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In Education, a Silver Lining to COVID-19

The pandemic has turned much of America inside out, with terrible consequences. But it may have a few upsides, among them increased empathy by instructors for their students. In today’s Martin Center article, Portland Community College writing professor Kathleen Bustamante explains how that is so.

Here is one of the stories she relates in the piece:

A student whose mother had been hospitalized for leukemia, for example, experienced an understandably high amount of stress when the lockdown began. A bright student, he had turned in quality work on time, but started to miss deadlines during the lockdown. He began battling depression and sought treatment because hospital rules stopped him from visiting his mother. He admitted he was having trouble handling the anxiety of a parent battling cancer, a pandemic, and passing my class.

Before COVID-19, I might have thought twice before believing him. After 14 years of teaching, I have heard my share of sad stories by procrastinating students who lie to avoid a failing grade.

However, this pandemic has brought about trauma and emotional lows for many people. Experiencing the same stressors as my students has increased my levels of understanding and patience as a teacher.

Bustamante now is more lenient about giving students extensions on assignments and devotes more of her time to helping students who are struggling, but is not demanding added compensation for it.

She concludes, “Teaching through COVID-19 has opened my eyes to the many obstacles my students face beyond academics. After the pandemic ends, I look forward to sending my children back to school and life returning to normal. However, a more nuanced perspective on my students’ lives will stay with me.”

George Leef is the the director of editorial content at the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal.

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Ennio Morricone, R.I.P. | National Review

At 91 years old, the great film soundtrack composer Ennio Morricone has died.

Morricone’s work elevated spaghetti Westerns into art. His soundtrack for The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly is one of the most enduring and endearing pieces of work for a reason. His status among aural aficionados was given a slight comic tribute in the chick-flick, The Holiday, when Jack Black’s character embarrasses himself trying to explain the sublime power of Morricone’s soundtrack for The Mission, which is really astonishing. It shows Morricone as a true composer. All the courageous idealism of a Jesuit missionary is in the fantasia “Gabriel’s Oboe.” The beauty and transcendent terror of God’s judgement is somehow packed into the “Ave Maria” he composes for the Guarani to sing to the cardinal who will betray them to slavers.

Morricone began his musical career as a trumpeter in jazz bands in the 1940s and later became a studio arranger for RCA in the 1950s. His work on Westerns from 1960–1975 is what made him a star — most famously, his collaborations with Sergio Leone. Once Upon a Time in the West is a masterpiece. Here it is played like one by the Danish National Symphony Orchestra.

Morricone had long-term relationships with directors like Brian De Palma and Roland Joffre. Quentin Tarantino, a devotee in the Leone cult, had Morricone do the lovely soundtrack for The Hateful Eight. Overall, Morricone composed for over 400 films and television series.

The sounds Morricone created are as essential to the language of cinema as any of Steven Spielberg’s track-in shots , Spike Lee’s montages, or Hitchcock’s “pure cinema” style of visual storytelling.

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‘Presidents’ Putin and Castro; the Wearing of Masks; ‘Karens,’ ‘Johns,’ and Others

Russian leader Vladimir Putin attends his annual end-of-year news conference in Moscow, December 23, 2016. (Sputnik/Alexei Druzhinin/Kremlin via Reuters)

In Impromptus today, I touch on a variety of issues, as usual: some grave, some light (some in between). I begin with a discussion of Putin, which leads to Castro (Fidel, I mean, although one could do Raúl, too, who is smaller beer).

Putin wants to be known as “President” — which implies a certain democratic legitimacy. Fidel Castro wanted the same — which burned a lot of Cubans and Cuban Americans I knew.

For years, I heard from the Left that Castro was popular with “his people.” That was a funny contention: in that Castro prohibited a free press, competing parties, free elections, and so on. He maimed, imprisoned, and killed his critics. That does not sound like a man very confident in his popularity.

Today, from the Right, I hear that Putin is popular. Same.

Another issue in my column today is mask-wearing, and resistance to it. I cite an interesting notice from the City of Portland, Ore., published during the 1918–20 pandemic. Everything old is new again.

“We appeal to your civic patriotism to co-operate with us in our effort to stamp out the Spanish influenza or ‘flu’ plague in Portland by wearing a mask,” the city said. “You should willingly co-operate in doing this and not necessitate the passage of an ordinance which will make the wearing of a mask compulsory.”

I further cite a letter from a judge in Beaumont, Texas, written just a couple of weeks ago: a heartfelt letter, a cri de cœur, practically. “I pray for your cooperation,” he ends: cooperation in mask-wearing.

