Monday, May 30, 2005

Omitting the past's darker chapters

From Alex Rodriguez in the Chicago Tribune

MOSCOW -- Russians remember the Siege of Leningrad--a brutal, 872-day blockade of Russia's second-largest city by Nazi troops that killed 1.7 million people--as a dark, crucial moment in their history. Yet one of the most popular history textbooks in Russian classrooms casually distills the event into a mere four words."German troops blockaded Leningrad."Glaring omissions abound in Nikita Zagladin's textbook, "History of Russia and the World in the 20th Century." The Holocaust is never mentioned. The book barely acknowledges the Gulag labor camps.And it flits past Russia's 10-year conflict with separatists in Chechnya, reducing a pivotal episode in modern Russian history to seven paragraphs.
In recent years, authorities have increasingly sought to whip up patriotic fervor among Russians, often at the expense of illuminating Russian history's darker chapters.

Josef Stalin oversaw a murderous regime that killed millions of Russians. But with the country's celebration of the 60th anniversary of the defeat of Nazi Germany, the Georgian-born ruler has enjoyed a resurgence in popularity. The Siberian city of Mirny erected a statue of Stalin earlier this month, calling him "a great son of Russia who gave the people everything he had." The city of Orel recently asked the federal government for permission to change street names to honor Stalin.It is in Russian classrooms, however, where authorities particularly want a renewed sense of national pride to take root.When President Vladimir Putin met with historians at the Russian State Library in late 2003, he stressed that history textbooks should "cultivate in young people a feeling of pride for one's history and one's country."
At the time, one of the most widely used history texts was Igor Dolutsky's "National History: 20th Century." For years, the book had been favored by teachers for its upfront discussion of sensitive topics, including Stalin's purges, Chechnya and anti-Semitism in Russia.Dolutsky's textbook also did not shy away from talking about Putin, challenging students to discuss whether the former KGB colonel should be considered an authoritarian leader.The Kremlin leader's comments were heeded by Education Ministry officials, who suddenly pulled Dolutsky's book from classrooms after having given it their endorsement for seven straight years.
Later, Dolutsky's publisher told him which historical references in the book irked authorities: Stalin's non-aggression pact with Hitler in 1939; Soviet occupation of the Baltic states; the execution of thousands of Polish officers by Russian intelligence agents at Katyn in 1940; Stalin's deportation of legions of Chechens to Kazakhstan in 1944."Basically, they were dissatisfied with chapters devoted to Stalin's regime and Putin's leadership," said Dolutsky, 51. "Sections that dealt with [Nikita] Khrushchev and [Mikhail] Gorbachev, they ignored."
Dolutsky, who teaches at a private school in Moscow, says his students have little appetite for lectures on human-rights abuses or Stalin's repressions. Recently, when he tried to rouse students into a discussion about the human toll that World War II took on the Soviet Union--26 million Soviet citizens died in the war--they appeared bored. "Their reaction was, `Let it be 100 million--we don't care about that,'" Dolutsky said. When he explained the war's impact in terms of the number of tanks and fighter planes destroyed, his students sat up in their seats."That's what really impressed them," Dolutsky said. "They didn't care about human life, but they cared about equipment."

Author Zagladin's view of history in the classroom differs radically from Dolutsky's. He agrees with Putin--a history textbook should make a pupil feel proud about Russia. It shouldn't depress, and it shouldn't shame."If a young person finishes school and feels everything that happened in this country was bad, he'll get ready to emigrate," Zagladin said during a recent phone interview. "A textbook should provide a patriotic education."It's necessary to show Russian youths," Zagladin continued, "that industrial development during the Stalin era was successful, and that the repressions and terror during that era did not touch all of the population."
He said he barely mentioned the Siege of Leningrad because he believed he didn't have enough space. In hindsight, he said, "that's my mistake."He added he should have included material about the Holocaust: "I decided to delete it because, if I mentioned it, I would have had to mention other repressions, also in detail," Zagladin said. "And I didn't have enough space in this book."Despite such omissions, Zagladin's book has fans. Irina Safanova, a teacher at School 818 in Moscow, called the textbook "a very calm book, which tries to avoid shocking or extreme remarks. It's a strong point of the book.
"According to polls, the majority of the population still considers Stalin to have played a positive role in Russian history," said Yuri Samodurov, director of the Andrei Sakharov Museum. "And the problem here is, our schools don't do anything to change this attitude."

