Donald Trump as the 45th president of the United States. Really.

Journalists and pundits have been too busy covering this election cycle like a boxing match (detailing debate punches and counterpunches and little else) and fawning over Trump as “The Donald.”

Donald-Trump-snake-oilSo the Big Questions (important but too boring in the Twitterverse in which horse-race polls and debate body blows are captured) just don’t get asked. Thus the Answers Needed never enter the mind of the electorate.

Who’d want to work for President Trump? Presidents need the Senate’s advice and consent on nearly 1,400 presidential appointments. Chief among them, of course, are the members of the president’s cabinet.

Who would Trump ask to serve as heads of State, Defense, Treasury, Interior, Agriculture, Commerce, Labor, Justice, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Transportation, Energy, Education, Homeland Security, and Veterans Affairs?

How would he select them? Would any be women? Or African-Americans? Or Hispanics? Or descendants of immigrants, legal or otherwise? Would he actually listen to the advice offered by Cabinet members?
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Politics: Democrats vs Republicans

America 101: we are not a democracy and never have been; is this good or bad?

America is famed – especially in our own collective mind – for being the greatest democracy in history.

This is a fun and noble self-image. But “democracy” is a word with a meaning, and have we ever, even for a second, fit the definition?

  • For the first several decades of our existence as a nation a significant proportion of the population wasn’t allowed to vote. In fact, as of 1860, nearly 4 million Americans – around 13% – were property. For fun, every time you hear the term “founding father” or “framers of the Constitution,” substitute a phrase like “wealthy slaveowner” or “legislative tool of the human chattel lobby” and see if it alters the tone of the discussion.
  • For the first 140 years, give or take, over half of the adults in the country – specifically the female half – weren’t allowed to vote.
  • Originally, the vote was reserved to landowners. Continue reading
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‘Stand by your (wo)man’: create an expectation of equality

by Amber Healy

This has been a weird few weeks for women.

There’s talk of opening up the draft in the United States to women, now that more women are taking on combat roles.

President Barack Obama has once again lamented the pay disparity between men and women when working the same job.

Women are taking on an increasingly powerful and high-profile role in many areas of the economy, including the IT sphere, becoming pioneers in a rapidly expanding and evolving world and breaking some barriers by taking on executive positions in major international companies.

This is all terrific! Continue reading

ArtSunday: LIterature

Books that sneak into our hearts…

Those who read know what I am speaking of when I say a book has sneaked into my heart…those who do not read…have my sympathies….

Rivers Parting by Shirley Barker (image courtesy Amazon)

I read -rather, I reread – a book over the holiday break. It is a book that I mentioned in conjunction with an essay on a much more successful book, a book that I found a combination of pretentiousness and mediocre writing. As a contrast to that book, the much ballyhooed dreck Cold Mountain, I used the book, a historical novel about colonial New Hampshire called Rivers Parting as an example of a historical novel that is both well written and that does not pretend to false grandeur.

I first read the novel about 40 years ago ( I have shared the background about how I came to possess a copy of this work in the Cold Mountain essay linked above) and I have read it a half dozen times since. What brings me back to this novel, that even I would grudgingly admit is a typical example of the middle-brow literature that enjoyed great popularity through the middle third of the last century? The same things that attract me so often to the highest brow literature: engrossing characterization and memorable writing. Continue reading

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The 2016 reading list – finally…

An old PSA from the sixties told us that reading was “fun!-damental” – for me, despite whatever other demands tug at my time, reading is absolute necessity….

Most dogs do not wear glasses when they read (image courtesy Reading Stock Photos and Images)

As I have written recently, my reading time has been somewhat curtailed. I have some new administrative responsibilities with the university where I teach (and my latest book to finish) and so have made the decision to shorten my reading list. I suspect I have cut the list too drastically, but better to be cautious than to overreach, I think. I also want to leave plenty of space for books I am asked to review. Then, too, I hope that I’ll be asked to review some books.🙂

So here in all its glorious brevity is a kinda sorta eclectic list of books I’ll be reading this year. As you’d expect and despite my best intentions, it’s literary fiction heavy. But it has some variety – and as the year goes on, there’ll likely be some additions. Stay tuned… Continue reading

Book-Review

Rivers run through it…North Carolina’s Rivers: Facts, Legends and Lore…

John Hairr’s North Carolina Rivers is part reference book, part history, part guidebook. What it is not is particularly engaging….