This morning, something else came to my attention — an article out of Topeka. The headline read, “Newspaper owner: Sorry for equating mask rule to Holocaust.” The article explained that “a Kansas county Republican Party chairman who owns a weekly newspaper apologized Sunday for a cartoon posted on the paper’s Facebook page.”

The cartoon in question showed the governor of the state, Laura Kelly, wearing a mask with a Star of David on it. Behind her was an image of people being loaded into a train. And the caption? “Lockdown Laura says: Put on your mask…and step onto the cattle car.”

Say what you will about mask ordinances: They are designed to save lives, whereas the perpetrators of the Holocaust were eager to snuff them out.

On to something lighter (as what could not be?). In the current issue of NR, I have a piece called “‘Scandalize My Name’: The use and abuse of ‘Karen,’ etc.” The name “Karen” has been appropriated to mean a middle-aged white lady who is bossy, ignorant, and probably racist. You will find this use in the social media.

A distinguished scholar writes to me, “When I was a nipper, the term that covered what ‘Karen’ now covers was ‘Miss Anne.’ At least this was so among Afro-Americans.” Example: “If you do that, Miss Anne will certainly have something to say about it.”

My piece in NR touches on Dicks, Johns, and others, as well as Karens. A reader writes,

You reminded me of a conversation I had with my mother-in-law many, many years ago. At that point, both my husband’s sisters were getting married, one in February, one in May. Both fiancés — now for many years husbands — were named John. Anyway, Mom and I were talking about the upcoming weddings, and Mom said “the girls and their Johns” — at which point she abruptly stopped. After a pause, we both started laughing hysterically.

A friend of mine in California has sent me a news article: “California college professor on leave after asking student to ‘Anglicize’ name.” The article begins,

A professor from Laney College in Oakland has been placed on administrative leave after asking a student to “Anglicize” her name.

On the second day of class, Laney College mathematics professor Matthew Hubbard asked Phuc Bui Diem Nguyen to “Anglicize” her name because “Phuc Bui sounds like an insult in English,” Hubbard told Nguyen in an email obtained by CNN.

The young lady refused. “I decided to fully embrace it,” she said, referring to her name, “and let everyone know that they should be proud of their name.”

A name is such a personal, sensitive thing: not to be abused, and a rich topic for writing (I find).

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Statues & Racism: Planned Parenthood Founder Margaret Sanger Supported Race-Based Eugenics

A man holds a sign during an anti-Planned Parenthood vigil outside the Margaret Sanger Health Center in New York, February 11, 2017. (Andrew Kelly/Reuters)

Much of the radical Left is at present consumed by a feverish desire to erase from U.S. history anyone whom they’ve deemed in some way insufficiently loyal to the progressive creed of 2020. The statue-toppling brigades have exercised little discretion in determining which of our leaders are no longer fit for public display, targeting everyone from Abraham Lincoln to Ulysses S. Grant to Thomas Jefferson to Frederick Douglass to this elk.

In many cases — and in none so clearly as that of the elk — the attacks on statues appear to have been motivated primarily by a riotous desire to destroy anything that can easily be overturned. But in others, one can see a puritanical pseudo-morality at work, a mob mentality demanding that we capitulate to their view of history and permit them to remove offenders and refashion the public square according to their values.

There is plenty to criticize about this rather frightening campaign to obliterate men and their monuments for having been imperfect, not least of which is the willful ignorance required to attempt to “cancel” the Founding Fathers, the author of the Emancipation Proclamation, and leading abolitionists in the name of racial justice.

But I wonder, too, whether these crusaders will train their gaze on one of our nation’s far more serious offenders of racial equality: Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger. She was, after all, a foremost proponent of the eugenics movement — motivated by her particular animus toward poor non-whites — and her campaign to legalize birth control was motivated in large part by her desire to prevent the “unfit” and “feeble-minded” from reproducing.

After several decades of brushing aside pro-life critiques of its tainted history, Planned Parenthood is now fielding similar complaints from some of its own employees. Just last month, more than 350 current and former staffers of Planned Parenthood’s Greater New York affiliate — along with several hundred donors and volunteers — published an open letter condemning Sanger as “a racist, white woman” and arguing that the organization is guilty of “institutional racism.”

“We know that Planned Parenthood has a history and a present steeped in white supremacy and we, the staff, are motivated to do the difficult work needed to improve,” the letter added.

