Thursday, December 29, 2005

I've been reading a little bit of philosophy this week (Coppleston, I'm afraid). This, coupled with some recent comments by John Derbyshire on The Corner, reminds me of a thesis which I have long been convinced of. Let me explain briefly. Derbyshire has been responding to a number of emails from people about the subject of Intelligent Design. He has said publicly that ID has nothing to do with "science", at least the way he understands the two things. In responding to the emails he received about this, Derbyshire has stated that he has no training in, nor interest in philospohy. He has an interest in what scientists actually think and do, and based on that, thinks that ID is a side issue.

While I feel competely incompetent to argue about science/design/philosophy/theology issues (as they relate to each other), it reminds me of my thesis about philosophy as an acadmic practice. My thesis is that academic philosophers should be required to take on some sort of interest outside of philosophy proper with the idea of being able to make contributions to that field. While scientists (as one example) are certainly free to dabble in philosophy to their hearts content, I think it would still be valuable to the science community to have a very careful philosopher look at their field. It may often be the case that the conclusions scientists draw from their work are unwarranted, or that their starting theses are dependant on untenable premises.

The subject of cosmology/origins/design seems to be one particular area where I think a great deal of care and rigor would be valuable.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

I don't remember who I saw mention Pandora first, but I just got a nice surprise when my "Little River Band" station started playing Black Sabbath's Children of the Sea (with Dio on vocals). Not that there's anything wrong with that, I just didn't see it going with my soft 70's sounds.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

This is why I love anthropolgy. People are endlessly fascinating. Especially weird people.
A page from Louis De Bernieres' lotest novel, Birds Without Wings. Perhaps some of you read Corelli's Mandolin? The narrative voice here, btw, is Turkish.

Ever since the year 1189 in the Muslim calendar, which was 1774 in the Christian, the Russian Empire had exercised a policy of religious expurgation every time that it expanded into newly conquered lands. In the Crimea, in the Caucasus, in southern Ukraine, in Azerbaijan, Kars-Ardahan and Laz, the Russians massacred and displaced the Muslim population, swamping the Ottoman Empire with refugees with which it could not cope. It is impossible to calculate the number of deaths, or to reimagine the manner in which these murders were perpetrated. It was a perduring holocaust, but, unlike the more famous one of the Second World War, it is uncommemorated by the world because it received no publicity at the time or afterwards. No monuments have been raised, no dates of comemoration have entered the calendars, no religious services have been held, and no hindsighted pieties have been repeated for our edification. The Russians replaced these slaughtered populations with Christians, preferably of Slav origin, but in the absence of Slavs, they made do with Ukrainians and Armenians.

It is curious that the Russians, calling themselves Christians, and like so many other nominal Christians throughout history, took no notice whatsoever of the key parable of Jesus Christ himself, which taught that you shall love your neighbor as yourself, and that even those you have despised and hated are your neighbors. This has never made any difference to Christians, since the primary epiphenomena of any religion's foundation are the production and flourishment of hypocrisy, megalomania and psychopathy, and the first casualties of a religion's establishment are the intentions of its founder. One can imagine Jesus and Mohammed glumly comparing notes in paradise, scratching their heads and bemoaning the vain expense of effort and suffering, which resulted only in the construction of two monumental whited sepulchres.
Good analysis of Charlotte Simmons here.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

I challenge you to find a stranger product desciption than this one. Ever. Anywhere. Or, for that matter, a longer one.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Call me strange, but I think this is a terribly important story for public education. If you were to eask the question of when the debate was which argued that coed classes are better than single sex, the answer is never. I don't think there's ever been an argument (other than cost or convenience) which showed some sort of advantage to coed classes, particularly in grade schools.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Weird bit of NBA nostalgia here. I very distictly remember watching this game on tv in my room, wondering just how high the score would go.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

My churchmate and singing buddy, Daniel Carter, now has a blog it seems.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

If you are Scott Cunningham, you need to read this one, ASAP.

Monday, December 05, 2005

As Mark says, I think this is a very important article for presbyterians to consider.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

My friend Rance assembled this list of early Christian quotes about violence and the christian life. I hadn't seen a number of these, so I'm posting them here for your perusal:


Matthew 5:3-12
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they
shall be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of
righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and
falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me.
Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the
same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Matthew 5:38-42
"You have heard that it was said, 'AN EYE FOR AN EYE, AND A TOOTH
FOR A TOOTH.' But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but
whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.
If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your
coat also. Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two. Give
to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to
borrow from you."

Ephesians 6:12
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the
rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this
darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly
places.

I Peter 3:8-17
To sum up, all of you be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly,
kindhearted, and humble in spirit; do not repay evil with evil or
insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were
called so that you may inherit a blessing.
For, "THE ONE WHO DESIRES LIFE, TO LOVE AND SEE GOOD DAYS,
MUST KEEP HIS TONGUE FROM EVIL AND HIS LIPS FROM SPEAKING DECEIT.
HE MUST TURN AWAY FROM EVIL AND DO GOOD;
HE MUST SEEK PEACE AND PURSUE IT.
FOR THE EYES OF THE LORD ARE TOWARD THE RIGHTEOUS,
AND HIS EARS ATTEND TO THEIR PRAYER,
BUT THE FACE OF THE LORD IS AGAINST THOSE WHO DO EVIL."

Who is there to harm you if you prove zealous for what is good? But
even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are
blessed. AND DO NOT FEAR THEIR INTIMIDATION, AND DO NOT BE TROUBLED,
but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to
make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the
hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; and keep a
good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered,
those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame.
For it is better, if God should will it so, that you suffer for
doing what is right rather than for doing what is wrong.

Justin Martyr
And when the Spirit of prophecy speaks as predicting things that are
to come to pass, He speaks in this way: "For out of Zion shall go
forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. And He shall
judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people; and they
shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into
pruning-hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more." And that it did so come to
pass, we can convince you. For from Jerusalem there went out into
the world, men, twelve in number, and these illiterate, of no
ability in speaking: but by the power of God they proclaimed to
every race of men that they were sent by Christ to teach to all the
word of God; and we who formerly used to murder one another do not
only now refrain from making war upon our enemies, but also, that we
may not lie nor deceive our examiners, willingly die confessing
Christ. For that saying, "The tongue has sworn but the mind is
unsworn," might be imitated by us in this matter. But if the
soldiers enrolled by you, and who have taken the military oath,
prefer their allegiance to their own life, and parents, and country,
and all kindred, though you can offer them nothing incorruptible, it
were verily ridiculous if we, who earnestly long for incorruption,
should not endure all things, in order to obtain what we desire from
Him who is able to grant it. (First Apology 39)

Justin Martyr
And we who were filled with war, and mutual slaughter, and every
wickedness, have each through the whole earth changed our warlike
weapons, - our swords into ploughs, and our spears into implements
of tillage, - and we cultivate piety, righteousness, philanthropy,
faith, and hope, which we have from the Father Himself through Him
who was crucified. (Dialogue with Trypho 50)

Clement
For it is not in war, but in peace, that we are trained. War needs
great preparation, and luxury craves profusion; but peace and love,
simple and quiet sisters, require no arms nor excessive preparation.
The Word is their sustenance. (Instructor I 12)

Origen
And to those who inquire of us whence we come, or who is our
founder, we reply that we are come, agreeably to the counsels of
Jesus, to cut down our hostile and insolent wordy swords into plows,
and to convert into pruning-hooks the spears formerly employed in
war. For we no longer take up sword against nation, nor do we learn
war any more, having become children of peace, for the sake of
Jesus, who is our leader, instead of those who our fathers followed,
among whom we were strangers to the covenant. (Against Celsus 5 33)

Irenaeus
For the Christians have changed their swords and their lances into
instruments of peace, and they know not how to fight.

