Thursday, December 14, 2006

Deaconpaul's money saving tips number 1: don't pay money for your international calls. This sounds like an incredible deal for those with friends or family around the world, so long as thy are in one of the available countries.

Monday, December 11, 2006

The first post here just cracked me up. We all ask dumb questions when we don't know what we're talking about, so I guess I shouldn't laugh.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

I saw one of the more curious films of recent years this week. Tarnation is a documentary of sorts by a young man whose mother suffers from severe mental illness. I say "of sorts" because this is obviously more personal to the filmmaker than perhaps any documentary has ever been. Jonathan Caouette had an early interest in filmmaking, thus resulting in lots of footage of his life and family from his early years. The story, as he presents it, begins with the marriage of his grandparents and the borth of their only daughter, Renee. Renee turned out to be quite a beauty and had considerable success as a child actress and model. One day in her adolescence, though, she jumped, for whatever reason, off the roof of her house and landed on her feet without bending her knees. Renee was paralyzed for 6 months though the doctors said that it was a psychosomatic condition. The doctors recommended shock therapy, which her parents agreed to. Every week for 2 years. Mr Caouette reported that nothing of her original personality was left after this experience.

Renee remained a beuty throughout this period and eventually met and married a travelling salesman and became married. The marriage did not last long and the husband left, unaware that his abandoned wife was pregnant. Thus the filmmaker is born.

At age 4 Jonathan's mother, in a psychotic state, took him to Chicago from their home in Texas, without any money contacts or apparent plans. Someone took them in off the street and raped Renee in front of her son. Renee called her father who wired money for bus fare. A short while into the bus ride Renee was removed from the bus for "disturbing the other passengers". She was taken by the police and jailed for a time before being sent to a mental hospital. Jonathan was sent into foster care.

As is sadly too common, Jonathan was abused quite a bit by his foster families. Eventually his custody was assigned to his grandparents in Texas and he continued to live with them until he was 23 (iirc). Jonathan did occasionally visit his mother and on one of these visits met a drug dealer who game him two joints which Jonathan duly took home and smoked. The joints were laced with PCP and induced a disorder known as "depersonalization" where he felt like he was a spectator of his life rather than a paricipant. During this time he started developing his acting talents, some of which are showcased. Jonathan made short films where he would play young women giving monologues about their very troubled lives.

In his teenage years Jonathan became active in the gay community where he was fortunately able to make some friends. As you might expect, this was still an exteremely troubled period for someone in such a difficult family situation. Jonathan reports that he quite often broke furniture in his grandparents home and staged frequent suicide attempts.

The remained of the film is not nearly so dark. Jonathan, follwoing the death of his grandmother, went to New York where he found acting work and a stable (gay) relationship. His mother, still quite psychotic, comes to visit him occasionally and he has also established a relationship with his fther whom he had never met earlier.

The whole film is made up of film clips from his life, photographs, interesting graphic pyrotechnics, and, from end to end, his favorite songs. I learned from Roger Ebert's review that he was able to do all of this for only $218. The producers did have to spend money to get all the song rights and print it.

So, I was quite impressed with the film. It was a startling yet open and unadorned look at mental illness and its effect on a family. After watching it I checked rottentomatoes to see how the critics had scored it. Unsurprisingly to me, it got a 91% favorable score, as well as a 100% score from site visitors.

Here's what is very interesting to me though: checking the Netflix reviews, most of the viewers only gave the film 1 or 2 stars. The most frequent epithet used was "self-indulgent". I'm not entirely sure how one could make an autobiographical film which could avoid that charge. It seems like a lot of films I have enjoyed have gotten that word tossed at them. I guess for me I consider it a good thing when a filmmaker fills up a film with things she or he find interesting. Maybe "self-indulgent" is just the opposite of "pandering", which would perhaps set up the flip side of the critics versus popular reviewers dichotomy.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

In some sort of effort to make itself look shallow, The Atlantic has published a list of the 100 Most Influential Figures in American History. As an aside, nothing in the title rules out non-americans, so why isn't George III on the list?

Anyhow, their "american history" appears to begin in 1776 with one notable exception. The notable exception is also the only figure on the list who was a pastor, namely Jonathan Edwards. Martin Luther King Jr and Lyman Beecher are the only other figures on the list who are even remotely christian leaders (Beecher and Edwards are at 90 and 91 on the list). The two Billy's (Sunday and Graham), and all other pastors, theologians and evangelists apprently had less influence on America than Ralph Nader.

No composer or artist made the list unless you are willing to count Stephen Foster or Elvis Pressley for the first or Walt Disney for the second. No poets are named. Instead we have 24 presidents and other high government figures, 2 baseball players, and Mary Baker Eddy. Shouldn't the inclusion of Jonas Salk cancel Eddy out? Also included are 2 pairs of people (the Wrights and Lewis and Clark), which I'll just call cheating.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Somehow my friend Todd, despite all his coverage of happenings in Scandinavian churches missed this fine story.
I'll second this suggestion, though I'll have to make an exception for my wife since I watched it while she was at work.

