Monthly Archives: February 2006

Deflation

So many comments that express ardent admiration for me, my writings, my site design, my dashing good looks, the contribution I make the the general welfare, and other glorious aspects of my online presence come with ulterior motives; occasionally I feel tempted to edit out the links or the salacious site names, and leave the comments that say, “Your site is so so so wonderful,” or “Lovely site!” or “I really enjoy your comments,” but the difficulty is that I’d still remember that I substituted the name “Wilberforce St. John Brathswaite” for [an explicit suggestion of some vigorous carnal activity], deleted the hyperlink to a gaming establishment, and that would ruin the effect.

Callow onlooker: “Is this a game of chance?”
W. C. Fields: “Not when I play it.”

Faith In Terra Nova

Most important: Pippa left this morning for three weeks with her aunts. We woke early, she traveled safely, all in Maine are giddily happy, and I’m sitting here alone, gazing at the dog. It’ll be a great time for Pippa and Jeanne and Gail; I’ll get by.

Now, to matters of less far-reaching consequence!

Both Steve and Liz pointed my attention to a post at Terra Nova in which Mike Sellers asks whether it might not be time for massively multi-player online games to engage seriously with the topic of religion. And he’s not talking only about the made-up religions of the fictive gaming worlds — he explicitly wonders whether one might not want to migrate Christian, Judaic, Islamic, and other physical-world expressions of faith into game-worlds.

I have much to say about the query and the long, long chain of comments that follows it, and some of it will fit better into another blog essay I have in mind for a later occasion. Tonight I’ll just touch on the specific questions Mike raises, and will answer them as a theologian, as a person with a faint background in designing games, and as a player.

As a game designer (again: I disclaim any robust qualification as a game designer, but I did spend a fair amount of off-hours long ago writing, fine-tuning, and playing computer games), I would say “No!” right away — not because I have some aversion to religion, but because the design problems it represents would require vast amounts of processing overhead for a relatively small benefit.

Think about it this way: if we assume that God (or “various gods”) exist, we must admit that God’s involvement with the observed world is so subtle as to make atheism entirely plausible. Very few people “don’t believe in”Jay Leno. Doubting the existence of Jay Leno would defy all the cues we customarily rely on when we form judgments about reality. Doubting God’s existence doesn’t require that kind of comprehensive effort; lots of people disbelieve in God without any effort at all. So from a game designer’s point of view, programming this kind of God would require investing computational energy in an element of the game that you couldn’t detect. Or maybe the answer is, “That’s already a feature” — how would we contradict them? “If there were a God in this game, God wouldn’t let my character get all the way to Onyxia, then die because. . . ”? In a world with copious natural disasters, the claim that we could identify the hand of God in an online game rings hollow.

But [intriguingly enough] most people don’t want the subtle, elusive God of real life in their gaming worlds. They want the more obtrusive, predictable God of popular imagination and media, and of particular flavors of theology: a God whom you know how to please and displease, and who responds to pleasing behavior with rewards, and to displeasing behavior with punishments. That sort of God would take less programming subtlety, but the overhead would still be high, or the manifestations of the god’s presence would be tediously mechanical (and would thus be gamed quickly with a user mod or macro). If the God of Stormwind wants the sacrifice of a small animal every eight hours, then in short order an AutoSacrifice mod will be posted that keeps track of your sacral responsibility — which would render the “point” both of that God’s presence and of that gesture trivial.

The ideal gaming deity would be more Homeric, more capricious, and more interested in unspecificiable particular actions. This version of the God of Stormwind would sometimes pay close attention to your character’s behavior, and if your conduct reflected poorly on your home city, this God might nerf [render less effective] your abilities, weapons, spells, or whatever. If you showed yourself a loyal defender of Stormwind, this God might enhance your abilities. Of course, this God would be a bear to code; it would require setting up a monitoring capacity that zeroed in on a character occasionally, assessed that character’s actions against a norm of Stormwind-ity, and effect an adjustment that corresponds to the scale of the character’s departure from the norm. But how do you measure Stormwind-ity and deviancy? How do you establish a correspondence between deviation and recompense? How many players and characters would even care (since presumably, average behavior would not affect one’s character’s performance at all)?

