Sea of Crises

Brian Phillips:

When he comes into the ring, Hakuho, the greatest sumotori in the world, perhaps the greatest in the history of the world, dances like a tropical bird, like a bird of paradise. Flanked by two attendants — his tachimochi, who carries his sword, and his tsuyuharai, or dew sweeper, who keeps the way clear for him — and wearing his embroidered apron, the kesho-mawashi, with its braided cords and intricate loops of rope, Hakuho climbs onto the trapezoidal block of clay, two feet high and nearly 22 feet across, where he will be fighting. Here, marked off by rice-straw bales, is the circle, the dohyo, which he has been trained to imagine as the top of a skyscraper: One step over the line and he is dead. A Shinto priest purified the dohyo before the tournament; above, a six-ton canopy suspended from the arena’s ceiling, a kind of floating temple roof, marks it as a sacred space. Colored tassels hang from the canopy’s corners, representing the Four Divine Beasts of the Chinese 1 constellations: the azure dragon of the east, the vermilion sparrow of the south, the white tiger of the west, the black tortoise of the north. Over the canopy, off-center and lit with spotlights, flies the white-and-red flag of Japan.Japanese mythology, like many aspects of early Japanese culture, was heavily influenced by China.

Hakuho bends into a deep squat. He claps twice, then rubs his hands together. He turns his palms slowly upward. He is bare-chested, 6-foot-4 and 350 pounds. His hair is pulled up in a topknot. His smooth stomach strains against the coiled belt at his waist, the literal referent of his rank:yokozuna, horizontal rope. Rising, he lifts his right arm diagonally, palm down to show he is unarmed. He repeats the gesture with his left. He lifts his right leg high into the air, tipping his torso to the left like a watering can, then slams his foot onto the clay. When it strikes, the crowd of 13,000 souls inside the Ryogoku Kokugikan, Japan’s national sumo stadium, shouts in unison: “Yoisho!” — Come on! Do it! He slams down his other foot: “Yoisho!” It’s as if the force of his weight is striking the crowd in the stomach. Then he squats again, arms held out winglike at his sides, and bends forward at the waist until his back is near parallel with the floor. Imagine someone playing airplane with a small child. With weird, sliding thrusts of his feet, he inches forward, gliding across the ring’s sand, raising and lowering his head in a way that’s vaguely serpentine while slowly straightening his back. By the time he’s upright again, the crowd is roaring.

Boys, Porn, and Education

Sean Fitzpatrick:

The headmaster of the all-boys boarding school I attended when I was a teenager was always wary of admitting students to the academy that had been exposed to pornography. Among his reasons for this was that boys who had carnal knowledge—even on the level that pornography affords—very often found it an impediment in the process of their education. Now I am the headmaster of that same boarding school, and I am increasingly convinced of the reasoning behind my old headmaster’s reticence over such applicants. Pornography is a destroyer of innocence, and the innocence proper to certain years of a boy’s life is an important factor in his education—especially if that education is informed by the classical pedagogies of wonder, imagination, and delight. Furthermore, I am increasingly convinced that I am facing a crisis that my headmaster did not face. While he had to consider the possibility that a boy may have viewed pornography, I have to consider the probability that every boy has viewed pornography. The only thing about our respective positions that are the same touching this matter is the grave obstacle of pornography in masculine education.

Pornography has come a long way in recent decades. There is a telling scene in a Woody Allen film from the 1970’s where he peruses and purchases pornography at a corner store, forced to face the humiliations of a tactless checkout clerk and unsympathetic customer scrutiny. Those days are over. No more top-shelf magazines. No more public purchases. No more physical evidence. All is anonymous, instantaneous, and easy. The long way porn has come in recent decades has been straight down the information superhighway. Today we have the Internet, and to many, the Internet is for porn.

There is no doubt that, since the dawn of the online era, porn has become wildly and incalculably more available and more mainstream. It is now a standard, systemic temptation: a pervasive fact of people’s lives, especially young people’s lives—and most especially young men’s lives. Though reports abound analyzing what percentage of the web is devoted to smut, or what the addictive properties of online porn are, or what it is doing to relationships, or how it is affecting bodies and brains, one thing is certain without scientific data or social studies: Internet pornography is damaging the lives and minds of possibly every single boy in this country, impeding his ability to be drawn to virtue and wisdom—in other words, impeding his education.

