Friday, June 27, 2008

Ancient Greek in the world

A very interesting article in the latest issue of the Economist.

ATROPOS is the Fate who cuts the lifeline once your time is up; she would seem to have her shears out for the study of classical (Ancient) Greek. Once, with Latin, the staple of a civilised education, it is now flickering on the sidelines.

At first sight, the statistics are positively wine-dark. As part of school education, countries may maintain it in theory but rarely in practice. Portuguese pupils have it as an option in their final year; in Sweden fewer than 100 schoolchildren study it, in Belgium around 800. In Britain, of a mere 241 entrants for Greek A-level (typically taken at 18) in 2007, fully 226 were from independent (private) schools.

The problem for Greek is that snobbery does not trounce pragmatism. Latin, once seemingly moribund, is on the rise again in Britain and America. It is not just useful: in a competitive system, it sends a coded message about the nature of the school, and the kind of pupils it attracts. But finding the time and teachers to teach even one dead language properly is hard enough. A second imposes near-intolerable strains on the timetable.

Yet mingle with the 300-plus participants from Britain, Europe, America, Hong Kong and elsewhere indulging in frantic pedagogy at the Hellenists’ version of Woodstock (an annual summer school at Bryanston in southern England) and a different picture emerges. Monopod classicists add Greek to their existing Latin, covering a semester’s-worth of study in a fortnight. For relaxation, they can listen to the world’s academic authorities disputing the pronunciation of Homer and illuminating the knotty wordplay of Plato’s “Republic”.

The rosy fingers are touching universities too. Though some classics departments in the United States have had to close or merge, the number of students enrolled in Greek has been going up since the 1990s. In 2006 fully 22,849 took some Greek (32,191 studied Latin). Applications for classics courses at top British universities are healthy too.

Logos and Theos

Christianity, rather than the glories of Athens and the horrors of Sparta, may be proving the biggest draw. Though some fundamentalists appear to believe that the Bible was written in English, for the more thoughtful (or pious) Christian, serious study of the New Testament or the early Christian church is impossible without first knowing alpha from omega. In America, Greek and Hebrew are standard parts of a Master of Divinity degree—necessary to become a minister in most respectable Protestant denominations. That does not match the now fast-reviving use of Latin in the Roman Catholic liturgy. But it helps. While the koineGreek current in the eastern Mediterranean in the 1st century AD is different from the Attic, Ionian or Homeric dialects used in the greatest works of classical literature, it is also considerably easier. (For the austere classicists of St Paul’s Girls’ School in London, a touch of koine is regarded as a “Christmas treat”.)

In practice, few classes bond quite as tightly as the six students featured in Donna Tartt’s bestselling novel “The Secret History” (in a pastiche of Euripides’s “Bacchae”, they commit and conceal two vicious murders). But such references highlight the subject as something exotic and therefore desirable, at least to those with time and brainpower to engage in it. The cryptic difficulties of Greek (alphabet, accents, moods, particles and tenses) repel Οί Πολλοί (hoi polloi) but attract devotees. Intellectual elitism, as much as an appreciation of Aristophanes’s bawdy humour, is the glue that binds Hellenists together—stoked, in some schools, by a feeling of official neglect or hostility from peers.

The real threat is not modernity, but globalisation. Europe’s glorious past is one of many: when those seeking to understand China start studying Confucius’s “Analects” with the same attention that past generations have paid to Pericles, the intricacies of the aorist optative may finally lose their charms. But not just yet.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Mc Cain's economic policies

I have read an interesting article on the subject in Fortune magazine.

Many political commentators chose the remarks of his chief strategist Charlie Black who connected the issue of national security to the success of the candidate. An rightly so. Although judging political events, even tragic, from the point of view of their political fortunes is customary to politicians, this one went a bit too far, especially having been made in public. 

And what did Charlie Black say? "The assassination of Benazir Bhutto in December was an "unfortunate event," says Black. "But his knowledge and ability to talk about it reemphasized that this is the guy who's ready to be Commander-in-Chief. And it helped us." As would, Black concedes with startling candor after we raise the issue, another terrorist attack on U.S. soil. "Certainly it would be a big advantage to him," says Black.

