Category : History

(TLS) Marjorie Perloff reviews Louis Menand’s encyclopedic study of Cold War culture, from Pollock to Presley

Louis Menand’s panoramic portrait of the Cold War years begins with a succinct overview:

This book is about a time when the United States was actively engaged with the rest of the world. In the twenty years after the end of the Second World War, the United States invested in the economy of Japan and Western Europe and extended loans to other countries around the world. With the United Kingdom, it created the World Bank and International Monetary Fund to support global political stability and international trade. It hosted the new United Nations. Through its government, its philanthropic foundations, its universities, and its cultural institutions, it established exchange programs for writers and scholars, distributed literature around the globe, and sent art from American collections and music by American composers and performers abroad. … Works of literature and philosophy from all over the world were published in affordable translations. Foreign movies were imported and distributed across the country.

The preface continues with this reminder of the Utopian efforts of the immediate postwar era, remarking on the exponential rise in college attendance, the closing of the income gap, the absence of substantive difference between the two major political parties, and the collapse of colonial empires around the world. “Most striking was the nature of the audience: people cared. Ideas mattered. Painting mattered. Movies mattered. Poetry mattered. The way people judged and interpreted paintings, movies, and poems mattered. People believed in liberty, and thought it really meant something.”

I read these words with a shock of recognition because the years in question marked my own coming of age: I graduated from high school in 1949, college in 1953, and received my PhD in 1965. I recall only too well those days when studying literature was considered an important and valuable pursuit, when – yes – ideas mattered, poetry mattered. But I also remember the downside to which Menand turns next. Soon, he suggests, the beautiful cultural dream was fading, what with McCarthyism at home and military interference abroad, the continuing dominance of white men in all spheres of life, the widening of the income gap, the commodification of culture – and a “foreign war of national independence from which [the United States] could not extricate itself for eight years”. After the sorry tale of Vietnam, large-scale disillusionment about the character and role of the US set in, both at home and abroad, even as its assured military position and dominance of the global art world remained secure.

How and why did so momentous a change occur in so short a period? The Free World does not attempt to formulate answers to this difficult question: Menand’s narrative is more descriptive than analytic.

Read it all (subscription).

Posted in * Culture-Watch, Books, History

(US Navy) A Ceremony to Remember – USS Ross Sailor Reaffirms his Baptism in the Faroe Islands

Chaplain Johnson also explained that as baptism is a way of showing faith is a part of your life, doing so in the ship’s bell is also a way of showing you are part of the crew. He saw this desire from Scripp as an opportunity he was seizing to take ownership of his faith in conjunction with his commitment to the ship and crew.

Not only was the bell significant, but the place was also unique. The significance was not lost on Chaplain Johnson. “To my knowledge,” he said, “Scripp is the only U.S. Sailor to ever reaffirm their baptism in the Faroe Islands.”

Since it is a reaffirmation and not an original baptism, Chaplain Johnson said Scripp’s name will not be inscribed in the bell. However, the significance remains. On May 15, aboard USS Ross in port in the Faroe Islands and with a few close friends as witnesses, Chaplain Johnson re-baptized Scripp in a ceremony following the tradition of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America using the ship’s bell. After the baptism, he prayed over Scripp and gave him a small bottle of water from the bell as a memento.

Scripp said reaffirming his baptism in the Faroes, a place he had hardly heard of before arriving there, was unique and memorable. Though the significance of the bell and the location made Scripp’s reaffirmation unique, the tradition also has a long history connected to it.

“The bell is a way of connecting faith with life and history,” said Chaplain Johnson, “We’re connected with this long history that’s larger than ourselves.”

Read it all.

Posted in Baptism, History, Military / Armed Forces, Religion & Culture, Sacramental Theology

(CT) Tulsa Church Ledger Preserves Stories of Faith After Historic Massacre

The book might look like it’s just a list of names and numbers, but Robert Richard Allen Turner, pastor of Vernon African Methodist Episcopal Church in Tulsa, Oklahoma, knows it’s more than that.

“It’s a ledger of our history that we still need to know today,” Turner said. “It’s a story of faith and folks who had faith in God.”

The city of Tulsa will pause on June 1 to remember the 100th anniversary of a racial massacre. In 1921, white Oklahomans killed hundreds of Black people and completely destroyed a prosperous Black community. When the violence ebbed, Greenwood Avenue—the heart of what was then called America’s Black Wall Street—was rubble. The mob had destroyed four hotels, two newspapers, eight doctor’s offices, seven barbershops, half a dozen real estate agencies, and half a dozen churches. One of the Black houses of worship that was damaged was the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) church, located then at 307 N. Greenwood.

The only thing left of the AME was the basement, and it too had been badly damaged. But the church decided to rebuild, and it kept a ledger of all the people who pledged to help and the money they contributed to the cause.

When Turner looks at that book, he thinks of the biblical genealogies and the Book of Numbers, where God told Moses to write down the names of the people who assisted him and to count and record the names of the people who had escaped bondage in Egypt and the descendants who went through the wilderness to the Promised Land.

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., Church History, History, Parish Ministry, Race/Race Relations, Religion & Culture, Violence

(WSJ) The Tulsa Race Massacre 100 Years Later

Tulsa boomed in the early 1900s due to the discovery of nearby oil. Its population grew rapidly from 1,390 in 1900 to 72,075 in 1920, according to census records. Despite the strictly enforced Jim Crow laws at that time, Greenwood had become a “prosperous, vibrant” district and “an American success story,” according to historian Scott Ellsworth.

But in 1921, that success story was interrupted.

