Monthly Archives: July 2005


Trevor’s working on a way of refactoring the appearance of the Disseminary — partly ’cause it’s been long enough, partly because we cam up with the old appearance right at the start, and have learned enough to be ready to make some changes, partly because the Moveable Type database that powered the old design melted down last winter and we never rebuilt it.

Proposed new Disseminary splash page

Trevor sensibly thinks that we ought to solicit feedback for the new design before we implement anything — so, how does it look to you?

Ideas and Time

I appreciate the positive feedback about the Theology Cards; we have another dozen or so in the works, which will dribble out over the next week, I expect. If you have a request, leave a comment — I can’t make any promises, but if a subject would interest you, then it might well be useful and interesting to my class, or to other non-curricular explorers. I will concenttate my efforts on the years from 100 to 600 (roughly, though I’ll stretch the interval to include some early of the missionary saints of the British Isles); though there be worthy subjects for cards outside that window, I just don’t have the time right now to think about a series of “Continental Reformers” or “Caroline Divines.”

In response to Being Shielded’s request for “an idea flow chart,” I like the idea a lot and will try to work such things up for some major theological concepts. Unfortunately, I got a different really great idea while I was mulling that over, a real Tufte-an idea that I’ve spent hours working on already today.

It goes this way: Part of the job of our introductory course in Early Church History involves helping students develop an awareness of the shape of major theologians’ lives, the connections among them, the chronology and the geography of their careers. It occurred to me to follow a character’s life with a line that changes color as the character ages. So a character’s life-line starts out yellow, modulates to red at 25, to purple at 50, to blue at 75, and to green should he or she live to 100. With that visual device, one can both illustrate a character’s life and travels (“Aha! He’s in Gaul at 25, but he returns to Alexandria in his forties”) and point to synchronisms (“So she was in her fifties during the Council of Chalcedon”).

The catch is that my Photoshop/Illustrator chops aren’t immediately up to the task, so I’m going deeper in the applications at the same time I’m working on illustrating (for instance) Athanasius’s exiles. I hope I can produce a nice, clean one in time to take it to the Tufte seminar that Trevor and I will go to in August.

So, life-lines now; idea flow-charts, next. And, if I can get a handle on the stressors that have interrupted my sleep and productivity, I can wrap up my work on the Winslow Lectures publication project, put together the elements for my semi-plenary at the Catholic Biblical Association meeting next weekend, and help Margaret and Pip get ready for their August trip to the east coast. And resume the Lego Church History illustrations. And finish up my syllabus in time to share it with my Church History colleagues. And rework my study guide for the course. And write the books I’m supposed to have written this summer. Etc.

My Kind of Argument

Phil Windley (Ha! no one thought I even remembered Phil — hi, Phil!) points to a useful argument from Timothy Grayson on the subject of digital identity. It’s the sort of argument I love — he calls attention to the extent to which our frustrations and conflicts over “digital identity” and “privacy” involve conceptual confusions left over from the conditions that prevailed before the advent of digital interaction. The technical problems are aggravated by linguistic confusion.

Three cheers for that good catch! The difficulty arises when you try to attend not only to the changing conditions that require us to redefine our expectations (that’s a tough enough job by itself), but also to the moral intuitions, the social forces that inculcate our sense of identity, and the negotiations by which we mediate these non-personal factors. You can’t just “cahnge the language,” nor should we simply turn the language over to people who assure us they know what they’re doing, even if they’re good guys like Kim Cameron and Dick Hardt and Eric Norlin (well, OK, Eric has that sinister NSA side to him, but you get my point). Our language needs to change and will change, but the right answers for DigID will take when the affordances that the technology offers align with expectations that non-geek citizens are willing to bend in order to enjoy the benefits of comfortable, secure, trustworthy online interactions.

You and Big Broadband and Me

Yesterday David (evidently on vacation, but blogging up a storm) called attention to what calls itself a Big Broadband Bill of Rights. He urged us to sign on, and I went over to check it out.

I’m a determined user of broadband, so the issue concerns me actively — and I support the premise that the U.S. has adopted (or, more precisely, “allowed to tumble into a mixed-up array”) misguided regulations relative to the distribution of broadband services. If I am correctly informed, other nations offer faster, more readily available broadband at lower prices; that should certainly sound like a desirable circumstances to decision-makers over here, too.

I didn’t sign the manifesto, though, for a couple of reasons. First, I balk at furthering the notion that access to broadband constitutes a “right” (even in a metaphorical sense). Enumerated rights ought to stay few and general, and the more we talk about a right to this and a right to that, the more vulnerable all of these rights become to the argument that “when your rights conflict with mine, something has to give, isn’t that a shame,” etc., blah blah blah — an argument that serves too easily to undermine what ought to be deep, durable, exceptionless civil rights (as near to “exceptionless” as mortal social arrangements can make). In other words, I’d be more sympathetic to seeing this as a sub-instance of “free press” than as a sui generis matter right-to-boradband.

Second, the manifesto’s Article 2, section 3 reads, “2.3 You have the right to trust that others will respect your copyright ownership. In turn, you shall respect the copyright protections afforded to us and compensate copyright owners per their request” — and, given the present complexion of copyright law in the U.S., I can’t endorse that. I don’t have anything against a modest regimen more in line with historic copyright protection, but I just don’t assent to the present megacorp-feeding-frenzy of copyright restriction. To repeat: a sensible business model will benefit artists and those who mediate and distribute their work to customers. That’s no0t just what my observations affirm; that’s what the data suggests, too.

The same applies to Big Broadband. Legislators and business leaders should see the long-term economic benefits to making absolutely sure that the U.S. supports the fastest, least costly, most reliable broadband network in the world. THat’s the basis on which they should be supporting and Big Broadband — not on the basis of a putative right to online access. Great principle, great vision, great models, misplaced argument.

Hard at Work

Crossing from repetitive to downright tedious, we’ve got even more of the Theological Outlines online: we have Chapter One (The Science of Theology), Chapter Two (The Dogmatic office of the Church), Chapter Three (Holy Scripture), and about half of Chapter Four (Theism). And we’ve added four Theology Cards:

14 Leo the Great, Single PDFSix-Up PDFJPEG

16 Egeria, Single PDFSix-Up PDFJPEG

18 Benedict, Single PDFSix-Up PDFJPEG

22 Cyprian, Single PDFSix-Up PDFJPEG

Another Example

The St. Luke’s volunteers came by today to pick up a bed for the Yancuba family, and as I was cleaning out the space where the bed used to be, I found a parish bulletin (location and date withheld) where I had noted that the preacher started by observing, “Today is Father’s Day. Many Christians will celebrate today as the Feast of Corpus Christi. . . .”

That’s the kind of thing that makes me feel feisty and un-American, when a preacher announces that it is Father’s Day but observing Corpus Christi is an optional, “Christian” thing to do.