Irenaeus
Nor an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, for him who counts no
man his enemy, but all his neighbors, and therefore can never
stretch out his hand for vengeance. (Proof of the Apostolic
Preaching 96)

Ignatius of Antioch
Nothing is more precious than peace, by which all war, both in
heaven and earth, is brought to an end. Therefore have need of
meekness, by which the prince of this world is brought to nought.
(Epistle to the Trallians 4)

Athenagoras
How, then, when we do not even look on, lest we should contract
guilt and pollution, can we put people to death? And when we say
that those women who use drugs to bring on abortion commit murder,
and will have to give an account to God s for the abortion, on what
principle should we commit murder? For it does not belong to the
same person to regard the very foetus in the womb as a created
being, and therefore an object of God's care, and when it has passed
into life, to kill it. (A Plea for the Christians 35)

Tertullian
But now inquiry is made about this point, whether a believer may
turn himself unto military service, and whether the military may be
admitted unto the faith, even the rank and file, or each inferior
grade, to whom there is no necessity for taking part in sacrifices
or capital punishments. There is no agreement between the divine and
the human sacrament, the standard of Christ and the standard of the
devil, the camp of light and the camp of darkness. One soul cannot
be due to two masters--God and Caesar. And yet Moses carried a rod,
and Aaron wore a buckle, and John (Baptist) is girt with leather and
Joshua the son of Nun leads a line of march; and the People warred:
if it pleases you to sport with the subject. But how will a
Christian man war, nay, how will he serve even in peace, without a
sword, which the Lord has taken away? For albeit soldiers had come
unto John, and had received the formula of their rule; albeit,
likewise, a centurion had believed; still the Lord afterward, in
disarming Peter, unbed every soldier. (On Idolatry)

Tertullian
...we who hated and killed one another, and on account of their
different cultures would not live with men of a different country,
now, since the coming of Christ, live familiarly with them, and pray
for our enemies, and endeavour to persuade those who hate us
unjustly to live comformably to the good precepts of Christ, to the
end that they may become par-takers with us of the same joyful hope
of a reward from God the ruler of all. (First Apology 14)

Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus
Inquiry shall likewise be made about the professions and trades of
those who are brought to be admitted to the faith. ?A gladiator or a
trainer of gladiators, or a huntsman in the wild beast shows, or
anyone connected with these shows, or a public official in charge of
gladiatorial exhibitions must desist or be rejected. A heathen
priest or anyone who attends to idols must desist or be rejected. A
soldier of the civil authority must be taught not to kill men and to
refuse to do so if he is commanded, and to refuse to take an oath;
if he is, unwilling to comply, he must be rejected. A military
commander or civic magistrate that wears the purple must resign or
rejected. If a catechumen or a believer seeks to become a soldier,
they must be rejected for they have despised God. (Hippolytan
Canons)

Lactantius
For when God forbids us to kill, He not only prohibits us from open
violence, which is not even allowed by the public laws, but He warns
us against the commission of those things which are esteemed lawful
among men. Thus it will be neither lawful for a just man to engage
in warfare, since his warfare is justice itself, not to accuse any
one of a capital charge, because it makes no difference whether you
put a man to death by word, or rather by the sword, since it is the
act of putting to death itself which is prohibited. (The Divine
Institutes)

1st Council of Nicea
As many as were called by grace, and displayed the first zeal,
having cast aside their military girdles, but afterwards returned,
like dogs, to their own vomit... (Canon 12)

Cyprian
The whole world is wet with mutual blood; and murder, which in the
case of an individual is admitted to be a crime, is called a virtue
when it is committed wholesale. Impunity is claimed for the wicked
deeds, not on the plea that they are guiltless, but because the
cruelty is perpetrated on a grand scale. (To Donatus 6)
What would it look like if Jackie Chan was a young Russian? (8 min video clip)

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Time is limited if you want to get this for someone special for Xmas.
Wow. Interesting read.
In the spirit of Paul Cantor's Gilligan Unbound, I thought it would be fun to compare the (original) Star Trek with Joss Whedon's Firefly with the aim of thinking about how popular culture has radically shifted over the past 30 years. Unfortunately my html skills aren't up to making a side by side look, so you'll have to bear with my presentation. For the benefit of any of you who haven't seen Firefly, I'll mention quickly that like Star Trek, it is a set of stories about a space ship which travels from planet to planet, though Firefly has more of a Western feel to it instead of being a traditional sci-fi show.

Aims:
Star Trek: to explore the galaxy in servive to the galactic federation, with the typical result being the use of force to overcome the local way of doing things, unmask religious pretensions, and often use overwhelming force to bring about defeat or conformity to liberal/democratic priciples (you'll need to read Cantor's book for a full discussion of all of that if you are skeptical).

Firefly: Typical aim is some sort of short term money making enterprise where the members of the ship need to use all their cunning to escape in one piece.

Ship's Crew:
ST: an ethnically diverse group of staff members all serving to further the overall aim of the federation. Only three of these play a significant role in developing most of the plot lines.

Ff: a diverse group made up partly of staff relatively loyal to the captain, but also including some who have ended up on the ship by accident. Each character on the ship plays a part in the stories and each has a separate way of looking at their position onboard.

Power/Technology:
ST: The Enterprise is a state of the art warship, equipped with the highest levels of weaponry available. These weapons often come into use in the stories. The characters are personally armed with sophisticated weapons and other medical and communication devices, relying heavily on these technologies to acheive their aims.

Ff: The ship is an obsolete model, completely devoid of weapons. While some of the characters will use firearms, these are generally old fashioned guns. Because of their overall powerlessness, the characters rely on wit and trickery and bravery rather than technology for the most part.

Government:
ST: The Federation is viewed as a benevolent force trying to civilize the galaxy. The cast serve the federation generally without question and do not dispute it's views of governance.

Ff: The Alliance is generally portrayed as a poweful enemy to the cast. Its views of governance are hidden but assumed to be corrupt and insidious. The ship tries to avoid and work around the influence of this government.

Captain:
ST: Cpt Kirk is a tradition naval commander, expecting total and immediate obedience to his commands. All decisions are ultimately his and he only allows hs senior officers to question him or discuss decisions.

Ff: Captain Reynolds is much more like the captain of a commercial ship. He is employer to some of the crew but others have a more ambiguous relationship with him. One character rents space on the ship and expect the captain not to enter her shuttle without permission.

I could go on, but perhaps you would like to add some of your own.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Just made it back from vacation after driving for about 12 hours today. Fortunately our son was well behaved today, making things much easier on us.

Had good visits with both my family and Lenise's. Glad to be home again though. Diodn't get much reading done while away ;(

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Is there anything wrong with typical american ideas about educating children? Read the third paragraph in this article before answering.
Being contrary has become so much a part of me that it is both instinctive and predictive. By contrary I don't necessarily mean being disagreeable, but rather always wanting to look at things from the opposite of the way way most would.

By way of example, tonight I finished a class in ESL teaching methods. Generally speaking we studied one way or method of teaching each week and tonight we gave presentations (either visual/poster or written) giving our reflections and impressions of what we had learned.

Of all the methods we studied, the one which most captured my attention in reading about it was the one called the Silent Way. In true contrary fashion, Silent Way advocates refuse to use the term "method". The keys principles of the Silent Way are the use of silence to encourage student initiative and having the teacher concentrate on observing the students rather than leading. I think I was the only student in our class who felt that this was truly interesting. It just appeared too counter-intuitive to most I think.

I think the use of silence as a pedagogical technique is disturbing to americans so used to "multi" media. We are not accustomed to reflection, to self-initiative, or to silence, especially in a classroom.

One other oddity I noticed in class had to do with a method known as CLL. This now stand for Community Language Learning, but apparently the initial initial once stood for "counseling". The idea here is that language learning is a problem faced by, particularly, the adult immigrant, and the teacher can play the role of counselor in help the student through this problem. One of the interesting techniques associated with this method is having the teacher stand behind the students, to be in more of a helping position rather than in front. The idea is to avoid being intimidating.

Regarding this method I heard at least two of my classmates say that they felt very uncomfortable with the idea of "counseling" anyone, that peoples problems were their own business. One tonight said "I have enough of my own problems." This strikes me as a very strange attitude for a potential teacher. It reminds me of Stan Hauerwas' comments about people who refuse to teache morals to their own children, preferring to let them "make up their own minds". The term he uses for this attitude is moral cowardice.

Just a few thoughts I wanted to get down upon reflection from this class.
Would you do this to your spouse?
Thesis: email feedback (i.e. customer complaints) work much better with bricks and mortar stores than with online stores. Developing.