If removing offensive statues is the new norm, perhaps the bust of Sanger in the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery should be the next to go.

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Harvard Cancels In-Person Classes, Becomes Meritocracy without Meeting

Students and pedestrians walk through the Yard at Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass., March 10, 2020. (Brian Snyder -/File Photo/Reuters)

Harvard University announced that it was canceling in-person classes for the entire upcoming academic year because of COVID-19. Students can attend digital Harvard for the exact same price.

Some of my fellow conservatives are wondering if the stresses of pandemic conditions will finally pop an over-inflated college bubble. The student-age population is already starting to shrink. Tuitions are at all-time highs, and the conventional wisdom is starting to catch up to the reality that the college-premium on salaries may not be worth the debt. And I do think smaller colleges and third-tier schools may be entering a world of hurt. They look at this new “offering” from Harvard and laugh.

But there is not some robust job market that is more attractive than school right now, so I’m not sure that elite universities will suffer.

Many people claim that the value of going to Harvard is really in the networking that Harvard enables on campus, off-campus, and after graduation. Ambitious people of talent meet the elites who buy into institutions like this, and out comes enterprises such as Facebook or the latest NGO. Without the in-person networking, the whole enterprise is worth less, they argue.

I’m not so sure. A huge part of the Harvard “offer” is that being accepted by Harvard and graduating from it confers most of the merit and the networking abilities a prospective employer may seek. This is a change for Harvard students to complete one year of Harvard while not going into debt for student housing. If the classes are not really all that valuable, maybe the digital Harvard will be more popular than we think.

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Michael Hickson, Foster Care, Syria, Hamilton & More — Twenty Things That Caught My Eye Today, July 6, 2020


2. Wesley J. Smith: The Deadly “Quality of Life” Ethic

The doctor did not base his decision on the seriousness of Michael’s illness, but on his continuing disability. This is a classic example of applying the invidious “quality of life” ethic, which deems people with disabilities, the elderly, the chronically ill, and the dying to have a lower moral worth than the healthy, able-bodied, and young; this ethic sometimes translates into denying the weak and vulnerable medical care that others would receive readily.

3. Sarah Zagorski: The Supreme Court dealt a devastating blow to low-income women by siding with the abortion industry

In Louisiana, abortion proponents argued that laws such as Act 620 disproportionately affect low-income women. Poor women don’t have the resources to take off work and travel across state to a qualified practitioner, they argue.

But they cleverly forget to mention that it is precisely low-income women who are the ones disproportionately affected by sloppy abortion physicians because these women are the most vulnerable in crisis.

This week’s decision by the Supreme Court is no victory for low-income women. Women like my mother are in need of protection from an abortion industry that recognizes their vulnerability can be used for profit. This decision, in fact, will set women back decades, to a time where powerful individuals, such as doctors and judges, wield power over vulnerable populations because no one, not even the highest court in the land, will protect them.

4.  Carter Snead: The Way Forward After June Medical

June Medical Services was a grave disappointment and a missed opportunity. But Chief Justice Roberts’s concurrence—the controlling opinion for purposes of precedent—leaves pro-life litigants on a better jurisprudential footing than before.

5. Sister Norma Pimentel: Covid-19 has come to our migrant camp. It makes ending the MPP policy even more urgent.

This MPP policy fails to address people with dignity. We should not have people forced to wait for asylum — trying to find safety for themselves and their families — while camped outside in the elements for months at a time. It is contrary to our laws and the dictates of humanity. The story of these asylum seekers has faded from the front pages of U.S. newspapers and from television screens but the cruel and unfair situation continues.

6. Politico: Pandemic unleashes a spike in overdose deaths

The pandemic-fueled uptick in overdose deaths also coincides with the Trump administration’s legal battle to strike down the Affordable Care Act at the Supreme Court. Eliminating the law without a replacement would, among other things, eliminate protections ensuring coverage of benefits including addiction and mental health services.

7. Rebecca Smith Masterson: There’s a better way to do foster care

I do not envy the judge faced with a choice between allowing a three-year-old to remain where he has lived for almost two years, but losing the opportunity of living with his biological half-siblings, versus placing siblings together, but removing a child from the only mother he’s ever known. While I don’t envy this decision, I do firmly believe that both options should be equally available to every judge faced with this situation. Right now, they are not equally available.

Currently, the laws in the majority of states favor blood ties in every situation without regard for the individual circumstances of the child.