On May 31, Dick Rowland, a Black shoe shiner, was arrested for allegedly assaulting a white woman. She would eventually refuse to cooperate with his prosecution.

That night, a mob of over 1,000 white Tulsans gathered in front of the county courthouse where Mr. Rowland was being held. A boxer, Jack Scott was one of the approximately 75 other Black men who came to protect Mr. Rowland.

A fight broke out. The Black men retreated to Greenwood. The white mob organized an attack, and in the early morning hours invaded and burned Greenwood to the ground.

Read it all (and the 8 other articles as well).

Posted in America/U.S.A., Death / Burial / Funerals, History, Race/Race Relations, Urban/City Life and Issues, Violence

Local Paper Editorial: Memorial Day, deeply rooted in Charleston, unites us as a nation

Memorial Day always presents those of us fortunate enough to live in (or visit) Charleston with a host of great options. Warm weather’s arrival makes beach trips appealing. Spoleto Festival USA cranks up with a host of concerts and shows. And of course, there are too many sales, special events and cookouts to mention.

But amid all the fun, we should remain mindful of this holiday’s somber roots. We should fly our flags — at half staff from dawn to noon, then high until sunset — and pause for a moment of silence at 3 p.m. to honor the sacrifices of those who have fought and died for the freedoms our nation enjoys.

One special opportunity this year will unfold at Hampton Park. After the 3 p.m. moment of silence, the Memorial Day Band Concert for Piccolo Spoleto will follow. But this Memorial Day event isn’t being held there simply because it’s a spacious, attractive park that can handle a crowd, though it certainly is. The location was chosen to emphasize a long-overlooked but recently resurrected chapter of Charleston’s history.

In essence, the park is arguably where the nation’s first Memorial Day event was held on May 1, 1865, just a few weeks after the grueling, costly American Civil War finally came to an end.

Read it all.

Posted in * South Carolina, Death / Burial / Funerals, History, Military / Armed Forces

Exploring the Connection Between the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and Memorial Day

Posted in America/U.S.A., Death / Burial / Funerals, History, Military / Armed Forces

A Prayer for Memorial Day

Almighty God, our heavenly Father, in whose hands are the living and the dead: We give thee thanks for all thy servants who have laid down their lives in the service of our country. Grant to them thy mercy and the light of thy presence; and give us such a lively sense of thy righteous will, that the work which thou hast begun in them may be perfected; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord. Amen.

Posted in Death / Burial / Funerals, History, Military / Armed Forces, Spirituality/Prayer

(CEN) Patrick Whitworth–A new history of the English church

Writing a history of the English Church from earliest times(200AD) until the outbreak of the pandemic last year was a project which gave pause for thought. I did it for three reasons.

Firstly, it had not been done for at least forty years. As an ordinand I read a book by the Bishop of Ripon, J.R.H Moorman, entitled A History of the Church in England first published in 1963 and ending in the post WWII era. And, a little more recently David Edwards, one-time Provost of Southwark Cathedral, had published a three-volume work entitled Christian England in 1984. His work ended with WW1. So, it seemed that it was time for a new work bringing the church’s story (by which I mean all denominations and none) up to date; and at the same time extending its remit. Like them, I kept it to the English Church, not thinking myself competent to include and write about the varied histories of the Welsh, Scottish and Irish Churches too.

The second reason was that in recent years there has been a great deal of interest in what it means to be English, connected of course with the political question of the destiny of England in or outside the EU. Much ink has been spilt on the meaning of being English, by the likes of Jeremy Paxman The English or the historian Robert Tombs The English and Their History, Andrew Marr, The Making of Modern Britain and A.N.Wilson’s Our Times . Given this upsurge of interest in being English I thought it timely to re-state the thesis that you cannot understand our history, our nation without understanding the profound influence of the church and of Christianity on it, and, to be more explicit, the teaching and life of Jesus.

Indeed, it was a monk, the Venerable Bede, who first gave the name English to the Saxon kingdoms. And over time, Vikings, Norman French, the Huguenots, the Irish and Jews would be added to the mix before 20thcentury immigration got going: while the Celts would be pushed to the West (Wales), and South West of Scotland marching with the Picts. And even now, as a nation goes to the polls (on so called Super Thursday), we can see the delineation of these ethnic groupings today. But to understand the English you must understand the history of the church in this nation: the illumination and coherence it brought to a group of warring Saxon kingdoms; as well its struggles, its sins, its failures, its aspirations and its deep divergences which can be very hard to understand. In all this we have recently been vividly helped by Tom Holland’s Dominion which demonstrates, from a shrewd and sympathetic observer, the profound and seemingly permanent shaping of our national life by Jesus of Nazareth.

The third reason for writing is that, as an historian of some academic training, I have been around the subject for fifty years since degrees in history and theology from Oxford and Durham- reading up since then some four hundred titles on English history whilst working for forty years as a stipendiary clergyman in suburban, urban, rural and Urban Priority parishes….

Read it all and you can read more about the author there.

Posted in Books, Church History, Church of England (CoE), England / UK, History, Religion & Culture

(NYT) Marriage Records in England and Wales Will Now Include Mothers’ Names

Marriage certificates in England and Wales have traditionally left space for the names and professions of just one parent: the fathers of the couple tying the knot.

That changed on Tuesday, with couples now allowed to add mothers’ names to their official marriage record. The change corrects “a historic anomaly” and is part of a larger overhaul of how marriages are registered in the two nations, the British government said. Unions will also now be recorded in a single electronic registry instead of in registry books.

