More political silliness

“Clinton Strong, Iowa Raises Doubts”

When I see articles like this, I wonder if any actual journalism is going on. I used to write claptrap like that – rumor and guesswork masquerading as information – and it makes for disturbing flashbacks. Yes, it is news to report on trends in the public perception of the candidates, but reporting on those trends should always take a back seat to reporting on policy statements and rigorous analysis of those policies.

The prevailing wisdom is that illegal immigration (currently translated as “the Mexican and terrorist problem”) is going to be the big Republican issue, as they can’t talk about national security save in code anymore – or at least every pundit claims so and the media is only too happy to oblige with stories such as Romney and his lawn care.

You know, we really could be the best country in the world if we actively encouraged immigration from Mexico instead of wasting time keeping people out who want to be here and work, or maintaining a permanent underclass to prop up the economy.
If there is anything I have learned from studying Christian early rhetoric, it is that two of the most fundamental qualities of Christian faith are 1) hospitality and 2) selflessness. Restrictive borders and a hard line on immigration is frankly incompatible with the Christian values that many of these candidates – and not just the GOP candidates – like to brag about, regardless of individual creed.

One of the few things – well, actually, it’s the only thing I can think of – that Bush has done ok on in his presidency is his stance on this issue, encouraging citizenship over deportation. Why wouldn’t we want productive citizens? Doesn’t that contribute to economic growth, the magic conservative cure-all, if I must stoop to making a bottom-line argument?

As for the terrorism angle to this question, I’m currently with the folks that, to paraphrase a thought I’ve seen in many places, that the threat after 9/11 could have been taken care of by simply securing the door to the cockpit on commercial aircraft. No Patriot Act, no Homeland Security, no invasion of Iraq, no squandering of American foreign goodwill. No obsession about terrorism around every corner.

I think the next American president needs to apologize to the Middle East in a major speech. It would be long, as there’s a lot to apologize for in the foriegn policy of the last 50 years or so. I might write it out in another post. Obama would be the perfect person to deliver it, and it would be quoted in history books as a great example of common sense – a new realpolitick, as it would engage all the realities of our involvement there in blunt terms.

Don’t think the U.S. has anything to apologize for? Sorry, I don’t think America has any special hold on truth or morality any more than Rome did. The ability to enforce an idea is not proof of its worth. We’re simply in a position of relative power. That’s all.

Travel & Conferences

I have two upcoming conference presentations to make next spring. One is the CCCC (College Composition & Communication Conference) in New Orleans in March, and another at RSA (Rhetoric Society of America) in Seattle in May. Both will be on prose rhythm. At CCCC, I’ll focus on teaching, and at RSA, I’ll focus on history.

The travel budget got slashed more this year, so the department is offering only $250 to grad students for the entire ’07-’08 year. The college of A&S makes a show of offering additional funds, but I’ve been turned down for two years straight now. It’s encouraging that I’m getting on the program at two top conferences, given my entry to the job market will be next fall, but it’s also discouraging that I have to go into debt to attend them. Seattle ain’t gonna be cheap. H and I will certainly both go to New Orleans – it’s not that far away by car or train – but I might have to make the second trip alone. We’ll see. Fingers crossed.

Gospel of Judas, take two

April D. DeConick, a biblical scholar at Rice, has written an op-ed in the NYT saying that it seems the National Geographic Society mistranlated, perhaps deliberately, key passages in the Gospel of Judas.

This is a pretty serious charge, and I wonder as to her motives in going to the Times. Poking about her webpages, I wonder if selling her book on the GOJ, coming out in December, is the motive. Coptic translation disputes, to my knowledge, usually don’t get worked out on the NYT op-ed pages. Most NYT readers, I’d guess, don’t even know what Coptic is. This entry in her blog seems telling, where she disagrees with James R. Robinson’s comments on biblical scholars writing popular books and talking to the media, even though they seem to agree that the NGS has “exploited” the GoJ. And an older entry is even more blunt on her reasons for writing the book – she’s a strong believer in making academic work available to the public (with a big “after tenure” caveat, of course).

I found it interesting that she is careful not to mention the names of any of the translators who worked on the project in the op-ed, who form a Who’s Who of early Christian studies – Erhman, Pagels, Meyer, etc. From reviews, her critique in the book seems to be focused on Kasser, Meyer, and Wurst. I will be very interested to see any response from these folks in print to her book or op-ed piece.

DeConick’s best point is that there is no public fascimile of the assembled text of the manuscript. That is a real concern. However, this undercuts her public translation challenge, because without access to everything that the NGS translators worked with, she can’t fully critique their translation. She can only snipe at visible targets. And yet, this has not stopped her from writing a book subtitled, “What the Gospel of Judas Really Says.”

My irony detector is flashing red and making rumbling noises – something about monopolies on truth, probably. Scholars, popular book publishing, and big media don’t mix well. To be fair, a minor publishing imp wrote that subtitle, I’m sure, as she refers to it consistently as “The Thirteenth Apostle” in her blog. And she’s certainly sold me a copy. More on this later, for sure.