As a player, I’d very much like to think that the plot of the game-universe would involve and respond to the extent to which players’ behaviors accord with the game’s expectations. The notion that “being a priest” or “paladin” in a game-world entails absolutely no obligation to behave in ways that befit that role frustrates me (as a player — though also, of course, as a priest). I would love to vie with others for the attention and affection of a game-deity, to puzzle over series of events to discern, if possible, whether they involved divine intervention (“Were those three straight rolls of 99 divine intervention, or did I just get lucky?”). I suspect that if the gaming company employed roughly one Divine Emissary to every fifty players, they could do an interesting job of manipulating games and outcomes in an unpredictable, non-mechanical, nuanced way. On the other hand, that gets very expensive, very fast.

As a theologian, I note that few if any of the commenters described “religion” in any way that I’d recognize. If they’re representative of a relatively sophisticated readership, the sort of people who participate in game design (and some of them clearly are designers), I’m just as happy that they’re leaving religion out. I dissent actively enough from what some of my colleagues say about theology and religion — having to deal with the catechetical influence of theologically problematic game designs would only aggravate my frustration.

What about Mike’s suggestion that physical-world religious communities take their activity into Warcraft (and related games)? I’d be extremely cautious; while there may be no compelling reason to prevent the Knights of Columbus Guild or the Rodef Shalom Raiding Party, the opportunity for people to live out their radically-profound frustrations and alienations in conflict with other gamers could damage both the game and its participants. If you think that hostilities between Guild and Alliance run deep, just imagine the first time a Hamas Guild gets into a PvP environment with a JDL Guild. Game admins don’t need that tension, gamers don’t need that tension, and the game itself (I’d argue) needs a suspension of the pre-existing allegiances and alienations that (sadly) beset religious communities.

And in this world, one can’t just respawn fifteen minutes later.

Podwalking

Another good start to another morning, as I relished Booker T and the MG’s playing “Time is Tight” followed by Fatboy Slim’s “Weapon of Choice” while exercising the dog.

Lloyd Davis has staked out the term “podwalk” for his audiocasts of strolls through London. That’s fine, props to him — but I propose a secondary sense of the word, for the rhythmic stride one can’t help adopting when the music one’s listening to on a portable mp3 player hits a particularly compelling groove. In fact, I’m envisioning an advertisement that follows a series of pedestrians through city streets, each of whom is obviously wearing the recognizable white ear buds of an iPod, whose jaunty step differentiates them from their dragging, scuffling neighbors. They’re podwalking.

Digital Romance Resources

When communicating your devotion on Sts. Cyril and Methodius Day, don’t limit yourself to the canned options assigned to us by Apple’s iCards; search for the keyword of your choice at Delivr, and send an electronic reminder of your love, decorated with a photo that you chose from among millions.

(I did!)

[Later: I did send one to Margaret, but it wasn’t delivred; evidently in the complex economy of spam-catching, filtering, and overloaded servers, Delivr encounters some snags. Check to see if your sweetheart received what you meant to send, and if not, you might try taking a screenshot of the image and emailing it. Or fall back and punt with an iCard.]

Derogating The Divine

Last night, Chris Corrigan prodded me (in the comments thread to my remarks about cartoons and riots) about the nature of blasphemy. How do we know, he wonders, “ that any truth is indeed transcendent”?

You mean, apart from “AKMA told me”?

I have to evade some of the far-reaching epistemological questions on that one (since David started this, maybe he can weigh in on some possible-worlds modal-logic answers; I’m inflected by Wittgenstein on religious knowledge). I’ll stick with the pragmatic, and exasperating, point that some of us simply do know. Now, hastily, I add “(by our own accounts)” — that is, the imam in the next town and the rabbi a few blocks down the street and I all know about transcendent truth. To frame the issue as Marx did, we stake our lives and their meaning on the truth of what we profess. If I don’t know about the truth of the Gospel, I’m very profoundly wrong (as Paul said, “If Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain. . . . If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied”).

Of course, my hypothetical imam and rabbi would give different accounts of the transcendent truth that they know. And — vitally important — we can’t reconcile these divergent accounts without producing yet another, divergent account that departs from what each of these claims, and that entails another superior vision of transcendent truth.

This gets back to my version of gospel pacifism (not that I invented it, but the version that I’ve received and assimilated): If the Gospel didn’t demand that I follow in a Way of non-coercion, I would have reason to cry out for blasphemers to be punished, for impiety to be stifled by force. I hear clearly the arguments of some of the leaders who (evidently, from follow-up news reports, on the basis of bogus evidence) feel the urgency of lashing back at the heedless, impious scoundrels who [allegedly] defame the Truth. Aftera ll, the notion of “the usefulness of a charge of blasphemy against someone who is not a member of the faith in question” only arises when we’re in a situation that starts by deferring the question of whose version of transcendent truth applies. In many localities, that deferral is itself a symptom of godlessness.