Friday, November 17, 2006

At class last night I happened to be sitting between two people a fair number of years older than me. It turned out they had both sent kids to the same university which I will not name. The woman on my left said to the man on my right, "You know what I love about X University? They are SOOOOOOOO liberal there. I just love that." I can't say I've ever heard that sentiment expressed before. I decided not to enter that conversation, but I thought it was interesting that I had just finished reading Ronald Beiner's fine book, What's The Matter With Liberalism?

Monday, November 13, 2006

This looks like just my sort of job.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

This is too good not to post: Stanley Fish on Tolerance
Readers of the wifely blog will be aware that we've all been pretty sick lately. I can't say I recommend it if you are considering illness as a way to spend your next week. If I had lots of mental energy I would talk about my reading over the past month or so, much of which has been outstanding. I hope I'll finish my contest reviews by year's end in any event.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Today's Turkish news is brought to you by the letter W. And I'm totally not making that up.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Probably the most important article of the year right here. What's the opposite of "just do it?"

Thursday, October 26, 2006

As some of you may know (and I'm sure some do not), I have been enrolled for a while in the ESL Teaching Certificate program through Duke University. As part of the requirements for that program I have been doing practice teaching for the last few weeks at Durham Technical Community College (Durham Tech for you locals), working with a friend who is a paid teacher there. I have trouble thinking of many things which are more fun than classroom teaching.

Tonight in class we played the "alibi" game. Three students were the "criminals" and had to leave the room for a few minutes to get their stories straight. The basic outline of their story was already provided for them but they had to improvise the details. Then they came back into the class one at a time for interrogation. If the "policemen" (the rest of the class) could find 5 inconsistencies in their stories, then they would be found guilty. This was, by far, the most hilarious activity I've seen in a language classroom. It also fit well as a practice activity for making past tense verbs, which was what we had been woking on for a few weeks.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

I'll break my totally unannounced and unanticipated hiatus for the time being. I've been trying to come up with a list of the best high school themed films. I don't necesarily wnnt to restrict it to a certain number, or to either strictly comedy OR dramatic films. However, I need to start writing it down cuz I can never keep them all in my head for long. Here's the list so far roughly organized from more dramatic to more comedic.

ELEPHANT: Gus Van Sant's take on the essential unexplainability of the violence of the Columbine massacre.

ORDINARY PEOPLE: One of the great films of all time which happens to focus on a high school student.

STAND AND DELIVER: The drama of advanced math. So few "high school movies" actually look at learning.

DONNIE DARKO: Dark fantasy of a possibly schizophenic student. A cult favorite but still one few have seen.

LEAN ON ME: Another one which takes school seriously, this one looking more at the principal.

SOME KIND OF WONDERFUL, THE BREAKFAST CLUB, SIXTEEN CANDLES, SAY ANYTHING, PRETTY IN PINK: They probably each deserve their own entry, but I'm lazy so I'll just call it the John Hughes set. My favorite is Breakfast Club, just because it all takes place at the school.

RUSHMORE: I hope no comment needed.

CLUELESS: My wife's favorite of the bunch.

NAPOLEON DYNAMITE: I think pretty much EVERY current hs student has already seen this one.

FERRIS BUELLER'S DAY OFF: Possibly the best known teen comedy? It's also Hughes, but less dramatic/more funny than the others mentioned above.

BETTER OFF DEAD: The teen comedy time forgot?

So what did I leave out. I know there are a few I haven't seen (Heathers for one), and some I think are borderline "great" movies like Election. What would you add?

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Seriously, where do you sign up to become a headline writer?

Thursday, July 27, 2006

How come I always get tagged for these book things?

1. One book that changed your life:
Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death

2. One book that you’ve read more than once:
Stanley Hauerwas, A Community of Character

3. One book you’d want on a desert island:
I don't know, but something large enough to give me some shade.

4. One book that made you laugh:
Mark Helprin, Memoir From Antproof Case (the best way to read this book is to read the dedication AFTER you finish the rest of it)

5. One book that made you cry:
Mark Helprin, Soldier of the Great War (there are some ubelievable moments in this one) or, Louis De Bernieres, Corelli's Mandolin

6. One book that you wish had been written:
How to speak Russian fluently in just one week

7. One book that you wish had never been written:
The Scofield Reference Bible

8. One book you’re currently reading:
Michael Oakeshott, Rationalism in Politics
(also, Sigrid Unset, Kristin Lavransdatter; Jim Steinmeyer, The Glorious Deception; and N T Wright, Reflecting the Glory)

9. One book you’ve been meaning to read:
For me meaning to read and planning to read are the same thing since I'm pretty systematic in my reading (in contrast to the rest of my life). One I'm looking forward to is TR's Through the Brazilian Wilderness.

If you can read this and have read enough to fill it out yourself, consider yourself "tagged" and leave a comment so I know to look for your responses.

