Can We Put the Adults Back in Charge?

When I do reviews of products parents might be considering for their children, I usually point out anything that might be of concern. This helps parents make sound decisions.

But there are places where I never would have thought to look for “family unfriendly” content. One expects the adults in charge of some products and publications to show some rudimentary common sense, but that’s becoming less likely. For example, just recently, the largely family friend show Once Upon a Time has been adding sexual innuendo from the character of Captain Hook. It strikes a jarring note in a show that, although dark, often has a good moral message and manages to avoid mature content. It’s minor and fleeting, but still, it doesn’t belong there.

A more serious example is Songza: a music streaming app somewhat like Pandora, but with set playlists for certain times and moods: waking up, going to sleep, making dinner, dancing, and so on. I was setting up Songza to stream some relaxing music for my son at bedtime when I came across this:

“Getting High” and “Getting Lucky”? To hell with you, Songza. I’m sure they thought they were being cool and hip and edgy. What they were actually being was childish, irresponsible jerks.

Next up we have this story from England about a children’s magazine using images from hyper-violent M-rated games to create puzzles for kids under age 12. Here’s an example:

The pictures, from Cool Kidz Magazine, show the main character of Hitman brandishing guns and challenges the kiddies to spot the difference. Charming, no?

Cool Kidz is published by LCD Publishing and distributed by Hearst and Conde Naste, and had images from not one, but five different M-rated (an “18” in the UK) games: Hitman: Absolution, Call of Duty Black Ops II, Assassins Creed III, Far Cry 3 and Dishonored.

Screenshots appeared as double-page spreads, for use as posters, and were reproduced in spot-the-difference and other puzzles. Earlier issues also had images from 18- and 16-rated games.

LCD Publishing, which is based in Exeter, southwest England, said it took its responsibilities to young readers seriously. “We censor the images we use to ensure that there is no blood or apparent body damage,” owner Allen Trump said in an emailed statement.

He said the images used were suitable for children 12 or older, although he added the magazine was targeted at children up to 12 years.

The pictures printed depicted life-like computer generated images of men carrying weapons including assault rifles, Bowie knives, an axe, an anti-tank weapon and pistols.

Games firms contacted by Reuters said they were unaware Cool Kidz, which has been published for seven years, had been using their images.

Representatives for Japan’s Square Enix, publisher of the Hitman series, privately-owned Bethesda Softworks, publisher of Dishonored, and Ubisoft Entertainment, publisher of Assassins Creed III and Farcry 3, said they opposed the use but declined to say whether they would take any legal action against LCD.

Call of Duty publisher Activision declined to comment.

Read more. 

Isn’t it nice that they eliminated the blood and “body damage” from the images? Yet they still manage to ingrain these iconic images in the minds of the very young, where they take root and create a demand for games kids should not be playing. This continues to be a problem with the game industry in general, which has gotten slightly better about promoting M-rated games to kids, but still has a ways to go.

It used to be that adults had some common sense about what they put out there where children might encounter it. Adults used to watch out for kids. I remember being routinely disciplined by adults other than my parents, and even strangers, when I stepped out of line in public. Can you imagine if an adult today acted like an adult when he saw a kid doing something really wrong in public, and called him out on it? Nine times out of ten, the parents would raise hell at the adult who dared criticize little junior rather than junior for being bad.

Want proof? I heard a story recently about an anti-drinking/drug campaign that was making the rounds of a local high school system. Parents and kids were watching a Powerpoint presentation that started flashing Facebook pictures underage kids partying with alcohol in local homes, including photos of kids in that audience. The parents were indeed outraged, but not at junior for betraying their trust. They were angry at the presenters for embarrassing them in public.

Were the presenters out of line? Perhaps. Certainly there may have been some privacy violations going on, and I’m not sure if faces were blurred out or not. I only heard the story second hand, and with minors, you need to be careful about that kind of thing.

But they also delivered a powerful dose of public shaming, which is something society is sorely missing. We’ve been trained on generations of films and TV shows and novels to belief that all social pressure is bad, but in a civilization social pressure can have a healthy role in repressing our tendency to sin, or to just act stupid. The sexual revolution, the permanent counterculture, and now reality TV have all turned the lack of any shame into a windfall for the media, with the result that too many people really do “have no shame.” It seems like the entire culture is being run by people who never advanced past the stage of toddlers fascinated with their own genitals and excrement.

That’s actually the opposite of progress. It’s immaturity. The world–business, commerce, labor, politics–is an adult space that has to carve out safe places for kids. And that’s the job of an adult. Every adult.