(edit) Followup: Had a bad experience at a restuaruant on Sunday. I emailed the store manager and the general feedback dept to tell them my story. I got two emails the next day apologizing and a phone call today from the district manager. The original problem had to do with them basically not caring about a comlpaint I had in the restaurant, but they seem to have made up for it pretty well.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Ukrainian history in the news.
Interesting interview with Nuremberg prosecutor Whitney Harris here. I like this quote particularly:

Harris: I am totally convinced that Adolf Hitler was only a name that symbolized the absolute and worldwide breakdown of morality in the 20th century. It started in 1914 with World War I when everyone killed everyone and no moral standards remained. Revenge was the order of the day and any excuse was permissible. And afterwards? What did the communists do in Russia? And the Japanese in China?
Three cheers for mathemeticians. Who said that math was impractical?

I'm very impressed by this.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Just in case you missed Napoleon on Letterman, here it is.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Ok, so who makes better music videos, Chinese kids or suburban white kids?

Monday, November 14, 2005

I'll happily paypal you a dollar if you can read this story out loud to someone without either making mistakes or laughing.

Friday, November 11, 2005

I recently enjoyed reading Doomed to Fail : The Built-in Defects of American Education by Paul Zoch. Zoch does an admirable job in tracing the origins and major figures of the "progressive" movement in american education and discusses the negative consequences on student learning and achievement. The foremost idea here is the teacher-centric model, the idea that student learning is dependent (almost entirely) upon the quality and methods used by teachers.

One portion I read with particular interest was his look at the impact of Howard Gardner's Multiple Intelligences thesis on the public schools. While I'm sure that Gardner is a brilliant man and is on to somethig or other with his theory (briefly, that intelligence is multivariate and each person has some measurable amount of intelligence in at least eight disctinct areas), the manner in which this theory is applied to educational theory has had poor results. When students are made to believe that they are, e.g., primarily kinesthetic learners, they have a built in excuse to tune out lectures o blackboard demonstrations since they are led to believe that they just aren't designed to learn that way.

One portion of the book which I found intriguing but wished I had more knowledge about was regarding John Dewey's ideas about education serving the needs of the community. Zoch seemed oblivious to what I consider the obvious point that education must have some sort of teleology, and that that teleology should reflect what society feels children should become through participation in the schooling system. Thus the question of how many students develop some competence in Latin seems to me to be entirely secondary to the question of what purpose is served by teaching Latin in the school system. Something for mew to look into another day.

The book ends with a brief look at what Zoch considers a model school system in terms of creating academic success--the Japanese schools. This was fascinating to read about as a contrast to american attitudes. In Japan it is universally taught and believed that academic success is a function of the amount of work devoted to it. Academic lectures are simple, straightforward, and boring. The idea is to present information in as clear a manner as possible so that the students can grasp it and then practice it.

I found myself wondering to what extent the "Japanese method" could flourish on american soil, but then I consider that in fact it is the method, more or less, of the top american schools already.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

A new answer to the question of what bears do in the woods. Believe me that the whole article is worth reading. (Sorry--now with actual link.)

Saturday, October 22, 2005

I want to give a big public thanks to Alastair for sending me a copy of Walter Ong's Orality and Literacy, which I just finished. Ong has a tremendous range of knowledge of classical studies, anthropology and literary theory, among other things. The book explores the differences between oral and written communication. This is putting the matter much too simply though. Ong demonstrates how very deeply the technology of writing (and, later, print) affects human thinking. Thus for people who are primarily oral people (say, in a culture without writing), thoughts are organized very much differently from writing cultures.

Ong mentions here and there some of the implications of his studies on biblical and theological studies. This becomes very complex. For one thing, the ancient Hebrews were one of the first, if not the very first, peoples to use an alphabet for writing, and were among the few to write down sacred truths or sayings of history. On the other hand, though, the world in which the Old Testament was written was primarily an oral world. Somewhat less so for the New Testament, but orality, demonstrably, still played a big part in communication.

Would be very interesting to study this book in a church small group. Someday I'm going to find that small group that reads interesting stuff like this together :)

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Just as a political schema, this seems on target to me. It sounds like he doesn't actually know any fundamentalists though. The author is one of today's better sci-fi novelists.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Sin boldly so the rest of us can laugh at you.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

I've lost count of how many times I've heard David Bowen preach and thought to myself, "I have the best pastor in the world." You could listen for yourself here if you like. He does try to make his sermons as local as possible, so there are usually a number of inside jokes and so forth, but to me that's part of the charm of having him be "our" pastor. The analogy he drew today between Hosea's description of Israel and a designated driver who gets drunk was one of the most inspired illustrations I think I've ever heard.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

"Strange women lying in ponds distributing swords is no basis for a system of government."

Since my amount of content has been poor lately, I figured I'd make up for it in quality.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Related to the last post, this past week I read Edward Humes' School of Dreams, a journalist's account of a year in the life of one of the highest performing public schools in the United States.

One of the most amusing portions of the book detailed a visit to Whiteny High from Neil Bush, bother of the president (the one who's been barred for life from the banking business). Bush, since his scandal, got involved in an education initiative known as Ignite!, which seems to be a software based learning program based on Howard Gardner's multiple intelligences theory. While Gardner's work, which I've just recently gotten familiar with, is interesting on its own merits, the education software turned out to be a set of different games trying to teach school subjects in a variety of ways. When the Whitney students tried it out they quickly figured out the easiest method for each activity, found it trivially easy, and proclaimed it worthless.

In the Q&A session, Bush told the students that the idea was to make education easier for everyone. Some of the students responded that maybe the problem is not that education needs to be easier, but that some students need to work harder. This answer seemed to baffle Bush. Whitney students, btw, are known for the astonishing amount of homework and extra-curriculars they take on in an effort to get placement in the top colleges.

I would love to mention the big science project assigned in physics class, but I don't want to give it all away.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Best article I've seen yet on technology and education. Unfortunately for those of us who are already computer addicts, it is long, so we may not be able to read more than the sidebar quotations.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

What a terrific quote from Bonhoeffer.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Wow. Jonathan Lethem gets the Bigmac of grants. Lethem is one of my favorite novelists. I can't think of anyone else whose imagination as a writer is greater than his.
Oh, and another classic parenting story from Bill Harris.
I'll be away for the weekend, but if you need some entertainment in the meantime, you can check my nephew's brand new blog. Make sure to read his profile.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Sorry for no blogging lately. Haven't been especially inspired. For some edifying reading, if that's what you are looking for, go over to the ekklesia project website and read some of their pamphlets. If you become a signatory to their principles, they will send you a copy of each new pamphlet when it is published. Might be interesting to discuss here some of their principles.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

A new breed of reality show. Key quote: "Those voted out of the seven-member herd might be eaten."

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Interesting news for any of you living (or driving through) New Hampshire. Live free or die!!!

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Out of the "10 funniest religious jokes", this was the only one I really liked:


St Peter decides to take the day off to go fishing, so Jesus offers to keep an eye on the Pearly Gates. He is not sure what to do, so Peter tells him to find out a bit about people as they arrive in Heaven, and this will help him decide if he can let them in.

After a while, Jesus sees a little old man with white hair approaching who looks very, very familiar. He asks the old man to tell him about himself. The old man says, "I had a very sad life. I was a carpenter and had a son who I lost at a relatively young age, and although he was not my natural child, I loved him dearly."

Jesus welled up with emotion. He threw his arms around the old man and cried, "Daddy!"

The old man replied, "Pinocchio?"

Friday, September 09, 2005

A not-quite-so heart warming story.
Last night we finished watching the BBC production called The Barchester Chronicles. It was produced in the early 80's and is based fairly closely on the Trollope's The Warden and Barchester Towers. The acting was just superb throughout. The main part of Dr Harding was played wondefully by Donald Pleasance. Also outstanding was Alan Rickman as Obadiah Slope. Anyone who has seen Keeping Up Appearances would also recognize Clive Swift as Bishop Proudie. One can only surmise that a role like that prepared him well to play Richard Bucket. Very highly recommended and available through Netflix.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

I remember having a moment or two just like this guy. He is in the unfortunate situation, though, of trying to express himself to his fellow junkies. You might notice the follow up discussion where they generally seem to miss the point. (Warning: link might contain a bad word or two)

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

A brief thought occasioned by reflecting on some of Stan Hauerwas' writings on the ethical significance of Jesus life as recorded in the gospels. There seem to be four basic positions held by the Israelites of Jesus day regarding their relationship to the kingdom of God. The first was that of the Sadducees who seemed to feel that the kingdom was not necessarily distinguished from present reality, and thus the best option is to participate as fully as possible in the workings of politics as they are.

