Sunday, December 26, 2010

Amanda Knox as the shadow

Michael Wolff wrote a good summary of the case:
The promiscuous girl next door goes on her junior abroad to Italy, where she has lots of sex, smokes tons of weed, meets other students and rootless young people from exotic places, has the time of her life, and then one day finds her British roommate raped and with her throat cut. The hapless and desperate Italian authorities shortly implicate the American girl, her Italian boyfriend, and an African bar owner in the murder. Then, possibly because this is Italy, they convict a more or less random passerby for the murder. At the same time, the authorities continue to insist that an orgy-gone-wrong is the motive for the murder and that Amanda Knox is the mastermind.

I think that pretty accurately captures why this case has become an international case, though of course grossly oversimplifies what happened. The other aspect which is different and leads to publicity of course is that the Knox family and Amanda Knox herself have encouraged publicity. Generally suspects are reluctant to talk to the media the "anything you say can be used against you". People talk after they are exonerated, after they are pardoned, after they do their time or finally after they are on death row. They don't generally talk during the early phases. And of course given that the press generally, but not always, treats people who talk to them more favorably than people who don't Amanda is getting a more sympathetic press than most other criminal defendants. And then there is some culture clash, where actions of the Italian authorities are things that an American would object to. My post regarding the "slander" charges against Amanda Knox and her parents being typical of those cultural issues.

So of course given a sexy murder, a sexy suspect and controversy there are several movies coming out about this case. The feeling of the anti-Knox people is that the movies should be about Meredith Kercher. But any objective person knows of course the movie should be about Amanda. There will never be a movie about Max Jensen or Bennie Bushnel, rather Executioner's Song is about Gary Gilmore, his inner demons and the people who loved him. And perhaps it is precisely this that the anti-Knox people find most upsetting. Executioners song humanized Gilmore after he was shot by Utah. Throughout the movie, the audience identifies with Chrisine Lahti's Brenda Nicol trying to rescue Gilmore. They agree that prison has made him worse, they hope he can be saved they hope that the intense love he feels for Rosanna Arquette's Nicole Baker and her children. There is no article on Wikipedia for Max Jensen. He is lost like sands in a hourglass. Kercher's father rails about Amanda's celebrity, thinking this is something unusual; but honestly when you were reading this paragraph did you have to look up who Jensen was? I remember Gilmore clear as day, and had to look up the names of Jensen and Bushnel (Gilmore's two murder victims) to write this.

So once it becomes obvious that of course the movie is not going to be about Meredith Kercher the question becomes why do intelligent people think it should be? The father is obvious, but why the rest? Why would an issue like this even be raised? I can think about US trials where the verdict was genuinely in doubt and controversial I don't think anyone pretended that "the victims family" not liking the controversy was all that relevant. It's not uncommon for the victim's family and friends to fixate on a suspect, that isn't given much weight for good reason. But why of the 3 would they choose to fixate on Amanda?

At first blush one could argue the most likely cause is the prosecutor. When one reads between the lines of the prosecutor, he seems fairly sure that the other two suspects are bad people but Amanda Knox was a budding young serial killer cut off by a careless act before she had time to fully flower. That the best thing they can do for society is keep her off the streets for as long as possible, and / or once the trial is over give her some treatment for whatever her real motivations are. His focus may be experience but it is yet more piece of the puzzle. What's interesting of course is that the prosecutor with this view is considering Amanda much more special (though in a negative way) than Meredith. For example Judy Bachrach asserts, "Soon the Italian officials came up with a theory that Amanda wielded such enormous power over Rudy and Raffaele that she could order them both to violate and murder her housemate."

And when one sees the discussion online, Their focus as well is on Amanda, even while arguing the focus should be on Meredith. Sometimes the two groups even identify themselves as FOA (Friends of Amanda) vs. FOM (Friends of Meredith), since the FOA name came first I think I can freely call them the anti-Knox faction. When they say the focus should be on Meredith they mean it only in a negative sense as a contrast. a sort of ego / shadow dichotomy with Amanda vs. Meredith.

  • Meredith studied hard in a respectable program while Amanda flittered just taking some classes on the side.
  • Meredith had a single boyfriend and never would have cheated on him with Rudy Guede while Amanda is a sexual libertine (this one despite the evidence to the contrary).
  • Meredith's family has quiet dignity while Amanda's are loud and inappropriate
  • Meredith was going to work hard at the bar while Amanda flirted with customers.
  • Meredith is beautiful while Amanda is only cute.
  • Meredith is financially responsible while Amanda is financially reckless.
  • Meredith is liked by all while Amanda is avoided.
  • Meredith is British (civilized, deserving), Amanda is American (uncivilized, rude, feeling entitled while being undeserving)

