The Nation, 4 May 2009

nation-4-may-2009Never let it be said that The Nation‘s editors don’t have a sense of humor.  They assigned Michelle Orange to review a new collection of letters by Graham Greene.  It reminds me of an idea I had once of assembling a panel consisting of classical scholars Peter Green, Peter White, and Peter Brown

Katha Pollitt asks why women stay with abusive men, and finds that in many cases it’s because they feel sorry for their abusers.

In the online edition, Dave Zirin complains that too much of the publicity that the University of Connecticut’s women’s basketball team has received for its awe-inspiring season and national championship has focused on its male head coach.   

Also in the online edition, an army officer outlines military options for responding to piracy.  I don’t care much about piracy, but this little piece is a handy primer on some of the most basic terms of military science.

Chronicles, November 2008

Scott Richert expresses consternation that many who identify themselves as conservative Catholics support the vice presidential candidacy of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin.  Aren’t Catholics supposed to embrace what Pope John Paul II called “the theology of the body,” and with it the idea that women should not be in public life?  “I will offer a prayer on Election Day that Mrs. Palin’s presence on the ticket does not signal the final triumph of feminism over the traditional Christian understanding of the proper relationship between the sexes.” 

Thomas Fleming reviews Peter Green’s The Hellenistic Age, endorsing it overall but showing a bit of irritation that Green uses the word “racism” to describe bigoted attitudes the ancients exhibited.  Fleming claims that “racism as an ideology is a 19th century development that can only be applied by analogy to the ancient world.  To describe [theancient Greeks’] natural prejudices as ‘racism’ would be like describing infant exposure as ‘pro-choice’ or homosexuality as an expression of ‘gay rights.'”  Fleming has a point here, but I think he overstates it.  Certainly a word like “racism” carries powerful associations, bringing in not only the theoretical structures to which Fleming refers but also centuries of history and whole worlds of trauma that are quite distant from anything the ancients would have known.  Nonetheless, their attitudes can hardly be dismissed as “natural prejudices.”  While the ancients may not been shaped by the ideas of Gobineau or Francis Galton, they were indeed swaddled in myths promoting the superiority of their own groups and were taught to see natural slaves when they looked at people who did not resemble themselves.  

Most of the poems Chronicles runs are pretty bad, and I can’t really make much of a literary-critical case for this one.  But I’m such a pushover for dogs I’ll include it anyway.

Four Firsts and a Last, by Timothy Murphy

Her first retrieve shell: a shotgun shell

Fired and ejected with no warning.

How she adored that smell,

Charcoal, sulfur, and niter in the morning.

Her first bird was a crippled morning dove.

She somersaulted down a ditch

Head over heels in love,

Buttoned her bird and bounded up to the pitch.

Her first drake dropped beyond a refuge sign.

Wriggling under the lowest wire,

She swam a perfect line

As though posting proof of her desire.

Her first loss was her superhuman ear.

Hand signalled on an unmarked run,

She could no longer hear

Whistling wingtips; even, at last, the gun.

At fourteen she was walking into walls,

Fouling the carpet, losing teeth.

Farewell to mallard calls

And decoy spreads, wild roosters on the heath.

To St Francis of Fargo fell the chore,

The barbital a gentle thrust

To launch her from our shore.

The last look in her fearless eye was trust.