Though Chris’s proposals (the first, an inner-community definition of blasphemy by which one adherent indicates to a fellow-adherent, “You’ve transgressed community boundaries” and a personal, internal condition, “the opposite of grace with respect to one’s personal practice”) both sound sensible with reference to the fields they address, they leave out the most powerful dimension of “blasphemy” as a concept and as the basis for the current upheavals: that is, the sense that someone who doesn’t care about “my” knowledge of transcendent truth may not derogate that truth. There’s the rub; in a liberal democracy, the question of transcendent truth must be deferred, but transcendent truth demands that all defer to it (regardless of their preference or dissidence).

As a parenthetical conclusion, I always ponder the fact that Christians have a paradoxical inheritance on the topic of blasphemy. Jesus evidently said something like, “People will be forgiven for every sin and blasphemy, but blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven” (the different gospels frame his saying differently). Then Jesus changes the subject, so that we’re left to puzzle out just what constitutes blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.

Several points to note, though: First, Jesus stipulates that every sin and every blasphemy are forgivable, save one. That covers a lot of terrain, a lot that many Christian would hesitate to endorse.

Second, whatever constitutes blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, it must entail some sort of repudiating the possibility of grace; for blasphemy to constitute the only, ultimate, unforgivable transgression, it can’t mean just tripping over a technicality or disagreeing with someone else about a point of doctrine. For the whole theological plan to hang together at this point, the ultimate blasphemy must mean something such as “I want no part of your forgiveness, I despise the [false] truth you espouse, and even if it means I commit my eternity to torment, I opt for that destiny rather than accept the generosity and forgiveness of a God who would forgive my condescending impiety.” As always, though, forgive me if I err in this.

As I pushed “post,” Les McCann and Eddie Harris came on my iTunes list, playing “Compared to What”:

Church on Sunday, sleep and nod
Tryin’ to duck the wrath of God
Preacher’s fillin’ us with fright
Tryin’ to tell us what he thinks is right
He really got to be some kind of nut (I can’t use it!)
Tryin’ to make it real — compared to what?

Duly Noted

Silvio Berlusconi compares self to Christ (and Napoleon). Who ought to riot about this? Christians? Italians? Rational citizens of the world?

Betsy Martens emailed me to point out to the landmark research being conducted at a Chicago-based research institute. As Sts. Cyril and Methodius Day (they graciously allow Valentinus to share their feast) draws nearer, we can ponder the cultural significance of a general fascination with telegraphic messages printed on heart-shaped sugar.

Ron Jeffries valiantly proposes that I ought to be among Andrew Jones’s “Forty Vintage Theoblogians” (on his blogroll). Chacun à son blogroll, I say (actually, I could also say “Chacun a son blogroll”); but I appreciate the advocacy. I like to think that it’s because I’m not yet old enough to be “vintage,” but since practically everyone on Andrew’s list is younger than I, my illusion costs me a lot in self-delusion. Maybe if he starts a category called “Antiquarian Theoblogians.” . . .
I should add for Ron and other visitors who endure my divagations solely for the occasional exhibitions of Pippa’s art, that she has been spending more time reading this year. We, as much as you, look forward to every pixel of art that she makes, but it’s up to her. We will post as much of what she draws, paints, sketches, models, and rakes up as she permits us to do, and will post it as promptly as possible.

With two minutes to go in yesterday’s basketball game, Duke had been called for 19 fouls, Maryland for 16 (they ended up with 21 and 24, as Maryland was fouling at the end in order to slow down the clock). If I were a ref, and I heard people constantly suggesting that I was biased in favor of Duke, you can bet your last metaphorical cent that I would do nothing that anyone could plausibly construe as responding to those whiny complaints. If you want the ref to cut your team some slack, or to stop “favoring” Duke, the sanest answer (so far as I can tell) would involve just letting the refs call the game, and complaining only about specific bad calls (if you complain at all). Then, I’m waiting to hear what my referee friends say about this brouhaha.

Everybody Has Won, And All Must Have Prizes

I hate grading. I’ve said that here before, but I really mean it (that’s one reason I’m blogging instead of mopping up the last papers I need to mark before the weekend). In previous posts (to which I’ll link when I have a few minutes) I’ve tried to present a good, noble rationale for not wanting to grade: it’s antithetical to discipleship, to the intrinsic value of learning, to the transparent relationship of mentor to student, and so on.

