Sunday, August 21, 2005

Links and Notes

* At FindLaw, Edward Lazarus discusses the question of whether our judiciary is really accountable.

* Christopher Price on the Testimonium Flavianum at Bede's Library (HT: CADRE Comments)

* As you may know, the Ector County Independent School District recently made national news when the New York Times and CNN reported on the fact that it had voted to offer an elective course called "The Bible in History and Literature" based on a curriculum provided by a group called the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools (NCBCPS). Some of the uproar about it is sheer nonsense, since there isn't anything wrong with offering such a course; but there is a very serious question that needs to be asked in any such case, namely, what is the character of the curriculum in question? The course outline (PDF) is mediocre at best (there's too much Genesis and not enough wisdom literature; not enough looking at literary and historical uses of various Biblical texts, particularly given that's the whole point of the course; and Unit 17 should raise a worry-wrinkle or two on your forehead), but a course outline can be misleading. Mark Chauncey of Southern Methodist University points out some more substantial reasons why the curriculum was very poorly chosen. (The primary city in Ector is Odessa, where, as I think I've said before, I was born.) (HT: Higgaion)

* One of my pet peeves is science fiction writing that makes use sloppy use of science. I'm a "soft" science fiction fan myself, so I don't particularly care what mechanisms s.f. writers take up or make up to move the story along; but it always irritates the bejeebers out of me when it's used in a bad way. I recently finished the so-called Second Foundation Trilogy, which is not a trilogy about the Second Foundation, but a set of three interrelated works by Brin, Benford, and Bear. All three are fairly big science fiction writers at present. It was a sad reminder that Asimov has no peers in science fiction. Some of it was good, much of it was bad. The whole 'sims' plot should have been axed from the beginning; a useless, miserable story device that should never have made it out of first draft, if even granted the privilege of getting that far. But the single passage that irritated me most (I forget which book had it) was put in the mouth of R. Daneel Olivaw. Daneel is an absolutely awesome character; that it was put in his mouth made the whole thing that much worse, particularly since it wasn't really necessary at all. It was the chimp-human cliché about how chimps and humans are 99% similar. I find that (in a different context) Coturnix at "Science and Politics" has pointed out the problems with that sort of reasoning (scroll down), and suggests some reading. I burst out laughing when I came on this passage:

Actually it means very little. We are almost as close to zebrafish and fruitflies. Have you seen a chimp lately? Does its anatomy looks 99% similar to human? How about its behavior? About 99% similar to human? Would you say that we look about 80% like fruitflies?


Worth reading. Unlike the "Second Foundation Trilogy," which had, at best, some promising passages -- here and there a bit of real Hari Seldon shines through, for instance -- that fizzled and died.

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