Monday, July 17, 2006

In what we call chapter 14 of Romans, St Paul said, "now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions." The question of who Paul meant by the "weak in faith" is an interesting one. Loren Rossen cites scholar Mark Nanos saying the the weak in faith are non-christian Jews. Go read his arguments on this point.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Make a point of purchasing the current issue of National Review. The issue features a compelling piece by George Gilder on how information theory shows darwinian evolution to be logically impossible.

edit: or be cheap and read the whole thing here

Monday, July 10, 2006

I was able to read most of Walter Bruggemann's An Introduction to the Old Testament over vacation. While I often diagreed with his perspective and emphasis, I found a number of useful points scattered throughout. One in particular was his reading of Ezekiel 18. In this chapter, you might remember, God speaks about a just man who has an evil son. The evil son also has a son. This grandson, according to the passage, will not be judged for his father's sins, but rather on whether he chooses to be evil (like his father) or just (like his grandfather). This passage is taken by many christian theologians as the great passage on individual responsibility.

This interpretation, however, has bothered me lately since it seems much more individualist than I think would be possible for an ancient Israelite. Brueggemann, while not particularly noting my objection, nonetheless provides a way forward which actually makes considerable sense of the text. He says that the traditional reading "is erroneous because it seeks to turn the text into a universal moral principle, when in fact the text must be understood in context, locally and pastorally."

Looking at the sepcifics of the sins mentioned by Ezekiel (idolatry, sexual sin and econimic sin), Brueggemann suggests it is "likely that three generations are not a theoretical case, but refer in turn to (a) Josiah the good king (2 Kings 23:25), (b) Jehoiakim the bad king (2 Kings 23:36-37), and (c) Jehoiachin the third king (2 Kings 24:8-12)." Since Jehoichin is the king who oversaw the exile and the only king mentiones by Ezekiel (1:2), this would indicate that what is being spoken of here is the fate of the entire generation of Israel, located in representative fashion in the person of the king. (quotes are from page 206 of the 2003 paperback edition)

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Not that it really makes any difference, given how little I've been writing lately, but I'll be out of town and not blogging for the next week.

I was in a class all afternoon for the last 2 weeks, so that's my excuse for that period as well. Be good out there.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Mini-blog (in place of an apaology for the longish hiatus):

nearly every week at church on Sunday I learn one or two very interesting things I had never noticed previously in the scriptures. What I learned last week is that the ambition of the men of Babel in Genesis 11 corresponds exactly with what God promises Abram in Genesis 12. The men of Babel wanted to "make a name for themselves" and establish a great city. God told Abram that he would make him great and into a great nation, which I think would be pretty closely related to the idea of "city" in the ancient world.

Obviously the key difference is that the men of Babel tried to create such an honor for themselves while Abraham would receive it by waiting on God, being patient and obedient. Patient as in waiting over 400 years after his own death!

It was interesting to me at least.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Friday, May 19, 2006

Thanks to Dave Barry for this tip: NEVER ask for directions. To all guys out there, you are exactly right on this point.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

I've been reading Lewis Mumford's Technics and Civilization this week. Always good to read a book about technology written back in 1931. I like this quote particularly:

Physical power is a rough substitute for patience and intelligence and cooperative effort in the governance of men: if used as a normal accompaniment of action instead of as a last resort it is a sign of extreme social weakness. When a child is intolerably balked by another person without precisely seeing the cause of the situation and without sufficient force to carry through his own ends, he often solves the matter by a simple wish: he wishes the other person were dead. The soldier, a slve to the child's ignorance and the child's wish, differs from him only by his ability to effect a direct passage to action. Killing is the ultimate simplification of life: a whole stage beyond the pragmatically justifiable restritions and simplifications of the machine. And while the effort of culture is toward completer differentiation of perceptions and desires and values and ends, holding them from moment to moment in perpetually changing but stable equilibrium, the animus of war is to enforce uniformity--to extirpate whatever the soldier can neither understand not utilize. (page 94 in my edition)

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Very interesting story on someone who fell (in a big way) for a Nigerian email.

Monday, May 01, 2006

An example of the dangers of internet anonymity (found via PressThink). Anyone who has been reading my blog for some time knows that I have argued strongly against the use of anonymity as morally hazardous. It is interesting to see how that has played out in a business/media environment.

Friday, April 28, 2006

A couple of juicy Davies quotes since I can't resist.

"Celtic civilization was tribal, but by no means savage or uncultivated. People who regarded the theft of a harp from a bard as a crime second only to an attack on the tribal chieftain cannot be regarded as wanting in cultivated feeling."

"I was reading Dorothy Dix this afternoon; she says that it is permissible for a young man to tell a girl he knows fairly well that she has pretty ankles; from this I assume that the better he knows her the higher he may praise her."

"I don't really care how time is reckoned so long as there is some agreement about it, but I object to being told that I am saving daylight when my reason tells me that I am doing nothing of the kind. I even object to the implication that I am wasting something valuable if I stay in bed after the sun has risen. As an admirer of moonlight I resent the bossy insistence of those who want to reduce my time for enjoying it. At the back of the Daylight Saving scheme I detect the bony, blue-fingered hand of Puritanism, eager to push people into bed earlier, and get them up earlier, to make them healthy, wealthy and wise in spite of themselves."
Still alive, just not blogging much, as you well know. Gotten a little bit of reading done lately, though not much else. I want to give full praise to Mark Horne who several years ago recommended to me Kenneth Bailey's fine book, Jacob and the Prodigal. Bailey's breadth and intensity of knowledge regarding his subject (Luke 15) are not to be matched anywhere. He spent most of his adult life living and studying in the middle east and brings to his subject some quite extrordinary resources, such as medeival Egyptian and Arabic christian scholarship. Bailey's thesis is that in the story of the prdigal son, Jesus was self-consciously adapting the saga of Jacob. He points to quite a number of elements which are in common in the two stories (the two sons, one of whom goes away to a foreign country and is later welcomed back, etc.) as well as a few phrases which occur ONLY in those two stories within the biblical corpus, such as the use of kid meat as a meal and the combination of the terms run, fall on the neck and kiss. Caertainly a must read for those seeking a better understanding of this sentral parable.

