Monday, January 31, 2005

Java version of the board game I played with Kirk yesterday.
Say what you will, european critics of american "puritanism", but we haven't quite come to this yet. Unfortunately, I see very little reason why such a move would be dificult to make here. Once you go to legalization, who knows what could follow.

Friday, January 28, 2005

If you haven't yet been overloaded with the issues surrounding copyrights recently, this is a well written article covering a lot of the major issues. I find these things compelling reading myself, but I'm pretty weird, to say the least.
Hmm, how tempting. I got an offer in the mail from our power utility for their wonderful FIXED PAYMENT PLAN! I can now know EXACTLY what my power bill will be each month. I think they are counting on people not reading these things. I came across the following sentence in the brochure: "If your electric usage under the program remains consistent with your actual usage during the last one to two years, adjusting for the effects of unusual weather, you may pay up to 10 percent more than you would have paid under your standard rate schedule plus a $1 monthly administrative fee." The fee is undoubtedly to hire more people to figure out what to do with all the extra money they take in.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

This is very funny, and the first time I've seen that particular stunt.
Haave you ever had the experience where you liked something so much that you despair of ever enjoying another of that type of thing again? Well, I just watched Once Upon A Time In The West and don't know if I'll ever enjoy another western. While it might not be quite the "perfect" film, I don't know that I've seen another where all the artistic elements came together so well. For three hours everytghing about the film is riveting.
If you would like to be part of a PCA blog aggregator, check this out. Basically this would mean that your blog entries would be noticed on a list of a great number of other presbyterian bloggers, and conversely you could find out what others inthe denomination arw writing about.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

I have to admit that I often find myself baffled by Eastern Orthodox writers, but this is just an amazing piece of writing.

Friday, January 21, 2005

Random Wodehouse quote generator.
My sister-in-law, Mindy, recommended that we watch a film called Heavens Above. Given that all I knew about it was that it was a 60s film about religion starring Peter Sellers, I was a bit skeptical. My skepticism was unfounded. This was a terrific movie, and one of the best blends of Christian idealism (in the sense of "go sell all you have and give to the poor") and realistic consequences (fickle, scheming poor people, local economic collapse) that I've ever run across in any form. The only draw back is that it focusses almost entirely on the interpersonal charity aspect of the gospel that it ignores a lot of other essential Christian themes. But it handles the idea of charity so well that I have no hesitation in recommending it to you. It's very funny as well.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

My father taught me a long time ago that the government doesn't always hire the sharpest people.

Monday, January 17, 2005

I was thinking in the shower today (I wonder how much of my thinking I do in there), a not very original thought, I'm sure, i.e. that our minds are like soup pots. Each idea/flavor we add in is going to react to whatever else is already in there. Some ingredients probably won't do well until others have been already established. If your first ingredient in your soup is pepper, it won't be very palatable for a while. Things need to be balanced out.

I was thinking this regarding how my views of politics and religion have been formed and changed since college. Due to the influence of certain people I won't name, I came to read a lot of literature associated with a movement referred to as "theonomy" during and immediately after college. The general gist of this movement is that Jesus (and Paul) affirmed a continuing role for the OT law, not just at the individual level, but also for society widely. Greg Bahnsen set out the most systemic exegetical foundation for this in his book Theonomy and Christian Ethics, basing much of his case on his reading of Matt 5:17-20. The movement died a slow death, I suppose, throughout the '90's, facing both internal and external problems and criticisms.

Certain writers of this movement, the most prolific being Gary North, tried to take a thorough going look at the OT and make some effort to find applications of the particularities of the various laws to contemporary society. Those of a generally antinomian mindset found this patently ridiculous, but I always thought this was a worthwhile exercise, at least in principle. North himself always chided his critics that if they didn't like his work, they should go do thier own homework and present a rival vision.