The second option was, perhaps, the polar opposite. This is the position of the zealots. The zealots felt that the existing government, both by the Romans and by collaborators, was so unholy that it must be opposed by force. You wouldn't want God to accuse you of standing by idly while the wicked do as they please, would you?

The third option is that of the Essene/Qumran community. They believed like the zealots that the existing powers were evil, but the solution was to remove themselves from that community so as not to be polluted by it.

The fourth option was that of the pharisees. This was somewhat more moderate than the others, to my point of view. Thier position was that God, when He showed up to clean house, would recognize His own folks by their strict observance of the Torah.

All of these opinions I think could be given a pretty good defense based on a few OT proof texts, if you wanted to get defensive about them. But what I want to mention is that a great deal of Jesus teachings and actions could be interpreted as a response to these four positions. He condemns the Sadducees for not believing in resurrection, i.e., for not believing that God is ultimately just and will vindicate those who suffer injustice.

Jesus position on violence is spelled out for the zealots in the Sermon on the Mount. It is not that violence is unjustified, but that God has another way for His true followers to act, namely to suffer at the hands of the wicked without complaint.

Jesus response to the separatists is shown very visibly in how He deals with those who were unclean-- He does not stay away from them, but makes them clean by His presence.

And, more well known I think, Jesus responds to the pharisees both by rejecting observance of some of their practices as well as accusing them of hypocrisy. He tells His followers that their righteousness must be "greater than that of the scibes and pharisees." While God certainly wants His people to be obedient, he does not want this in the way of the pharisees.

FWIW
Only click here if you are involved in youth ministry. No one else allowed. I mean it. If you start laughing, I'm going to think you clicked on it.
I never thought I would ever feel magnet envy.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Thanks to my fine friend Todd Granger for this link. Now if some ignorant person comes up to you and says "well, what about the crusades?" you can say, "gee, I'm glad you asked." I suppose you'll have to memorize the whole thing for proper effect though.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Thought for the day: John Taylor Gatto is probably our country's most underrated genius. Here's a good essay for those who don't feel like they have time to read Postman's Technopoly.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Man attempts to re-enact the story of the prodigal son, fails to even get started.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

via blogdex, I ran into this pretty touching link. Too bad many of the people who need this info probably can't access it right now.
I have often heard it said that comedy can be a much more honest avenue for exploring serious issues than drama. Just as an aside, one example of this case being made is in Paul Cantor's exploration of the changing face of american thoughts about globalization in his Gilligan Unbound, a book I highly recommend.

Anyhow, what I meant to write about was Nick Hornby. Hornby has developed a reputation, due to the successful screen adaptations of his novels, as a modern comedic writer of a very high caliber. His characterizations of modern urban English life play on banality in a way not entirely dissimilar to Wodehouse in the previous century. His last two novels, though, have moved into some fairly serious realms. In 2001, his novel How to be Good focussed on a character who asked herself whether working in a helping profession was enough to qualify her as a good person. Hornby seems to take seriously the question of how we can find goodness in a time and place which has left the christian religion behind. I hate to put it this way, but I did feel pity for the author as he tried so hard to find a new definition of the good life but seemed to come up empty.

Hornby's newest novel, A Long Way Down seems to have gone a step further. If the quest for the good life is unsuccessful, what remains? The novel begins with four people all finding each other on a rooftop, each seriously contemplating suicide. After some conversation they make a pact with each other to watch out for each other for 6 weeks, to stay alive for at least that long. Each of the characters has very different reasons for wanting to end life, and each comes from a very different perspective. The chapters rotate sequentially through the viewpoints of each of these characters.

I haven't quite finished it yet, so I won't comment too much more tonight. I'll add that it made an interesting contrast to my other reading for the week, Eco's The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana. Eco's work also deals with the question of meaning and how to go on living, but from a very different perspective. The main character, Yambo, begins the book with a case of amnesia. This is not a total amnesia, but one which blocks out all of his autobiographical memories. He can still remember virtually every book or poem he read or any song he heard.

When Yambo's wife asks him what he wants to do after he leaves the hospital, he realizes that without any sense of where he has been, he has no idea at all where he should go next. The majority of the book which follows has Yambo trying to learn his own history. Who were his past loves? What happened to Italy in his lifetime?

I though the chllenge to understand where we have been to know where we should be going to be a very powerful one, though, with all of Eco's writing, I feel like I probably missed about half of what he included.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Thursday, August 25, 2005

How far would you go to see your name in print?
Here's a man with an idea.
Due to a number of conversations, both on- and offline, I have been thinking about what I'll call the problem of baptism. The problem I'm referring to is this--what should I say, as a person with a fairly high view of the sacraments, to someone whose sole claim to being a Christian is that he was baptized as an infant?

I phrased it that way because I was thinking more about what sort of rhetoric to use with a real person than about trying to get theologically precise about the situation. I came up with a little analogy. Tell me if if this seems helpful.

Me: So you say you were baptized.

X: Yep. I guess that makes me a Christian.

Me: What if we think about it this way, X. Let's say you hired someone new at your office. You sent him a letter informing him that he has been hired, but he never actually showed up to work. Would you say that person is working for your company?

X: Of course not.

Me: Baptism is a little like that. It is supposed to mark the beginning of your life as a Christian, just like being hired marks the beginning of your work.

X: Well, I have gone to church for Christmas services. That should count for something.

Me: Ah, so the hiree shows up for the complany annual picnic. NOW does he work there?

X: I guess not. Plus, even if he wanted to come to work after all that time, he'd probably have a few things to get stright with the boss.

Me: I think you're getting it.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Why were these invented AFTER I grew up?
I think this is good enough to become a poster. I vote to replace all copies of "Footprints" with Mark's aphorism.
I think it is about time for me to give out some awards. All of you bloggers out there have worked so hard to keep me entertained that I think you deserve some recognition. I just have to come up with the categories. Things like "best blog I've been too lazy to link to on my sidebar". Feel free to nominate yourself for a specific category.

Monday, August 22, 2005

The wifely one just sent me a nice article on some of what is going on within walking distance from our house. Maybe you should think seriously about why you haven't moved to Mebane yet.
Pretty much what I expected.

You scored as Albus Dumbledore. Strong and powerful you admirably defend your world and your charges against those who would seek to harm them. However sometimes you can fail to do what you must because you care too much to cause suffering.

Albus Dumbledore

80%

Ron Weasley

75%

Remus Lupin

75%

Harry Potter

70%

Hermione Granger

70%

Severus Snape

60%

Sirius Black

60%

Ginny Weasley

55%

Lord Voldemort

35%

Draco Malfoy

30%

Your Harry Potter Alter Ego Is...?
created with QuizFarm.com

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Since I often enjoy stating the obvious, I might as well link to an article doing so. In this case, the subject being the problematic nature of "rights" as the basis of society. Most of the writers I've seen on this trace the problem to a lack of common account of the good, but its all the same.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

We'll be out of town all week, so no blogging 'til next week. Sorry.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Since I'm writing on pauline theology, I guess I should go ahead and link to this startling news about E P Sanders.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Started reading Krister Stendahl today. What a refreshing and clear way he has of talking about the work and teachings of Paul the apostle. One of the interesting points he makes (and this is old hat for some of you out there) is that Paul seems to have nothing resembling a guilty conscience. He refers to his conduct as judged by the law as "blameless". The only sin he confesses to in his life (and does regret, without doubt) is the persecution of the church (I Cor 15:9), but then he immediately talks about how hard he has worked to make up for it (I Cor 15:10), pausing to clarify that that work was "not I, but the grace of God that was with me."

Anyhow, that is just a sub-sub-point under his overarching thesis that what Paul was adressing, particularly in Romans and Galatians, was not trying to establish the doctrine of how we become saved (justification by faith), but that this doctrine was one Paul developed to support his argument that the Gentiles can enter into the covenant with the God of Israel without going through the law as the Jews did.

One other interesting point he made which I hadn't thought through before, is the difference in Paul's attitude towards circumcision and the dietary laws. With the latter, he feels free to make allowances (Romans 14:1ff), but with circumcision (Galatians), nothing of the sort. While these were both aspects of the law, of course, circumcision was the sign of entering into, and promising full submission to the law. Paul argues in Galatians, Stendahl says, relying strictly on quotations from the Pentateuch, that the law was not eternal, and that it was flawed, given as a result of transgression (possibly due directly to the golden calf idol), and that it did not come directly through God, but was mediated by angels and by Moses.