Is it not a bit late to worry about people being shocked by Stalin?

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Off to Greece

I'm leaving the blog in Chris's capable hands for a few days while I look at some Byzantine monasteries in Thessaloniki. I'll be back late next week.

Friday, May 27, 2005

The perils of spam-blockers

Language Hat has run into unexpected trouble in the comments for his post on Vietnamese names:

(Goddammit, I had to rewrite that comment to avoid the word "spec1alist" because my spam-blocker noticed it contained the banned word "c1alis." [Replace 1 by i, obviously.] Hoist by my own petard!)

Reminds me of a message board I used to read that wouldn't let you post about Dickens.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

No over-against

From Knowing Jesus by James Alison (quoted by The Girardian Lectionary):

We ended with the presence of the universal victim as the foundation for a new unity of humanity. I think therefore that one of the first questions we can ask ourselves about whether or not we know Jesus is: to what extent are we caught up in a sectarian frame of mind? To what extent are our responses tribal? ...

So, for instance, Catholics may easily talk of Protestants, or Muslims, as though the Catholic Church were superior to these other groups. Thus, belonging to the Catholic Church makes of one a superior sort of person: after all one knows the truths of the faith, and belongs to the true Church. This attitude is not uncommon, and it gives a sort of feeling of combative brotherhood with other fellow Catholics, a strengthened sense of belonging as one faces up to a world run by a hideous army of Protestants, pagans, Masons and what-have-you. In some countries the word 'Jew' would traditionally be part of this list of others. Well, I hope that gives it away. The unity that is created in this way -- even the laughing emotional bonding that seems to have no practical consequences, is created at the expense of a victim or victims, at the expense of an exclusion. That is to say, it is a unity that is derived over-against some other. And that is to betray the very deepest truth of the Catholic faith, the universal faith, which by its very nature, has no over-against. The unity which is given by and in the risen victim is purely given. It is indicative of no superiority at all over anyone else. Anyone who genuinely knows the crucified and risen victim can never again belong wholeheartedly to any other social, or cultural, or religious group. He or she will always belong critically to all other groups, because all other groups derive their unity over-against someone or some other group.

The only unity to which he or she cannot escape belonging is the new unity of humanity that the Holy Spirit creates out of the risen victim, the unity which subverts all other unities. And this new unity, given us in the Catholic Church is not yet a realized unity, as must be apparent. The Church does not teach that it is the kingdom of heaven, which is the realization of the unity in the new Israel, but that it is the universal sacrament of that kingdom. That is to say that it is the efficacious sign of a reality that has been realized only in embryo. As such, it is radically subversive of all other forms of belonging, all other ways of constructing unity. But it is so as a gift from God.

So, knowing Jesus implies, of necessity, a gradual setting free from any tribal sense of belonging, and the difficult passage into a sense of belonging that is purely given. Its only security is the gratuity of the giver, and that means a belonging in a group that has no 'abiding city,' that unlike the fox, has no hole, and unlike the bird, has no nest. You can see, I think, why it is particularly sad when Catholics turn belonging to the Church into a sectarian belonging, into a definable cultural group with a clearly marked inside and outside, and firm ideas as to who belongs outside. Of such people it can be said that they do not go in to the kingdom of heaven, and throw away the key so that others may not enter. By their very sectarian insistence on the unique truth of Catholicism, these people cut themselves off from access to the truth which they think is theirs, but which is only true when it is received as given.

Monday, May 23, 2005

1 Thessalonians 4:14-5:2

For if we believe that Jesus died and was raised, just so will God bring with him those who have fallen asleep through Jesus. For we say this to you in the word of the Lord, that we the living who remain at the coming of the Lord will not come before those who have fallen asleep; for the Lord himself, at the summons and at the voice of the archangel and at the trumpet of God, will come down from heaven, and the dead in Christ will be raised first; then we the living who remain will be snatched up together with them in clouds, to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words.

But concerning the dates and the times, brothers, you have no need for us to write to you, for you know correctly that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.

(My translation)

Sunday, May 22, 2005

1 Thessalonians 4:7-13

For God did not call us to uncleanness but to holiness. Therefore, he who rejects this is not rejecting man but God, the very one who gives his Holy Spirit to you.

And concerning brotherly love you have no need to be written to, for you are instructed by God himself in love for one another, and indeed you do this to all the brothers in the whole of Macedonia. But we encourage you, brothers, to increase still more and to seek the honour of living quietly and doing your own things and working with your [own] hands, just as we preached to you, so that you may walk gracefully before the outside world and have no need of anyone.

