Friday, August 30, 2002

I had ordered a copy of N T Wright's Mark For Everyone from Amazon for my birthday.That was back in May. A couple months later I got an email saying the status of the book had been changed to "not yet published". They would send it to me as soon as it was available. Yetserday I get a note saying that despite superhuman efforts on their behalf, despite all the trials and tribulations, the blood, sweat and tears, the toils and travails, the weeping and gnashing of virtual teeth, they simply would not be able to get the book to me. Perhaps someone should tell Mr Wright (or SPCK) that his books aren't being made available here. I could have oredered it from the UK site and had it back in May I imagine.

In other news, I'm finding much help on NT background from Bruce Malina's book. The only annoying thing is that it appears to be written for college freshmen. He spends a bit too long defing all his terms (like "culture" and "anthropology"). But his insights so far are good. I now know what the term "religion" means in a first century context.

Wednesday, August 28, 2002

More NPR silliness, for your enjoyment. There's a local show called The State of Things, devoted to local people and issues here in NC. The quality varies tremendously, depending on how interesting the guest is on his or her own. The host (bless her heart) doesn't add much. I won't give her name so as not to embarass her too much (and so she can't find this post), but here's what she said on a show promo yesterday: "How well do you know your grammar? We all know i before e except after c, but do we really know the other rules of grammar? Our guest today is the 'grammar lady' . . ."

As only Dave Barry can adequately put it, I'm not making this up.
In sibling rivalry news, last I checked (two days ago) I was the top Paul Baxter on google. However, my brother is WAY down at number three. Not a bad site for an academic though.

Friday, August 23, 2002

Had a first in my work yesterday, though I imagine it won't be the last. I was working at the piano store in the morning. I typically spend two to four days a month over there helping them keep their pianos repaired and in tune. They've been just an incredible source of business for me, so I'm willing to put up with the low money they pay me and the occasional irritation. Doug, the store manager, had two pianos for me to work on yesterday. The first wasn't much of a piano, but it tuned up without too many problems. The second had a sign on it saying, "under repairs". I couldn't remember if I had worked on it before, but I was shortly to receive confirmation that I had certainly not. I opened up the case and found a couple of pick-up sticks jutting out of the action at odd angles (You remember pick-up sticks, don't you?). I began looking for other foreign objects. I noticed a number of springs that had gotten dislodged, which is not too unusual. I also noticed a sizable ball of fuzz, maybe four inches long. I got out my long tweezers to remove the fuzz and noticed that it was pretty hard in the middle. It also had a tail. Within moments I was holding the remains of a mouse (in the tweezers, not in my hands if you're wondering). I brought it over to Doug for closer inspection and his profesional opinion. "That mouse looks like he's seen better days. I wonder why the family didn't notice a smell?"

That will just have to remain a mystery. The piano was about three quarters of a step flat, whih is to say that if you played a C you got a note somewhere between B-flat and B. This would suggest to me that the piano had been seriously neglected for quite some time. More than that I cannot say.

Wednesday, August 21, 2002

I'm posting this in case you didn't see it at Chris O'Donnell's site. I do really hope that this gets challenged soon. I also don't understand how it would help the state finances to send kids to cshool who aren't there right now. Wouldn't that necessitate more expenses, larger class sizes and more teachers?

Tuesday, August 20, 2002

Believe me when I say that I'm as sorry as you are that my pathetic somment system is down once again. But as they say, the internet is always a little bit broken.

At one point in my blog description I said it would contain my thoughts about music. This pretty much hasn't happened, as you tiny group of long term readers know. I don't listen to much contemporary music, so I generally don't join into discussions in that area. I do, though, have lots of opinions about "classical" music, and had a recent thought which I considered blogworthy. If you are not interested in classical music or or fairly ignorant in that area, just stop reading now or you'll just be bored (like you aren't already).