Stendahl points out that many post-reformation readers of Galatians seem to think Paul is saying that the Gentiles must first turn to the law to learn of their sinfulness. This is nearly the opposite of Paul's actual point. Interesting stuff.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

I never tire of saying positive things about my church, but there's one thing that got me thinking. Quite often during an infant baptism, that pastor will say something about the day when the child makes the christian faith their own. I'm not necessarily uncomfortable with that, but I wonder why it is necessary. Is there something wrong with someone clinging to the faith of their parents throughout their life?

I suppose every baptized Christian faces temptations to renounce their faith at various times, so one can always, in those moments, decide to abandon their parents faith. But why does there have to be a transition from "their" faith to "my" faith?

Also, on a related question, if (the majority of) presbyterians are going to practice adult only celebration of the communion meal, why are we not allowed to celebrate the elevation of a child to this new adult privilege? If it's a such a big deal to keep the children out, why can't it be a big deal when they are let in?

There. I've now touched on my only major problems with my local church. Besides the fact that they don't serve wine. I guess that bring the count up to three now.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

A good video clip of nature's most well armed killing machine.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Good editorial about the problems of teaching reading in high schools.
I knew it was only a matter of time before we saw this story.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Thought of the day:

If success in life was correlated with rate of reading books, Harriet Klausner would be running the world.
Had a small epiphany today. I seem to have found a relationship between two of my annoyances at american culture, namely our dependence on cars and our lack of musicality. I realize either of those are debatable things, to say the least, but I name them only as annoyances, not as anything greater. Anyhow, I was thinking today about rhythm, and about how often, during the times I walk somewhere, I tend to compose little tunes in my mind which go with my walking rhythm. I suppose many people simply will think of some tune they know which goes with their rhythm. In any event, it suddenly seemed obvious that the reliance on driving as our most common mode of conveyance eliminates this natural source of rhythm in our lives. We thus become dependent on the artificial, uncreated (by us) rhythms which come through our car stereos.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Quick thought,

doing a search for internet ethics for Christians, I am being constantly reminded that the only people I am aware of who take a realistic and right headed (though in some ways very odd) approach to the problem of pornography are the folks at XXX Church.
Here's the first thing I've found close to what I want to accomplish. I like both the way the frame the document as well as the four issues they address. I had neglected to think about point one, I suppose because that's the one problem I haven't had myself, by God's grace. It should definately figure in though. I would like to say something larger about each of the articles they raise, as well as addressing the topic of how we write to each other on the internet.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

I've been thinking for quite some time about circulating a set of standards about what I could call provisionally "internet ettiquette standards for Christians". My vision of this project would be to have a document listing some
general and specific principles which all the signatories would agree to abide by in all their communication and use of the internet. In this way, we can all help to keep each other accountable in our discussions and debates and, I hope, promote a greater spirit of peaceableness. Jesus told his disciples that the world would know, or maybe we could say "recognize", them by their love. This does not mean we will always agree with each other, but I think it means that all our discussions should be done is a spirit of humility, of considering the other as above ourselves, of concern for the feelings and reputations of others, particularly, thinking of the global nature of the internet, all the strangers or aliens we bump into at every turn.

What I envision is having a document of standards which would be linked publically by all those who agree to abide by it. This way, in theory at least, people interacting with those who participate will all be able to be aware of these standards and help with accountability.

My problem is that while I have several ideas on the subject, I certainly have nothing comprehensive. I need as much help as possible in attempting to get this rolling. If you are reading this and have something to contribute in any way, please help me out. I think a rough outline would include the following:

I Intro
A Preamble explaining purpose of the standards

B General priciples of Christian communication (with proof texts?)

II Specifical principles

A Broadly applicable principles

1 e.g. dangers of anonymity

2 local church affilitation--making available contact info to your church in case of irresoluble conflicts

3 manner of seeking forgiveness
etc

B Specific Internet formats with their own "rules"

1 Bulletin Boards
2 Email
3 Blogs
4 Instant Messaging etc

While I don't want to consider this "my" project, it would be good to make sure that any additions, clarifications, feedback or whatever do get collected and hopefully turned into something useful. To that end, at least for now, please send your communications to me, either as a comment or as an email. I'm frankly hoping that this will get taken over by someone wiser and more influential than me, but we have to start somewhere.

Please (!!!) feel free to link or copy this to everyone you think might help. I'll update my site with news when I have any.

Paul Baxter
paulthepianoman@yahoo.com

Monday, August 01, 2005

By request,

the drag and drop european geography test. Good luck!

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Number one reason to never let kids on the internet unsupervised.

Friday, July 29, 2005

As much as I like musicians, things can get a little weird at times.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

In the latest print issue of National Review, the is a very sharply written critique of the Live8 concerts written by Anthony Daniels (aka Theodore Dalrymple-his pen name). To be honest, I haven't seen any single writer write as sharply about contemporary western social issues as well as Daniels.

Daniels begins by noting the character of Mrs Jellyby from Dickens' Bleak House who "was so concerned for the welfare of the natives of Boorioboola-Gha, on the left bank of the Niger, that she quite neglected to look after her own children." This ends up being the heart of his argument, and what I find most persuasive as well, though he addresses a few other interesting points as well. (By way of confession, I very recently attempted to read Bleak House but was unable to engage myself to it and put it down halfway through).

Daniels notes the oddity of rock stars trying to act as moral instructors. "Their profession, after all, has not been a byword for restraint, good sense, or selflessness . . . have not these same musicians therefore the inescapable moral duty to maintain their silence and do all in their power to prevent the further dissemination of their music . . .?" I left out in the middle his anecdote from a prison officer about the effects of rock vs baroque music on his charges.

Back to the main point though: " . . .the live 8 conception of virtue is now very widespread . . .the vast expansion of tertiary education has increased by orders of magnitude the numbers of people who think in sociological abstractions rather than in concrete moral terms. Statistical generalizations are more real to them, and certainly more important, than the trifling moral dilemmas of their own lives. How, after all, can your own sexual conduct compete in significance with the infant mortality rate or lefe expectancy of the inhabitants of Africa?"

This reminds me once again to recommend his book, Life at the Bottom (written under the Dalrymple name), which shows in frightening detail the effects the our modern ideas are having on the inhabitants of modern English cities.
This looks pretty stupid. The guy blasts american Christians for identifying our religion with Ben Franklinisms (fair enough), then judges them on not meeting socialist standards. I get tired of that sort of thing.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Looks like life in Ukraine actually is changing in a small but very nice way. I'm skeptical about any politician, but seeing them actually keep their promises does give me a warm feeling.

Friday, July 22, 2005

A note about Netflix performance. Our turnaround time for videos is highly determined by our local postal schedule. For a while, we were very early on the postal route, which meant that a video in our mailbox could get delivered to the distribution center that day. If it got there early enough, they might even send one back out that same day. Now we're back to afternoons, so they can't get there till the following day at the earliest.

Not really a complaint, just an observation. We've been enjoying watching all the good movies. Also, for those who like gritty crime shows, The Wire is as good as anything I've seen on tv. You do have to watch it all in order, though, as it is a continuous story.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

For all my unmarried readers.

Update!

Saturday, July 16, 2005

In case you didn't already know, European politicians are on crack.
The things that happen when I stop paying attention. This makes me so sad and angry. For all of you non-anglicans, I caution you not to say that this makes you glad you aren't in their situation. Let us all pray for our brothers and sisters in Connecticut. While I hope there are great things in store for congegations like St John's down the road, that road seems so utterly distressing.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Just a real quick recollection of something I learned in church yesterday. The HS Sunday School was studying John 18. Many times in the gospels there's a formula that occurs thus, "This happened that the scriptures might be fulfilled . . .", usually followed by a specific OT refernce. In John 18 we get, "this happened that the words Jesus had spoken might be fulfilled . . .". Interesting equivalence there, especially as this is just after Jesus' "I AM" statement to the priests. I assume the major Johannine scholars have mentioned this, but I had never noticed it before.
The RYM trip to Panama City Florida was, for some reason, cancelled. So instead our youth group (that includes me) is going to the beach in North Carolina for a few days.

Before we leave, I guess I should comply with Al's query.

How many books do I own?