The changes are the biggest to the registration system since the Marriage Act came into effect in 1837, the Home Office said, and they have been in the works for several years. In 2014, David Cameron, then the prime minister, said the system did not reflect “modern Britain” and pledged to make modifications.

But the final stages of legislation to include both parents did not come before Parliament until last month, spurred by a larger bill that passed in 2019. The earlier bill included the changeover to an electronic marriage registry and the extension of the right to civil partnerships to all couples.

Read it all.

Posted in Anthropology, Church History, England / UK, History, Marriage & Family, Parish Ministry, Religion & Culture, Women

(IFYC) Musa al-Gharbi–Post-Religious America? Don’t Hold Your Breath

The chart…[in my essay] is from a new book by Robert Putnam, The Upswing. The basic pattern it reports for membership in houses of worship also holds with respect to the share of Americans belonging to labor unions, national chapter-based organizations, and even family formation. Moreover, the same ‘inverted u’ pattern observed with respect to these social bonds also plays out for trends in civic engagement, trust in institutions, political participation, cross-partisan engagement, economic equality, social mobility and more. Overall, Putnam argues, the trends observed in America today closely approximate conditions during the ‘Gilded Age’ (i.e. the 1870s through around 1900).

The book highlights how the decline of organized religion is not incidental to the other trends. The rise of the ‘social gospel’ in the late 19th century played an important role in building momentum in the formative years of the ‘upswing’ across the social, cultural, political and economic dimensions Putnam explores. Religious participation predicts increased likelihood to donate and volunteer for both religious and secular causes and organizations. It predicts higher voting and other forms of civic participation. And the erosion of organized religion in America seems to have exacerbated declines across many measures of social solidarity, equality, and engagement. However, these declines need not persist indefinitely.

In a sense it is encouraging to recognize that the United States has experienced similar levels of social anomie in the past as we are living through today, and successfully built institutions, practices and norms to pull ourselves together. This is a feat that contemporary Americans or our successors could conceivably repeat.

Therefore, America is not necessarily headed towards godlessness, on a one-way trip to secularism. If it seems that way looking at charts like the ones that opened this essay, this is because most such graphics begin near the WWII era, which was an unusual period of flourishing for organized religion in the United States. Again, it does not represent our historical norm.

Indeed, although America has returned to roughly the same level of affiliation with religious institutions as we had in 1900, even this was a significant increase over earlier periods.

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., History, Religion & Culture, Sociology

John Stott on Holman Hunt’s ‘The Shadow of Death’ Painting for Good Shepherd Sunday

"Do you know the painting by Holman Hunt, the leader of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, entitled ‘The Shadow of Death’?…

Posted by Kendall Harmon on Sunday, April 25, 2021

Posted in Art, Christology, Church History, History, Theology

Ludwig Wittgenstein on why he ALMOST believed in Christ’s Resurrection

Found courtesy of Alan Jacobs there:

What inclines even me to believe in Christ’s Resurrection? It is as though I play with the thought. — If he did not rise from the dead, then he decomposed in the grave like any other man. He is dead and decomposed. In that case he is a teacher like any other and can no longer help; and once more we are orphaned and alone. So we have to content ourselves with wisdom and speculation. We are in a sort of hell where we can do nothing but dream, roofed in, as it were, and cut off from heaven. But if I am to be REALLY saved, — what I need is certainty — not wisdom, dreams of speculation — and this certainty is faith. And faith is faith in what is needed by my heart, my soul, not my speculative intelligence. For it is my soul with its passions, as it were with its flesh and blood, that has to be saved, not my abstract mind. Perhaps we can say: Only love can believe the Resurrection. Or: It is love that believes the Resurrection. We might say: Redeeming love believes even in the Resurrection; holds fast even to the Resurrection. What combats doubt is, as it were, redemption.

Posted in Easter, History, Philosophy

(JEC) Michael Snape–‘Anglicanism and interventionism : Bishop Brent, the United States, and the British Empire in the First World War’

Brent himself stands as perhaps the ultimate example of these successful clerical migrants to the United States. Born in Newcastle, Ontario, in April 1862, Brent’s father was an Anglican
clergyman and a first-generation immigrant from England, his mother a descendant of Loyalist refugees from New York.20 Although the infusion of immigrants from Canada was smaller than the stream from Great Britain around the turn of the twentieth century, it was still considerable, as around 450,000 Canadians entered the United States in the quarter century prior to the First World War.21 While Anglicans represented a smaller proportion of the Canadian population, comprising around 15 per cent of all Canadians in 1914 as opposed to two-thirds of all Britons,22 there was already a well-established tradition of Anglican clergymen moving across the porous border between Canada and the United States in search of employment,23 a situation that brought Brent to the State of New York in 1886 while still in deacon’s orders. As Alexander C. Zabriskie emphasised in his concise biography of 1947, Brent’s move to St. Paul’s Church, Buffalo, was entirely pragmatic: with no opportunities available in the diocese of Toronto, ‘it was circumstance rather than conscience or preference that sent [Brent] there. He had not the least intention of remaining permanently under the American flag; rather he looked forward to returning to a Canadian country parish within a few years.’24 In fact, it took a further appointment, as associate rector of St. Stephen’s Mission in the slums of Boston, to persuade Brent to take out his naturalisation papers in 1891, and even then he
appears to have maintained dual citizenship.25 In the event, his years in Boston served to reinforce Brent’s links with Great Britain, for there he developed a formative relationship with the Society of St. John the Evangelist, or Cowley Fathers, a connection that would take him to England on his very first overseas trip in November 1891.26

Read it all (numbers are to footnotes in the original).