And I'd like to give one more. Meredith suffering is seen as unconnected with her life. In reading the anti-camp's writings you are struck immediately by the delight in Amanda's suffering while being completely disinterested in Rudy Guede's imprisonment. Which is odd for people supposedly interested in supporting Meredith , Guede was after all the drug dealing rapist whose skin was inside her and most likely stabbed her, since he didn't object to the murder charge. He doesn't matter to them, rather they show him sympathy. And it is not a situation of hating all defendants equally, they are very concerned that Amanda might get off by blaming the crime on the actual rapist. If they were primarily concerned about the rape/murder why not want revenge on the one person who unquestionably a primary? I think it is fair to say something else is going on here then just a desire for justice. The prosecutors view that Amanda is in some sense more responsible for the deaths than the men who carried it out, is more evil than the actual rapists and murders predominates.

The theory speaks to this sort of confusion.  Rather than the humorous, playful, mischievous and overly trusting Amanda they see a stone cold psychopath who is also overcome by emotion and guilt for a murder she committed because of narcissistic jealous outburst enhanced by drugs, except on the night of the murder which she callously planned.

And I think I know why. I used the Jungian shadow term deliberately. From listening and hearing what we are dealing with is projection. Meredith and Amanda are changed from people into archtypes and symbols. The murder becomes a moment where the shadow is triumphant over the ego, which is soon replaced with the shadow being imprisoned in the unconscious mind unable to effect reality (i.e. prison) its desired state. People have been reading into Amanda their own anxieties about their own psychological struggles and reading into Meredith an ideal they strive for. I challenge you to read the anti-Knox blogsphere (see links in previous article) and not immediately notice the tremendous hatred of Amanda Knox uniquely among the defendants and how this seems out of sorts with what we are dealing with at worst. A 20 year old who got into a situation over her head and acted out under the influence of drugs and doesn't know how to dig herself out of the hole. The absolute worst case demands our sympathy. Who has not been in a similar situation, though generally one with lower stakes?

Moreover this shadow dichotomy allows for people to hold simultaneously incompatible negative opinions of Amanda. For example, frequently she is accused of being tremendously jealous of Kercher and insulted by her negative comments. That would make her catathymic killer, someone with a lifetime of pent up anger that explodes in a homicide. Catathymics rarely reoffended, the actual violent murder releases the anger, scares the perpetrator and they achieve many of the effects of therapy. For her to be a budding young serial killer she would have had to be disinterested in Meredith and looked down on her contemptuously. But jealousy is a negative emotion, and being a threat to society is negative hence both must be true. One can believe that Amanda felt like a loser intimidated and humiliated by Meredith but then her moral conflicts about the murder are real and she experiences genuine remorse. One can believe that Amanda is remorseless or even savors the memory of the killing, but then she was not jealous of Meredith. (See link for a discussion of types of killers in this case). The fact that people insist on believing both shows that Amanda and Meredith are being related to as archetypes and not people by the FOM crowd.

About 10 years ago there was an Italian, Derek Rocco Barnabei. He was alleged to have raped and killed his girlfriend . Good looking kid with a nice mother. The Italians including the Pope thought he was innocent and protested. Virginia executed him. He got a first class trial but there was some misconduct by the prosecutor as this case became an international incident. Italy flew his body back and erected a memorial (link).

If Amanda does a quarter century worth of time based on no direct evidence but rather evidence that she participated in concealing evidence she is going to remain a figure of sympathy. The anti-Knox people seem to be so blinded by their psychological angst that they are not thinking through what is becoming the likely future. Right now the person the evidence points most strongly to, and who is most the career criminal, Rudy Guede, is going to be released first two decades before Amanda Knox, with the Italians constantly trying to pile on more more minor crimes to increase her time in prison. The punishment she receives in Italy is not going to seen as a just punishment for a serious crime but rather just another example of American killed (effectively) by foreigners, little different than say Jack Hensley who was tried and convicted in a foreign court using different legal procedures resulting in a verdict which is absolutely rejected by Americans. If the goal is to hurt Amanda moral legitimacy may not be important. If the goal is to have the punishment be seen as just, for her not to be viewed as a victim then the substantial and serious questions about this trial need to be rectified. Amanda Knox's father is absolutely correct that the technique used to justify the questionable legal strategy of aiming for murder when the evidence, at best proves much less has been character assassination. Rather than try her on the evidence for the lesser charge, the Italian prosecutors has insisted on whipping up hate against her. Many people see what happened in this case, want trails to determine the truth and rightfully object to what happened.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Amanda Knox

So I've been reading with some horror about the Amanda Knox case. This isn't a church discipline case, its a real court case. Up until the judges report was available in English there wasn't much that could be said. The report (link) falls far far short of establishing anything remotely like a murder conviction. It essentially provides some evidence (and IMHO not enough to convict) for either a conspiracy after the fact or obstruction of justice. In particular it never presents clear specific acts that Amanda Knox engaged in to kill Meredith Kercher. The standard of evidence seems to be whether the police can find evidence to definitely contradict their theories, rather than to find a theory which is provable beyond a reasonable doubt. The report makes detailed allegations regarding conspiracy after the fact and almost none about the murder itself. Further if you believe the prosecutions case you see people aggressively acting to clean up a murder scene but not having prepared for the murder in any way, meaning that malice aforethought seems to be missing. I have trouble seeing how you convict for murder.