On the book contest front, another one is completed, namely Kirk's entry of William Pitt the Younger, by William Hague. Hague, as some of you may recall, was the leader of the conservative party in English parliament not too long ago. He apparently felt some kinship with the younger Pitt, both of whom showed a genius for politics at an early age. Hague (according to the fount of all wisdom these days: wikipedia) made a memorable speech at the conservative party national conference in 1977 at the age of 16. Pitt, on the other hand, was at his third year at Cambridge at that age, though he did have the advantage of a well educated, connected and famous father.

Anyhow, the book is probably about as good as political biographies get. Hague neither talks down to his readers nor does he assume detailed knowledge of English government institutions and history, explaining all the necessary details as he goes. Unfortunately for me I don't like political history nearly as much as Kirk does, much to my shame, so I found it hard to keep up my own interest all the way through. This is certainly not Mr Hague's fault, but there you have it. The last hundred pages were a struggle for me as I realized that even though the writing was good, I just wasn't interested enough for 400 pages.

Also, making my way through the posthumous keavings of Robertson Davies, I just finished For Your Eye Only, a collection of Davies letters edited by his biograper, Judith Skelton Grant. I already had a fairly full idea od Davies personality and this idea was only confirmed by the letters. Lots of good comments and humor scattered throughout. He had a few comments about translations of Russian novels which confirmed ny own experience in many ways, namely that if you pick up a translation by Constance Garnett you should immediately put it down again since it will be unreadable.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Three things:

One, I'm still alive, but just haven't felt like blogging much lately.

Two, I have a short report on another contest book. Khaled Hosseini's The Kite Runner pretty much fits the mold of an Oprah club book. Main character overcomes experience of brutalization in youth (observed rather than experienced in this case), yet continues to deal with the effects of the ordeal throughout life. Toss in an exotic locale (Afganistan) and off you go. It wasn't bad at all, but it wasn't especially good either. We'll call it a (generous) 5 out of 10. THE book to read about the impact of a single incidence of violence is Robertson Davies' Salterton Trilogy. I can get away with calling it A book since it is published in one volume these days.

Currently working on the next contest book, but won't say anything til I'm done with it. It's quite good so far though.

Three, I'm not sure what to make of this. Perhaps there's some kind of translation problem???

Friday, April 07, 2006

May as well balance things with some thoughts on womanliness.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Thoughts on manliness.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Three of the four of us are sick and a bit down this weekend (Isaac the exception so far) and I don't feel like writing a long post today, but I'll try to cover a couple of things.

First off, Thomas' book contest entry was superb. Po Bronson has a terrific way of collecting interesting stories from people and them writing them up in such a way as to make them come alive and give plenty of food for thought. This was true in What Should I Do With My Life, and remains the case in his latest, Why Do I Love These People. The latter volume examines stories about family dynamics. Some of the stories are told in such a way that I would challenge anyone to read them without crying. My only criticism of the book was that the last couple of stories weren't as good as the rest, so there was a a bit of a sense of let-down. Still, a fine book all around.

Other item for today was a thought from Sunday School. We talked about the story of Mary breaking the bottle of perfume to annount Jesus. During the discussion I kept asking myself what purpose the story had within the gospel accounts. In both Mark and John it takes place just before Jesus's betrayal framed by comments about peope wanting to put Jesus to death. The only conclusion I could draw was the that bottle was meant by the gospel writers to serve as a symbol of Jesus life and body. The story is followed by the Last Supper where Jesus draws attention to the sacrificial nature of his body himself, but the story of the bottle of perfume seems to draw attention to the wastefulness of the sacrifice. Judas (and other disciples in the one account) mention how the bottle could have benefitted the poor. Earlier in his ministry, this is what Jesus used his power for--to benefit the poor, the hungry and the sick. But now is the time when the full sacrifice is to be made.

Thinking about this made me think immediately about how unpragmatic christian doctrine often can be. While we are often called to minister to the poor when we can, that is only done in service to the gospel. We do not completely devote ourselves to the good of other people, but to the service of God, following in Jesus example. Often this will mean sqandering resources which could have been used better. I can think of no more poignant example than that of Endo's priest in Silence who must choose between saving the lives of Japanese converts and honoring Jesus through refusing to spit and trample on an image. The temptation to think that we have the power to do great good in the world is a very strong one.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Just finished taking the jeopardy online test. That was pretty stressful. Only 15 seconds on each questions, which goes by really fast when you are trying really hard to remember something you know that you know.