I had put this subject on the back burner (or do I have to put the whole pot on the back burner?) to try to read more widely. Then I ran into (like a brick wall) the work of Stan Hauerwas. It's more than I can handle here to lay out Stanley's positions on politics, especially as he is everything except systematic in his writings. Much of what he said, though, had odd echoes of what the theonomists lad also said. He wrote in defense of casuistry (the close reading and application of texts), sharply and mercilessly criticized pluralism and liberalism, and even seems to think highly of John Calvin. Yet so much was strikingly different as well. For one thing, Hauerwas' intended audience seems to be the mainstream, liberal academic and religious community rather than the conservative, fundamentalist and reformed communities addressed by the theonomists. More at the heart of things, though, Hauerwas criticized the view of power and violence which have become foundations of our way of life in America.

Following the work of John Howard Yoder, Hauerwas feels that be be a Christian means to follow the example of Jesus, and the example of Jesus was to eschew violence in favor of suffering and martyrdom in the face of evil. Also Hauerwas focused on how the church is an alternative politics to the politics of power and violence which the state always seems to represent. I could go on, but perhaps that's a close enough summary.

Anyhow, I picked up a book which had been sitting unread on my shelf for a very long time, God and Politics: Four Views on the Reformation of Civil Government. The four views style themselves "Theonomy", "Principled Pluralism", "Christian America", and "National Confessionalism". I'm only half through at the moment, but it seems thus far that each position is well within the reformed/puritan tradition of emphasizing a positive view of OT law in political analysis. Their differences, to this point, are not really radical ones.

While I don't know what I would have made of this book had I read it ten or fifteen years ago, I suspect I would have seen Bahnsen (theonomy) as the "good guy" and the others as wrong insofar as they diverged from him. At this point I find myself thinking that none of them have come to terms fully with the question of why a "christian" view of politics should focus on America.

Sorry for the rambling, long winded nature of this. If I was more systematic I would have thrown in lots of relevant quotes and made this into a good 15 page paper, so be thankful its as short as it is.

Friday, January 14, 2005

Pseudonymity, Part Two

I had some additional thoughts on this subject to add. These were not thought of in response to the comments to the post below, but I think they do intersect in some ways. One of the areas of life and thought I've been working on in my thinking and reading in the last few years is the subject of habits, practices and virtues. This isn't the time/place to set that all out in a systematic way, but I think there are some lessons for this particular topic. Again let me assure you that I am not feeling judgmental of any of you who use pseudonyms, but rather just hoping that we can all think a little further about this stuff.

One of the "advantages" of intentional anonymity in internet publishing is that one can write about people with impunity. Many times I've had situations of frustration or anger or disappointment with people I deal with in various ways (home, work, church or elsewhere) that I thought I might like to write about. Given that I committed very early on to using my own name on this stuff, I have been learning just to keep my mouth, or keyboard, shut on most of this. There is always the possibility that someone will find out that I wrote about them. There was one situation last year that really impacted me emotionally, but it involved someone's shameful behavior and I definitely would have been out of line to write about it.

Thus one argument for identifying oneself is that it leads to the practice of restricting our natural tendencies toward gossip. I'm tempted to go off about the funny ways we use the word "truth" these days (often using it to mean, "here's something evil I'd like to tell you about so and so"), but I won't. Stanley Hauerwas has written very eloquently on this particular subject, and I'll try to look up some referenced for any of you who care to look them up, rather than giving you my half-baked version.

As for TulipGirl's point about the semi-permanence of our immaturity, I am sympathetic. I hope, though, that recognizing that we are publishing whenever we hit that send button will help us learn to be cautious. This is a problem that any writer has to face, and I know I've heard numerous writers express grief over things they wrote "early on". Establishing identity strikes me as the more responsible way to handle things.

I think it may be good or useful to have occasions and places to be pseudonymous, just as it is occasionally cathartic to go to a costume party, or perhaps a faraway city where we are not known, but there are also significant moral risks that go along with these things. Let us strive to be ourselves, to be wise and sober, and write responsibly. Now I'm starting to sound like one of those ads about not drinking and driving.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Identity, Anonymity, Pseudonymity: A Plea to Humanize the Internet

I've noticed a great divide on the internet among those who use their own names and those who do not. I want to say first that many of my favorite people to read on the 'net are writing pseudonymously. Having said that though, I think it is not helpful in the broad scope of things.