North Carolina Rivers by John Hairr (image courtesy Goodreads)

While I haven’t completed my book list for 2016, I will say a couple of things about it for those who have any interest in such things: it will be considerably shorter (12 books – to allow room for the numerous reviews I am asked to do and to allow me some writing time for completing my latest book), and it will focus on no particular area as the 2015 reading list did.

That said, we begin 2016 with a book I picked randomly from one of our many groaning bookshelves. In an effort to get away from my penchant for reading fiction, particularly literary fiction, I chose what I thought would be an interesting read for a dedicated fly angler: North Carolina Rivers: Facts, Legends, and Lore by John Hairr.

Hairr’s book might be thought of as part reference book, as part guide book, as part informal history of the rivers – and the river systems in North Carolina. It is trying to be all these things, perhaps, that causes North Carolina Rivers to be problematic for readers. Continue reading

A Millennial’s struggle: Cutting through Netflix’s noise

By Whitney Downard

netflix_logoHello, my name is Whitney and I’m addicted to Netflix.

Netflix, as a company, has only existed since 1997. Streaming on Netflix began in 2007, according to company website.

Yet Netflix has redefined the college experience for many students.

We watch Netflix while we study. “Netflix and chill” is how we date. Our recommendations for new movies or shows usually end with, “It’s on Netflix.”

If it isn’t on Netflix, I probably won’t watch it. Continue reading

Jose Mourinho

Je suis Mourinho

Is José Mourinho an all-time great, or merely the greatest of a generation?Jose Mourinho

Imagine the following scenario.

After last year’s Super Bowl win the New England Patriots enter the 2015-16 season as strong contenders to repeat. However, for reasons that aren’t immediately clear, they come out of the gate slowly, losing a series of games they’d be expected to win. As the middle of the season approaches, things have grown dire. The Pats are 1-6, rumors swirl that Bill Belichick has lost the locker room, and nobody except the weakside linebacker is playing worth a damn. Linemen can’t block, all-pro receivers have forgotten how to catch and Tom Brady has thrown 20 interceptions against zero touchdown passes.

Bob Kraft finally throws in the towel and fires Belichick. In the next game, with the secondary coach acting as interim head coach, the Patriots look like their old selves as they roll Cleveland 35-3.

Insane, huh? But that’s more or less exactly what has happened with English Premier League Champions Chelsea FC this season. Continue reading

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For 2016, re-elect Andrew Shepherd: Fiction trumps the Republican reality

the_american_president_28movie_poster29In my favorite bad movie, The American President, Michael Douglas as the fictional President Andrew Shepherd confronts his Republican challenger’s claims about Shepherd’s character.

We have serious problems to solve, and we need serious people to solve them. And whatever your particular problem is, I promise you, Bob Rumson is not the least bit interested in solving it. He is interested in two things, and two things only: Making you afraid of it, and telling you who’s to blame for it. That, ladies and gentlemen, is how you win elections.

You gather a group of middle-aged, middle-class, middle-income voters who remember with longing an easier time, and you talk to them about family and American values and character. … You scream about patriotism and tell them [who’s] to blame for their lot in life … [emphasis added]

Now remove Bob Rumson’s name and insert the name of any of the recent CNN main stage GOP presidential candidates (or even Wolf Blitzer, as he goaded them into ISIS hysteria). Continue reading

CATEGORY: Education

America appreciates teachers, but we don’t value them

CATEGORY: EducationI’ve been wrestling a bit with my career situation lately. Like a lot of folks, I feel like I’m not being compensated very well, and that suspicion is validated by some basic salary research – and also by the CEO, who admits that the company needs to normalize a lot of salaries with the broader market.