But we do not want you to be ignorant, brothers, concerning those who have fallen asleep, so that you will not mourn like the rest who have no hope.

(My translation)

Friday, May 20, 2005

New monkey!

Scientists have found a new species of monkey, related to the baboon, in Tanzania. The BBC has the story, complete with great pictures.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

More on Brownworth and blogs

Jerz's Literacy Weblog has another response to Victoria Brownworth's piece about blogs. The author makes some of the same points that I made, as well as some more learned observations. I especially like the closing paragraphs:

The essay is just as artificially constructed as the weblog. Yes, the essay has been around for hundreds of years, but its existence depends upon the existence of an intellectual aristocracy of educated men and women with the necessary leisure time to write back and forth to each other about subjects that they deem important, using rhetorical techniques and organizational patterns that they themselves deem effective.

The great Greek orators voiced similar complaints about a vulgar form of communication that they said killed spontaneity, and would permit anyone with a smattering of technical skill to masquerade as a great communicator.

The bastard art the Greek orators derided was called "writing".

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Bookworm on Radio Polonia

Today I discovered the Bookworm programme on Radio Polonia's English-language service. The programme features readings and dramatisations from Polish literature both old and new (in translation, of course). I particularly recommend the excerpt from Stanislaw Lem's satire The Use of a Dragon, which is read in a style that sounds just like a current-affairs programme on Radio 4.

I was about to say how much I liked the show's logo; then I hit Refresh and found that in the last ten minutes, the webmasters had changed it! Fortunately, I managed to get the old graphic from Google's cache and can share it with you:

In general, it's quite an attractive site. I hope they don't replace these two graphics anytime soon.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

This is not an essay

The Baltimore Sun recently ran a piece about blogs by Victoria A. Brownworth that was so monumentally stupid I couldn't resist the temptation to take it apart.

The trouble begins in the first sentence:

The most popular and accessible literary form, the essay, is a succinct expression of a writer's opinion, written with concision and verve in relatively few words.

The most popular literary form? In whose universe? Amazon's current bestseller list shows but one book of essays (Freakonomics by Stephen Levitt and Stephen Dubner) in the top 100. Walk into a high street bookshop, and you will find huge amounts of shelf space given to the novel and its subgenres, with smaller but significant amounts devoted to biography and memoirs, history, science and so forth. If you're lucky, you might even find a corner dedicated to poetry. But I've never seen a bookshop with an Essays section, and have rarely bought a book of essays that I didn't have to order specially.

As for 'accessible,' I don't know what Brownworth means. If she means 'easy to understand,' then surely that depends upon the individual writer and the individual reader. Why should one genre be inherently more accessible than another?

'A succinct expression written in concision with relatively few words' -- isn't that one of those jokey style tips, like 'stamp out and abolish redundancy?'

Unfortunately, for the Internet generation, the blog is fast replacing the essay.

Brownworth's entire piece rests upon these two premises: first, that the essay is in decline, and secondly, that it's the bloggers' fault.

One might reasonably expect Brownworth to offer some evidence to support these claims. For example, she could explain why she thinks the essay is in decline. Have people stopped writing essays? Reading them? Publishing them? What proof does she have that people do any of these things less than they used to? Assuming that the decline really exists, can she prove that it has coincided with the rise of blogging? Can she show conclusively that it was caused by blogging and not by some other factor(s)?

One might reasonably expect her to answer these questions. But one would be disappointed.

But blogs are pretenders to the throne of true essay writing. They mimic the essay much as Eliza Doolittle mimicked the Queen's English before Professor Higgins got his hands on her.

This is typical of the ugly snobbery that permeates the article.

Eliza Doolittle was not 'mimicking' anything, madam; she was speaking a perfectly legitimate English dialect, which happened not to be the one spoken by those in power. It wasn't the Queen's English, but it wasn't trying to be. Likewise, if a blogger writes something that is not an essay, it does not necessarily mean that he tried to write an essay and failed.

Like Eliza, blogs are captivating in their earnest, rapid-fire approach. But they are rarely, even at their best, true essays.

For that matter, they are rarely villanelles, Icelandic sagas or chocolate-chip-cookie recipes. Brownworth's criticism is valid only if she can show that most bloggers intend to write essays.