I've really been enjoying my latest book contest book, but I'll hold off making comments til I've finished it. I've also been enjoying very much this week a book my brother recommended to me long ago: Herman Hesse's The Glass Bead Game (also published as Magister Ludi. I'd throw out some quotations, but I left it out in the car and don't feel like bringing it in right this second. I've been really tempted to just post the quotations without any attribution to see if anyone had any idea where they came from. Just a lot of remarkable stuff in there. Plus, I think it really should qualify as sci-fi, since it purports to take place roughly 500 years in the future. The basic structure of the book is as a fictional biography of Joseph Knecht, the master of the glass bead game. To explain any of that would take way too much time though. Apparntly when it was written, the idea of an intentionally fictional biography was something of a sensation. The book begins with a quotation in Latin which I immediately assumed was phony. It turned out Hesse wrote it in German and had some of his old school buddies translate it into Latin for him, but it seems that quite a few people assumed that it must have been lifted from a classical source. I guess today were just more accustomed to fictional pretenses.

More on all of this later.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Book Contest Update

This is just to let everyone know how the book contest is shaping up right now and to give my first report. My friend David Carson submitted an entry in person which brings the total up to ten. Here are the entries (in the order submitted):

Albion's Seed, David Hackett Fischer, submitted by Lenise
Saving the Appearances, Owen Barfield, submitted by Alastair
William Pitt the Younger, William Hague, submitted by Kirk
Why Do I Love These People, Po Bronson, submitted by Thomas
Kristen Lavransdatter, Sigrid Undset, submitted by Matt
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Mark Haddon, submitted by Jamie
Mongo: Adventures in Trash, Ted Botha, submitted by Scott
The Future Does Not Compute, Steve Talbott, submitted by Nathan
Proof, Bill Bright and Jack Cavanaugh, submitted by Heather
The Kite Runner, Khaled Hosseini, submitted by David

When my family was visiting here, my mother brought a copy of Mongo, so I was able to get to that one soonest. Ted Botha's book is devoted to the culture of people who collect things which are discarded in NYC (and other places). Various chapters are devoted to things like food scavenging (by vegetarian food snobs), building materials, and even people who excavate old outhouses. While the whole thing was certainly interesting, it wasn't exactly Great Literature. It did, however pass the test of being a book I've now brought up in conversation more than once. If it sounds like something you'd like to read, you probably would enjoy it :)

Two more contest entries have been checked out of the library, so stay tuned for further updates.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

I love Grieg, and the first of these pieces is one of the most deceptively difficult piano pieces I've ever tried (and fail miserably at). Perhaps it easier on guitar? It sure sounds nice. Sorry if it takes forever to load. Just do something else while its loading.

Friday, March 17, 2006

I'm not sure I want to pick sides in this particular war.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Wrote my very own joke today, but it's pretty bad.

What do you call someone who specializes in the skin diseases of dead animals?

A Taxidermatologist.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

In Diane Ravitch's book, Left Back: A Century of Failed School Reforms, she discusses the idea which developed in late 19th century educational philosophy that the mind needed to be trained, in a general sense, and specifically that things like memory and reasoning were susceptible to this sort of training through schooling. Then follows this:


The first attempt to test the validity of mental discipline was recorded by the eminent Harvard psychologist William James, who conducted a trial of his own memory. He wanted to see "whether a certain amount of daily training in learning poetry by heart will shorten the time it takes to learn an entirely different kind of poetry." During an eight-day period he memorized 158 lines of Victor Hugo's poem "Satyr" at the rate of one line every fifty seconds; ten, over a thirt-eight-day period, he memorized the first book of Paradise Lost. When hereturned to the Hugo poem, it took him fifty seven second to memorize each line, which indicated that he had gained nothing in speed or efficience from his earlier memory feats. While James thought that one's memrory might be improved by various methods, he doubted that the faculty of memory could be strengthened merely by training. He referred to his self-test in a footnote in his monumental work, The Principles of Psychology.

James allocated only a footnote to his whimsical experiment because he did not take seriously the idea that education could become a science [my emphasis]. In his celebrated lectures to teachers in 1898, he had warned, "You make a great, a very great mistake if you think that psychology, being the science of the mind's laws, is something from which you can deduce definate programmes and schemes and methods of instruction for immediate schoolroom use."

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

You may want to read the bold sentence at the top a few times and let it sink in.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Isaac Carlisle Baxter was born on March 1 at 12:12 pm. Lenise's water broke at about 2 am, so she woke me up. We called the Nelsons who finally woke up enough to answer the phone and were gracious enough to take John for us until we are available to get him again. Lenise wanted to eat some Honey Nut Cheerios on the way out the door, so they were unwilling to do the operation until those got digested.

Isaac is fine. He likes to sleep a lot. Doesn't cry much yet.