Permit me to throw this big, resin-laden, dry branch onto the fire, though. Another element to my distaste for grading comes from the divergent perspectives that I and some of my students bring to that exercise in systematically distorted communication. I want my grades to say, “This is truly excellent work,” or “This shows very good work, with definable room for improvement,” or whatever — and some of my students want their grades to say, “This work is as good as the work that got you an A in caucus-race classes you’ve taken before, under other circumstances.” Some of my students have been trained to expect that adequate work will receive an A.

The other day I was talking to a student friend about opera, pros and cons, and I admitted a distaste for Grand Opera, but a deep fondness for Gilbert and Sullivan (which helped constitute me as the postmodern Victorian — or Edwardian — that I am). The whole phenomenon reminds me of the dénouement of The Gondoliers: the twin Kings of Barataria create peerages and offices for all their citizens, only to discover that “When everyone is somebodee, then no one’s anybody!”

If we care about excellence — most people (certainly including Christians who care about St. Paul and Jesus and the saints and people like that) have reason so to do — we have to come to terms with difference in capacity and accomplishment. I want desperately that our engagement with those kinds of difference be not abusive or odious or burdensome, but we can’t afford to muffle the difference between excellence and adequacy without buying into a fatal anodyne mediocracy, in academy or church or culture or state.

On Cartoons

A few days ago I mentioned Will Crawley; just yesterday, his classmate (who also took Latin from him, if I recall correctly) David Efird emailed me to prod me to say something about the riots over cartoons.

I rather wish he hadn’t because I’m not sure I can say anything that won’t inflame or irritate people — but since I make a habit of talking in public about theological topics, and since David asked, willful silence would be a misguided response.

The murderous violence of the past week has taken place at the point where various powerful discourses converge. One such force is the matter of blasphemy, the willful derogation of transcendent truth. I believe in blasphemy — though not, of course, on the same terms as a Muslim brother or sister would — and I can see that deliberate blasphemy (as many will have some reason to regard the publication and republication of the cartoons in question) could constitute an affront so appalling as to incite demonstrations of outrage. I cannot imagine that outrage justifying the murder of people who were not directly involved in publishing the offensive matters, but that’s part of the point: if I were possessed by the obligation to suppress blasphemy, I might sense the need to target noncombatants (as it were) as collateral damage in a war against blasphemy. Other exercises of violence take civilian casualties, too.

On the other hand, the prerogative to express oneself freely constitutes a fundamental principle of Western liberal (in the technical sense, not the “votes for the Green Party” sense) democracies, indeed, of human rights (as those have come to be defined during a period of the ascendancy of Western liberal political thought). Nat Hentoff makes a good living as the nettlesome conscience of the First Amendment because people want so badly to make exceptions to free expression when it bothers them. That’the point of free expression, though — ideally, it doesn’t change its contours whenever cultural perceptions of “going too far” change. My revulsion at blasphemy is beside the point when confronted with a cartoonist’s free exercise of his derisive view of Islam’s prophet. My horror before the magnitude of the Shoah doesn’t constrain a Holocaust denier across the street at Northwestern University. That’s what makes free expression “free.”

(Parenthetically, my rejection of mob violence surpasses, but does not negate, my rejection of politicans’ simplistic, mealy-mouthed cautions that “free speech doesn’t mean ‘anything goes,’ that it carries with it a responsibility to circumspection.” No, that’s exactly what it doesn’t entail; “free expression” means that no constituency’s sensitivities constrain the expression of others. I just don’t think that Tom Paine, Voltaire, and Jefferson risked their lives in the name of speech limited by good etiquette. If you’re a President or a Prime Minister, stand up for the principles on which your political system rests. Consistently —as Ted Rall points out.)

So the urgency of suppressing blasphemy conflicts with the fundamental prerogative to free expression; you can’t have both. A number of Islamic leaders and their sympathizers opt for the former; a number of Western publishers opt for the latter. Add to that combustible conflict the political interests of some Near Eastern people who apparently have been using this occasion callously to inflame the frustrations and anxieties of their constituents, and of some crass Western hucksters who know that sensation sells.

The Western spokespeople are not innocent of coercing others to acknowledge “transcendent” values that these others may not otherwise be inclined to affirm. The Islamic spokespeople are not innocent of inciting the murder of Western bystanders.

