Conserving sound

Conserve the Sound, “online museum”, is clever:

Conserve the sound is an online museum for vanishing and endangered sounds. The sound of a dial telephone, a walkman, a analog typewriter, a pay phone, a 56k modem, a nuclear power plant or even a cell phone keypad are partially already gone or are about to disappear from our daily life.

Accompanying the archive people are interviewed and give an insight in to the world of disappearing sounds.

A few of my favorites? Rotary telephone. Cassette. VCR. Those are things I remember, along with the typewriter. Pretty much everything else on there is foreign to me.

I haven’t checked, but I imagine Internet Archive probably has stuff like this too, but maybe not presented in the same “museum” way.

John Henry Newman’s room

K.V. Turley writes on the experience of visiting John Henry Newman’s room:

To stand in the room of a saint is quite something. Such was my privilege the other day when the door to the room of John Henry Newman was unlocked and I was bid enter.

There, before me, was the desk at which Blessed John Henry had written letters, sermons and books, all of which are still pored over by scholars today, and no doubt shall be in the years and decades to come. There were his books and his papers; upon the walls his pictures, mostly religious, and, pasted on a wooden cupboard, there was still the trace of a Victorian newspaper. Newman was wont to decorate his cabinet doors with cuttings from newspapers and journals.

There was something else though.

The room is partitioned. Behind the thin wall that separates the two parts of the room there stands an altar. Upon it, there is the Crucifix and candles yet that Newman used when he offered Mass there. On the wall above the altar there also hangs a portrait of St. Francis de Sales, the French spiritual father of this most English of Englishmen. To the left, there is a built-in cupboard holding vestments. They all still hang there: green, red, white, rose, black. It is as if they are about to be lifted out and worn once more. It is as if, at any moment, a footstep will be heard, and before our eyes will come the man who lived and worked in this room: Provost of the Birmingham Oratory, Prince of the Church, but above all, a priest of God offering the Holy Sacrifice each day to the Glory of God and for forgiveness of sins. More than 100 years later, the room retains something of the air of the sanctity of its former occupant. No one else has lived or worked here since Newman, and no one else ever shall. It stands still as if John Henry Newman has just stepped out for a moment, and is due back very soon. Perhaps, in a way, that is how a Christian death should feel – a passing, not an ending, before a never-ending reunion.

There is another ‘death’ in this room though. It is the room itself. The Fathers of the Birmingham Oratory call this room of Newman’s “ the Dying Room.”

My guide pointed to the ceiling. In the corner of the room where two external walls join, there were large ominous cracks on display. Recent structural survey reports indicate that these cracks, far from being superficial, are the outward manifestation of serious interior decay. In the vernacular: Newman’s room is crumbling to dust.

Many will have seen Newman’s room, and the equally impressive library, at the Birmingham Oratory. Some may recall how Pope Benedict XVI, on his visit to the United Kingdom in 2010, visited this room and its adjacent library. There are many pictures online recording this occasion when one saintly scholar visited the room of another. One can only imagine what might have passed through the mind of Pope Benedict when he beheld the room of Blessed John Henry still as intact, at least superficially, as in the late 1800s. One can almost visualize Pope and Blessed sitting at the table in the center of the room lost in the enjoyment of discoursing upon weighty theological matters.

But the room is ‘dying.’

The Birmingham Oratory is seeking patrons able to help conserve that simple and remarkable space. K.V. Turley adds:

When men, whether in the world of science or theology, history or philosophy seemed intent on rejecting God, here was a man who dared to engage his reason so as to understand better his faith. In doing so, Newman created something in the world of ideas that has not only grown in significance since but also seen off many of his then contemporaries and their modish theories. …

A strange prayer perhaps, but a prayer nonetheless: let his rooms be preserved and, thereby, with them, his memory as a man as rational as he was holy.

When I was in London for the Olympics in 2012 we attended mass at Brompton Oratory, which has a small space of honor and devotion to John Henry Newman. Having first encountered his writing when I was still at Penn State, and then seeing his place of honor in this English church, was a special thing; one of those moments where so much experience that has been “in your head” suddenly came rushing into this particular place and in this particular moment. An experience of concrete reality.