Another Thanks To My Readers

Amazon’s Affiliate program is an easy way for blog readers to support bloggers: when you access Amazon from one of my links, and buy something, I get 4-6% commission from Amazon.

Over Christmas, this worked out pretty well, and I got my store credit last week. Here is some of what I’m enjoying thanks to you fine folks:

Faith of the Early Fathers, Volumes 1, 2, and 3

This one hurt, because I already have all the Fathers thanks to Verbum. The William Jurgens set, however, is a standard text, and I’m working directly from it for my class on Patristics. I just can’t do the assignments without it. It’s not a bad idea to have a shorter set of the Fathers for quick access to more important passages. Jurgens adds context and annotations, as well as better text than that found in the older public domain editions.


Morality: The Catholic View

Servais Pinckaers is an important figure among Catholic moral theologians, with his Sources of Christian Ethics standing as the central text of Catholic moral theology post-Vatican II. His Morality: The Catholic view is a less daunting book meant for a wider audience, tracing the history of moral theology from its classical and Patristic roots to modern times. I’ll be using it for my Moral Theology class this term.


Uncle Scrooge: Only a Poor Old Man

Donald Duck: A Christmas for Shacktown

My kids and I love Disney comics, especially the Donald Duck and Uncle Scrooge work done by Carl Barks and Don Rosa. These two books are part of a complete collection of all the works by the legendary Barks, who took an irascible duck and his penny-pinching uncle and wove and entire mythology around them. These aren’t just “funny animal” comics. Barks often did giant adventure stories, and proved to be an influence on a couple of kids named Lucas and Spielberg.  This is my light reading for those times when the brain just needs to coast. The books offer a generous selection of stories, handsomely recolored, and each includes supplemental material and background text. It’s grand stuff, and I recommend it for kids of all ages.


Popeye the Sailor: 1941-1943, Vol. 3

Finally, I completed my collection of Fleischer Studios Popeye cartoons. If you think Popeye shorts are just about two guys beating the tar out of each other for 7 minutes … well, you’re right. But the series is also packed full of visual style and imaginative gags, and displays some of the best artistry of the Golden Age of animation. This set includes the final Fleischer shorts and the early, lesser work from Famous Studios.

And that’s it for now. Some more credit should be flowing into the virtual coffers next month, and maybe I’ll finally finish off my collection of EC Segar Popeye reprints.

Thanks again for your support.


Islamists Destroy Manuscripts of Timbuktu UPDATED

Islamist militants fleeing from Timbuktu in the war-torn nation of Mali have destroyed a vast cache of documents dating back to the 12th century. The documents were torched by extremists along with a mosque, the Ahmed Baba Institute, and other Muslim structures. (Islam in Mali is moderate, and mostly Sunni or Sufi. The country is 90% Muslim, 5% Christian, and 5% animist.)

Although the precious manuscripts were in the process of being digitized, thousands are now lost forever.

Voice of America is covering the story:

“They destroyed everything, they destroyed the mosque, they destroyed the things is more than 300, 400 years old,’ they said, because their religion doesn’t accept that. For me, it doesn’t make any sense. And we tried to fight. Who to fight? We are on our own. We don’t have guns to fight them, we don’t have nothing,” a librarian said.

The Malian Manuscript Foundation, a group that digitizes Malian manuscripts, says 3,000 documents, “Potentially, the wisdom of the ages”, may have been lost in the torching of the Ahmed Baba Institute.

Others are calling the destruction unprecedented.

“These manuscripts were just starting to be studied. Not all of them have been catalogued. Hardly any have been read. It represents a set of knowledge that is now just never going to be known,” said Douglas Post Park, the co-director of the Saharan Archaeological Research Association.

The texts of Timbuktu date as far back as the 12th century, when gold and other goods flowed through the city, allowing it to become a center of learning that some compare to the ancient library of Alexandria, Egypt.

Read more. VOA has a second story as well. Not all the facts line up between the two stories, but that’s to be expected given the situation.

Along with the terrible human toll taken by the war, the cultural cost is going to be great given the historical significance of the region.

UPDATE 1/30/13: This story continues to develop, and I may have one answer to the discrepancy I’ve seen among the various number of documents lost or destroyed. It now appears that some manuscripts were indeed burned (perhaps that’s where the “3000” number comes in?), but some were moved before the fall of the city to the militants, and some were carried away by the militants themselves. There appears to be no doubt that many documents were destroyed, but there’s a possibility that some may be recovered. The New Yorker and The Globe and Mail each have more.


Conviction Upheld in Dead Sea Scrolls Identity Theft

In yesterday’s news about the final stop for the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit, I mentioned some of the controversy surrounding scroll scholarship. One of the more bizarre sideshows in the world of the DSS is The Sorry Saga of the Golbs.