But this is not just the opinion of his adviser. Mc Cain himself,  in reply to the first question of the interview "Senator, what do you see as the gravest long-term threat to the U.S. economy?",  at first says nothing. .. Nine seconds of silence, ten seconds, 11. Finally he says, "Well, I would think that the absolute gravest threat is the struggle that we're in against radical Islamic extremism, which can affect, if they prevail, our very existence. Another successful attack on the United States of America could have devastating consequences."

Will the American people support this approach? We will now in November.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Tsvangirai quits election race

Zimbabwe's opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai says he is pulling out of Friday's presidential run-off, handing victory to President Robert Mugabe.
Zimbabwe's Information Minister Sikhanyiso Ndlovu told the BBC that Mr Tsvangirai pulled out the vote because he faced "humiliation and defeat" at the hands of President Mugabe, who he said would win "resoundingly"."Unfortunately," he said, the opposition leader's decision was "depriving the people of Zimbabwe of a vote".

Friday, June 13, 2008

The Irish referendum

Update (19.20GMT)  The Lisbon Treaty has been rejected by Irish voters sparking a crisis for plans to reform European Union structures. A total of 53.4% voted to reject the treaty, while 46.6% voted in favour. All but 10 constituencies rejected the treaty, with a total of 752,451 voting in favour of Lisbon and 862,415 votes against. Turnout was 53.1%.

update (17.20 GMT) only five of 43 constituencies left to declare a result, the No vote is leading by 53.7 per cent to 46.3 per cent. All but seven constituencies have rejected the treaty, with a national running total of 656,228 voting in favour of Lisbon and 761,207 votes against.

update (14.20 GMT)  With 29 of 43 constituencies declared, the No vote is leading by 53.5 per cent to 46.5 per cent. All but six constituencies have rejected the treaty, with a national running total of 527,591 voting in favour of Lisbon and 608,156 votes against.

update (13.50 GMT) With 19 of 43 constituencies declared, the No vote is leading by 54.7 per cent to 45.3 per cent. 
All but two constituencies, Dublin South and Dublin North, have rejected the treaty.
In Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny's Mayo constituency, the treaty has been rejected by a large 61.7 per cent of voters. Mr Kenny and the party’s MEP Jim Higgins conceding earlier today that the No campaign had won in Mayo.

 (13.03 GMT) With nine of 43 constituencies having declared results, the No vote is leading by 57.6 per cent to 42.4 per cent.

update (12.17 GMT)  Six of 43 constituencies having declared results the No vote is leading by 55 per cent to 45 per cent.Waterford, Sligo-North Leitrim, Tipperary North and South, Kerry North and South have all rejected the treaty.

update (11.39 GMT) Waterford has rejected the treaty by 54 per cent to 46 per cent