French Catholic dialogue

It seems likely that France will make at least some forms of euthanasia and suicide legal later this year, which is why President Macron’s explicit invitation to Catholics to participate in the French public debate on bioethics leaves me feeling conflicted:

French President Emmanuel Macron stressed the importance of a Catholic voice in the country’s political debates, particularly on bioethical issues, in an address to the French bishops April 9.

“What I want to call you tonight is to engage politically in our national debate and in our European debate because your faith is part of the commitment that this debate needs,” Macron told French bishops in a rare public meeting between Church and government leaders in France.

While France was once referred to as the “eldest daughter of the Church,” the country’s legal secularism has required strict neutrality of the state in religious matters since 1905.

In his speech Monday, however, Macron spoke of the important philosophical need for the Church’s voice.

“What strikes our country … is not only the economic crisis, it is relativism; it is even nihilism,” said Macron.

“Our contemporaries need, whether they believe or do not believe, to hear from another perspective on man than the material perspective,” he continued, “They need to quench another thirst, which is a thirst for absolute. It is not a question here of conversion, but of a voice which, with others, still dares to speak of man as a living spirit.”

Father Joseph Koczera, an American priest based in Paris, told CNA that in some ways, Macron’s speech “was quite remarkable.”

“This is a clear challenge to a particular style of French secularism that suggests that, [since] the state must remain neutral, perspectives informed by religion should not be invoked in political debates,” Koczera said.

Macron stressed that “Secularism does not have the function of uprooting from our societies the spirituality that nourishes so many of our fellow citizens.”

“To deliberately blind myself to the spiritual dimension that Catholics invest in their moral, intellectual, family, professional, social life would be to condemn me to having only a partial view of France; it would be to ignore the country, its history, its citizens; and affecting indifference, I would derogate from my mission,” he said.

Macron’s speech comes as bioethical debates continue in France, with parliament preparing to reform its bioethics laws.

It’s a great thing that President Macron is inviting Catholics back to a place in public discourse. But if it ends up merely being a further way to condone an anticipated legalization of forms of euthanasia and suicide by underscoring that “Catholics were given a chance to voice their positions,” after all meaningful decisions had already been made, then it would be an example of cynical political use, rather than meaningful outreach and dialogue. We’ll see.

Franciscan Brothers of Peace

Jessica Trygstad reports on the Franciscan Brothers of Peace and their missionary work alongside torture survivors:

The Franciscan Brothers of Peace have housed male international victims of torture since the 1990s — about 70 to date, said Brother Conrad Richardson, who serves as the brothers’ community leader. Describing their apostolate as “doing whatever needs to be done,” Brother Richardson said the 12 brothers provide room and board and fulfill other tangible needs — climate-appropriate clothing, food, monthly mass transit passes and phone cards. Multicultural artwork hangs on the walls of their friary, and their kitchen is stocked with ethnic foods to help give their guests a sense of home.

“All are received as Christ,” Brother Richardson said. “Residents who live here, they know that they’re welcome to join us for any meals we have and even to join us in prayer as they like.”

The men come to the U.S. through various means. A former resident, Brother Richardson said, was a stowaway on a ship and found enough food and water to survive the journey. Another man from Iraq had served in a high-ranking military position under Saddam Hussein. He escaped through bribery. The information the brothers garner about their guests is confidential; through the men’s social workers and lawyers, the brothers only know pertinent information and what the men are willing to share, per the Center for Victims of Torture’s policies.

Knowing at least some English, most of the men were well educated and held good jobs in their home countries, giving them the wherewithal to help mobilize people, thus making them targets of their oppressive governments. …

He said a “beautiful aspect” of sharing their home with people of different faiths has been the unity they’ve found through common respect, pointing to their Muslim guests’ admiration of Mary and Jesus. The brothers try to reciprocate that respect. Brother Richardson recalled the time a Muslim guest asked one of the brothers about getting a prayer rug to use for his required prayer times throughout the day. When the brother supplied one, the man held it to his chest and tried to keep his composure.

