Saturday, January 31, 2009

Notable Notes Unnotably Annotated

* An interesting article (with comments) on the mystery of the Piraha: Daniel Everett, Cultural Constraints on Grammar and Cognition in Piraha (PDF)

* A discussion about how to make higher education more inclusive, at "Feminist Philosophers".

* Keith Thomas discusses the ideas of luxury and taste, and their relation to capitalism, in the early modern period. (ht)

* Eartha Kitt sings in Turkish. As usual, she shows her sense of humor. I hadn't realized she died just this last Christmas. We just don't have any singers today who have the mix of sultriness, intelligence, and humor that Eartha had. (ht)

* By just about every measure, the CPSIA appears to be a very bad law; it's not lucid (although that's hardly to be expected), it is excessively sweeping in its provisions, and it will put a great many people out of a job in a way that won't clearly contribute to the law's aim (protecting children from hazardous materials), etc. At the very least it should have established a list of presumed-safe materials that wouldn't require testing unless sold in greater than some standard amount; requiring just about everything to be tested is going to push out crafters and small manufacturers. And you can tell just how bad it is by the fact that the strongest argument I've found in favor -- the one in the article linked above -- is that these small craftspersons and manufacturers are too small to be a priority for enforcement. If your best defense of a law is that it's easy to get away with breaking it if you do it in small ways, that's a sign of something. Peculiar notes that it's probably a good idea for U.S. Citizens to contact your elected officials.

* Apparently the Doukhobors are the religious group that have commited the most acts of religious terrorism in Canada. I imagine that was not what Tolstoy had in mind when he helped pay for their migration from Russia with the proceeds from Resurrection (which, of course, is a pacifist work).

* The Mor Gabriel monastery, founded in 397 and usually considered to be the oldest functioning Christian monastery in the world, is being harrassed by lawsuits, and may end up being shut down. One of the charges, that the monastery is on the site of a former mosque, would be funny if it weren't so serious a matter. It's a beautiful monastery, too (some interior photographs as well). (ht)

* St. Jerome on interpreting Scripture

* I've seen a number of sources talk about the recent lifting of excommunications on SSPX bishops as 'receiving them back into the Church'. It's easy enough to see what is meant, but lifting excommunications is not 'receiving people back into the Church.' In the strict sense, they were never outside the Church -- the very fact that there were excommunications and they could be lifted is proof of it. Excommunications don't undo baptism, they don't throw you out of the Church; only Christ can do that. Excommunications are penalties in which participation in communion (and a few things connected with it) is restricted. And, on the other side, the looser sense is too loose. If you are excommunicated, and the excommunications then lifted, that doesn't mean that all has been made right; it just means that it is judged no longer to be an appropriate measure for handling you. This sloppy way of treating excommunication is one of my pet peeves, probably right after cases when being raised to the cardinalate is referred to as being promoted (it is a way of being honored, and it can increase your responsibilities, but 'cardinal' is not a level above 'bishop') and, worst of all, when Roman Catholics talk about privileges of the Pope as if they were their own privileges (merely because the Bishop of Rome is first among bishops doesn't mean that Roman Catholics are first among Catholics).

As to the whole problem with the Holocaust-denier among the four, I honestly am surprised people are surprised; the Vatican is notoriously good at doing good things clumsily. There are reams of jokes among Catholics about it. (For example: "Interacting with the Vatican is like dancing with the most beautiful girl in the world and finding she has two left feet." "The Holy See is doubly infallible: infallibly right in faith and morals and infallibly wrong in tact and timing." "God gave the Church the Roman Curia for the purpose of working miracles: only by miracle could anything survive it." "Millers grind grain, bishops grind teeth.") But the straightforward fact is that stupidity is not a sufficient reason for excommunication, and therefore is not a sufficient reason for keeping excommunication in place.

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