So far as I can tell, this outrageous impasse illustrates a point Jean-François Lyotard makes about justice: that sometimes the criteria by which one frames a claim about justice already determine the judgment one will reach. Sometimes one can’t make a decision about justice without taking sides at the outset. If we frame the bloodshed in terms of free expression and the rights of the civilians murdered in the course of the outcry, one can submit that in order for people to live in peace with one another, we must endure others’ speech even when it’s radically offensive. If one frames the conflagration in terms of blasphemy, one can (I suppose) regretfully observe that people who don’t disentangle their lives from the irreligious, corrupt, anti-Islamic institutions of the West have already chosen the consequences of their decadence. (’m guessing at this; if I’m missing a nuance, I apologize, as my intent is to propose the most coherent, sympathetic rationale for the sponsors that I can — but my imagination for justifying mayhem suffers some limitations).

I rush to add that this predetermination is not a bad thing; it’s inevitable (we can never conduct a comprehensive assay of our account of justice, nor will we attain a condition of disinterestedness from which we can pronounce one account of justice “just” and another “unjust” without the coloration of our own presuppositions and inclinations. Such circumstances permit us to feel unreflective moral horror at behavior that offends our very understanding of truly human existence. Sadly, inevitably, different communities of people will encounter different patterns of behavior as repulsively sub-human. That doesn’t make all or any of them equal — but one’s angle of view on what’s right or wrong about them will predictably vary depending what one’s already committed to.

Under such circumstances, my own sense that God calls us to ways of nonviolence and non-coercion remains steady; indeed, it seems all the more urgent that disciples of Jesus abjure violent coercion (and heedless offensiveness), whatever the apparent rationale for violence. I am not a Muslim, and I do not think that Islam is a generically “equal” way of bespeaking the truth about God and the world — but I don’t expect Muslims to acknowledge Jesus as equal to the way that their Prophet taught them. Were I recklessly to insult Muslim brothers and sisters in the name of a truth that they don’t recognize, I’d be ignoring St. Paul’s specific instructions to live on the basis of honoring others peaceably, gently, enduring oppression rather than taking the risk of oppressing others. That (as I recall) was the way of the cross, to which Jesus instructed his disciples that all of us were called.

So I offer no apology for the rioters, though I see clearly why they might rage. I do not defend the publishers and cartoonists; they’re operating within the bounds they claim as inheritors of the Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. I excoriate the heartless tactical manipulation of the situation by self-interested sensation-mongers of whatever “side.” I will not shrink the exercise of my faith to fit the bounds of liberal polity, and “conservative” Christian commentators should be cautious about requiring that of others. The sword of the State cuts more ways than one.

If I were a non-Christian, non-pacifist American, I suppose I’d be advocating free speech; but I’m not. If I were a Muslim, heavens, I just can’t guess what I’be doing — but I’m not.


As I type this tinny response, I’ve been listening to Fela Kuti’s “Coffin For Head Of State,” which expresses an outraged condemnation of abusive violence that underscores the inadequacy of my own words. I’m not nominating him for sainthood, but I’m listening; and I hear the voice of someone who watched as [nominally] Christian and Muslim forces crushed out his mother’s life before his eyes. “Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” “Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”

You’re Stuck!

Pippa felt so exhilarated by last night’s squeaker win that she drew a victory cartoon to celebrate:

Victory Cartoon

For those who don’t pay close attention to ACC basketball, the UNC Tar Heels have a ram as their mascot, and their team color is a pale shade of blue (“it is ludicrous to believe that your team’s colors inspire either respect or fear”); the Duke Blue Devils wear a deep blue that (legend has it) was selected to mirror the blue of Yale University.

Whew!

Duke squeaked out a close win tonight over their arch-rival, the Carolina Tar Heels. Duke led through most of the game, but Carolina came back in the second half to pull ahead for a frightening window, leading by five points with four and a half minutes left. In the closing moments Duke pulled ahead to stay; even the home court couldn’t cheer Carolina to victory when the teams were traded the lead over and over, down the stretch. Must have been a great game to watch — keeping a vigilant eye on the internet scoreboard just doesn’t measure up.

I mention Duke’s win not [only] to craw about my alma mater, but to raise a question with historiographic overtones. There’s a persistent legend that Duke gets all the breaks when refs make close calls. Coaches and (especially) TV analysts repeat that assertion that Duke gets the benefit of an undue proportion of referees’ decisions.

Now, I’ve known a couple of referees in my day (not ACC refs, but I take it that the attidue must be roughly the same, and the professionalism even higher) (not a knock on you, Rev). The idea that one of my ref friends would bend a rule or favor a team at all, at any level, for any reason, rings a false note to me. The notion that an ACC ref would play favorites seems inconceivable (remember, the league officials review these games to evaluate the refs’ work; would you risk your standing as a ref in an elite basketball conference in order to favor a particular team?). I’d allow the chance that each ref might have a small bias relative to one or another team, but the idea that all favor Duke seems patently absurd.

