- The Washington Times - Monday, October 1, 2001

Riddle of evil
"On the National Day of Prayer, one friend told me he was relieved to hear that Billy Graham didn't have an answer for the riddle of evil now my friend didn't feel so alone. And feeling very wise, feeling better about myself by the minute, I corrected both my friend and the Rev. Graham. It's all in the Bible, the fall of man. We all chose this separation from each other. I made it to church thinking I was going to be vindicated on this cosmic point.
"There we stood, holding hands and praying for the orphans in New York, bellowing prayers for our leaders to know God's wisdom, for soldiers to remember whose might alone is real, for enemies to know real love and direction, for ourselves to see our wrongs.
"We were referred to a verse in Chronicles about wickedness purged from the land and we were led to the Book of Job, from which our pastor, like Billy Graham concludes that God does not answer in this life the riddle of evil."
Alan Rifkin, writing on "Toward peace," Sept. 26 in Salon at www.salon.com

Rap decay
"The true crime-cum-Horatio Alger story that Jay-Z shilled into a profitable empire is a timeless one: Fatherless ghetto kid becomes successful drug dealer, sees error of his ways, and becomes an even more successful rapper by romanticizing old lifestyle. Yet, like all rags-to-riches tales, it lost steam once the hero triumphed. This is the dilemma of most autobiographical hip-hop: New battles must be perpetually conjured. Conveniently, some have. Jay has been dissed in verse recently by various MCs, notably Nas. More seriously, he is awaiting trials for both the 1999 alleged stabbing of former associate Lance 'Un' Rivera and charges in April of illegal gun possession.
"This makes [Jay-Zs new CD] 'The Blueprint' a journalistic as well as an artistic event, and the rap mullah reports it for all it's worth.
"But for an MC claiming to represent 'for the seat where Rosa Parks sat,' one expects a bit more. On the telling 'Renagade' [sic], Jay and fellow heavyweight Eminem brag how they've 'never been afraid to talk about anything.' But Jay just replays his hard-knock life, while Em carps yet again about being a cultural scapegoat. Alas: two of the world's greatest rappers, afraid to talk about anything but the same ol' shtick."
Will Hermes, writing on "The Blueprint" in the Sept. 28 issue of Entertainment Weekly

Terrible teens
"This generation of high school students has been branded the most violent, the most unruly, most ill-mannered, disrespectful and undereducated generation in the nation's history. That message has been blared so loudly, so regularly that I could hardly have missed it. And their schools, I'd been told are overcrowded, ill-repaired, dangerous places run by underpaid rubes whose classes are too big and standards too low for indolent teenagers so busy tormenting one another that they could not possibly learn anything in any event.
"One morning in November, during a student geography bee, I listened as teen-agers from privileged families identified Jamaica as an island in the Pacific and the mountain range separating India from China as the Indus Mountains then to their teachers defend that ignorance by arguing 'We don't waste time on simple memorization. We'd rather spend it on higher orders of thinking.'
"One moment, I was awestruck at the plight of varsity football players breaking up fights among sophomores rather than cheering them on, as they had in my day. Five minutes later, I was horrified to read students' papers and realize that even the best hadn't mastered basic grammar, punctuation or spelling or to hear scores of students blithely inform me, perhaps even boast to me, that they had never read a complete book."
Elinor Burkett, in her new book, "Another Planet: A Year in the Life of a Suburban High School"

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