I remember debating a little bit with Seth, now no longer active, on the subject of whether one could rightly consider the people one interacts with in a positive way on the internet as friends. He maintained that friends was not acceptable, preferring the term "buddies". This bothered me a little. I think it is perhaps hard for any of us to define "friends" with any precision, but I certainly think of some people I have met through the 'net as friends, even if in a different sense than some of my more local friends. But it strikes me that the way one perceives this question is going to affect the reality, that is to say, if one perceives internet transactions as "virtual", as anonymous bit of data we might say, then perhaps the result will be a less human interaction. When I interact with someone who uses their own name, I have a stronger sense of dealing with a person, rather than a persona (or avatar, or what have you).

To draw one positive, and personal, example, I have enjoyed greatly interacting with Joel Garver in various ways over the last several years. This has been through email lists, discussion boards, his own blog, comments on my blog (and other mutually read blogs), and via IM. Joel has, especially on his blog, made some effort to root himself in his own space, that is, he writes from time to time about his church, his family, and his city and his workplace. All of this helps me seem him in a more real way, despite the fact that he is a philosopher, dealing in the more ethereal sorts of issues and topics.

The most negative feelings I tend to have are toward those who I only "meet" though comments left on various blogs signed with a pseudonym. I generally think to myself, "gee, this person isn't even willing to put his or her own name to this, and he expects me to respect his point of view." I find myself thinking that often no matter what the content of their expressed opinion is. While I recognize that this is not a very helpful attitude, it is an involuntary one.

To draw an analogy from another field (and my wife's bete noir), I will mention the problem of bad drivers/road rage. I am given to understand that a major underlying cause behind aggressive or rude driving habits is the insularity of the automobile. We tend to perceive others on the road as cars rather than as people. We will say things like, "that blue Honda just cut me off". Often we cannot even see the drivers. If we somehow knew that the blue Honda was driver by a friend or beloved relative, I know that our anger would be greatly reduced and our forgiveness more forthcoming. It is much easier to be angry at a fleeting inanimate object.

In the same way, it is much easier to treat badly on the 'net those we don't know, those we cannot see, those who will not have a direct impact on our lives. Seth, as mentioned above, took the position that this is just part of the fun. We can send our personas out to do battle with each other, recognizing that they are not "us", but more like our battle robots or something. Insofar as we distance ourselves from these battles, we don't get hurt. My preference is to go entirely the other way. To recognize that the internet is a means of communicating with real people, that people can be hurt by what they read, that we should all be quick to apologize and seek forgiveness for wrongs done "in here", and that we should be willing to be seen as human.

I think this will get too long for dealing with the topic or the risks associated with openness on the 'net, so I'll leave that unsaid for now. Will be happy to continue this at a later time.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

The Book Meme

I pretty much never do these things, but this one is my speed.

Copy the list, then remove from it the names of any authors not in your home library, replacing them with names of authors you have. Boldface the ones you’ve added.
(I'm leaving Kundera on my list on the grounds of a short story in a lit collection, bold authors are ones I've read in the past year)

taken from John "W" Bush

1. Pascal
2. Walker Percy
3. James Ellroy
4. Anthony Trollope
5. Jane Austen
6. John Piper
7. Milan Kundera
8. Gene Wolfe
9. V.S. Naipul
10. William Shakespeare
YAAWHL (Yet Another Award Winning Headline)

Saturday, January 08, 2005

My computer screen is a lot cleaner now.
At one time I used to beat up on Ron Sider's writings (and perhaps in his past writings there is much worth beating up on), but I have to say that on the whole this is an very fine article, my only quibble being that in the section on America's wealth in comparison to other nations he does nothing interesting with the information and additionally falls into the trap of thinking that per capita income is a relevant comparison with third world nations.