Here goes. There are some things in the history of music which have generally been considered, for lack of a better term, wrong turns. As an example, quite a lot of the music students I have talked too over the years have condisidered the work of the second Viennese school (Shoenberg, Webern etc.) to be such a wrong turn. This is not to say that a wrong turn doesn't lead to some good pieces here or there, or that it doesn't contribute to the development of future music. It's just an idea in music that for some reason or other just doesn't work. I and a very few others condiser the entire classical period to be an example of this, but that's not what I'm going to talk about. What I want to talk about is the piano concerto. I become convinced on Sunday evening that the piano concerto, especially as it came to be developed in the romantic era by folks like Tchaikovsky, Grieg, Brahms, and many others, was an idea that didn't work well. This realization hit me due entirely to the fact that WCPE, the local classical station, chose to play one of Bach's keyboard concertos, I believe it was number seven. This concerto was performed by a pianist and a small string group. The piano part ran pretty much without break through the piece, much of it soft (I'm keeping from the term piano to avoid confusion), and none of it very loud. Thus there was constant interaction between the piano and the other instruments. The effect was quite pleasant.

As I was listening, I thought of the Tchaikovsky concerto with its blastissimo portions and said to myself, something went wrong. I suppose what happened was simply that the modern symphony orchestra came about somewhere in the 19th century, thus the piano concerto evolved to fit the larger orchestra. As a consequence, the concerti became less "concerted" and more competitive. The piano in these concerti often played solo, or very loudly with the whole orchestra, or muddled along with sections of the orchestra. The parts are just not capable of being balanced due to the numbers involved.

Don't misunderstand me. I do enjoy many of these concerti. I also think the piano can make a good orchestral instrument. I've heard many syphonnic pieces where a piano added significantly to the overall color. But I think the piano concerto is a dead end, and I think this is borne out by the fact that very few piano concerti have found success since 1914. I would love to see more chamber music for piano though. Brahms and Dvorak, just to name two of my favorites, wrote absolutely wonderful music for pianos with small groups. I hope that more follow in their footsteps.

Friday, August 16, 2002

Was listening to NPR's Talk of the Nation yesterday as they discussed the teaching of Islam in schools and the lawsuit brought against UNC in that regard. Was fairly sedate. Then unintentional humor struck.

"We now hear from Catherine in Chapel Hill, North Carolina."

"Am I on?"

"Yes, go ahead."

"Ok, I'm a student at UNC so I wanted to weigh in on this"

"Yes, and what is your take on the situation?"

"Well, I'm, like, an honors student, or whatever . . ."

At that point I just started laughing and turned off the radio. I've pretty much becomeconvinced that the greatest problem in listening to NPR is the quality of callers they put on the air.

Thursday, August 15, 2002

I love living in Mebane. One of the reasons I love living in Mebane is that we have a local, and I mean LOCAL, phone company, Mebtel. Mebtel has a great deal on DSL service. I get the DSL bundled together with all the phone services (Caller ID, etc.) and the installation is free. So I signed up to get it this week. They said they'd be able to do it Friday morning. As it happened, today at about noon the tech showed up at my house. "We're real busy tomorrow," he said, "so can we install yours today?" It did take a bit of work to figure out how to make windows/IE realize that I was connected, but we're up and running now. Blogger's doing some construction, so I'll just tell you that my new email address is I'll put it in the link to the left when blogger is ready for me.

Wednesday, August 14, 2002

Sometimes my varied readings supplement each other in a serendipitous way (and hey, you get the benefit). In chapter one of Moby Dick, Ishmael imagines a newspaper of the day:

'Grand Contested Election for the Presidency of the United States.

Here is the rest of the story on the third point:

Throughout the 19th cent. the British and the Russians each attempted to create favorable economic/political/military relations with the small city-states lying between Russia and India. The Russsian were hoping to eventually mount an attack on India, the Brits hoped to forestall the same.

One of these small nations, with which we all have gained a bit a familiarity recently, is the Afgan capital of Kabul. The first reconnaisance of Kabul revealed that it was being ruled by one Dost Mohammed, and the scout/diplomat who met him suggested to the powers in Calcutta that he would be an ideal ally. Calcutta had other plans though. It was discovered that there was an exiled Afgan king in Persia, Shah Shujah; Calcutta figured that restoring the "rightful" ruler would win the hearts of the local.

Thus, the brits sent a military expedition to Kabul, defeated and took captive Dost Mohammed, and installed Shah Shujah on the throne. Unfortunately, the citizens of Kabul much prefered Dost Mohammed, and began to rally around his son, Akbar. In addition to this, a number of brits set up shop in Kabul to establish trade and were greatl yoffensive to the locals, not least due to stealing many of their wives.