Note also the qualifier 'true.' Even if some lucky blogger writes something that looks like an essay, it isn't a true essay. How do we know? Because Brownworth has her own definition of a 'true essay,' and it doesn't include blogs. Remember, folks:
No true Scotsman puts sugar on his porridge!

Jonathan Swift's "A Modest Proposal" (1729) made me fall in love with all an essay could do when I first read it in high school.

Well, that's super. But 'A Modest Proposal' isn't representative of all essays. This is a common trick: take an exceptionally good example from group A and an exceptionally bad example from group B, and proceed to 'prove' that A is better than B.

But actually, Brownworth doesn't even do that. She holds up a few examples of good essayists whom she believes the bloggers cannot equal; but incredibly, in the entire length of an article condemning blogs, she does not provide one single actual example from one single actual blog.

"Proposal" works as well today as it did three centuries ago, its ideas still relevant.

No, it doesn't. Its impact originally depended on shock. It's a victim of its own fame: most people today know what it says before they read it.

Do you remember last week's blog? Yesterday's?

Depends on the blog and the day. As it happens, I can't recall all the details of 'A Modest Proposal' at the moment; but I can remember Language Hat's fascinating post from a few weeks ago about the origin of the word 'divan.'

Are classic essays like Swift's still being written, or has the elegant thoughtfulness that is the essay's legacy been winnowed away by its rapacious bastard offspring, the blog?

She presents these as the only two possibilities, when in fact there are others: a classic case of bifurcation.

And will the Internet generation, suffused by the blogosphere, lose the ability to write essays altogether? (The plethora of essays for sale online to students portends they may.)

Those term-paper companies have been around since long before the days of the Internet; in his book Stolen Words, Thomas Mallon describes several that were thriving in the early 1980s.

Blogging has replaced the real essay for most people under 30, just as the Internet has replaced the daily newspaper. Polls show more than 60 percent of online readers trust independent news sources like blogs over mainstream news sources. But while blogs provide immediacy, they also breed inaccuracy - from spelling and grammatical errors to errors of fact. An essay, despite the immediacy and passion with which it might have been written, has still been perused by an editor, a copy editor and a fact-checker before it saw print. (Even Swift had an editor.) A blog has been reviewed by no one, edited by no one - not even, in many cases, been proofread by the author.

I could pick apart her reasoning here, but the important point is that the whole paragraph is a red herring. Brownworth is meant to be discussing whether blogging has killed the essay, not whether blogging makes reliable journalism. She follows the herring's scent for the next few paragraphs.

Any dot-commer can blog - a serious journalist with years of experience like, say, myself, or the teenager down the block spewing political rants during breaks from Grand Theft Auto. The problem in the blogosphere is that the kid and I will be received with equal credibility.

No comment.

Immersed in Blogland, one cannot escape the keen sense that the line between fact and fiction - blurred so delicately and purposefully by the founders of the New Journalism, Truman Capote, Tom Wolfe and Hunter S. Thompson - has been muddied irreparably and with no concern that it ever be redrawn.

First of all, Hunter Thompson never did anything delicately. Secondly, it would have been helpful if Brownworth had included an example of this 'muddying' so I could figure out what on earth she was talking about. As it stands, this statement seems to be a complete non sequitur.

George Orwell, reporter and essayist, provides a most compelling admonishment for bloggers. His 1946 essay, "Politics and the English Language," asserted that with writing comes responsibility; that sloppy, self-congratulatory arguments damage the language as much as poor usage does; that how we use language - and to what political or social end - is essential to maintaining its integrity. Blogging claims to do this, but with no actual filter, can it?

Orwell's essay (which I think Brownworth has misrepresented, but you can judge for yourself) has nothing to do with Brownworth's topic; she seems to have dragged it in to be literary. What I find remarkable, though, is that a paragraph about good English should be so sloppily written. In the sentence 'Blogging claims to do this,' the pronoun 'this' has no clear antecedent; and how can 'blogging' claim anything, anyway?

There follows some irrelevant rambling about Edward Said, and then:

Many blogs attempt the same thing, particularly on the Middle Eastern crises that Said writes about so powerfully, but the solipsistic approach of these blogs often diminishes and even negates their arguments.

Which blogs? How are their arguments diminished? Once again, Brownworth gives no examples; she expects us to take her word for it (after all, she's 'a serious journalist with years of experience'). Note also the same sweeping generalisation used earlier: because Edward Said is better than some bloggers, all essayists must be better than all bloggers.