8. Inez Feltscher Stepman: The Last Fourth of July?

Just two years ago, the media laughed at the president for wondering where the movement to remove historical statues would end, and whether it could distinguish between Jefferson Davis and Thomas Jefferson. Today, rioters have destroyed monuments to abolitionists alongside Confederate generals; Ulysses S. Grant and Abraham Lincoln are targeted alongside Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee. It’s not merely symbols of the CSA that protesters find offensive, it’s any hero of the United States who is now the enemy.


But it’s not just historical inaccuracies that plague the 1619 Project and its rioting adherents. Their central narrative is wrong. America was founded in 1776, and at the cornerstone of the American system rests not slavery, but the fundamental equality and dignity of every human being, naturally endowed with inalienable rights. The United States, like all fallible human civilizations, has not always lived up to the greatness of its creed. Its heroes, like all men in all eras and countries, are flawed and made terrible mistakes.

As a first-generation American, my ancestors didn’t land on Plymouth Rock; they neither kept nor fought to free slaves, and they didn’t storm the wide beaches of Omaha under the American flag. But I consider George Washington to be my Founding Father, and 1776 to be the birthday of my country, which well deserves fireworks to celebrate 244 years.

9. Archbishop Broglio Issues Statement on U.S. Naval Orders Prohibiting Participation in Off-Base Indoor Religious Services

Participation in the Sunday Eucharist is life blood for Catholics.  It is the source and summit of our lives and allows us to receive the Body and Blood of the Lord.  Certainly, the Navy personnel who fall under this restriction are dispensed from the obligation to attend Sunday Mass, because no one can be required to do what is impossible.

10. Francis X. Maier: Escape Clause

There’s a curious quality of theater to the current wave of street demonstrations, monument desecrations, public confessions of guilt, news media hysteria, official cowardice, the irrelevance of the Church to the angry young, and Big Tech’s shoveling money at organizations committed to upending their economic system.

The wind is strong.  I find myself bouncing from fear, to fury, to emotional fatigue.  And there’s a small part of me, and I’m not alone, that longs irrationally for a purifying fire: Burn it all down, and start over.  “The worse, the better” – the line so often (and wrongly) attributed to Lenin – starts to make sense.  But that road leads into very dark corners of the heart.

11. As covid-19 saps Vietnam’s economy, private charity is blossoming

12. Black Americans and the Fourth— and Fifth— of July

American patriotism then, as Douglass also suggests, is inseparable from a kind of pride—the pride that comes from the experience of having, and being enabled to have, an active hand in the thriving condition of one’s economic, social, and political life. Absent such participation, one ends up with Tocqueville’s nightmare vision of disengaged individuals pettily concerned with security and physical wellbeing, entirely lacking public spirit and initiative, and irritably critical of a bureaucratic regulation regime on which they are entirely dependent. But what if the promise of such participation is continually held out to a people and repeatedly frustrated? Such has been, in large measure, the black experience since Emancipation.

13. Coronavirus: Trainee priest treating patients during crisis

14. Nobody’s Martyr: The Millions Interviews Shannon Reed

Shannon Reed: I am obsessed with the mythologies around teaching, and often ruminate about how they hurt teachers (and, more selfishly, me). What never seems to get factored into the conversation, but which might be changing now, due to what the pandemic has taught us, is that our society cannot function without teachers. We really ought to be doing everything we can to keep good teachers in the profession, including giving them the opportunity to become good teachers, and pulling in as many new ones as we can. Eliminating those belittling misconceptions would so help with that.

15. The New York Times: Five Years and 100-Plus Stories: What It’s Like Covering ‘Hamilton’

16. Christianity Today: the Gospel Takes Center Stage in ‘Hamilton’

In one church I spoke at, a woman approached me after my sermon and told me that Hamilton saved her life. One particular night, she listened to the soundtrack of Hamilton as she seriously contemplated suicide. When she heard George Washington sing, “Dying is easy, young man / Living is harder,” something shifted inside of her. She realized that taking her life would be the easy way out—that the harder path was choosing to live. God used this story to literally save this woman’s life.


18. Crux: Opus Dei chief takes graduate seminar in coronavirus heroism

19. Gucci’s first model with Down syndrome goes viral

Goldstein is signed with Zebedee Management, a talent agency dedicated to increasing the representation of people with disabilities in media. She has appeared in numerous campaigns since signing with them in 2017, including a Nike campaign for the Women’s World Cup last year.

20. Matthew Hennessey in the WSJ: My Father the Car Radio