I tried counting a couple of months ago and got to around 800 on one floor before I got distracted and gave up. I would guess somewhere around 1200 to 1500 or so.

What's the last book I bought?

Not completely sure. I bought two cheap books at the good will store recently: a John Mortimer collection and a Pete Dexter novel. Dexter was recommended to me by a young reader working at Armadillo grill, but I haven't read him yet. The last thing I got (used) from amazon was Jackie Disaster, another case of getting interested in an author after hearing him interview on NPR. Dezenhall works as a damage control specialist for celebrities.

What's the last book I read?

If you haven't heard me say this before, I try to keep three (and no more) book going at all times, and try to finish all three in a week. My wife wanted me to read a parenting book, so I read Grace Based Parenting. Thought it was about half good, but don't want to take the time to go into that right now. I read Hauerwas' Suffering Presence, a good work on some medical ethics topics. It's a notable not least for the fact that Hauerwas takes the position that human suffering is by design necessarily tragic and thus cannot be solved in a satisfactory way by any particular conception of medicine. I also got to another Harry Potter book. I've enjoyed these, and certainly will want John to enjoy them as well, but I did think this one (unlike the first three) was truly longer than it needed to be. Specifically I thought the first part was much to long.

What are the five books that mean the most to me?

No idea. Of course I put the Bible in it's own category, since I have continued to study it regularly throughout my life and I have not done that with any other books. I think I'll just have to choose some books which seemed to open up new ways of thinking to me. I'll start with the non-fiction.

Helmut Schoeck's book Envy: A Theory of Social Behavior has always struck me as one of the most useful pieces of historical/cultural research I've come accross. As a human attitude envy can be very mysterious because of the fact that those who are experiencing great envy never admit to it. Schoeck gathers and synthesizes a very large collection of data from accross time and the world, probably too much for the taste of modern american researchers who don't seem to like large theories any more. The presentation of how envy controls certain cultural institutions and patterns in different societies I found completely fascinating.

This leads well to the work of two New Testament scholars, Bruce Malina and N T Wright. Mark Horne and several of people had been recommending Wright's work on the gospels to me several years ago. I began reading, iirc, The New Testament and the People of God. It was this book, more than any other, the rekindled my interest in learning about the NT in a serious way, as Wright was the first serious, academic NT scholar I saw who had a perspective I could swallow, though reading him stared changing my perspective around quite a bit. I know a good number of you readers here have read this, but f you haven't, it is well worth the effort. There's a fari amount of philosophy of history at the beginning, but if you find that difficult, just skip to the next section.

Having read some of Wright on understanding the NT in it's historical context, I took upon myself to try teaching a class at my church on that topic. Wanting to be well prepared, I tried to find more books to round out my reading and became entranced by the work of Bruce Malina, who I found had been a big source for Wright. Malina is one of the mor prolific writers of a movement called the Context Group, a group of scholars who attempt to bring a knowledge of ancient history and cultural anthropology to bear on New Testament studies. I began with The New Testament World: Insights From Cultural Anthropology, a work designed as a college textbook (it has study questions in each chapter). Really, from the day I began reading that until now the question of the cultural distance between us and the biblical writers and characters has loomed large for me.There are many other related works on this topic, but the one I mentioned as as good a place to start as any.

One last work for this category, then I'll try to get throgh fiction quickly. In a local used bookstore (the very odd Skylight Exchange), I noticed a book called A Community of Character. I think maybe I had heard of Stan Hauerwas a little, but not necessarily anything memorable, plus he taught at Duke, which made me skeptical at the time, but the topic looked pretty interesting, and it seemed to be closely related to the thought of Alasdair MacIntyre, which I had been reading. Little did I know how much his writing would change me. In a way Hauerwas was similar to Wright in that he was a well eduacted philosopher/theologian with all the proper academic credentials (in his case Yale and Notre Dame), speaking in the language of proper academic cicles (though a bit saltier here), and defending something I can only call authentic christianity. Getting on to Hauerwas would lead to far to many topics (war, peace, ethics, literature, virtue, family, medicine, politics, etc.) so I'll leave off there. Don't have time to write more about MacIntyre or Postman or Tournier or Hayek or Van Til or a host of others who have been important to me.

Since Hauerwas has written elegantly about the role novels can play in learning about virtue, I'll very briefly mention a few novelists who have been important to me. As I think about my taste in novels, it strikes me that I primarily like two things in a novel: that it be educational, and that it be funny. I'll usually settle for either one. Among the writers who have shown a huge amount of erudtion in novel writing are Gene Wolfe, Umberto Eco and Patrick O'Brian. Mark Leyner is very funny in a very peculiar contemporary-cultural-references sort of way. The two writers I found who have mastered writing wise and funny novels are Mark Helprin and Robertson Davies. Not that their books are funny all the time, but they made me laugh often enough, wheras most novels never make me laugh at all.

The folks I'd like to tag are those I have known in that other, "real", world: Christina, Andrea, and Scott. I'll check these off as they participate.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Due to Netflix, I feel like I'm always talking about movies these days. I've seen a lot of truly great movies in the last six months, and a few not so great ones. Tonight we watched Barry Lyndon. The only thing I knew about it before it arrived was that it was an early Stanley Kubrick film. I was quite impressed. I hadn't read the novel, nor anything else by Thackeray, but it seemed like one of the best presentations of a 19th C. novel that I've seen. Seemed to capture the mood quite well throughout. Good sense of melodrama, of moralism, of the attractions and perils of love--all the elements of the victorian novel.
This looks like an interesting film.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

This reminds me of the fact that I originally became a conservative political type because I became convinced that welfare was harmful to those it was supposed to help. I've developed problems with amercican political thought in general (republican included) since then, but I still think this is an important issue to wrestle with.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

I gave in heavily to temptation today: I just paid two local kids to mow the lawn. I have the partial exxcuse that we needed to have it done next week when we will be away (I paid for two mowings), but really it just boils down to how much I hate mowing. Usually my cheapness wins out over my laziness, though. I guess its not really worse than paying the restaurants to make food for us instead of cooking, which we do too often as well.

Monday, July 04, 2005

You never know what people might learn fom actually talking and spending time with each other.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Friday, July 01, 2005

Interesting article about Mark Helprin here. I like his claim that he has never read a work of popular fiction. That explains a lot. For those who haven't read his novels, it's about time you did so.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

It odd to see a movie on video these days. We watched Ararat, a film by Atom Egoyan (writer and director of The Sweet Hereafter), and what I would consider the most emotionally powerful film I've seen made since 2000. However, I go over to rottentomatos.com and half of the reviews panned it. Too confusing, don't bother.

I fully understand that Turkish folks are just not going to like it (and thier voices are pretty prominent at the imbd reviews), but I don't see why that should make so much difference. Frankly, I think this was a much better tragic film than Spielberg has made. It was ambitious enough not just to tell the story of the armenian genocide, but also showed how it echoed down through the generations to today through art, family, stories, prejudices, etc.

If you see it, or if you have seen it already, let me know what you think.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Today I started on Charles Taylor's somewhat massive Sources of the Self: The Making of the Modern Identity. Despite it being a philosophy book, I'm enjoying it immensely. Since reading Habits of the Heart and a few works on ancient anthropology, I've become very interested in the nature and problems of modern wetern notions of identity, and in alternatives thereunto.

In chapter 2, "The Self in Moral Space", Taylor has been speaking about the american "tradition" of independence. He traces this back to the Connecticut puritan teaching that children as they grow older must come to their own conversion experience and develop their own, independent, relationship with God. This has evolved into the "tradition" of leaving home to establish one's individual identity, building the virtue of self-reliance.

In order to see that the cultural shift to the ideal of self-reliance makes a difference, even in its debased form, we have only to compare it to a quite different culture. It matters that american young people are expected to be independent of their elders, even if this is one of the demands of the elders. Because what each young person is working out is an identity which is meant to be his/her own in the special sense that it could be sustained even against parental and social opposition. This identity is worked out in conversations with parents and consociates, but the nature of the conversation is defined by this notion of what an identity is. Compare this with Suhir Kakar's account of the upbringing of young Indians: "The yearning for the confirming presence of the loved person . . . is the dominant modality of social relations in India, especially within the extended family. This 'modality' is expressed variously but consistently, as in a person feeling of helplessness when family members are absent or his difficulty in making decisions alone. In short, Indians characteristically rely on the support of others to go through life and to deal with the exigencies imposed by the outside world."