Lenise is doing pretty well. Not nearly as much pain and nausea as the first birth. We don't know when mom and son will make it home yet. Perhaps Saturday.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Chris O'Donnell called this the feel good story of the year, and who am I to disagree.
As promised, a few comment on Richard Rhodes book. Why They Kill is an exploration of the career and ideas of a criminologist named Lonnie Athens. Athens grew up in a very violent home and found himself drawn to the field of criminology when he discovered there was such a thing during his college years. Athens' immediate reaction to the prevailing theories about violent criminal behavior was that they did not at all match up with his own experiences and observations. Violent criminals, in his experience, did not "snap", go crazy or otherwise act irrationally when involved in violence. They were simply acting on the basis of their personality and evaluation of the situation they were in.

While countless studies had been conducted in sociology collecting data sets on the "factors" associated with criminal acts, Athens thought this was entirely the wrong approach to the question. In his mind he felt that the best approach was to do intensive interviews with violent criminals and find out if there were common patterns in their backgrounds and in the way they perceived their reasons for acting violently. He carried out this research in various prisons and made the startling conclusion that there was a specific pattern to the background of every single one of the violent criminals. Each person went through specific stages of development, so to speak, on the way to developing a violent personality. Athens called this process "violentiztion". I'll not spell all these out, since I think you should read it for yourself.

Athens academic career was not successful though. His rough background and his non-conformity to prevalent sociological methodology put him at odds with many of the people in his field. His books were not accepted by any american publisher, though they were eventually accepted by the british publisher Routledge.

After spelling out Athens' research, Rhodes goes on to examine whether Athens' scheme could be seen as applying more broadly. He looks at several notorious cases of violence which had already been examined heavily by other journalists such as Mike Tyson and Cheryl Crane (Lana Turner's daughter). Additionally he looks at the history of child rasing in Europe and its possible connection with the violence which had been so common before the 18th century. Murder rates in rural medieval Europe, for example, were quite comparable to those in the worst 20th century cities. THe process of violentization always has as its first step brutalization. This could include either being personally beaten or witness horrible violence done to another person. In examining historical work on child raising norms in european history, Rhodes quotes one scholar as saying he could not find a single documented example of a child who was NOT beaten before the 18th century.

Rhodes also goes on to look at violence in warfare and its relationship to the training methods used by the military. Again, there was a lot a fascinating material here which I will encourage you to read for yourself.

Towards the end of the book RHodes turns his eye to a subject which Lonnie Athens had not discussed in his writings: conservative christianity. Rhodes mentions several popular christian books on child raising and scorns their model of seeing children as creatures of evil whose wills need to be "broken". I found this section disquieting. The discussion of the relation of christian child raising and violence could certainly have been nuanced quite a bit more than it was, but on the other hand, I think it is not at all far fetched to suggest that many violent parents see justification for brutalizing children through certain fundamentalistic beliefs and teachings.

Anyhow, this was easliy one of the most interesting books I've read in my lifetime. Can't recommend it highly enough.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

I'm wondering if conversations like this one are in my future somewhere.

Monday, February 20, 2006

I've been rerading this week Richard Rhodes's book Why They Kill: The Discoveries of a Maverick Criminologist. For what amounts to a biography of an academic career, it is an overwhelmingly compelling read. More on it later, but I wanted to thank whoever recommended it to me. I just don't remember who that was. Someone in a comment quite a while back.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Something unexpected to cheer up your weekend.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Anyone know what happened to John B's blog?

Edit: seems to be back up now.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

It is time to announce the return of...

THE BOOK CONTEST

Here are the rules. Anyone may nominate a book to me. Nominations which I have already read will be discarded. Each person may only nominate one book (discraded entries do not count for this purpose). The total number of entries shall not exceed ten (10) books. I will promise to read each nominated book during the year and report on it. The book which I judge to be the best will be the winner and will earn the nominator a free book from their amazon wishlist (so please be sure to set one of those up if you plan to play).

The first two entries have already been made, so time is limited. Any sort of book is acceptable, provided that it is not out of print or terribly expensive. Even so, I could try to get it via Inter-library loan, so nominate away. My typical interests are history, biblical theology, language, economics and good fiction, though I'm happy to try anything else as well.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

I owe a debt of gratitude to my friend of the last 10 years, Pitt Tomlinson, for recommending to me Albert Borgmann's book Power Failure: Christianity in the Culture of Technology. Borgmann is a professor of philosophy at the University of Montana, and, like other philosophers, has the talent, for better or worse, of writing far denser prose than other sorts of writers. This is not a drawback, though, when the writing is clear, nautrally interesting, and not translated from German.

The portion of the book I most enjoyed is his chapter on the virtue of courage in modern society. Beginning with a look at the courage of the rescue workers on Sept 11, 2001, he asks the question of whether courage in modern society reuires an extraordinary crisis. Typically virtues have been said to only develop through practice, so this would seem to be a difficult quandry. Drawing on the analysis of William Miller (The Mystery of Courage, 2000), he talks briefly about Aristotle and Aquinas on courage, noting that for each of them, their primary models for courage (Homeric heroes for Aristotle, the martyrs for Aquinas) lived centuries before their own writing, thus each felt this quandry of how courage was to be relevant in their day.