“He said to us, ‘I have experienced peace here that I have hardly experienced even among my people,’” Brother Richardson recalled, “and that he would be buried with this rug, the gift that was given.”

Complementing the brothers’ ministry, Sarah’s Oasis, a ministry of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet in St. Paul, serves female victims of torture.

Br. Conrad Richardson and the Franciscan Brothers of Peace are good and remarkable men. I know Br. Conrad as a friend and as a Terri Schiavo Life & Hope Network board member, and we talked about this work when he was visiting Philadelphia last month. I can’t imagine bearing the emotional and spiritual weight of this work day to day, and so I admire Br. Conrad and his missionaries all the more.

A love for the actual

Christian Alejandro Gonzalez writes on Jordan B. Peterson’s book:

In his most recent book, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, Peterson routinely provides evidence of a deep, thoughtful, yet plainly articulated conservatism. At the same time, his conservatism is in no way dogmatic; he is not a free-marketeering libertarian, for instance. Instead, Peterson’s conservatism manifests itself in his commitment to the preservation of a certain set of institutions, values, and norms without which our society could not operate. This brand of conservatism finds a compelling justification in the work of philosopher Roger Scruton, the most influential conservative intellectual in Britain.

Scruton’s conservatism derives from a love for the “actual”—that is, the astonishing array of privileges and freedoms that our ancestors passed down to us. Included in this inheritance, which we all share and from which we all benefit, are: the rule of law, as opposed to the rule of the powerful over the weak; democracy, as opposed to dictatorship; economic prosperity, as opposed to deprivation; family networks and bonds of friendship, as opposed to social anomy; order as opposed to instability. For most of human history, we could not count on many of these blessings, but today they are taken for granted. In the face of our good fortune, Scruton argues, the most rational response is one of gratitude.

In 12 Rules for Life, Peterson echoes Scrutonian themes by encouraging us to feel grateful for the inheritance we have collectively received—and particularly for a society that continues to function even as individuals deal with the nearly unbelievable burdens of “Being” (like bodily disease, mental illness, deaths in the family, and economic insecurity). He writes “…people prevail and continue to do difficult and effortful tasks and to hold themselves and their families and society together. To me this is miraculous—so much so that a dumbfounded gratitude is the only appropriate response.” …

Peterson … [does] not believe that we should just feel gratitude for what we have; they think it’s our duty to understand the ideas that enabled this flourishing in the first place. In other words, one must engage with the intellectual tradition of the West…

… “Our society,” he writes, “faces the increasing call to deconstruct its stabilizing traditions to include smaller and smaller numbers of people…. This is not a good thing. Each person’s private trouble cannot be solved by a social revolution, because revolutions are destabilizing and dangerous…. Altering our ways of social being carelessly in the name of some ideological shibboleth…is likely to produce far more trouble than good.” …

He extols the virtue of personal responsibility. He enjoins us to “sort ourselves out” and not blame external circumstances for our failures. But the biggest tell that Peterson is a conservative is simply that his general disposition toward life and society is conservative. Life is difficult, Peterson allows, but there has never been a better time to live. Hard work always makes a difference. Men and women are equal, but they are not biologically identical. Boys must be allowed to mature into men. Hierarchies are not always arbitrary. Inequality does not imply injustice. There is much in our shared traditions that is worth preserving. Our culture serves certain purposes, and does so quite well.

I read Peterson’s book last month. It’s a great book, and I’m a fan of Peterson’s old school style of lecturing that’s rangy and broadminded and provocative and vivifying. And an interest in loving the “actual,” as Scruton puts it.

‘Neither confirm nor deny’

Joseph Goldstein reports that the New York Supreme Court has ruled that New York City police can now refuse transparency by employing the CIA tactic of “neither confirming nor denying” public requests for information:

On Thursday, New York State’s highest court told the New York Police Department that it was free to use the phrase in response to inquiries from citizens who want access to their police files to learn if they have been the subject of surveillance.