The key evidence is are inconsistencies in testimony that the defendant has off and on alleged resulted from beating a suspect up. I'm from the North East, its not unknown for a cop to "tune up" a suspect, though it is rare. Its almost never used with a first time offender who is so obviously terrified, or high, she's acting erratically already. And what Knox describes, strikes to the back of the head, are very dangerous and used primarily to avoid bruising. I don't have good statistics but using these sorts of methods would seem to imply a nonchalance about whether the suspect suffers brain damage. These sorts of hits cause the brain stem to separate from the brain with the degree of force and exact type of hit determining the degree of separation. They are called "rabbit punches" because this type of blow was traditionally how hunters killed rabbits. If true, her life was quite literally in danger and confusion from head trauma isn't totally unreasonable.

In reading her statements even if we assume she was not being hit or sleep deprived, she clearly was being denied council and repeatedly expressed confusion. Drugs, which the prosecution obviously suspects could also make her unfit to give testimony. Her early testimony is worthless and should have been thrown out, and some has been. And that's not even counting the fact that she was obviously a suspect yet still being interrogated like a witness a clear violation of Italian law. And even if it weren't the lies provide more evidence for the obstruction charge they prove nothing about the murder. What we are left with after that is some circumstantial evidence that points to her probably being involved in some way, particularly after the fact. Which is far short of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that she was a primary.

What is absolutely beyond the pale though is the slander charge. Essentially the court ruled that because the police all agree they didn't hit there therefore they want her to do an extra 6 years. Italy doesn't have a notion of perjury for a defendant and this seems like an attempt to get around that. What's even worse is going after her parents with the slander charge, which is both blatant censorship and witness intimidation. This is where IMHO this case went from a young woman overcharged and over-convicted to pure injustice.

This injustice is especially bad because one of the primary points of dispute was the prosecution making up all sorts of elaborate stories and distributed these stories to the media to taint the jury with claims that it wouldn't matter in Italy. For all my complaints about the USA its nonsense like that gives me pride to be an American. This case is getting lots of attention though the Italians seem intent on stealing this woman's (and really at the time of the murder, girl's) life away from her.

I'd like to send her a message that she is not forgotten, so I gave a donation to her defense fund.

See also:

Pro Knox/Sollecito:
Anti Knox/Sollecito
  • Imam rapito affair, a case of 22 Americans being tried and convicted in absentia at the same time. It provides a political context for those alleging anti-Americanism in the judiciary. There are no allegations by either side that Knox had any involvement with Abu Omar.
  • Statement by Senator Cantwell on the verdict. This is extraordinarily rare and serious. The Italians and Kercher supporters are blowing this off as irrelevant, but an attack on the verdict in a purely criminal case by a sitting US Senator is almost unheard of and implies very series misgivings in Cantwell's mind.
  • Blog wars article about the domestic factions pro and con.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Trevor Project

So after Seth Walsh we just crossed over to 5 confirmed suicides in the USA this year as a result of homophobic bulling. 5 more people dead because "we don't hate the sinner just the sin" is nothing but a lie. We have no idea what the numbers are but even Christian conservatives put it at 7.5% of kids were bullied for sexual orientation. Yet they still oppose explicit mentions (see because they see homophobia as intrinsic to the faith. There is quite a few poor argument and justification for the gays are icky position, just the like girls are icky position that this blog often addresses. But I don't know any justification for the pro-harassment position. it is frankly amazing to me how successful the right has been in promoting bullying. You would think it would be hard to get millions to be in favor of teen suicide.

Anyway, if you are a gay kid going through this and stumble on this website. There is a group called the Trevor Project that is designed to help. 866-4-U-TREVOR (866-488-7386). If you are an adult

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Politics and inerrancy

Peter Francia made an interesting comment that opinions about the bible were highly determinant of voting. He classed voters into the groups:
  • Fundamentalists -- who believed in biblical inerrancy
  • Moderates -- who believed the bible was the word of God but could not be understood literally
  • Minimalists -- who believe the bible was of human origin

Blue State Red State
Fundamentalist 28%50%
Moderates 53% 38%
Minimalists 18% 12%

What is fascinating is the correlation with politics an inerrancy didn't just hold up on issue like abortion. But for example issues like tax cuts vs. balancing the budget (Fundamentalists favored an unbalanced budget), environment vs. military (minimalists favored large military cuts and increases on environment spending), etc...