A Natural Fix for ADHD

Interesting piece from the NYT:

ATTENTION deficit hyperactivity disorder is now the most prevalent psychiatric illness of young people in America, affecting 11 percent of them at some point between the ages of 4 and 17. The rates of both diagnosis and treatment have increased so much in the past decade that you may wonder whether something that affects so many people can really be a disease.

And for a good reason. Recent neuroscience research shows that people with A.D.H.D. are actually hard-wired for novelty-seeking — a trait that had, until relatively recently, a distinct evolutionary advantage. Compared with the rest of us, they have sluggish and underfed brain reward circuits, so much of everyday life feels routine and understimulating.

To compensate, they are drawn to new and exciting experiences and get famously impatient and restless with the regimented structure that characterizes our modern world. In short, people with A.D.H.D. may not have a disease, so much as a set of behavioral traits that don’t match the expectations of our contemporary culture.

From the standpoint of teachers, parents and the world at large, the problem with people with A.D.H.D. looks like a lack of focus and attention and impulsive behavior. But if you have the “illness,” the real problem is that, to your brain, the world that you live in essentially feels not very interesting.

Who’s Who in the English Reformation

Brad Littlejohn put together a nice handout for an education hour thing he did for his church that he has now also shared on his website:

After giving a lecture on Peter Martyr Vermigli for Trinity Reformed Church in preparation for Reformation Day, I used the next Sunday’s slot to give a crash course in the long English Reformation.  It occurred to me that this, which I used as a handout, might be of interest to others.

Henry VIII (1491-1547, r. 1509-1547): Tudor King of England who broke with Rome, initially in order to obtain a divorce from his first wife, Catherine of Aragon. Generally hostile to Protestant doctrine.

Thomas Cromwell (1485-1540): Lord Chamberlain to Henry VIII who masterminded the break with Rome; sympathetic to Lutheran reform. Fell out of favor with Henry and was executed, 1540.

Thomas Cranmer (1489-1556, bishop 1532-55): Archbishop of Canterbury under Henry VIII and Edward VI. A Lutheran sympathizer early on, he helped accomplish Henry’s break with Rome. Later, under Edward VI, adopted Reformed doctrine and established Reformed faith as the doctrine and practice of Church of England. Martyred 1556 by “Bloody” Mary.

Fly Over Me

A cool report on an equally cool project happening here in Nebraska:

Valentine, Nebraska, “America’s Heart City,” is nestled near the border of South Dakota and Nebraska. Home to only a few thousand people, many refer to this part of the U.S. as Flyover country due to most outsiders only seeing it from a plane traveling between the coasts.

However, there’s a lot of life in the Great Plains. Just hearing the name “Nebraska” conjurs up visions of vast cornfields, cattle, and cowboys. While yes, parts of these assumptions are correct, there’s more to the middle than meets the eye.

In the summer of 2013, Andrew Dickinson, Lauren Justice, Nick Teets, and Jacob Zlomke, formed Fly Over Me, a three month photo project documenting daily life in Valentine. It wasn’t for a workshop, or for a fellowship, or for school. It was just because they wanted to.

The New Racism and the End of the Civil Rights Movement

One important piece for conservatives to keep in mind as we feel increasingly beleaguered on the national political scene due to the triumph of same-sex marriage is that people on the left often feel just as beleaguered on the state level. In the current system, the left may win most of the national elections, but the right is winning the local elections. Anyway, all that to say, this New Republic piece is worth reading:

Long before he became the most powerful man in the Alabama Senate, before he controlled billions of dollars in state money and had lobbyists, governors, and future presidents seeking his favor, Hank Sanders used newspapers and magazines as bathroom tissue. His mother would collect periodicals from the wealthy white family whose house she cleaned and bring them back for Sanders and his brothers and sisters. There were 13 children, all told, and they lived with their parents in a three-room shack that their father had built out of one-by-eight boards among the tall pines and chinaberry trees in Blacksher, a speck of a town 50 miles north of Mobile.

This was Alabama in the 1950s, when Jim Crow reigned and a governor’s race was determined by which candidate managed to secure the endorsement of the Ku Klux Klan. Life in Baldwin County, where Blacksher was located, may have been marginally less horrid for its black residents than in other parts of the state: The county’s last lynching had occurred in 1919 and some of the white men who perpetrated it had even gone to prison. But there were certain realities by which Sanders, as a black child, knew he must abide. He knew not to spend any of the money he earned picking cotton on the six-ounce bottles of Coca-Cola at the drugstore; those were only for white customers, and a black person who tried to buy one risked more than just being refused service. He also knew not to look in the direction of a white woman. The one time he did, the woman’s male companion threatened to whip him, and probably would have had Sanders’s mother, a strong-willed woman named Ola Mae, not intervened. For Sanders, the fact that there was no electricity or running water in his houseto say nothing of toilet paperwas far less distressing than the constant threat of danger.