Friday, January 07, 2005

Finished two books while on my trip. One was Veiled Sentiments, a cultural anthropologist's account of her feildwork among Bedouins in Western Egypt. A couple of things really stood out here. One was that the society functioned in a stable and fairly happy way with a very high degree of gender segregation without the women seeming to feel like they were being mistreated. Studies like this need to be considered by those who find "misogyny" in biblical texts. Patriarchalism, and perhaps even sexism (in the sense that males would consider themselves in some way morally superior to females), but not really hatred of women.

The other aspect was the role poetry plays in Bedouin society. Abu-Lughod quotes a number of ghinnawas--short two line poems--she heard and recorded in her field work. The interesting part was that that "meaning" of the poem in that society was almost entirely a function of the social context. To put this in another, perhaps more comprehensible way, when she would ask someone what a certain poem meant, they would invariably respond by asking who said it.

The second book was a short paperback entitled Who is For Peace, made up of three fairly short essays on war and peace, occasioned by the 1983 Catholic bishops pastoral letter on the subject. On the whole the book was very disappointing. Francis Schaeffer wrote the first essay where he equates the ability to demonstrate strength with the obligation to somehow use violence to protect the weak. He does not really go to any length to show how this might be effective, draws a caricature of pacifism as the "do nothing" option, and provides no specifically Chirstian analysis of the problem despite calling his position a "Christian Worldview".

The second, and longest, essay was Vladimir Bukovsky's. He retold some of the horror pepetuated by the Soviet Empire and accused the peace movement of acting as an agent for the furtherance of totalitarianism. His statements, while seeming a little dated now, did have plenty of weight to them, since he showed that many of these "peace" movements were funded by the Soviets themselves, taking advantage of the desire to avoid violence on the part of the liberal West. My only response to much of this was that truth telling all around was certainly called for, rather than the intentional blindness many leftists seemed to have in the 20th century, but that that is not by itself a reason to oppose non-violence.

The third essay, and certainly the most rigorous, was James Hitchcock's analysis of the Catholic bishops letter itself. He argued that the whole thing was disingenuous. Part of his evidence was that the letter equated war and abortion (seeming to show that being a good catholic would involve opposing both of these), and yet it was received gleefully in many qurters where abortion was sacrosanct without raising any eyebrows. All in all this was the only portion of the book I found interesting at all. Was hoping to find a bit more intelligent interaction from some sort of just-war perspective, but I guess I'll have to look elsewhere.

Here's John trying to get a leg up on his future ecclesiastical career. Posted by Hello

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Just got back home from Monroe. Pretty exhausted. Don't even want to think about what I have to catch up on right now. The conference was terrific. The real take home for me was that Wright's Pauline theology is not considered, at least by Dr Gaffin, as substantially different than reformed theology as it's been developed by Ribberbos et al. The structure of the conference, for those who were not there. Was for each speaker to present five lectures on the basics of Pauline theology--these were alternated between the speakers--as well as having three Q&A sessions where Wright and Gaffin would ask each other questions then answer a few submitted by the attenders. The mood of the whole conference was quite friendly. I got the feeling that a few people wanted to see some sparks fly, and there were, of course, a few points of disagreement, but both men genuinely seemed to appreciate each other's work and felt that their perspectives were ratheer similar.

Daniel Kirk has pointed up the main point of contention that Wright raised about the way Gaffin portrays Paul. To put it as quickly as I can, Wright felt that not enough attention has been paid to the idea that Paul sees the work of Christ as the culmination of God's work/covenant/what have you with ISRAEL, rather than a general timeless sort of thing. That would need to be nuanced a lot more to be fair, but it gets to the heart of the matter.

I doubt I'll have much more to say about the conference, since I have a lot less of an emotional/political/vocational stake in it than many other attenders. It was great to see quite a few people whom I had only encountered online heretofore, such as Tim Gallant, Barb Harvey, Kevin Bush, Jim Jordan and many others.

Saturday, January 01, 2005

A good New Year to you.

Yet another article on the risks of risk avoidance, this one in a case where the stakes are quite high. If you read this and find yourself interested in a more thorough treatment, I highly commend the PBS Frontline special (you'll have to find it yourself) called Harvest of Fear. They did a great job of presenting all sides and letting people speak for themselves, which of course made one side look like total idiots.