Books like Authoritarianism and Polarization in American Politics that go broader. For example the correlations between spanking and support for Republican candidates:

Odes and the Tea Party

So I'm a bit torn and I feel like ranting, one of the great joys of running a blog is getting to do classic blogging just sharing your thoughts rather than my usual advocacy.

On one hand I'm a liberal who thinks Barack Obama and Harry Reed are doing a very good job and I adore Nancy Pelosi. On the other hand this feeling of warmth is coming from the diminished expectations of a lifetime of disappointment. For example, half the time I can think of Health Care Reform as a historic accomplishment, something that Democrats have been aiming to accomplish since Truman. For the first time ever it is going to be possible for the government to start having national health policy and we may finally be able to make American health care rational.

The other half I think of it this way:
That really this bill was nothing like Truman's. Essentially it was enacting the counter proposal first suggested by Nixon and drafted by Dole.
Obama cut secret deals to sell out America with the Drug companies.
When the insurance industry objected to the bill the major provision in the public interest, the public option was removed and instead strong provisions making it a finable criminal act to not buy the health insurance industries products which amounts to little more than the same kind of corporate fascism that we've had for a generation.
Worse yet to get it passed Obama had to pay huge bribes. It would have been a lot cheaper to just give Nelson and Landrieu a suitcase full of cash then the obscene way they were bribed.
So in the end we got mild insurance reform masquerading as health reform, a defeat made to look like a victory, and a defeat that institutionalized corruption even further.

My turning point when I decided our government was nothing more than a facade for corporate corruption was the Telecommunications Act of 1996 (wikipedia page). Up until then I had believed that we basically had a good but flawed government. Since then I've lived in a world of diminished expectations looking for candidates that are the least destructive. Appalled at our leadership and appalled at Americans for voting for this leadership. It seems like TARP had that effect on millions of other people and I'm thrilled that lots of people now view our government as a kleptocracy since maybe that understanding will create the pressure needed for real reform. With huge leads in the House, 59 Democratic Senators and the Presidency and a population more progressive than any since the 1930s was this year's Financial Reform Bill really the best we could do? TARP, which I was neutral too, demanded real reform in exchange for these huge loans, but I've watched with complete disgust as our Senators and Congress were bribed and bought off by banking interests to act against the common good. Even TARP was designed in such a way to make sure that the public achieved almost no benefit from taking on hugely risky assets and that the profits would flow back to Wall Street. Pure institutional corruption involving tens of billions of dollars. Timothy Geithner's theft from the treasury may very well be the largest financial crime of my lifetime.

One of the differences I noticed between living in California and New Jersey/Pennsylvania was the corruption of local politicians. In New Jersey we have political machines and corrupt non idealogical politicians. Things can get done as long as the right hands are greased. There is a casual indifference to corruption. For example the Chief of Police in Elizabethtown owns the towing company with the exclusive contract to tow off the Highway. And everyone thinks this is funny, a gallows humor born of the desperation of people having given up on having the sort of government we were raised to think we had. When some disadvantaged kid rips off a store he does years in jail. When the Chief of Police uses his office to transfer hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars from the public to his own accounts its treated as a joke. That Elizabethtown corruption pales in comparison to the corruption at the national level but its a perfect example of the problems in the North East and why we can't have decent government here.

Conversely in California we had no corruption that I knew of in local government. California public officials were mainly idealogical: environmentalists, right wingers, liberal activists.... These officials were drawn to government over a few limited issues they were passionate about; and once there had to active in many issues so they ended up joining coalitions and reinforcing one another. These California officials were generally independently wealthy and thus hard (or at least expensive) to bribe, unlike the blue collar or professional class politicians of New Jersey who are on average middle class. Senator Heinz used to make a joke that he was "Too rich to be bribed and too powerful to be threatened", and there is a lot of truth to that. One of the reasons I like idealogical politicians is that at least they they act on the public interest as they see it. So given the intense desire to corrupt our system I think we need more ideology not less.

Its one of the reasons I have mixed feelings about citizens united. It might just create a group of politicians that are adequately funded and don't need to be constantly hawking for money. On say 3% of the issues they are bought and paid for but on the 97% they can vote their conscience. That's a lot like how the system worked in the 70s and 80s. So there is some hope, but I'm appalled that the best I can hope for, for my country is that the attempt of the Supreme Court to facilitate easier bribery backfires into accidentally producing a more honest government. But alternately, wealth doesn't seem to work on the Presidentially level, Kerry was still a weasel even though Teresa Heinz (who had Senator Heinz's fortune) is worth between $750m and $1.2b.