Posted in America/U.S.A., Canada, Church History, History, Military / Armed Forces, Ministry of the Ordained, Parish Ministry, Religion & Culture, TEC Bishops

A look Back to 2012–Walter Russell Mead: The core institutions, ideas and expectations that shaped American life for the sixty years after the New Deal don’t work anymore, what comes next?

Writing about the onset of the Great Depression, John Kenneth Galbraith famously said that the end had come but was not yet in sight. The past was crumbling under their feet, but people could not imagine how the future would play out. Their social imagination had hit a wall.

The same thing is happening today: The core institutions, ideas and expectations that shaped American life for the sixty years after the New Deal don’t work anymore. The gaps between the social system we inhabit and the one we now need are becoming so wide that we can no longer paper over them. But even as the failures of the old system become more inescapable and more damaging, our national discourse remains stuck in a bygone age. The end is here, but we can’t quite take it in.

In the old system, most blue-collar and white-collar workers held stable, lifetime jobs with defined benefit pensions, and a career civil service administered a growing state as living standards for all social classes steadily rose. Gaps between the classes remained fairly consistent in an industrial economy characterized by strong unions in stable, government-brokered arrangements with large corporations—what Galbraith and others referred to as the Iron Triangle. High school graduates were pretty much guaranteed lifetime employment in a job that provided a comfortable lower middle-class lifestyle; college graduates could expect a better paid and equally secure future. An increasing “social dividend”, meanwhile, accrued in various forms: longer vacations, more and cheaper state-supported education, earlier retirement, shorter work weeks, more social and literal mobility, and more diverse forms of affordable entertainment. Call all this, taken together, the blue model.

In the heyday of the blue model, economists and social scientists assumed that from generation to generation Americans would live a life of incremental improvements. The details of life would keep getting better even as the broad outlines of society stayed the same. The advanced industrial democracies, of which the United States was the largest, wealthiest and strongest, had reached the apex of social achievement. It had, in other words, defined and was in the process of perfecting political and social “best practice.” America was what “developed” human society looked like and no more radical changes were in the offing. Amid the hubris that such conceptions encouraged, Professor (later Ambassador) Galbraith was moved to state, in 1952, that “most of the cheap and simple inventions have been made.” If only the United States and its allies could best the Soviet Union and its counter-model, then indeed—as a later writer would put it—History would end in the philosophical sense that only one set of universally acknowledged best practices would be left standing.

Life isn’t this simple anymore. The blue social model is in the process of breaking down, and the chief question in American politics today is what should come next.

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, America/U.S.A., History

Archbishop Justin Welby’s reflection on Radio 4’s Thought For The Day on the first anniversary of the UK’s national lockdown

One of the great songs of lament to God in the bible begins “by the rivers of Babylon we sat down and wept.”. An anniversary is a time to lament, to mourn, to sit and weep for what could have been and is not. Pause for a while today, remember what has been lost, above all who has been lost. Lament – for to do so is to honour and treasure. As a Christian I follow and love Jesus Christ who loved and mourned his friends, his country, suffering.

Anniversaries are also moments of new beginnings. It is just a day. But it is also a moment. And one of the signs of being human – of being spiritual as well as material – is that we make moments that pass into moments of significance. The anniversary calls on us to ask where we are going?

Read it all.

Posted in --Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, Death / Burial / Funerals, England / UK, Health & Medicine, History, Religion & Culture

(C of E) Bells to toll and thousands of candles to be lit for National Day of Reflection today

The words Reflect, Support and Hope will be projected in yellow on the front of Lichfield Cathedral, while Blackburn and Leicester cathedrals will light thousands of candles to mark lives lost, to mark the National Day of Reflection.

St Edmundsbury Cathedral will suspend two hundred tear drops above the altar and Chelmsford Cathedral will be transformed into a vibrant space of colour and light.

In Portsmouth churches will deliver more than 50 boxes of chocolates along with cards to GP surgeries, care homes and schools in the area as a gesture of thanks to key workers for their contribution during the pandemic.

Area Dean of Portsmouth, Revd Canon Bob White, said: “We are very aware of the stresses and pressures they have faced over the past year and want to thank them and let them know that they are in our prayers.”

Read it all.

Posted in Church of England (CoE), Death / Burial / Funerals, England / UK, Health & Medicine, History, Liturgy, Music, Worship, Religion & Culture, Spirituality/Prayer

(NYT Magazine) Ken Burns Still Has Faith in a Shared American Story

You’ve talked before about the connection between your work in bringing the past to life and your mom’s death (Burns’s mother died of cancer in 1965, when he was 11).

Is the explanation for what you do that simple? That you’re driven to make historical documentaries because it’s a way of waking the dead? “Driven” sounds too easy, but you wouldn’t be talking to me if my mom hadn’t died. That’s the truth of it. In April, I will have been without a mother for 56 years. That is way too long. Her name was Lyla. The half-life of grief is endless. But it has also been hugely productive. I remember being interviewed in the ’90s by two sociologists about the early death of parents, and their last question was, “What is your mother’s greatest gift?” And I said “dying” and then started to cry. I didn’t want her to die, but I don’t know what I would do without the loss as being the engine of exploration, of confidence, of bravery. What idiot would take on all of these things and think you could do it? It’s pretty absurd. So there it is. But the good postscript to this: Near you in Brooklyn, David, is a little girl who is 10 years old whose name is Lyla. My oldest daughter named her first child after my mother, and a name that was never spoken except draped in black crepe now gets spoken all the time with joy and love.