Raphael Golb is the son of scroll scholar Norman Golb, a man who has managed to master a great deal of knowledge about the DSS, and then come to all the wrong conclusions.  In an effort to discredit his father’s critics, Golb fils impersonated several academics, sending out emails in order to damage their reputations.

This morning, courtesy of Robert Cargill’s XKV8R  blog, I see that 29 of Raphael Golb’s 30 convictions have been upheld. Here’s the court’s summary:

Defendant is the son of an expert on the Dead Sea Scrolls. Defendant set up email accounts in which he pretended to be other scholars who disagreed with defendant’s father’s opinion on the origin of the Scrolls. Among other things, defendant sent emails in which one of his father’s rivals purportedly admitted to acts of plagiarism.

Defendant’s principal defense was that these emails were only intended to be satiric hoaxes or pranks. However, as it has been observed in the context of trademark law, “[a] parody must convey two simultaneous – and contradictory – messages: that it is the original, but also that it is not the original and is instead a parody” (Cliffs Notes, Inc. v Bantam Doubleday Dell Pub. Group, Inc., 886 F2d 490, 494 [2d Cir 1989]). Here, the evidence clearly established that defendant never intended any kind of parody. Instead, he only intended to convey the first message to the readers of the emails, that is, that the purported authors were the actual authors. It was equally clear that defendant intended that the recipients’ reliance on this deception would cause harm to the purported authors and benefits to defendant or his father.

Dr. Cargill has done the digging, so I’ll let him fill in the details, but you really should go to his site if only to gaze at the impressive table of crimes committed by a man trying to destroy respected scholars like Lawrence Schiffman. Even the revered Frank Moore Cross got dragged into this mess.

The theory of Golb pere–that Qumran was a fort without connection to the scroll caves, and that the caves were a repository for scrolls of many sects out of Jerusalem–is an interesting but long-discredited footnote in the story of Qumran and the scrolls. The unpleasant part is the vehemence with which both Golbs have attempted to advance that theory.

One of their boosters (and I’m not completely sure it wasn’t one of Raphael Golb’s sock puppets) has haunted my comboxes and posted criticism of some of my writing on a HuffPo community blog. I’ve only ever written about the scrolls here or in the National Catholic Register, which means I’m a complete nobody in the world of Dead Sea Scrolls scholarship and opinion. Anyone taking efforts to swat me down is more than a little obsessed.

In any case, Golb will appeal, and his case will continue to wind its way through the legal system before his convictions are finally upheld. I wish I could say I feel sorry for either father or son, but they’ve been a uniquely nasty pair in their attempts to discredit anyone who disagrees with them.

Weird Medieval Marginalia

I guess it’s nice when the internet discovers the much-better-than-the Renaissance-or-Enlightenment awesomeness of the Middle Ages, but like schoolboys searching for the dirty words in the dictionary, they often only seems to find the bizarre or outrageously sexual stuff. Case in point: Buzzfeed’s 20 Bizarre Examples of Medieval Marginalia. Please, please, PLEASE do not click that link if you are easily offended. You have been warned, so I don’t want to hear about, okay?

Here is the least offensive thing I could use:

Honestly, though, for those not familiar with weirdness in Medieval illustration, it’s a decent primer of just how weird some can get, and proof that all those celibates hunched over candles illustrating religious texts got seriously punchy now and then.

If you want a large collection of medieval manuscript art, I recommend Masterpieces of Illumination. It doesn’t have as many sodomite monkeys or butt-trumpets as Buzzfeed, but it is a good selection of fascinating art at a reasonable price.

Dead Sea Scrolls Heading to Boston Next

I wrote about the Dead Sea Scrolls: Life and Faith in Ancient Times exhibit when it visited Philadelphia last year. The scrolls still fascinate because they’re a kind of missing link between the closing of the Old Testament and the opening of the New, giving us a picture of some elements of Judaism as it was at the dawn of Christianity. They all still generate incredible amounts of controversy.

The exhibit left Philadelphia and is now at the Cincinnati Museum Center, where it will stay until April 15. It will make its final US stop in the Museum of Science in Boston, beginning May 19.

Because the final stop is at the Museum of Science, the exhibit is being tailored a bit to focus on science in the scrolls. Here’s what the Brandeis Hoot has to say:

 “The museum had some role in choosing which Dead Sea Scrolls would actually be available for the public to see. I and some others advised the museum concerning that,” Brettler said.