Length simply doesn't replace clarity when it comes to an essay; as a longtime editor told me when I was a columnist at the Philadelphia Daily News, "If you can't say it in 850 words, you can't say it."

Not only is this a straw man, it has dropped in from the sky on a little straw parachute. Nobody with any sense has ever claimed that length can replace clarity. Furthermore, this statement has absolutely no relationship to the statements that have gone before. I am beginning to wonder whether Brownworth herself has an editor.

There follows similar irrelevant rambling about Joyce Carol Oates and Jonathan Lethem.

There are those who will argue that the kind of essays written by Orwell, Said and Oates are apples unable to be compared with the oranges proffered by even the most talented bloggers.

If I read this correctly, Brownworth thinks the old phrase 'comparing apples with oranges' means that oranges are inherently inferior to apples, and thus that comparison is unfair. It doesn't; it means that apples and oranges are so fundamentally different that there is no basis for comparison.

But it's not so much comparability that's at issue; rather it is the excising of careful, well-thought-out prose, replaced with writing that is often mere political musing and cultural journaling (and not of the Samuel Pepys variety).

From that snooty parenthesis we can deduce that Brownworth wouldn't know Pepys if he felt her up in St Dunstan's church.

There's more, but it consists of variations on the themes already presented.

All of the blogs that I read regularly are better written and reasoned than Brownworth's article. I'm actually quite shocked that she was paid to write this self-congratulatory, logic-free drivel.

I suspect Brownworth's real fear (as evidenced by that spiteful crack about the hypothetical teenager) is not some supposed loss of the art of essay-writing, but the loss of her own power. With the spread of blogging, journalists -- even 'serious journalists with years of experience' -- no longer exercise the control over public discourse that they once did. Brownworth is right in thinking that she can no longer rely on a newspaper column for 'credibility'; she and 'the kid' will both be heard, and the audience will be able to accept or reject them based purely on what they have to say and how they say it.

If this is the best Brownworth can do, I don't blame her for being worried.

Monday, May 16, 2005

America and Uzbekistan

Every time I start to warm to George Bush, he does something to show that his commitment to worldwide democracy is only skin deep.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

The Ballad of George Galloway

It was in the year of some people's Lord 2005,
The newly elected George Galloway thought it was great to be alive.
His supporters in Bethnal Green had helped the Labour incumbent to lose
By beating up pensioners on the street and throwing eggs at Jews.

For George had run against the war, and he offered no regret
For supporting those who exploded cars and murdered Hassan, Margaret.
'The dead have got what they deserved,' cried this century's great orator,
'Every babe in its imperialist pram was a junior collaborator!'

But the U.S. Senate brought a cloud to the indefatigable one's sky,
For some oil options were given away and the Yanks were wondering why.
'I have never traded in a barrel of oil,' cried George in desperate malice,
Which was perfectly true, for the deal had gone down in the Iraqi leader's palace.

(To be continued ...)

Sea cucumbers

I was reading the other day about the strange defence mechanism of the sea cucumber. When disturbed, it expels all its guts (it can grow new ones) in the hope that the intruder will be too alarmed or disgusted to investigate it further.

Maybe it's a sign that I spend too much time online, but my first thought was that I've seen the same technique many times on Internet forums.

Well, that didn't take long

Galloway named in U.S. Iraq report

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Good news!

'Christ is moving to West Virginia to enjoy a slower lifestyle.'

Well, who can blame him?

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

1 Thessalonians 4:1-6

So it remains, brothers, for us to ask and encourage you in the Lord Jesus, that just as you learned from us how you must walk in a path pleasing to God -- and so you do walk -- that you do so more and more. For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus.

For this is the will of God, your sanctification: for you to keep far away from whoredom; for each of you to know how to acquire his own possession in sanctification and honour, not in a passion of lust like the nations who do not know God; not to overreach and defraud your brother in your affairs; for the Lord is the avenger for all that, as we foretold to you and bore solemn witness.

(My translation)

Prehistoric tree planted in Kew

Another species long thought to have been extinct, the Jurassic-era Wollemi pine, will be planted today in Kew Gardens.

The Wollemi pine -up to 40 metres high and in fact, a conifer, not a pine - was discovered by accident by David Noble, a National Parks officer, in a gorge in the Blue Mountains of Australia in 1994. Later, astonished experts confirmed that he had stumbled across a new genus with a very ancient lineage: a sample of Jurassic bark. They named it after him, and went looking for more specimens.

