vendredi, avril 03, 2009

Shrinking Jesus

Salon has an interesting piece on Bart Erhman, who has become a virtual one person Jesus seminar. His new book, 'Jesus Interrupted' apparently looks at the different versions of the Scriptures, the fact that we have no original editions, and the differences between one writer's viewpoint and another.

Interestingly, one of my PTS professors, Dr. Story, was part of Ehrman's journey away from faith. Dr. Story was a lovely man, a teacher who didn't let you get away with a lot. I was thrilled to get a "B" in his Hebrew course. Read the article to see how a comment on a term paper apparently was a catalyst that later led to Ehrman losing his faith. That, and the issue of theodicy-the problem of evil.

You don't have to agree with Ehrman (and I don't) to grapple with the issues he raises. While I find his viewpoint on humans and morality a bit disturbing, I sometimes feel the same way.

mardi, mars 31, 2009


What is Obama doing with regard to the automobile industry? It seems, from what we can tell, that he is being pretty tough on them. This piece from today's New York Times made me wonder if he's really on top of the situation.

As the daughter of parents who were loyal members of teacher's unions, and a woman who seems to pay her mechanics close to 90 dollars an hour to work on her car, I find the idea of paying those just hired 15 dollars an hour vaguely shocking. That's in part because I have the klutzy person's reverence for those who understand such mysteries.

But although lawyers and doctors, and those white collar guys climbing the corporate ladder at places like Comcast probably do better, it really isn't a bad place to start. And it does seem like Rick Wagoner, faced with the potential death of American automibles, has done an excrutiating but noteworthy job of preparing GM for a future of green and smaller cars.

It may be that Obama is coming down on GM because we've already spewed out enough money at the large banks-and where has it gotten us? ;-)

But there's no one size fits all solution to this crisis-and not to respect innovation, if when its innovation forced by circumstance, doesn't seem to be a helpful way to move us forward.

For an opposing view from David Brooks, see this.

All I can say is--glad they didn't elect me! Much easier to take potshots from the sidelines.

dimanche, mars 29, 2009


I could return to that more innocent self. There are elements of my personality I don't like so much now--mostly the ones that involve men. When I began this dating biz, I didn't realize I'd attract that much attention. At first, I was flattered. Then I was amused. Then I was a little dismayed that so many guys would simply be trying to get me into bed with them. And now I'm coming to the conclusion, not that I am particularly hot, but that there are simply a lot of horny guys out there who, put it bluntly, just want to get laid. I'll tell you that I've gotten better at knowing who the decent, really nice ones are--they are the ones who are genuinely surprised by my online stories.

Well, dogs are going to be dogs, and some guys are just being themselves. There are all kinds of messed up females, too. That's not my problem. I'm not prey for opportunists with itches to scratch-like the guy who emailed me last night that he gave a good massage. My conundrum is trying to find a way back to being that trusting, genuine, less jaded woman that I was when I signed on to this dating site. I have a feeling that if I do bump into a guy who is genuinely decent and kind, that's the woman he's going to want to meet.

Can I get a witness?

My sister and I were trading John Hope anecdotes (see link for the NYT story below). The childhood racial insults he endured, which may have contributed to his steely ability to view our distressing racial history straight on. Correspondence about other historians she found when going through Dad's papers after he died.

On a more personal level-the time our brown poodle Nettuno bit him when he hugged my dad at dinner at our home. Jokingly, John Hope called him "a racist." Nettuno was a fetishist (he carried my mom's clothes around), but he was an equal-opportunity biter.

The hours he spent at our house after Mom died, sharing his less guarded self with his grieving friend and his family. And the trips he made into Brooklyn, grappling with the heart condition that ultimately killed him, to see my very sick dad.

We knew he was ill-but there was a part of us that thought he would go on forever, as my sister said.

Now we know. It's odd to feel loss and know that hundreds of others you don't know feel it personally too.


March 29, 2009
John Hope Franklin, Scholar and Witness
When he was a boy in segregated Oklahoma, where he was born in 1915, John Hope Franklin used to indulge in a subversive bit of wordplay like a small act of public and private theater.

“My mother and I used to have a game we’d play on our public,” Dr. Franklin said not long ago, his voice full of artful pauses, words pulled out like taffy. “She would say if anyone asks you what you want to be when you grow up, tell them you want to be the first Negro president of the United States. And just the words were so far-fetched, so incredible that we used to really have fun, just saying it.”

Even in a country where the far-fetched, for better and for worse, so often becomes reality, few historians achieved the stature, both as scholars and as moral figures — and as combinations of the two — that Dr. Franklin did. When he died last week, at the age of 94, an American epoch seemed to vanish with him.

Dr. Franklin was first and foremost a major historian, whose landmark book, “From Slavery to Freedom: A History of African-Americans,” first published in 1947, was a comprehensive survey that sold more than three million copies. The book also permanently altered the ways in which the American narrative was studied.

“What distinguishes his history or historiography is that he, like few other historians, wrote a book that transformed the way we understand a major social phenomenon,” said David Levering Lewis, the New York University historian, who like Dr. Franklin studied under Theodore Currier at Fisk University in Nashville.

“When you think of ‘From Slavery to Freedom,’ there’s before and there’s after, there’s the world before and then we have a basic paradigm shift,” he said. “Before him you had a field of study that had been feeble and marginalized, full of a pretty brutal discounting of the impact of people of color. And he moved it into the main American narrative. It empowered a whole new field of study.”