Certainly one challenge to be courageous in our society is the lack of obvious dangers. We would (should) not consider as virtuous the intentional taking on of easily preventable harms. Borgmann here points to the moral harms provided by the lifestyle encouraged by ou technological culture:

You come home from work, frazzled and spent. You walk into the kitchen and are not surprised that the children have left already and your spouse is not yet home. You find yourself walking to the refrigerator; you take what you like most and put it in the microwave. You stare at the paper on the kitchen table; it's Wednesday, your favorite tv show is on, followed by a game of the home team. Your pulse quickens a little. The show is good, your spouse comes home, you exchange a few words, the game is boring, you move to the den to do an overdue memo on the omputer. But first you check your email, the latest news, you happen on the ESPN web site. They offer you a video game, you play it for a while, your spouse is going to bed. You decide to call it a day.

Has this been an un-Christian evening? You have not coveted your neighbor's spouse, you have not stolen anything, you have not ordered anyone around. What you have done seems unexceptional. There were moments of a pleasant sort of freedom when you were able to eat what you liked at the time you liked, while watching the program you liked. There were moments of mild excitement when you anticipated the game or started to play the video game. Sullennessmay have overtaken you in the end, but at least you id not have to presume on anyone's time or attention.


Borgmann describes this "cocoon of autonomy" as being "incapable of redemption", but then moves to the alternatives which are at hand:

Here on the shelf is the poetry we could read to one another, there in the cornerare the flute and guitar we could play together. Right next to the kitchen is the dining-room table we could gather around. nd not far from our home are the playing fields where we could teach our daughter tennis or join a softball league with our beloved. There is the museum where local painters are showing their work and the concert hall where the citizens' symphony plays.

These are the places where patience is tried and generosity rewarded, where disappointments can't be escaped and grace descends in what Virginia Wolff calls moments of being. Those places are the precincts of faith where redemption comes into view again as the perfection the world cries out for.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

It's hard for me to imagine that I have readers who don't also read Joel's blog, but just in case, make sure you read his post on his daughter's prayers.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Mythology and James Frey (in case you care).
Regarding the issue of the Danish cartoon conflagration, I express my soldarity with the comments of Kendall Harmon. Thanks to Todd for the link(s).

Friday, February 03, 2006

Just finished reading Christopher Lasch's The True and Only Heaven: Progress and Its Critics. Lasch's work traced the idea of progress and "progressivism" through the works of (generally) american intellectuals and thinkers from the early 19th century through the 1980's. While a great deal of it was interesting, I do tire of the "history of ideas" method of talking almost exclusively about famous authors. It would be refreshing to see more work done with newspapers and magazines and other guages of more popular opinion. One of the magazines he did cite which was of interest to me, though I imagine it would be tricky to find today, is a series which was done in The Nation in the 1920's called "These United States", a profile of each state in the union. These were apparently highly influenced by the work of Mencken and thus were often quite negative in their assesment, though this was not always the case. I believe Willa Cather was commissioned to write on Nebraska and found plenty of virtues to mention.

The book is quite lengthy and covers quite a few topics. One portion towards the end I thought I would share at some length, as it is one of my pet topics:

...Relentless "improvement" of the product and upgrading of consumer tastes are the heart of mass merchandising, and these imperatives are built into the mass media at every level.

Even the reporting of news has to be understood not as propaganda for any particular ideology, liberal or conservative, but as propaganda for commodities--for the replacement of things by commodities, use values by exchnge values, and events by images. The very concept of news celebrates newness. The value of news, like that of any oher commodity, consists primarily of its novelty, only secondarily of its informational value. As Frank Waldo pointed out many years ago, the news appeals to the same jaded appetite that makes a spoiled child tire of a toy as soon as it becomes familiar and demand a new one in its place. As Frank also pointed out ( in The Rediscovery of America, 1930), the social expectations that stimulate a child's appetite for new toys appeal to the desire for appropriation: the appeal of toys comes not to lie in their use, but in their status as possesions. "A frsh plaything renews the child's opportunity to say: this is mine." A child who seldom gets a new toy, Frank noted, "prizes it as part of himself." But if "toys become more frequent, value is gradually transfered from the toy to the toy's novelty . . . The arrival of the toy, not the toy itself, becomes the event." The news, accordingly, has to be seen as the "plaything of a child whose hunger for toys has been stimulated shrewdly." We can carry this analysis one step further by pointing out that the model of possession, in a society organized around mass consumption, is addiction. The need for novely and fresh stimulation becomes more and more intense, intervening interludes of boredom more and more intolerable.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

One of the hats I wear in life is as music director for the men's singing group at CGS. Last night was one of our rare "outside gigs". We had been requested to sing at a retirement/assisted living community in Durham, so we put together 30-40 minutes of music we had either sung recently or could learn pretty quickly (i.e. a couple of barbershop arrangements). The two of us who have small kids brought our wives and babies along to enjoy the show. During on of the first songs my son crawled over to me and grabbed my leg. We were singing Ralph Manuel's lovely Alleluia, a piece I know quite well, so I decided to drop my music and pick John up while I was singing. All was well and good until he decided to join in. His "ra-ra-ra-ra" fits in pretty well with "alleluia", so it wasn't too bad, but it did throw me off just a little bit. The audience loved it though, so no regrets there.