Do you wonder what your mom would make of your work? All the time. And it just — I’ll start to cry right now. Only because I sort of feel that she must — she’s present. There’s not a day that goes by where I’m not aware of her. But at the same time there has been that friction that has helped me to create, so I can’t help but honor that. I feel very fortunate that I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing.

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., History, Movies & Television

(PD) The Censorship of Lawrence Ferlinghetti and the Unbooking of Ryan T. Anderson

Unperson: “A public figure, especially in a totalitarian country, who, for political or ideological reasons, is not recognized or mentioned in government publications or records or in the news media. A person accorded no recognition or consideration by another or by a specific group. . . . Introduced in George Orwell’s novel 1984 (1949)”—Dictionary.com

It seems somehow fitting that the great beat poet and artist Lawrence Ferlinghetti, departed this mortal realm (at the age of 101) on February 22, 2021, the day after Amazon.com digitally unbooked When Harry Became Sally. Authored by Ryan T. Anderson, president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center and founder of Public Discourse, When Harry Became Sally offers a critical assessment of the transgender movement.

Anderson is an honest and careful scholar, one who makes a real effort to understand his opponents’ arguments and answer them with charity and rigor. Anderson’s views are not in ascendancy among elites these days, as is evident by the vitriol hurled at him by activists as soon as When Harry Became Sally was published. These critics, I am afraid to say, are not at all interested in debate, discussion, or a careful sifting through the evidence and arguments. What they seek is absolute unquestioned conformity to their views, policed by roving cyberspace inquisitors whose mission is to extract confessions from their targets and to inculcate in them the habit of unforgiving social justice scrupulosity. This is not to say that Anderson does not have some serious academic critics who raise penetrating questions about the quality of his sources, the strength of his arguments, and the nature of his project. Here I am thinking of two critical reviews that appeared in the Journal of Medical Humanities and Studies in Christian Ethics.

But that’s all the more reason why Amazon’s removal of Anderson’s book from its catalog is so pernicious: it marginalizes from the public conversation an intelligent and informed voice that should be confronted and taken seriously by those who disagree with him. As my esteemed Baylor colleague, Alan Jacobs, points out:

The censors at Amazon clearly believe there is only one reason to read a book. You read a book because you agree with it and want it to confirm what you already believe. Imagine, for instance, a transgender activist who wants to understand the position held by Ryan Anderson and people like him in order better to refute it. That person can’t get a copy of the book through Amazon any more than a sympathetic reader like me can.

What does all this have to do with Ferlinghetti? More than you may think. Founder of the small press City Lights Books, he published in late 1956 Howl and Other Poems, authored by the beat poet Allen Ginsberg. Soon after the book was published, Ferlinghetti was arrested on obscenity charges. The reason? The book’s poems included lines that contained graphic descriptions of sex acts, and thus, the government reasoned, it was legally obscene.

Read it all.

Posted in Anthropology, Books, Corporations/Corporate Life, Ethics / Moral Theology, History

(Wired) The Secret Auction That Set Off the Race for AI Supremacy

Two months earlier, Hinton and his students had changed the way machines saw the world. They built what was called a neural network, a mathematical system modeled on the web of neurons in the brain, and it could identify common objects—like flowers, dogs, and cars—with an accuracy that had previously seemed impossible. As Hinton and his students showed, a neural network could learn this very human skill by analyzing vast amounts of data. He called this “deep learning,” and its potential was enormous. It promised to transform not just computer vision but everything from talking digital assistants to driverless cars to drug discovery.

The idea of a neural network dated back to the 1950s, but the early pioneers had never gotten it working as well as they’d hoped. By the new millennium, most researchers had given up on the idea, convinced it was a technological dead end and bewildered by the 50-​year-​old conceit that these mathematical systems somehow mimicked the human brain. When submitting research papers to academic journals, those who still explored the technology would often disguise it as something else, replacing the words “neural network” with language less likely to offend their fellow scientists.

Hinton remained one of the few who believed it would one day fulfill its promise, delivering machines that could not only recognize objects but identify spoken words, understand natural language, carry on a conversation, and maybe even solve problems humans couldn’t solve on their own, providing new and more incisive ways of exploring the mysteries of biology, medicine, geology, and other sciences. It was an eccentric stance even inside his own university, which spent years denying his standing request to hire another professor who could work alongside him in this long and winding struggle to build machines that learned on their own. “One crazy person working on this was enough,” he imagined their thinking went. But with a nine-​page paper that Hinton and his students unveiled in the fall of 2012, detailing their breakthrough, they announced to the world that neural networks were indeed as powerful as Hinton had long claimed they would be.

Read it all.

Posted in Anthropology, Corporations/Corporate Life, Ethics / Moral Theology, History, Psychology, Science & Technology, Theology

(AP) Israeli experts announce discovery of more Dead Sea scrolls

Israeli archaeologists on Tuesday announced the discovery of dozens of Dead Sea Scroll fragments bearing a biblical text found in a desert cave and believed hidden during a Jewish revolt against Rome nearly 1,900 years ago.

The fragments of parchment bear lines of Greek text from the books of Zechariah and Nahum and have been dated around the first century based on the writing style, according to the Israel Antiquities Authority. They are the first new scrolls found in archaeological excavations in the desert south of Jerusalem in 60 years.

The Dead Sea Scrolls, a collection of Jewish texts found in desert caves in the West Bank near Qumran in the 1940s and 1950s, date from the third century B.C. to the first century A.D. They include the earliest known copies of biblical texts and documents outlining the beliefs of a little understood Jewish sect.

Read it all.