Dr. Lewis and others argue that Dr. Franklin’s work helped empower not just African-American studies, but the whole range of alternative stories — of women, gays, Hispanics, Asians and others — now so much a part of mainstream academia.

Dr. Franklin accomplished this not through advocacy but rather through the traditional means of scholarly inquiry. In his discussion, for instance, of the intersection of race and imperialism at the turn of the 20th century, Dr. Franklin observed: “The United States, unlike other imperial powers, had a color problem at home and therefore had to pursue a policy with regard to race that would not upset the racial equilibrium within the United States. In Puerto Rico, for example, approximately one-third of the population was distinctly of African descent, and many so-called white Puerto Ricans had sufficient black blood in their veins to qualify as African-Americans in the United States.”

The detailed command of the subject is impressive. But the revelation was in the literary and intellectual finesse. It was one thing for a white historian to invoke “racial equilibrium,” but when a black historian did it the term assumed a new, almost satirical meaning. So, too, with his understated observation about Puerto Ricans who might “qualify” as African-Americans, which implied that being labeled black was a kind of privilege in a nation that was in fact still segregated.

There was a hint in this of carefully managed subversion — of meticulous, even-handed scholarship that pointed to the searing truths of racial injustice, just as one of Dr. Franklin’s great forebears, W. E. B. Du Bois, had done in his classic “Souls of Black Folk.” (At age 11, he heard Du Bois speak in Tulsa. Later, the two became friends.) At the same time, Dr. Franklin’s discussion of racial ambiguity pioneered a new form of scholarship that questioned familiar categories and foreshadowed the work of later scholars like the social scientist Orlando Patterson, who continue to examine the complex realities of race in an increasingly plural world.

What set Dr. Franklin apart, however, was that his dual character as both scholar and moralist carried over from his historical studies to his life. When Thurgood Marshall’s team of lawyers began building their legal challenge to segregation in the case that resulted in the Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954, they naturally turned to Dr. Franklin and his command of the tangled realities behind the phrase “separate but equal.”

A decade later Dr. Franklin became more visible in the civil rights movement, joining the march on Selma led by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Because Dr. Franklin’s reputation as a scholar was so high, this seemed less an act of protest than of historical witness: the man who had documented the history of black America was now a first-hand participant in its next essential chapter.

Through it all, Dr. Franklin remained a public figure with a rich private life. He was famously generous and collegial, even to young scholars, a tall, impeccably dressed man of courtly mien and old-fashioned manners tending his beloved orchids at home in Durham, N.C., like a Southern gentleman of the old school who happened to be black.

He was much honored in his time — the first African-American president of the American Historical Association; the first black professor to hold an endowed chair at Duke, where a center for interdisciplinary and international studies and a humanities institute carry on his name and work; the first African-American to present a paper at the segregated Southern Historical Association; and a recipient of the Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, awarded to him by President Bill Clinton in 1995.

He was too serious a historian to think the past could simply be erased and was therefore not impressed by the current vogue for legislative apologies for slavery. “If I was sitting on a billion dollars that someone had made when I sat on them, I probably would not be slow to apologize, if that’s all it takes,” he said in an interview in 2007 with the Independent Weekly of North Carolina. This sounded bitter, and in some sense it was.

He took pains to remind us how much of our history — of his history — we’d like to forget. He told the stories often: about the time his family was ejected from a train for not moving from the colored section; of being crammed into a hot, packed segregated train car returning from a commencement exercise in 1945, while four or five white men lounged in the otherwise empty car behind it. It turned out they were German prisoners of war.

So when he calculated the balance between progress and despair, the sum total often seemed bleak.

“We might be better off in some ways,” he said in 2004. “But as long as we have more blacks in jail than in college, as long as we have more blacks unemployed than we have in college, as long as we have a system which will not provide adequate and decent affordable housing even for people who can afford it, we’re not very far.”

His view was particularly bleak when I interviewed him in 1995 just before his 80th birthday. He was distressed by the tide of white anger that had created the new Republican majority in the House of Representatives. “There’s no magnanimity, no concession, no sense of compassion or understanding of the plight of some others,” Dr. Franklin said.

He went on: “I concede that it’s probably my age, but as I approach — what is it Dr. Reagan said the other day, the sunset of my life — I don’t see enough that is different from what I experienced X numbers of years ago. The big picture is still the subtleties and the sophistication that characterize the maintenance of the status quo.”

Dr. Franklin was too sophisticated to see any one event apart from the grand sweep of history. And he no doubt realized how much the nation’s notion of race had changed from a world of black and white to the open-ended panoply of the multicultural present.

Still the one core value he never strayed from was the value of integration, as well he might since his father had left Louisiana because he had not been allowed to practice law there and had eventually settled in the all-black town of Rentiesville, Okla. In a sense Dr. Franklin’s scholarship served the cause of integration, too, by blending the African-American story into the broader American one. And so it was particularly satisfying when an African-American — moreover, one of complex racial ancestry — realized Dr. Franklin’s own absurd childhood fantasy and was elected president.

“I didn’t think it would happen in my lifetime,” Dr. Franklin said last year after Barack Obama’s nomination. It reminded him that the history he had told so well included chapters in which real progress had been made. “It’s an indication of the willingness as well as the ability of this country to turn a significant corner toward full political equality.”

Feeling the pinch at the grocery store? Make dinner for $10 or less.