All this brings me to the Tea Party. Where we suddenly have a group of ideologues taking a major political party. People who are definitely planning to shake things up in Washington. Of course we've all heard this before, and I may be setting myself up for disappointment. But still its hard to live in constant disgust with your government. Pat Buchanan sees the Tea Party as playing the role of commissars ensuring that the Republicans officeholders don't sell out. I can easily see that. Lately I heard the Tea Party's anthem and I was moved. While I doubt I agree with Krista Branch, the singer, on the solutions I completely agree with her on the problems, we both agree that a government completely unresponsive to real American concerns and focused on K-street is the real threat to America:

And this little patriotic ditty is moving. She may be hokey but I'm desperate for any kind of patriotic message that I can actually believe in at all, what she in the previous video and Glen Beck mean by "restoring honor". Under Clinton corruption was terrible, but George Bush pushed it to a level not seen in America since Andrew Jackson drove John Quincy Adams from power. She is absolutely right that America has forgotten who we are, we are not a people damned to forever live under a government so incompetent and dishonest that the rest of the world can look across the ocean in pity for how poorly governed we are.

So could I be one of those 8% of the Tea Party which are Democrats? First off I just don't agree with them on the issues. Economically I am a Keynesian. I agree, with Paul Krugman's critique that the problem with Obama's policies has been that the stimulus was too small. Where I disagree with Krugman is believing this is accidental, high unemployment has been very useful in driving down wages and maintaining profits allowing corporations to de-leverage without harming the income of the investing class. I think Summers and Geithner were quite willing to throw ten million people out of work to make sure the right 100,000 didn't see their income drop off. Krugman's perspective is the exact opposite of what the Tea Party has argued. Also I don't think they way the Tea Party have been debating is helpful. I guess I'm also an intellectual and incoherent rage is scary. This is the first mass armed citizens political group active in the USA since the Klan.

But as I thought about it more, one can make a pretty good analogy between the reconstruction scalawags and our current elected officials, the reconstruction carpetbaggers and k-street. Carpetbaggers were Northern business interests that had come down to the South after the civil war bribed public officials and seized control of the means of production. The Redeemers considered these people the way occupied people consider the investing class of a foreign invader and understood with absolutely clarity that their continued involvement eliminated the ability to self govern. Our current crop of corporate oligarchs is if anything worse than the crop of business interests that exploited the south's defeat. A Scalawag, literally a worthless deformed animal, was a term for the southerners that were helping the north, generally government officials, the recipients of the bribes. Its a great word to apply to the modern government officials that have let money so corrupt their purposes that they no longer do anything like what they were sent to Washington for. The Redeemers which arose out of the first Klan had a simple program for rebuilding self rule drive the Northern army out of the south; and then soon thereafter put in place economic reforms ending carpetbagging. This gave the South, or at least the white south, back a democracy a government which represent the people rather than national business interests. The analogy is very very apt; the Tea Party's primary enemy is the sort of crony capitalism that both our parties support. Being a Northerner myself the Klan has nothing but negative emotional connotations for me, but when I abstract away my own upbringing and try and relate to this like a southerner; yeah I get it, and I agree.

But then on a third pass, my frustration with the Republican party today, which is southern dominated, is very similar to the New England Republicans abandoning the carpetbaggers (Northern Republicans that had moved south) right after the civil war for their political corruption. In the other words the North East became so offended by Southern Republican corruption that they (passively) supported the Redeemers including their militant arm. Hmmm..... this analogy gets better and better. For corporate lobbyists there are billions if not trillions of dollars at stake, violence might be the best way or even the only way to break K-street's hold on our elected government. In the 2008 crisis I must admit to rooting for the bear and not the government.

So is this is a role I'm comfortable in, the North Eastern Republicans who passively sided with the Redeemers? We know that this policy was a moral disaster, once the Redeemers drove out the North they, like any revolutionary party facing a similar problems, immediately turned on the indigenous population likely to side with the North. That brought on Jim Crow and generations of racial tension that still hasn't healed. But..... we don't get to run history backwards. Had the North Eastern Republicans not passively supported the Southern Democrats and allowed corruption to become intrinsic to US government would we have fallen into a cycle of destructive corruption, with a 1870-1950 century history similar to Argentina or China rather than the explosive growth we did experience? And moreover I'm not sure in our modern analogy there is an indigenous population the Tea Party redeemers will need to turn on, does the metaphor break down here and offer the good without the bad? And then I flash to Hispanics and the anti-immigration movement that is part of the Tea Party and, well, I can see there might be a population that could play the role of the blacks.