Tallies in the Lisbon Treaty referendum indicate a strong Yes vote in County Dublin but a No victory in city constituencies and around the rest of the country. 
The tallies indicate there has been a strong No showing in rural areas and in working-class urban areas, while there appears to be less support for the treaty in middle-class urban areas than had been expected.The combined vote in Dublin city and county appears to leaning towards a No vote. However, according to tallies, Dun Laoghaire is two to one in favour of the treaty, as is Dublin South with Dublin South East 60/40 in favour.
Dublin North East, North West and South Central are being called as two to one against the treaty.Dublin Central is 57 per cent against and 43 per cent in favour, according to tallies. Dublin West is 55 per cent No and 45 per cent Yes. Dublin South West is thought to be heading towards a similar margin against, while there has been no tallies done in Dublin North.In Mayo, the vote appears to be 60-40 per cent in favour of the No camp with the majority of boxes counted. There was a 52 per cent turnout. Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny and the party’s MEP Jim Higgins are conceding that the No campaign have won in Mayo.In Galway West, with all boxes counted, tallies indicate 53.95 per cent No to 46.05 per cent Yes. There was a significant No vote in rural areas, including 84 per cent voting No in parts of Connemara, such as Carna and Cliften.Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs Éamon Ó Cuív is conceding defeat for the treaty in the constituency.In Galway East constituency, the trend from tallies also appears to be against the treaty by a narrow margin with most of the 149 boxes opened. In Tuam, the heartland of Libertas founder Declan Ganley, the No votes were two to one ahead.Finalised tallies in Cork North Central indicate a two to one vote against the treaty. Cork South Central also appears to be leaning towards a No vote but by a smaller margin.A strong No vote has been reported in Minister for Education Batt O’Keefe’s home town of Ballincollig.In neighbouring Kerry, tallies are pointing toward a substantial 60 per cent vote against the treaty.In Dublin South-West, there is a report 60 per cent - 40 per cent split in favour of the No side, and this 60:40 tally is repeated in Dublin North-West, Dublin Central, and Dublin North-East.Elsewhere in the country, tallies from Limerick West indicate a 59 per cent No vote and a 41 Yes vote.Tipperary South tallies show 50.3 per cent Yes and 49.7 per cent No vote, while Tipperary North tallies indicate a 50:50 split.Initial tally figures from Sligo-Leitrim suggest a 66 per cent No vote, Roscommon-South Leitrim indicates a 55 per cent No vote, while Donegal South-West (55 per cent No) and Donegal North-East (63 per cent No) are also showing an anti-Lisbon trend.In Louth, the tally split was reported to be a 57 per cent - 43 per cent in favour of No. In Meath West and East, the split shows a 60-40 percentage advantage to the No side.Both Kildare constituencies appear to be bucking the trend, however, with early tallies indicating a 57 per cent - 43 per cent vote in favour of Lisbon.Turnout was reported at about 40 per cent by 9pm, up from 20 per cent in some constituencies by mid-afternoon. In general, turnout was reported to be higher in city areas than in rural areas. By the time polls closed at 10pm last night, around 50 per cent of the three million people registered to vote were understood to have cast their ballots.
There is concern in other EU countries about the impact of the decision by Irish voters, and the French and German governments are expected to make a joint statement later today once the Irish result is known.
Ireland was the only country to hold a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty.


Thursday, June 05, 2008

Imperial College to set-up its own exams

it looks as though, another "myth" of the UK educational system is about to collapse.

According to the Guardian, one of Britain's most successful universities is developing its own entrance exam because it believes "grade inflation" has rendered A-levels useless as a means of selecting the best undergraduates.  
Sir Richard Sykes, the rector of Imperial College London, yesterday warned that the state education system was failing the country's most gifted children and called for radical action to "save" bright students. 
Sykes said: "Top institutions have great difficulty separating out the best students. Even if you interview all the students, you still have a problem." 
The new entrance exam will assess candidates' general intelligence and creativity. It could be brought in from 2010. 
"We are doing this not because we don't believe in A-level but we cannot use A-levels any more as a discriminatory factor," he said. "They have all got four or five A-levels. "[This] hopefully would become a national system if it was seen to be successful." 
He said it was frightening that 40% of his students came from private schools, which teach just 7% of pupils in the UK. 
Schools minister Lord Adonis insisted that educational standards are being maintained. "To further underpin the quality of the qualifications system we have established the new independent regulator, Ofqual."

Monday, June 02, 2008

Texas sect children return home

The triumph of logic (and justice).

More than 400 children who were seized from a polygamist sect in Texas have begun returning home.
A judge in Texas signed an order allowing parents to take the children, who were removed from the sect's ranch by state authorities in April.
Officials had accused members of the sect of forcing young girls into under-age sex.But last week the Texas Supreme Court said officials had failed to prove the children faced immediate danger.
Following Monday's ruling the first parents had emotional reunions with their children, the Associated Press news agency reported."It's just a great day," said Nancy Dockstader, as she embraced one of five children taken by authorities.
On Monday, 129 children were returned to their parents, AP reported.
It was expected to take several days for all the families to be reunited, as some siblings were separated at facilities hundreds of miles apart.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Australia pulls out from Iraq

It is reported today (e.g. here), that Australia has started pulling out the 500 soldiers stationed in Iraq. 
This means that the Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd is fulfilling his election promise.