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Showing posts from March, 2014

Reflecting on “The Annunciation/Visitation,” How to Read the Bible

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After my last post, I got this message from a friend and former colleague: “Now read a short passage from the gospels, which have a far greater claim on the consciences of Christians, the account of the Visitation (Luke 1:39-56), in any translation you choose. Clearly and unequivocally both the fetus of Mary (who was newly pregnant at the time of the incident described) and that of Elizabeth (who was six months along) are considered unreservedly to be human beings.”
(At the same time I got a warm, witty and encouraging message from one of my former students who, I think, was concerned that few people were responding to my blog.  Like all idle idealists I must confess to occasional naive daydreams about this blog somehow making me rich and famous--actually, I’d settle for rich or famous--but the reality is a blog is a public diary and I am content even if it remains no more than that.  After years in academia, I can’t tell you what a relief and pleasure it is to write what I think withou…

What Bible Translation Says about People Who Oppose Abortion

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What surprises me about people who describe the Bible as “the word of God” is how blasé they seem to be about questions of translation.  Even a renowned scholar like Northrop Frye begins his book about the Bible, The Great Code, by glossing over the issue of translation quite glibly.  The translation process is always challenging and complicated.  It is very easy to translate inaccurately, to misconstrue meaning in the translation process, and very difficult to get a translation just right.  In fact, it is generally conceded that a perfect translation is an impossibility, some meaning is bound to be lost or changed as we move from one language and culture to another.  Even when the same word or expression exists in two different languages (which is not as common as you might think, and can create another problem called “false cognates”), the connotation of those words can be quite different in different cultures.  Apparently, describing someone as “a politician” in Mandarin is a compl…

“Critical Thinking Skills” and “Family Values”

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“Critical thinking skills” and “family values”:  these days it is typical to imagine that these concepts are dichotomous to one another.  In the binary thinking of those people who espouse strident opposition to binary thinking these expressions are in mutually-exclusive opposition to each other.  In other words, it is assumed that if you have any “critical thinking skills” you cannot believe in “family values.” What strikes me is how much these phrases have in common.
What these locutions share is the fact that their literal, obvious, word-for-word, face-value meanings are no longer what they mean.  “Family values” doesn’t mean that you value family.  "Critical thinking skills" as taught in most universities aren't skills and rarely show signs of clear thinking, though they are invariably critical.  In both cases, these expressions have taken on a level of meaning that the essayist Roland Barthes calls “mythology.”  In simpler terms, their connotations (what these phrase…

When Should You Repay Your Student Loan? How about . . . Never!

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To Owe Is to OwnDo you remember this line:  “So Romeo would, were he not Romeo called, / Retain that dear perfection which he owes / Without that title.”?  “Owes” used to mean “owns.”? 
I’ve been reading David Graeber’s book Debt:  The First 5000 Years.  It begins with the American proverb:  “If you owe the bank a hundred thousand dollars, the bank owns you.  If you owe the bank a hundred million dollars, you own the bank.”  I can remember my father telling me this.  I thought he made it up.  
Avoiding DebtI’ve always had an aversion to debt.  I think it has something to do with when I was five and my mother, as she was leaving to go to work, telling me, “If there is a knock at the door, just sit on the floor and be quiet.  Don’t answer the door; they might be bailiffs.”  Of course, like everyone else, I’ve understood that it is impossible to get on in the world without a car loan, a mortgage, a credit card and a line of credit.  Nonetheless, I’ve always been fairly obsessive about payi…

What Is the Relationship Between University Education and Employment?

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What Is the Relationship Between University Education and Employment?  The official answer is always absolute:  you need the diploma to get a decent job.  At ground level the answer is a matter of degree--in both senses of the word.  With some degrees the answer is redundant:  you get an accounting degree to become an account, a medical degree to become a doctor, an engineering degree to become an engineer.  More or less. To be honest most of the engineers I know work in sales.  Outside the obvious cases, the relationship between a particular degree and employment is a matter of debate.  On the other hand, if a graduate from a BA in English becomes a news broadcaster on local TV, you can be sure that “television journalist” will be added to the list of employment outcomes for that degree in the university calendar and on the web site.


Inside humanities programs the answer is adamant that a university degree is not job training.  It’s hard not to angle your nose toward the sky while say…

How Universities Have Promoted the Unemployment Crisis

Some examples of how universities have promoted an unemployment crisis are already well known.  The faculties of education in Ontario producing thousands more  teachers than the school system can absorb is an egregious example.  Universities are also responsible for the glut of PhDs on the market because universities have a vertical monopoly, being both the exclusive producers and major employers of PhDs.  It is hard to argue that the universities have handled their monopoly in a more enlightened fashion than the robber barons of the past.
It is worth stopping to consider what it takes to get a PhD.  Steps one and two are a four-year BA and a two-year MA in order to apply for admission to a PhD.  Universities have lots of strategies on the books to shorten or even eliminate the MA, but most students go through the MA process and take longer than the two years suggested in university calendars--six years is a conservative estimate of how long you need to study just to apply to a PhD pro…