In 2008 when Sarah Palin was nominated I was excited. I knew immediately that Sarah Palin has the potential to be America's Eva Peron. The platform of the vice presidency could have been a powerful voice for good. When she was unable, as my cousin put it, "to channel her inner Pat Buchanan" and instead essentially parroted George Bush positions on everything, I decided to vote for Obama. Obama didn't inspire me but at least had sensible policy prescriptions. And he has not disappointed in either regard, his policy prescriptions have been excellent though far too weak and he remains uninspiring, tinkering around the edges to create a better run and kindler gentler corporate oligarchy. To this day Palin has been an odd paradox, personally taking classical Neo-Conservative positions very much George Bush; while strengthening and leading Paleo-Conservatives (including the virtual rebirth of the John Birch society) and hardcore Libertarians. I think with Palin's involvement in the Tea Party and the new platform coming out Palin will get another bite at the apple to decide whether she wants to offer a different vision or just be a stupid hot looking version of Mitt Romney. In Eva's case her goal was to get Argentine business back into the hands of Argentina and away from the British, another analogy to our finance class; and one hopefully tis analogy is a little less inflammatory than the Redeemers driving the North out.

But in less Fascistic direction the Tea Party came out of the Ron Paul Libertarian movement's Tea Parties and both Glenn Beck and Dick Armey are clearly inside this new vision. A simplified tax code, non interference in markets a tiny government, the end of the military industrial complex provides a decent vision. That could starve state capitalism and possibly allow us to be free again. The Tea Party still runs quite explicitly on the sorts of massive spending cuts needed to shrink the government. The Tea Party could just be the Libertarian Party finally getting big enough to have a real electoral impact. Redeemer philosophy and Libertarian philosophy mesh quite well, the old Libertarian party was northern this southern flavor could be quite exciting. The question would be whether the Libertarians could handle the temptations towards corruption, the history of American Railroading which happened when Libertarian philosophy had broad support in both parties seems to indicate they probably couldn't. Worse when you poll the people who attended Tea Party protests last year, even though they were mouthing Libertarian slogans their actual concerns seemed to be rooted in fears that their own generous benefits will be cut. So, some of the GOP's most reliable voters are simultaneously demanding budget restraint and protesting anything that might reduce their own benefits. This is a tricky circle to square, and so I have much less hope that Libertarianism would be followed in practice but less hope is not no hope. Our modern carpetbaggers don't have an enemy army that first needs to be driven out, so perhaps this can all be done peacefully.

I'll close with a rapper named Jasirix who makes the same point regarding the Tea Party's imagery and how to think about them. His perspective, is in this case directly related to race:

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Sophia Bibliography

Ran into a great bibliography of Sophia at the Lutheran Seminary (link to original). I have to frequently discuss the issue of Christianity emerging from Hellenistic Judaism i.e. a progression of:
  1. Hellenized Judaism
  2. Hellenistic Judaism
  3. Gnosticising Jews
  4. Christian Gnosticism
  5. Orthodox Christianity
Sophia as the origin of Jesus comes up quite frequently and a handy list of references....

Aldredge-Clanton, Jann. In Search of the Christ-Sophia : An Inclusive Christology for Liberating Christians. Mystic, CT: Twenty-Third Publications, 1995.

Aubin, Melissa M. "'She Is the Beginning of All the Ways of Perversity:' Femininity and Metaphor in 4q184." Women in Judaism 2 (2001).

Barker, Margaret. "Wisdom: The Queen of Heaven." Scottish Journal of Theology 55 (2002): 141-59.

Brock, Ann Graham. "The Identity of the Blessed Mary, Representative of Wisdom in Pistis Sophia." In Walk in the Ways of Wisdom, 122-35. Harrisburg ; London ; New York: Trinity Pr Intl, 2003.

———. "Setting the Record Straight--the Politics of Identification: Mary Magdalene and Mary the Mother in Pistis Sophia." In Which Mary?, 43-52. Atlanta: Soc of Biblical Literature, 2002.

Camp, Claudia V. Wisdom and the Feminine in the Book of Proverbs. Bible and Literature Series, 11. Decatur: The Almond Press, 1985. BS1465.2 .C26

———. “Woman Wisdom As Root Metaphor: A Theological Consideration.” The Listening Heart: Essays in Wisdom and the Psalms in Honor of Roland E. Murphy, ed J. Hoglund K.Huwiler E.J. Glass. Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1987.

Chryssavgis, John. "Sophia, the Wisdom of God: Sophiology, Theology, and Ecology." Diakonia 34 (2001): 5-19.

Cole, Susan, Marian Ronan, and Hal Taussig. Wisdom's Feast : Sophia in Study and Celebration. 1st ed. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1989.

Conway, David. The Rediscovery of Wisdom : From Here to Antiquity in Quest of Sophia. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2000.

DaCosta, Jacqueline. "Can Apophatic Theology Be Applied to Goddessing as Well as to God?" Feminist Theology 11 (2002): 82-98.