Fewer than 100 mature trees had survived the breakup of ancient continents, the disappearance of the dinosaurs, and dramatic changes in climate, to cling to survival in one tiny, secret corner of the world.

The tree flourished in Jurassic conditions, long before the appearance of modern mammals. Dinosaurs must have foraged in its leaves, pterosaurs taken flight from its branches. Its home would have been part of a vast supercontinent called Gondwana, that later splintered into Africa, Australia, South America, India and Antarctica. It survived a complete reshuffle of the world's landscape and 17 ice ages.

There are lots of pictures at

Monday, May 09, 2005

1 Thessalonians 3:5-13

Because of this, I myself could no longer bear it and sent to know of your faith, lest the tempter tempt you and all our pains prove empty.

But now Timothy has come to us from you and has told us the good news of your faith and love, and that you have fond memories of us always, longing to see us just as we do you; because of this we are encouraged by you, brothers, in all our injury and oppression, because of your faith; so that we live as long as you stand firm in the Lord. For what thanks could we give to God for you that would repay all the joy with which we rejoice on your behalf before our God, begging exceedingly night and day to see your faces and perfect those things that are incomplete in your faith?

May God our Father himself and our Lord Jesus make straight our way to you; and may the Lord make abundant and increase your love for one another and for all, just like ours for you, to reinforce your blameless hearts in holiness before our God and Father in the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his holy ones. [Amen.]

(My translation)

Sunday, May 08, 2005

1 Thessalonians 2:18-3:4

Therefore we wanted to come to you -- I, Paul, not once but twice -- but Satan prevented us. For what will be our hope and joy and crowning boast before our Lord Jesus in his coming, if not you? For you are our glory and our joy.

Since we could no longer bear it, we preferred to be left in Athens alone, and we sent Timothy, our brother and God's fellow worker in the good news of Christ, to reinforce you and encourage you in your belief, so that you would not be beguiled in these oppressions. For you knew that these things lay in store for us; for when we were with you, we foretold to you that we were about to be oppressed, just as is happening and you know.

(My translation)

Saturday, May 07, 2005


1 Thessalonians 2:14-16 is rightly troubling to any non-bigot. It is vital to remember that all the people Paul describes as being persecuted by 'the Jews' -- Jesus, the prophets, Paul himself and his companions -- were themselves Jews and would not have thought of themselves as anything else. Paul draws an explicit parallel between the Judaean Christians' persecution by their fellow Jews and the Thessalonian Christians' persecution by their fellow Greeks. It seems to me that these verses are meant to address the common situation of Christians being rejected by their own people, and are not a wholesale indictment of the Jews. Nonetheless, this is a dangerous passage when taken out of context.

1 Thessalonians 2:9-17

For you remember, brothers, our pains and toil, working day and night so as not to burden you with anything while we were proclaiming the good news of God to you. You bear witness, and God too, to how pious and righteous and blameless we were toward you who had become believers, just as you know that we were to each of you like a father to his own children, encouraging and comforting you and beseeching you to walk a path worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory.

And because of this, too, we thank God unceasingly: that having received the word of God that you heard from us, you welcomed it not as the word of men, but just as it truly is -- the word of God, the very one that works among you believers. For you have become imitators, brothers, of the churches of God that are in Judaea in Christ Jesus, in that you too suffered from your own tribesmen what they suffered from the Jews, those who killed Jesus and the prophets and persecuted us, and have not rendered service to God but have set themselves against all men, preventing us from speaking to the nations and saving them, in the continual fulfilment of their sins. But the wrath has come upon them at last.

And we, brothers, deprived of you for a short time -- in person, not in heart -- were immeasurably eager and had great longing to see your faces.

(My translation)

Friday, May 06, 2005

It's the thought that counts

PEN member Richard McKane pays tribute to jailed Uzbek journalist Sobirjon Yoqubov:

I continually think on the fate of Sobirjan
a fine journalist but only a young man:
there he is in the Tashkent can,
we have to unite forces and do what we can.

Mr. President of Uzbekistan,
in your fine residence, do you understand
what your regime's doing in imprisoning this young man?
With all due respect, the process seems underhand.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Mother or nurse?