The ruling, by the state Court of Appeals, carves out a new exemption in the state’s Freedom of Information Law, which has been understood to require local agencies to at least acknowledge the existence of records, even if they were not required to release them.

But the ruling for the first time allows the New York Police Department to avoid even answering whether such files exist, said Christopher T. Dunn, a New York Civil Liberties Union lawyer who filed a brief in the case. “That’s the ultimate act of secrecy,” Mr. Dunn said.

The case before the court involved public-record requests filed in 2012 by two men to get records relating to any surveillance of them by the police. The men, who are both Muslim, filed the requests after a series of articles by The Associated Press described a secretive Police Department counterterrorism program that conducted extensive surveillance of Muslim organizations and mosques. One of the men, Talib Abdur-Rashid, is the imam of a Harlem mosque. The other man, Samir Hashmi, was a student at Rutgers University and active in its Muslim Student Association. After the Police Department refused to confirm or deny the existence of the records they were requesting, the men sued.

The police maintained that even disclosing the existence or nonexistence of any such records — let alone publicly releasing any that existed — would provide too much information. “The knowledge that a person or group is the subject of a N.Y.P.D. counterterrorism investigation would allow that person or group to alter their behavior so as to avoid detection,” the department’s intelligence chief, Thomas Galati, wrote in an affidavit. “Conversely, the knowledge that a person or group is not a subject of investigation would allow such persons to more freely engage in illegal activity.” …

In a statement, the Police Department said it has “rarely” responded to public record requests with a “neither confirm nor deny” answer. “The department will continue to do so only on a very limited basis and where appropriate,” the statement said.

But Mr. Dunn, the civil liberties lawyer, expressed concern that the Police Department would keep to that.

“The big question is how far they are going to push this,” he said, noting that the Police Department recently issued a “neither confirm nor deny” answer to a public records request the New York Civil Liberties Union had filed that sought information regarding a 2014 Black Lives Matter protest. In that case, the civil liberties union wanted to know if the police had listened to — or jammed — phone calls among demonstrators.

“They’ve already used it in a protester case,” Mr. Dunn said.

What an odious ruling. It’s one thing to defend the value of secrecy on the national/international spying/investigative level wherein there is hypothetically a collective public good to be served by non-disclosure. It’s entirely another thing to rule that domestic authorities can simply refuse to answer public inquiries from citizens, journalists, etc. for private reasons.

Computer science and digital literacy

Fred Wilson’s post on the push to make computer science a standard part of New York state public school curriculum got me thinking, and specifically the struggle to make that happen outside of the cities, got me thinking.

I support the addition of computer science as a standard part of K-12 curriculum, so long as it’s balanced by a strong and challenging literary/humanities curriculum. As Steve Jobs once said, technology alone is not enough. And in many respects American educational thinking is already far too focused exclusively on the economic aspect of learning, while personal and cultural knowledge is lost or never conveyed in the first place.

But literacy of any sort requires good language. Think of Albus Dumbledore’s comment to Harry Potter in The Deathly Hallows to the effect that “words are our most inexhaustible source of magic”. That means that the careful use of language in what we describe will shape what we strive to do.

How many schools still use archaic language like “Computer Class” or “Technology” or something similar? That’s atrocious phrasing that I think underscores how far those schools are from Fred Wilson’s vision of computer science for all. (The same is true, by the way, for terrible, nebulous subjects like “Religion” and “Social Studies” and “English Language Arts”, etc.) What’s really being taught (or what should really be taught in this class) is not “computers” or “technology” but digital or electronic literacy.

“Digital Literacy” curriculum would demand better teachers, because it would encompass not just basic skills like typing, systems use, coding, etc, but could go a step further by seeking to impart a sense of public citizenship. And personal social network guidance. And imparting at least intermediate critical learning and research methodology.

“Computers and Technology” is creaky language, and an obsolete, vague, unmeasurable sort of class. It’s like calling an English composition class “Typing Class”—technically accurate, while missing the point.

A digital literacy curriculum could encompass what Fred Wilson is working to do in New York, while also cultivating a wider set of virtues that would serve the whole person.