Thursday, June 23, 2005

I'm not at all good at making predictions, but I think this will be remembered as one of the low points of our Supreme Court.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

It's nice that one team's success can raise the level of play of everyone else. Unless they are all losers.
The building my father worked in during the '67 riots is apparently burning to the ground at the moment. It was a gvt. building back then.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Wow. I had no idea Boooks and Culture published things this sharp.
Had Daniel over for lunch and some book trading yesterday and somehow I neglected to have any of the beer bread on hand. TO be honest, I didn't even think of it til just now. He did, however, have some of my borsch (his first) and he seemed not entirely displeased.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Beer Bread

Ingredients

2 cups self rising-flour (for guys who don't normally bake, do make sure it says "self-rising")
3 tablespoons sugar
1 12 oz bottle of beer
(and remember the old saying, better beer makes better batter)

preheat oven to 350
grease a breadloaf pan
combine ingredients in order listed in a big mixing bowl
begin stirring as soon as you start adding the beer--it's ok if its slightly lumpy when your are done
put batter into pan, then into oven
bake for 50 minutes
remove and spread butter on top
bake for additional 10 minutes
remove and cool loaf on cooling rack

There you go. Couldn't be easier.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Beer For Breakfast?

My wife sent me, from one of her coworkers, a recipe for beer bread. It was my first time making bread of any kind, and I have to say it turned out very well. I just had a slice with my eggs. It only has 3 ingredients, sp it's pretty hard to screw up. I used Amber Bock for the beer, which gave it an interesting flavor. Lenise said it wasn't that flavorful when her coworker made it. Probably used some abominable lite beer.

I hope my opening didn't make you think I'd joined this guy.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

I've been reading The Vintage Book of Amnesia, ed by Jonathan Lethem. It just a collection of short works about memory loss. I'm only 100 pages in and I've already been impressed with many of these works. Some are excerpts from longer works, such as Lawrence Shainberg's story of a neurosurgeon who is suffering from gradual brain damage. A few things I had already seen, such as "Funes: His Memory" by Borges (a classic) and an except from Percy's The Second Coming. The msot extraordinary story so far, one which only tangentially deals with memory loss, is Brian Fawcett's "Soul Walker" which posits the idea that our souls can only travel at walking speen and that if we move around too quickly we leave them behind.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

I guess he's back. (He being Scott Cunningham, if you don't immediate recognize the signs)

The blog addiction is not so easily shaken.
You can put that quote on my tombstone--if you buy me a very large one.
In the domain of music the importance and influence of its dissemination by mechanical means, such as the record and the radio--those redoubtable triumphs of modern science which will probably undergo further still development--make them worthy of the closest investigation. The facilities they offer to composers and executants alike for reaching great numbers of listeners, and the opportunities they give those listeners to acquaint themselves with works they have not heard, are obviously indisputable advantages. But one must not overlook the fact that such advantages are attended by serious danger. In Johann Sebastian Bach's day, he had to walk ten miles to a neighboring town to hear Buxtehude play his works. Today anyone, living no matter where, has only to turn a knob or put on a record to hear what he likes. Indeed, it is in just this incredible facility, this lack of necessity for any effort, that the evil of this so-called progress lies. For in music, more than in any other branch of art, understanding is given only to those who make an active effort. Passive receptivity is not enough. To listen to certain combinations of sound and automatically become accustomed to them, does not imply that they have been heard and understood. For one can listen without hearing, just as one can look without seeing. The absence of active effort and the liking acquired for this facility make for laziness. The radio has got rid of the necessity which existed in Bach's day for getting out of one's armchair. Nor are listeners any longer impelled to play themselves, or to spend time learning an instrument in order to acquire a knowledge of musical literature. The wireless and the gramophone do all that. And thus the active faculties of listeners, without which one cannot assimilate music, gradually become atrophied from lack of use.

Igor Stravinsky

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

I'm glad Chris has been taking the time to read Gatto and summarize for us. The book is available free online, but I don't have much patience with reading on a computer screen. This particular entry was quite powerful, but Gatto is always pretty strong. I was blown away the one time I heard him on NPR. Couldn't believe they would let someone that anti-establishment on the radio.
Breaking News!

Monday, May 30, 2005

Rather interesting article about textbook controversies in Russia.
A film by some folks I know. I really want to see it. The director of this film did a little acting with me for some film work for this years VBS last week. I'm Moses this year, and Josh and another fellow were playing the two fighting Israelites who ask me about killing the Egyptian. Was a lot of fun watching them throw mud at each other.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Maybe you can find Bill Harris more entertaining than me. I know I do.
I apologize to everyone except Valerie for how boring my blog has been lately. There's been a lot I thought about posting, mostly quotes from Samuel Marchbanks and such. It's just been a little difficult lately to put together enough time to both a) find interesting things and then b) write them up. Spending a fair amunt of time lately studying Russian, but beginning language studies don't make very interesting stories.

I DO enjoy being a father, and that takes up virtually all of my time. Unfortunately for y'all, I'm not very good at writing up cure baby stories. I can say generally, though, that J S has been very popular everwhere he has gone. I understand that on his recent zoo trip, the animals were tapping each other on the shoulder, saying, "hey, look at the cute baby."

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

You'll probably have to select a new option under view->character encoding to read the previous entry.
я сейчас могу писать по-русский

Monday, May 16, 2005

I can clear up this mystery by letting you know it isn't me.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Sometimes there are heart warming things about being a presbyterian. How do we get something like this started at our church? (Daniel?)

Also, I'm 36 today whereas I was not yesterday. Big public thanks to my brother for a lovely amazon certificate to help me clear out some of the books that had been clogging up my wishlist for a couple of years. It's down to 170 books, so if each of you will grab a few of them for me, it'll be light work :)

Monday, May 09, 2005

Show of hands: how many of you have ever heard your pastor throw the word "blogger" into a sermon?

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Interesting story on media and politics in Ukraine. You have to figure that a similar action in the US would get someone fired and castigated, but then our situation is much different.

Monday, May 02, 2005

I don't want to hear any of you complaining about YOUR boss now.
Sink me, or What Would Percy Blog?

Thursday, April 28, 2005

I've also been toying with the idea of adding Darth to the blogroll. What do you think?
I don't know how many times people have written asking me to post some links to videos of amazing Russian jugglers, but I've finally decided to give in. Just click on "videos", of course.
I agreed to send off my copy of Theology Without Foundations to Tim Enloe, since a. he badly wanted it, b. it seems to be out of print and copies are in short supply, and c. I really need to get some books out of the house. I told him I'd reread it and then send it off to him. I'm enjoying it even more the second time around, probably due to some small shifts in my thinking bringing a bit closer to the some of the writers in the volume.

Only one of the essays was less than useful to me, and even that one had a very poignant story in it. I'm on the last section now, an article by Jewish scholar Michael Goldberg called "Discipleship: Basing One Life on Another--It's Not What You Know, It's Who You Know". In the first part he talks about traditional rabbinic methods of teaching in which the disciple serves his teacher/master uncritically, observing everything about the teacher's way of life and performing mundane tasks for him. He contrasts this with his experience at Jewish Theological Seminary in New York in the 70's. He starts the section with a quote: "When I was at the [Jewish Theological] Seminary, the least frequently mentioned word was God." --Art Green

Goldberg continues a bit later:

I remember a Bible teacher who had spent some lengthy period of time translating a difficult text in Isaiah on the basis of certain parallel cuneiform texts. Barely able to contain himself, he proudly informed us of the text's proper translation. But when we asked him what that meant, i.e., what religious meaning that prophetic text might have for us, he waved his arm as if shooing flies, and said, "That's not my department."