In any case, in 1841 a riot broke out in Kabul. The British governor there refused to call in the military, who were stationed not terribly far away, in hopes that he could bribe his way to peace. This was unsuccessful, and he was hacked to death by the crowd. This left British decision making in Kabul to general Elphinstone, who was old, sick and ready to retire. Elphinstone showed no initiative at all, and eventually negotiated a treaty on January 1, 1842, whereby the Afgans would maintain friendly relations in exchange for a full evacuation by the British.

And so, on January 6, 1842, 16,000 British and Indian military and civilians left Kabul for the garrison at Jalalabad, some 80 miles away, and a five day hike through mountain passes. The locals were not content with this arrangement, and opened fire on them from the moment thy left the city. Afgan horsemen also rode in among the troops, plundering and driving of the baggage animals. With all the confusion, the group only managed to cover five miles the first day, and were now badly underequipped. Only one tent remained to be used by senior officers and the more prominent civilians. The rest had to sleep in the snow, with only their own clothes to burn for fuel. Needless to say, many froze to death.

The next day the camp moved on again, again facing sniping from the mountains. Raiders alsostole some of the large guns and forced the destruction of the others. Akbar himself showed up, claming to have come to escort them safely to Jalalabad. For payment, Akbar demanded hostages, and that the group move no further that day, so that things could be arranged in the next pass. Astoudingly and tragically, Elphinstone believed him and complied. The following day the camp moved into the four mile ling narrow mountain pass, but with no sign of an escort, nor of the food and provisions Akbar had also promised. As they moved on, however, they did discover what had been prepared for them, namely gunmen stationed on either side. Three thousand were left dead in the pass that day, with the rest coming through cold, tired, hungry and frost-bitten. Many Brtish officers and wives surrendered to the Afgans, but the attacks continued. By the end of the day only 750 of the troops and a third of the civilians were still alive.

Occasionally Akbar would show up, claiming he was doing all in his power but that the local tribesmen were beyond his control. Again, Elphinstone continued to believe, and pressed on. Two days later, on the 12th, Akbar again claimed to offer them safe passage. By this time they were down to less than 200 troops and about 2000 camp followers. Elphinstone, feeling he had no choice, went to parley with Akbar, but was now taken prisoner. He managed a message to the troops telling them to press on immediately. They discovered a barrier the Afgans had erected in a narrow gorge. The Afgans had apparently meant to finish them off here, but not expecting the brits to move at night, had left it unmanned. The brits immediately began to tear down the wall with their bare hands, but were soon discovered and attacked. This was the end of all discipline, and total confusion reigned. At this time one Dr. Brydon climbed the partially dismantled barricade, took the pony of a dying soldier and made off.

The rest of those who remained fought to the death right there. Dr Brydon, despite three further attacks and a mortal wound to his pony, made it to Jalalabad, the only member of the party to do so. And that, as another Paul would say, is the rest of the story.

Monday, August 12, 2002


One of the things I like about Trollope is this sort of thing from the opening of chapter two of Dr Thorne:

As Dr. Thorne is our hero -- or I should rather say my hero, a privilege of selecting for themselves in this respect being left to all my readers -- and as Miss Mary Thorne is to be our heroine, a point on which no choice whatever is left to anyone, it is only necessary that they should be introduced and explained in a proper, formal manner. I quite feel that an apology is due for beginning a novel with two long dull chapters full of description. I am perfectly aware of the danger of such a course. In so doing I sin against the golden rule which requires us to put our best foot foremost, the wisdom of which is recognized by novelists, myself among the number. It can hardly be expected that anyone will consent to anyone will go through with a fiction that offers so little of allurement in its first pages; but twist it as I will, I cannot do otherwise. I find that I cannot make poor Mr Gresham [introduced in ch 1] hem and haw and turn himself uneasily in his arm-chair in a natural manner till I have said why he is uneasy. I cannot bring in my doctor speaking his mind freely among the bigwigs till I have explained that it is in accordance with his usual character to do so. This is unartistic on my part, and shows want of imagination as well as want of skill. Whether or not I can atone for these faults my straightforward, simple story telling -- that, indeed, is very doubtful.

Friday, August 09, 2002

A couple of thoughts I have been thinking over the past few weeks and days:

1. One of the proper and most important tasks of academics in general is to make known what has been written in their field in other languages.