Of course, the people I work with love me and get the importance of what I do. But they aren’t making the call on salary. Not long ago, in prepping for a conversation on the subject with the person I report to, and trying to decide how best to represent my position, and trying to anticipate what he might say, it hit me.

The company appreciates me, but it doesn’t value me. Continue reading

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Clinton’s infrastructure spending plan too little to tackle multi-trillion-dollar crisis

News item:

Hillary Clinton on Sunday announced her plan for infrastructure spending—a “down payment on our future,” she said—and it comes with a hefty price tag: $275 billion.

At a campaign event in Boston, the frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination called for an increase in federal infrastructure spending over five years and the establishment of an infrastructure bank—two proposals that she says will create jobs and repair the U.S.’s crumbling highways and bridges.

aging-infrastructureJust $275 billion? That’s only $55 billion annually. That’s not enough to address the ailments of the nation’s roads and bridges — let alone everything else. The Federal Highway Administration argues $170 billion is needed each year to address safety issues and performance. Federal, state, and local investment, the American Society of Civil Engineers says, amounts to only $91 billion each year. Meanwhile, bad roads cost Americans more than $100 billion annually in wasted time and fuel.

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Journalism

Andrea Quenette controversy: what happened at the U of Kansas and why won’t the AP tell us?

Associated PressWhen “political correctness” and bad journalism collide…

I appreciate the fact that we live in an age where finally – finally – we have grown more sensitive on issues like race, gender, sexual orientation and privilege. (I wish I could add class to that list, but so far I can’t.) I’m sincere about this. The language we use can do more harm (or good) than I think 99% of us imagine, and we are a better society for our growing awareness of how important words can be.

But.

We can also take this sensitivity too far. It can become a weapon for cudgeling intellectual discussion (if you’ve been watching the news lately you know which elite northeastern campus I’m referring to) and, as we’re seeing in a story this morning, a smoke machine that completely obscures any attempt at basic communication. Continue reading

CATEGORY: Religion

Women at wells have problems, evidently…

In which we learn that Buddha and Jesus met the same sorts of people…

4th Century statue of Buddha (image courtesy Wikimedia)

Each morning my wife Lea and I read together, a delightful habit which we have been practicing for a number of years. Our readings consist of a religious/spiritual works (we are eclectic, though our readings tend to rotate between the Christian and Buddhist, particularly Zen Buddhist, traditions primarily), works about art (we’re fond of both art history and criticism), and poetry.  We recently finished the 1928 Book of Common Prayer, and we are currently working our way through a work called Teachings of the Buddha. This work is a compendium of various lessons and stories – one might use the word parables safely – attributed to Siddhartha Gautama.

Of particular interest to us have been remarkable similarities between stories of the Buddha’s experiences and stories of those of a later teacher, one well known (at least by name) to Western culture – Jesus Christ. One of these “shared stories,” the woman at the well, is worth a look because it gives us insight into the traditions of two major religions and of how we understand their teachings. Continue reading

ArtSunday: LIterature

Shelley got expelled from Oxford…now we know why….

A little over two hundred years ago a college student named P.B. Shelley got himself expelled from Oxford. Now, at last, we know exactly why.

Percy Bysshe Shelley, war protester (image courtesy Wikimedia)

The Bodleian Library at Oxford has made available a recently discovered copy of Percy Bysshe Shelley’s “Poetical Essay on the State of Things.” Long thought lost, the poem, along with his essay “The Necessity of Atheism,” got the most intellectual of the Romantic poets expelled from Oxford.

The story of Shelley’s expulsion from university and his subsequent life as poet, free thinker, friend of both Keats and Byron, and political activist are well known and do not need further rehearsal. At this moment, given the horror of the recent attacks in Paris that we’re trying to comprehend, it seems particularly fitting to ponder Shelley’s arguments.  Continue reading