Posted in History, Israel

(New Atlantis) John Sexton–A Reductionist History of Humankind: The trouble with Yuval Noah Harari’s “Sapiens”

Harari’s claim that has drawn the most media attention is that we may be on the cusp of an era of super- (or possibly sub-) humans, with newspapers running such sensationalistic headlines as “Humans ‘will become God-like cyborgs within 200 years’” and “The age of the cyborg has begun.” He seems to believe that the “Singularity” is a certainty; that some “Dr. Frankenstein” will likely create “something truly superior to us, something that will look at us as condescendingly as we look at the Neanderthals.” But here again there are practical and technical obstacles that Harari overlooks. As Steven Pinker, of all people, has recently pointed out, most features of organisms, including senescence, are built deep into their genomic structure. If there were easy fixes to mortality and many other conditions, they would have been low-hanging fruit for natural selection, which will always prevail in the long run over the kind of “intelligent design” Harari envisions us undertaking in the near future.

Harari tends to think that it’s onward and upward for the modern project to master nature through technology, though he doubts whether the trajectory is really “upward” in the sense of involving genuine improvement in the human condition. But it may be that the golden age of technological progress has already passed. As Peter Thiel and others have observed, the development of new technology has arguably slowed in recent decades, a fact disguised by the dissemination of old technology in the form of consumer goods like personal computers and smart phones.

Still, Harari is right to suggest that scientific advancement potentially threatens much of what we now hold dear, including our humanity as we traditionally understand it. He is also right to point out that questions about the moral character of scientific experimentation always meet with the response that it is being done to “cure diseases and save human lives.” Harari says that “nobody can argue with” such a response. He is right, up to a point: given the value that modern societies put on health, it can be very difficult to question research conducted in the name of medicine. But arguments can still be made against some forms of experimentation and “enhancement.” One could also point out that science itself provides no reason to save human lives or care about curing diseases, whereas moral principles do. One might also ask whether physical health and longevity are the highest goods.

But Sapiens provides us with no resources for answering questions about the moral implications of scientific and technological change. A commitment to a reductionist, mechanistic view of Homo sapiens may give us some insight into some of the aspects of our past most tied to our material nature. But Harari’s view of culture and of ethical norms as fundamentally fictional makes impossible any coherent moral framework for thinking about and shaping our future. And it asks us to pretend that we are not what we know ourselves to be — thinking and feeling subjects, moral agents with free will, and social beings whose culture builds upon the facts of the physical world but is not limited to them.

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Posted in Anthropology, Books, Ethics / Moral Theology, History, Philosophy, Science & Technology

A National Day of Reflection for the first anniversary of lockdown

The Church of England, Marie Curie, Hope UK, Care for the Family, Ataloss and many charities and organisations across the UK, will join forces on Tuesday 23rd March for a National Day of Reflection to commemorate the first anniversary of the nationwide Coronavirus lockdown.

York Minster will open from 11.30am to welcome people for prayer, quiet reflection and to light candles for family, friends and loved ones. The Minster will fall still at 12 noon for a national one minute silence. A Chaplain will be present throughout the day.

The Revd Michael Smith, Canon Pastor at York Minster said: “This unprecedented event has touched communities all over the world. There has been heart-breaking loss of life, disruption to every sphere of life, enforced isolation that has been extremely difficult to endure and severe economic strain. Even the most basic human interactions such as comforting the sick and dying, or attending a funeral have been impossible for many.

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Posted in Archbishop of York Stephen Cottrell, Church of England (CoE), England / UK, Health & Medicine, History, Religion & Culture, Uncategorized

(First Things) Hans Boersma on the recent ACNA kerfuffle over Christian anthropology and pastoral care

Whither the ACNA? Much will depend on its ability to keep the theological and the pastoral together.

First, we should avoid blaming our Christian heritage or the contemporary church for singling out the sin of homosexuality. Such self-blame is understandable: It is a way of dealing with the emotional hardship caused by same-sex attraction. But this introspection is, for the most part, unwarranted. Traditional Christian morality does not single out homosexuality, whereas making it part of one’s identity does. Besides, power roles have reversed: In today’s therapeutic culture, insisting on one’s gay identity mostly gets applauded, while it requires great courage to speak and write biblically about homosexuality. And while greed, adultery, etc. are all wrong, Scripture hardly supports the notion that all sins are of equal weight.

Third, we should keep in mind that the primary pastoral context of sin is alienation from God. If disordered sexual desires lead us away from a right relationship with God, then that is the key pastoral issue that we must address. The primary pastoral context, then, is not the feeling of exclusion from fellow believers as a result of sexual identity. It’s not that the latter doesn’t powerfully function; it obviously does. But it does so because of the way we have wedded sexual desire to human identity—a unique characteristic of today’s Western therapeutic culture. Carl Trueman’s recent book, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self, is a must-read to untangle the cultural web that we have spun for ourselves and a welcome antidote to the inexorable drift toward acceptance of disordered desire.

Please note, I am not encouraging us to ignore the pastoral. Quite the opposite: I am convinced we’re often not pastoral enough.

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I will take comments on this submitted by email only to KSHarmon[at]mindspring[dot]com.