The exhibit will feature 20 scrolls and fragments of scrolls total, as well as many artifacts from ancient Israel. “One of the areas we pushed, especially since they’re a museum of science, and I know which scrolls have more scientific material in them, I pushed them in that direction, so the exhibit would fit with museum’s goal,” he said.

“There are astronomical texts, or texts that deal with astronomy among the scrolls,” one of which will be featured in the exhibit. “So that’s science in antiquity,” said Brettler. The exhibit will also highlight the science of the scrolls itself—the technology of archaeological preservation has made huge advances since the scrolls were initially discovered in 1947.
“Especially because the exhibit is at the Museum of Science, one of the things that interests us a lot concerns science in the scrolls and science being used to preserve or decipher the scrolls,” Benjamin Federlin ’14, undergraduate representative to the committee said.

“Some of the mapping technology that has been developed by NASA in the jet-propulsion laboratory is being used for reading the scrolls, because sometimes you literally need to connect dots, you need to figure out what is a shadow, what is part of the writing, what is an ancient stain,” Brettler explained. “Some techniques that have been developed for mapping the earth from outer space end up being very useful in terms of the Dead Sea Scrolls.”

Science has made archaeology much better able to understand its findings, says Brettler. “Thirty years ago, people could have said, ‘Oh, this is a bowl that may have contained such-and-such.’ Now there are various techniques that can be used that we can really understand what these ancient containers contained. Scientific analysis of pottery makes archaeologists able to understand more about diets and changes in diet.”

“[The Scrolls] a great example of the leaps that have been made, and we have some faculty who could actually talk about that,” Federlin said.

Read more.

When is a Catholic School NOT a Catholic School?

Answer: when it’s a “School in the Catholic tradition.” And when your bishop already told you he doesn’t want another school in his diocese.

Trinity Hall is supposedly opening its doors in September, but it doesn’t seem to have a campus yet, just a location somewhere in Monmouth County, New Jersey. The problem is, Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., Diocese of Trenton, already said he wasn’t interested in another private Catholic school in his diocese.

Today we received this release from the bishop:

I was approached early in my tenure as Diocesan Bishop to give permission to build an “all-girls Catholic High School” in Monmouth County. This was not the first time such a request was made of the Diocese although it was the first time I was asked.

After multiple conversations with those parties interested and very broad consultation among the principals, pastors and others concerned with Catholic education in the Diocese, I invited the interested parties to conduct a feasibility study which I then shared and discussed with those I had previously consulted. That the school be “Catholic” was not high on the list of priorities of those who responded in the survey and did not seem to be a compelling factor in its establishment. That such a school would harm enrollment in currently existing Catholic schools was a concern of mine.

The Canon Law of the Catholic Church requires the consent of the “competent ecclesiastical authority (that is, the Diocesan Bishop)” for a school to bear the title “Catholic school.” I did not give such consent or permission and so informed those interested in establishing the school. I was told by numerous individuals within the Diocese that those seeking to establish this new school were going to do so regardless of my consent or permission. And so they have.

The school’s founders are using the expression “in the Catholic tradition” to describe Trinity Hall. That is not the same thing as being a “Catholic school” and I simply want to make clear that this new institution is not affiliated with the Diocese of Trenton or our Office of Catholic Education.

I have been directly involved in works of Catholic education all my life as a priest. That individuals have the freedom to establish a school of whatever kind is not something that I question. People have that right and I bear them no ill will. That they call it “Catholic,” however, is subject to my consent according to Church Law and I have not given it. Catholics in the Diocese have the right to know that and I have the responsibility to tell them.

Bishop O’Connell is my bishop, and I like him a lot. He’s orthodox, smart, and no-nonsense. He’s also the former president of Catholic University, so his experience with education is extensive. Given what I know of Catholic education in this region (I’ve written about the subject for the National Catholic Register), I can understand why he didn’t want a high-end private school for girls with $16K+ a year in tuition. Its lack of oversight and approval from the bishop should be a concern for Catholic families considering it.

The World’s First Radiologic Technologist Was …

Sr. Beatrice Merrigan

… Sister M. Beatrice Merrigan, of the Sisters of St. Anthony. She took and passed the first exam to earn the first certificate from the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT).

A radiologic tech deals with the patients and actually take the images, which at the time would have been early X-rays. Sr. Merrigan and her order were running St. Anthony’s Hospital in Oklahoma City when she sat for the test on November 17, 1922. The test consisted of 10 films and 20 essay questions, and she passed with room to spare. You can see her written test answers here.

ARRT Update has more details on Sr. Merrigan’s test:

Several questions asked about the stereoscopic method for making x-ray plates. Others zeroed in on positioning of various body parts and radiation concerns. She earned the maximum five points on nearly half of the questions and got an uncharacteristic zero points on one: “What is the difference between primary, secondary and stray or indifferent radiation?” Her total score was 72, exceeding the standard of 60 by a comfortable margin.