2 One of the proper and important tasks of philosophers in particular is to interact with scholars in other fields. I've been seeing a bit of this in theology, but it seems it should be going on in all academic (and non-academic?) disciplines.

3 (Unstated assumption of points one and two) One of the proper tasks of piano tuners is to tell other people what their jobs are.
SInce all the cool kids are doing a movie quote quiz, I thought I'd try my hand. These are all from favorite movies of mine (with the exception of one from my wife's favorite movie).

1 Orange Whip? Orange Whip? Three Orange Whips.
2 Sink me. (Said in the most foppish way imaginable)
3 I think Scrooge McDuck is sexy.
4 'ere I am, J H..
5 Watch out, he's a Fourierist!

Good luck. These are all remembered as best I can. My last viewing of any of these particular movies is about two years ago, so maybe I'll have a prize for someone who knows all the quotes and can spot a mistake.

Wednesday, August 07, 2002

Haven't had too much to blog about lately. I've traded a couple of e-mails with fellow blogger Telford Work (philosophy dept at Westmont) about pacifism, since he had been writing along pacifist lines before he took a bit of a blogging sabbatical. It's kinda funny to me that all his responses to me were things I believed in (the peaceful nature of Christ's conquering mission, the possibility of disobedience to gov't at particular points), but didn't really get to the heart of the issue, for me at least. He did suggest a few books, so I'll see if sometime I can nail down why some come out on either side of the pacifism question in the church. The question of "Is it ever justfiable within a Christian ethic to commit violence?" seems fairly straightforward. Wonder why it's created so much confusion.

Sunday, August 04, 2002

We rented Gosford Park and Amelie this weekend. I think I expected Gosford Park to be more light hearted than it was, but it was still good. Amelie, on the other hand, I thought was amazing. Plus it was good to see Dominique Pinon acting again after enjoying him in Delicatessan and Cite Des Enfants Perdu. Amelie actually WAS in a lighter mood than those films, though certainly with SOME heavy atmospheric elements. It would be nice if someone in Hollywood learned to make films that imaginative, besides Terry Gilliam.

Thursday, August 01, 2002

Sometimes I really wonder if people in this country believe that morality is local rather than universal. Case in point: I caught about twenty minutes of a discussion on the radio about changes in the nursing profession aver the last twenty years or so. The guests were two long time nurses, and at the point I started listening they were discussing the practice of recruiting nurses from other nations. One of the guests said, obviously being a bit hyperbolic here, "I just think this is about the most immoral thing thing can do."
Host: "In what way is it immoral?"
Guest 1: "Well for one thing, you are depleting these other countries of their most experienced nurses. The people coming are not the recent nursing school graduates, they are the nurses with experience."
Host: "But are they being paid the same as the other nurses?"
Guest 1: "Yes, we are all under the same contract . . ."
Guest 2: "But they are artificially depressing the wages, since the immigrant nurses are willing to work for lower wages"

This was followed by a bit of discussion about some studies that were done about ten years ago which indicated that there would be a big nursing surplus. As a result of these figures, many nursing schools closed and many hospitals laid off nurses.

What concerned me was the idea that paying someone a premium to move for a job is immoral. The context here is an international move, but one wonders how this is different than, say, an interstate move, or even an intercity move.

Leaving the distance issue aside, it seems to me that people just naturally have an aversion to seeing the power that money has over people. This is because many find it distasteful that those with more money de facto have more power than those who don't.

To spin the situation around, let's say that you have a job skill which enables you to earn $10 per hour where you live. This isn't a great wage by any means, but that is due to the fact that your job skill is common here. Now let's say that this particular job skill is in greater demand in Argentina, and a company there has offered you $20 per hour t owork there. Does this raise any moral issues to you. You might place more value on staying home with your friends and family, but that would of course be up to you. You might, in fact, resent having to make the decision at all. Maybe you were comfortable with your circumstances, but now you need to rethink them. In any case, what would be your MORAL case against the potential employer. If you turned the job down, wouldn't you express thanks for the offer?

To get back to my first statement, I think many are willing to condemn the exercise of our economic system, especially when it comes to international labor markets, without ever really examining what is going on, or what the alternatives would be. Should we forbid all alien laborers here? Would that make us MORE moral?