Edwards, Mark J. "Pauline Platonism: The Myth of Valentinus." In Studia Patristica Xxxv, Ascetica, Gnostica, Liturgica, Orientalia, 205-21. Louvain: Peeters, 2001.

FitzGerald, Constance. "Transformation in Wisdom: The Subversive Character and Educative Power of Sophia in Contemplation." In Carmel and Contemplation, 281-358. Washington: ICS, 2000.

Good, Deirdre Joy. Reconstructing the Tradition of Sophia in Gnostic Literature. Monograph Series (Society of Biblical Literature) ; No. 32. Atlanta, Ga.: Scholars Press, 1987.

———. "Sophia as Mother and Consort: Eugnostos the Blessed (Nhc Iii, 3 and V, 1) and the Sophia of Jesus Christ (Nhc Iii, 4 and Bg 8502, 3)." University Microfilms International, 1983.

Gilbert, Maurice. “Le Discours De La Sagesse De L'Ancien Testament.” La Sagesse De L”Ancien Testament, ed Maurice Gilbert. BETL, 51. Leuven: Leuven Universtiy, 1990. John Ireland BS1455.S12 1990

Jacobson, Diane. “Strengths and Weaknesses of Wisdom/Sophia Talk.” in A Reforming Church...Gift and Task Charles P. Lutz, 107-25. Minneapolis: Kirk House, 1995.

Johnson, Elizabeth A. She Who Is: The Mystery of God in Feminist Theological Discourse. N.Y.: Crossroad, 1993.

———. "Holy Wisdom: Image of God's Saving Presence." Review of Wisdom ATLA0001280248. Living Pulpit 9 (2000): 6-7.

Keleher, Serge. "Response to Sophia Senyk, 'the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church Today: Universal Values Versus Nationalist Doctrines'." Review of Senyk, Sophia Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church today ATLA0001334828. Religion, State & Society 31 (2003): 289-306.

Kuhn, Heinz Wolfgang. "The Wisdom Passage in 1 Corinthians 2:6-16 between Qumran and Proto-Gnosticism." In Sapiential, Liturgical and Poetical Texts from Qumran, 240-53. Leiden ; Boston: Brill, 2000.

Lang, Bernhard. “Lady Wisdom: A Polytheistic and Psychological Interpretation of a Biblical Goddess.” A Feminist Companion to Reading the Bible: Approaches, Methods, and Strategies, ed. Athalya Brenner, and Carole Fontaine, 400-425. Sheffield: Sheffield Press, 1997.

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McKinlay, Judith. Gendering Wisdom the Host: Biblical Invitations to Eat and Drink. Sheffield: Sheffield, 1996.

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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Venus translation vs transculturation

When discussing the ideology of accuracy of translation there really is a conservative bias against genuine accuracy of translation. In general conservatives want accuracy but not at the expense of breaking with the traditional renderings. The most obvious example is in the treatment of old testament texts which are elsewhere quoted by the new testament:
Even fifty years ago, no scholar who wished to be taken seriously in conservative churches would have contradicted Ramm's statement that "If an Old Testament scholar says that a given passage meant so-and-so to the Jews (on the grounds that the passage must have meaning to its contemporaries) and limits its meaning to that meaning, he is misapplying the cultural principle and denying the sensus plenior of Old Testament prophecy." (14) Ramm associated this negative "use of the grammatico-historical method of exegesis in the hands of the religious liberals" with "radical criticism" and characterized it as "a return of Marcionism." (15) In 1953 the faculty of Dallas Theological Seminary issued a scathing Critique of the Revised Standard Version for this manner of treating the Old Testament. But evidently this seminary has changed quite a bit since then. (Michael Marlowe review of NET bible)
In term of my personal opinion regarding tradition, I take the opposite position. I think there is huge gap between four very different statements and this needs to be absolutely disambiguated:
  1. The Greek text X means Y
  2. Paul meant X when he said Y
  3. The church has always taken Paul to mean X in passage Y
  4. The church interprets Paul to mean X in passage Y
I have no objection to a bible being written in terms of #4. I have huge objections to conflating #1 with #3 or #4. In other words a church is free to say what they believe they aren't free to rewrite history. With respect to #4 I have no problem talking about the living church developing its theories over time, the Catholic position. With respect to #1, I am an absolute fundamentalist. I expect bibles to be very careful about their language and not conflate those two.