The required films included hand, knee, shoulder, mastoid, frontal sinus, chest, pelvis, kidney, stomach – even a full set of dental films. She provided lots of actual patient information in each case: initials, age, height, weight, which wouldn’t fly under today’s HIPAA regulations. And she detailed technique: transformer, tube and screens used; developer time and temperature; distance, milliamperes and time of exposure. Grading was based on contrast, detail cleanliness and position. Just as today, her employer verified that she actually performed the procedures. Her films earned 66 points, 6 points over the standard.

Sr. Merrigan died at age 77 in 1971. Ninety years after she became RT #1, Oklahoma is one of the few states that doesn’t requiring licensure for RTs.

H/T: My wife and ARRT.

Want Some Free Audiobook Classics?

I’m not talking about Librivox, although some of those can be quite good. I’m talking about a great, almost-hidden deal from Amazon to promote their Wispersync for Voice titles for the Kindle.

When you buy a Whispersync version of a Kindle book together with the Audible audiobook (usually priced at a steep discount, as with The Hobbit Kindle/Audible combo) of the same title, the audio version syncs with the Kindle version. That way, you can leave off reading at one point, switch to the audiobook version for a little while, and then return to pick up reading where the audio leaves off.

To promote the feature, Amazon is offering 10 free, professional audiobooks, with narrators including Kenneth Branagh, Tim Curry, Anne Hathaway, and others.

All you have to do is “buy” the free Kindle version of a public domain classic and send it to your Kindle. On the next screen, just select the Audible version (which should cost $0.00) and check out. It’s at least $200 worth of free audiobooks.

Give it a shot. Here’s what they have for free:

  • Wizard of Oz (narrated by Anne Hathaway)
  • A Tale of Two Cities (narrated by Simon Vance)
  • The Three Musketeers (narrated by John Lee)
  • Huckleberry Finn (narrated by Elijah Wood)
  • Dracula (narrated by Tim Curry, Alan Cumming, Simon Vance, and others)
  • Heart of Darkness (narrated by Kenneth Branagh)
  • Jane Eyre (narrated by Susan Ericksen)
  • Gulliver’s Travels ( narrated by David Hyde Pierce)
  • Moll Flanders (narrated by Davina Porter)
  • Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (narrated by John Lee)

If anyone ever tries the deal and finds it expired, please post a comment. As of 1/23/13, it works.

Habemus Appam: The Pope’s Own App

I may have to take back all the bad things I’ve been saying about Vatican communications. (Okay, some of them.) First, the Pope starts Tweeting, and now they roll out an app.

And … it’s actually a pretty good one! Given how crummy the Vatican’s own website is, this is nothing short of amazing.

The Pope App (free, iOS, and Android forthcoming) could have been all kinds of wrong, from the function, to the name, to the icon. (Icons matter on mobile.)  Instead, The Pope App hits most of the bases in style. The name is light, direct, and almost saucy. Just imagine the ponderous Latin names that were probably kicked around. The icon has a bold yellow silhouette of Papa Bene. The only strike I can really level against the rollout is that it’s iPhone-native only, with no native iPad support, and no simultaneous Android.

Why am I starting with these incidentals rather than the content? Because content is (or should be) obvious, but the incidentals show an awareness of how to work with the mobile–and particularly the iPhone–ecosystem. Style matters, and although I adore our tendency to the baroque in visual matters, in the this particular marketplace of ideas, you need a certain kind of approach. If you want to see how to do it wrong, look at the Vatican Radio app. The Pope App does it right.

The app opens onto a home screen featuring rotating images of the Pope with a headline and a few lines of his most recent address. This can be opened to the full address in-app, formatted for mobile reading.

A menu system has live events (empty now); a calendar of papal events; a list of recent  speeches  homilies, and audiences, with full-text; news stories fed by Vatican Radio; a gallery of images; video of recent addresses (dubbed or narrated in English); links to other Vatican resources (including his Twitter and account and various web pages); and the only really unexpected part of the package: webcams! Feeds from St. Peter’s Square, the dome of St. Peter’s, a full shot of the basilica (currently on the fritz), the Governorate, and the garden at Castel Gandolfo.

This is a nice piece of work. It’s simple, light, but full of useful stuff. It needs push notifications to alert people to new content or live events, and some more text and video, including historical material like his inaugural homily and important addresses and encyclicals. There’s room for growth, but there always is with apps. The important thing is that they seem to have the fundamentals right.