In 1954, when Sanders was twelve, he momentarily ignored the intended purpose of a magazine his mother had brought home and instead read an article about Thurgood Marshall’s work on Brown v. Board of Education. The case had no bearing on Sanders’s everyday life. Baldwin County’s schools were segregated and would remain defiantly so for more than a decade after his education in them. But Marshall’s legal heroics wormed their way into the back of Sanders’s mind, and when his seventh-grade teacher asked her students what they wanted to be when they grew up, Sanders surprised himself by saying, “A lawyer.” His classmateswhose professional aspirations tended toward farming or turpentine workburst out laughing. Sanders began to cry; the other kids laughed even harder, which prompted even more tears. When the episode was finally over, Sanders resolved that he would become a lawyer (still not entirely sure what one was) just to prove his classmates wrong.

Stalin as Theological Student

An interesting piece from the Political Theology blog:

I am in the process of reading carefully through the works of the Joseph Stalin – or the ‘man of steel’, as he became known through his revolutionary code name. When I mention the fact that I am reading Stalin’s rather extensive works, people look surprised – surprised not because I am actually reading Stalin, but because they usually do not realise he wrote anything at all. But write he did, and much of it is sophisticated and thought-provoking. In my reading, I am interested in the philosophical and indeed theological undercurrents of his work. Theology? Stalin? The themes are many and varied: religious pluralism and the ‘national question’; the dialectic of transcendence and immanence; the paradox of grace in relation to crisis; a materialist doctrine of evil; and the tension between sanctification and demonization.

Where did Stalin learn to deal with such theological ideas? Did they simply emerge from his own mind as he sought to deal with the difficult and often brutal issues that arose in the first ever effort to construct socialism? I suggest that one source was an intense period – five years – of study at the Spiritual Seminary, in Tiflis, Georgia. He was a student at the college during an extremely formative period, from the age of 15 to the verge of his twentieth birthday (1894-1899). The seminary, in the capital of Georgia, trained priests for the Russian Orthodox Church. On the negative side, this meant speaking only in Russian, even in private, and not in the native Georgian of the students. The church hierarchy in Tiflis and the seminary was decidedly reactionary, seeking to instil reverence for the tsar and God, in equal measure. Discipline was tight, with the whole day carefully organised, limited excursions outside, and proscribed reading. Textbooks and the Bible were standard fare, and the students wore cassocks. On the positive side, Stalin experienced – for the time – an exceptionally thorough theological education. And he came to appreciate the ascetic life of a theological student, with its simple diet of bread and beans and the ability to get by with little.

Mall Fines Stores That Aren’t Open on Thanksgiving

From Time:

Stores at one mall in upstate New York are being strong-armed into opening for business by 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving. Tenant retailers that don’t get with the program will be fined.

Every day, the list of retailers and shopping centers opening up for “Black Friday” sales on Thanksgiving Day itself is growing. Despite the fact that Thanksgiving store hours don’t necessarily boost holiday season sales so much as displace themfrom one day to another, more and more retailers apparently feel compelled to open for business on the national holiday—often during prime dinner hours but sometimes much, much earlier than that. Toys R Us, for instance, is matching Best Buyand J.C. Penney with a 5 p.m. opening time on Thanksgiving—an hour earlier than Target and Macy’s—while RadioShackjust announced that more than 3,000 of its stores will open at the freakishly unnecessary hour of 8 a.m.

How to Get Over Yourself and Enjoy an Art Museum

Dan Siedell:

I get it. You want to go to the art museum, but you can never bring yourself to go. You’re put off by the confusion, the boredom, the feeling that everyone but you knows what the art is all about. You want an earthshaking experience before art, but have never had it. So, you want to give up and admit that art isn’t for you.

Please, don’t give up.

I have worked in and with art museums for nearly 25 years, and I know how you feel. I get bored often, and I’ve never had the kind of earthshaking experience you think everyone else is having. And I can tell you that art museum professionals know they have a problem on their hands. That’s why they’re adding cafes, restaurants, bookstores, parks, parties, concerts.

But all these add-ons ignore what the art museum alone can offer: a personal experience with a work of art, one that enriches and enlivens your life.