I don't like the New American or the Jerusalem Bible, and 1 Thessalonians 2:7 is an example of why. The phrase I've translated:

As a wet-nurse cherishes her own children

becomes, in the New American Bible:

as a nursing mother cares for her children

And in the Jerusalem Bible:

Like a mother feeding and looking after her own children.

I don't know how they justify translating τροφός as 'mother.' Every Greek dictionary I have -- Attic, Koine or Modern -- defines it as '(wet-)nurse.' The word literally means 'feeder,' and I suppose it could be stretched to mean 'nursing mother,' but I can't find any evidence that it was. Related words like τροφεîα (a nurse's wages) and τρόφιμος (foster child) support the 'nurse' definition, and so do the uses of τροφός in the Septuagint. Furthermore, if Paul were writing about a mother, surely he wouldn't need to emphasise 'her own children' (τά έαυτής τέκνα).

A wet-nurse must give her milk and motherly care to many women's children. With her own, however, she shares not just these things but also her soul. This is clearly how Paul -- whose 'milk' is the gospel -- feels about the community at Thessalonica. The 'wet-nurse' metaphor is original, vivid and precise; the 'mother' metaphor is just trite.

At least the NAB keeps the idea of 'nursing' in there somewhere. By changing the phrase to 'a mother feeding her children' (on what, fish fingers?), the Jerusalem Bible destroys any connection to Paul's original image.


Tuesday, May 03, 2005

1 Thessalonians 2:1-8

For you know yourselves, brothers, that our entrance among you has not been fruitless; but humiliated and insulted, as you know, in Philippi, we spoke out boldly in our God, telling you God's good news in every trial. For our encouragement did not come from deception or impurity or treachery; but just as we were approved by God to be entrusted with the good news, so we told it -- not in order to please men, but God, who proves our hearts. For we never entered into one word of flattery, as you know; nor into the pretences of greed, God is our witness; nor did we seek glory from men, either from you or from others; as Christ's disciples we were able to impose burdens, yet we became little children in your midst. As a wet-nurse cherishes her own children, so we yearned after you and were well pleased to share with you not just the good news of God, but also our own souls, because you became so beloved of us.

(My translation)


It occurs to me that George Orwell's famous rule,

If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out

could be reduced to:

If you can cut a word, cut it.

Monday, May 02, 2005

1 Thessalonians 1:6-10

And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, welcoming the word in great tribulation with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example for all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia. For from you was sounded forth the word of the Lord, not only in Macedonia and Achaia but in every place your belief in God has gone out, so that we have no need to tell of it. For they report about us, what sort of inroad we made among you, and how you turned toward God and away from idols, to serve the living and true God; and how you wait for his Son from heaven, he whom he raised from the dead: Jesus, our rescuer from the coming wrath.

(My translation)

Irina Ratushinskaya on Sunday Worship

Yesterday was Easter for Orthodox Christians, and Radio 4's Sunday Worship programme was broadcast from the Danilov Monastery in Moscow. Among the guests was Irina Ratushinskaya, the Russian poet who spent four years in a Soviet labour camp. (She was freed largely because of the efforts of Western intellectuals, including our friend David McDuff.)

I was born in the Soviet Union which meant that I was not allowed to be a Christian according to the Soviet totalitarian ideology. I was taught that Communism was a sort of pagan religion for itself; they wanted to occupy all the world, to introduce this regime everywhere and as I happened to be a Christian, a Russian Orthodox Christian, I couldn't accept all these ideologies.

I think I was born as a poet: I could do nothing about it. So my first poems were Christian poems, of course. They couldn't be published officially in the Soviet Union. They were published underground. Some of them were published abroad in (the) Russian language. That was the reason that I was arrested and sentenced to seven years of hard labour and five years of internal exile if I will survive those seven years.

I was 28 then. The idea of the KGB and the Communist authorities was to torture us until we renounced our faith, our ideas, and start working for the KGB. For me it meant more than four years of torture with one demand: just say no to your faith and you would be free.

I never thought I would survive, but sometimes, I felt a very strange thing. They tortured us with cold very often. That meant that I had to freeze in the punishment cell, alone, hungry, half alive and sometimes I felt sudden warmth and confidence and being protected. And in those moments, I was absolutely sure that someone was praying for me.

They prayed for me in Russia, in England, in the Ukraine, in France. I didn't know that. This is my chance to say thank you to those people who helped me by their prayers, not only not to be broken down, but in fact to survive.

You can listen to the episode on the web site for the next seven days, or read a transcript of the programme here.