Posted in Anglican Church in North America (ACNA), Anthropology, Ethics / Moral Theology, History, Marriage & Family, Pastoral Theology, Politics in General, Religion & Culture, Sexuality, Sexuality Debate (in Anglican Communion), Theology, Theology: Scripture

(TLS) Henry Wadsworth Longfellow: An air that says ‘go it!’–A poet’s huge but brief popularity

This biography hints at some possible reasons for Longfellow’s fascination with the hidden and obscured, such as his commitment to translation, and it also reveals a number of other ways in which his printed poems worked like icebergs: small blocks of text that emerged from the blank space of the page while hinting at much larger concerns under the surface. These include Longfellow’s methods of composition, which created paper trails of notes and drafts, and also the role played by his second wife Frances in helping him assemble works like The Poets and Poetry of Europe (1845), the first anthology of its kind to be published in America and further evidence of Longfellow’s conviction that lines of poetry should be viewed as bridges rather than barriers, forever reaching out for new human connections.

But as the title of this biography suggests, not every poem could find what it was looking for. In 1861, Longfellow’s wife died shortly after a horrible household accident in which her dress caught fire, and he was unable to smother the flames in time to save her. His own hands and face were so badly burned he was unable to attend her funeral, and the trademark bushy beard he later grew was partly an attempt to hide his visible scars. Yet the memory of his wife remained an open wound, and in a sonnet entitled “The Cross of Snow”, found among his papers after his death, he tried to put it into words. The inspiration for this poem was probably a comment from a mourner who expressed the hope that after his bereavement Longfellow would be able to “bear his cross”. His brother Samuel reported Longfellow’s response: “Bear the cross, yes; but what if one is stretched upon it!” Written eighteen years later, “The Cross of Snow” gave this feeling a permanent literary shape:

There is a mountain in the distant West
That, sun-defying, in its deep ravines
Displays a cross of snow upon its side.
Such is the cross I wear upon my breast
These eighteen years, through all the changing scenes
And seasons, changeless since the day she died.

In his Table-Talk (1857), Longfellow had pointed out that “Some sorrows are but footprints in the snow, which the genial sun effaces”, but in this unpublished poem he offered a chastening alternative. Some sorrows were as deep and lasting as permafrost.

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Posted in Death / Burial / Funerals, History, Marriage & Family, Poetry & Literature

(Bloomberg Businessweek) Is the Four-Day Week Is Coming Soon?

When the world went into lockdown last year, the 1,000 employees at Berlin-based tech company Awin did what millions of others did: They flipped open their laptops and started working from the kitchen or dining room. At the same time, Awin started running flat-out as its business with online retailers soared, putting intense pressure on the staff.

So last spring the company told everyone to sign off around lunchtime every Friday to ease into the weekend. The experiment was so successful—sales, employee engagement, and client satisfaction all rose—that in January, Awin decided to go a step further, rolling out a four-day week for the entire company with no cuts in salaries or benefits. “We firmly believe that happy, engaged, and well-balanced employees produce much better work,” says Chief Executive Officer Adam Ross. They “find ways to work smarter, and they’re just as productive.”

Awin is in the vanguard of a trend that’s getting increased attention worldwide. Jobs website ZipRecruiter says the share of postings that mention a four-day week has tripled in the past three years, to 62 per 10,000. Consumer-goods giant Unilever Plc in December started a yearlong trial of the idea for its New Zealand staff. Spain’s government is considering a proposal to subsidize companies that offer a four-day week. And even in notoriously busy Japan, whose language includes the word karoshi—death from overwork—lawmakers are discussing a proposal to grant employees a day off every week to protect their well-being. “The four-day week is picking up momentum,” says Will Stronge, director of research at Autonomy, a U.K. think tank. “For the large majority of firms, reducing working hours is an entirely realistic goal.”

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Posted in Anthropology, Corporations/Corporate Life, Economy, Ethics / Moral Theology, History, Labor/Labor Unions/Labor Market

“Americans have not yet grappled with just how profoundly the artificial intelligence (AI) revolution will impact our economy, national security, and welfare”

Americans have not yet grappled with just how profoundly the artificial intelligence (AI) revolution will impact our economy, national security, and welfare. Much remains to be learned about the power and limits of AI technologies. Nevertheless, big decisions need to be made now to accelerate AI innovation to benefit the United States and to defend against the malign uses of AI.

When considering these decisions, our leaders confront the classic dilemma of statecraft identified by Henry Kissinger: “When your scope for action is greatest, the knowledge on
which you can base this action is always at a minimum. When your knowledge is greatest, the scope for action has often disappeared.” The scope for action remains, but America’s
room for maneuver is shrinking.

As a bipartisan commission of 15 technologists, national security professionals, business executives, and academic leaders, the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence (NSCAI) is delivering an uncomfortable message: America is not prepared to defend or compete in the AI era. This is the tough reality we must face. And it is this reality that demands comprehensive, whole-of-nation action. Our final report presents a strategy to defend against AI threats, responsibly employ AI for national security, and win the broader technology competition for the sake of our prosperity, security, and welfare. The U.S. government cannot do this alone. It needs committed partners in industry, academia, and civil society. And America needs to enlist its oldest allies and new partners to build a safer and freer world for the AI era.

AI is an inspiring technology. It will be the most powerful tool in generations for benefiting humanity. Scientists have already made astonishing progress in fields ranging from
biology and medicine to astrophysics by leveraging AI. These advances are not science fair experiments; they are improving life and unlocking mysteries of the natural world. They
are the kind of discoveries for which the label “game changing” is not a cliché.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, America/U.S.A., Anthropology, Ethics / Moral Theology, History, Science & Technology

Still more for Washington’s Birthday–George Washington’s 1796 Farewell Address

Observe good faith and justice towards all nations; cultivate peace and harmony with all. Religion and morality enjoin this conduct; and can it be, that good policy does not equally enjoin it – It will be worthy of a free, enlightened, and at no distant period, a great nation, to give to mankind the magnanimous and too novel example of a people always guided by an exalted justice and benevolence. Who can doubt that, in the course of time and things, the fruits of such a plan would richly repay any temporary advantages which might be lost by a steady adherence to it ? Can it be that Providence has not connected the permanent felicity of a nation with its virtue ? The experiment, at least, is recommended by every sentiment which ennobles human nature. Alas! is it rendered impossible by its vices?