The Bible teacher's answer may well be acceptable within the modern academy. For despite foundationalist quests to decontextualize and depersonalize knowledge, that quest itself provides a context within which a certain type of personality is produced with a certain set of virtues particular to it:"clarity but not necessarily charity, honesty but not necessarily friendliness, devotion to the [academic] calling but not necessarily loyalty to particular and local communities of learning."[footnote refernce to Schwehn, "The Academic Vocation"--pb] But even though the Bible teacher's answer would likely gain acceptance within the academy, it would be, it must be, unacceptable in any institution that would lay claim to being heir to what Israel's sages taught. In fact, it remained unclear to me how what the Seminary's teachers taught or what we students learned might be called Torah--God's instruction to and for his people. But if talmud torah was not what we did, then into what practice were we being schooled? And what kind of practitioners were we expected to become? Seminary faculty such as the Bible professor--like many academics everywhere--generally taught their clases and then disappeared. Few shared with students anything at all about thier lives, and far fewer shared anything with us at all about life itself. The sages believed their distinctive life-embracing practices critical to making God present to their disciples. It can hardly be surprising that at the Seminay, where there were so few rabbinic masters, God's presence was so largely absent.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

What a coincidence. My birthday is coming up, and I've now seen the perfect gift for any guy.

Thanks to Jim Hart for the link.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Finished watching the film Dogville today. With 3 hour films and babies crying and so forth I find it easier to break these things up. Also gives me a chance to reflect on things a bit. This film is almost universally condemned as a piece of anti-american propaganda by an ameriphobic Danish writer/director (Lars von Trier). Just look up Ebert's review, or most of the comments on imdb. I'm not linking them because I think they all missed the mark really badly. While the setting is a tiny rocky mountain town, and there is a 4th of July celebration in the middle of the film, it is really a Christ story, though arguably one with some seriously flawed theology, depending on how one interprets things. SPOILERS AHEAD

The sequence of events shows a young woman named Grace (Nicole Kidman), appernetly recently escaped from some involvement with gangsters and seeking refuge in Dogville. She offers to work for the residents in exchange for their goodwill and hospitality and some meager wages. They are eventually convinced by Tom (Paul Bettany) to accept this. Before long, though, she is the object of sexual advances by all the males in town, and the object of scorn of all the females. After a failed attempt to escape, she is chained to a heavy iron wheel and still made to work without any wages. Through all of this, while recognizing the evils being done, she is always ready to forgive and move forward. However, her one "friend", Tom, betrays her to the gangsters out of anger that he is the only one denied her sexual favors (being the town moralist, he is unwilling to rape her, like the others).

When the gangsters arrive, we learn that the boss is in fact her father. He offers to kill everyone for her. She resists this idea, saying that the people are only acting according to their nature. After further discussion with her father and one last conversation with Tom, she agrees to have the town burnt down and the people killed.

For those accustomed to more realist films, Dogville seems by turns evil and finally vindictive. However, there is nothing realist about this film. The whole film is performed on a stage with only chalk outlines for buildings, thus allowing us to see the activities of the people inside their homes, etc. Even the town dog, Moses, is a chalk outline.

The only comment I've seen so far that seemed anywhere near the mark was one on imdb which compared it to the story of Lot, which seemed at least partially appropriate. There was like Sodom, not one soul found righteous. When confronted with Grace, they all rejected her, and thus were subjected to the wrath of God and his angels (most of the killing and burning was done by the thugs).

Anyone else seen this yet and have a comment?

Friday, April 15, 2005

Overheard at Harvard:

student 1: my econ prof is SOOOoooo full of BS.

student 2: oh yeah? I guess mine felt he wasn't full enough.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

I think the only thing missing from this document is a mention of the chapstick industry, which apparently is based in some lesser state.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Our small group from church tonight watched a fascinating film called Mountain of Fire. It followed a couple of guys who decided to search for Mt Sinai, and seem to have found it in Saudi Arabia. The stuff they found was just unbelievable. If you can get a hold of this movie, it would make good viewing for any church group.

Monday, April 04, 2005

I've noticed that one of the "favorites" for the next pope is Francis Arinze of Nigeria. Makes me wonder if I'll start getting emails like this:

Dear Sir or madamm,

You have probably heard of the recent seccession of my cousin's brother-in-law, Francis Arinze, to the ofice of Pope in Italy, Europe. Our accounting ofice has noticed that there is the amount of SEVENTY FIVE MILLION DOLLARS ($75,000,000) which we need to remove from Rome ASAP.

Your aid in this matter is greatly appreciated and we simply need you to send us a prepaid envelope to mail you the money. COntact me directly for further details.


XXXXX XXXXX
Lagos, Nigeria
From all I've heard, Pope John Paul II was a fine and upstanding fellow, but I sure hope they choose a new pope soon. I've been seeing a lot of Jesuits wandering aimlessly in the streets. Bit of a road hazard.

Friday, April 01, 2005

I was noticing that the last three Netflix films we saw were in some way about violence, although with the first one I'm cautious af making many judgements.

Andrei Rublev is a period piece about the famous Russian icon painter of the 15th century. It's a strange film in many ways, especially as it never once, in three and a half hours, shows the title character painting anything. It does feature some of the most extraordinary violence I've ever seen in a film in a sequence where the site of a cathedral under construction is attacked by Mongols. First time I've ever seen a cow on fire.

While I appreciated the artistry and skill of Tarkovsky, I was a bit baffled all the way through. The second film was much more accessible to americans: Changing Lanes. The story follows the path of two men who collide on a busy road in NYC. The wealthy, rising lawyer, played by Ben Affleck, claims he doesn't have time to take care of things properly (he's late for a court appointment), and just writes a blank check. The middle class insurance worker (Samuel L Jackson (I still don't know what the "L" is for)) is also late for his own court appointment in family court where he was hoping to do som reconciliation with his estranged wife and kids. This starts a cycle of revenge, all of which was occasioned by the accident, but all of which is clearly perpetuated by each party being unwilling or unable to forgive the other. I suppose you could call it a study in why forgiveness is so difficult.

The third was City of God, which for some reason I expected to be a vaguely religious film (probably the title). For those who haven't seen it, this is one of the most colorful, personal, authentic well directed gangster movies ever made. The center of the film is a war between two drug gangs in a favala, or slum, in Rio de Janeiro. What marks it as unusual, is that as each character appears, a flashback tells his story. There are perhaps a dozen of these, and it makes for a remarkably human look at how gang violence develops and is perpetuated.

All three of these were top notch, though the first one is not for folks who are short on patience.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Perhaps you will allow me, on the occasion of the hubbub over the fate of Terri Schiavo, to recommend a couple of books on medical ethics from two thoughtful Christian writers.

First, A Doctor's Casebook in light of the Bible by Paul Tournier. Tournier was a physician from Switzerland who put a lot of thought into holistic ideas of medical care. His faith was not fully orthodox from my point of view (he was a universalist), but his mind was very penetrating about issues of health. It is unfortunate that his works are not very popular in the States. His writing reminds one of CS Lewis, with whom he was friends iirc.

The other is Truthfulness and Tragedy by Stanley Hauerwas. Prof. Hauerwas takes a very sharp look at a number of specific issues, including abortion and the problem of the limits of medical responsibilities. Certainly a more philosophical work than the other, but well worth examination.
My friend Todd has published a very fine Good Friday sermon. Go read it.
Anyone still want to maintain that we live in something called a "Christian nation"?

Apparently there's still one across the pond, though. ;)

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

I don't know much about genetics, but this sounds pretty interesting to me. I guess they're doing good work at my brother's university. No coincidence that he is there, I'm sure.
A fairly lengthy but considered commentary on why Terri should be allowed to die. I feel like I'm the only person I know who thinks that position is basically the right one. While ordinarily withdrawing food from someone should be conisidered evil, I think in this case the person involved is already substantially dead and those who have weighed the evidence have felt that Mrs Schiavo would have wished to be able to die in some timely fashion rather than having death prolonged indefinately.

While I tend to dislike the rhetoric and positions of many "right to die" folks, at least when they advocate assisted suicide and such, I think our society, particularly in the area of medicine, does not have any sort of coherent idea about death anymore. Somehow it is seen as both unavoidable as well as needing to be fought tooth and nail at every turn. People don't seem to realize that medicine cannot prevent death, it can only, sometimes, postpone it or make it less painful.
Lenise pointed out to me yesterday that my son's 6 month birthday is the same as Johann Sebastian Bach's 320th birthday.

Friday, March 18, 2005

In our small group meeting this week we talked a little bit about forgiveness. Just got me thinking--I wonder if sometimes we don't harbor some "safe" sins, that is, sins we aren't too embarassed to confess. "Yes, I've been a little lazy this week, and also I ate more dessert than I should have." I'm just thinking that we might treasure these sorts of things as insurance against confessing those things about which we are truly ashamed, the things we really do NOT want to tell anyone. Just a thought.