28 April 2009

Late April snippets

  • The reverberations from Notre Dame's decision to award Barack Obama an honourary degree continue, as Mary Ann Glendon, one time US Ambassador to the Vatican, has written a public letter to Fr. John Jenkins declining the university's award to her of the Laetare Medal.

  • In my Canadian government course I always ask my students when Canada became independent. It's a trick question really, and one that does not admit of a simple answer. The truth of the matter is that there were a number of stages along Canada's path to nationhood, the most recent of which was patriation of the constitution in 1982. Yet my friend and colleague, Janet Ajzenstat believes that, as each British North American territory received responsible government, it ceased to be a dependency and effectively became self-governing, i.e., independent. This occurred as early as 1848 in Nova Scotia and the united Province of Canada. There is undoubtedly some validity to Ajzenstat's argument, though when Britain committed Canada to war in 1899 and 1914, Her/His Majesty's Canadian subjects may not have felt particularly independent.

  • It is a mark of our times that someone could cause controversy by claiming that the sky is blue when, of course, everyone knows that the very concept of blue is a social construction. Miss USA contestant Carrie Prejean found this out to her own disadvantage. The Mixolydian Knight wonders whether one of her First Amendment rights is not at stake: Religious freedom at risk? I suppose a case could be made for it, except that the American founders probably never intended it to apply to beauty contests.

  • Did American interrogators really torture suspected terrorists? Russell E. Saltzman is appalled by the Red Cross reports on the subject, which suggest that, yes, they did indeed: The Mental Murder of Torture. Saltzman:

    By any standard, the treatment reported amounted to torture—strenuous enough, brutal enough, as to require medical personnel in attendance as the suspects were subjected to it. . . . Most people should be able to figure it out: If a doctor is needed during questioning, the means used in the questioning is morally suspect. The use of medical personnel reminds us of how susceptible medicine is to the contortions of nationalism, ideology, national security, even popular demand, and how difficult it may be for people of ordinary moral impulse to resist pressure from superiors.

    If perpetrators are brought to trial, one suspects that we will hear what we heard sixty years ago at Nürnberg: "I was following orders."

  • Columbia University's Mark C. Taylor argues that we should End the University as We Know It. While he may be guilty of a certain degree of rhetorical overkill, I heartily approve of his emphasis on what might be called interdisciplinary renewal within the university:

    There can be no adequate understanding of the most important issues we face when disciplines are cloistered from one another and operate on their own premises. It would be far more effective to bring together people working on questions of religion, politics, history, economics, anthropology, sociology, literature, art, religion and philosophy to engage in comparative analysis of common problems. As the curriculum is restructured, fields of inquiry and methods of investigation will be transformed.

    It seems we need more institutions like Redeemer University College and fewer like . . . well, I won't name names.

  • Comment has recently posted on its website Susan Boyle and YouTube: A Symposium. Scroll down to the bottom to read my own contribution.
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