In the execution of such a plan, nothing is more essential than that permanent, inveterate antipathies against particular nations, and passionate attachments for others, should be excluded; and that, in place of them, just and amicable feelings towards all should be cultivated. The nation which indulges towards another a habitual hatred or a habitual fondness is in some degree a slave. It is a slave to its animosity or to its affection, either of which is sufficient to lead it astray from its duty and its interest. Antipathy in one nation against another disposes each more readily to offer insult and injury, to lay hold of slight causes of umbrage, and to be haughty and intractable, when accidental or trifling occasions of dispute occur. Hence, frequent collisions, obstinate, envenomed, and bloody contests. The nation, prompted by ill-will and resentment, sometimes impels to war the government, contrary to the best calculations of policy. The government sometimes participates in the national propensity, and adopts through passion what reason would reject; at other times it makes the animosity of the nation subservient to projects of hostility instigated by pride, ambition, and other sinister and pernicious motives. The peace often, sometimes perhaps the liberty, of nations, has been the victim.

So likewise, a passionate attachment of one nation for another produces a variety of evils. Sympathy for the favorite nation, facilitating the illusion of an imaginary common interest in cases where no real common interest exists, and infusing into one the enmities of the other, betrays the former into a participation in the quarrels and wars of the latter without adequate inducement or justification. It leads also to concessions to the favorite nation of privileges denied to others which is apt doubly to injure the nation making the concessions; by unnecessarily parting with what ought to have been retained, and by exciting jealousy, ill-will, and a disposition to retaliate, in the parties from whom equal privileges are withheld. And it gives to ambitious, corrupted, or deluded citizens (who devote themselves to the favorite nation), facility to betray or sacrifice the interests of their own country, without odium, sometimes even with popularity; gilding, with the appearances of a virtuous sense of obligation, a commendable deference for public opinion, or a laudable zeal for public good, the base or foolish compliances of ambition, corruption, or infatuation.

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Posted in America/U.S.A., History, Office of the President

(Mount Vernon) George Washington’s Remarkable life

In June 1775, Congress commissioned George Washington to take command of the Continental Army besieging the British in Boston. He wrote home to Martha that he expected to return safely to her in the fall. The command kept him away from Mount Vernon for more than 8 years (with only one very brief visit while en route to Yorktown).

It was a command for which his military background, although greater than that of any of the other available candidates, hardly prepared him. His knowledge lay in frontier warfare, involving relatively small numbers of soldiers. He had no practical experience maneuvering large formations, handling cavalry or artillery, or maintaining supply lines adequate to support thousands of men in the field. He learned on the job; and although his army reeled from one misfortune to another, he had the courage, determination, and mental agility to keep the American cause one step ahead of complete disintegration until he figured out how to win the unprecedented revolutionary struggle he was leading.

His task was not overwhelming at first. The British position in Boston was untenable, and in March 1776 they withdrew from the city. But it was only a temporary respite. In June a new British army, under the command of Sir William Howe, arrived in the colonies with orders to take New York City. Howe commanded the largest expeditionary force Britain had ever sent overseas.

Defending New York was almost impossible. An island city, New York is surrounded by a maze of waterways that gave a substantial advantage to an attacker with naval superiority. Howe’s army was larger, better equipped, and far better trained than Washington’s. They defeated Washington’s army at Long Island in August and routed the Americans a few weeks later at Kip’s Bay, resulting in the loss of the city. Forced to retreat northward, Washington was defeated again at White Plains. The American defense of New York City came to a humiliating conclusion on November 16, 1776, with the surrender of Fort Washington and some 2,800 men. Washington ordered his army to retreat across New Jersey. The remains of his forces, mud-soaked and exhausted, crossed the Delaware River into Pennsylvania on December 7.

The British had good reason to believe that the American rebellion would be over in a few months and that Congress would seek peace rather than face complete subjugation of the colonies….

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Posted in America/U.S.A., History, Military / Armed Forces, Office of the President

More from George Washington–His circular letter to the States, June 8, 1783

I now make it my earnest prayer, that God would have you, and the State over which you preside, in his holy protection; that he would incline the hearts of the citizens to cultivate a spirit of subordination and obedience to government; to entertain a brotherly affection and love for one another, for their fellow citizens of the United States at large, and particularly for their brethren who have served in the field; and finally, that he would most graciously be pleased to dispose us all to do justice, to love mercy, and to demean ourselves with that charity, humility, and pacific temper of mind, which were the characteristics of the Divine Author of our blessed religion, and without an humble imitation of whose example in these things, we can never hope to be a happy nation.

I have the honor to be, with much esteem and respect, Sir, your Excellency’s most obedient and most humble servant.

–George Washington
Head-Quarters, Newburg,
8 June, 1783.

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Posted in America/U.S.A., History, Office of the President

(Washington Post) A Washington’s Birthday quiz on the office of President

Every February, Americans take a day off of work to celebrate the presidents — the chief executives whose ideas, policies and foibles have helped to shape our history. So it’s only fitting that you take a moment to test your knowledge about these 44 prominent Americans with a 20-question quiz from “Presidential,” the Washington Post podcast that explores the presidents’ lives and legacies.

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Posted in America/U.S.A., History, Office of the President