Plenty of games draw on pools of refs from outside the ACC, too; do we suppose that these out-of-conference refs favor Duke, too? And all these refs continue to favor Duke game after game, even when they know there’s a hue and cry about refs favoring Duke? I’m sorry, you’d have to be willfully ignorant to believe such a thing.

Maybe Mike Kryzsewksi casts a hynoptic spell on refs, whom he intimidates with his glare? Presumably a scowl from Coach K does a better job than the invective from every other coach in the country. I don’t think so.

Maybe the Big fix is in, and TV executives (the ones who employ the analysts who decry Duke’s prevalence) have decreed that Duke should win. They must have decided that Duke would usually win, since Georgetown upset them impressively this winter. There may be an executive in charge of deciding which games Duke would win or lose. . . .

The closer you look, the less probable such an elaborate scheme becomes. We’d need a whole troupe of conspirators who keep secrets better than does the NSA. Not one of the players, coaches, refs, conference administrators, NCAA officials, media execs, or anyone else who would have to play a part has leaked the inside secret. But don’t take my word for the implausibility of this premise — Al Featherston runs some numbers to cement the premise that Duke doesn’t show a statistical prevalence in getting the benefit of foul calls.

Of course, this topic provokes the question, “Who says that all teams ought to be called for the same number of fouls anyway?” I’ve certainly seen teams who hacked and shoved a lot; such a team would, presumably, be called for more fouls than the team that doesn’t hack and shove. And while it’s easy to find clips of Duke players not getting called for what look like fouls, it’s easy to find that footage of any team (except, perhaps, a team that’s so bad that all its fouls are obvious fouls). saying, “They missed this one” doesn’t prove anything unless you can show a pattern of not calling this, this this and this alleged foul by Duke, but calling that, that, that, and that against the opposing team. Without analysis, claims about Duke getting the breaks amount to nothing more than justifying intuitions with isolated anecdotes.

What does all this have to do with historiography? It reminds me of the history-by-fantasy that characterizes conspiracy theorists who write about church history.

If That’s What She Saw

(a) My daughter has very sharp eyes.

(b) She’s a frugal shopper, who scours the junk-mail coupons to find savings on any product we might occasionally need. I, on the other hand, regard these mailings as instant trash (or recycling), and consider myself to have saved considerable expense by not taking time to read through them and not buying the additional items I’d be likely to pick up alongside the super-sale goods.

(c) Anyone can make a mistake sometime.

All that being said, I will pass along to you that Pippa reported tonight that in one recent mailer from an area food chain, she saw a banner that advertised “Black History Month” savings, one of the products on which you could save being — Aunt Jemima’s Syrup. I kid you not. (Her take on it: “And they were using that to make money.”) I wish we’d saved the mailer; I would love to be able to scan it for the world to see. . . .

(Full Disclosure: I followed up by looking through the weekly specials flyer online; I saw a small section set apart for Black History Month sales, but that section did not include Aunt Jemima.)


On an unrelated topic, my former student Will Crawley has a religious-topics radio show on the BB, of which I was reminded by a pointer from Kendall’s, relative to a discussion provoked by John McDade (S. J.)’s exhortation to his fellow Roman Catholics to define the term “Catholic” more expansively.

Will took Greek from me, tutored Nate in Latin, and portrayed me in a student parody revue. someday I’ll get my videotape of that evening digitized, so all the world can sing along to Will’s “(Greek is the) Grammar of Love” song.

And no, I definitely do not walk that way. But yes, I did have a pony tail at the time.


Margaret’s back in Durham, I had classes and meetings and services all day, got home, fixed dinner for Pip, and switched into tidying-up mode for the seminary appraiser’s inspection of the house tomorrow morning. It won’t sparkle, but I’m trying to clear up the larger spots of chaos. I had forgotten that we had guests arriving last weekend (along with Margaret) (along with incoming papers to mark), and didn’t get as much cleaning done as I’d wanted to. Even marking papers comes in second to the appraiser.

Canned Meat In Comments

You know what bothers me about comment spam? I keep on thinking of ways I would do it better — deliberation that’s of absolutely no benefit to me, and that I wouldn’t dream of offering to a spambot operator. Why can’t I use those spare brain cycles to cure a disease, or finish one of the books I’m working on?