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Andrew Postman on Neil Postman.
As we approach the holy season of SuperSunday, let me pose to you my favorite football trivia question. It's my favorite because I came up with it myself. No answers from thse who've gotten this from me in person.

How many US states are home to exactly two NFL teams? What are those states?

Friday, January 27, 2006

I vote for this guy for my favorite ukelele player. Thanks Chris.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

We had the local director for Pregnancy Support Services speak at our church today on the anniversary of the Roe v Wade decision (it was also, oddly, the 20th anniversary of the founding of our church). Here is Todd's post on abortion and the episcopal church. Read it and weep.
Monetary news of the day, for those who like that sort of thing.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Don't you wish you could have seen this? (google video link via AKMA)

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Somebody try this out for me, alright?
Another of these silly things. I was going to call it dumb, but it's from my wife, so I'll just call it silly.
Four Jobs I Have Had:

Tour Guide
Landscaper
Life Insurance Salesman
Janitor at a Funeral Home


Four Movies I Could Watch Over and Over:

The Castle (probably the (non-veggie) movie I have seen the most of in the last few years)
The Hudsucker Proxy
Waiting for Guffman
Brazil

Four Books I Could Read Over and Over
I don't typically read the same books very many times at this point in my life but I'll answer this the best I can

I've read though the Patrick O'Brian saga twice, and probably will again
I'm planning on rereading all of the Robertson Davies novels over the next year
Johann Sebastian Bach's Well Tempered Clavier
Edvard Grieg's Lyric Pieces

okay, those last two were a different sort of reading, but I do read those over and over and haven't grown tired of them yet.


Four Places I Have Lived:

West Bloomfield, Michigan
Wildwood, New Jersey
Durham, North Carolina
Houghton, New York

Four TV Shows I Watch:

I'll just list my old favorites since we don't watch (live) tv anymore

The Simpsons
Seinfeld
Mystery Science Theater 3000
Firefly

Four Places I Have Been On Vacation:

Clearwater, Florida
Gull Lake, Michigan
Vienna, Austria
Stockholm, Sweden

Four Websites I Visit Daily:

Well, lessee, I go here to sound smart,
I go here for amusement,
I go here to feed my addiction,
and here to find out what's going on in my house.

Four Favorite Foods

(I'll just list ones I like to make)
Borsch (got a big pot in the fridge right now)
Black Bean Soup
Omelettes
Bread Pudding with Whisky Sauce

Four Places I'd Like To Be Right Now:

(I'll take "right now" as "places I generally enjoy")
L'viv, Ukraine
Mebane Public Library (will probably be there later today)
Boone, NC
Church of the Good Sheherd

Four Bloggers I'm Tagging:

Al
Paul D
Mark (just cuz I never see him do these things)
and, Michael (NOT Kristen)
Interesting (and lengthy) article here about the changing place of sex in american thought and media here. I think one quibble I might have is that I tend to use the term "liberal" simply to name the sort of capitalist ethic which is the dominant ideology in america, rather than as a contrast to "conservative", but I'm weird that way.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Our sermon yesterday by our beloved Jerry Currin (available here) was perhaps the most "catholic" sermon I think I'll ever hear in a prebyterian chruch. I just love my church. Jerry, btw, was a baptist for a long time.

Friday, January 13, 2006

A happy Trogday to all my readers. Or at least those who know what I'm talking about.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Here is the consummate love song for today's youth.
Is this A) creepy, or B) really creepy.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

"Till we can become divine we must be content to be human, lest in our hurry for a change we sink to something lower."

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

I thought this was a fascinating look at the problems of advertising on the internet.
As for my resolution, you can view the first part of my 2006 reading list here. I am very systematic in my reading, so I know these are approximately the first 20 books I'll read this year.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

My new year's resolution for this year is simply to keep track of the books I read. I read about 150 last year, but I didn't keep any notes and have a hard time remembering exactly what I read and didn't read, thus making any sort of year end list like this a little tricky. I'll try to post a few highlights though.


Also, feel free to chime in if you'd like to see me reprise my best book contest. I did this two years ago, allowing people to nominate the book they thought I would like the best, with a free book being given out as a prize. I like doing this just to get great recommendations from all you readers.
Thanks to AKMA for pointing to this post on the issues of choosing to play at evil in online gaming. I haven't played World of Warcraft, so I'll have to take Castronova's word on how things work there.

I used to play online games quite a bit, namely Everquest and Dark Age of Camelot. In Camelot there were no particularly evil races, simply three nations of sorts all in perpetual war with the others. In Everquest, it was a bit more complicated. You could play an orc or a troll (or a dark-elf), which were considered "evil" races, but the only real consequence of that was that you had restrictions on trading in most of the cities. In terms of gameplay, it was pretty much all the same and evil races joined up in parties with good races all the time.

But I think Castronova is quite right to be asking the sorts of questions he is. I have found that gamers take very little time to reflect on the ethics that might be involved in playing their games, aside from the issue of what constitutes cheating or fairplay within the game. As I suggested in the comments on AKMA's site, I think this lack of reflection may be defensive, as players today often spend huge amounts of time within online games and don't want to consider the idea that there could be something morally vicious about doing so.