Most of the places where this comes up are politically hot verses. I'd like to pick low passion verse where translations tend to obscure the Greek, "I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago, (whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) such an one caught up to the third heaven. (2Cor 12:2)". Some bibles and most commentaries drop the term "third heaven". What's interesting is this is an example of overly literal translation being used to avoid the actual meaning. What's worse is what commentaries frequently do here. Taking the views from above:
  1. The Greek text means "Venus". (i.e. in order the heavens are: The moon, Mercury, Venus, the sun, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn).
  2. I think Paul meant Venus, but he was bringing with him a Hellenistic notion of layers of heaven in a metaphorical sense (as per the Secrets of Enoch). The third heaven would have been above the land of the Archons but not quite there with God, the abode of Raphael where great mysteries like the Tree of Life resides....
  3. The church has always taken this to mean "with God" or "elevated / greatly honored" (and elevated or greatly honored is correct).
  4. The modern church takes him to mean a vision of being with God.
I have no trouble with a bible saying in a note, "This is understood by the church as being a spiritual vision of being with God". I have a huge problem with a bible saying "The Greek means a place where God lives" (from the Harper Collins or the Reformation Study bible for example). The Greek means Venus, and Hellenists including Jews did not believe the 3rd heaven was where God lived.

The NISB and the NET bible actually addresses this directly. The NISB agrees with the treatment above. They explain this is being used in the sense of Jewish mysticism, they make no false claims about where God lives. And that is a perfect example of why I recommend the NISB. The NET comes with an unusual theory based on no texts AFAIK but at least shows an awareness of the Greek meaning:
In the NT, paradise is mentioned three times. In Luke 23:43 it refers to the abode of the righteous dead. In Rev 2:7 it refers to the restoration of Edenic paradise predicted in Isa 51:3 and Ezek 36:35. The reference here in 2 Cor 12:4 is probably to be translated as parallel to the mention of the “third heaven” in v. 2. Assuming that the “first heaven” would be atmospheric heaven (the sky) and “second heaven” the more distant stars and planets, “third heaven” would refer to the place where God dwells. This is much more likely than some variation on the seven heavens mentioned in the pseudepigraphic book 2 Enoch and in other nonbiblical and rabbinic works. (NET bible note on 2Cor 12:4)
Now in the case of Harper Collins and the Reformation Study Bible I think they were just being lazy. 20th and 21st century educated people don't know their astrology and they didn't bother to check. I freely bash all the major bible translations for screwing up Paul's frequent use of astrology. But this reads like an honest mistake.

Because this isn't an idealogical mistake I think it is a good one to discuss. How do you think this verse should be translated? What should the textual comments say? What do you think it means? And given how the mentally imagery of Venus has changed. A modern American when he hears "Venus" pictures the image to the left not the one to the right.

Chapter 8 of Secrets of Enoch reads:
1And those men took me thence, and led me up on to the third heaven, and placed me there; and I looked downwards, and saw the produce of these places, such as has never been known for goodness.
2And I saw all the sweet-flowering trees and beheld their fruits, which were sweet-smelling, and all the foods borne by them bubbling with fragrant exhalation.
3And in the midst of the trees that of life, in that place whereon the Lord rests, when he goes up into paradise; and this tree is of ineffable goodness and fragrance, and adorned more than every existing thing; and on all sides it is in form gold-looking and vermilion and fire-like and covers all, and it has produce from all fruits.
4Its root is in the garden at the earth’s end.
5And paradise is between corruptibility and incorruptibility.
6And two springs come out which send forth honey and milk, and their springs send forth oil and wine, and they separate into four parts, and go round with quiet course, and go down into the PARADISE OF EDEN, between corruptibility and incorruptibility.
7And thence they go forth along the earth, and have a revolution to their circle even as other elements.
8And here there is no unfruitful tree, and every place is blessed.
9And there are three hundred angels very bright, who keep the garden, and with incessant sweet singing and never-silent voices serve the Lord throughout all days and hours.
10And I said: How very sweet is this place, and those men said to me:

  • Douglas Ward has an article where he takes the takes the position of the sky as an onion.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

5 views of translation

  • All translation is a commentary on the original. The purpose of a translation is to help someone understand the original in line with how one would read a commentary (call this the Jewish / Muslim position).
  • Translation is an attempt to capture the ideas of the original. Because ideas don't exist in a vacuum one needs to quite often make the translation less accurate so as to avoid "misunderstandings" which are a result of the new host language and / or come from lack of context (call this the Lutheran position).
  • Translation is an attempt to capture the ideas and/or the wording of the original as understood by the church historically. Word level accuracy is to be considered preferable to phrasal accuracy but not at the expense of creating ambiguity regarding ancient heresies (call this the Conservative Protestant position).
  • Translation should aim for the most accurate rendering possible at some predetermined unchanging level, be it word, phrase or paragraph. While church history can influence between otherwise equal choices the original should be held as superior to the understanding of the church (call this the Liberal Protestant position).
  • Translation should aim to capture as best as possible the original intent of the writer as it would have been understood by contemporaneous readers. Word level accuracy should only give way to phrase level when absolutely needed to avoid problems in the new host language. Church history is likely to distort the original understanding and we need to deconstruct the translational tradition to find where "Orthodox corruption" in meaning has occurred. (call this the New school position).