Monthly Archives: July 2008

Aha! That Too!

A few days ago, Margaret and I indulged in a trip to the movies to see Wanted (couldn’t they have come up with a name more congruent with the movie?) — which bears some relevance to my post from a couple of days ago, and to David’s generous response thereunto. Really!
First, I should respond to some friends who asked what we thought about the movie. I appreciated James McEvoy’s performance, and the first portion of the film successfully elicited my interest in McEvoy’s character and his prospects. The dénouement, however, lapsed toward (very well-executed) conventional action-film resolutions. It illustrates the Matrix quandary of adrenalin movies: it’s a lot easier to come up with a come up with an ingenious conceit for an exciting movie than it is to bring such an innovative premise to an equally convincing closure (or a satisfying lack-of-closure). It’s as though McEvoy’s Wesley Gibson evolves from a pallid, doughy Anyman into a vibrant, powerful, ultraviolent Anysuperman.
And if it makes any sense to ask this question of a movie whose leading attraction is Angelina Jolie as a character named “Fox,” what’s with the absence of women in the world of this movie? Gibson has a girlfriend (who’s having an affair, enacted on-screen at least twice, with Gibson’s “best friend”) and Jolie reminds us of what we enjoyed watching in the Tomb Raider movies, but all the other active figures in this world are male (and the girlfriend is obviously throw-away character) (one hesitates to call her “one-dimensional,” since her three-dimensionality helps explain her presence in the script). It’s all especially odd since the film justifies some plot developments with mumbo-jumbo about genetics, but doesn’t (to my recollection) mention Gibson’s mother at all.
But to the “fallacy of examples” point: at a pivotal moment in the plot, Wesley questions the murderous raison d’être of the organization he was training to join. My sympathies surged; would the movie actually grapple with the ethics of vigilantism? No such luck. In response, Fox recounts a “one that got away” anecdote that presumably justifies the assassins’ Hollywood justice.
In the context of reasoning from examples, Fox’s story exemplifies all the dangers to which David and Ethan (and I) point. At this stage of the movie, Gibson adduces the laudable moral principle that it just ain’t right to go around killing people outside a public system of judicial discernment, and he senses that an innocent person might be killed, or that killing the guilty might not be adequately morally commendable. However vigorously some of us can insist that he was right so to do, the movie — and the cultural impulses to which it appeals — assert the contrary anecdotal ethic that vigilante assassination effects justice and averts innocent suffering, because Jolie/Fox presumes that if a particular malefactor has been killed on schedule, he would not have killed her father before her eyes. But this justification by example occludes other possibilities: the Bad Guys might have sent a different (even more brutal!) killer, or the Good Guy assassin might have himself killed an innocent, or Good Guy might not have been as good as he is supposed to have been, nor Bad Guy as bad, or any of a skillion other possible outcomes. Nope, the only solution would have been for Good Guy to kill Bad Guy on schedule.
I suspect that the cogency of anecdotal reasoning (for Kristol and for Angelina Jolie and for Ronald Reagan and for various cultures and discourses) still prevents my identifying it as a fallacy except from within a cultural discourse that identifies specific shortcomings of reasoning from examples. There’s still a wisdom to be apprehended about narrative, examples, anecdotes, and valid reasoning (as Lyotard suggests in Postmodern Condition and various other writings on justice).
Apart from that, (a) curving bullets’ trajectories was cool, and (b) a movie riddled with this many bullet wounds still shouldn’t have so many holes in it.

Summer Stromateis

  • Happy Birthday, Nelson Mandela!
  • I’m working (in a certain sense, resembling “every now and then I entertain a random thought about”) on a presentation on technology, copyright, community, and theology, and in conjunction with the technology-and-copyright part of the presentation, I find this article from the Globe interesting (and predictable).
  • Jos Buivenga has issued an upgrade to professional-quality free typeface Fertigo.
  • Oh, I know! I had wanted to comment on David Weinberger’s and Ethan Zuckerman’s observations about the Kristof “Donate a Goat” article. David calls it the Fallacy of Examples”; I’m not sure I want to name it a fallacy, since if we read the story as an example, there’s nothing fallacious about it. It’s a narrative about a case. The problem arises when we base our general reasoning about charity, for instance, on one narrative example (and Ethan is quite right about this). At the same time, we ought to be cautious about the complexities of rhetorics of valid persuasion. I’ve always been strongly oriented toward [Western] logic (as a youngster, I was an early adopter of Wff ’N Proof); I reveled in the logic courses of my college philosophy major. But “logic” (including judgments about what constitutes a fallacy) functions differently in different cultural discourses. For some audiences, narrative examples constitute a sort of proof that trumps statistics, syllogisms, and mathematical probability. While I’m not ready to say “Anecdotal evidence is for this-or-that culture the equivalent of logical inference for Western culture,” my hesitancy can’t be separated from my immersion in the dominant discourses of Western culture.
    It’s a hairy problem that we oughtn’t try to dismiss with throat-clearing, hand-waving, and loud assertions that the kind of logical rhetoric I endorse is universal, self-evident, and compulsory.
    At the recent Ekklesia Project gathering, Victor Hinojosa made strong distinctions between the white rhetoric of statistics and analysis that constituted one stream of his talk about racial segregation in church congregations, and the Latino rhetoric of examples and anecdotes that constituted another stream. Victor is no anti-intellectual, nor a reckless postmodernist; we can’t just write him off as a sensational-faddist. The hard work involves negotiating the links, the overlaps, the influences, the priorities, and the forces by which divergent rhetorics effect their flavor of persuasion. I suspect that these negotiations may require that logical types such as I back away fro calling anecdotal rhetorics “fallacious.”

You Must Supply

When I started my Facebook account, I followed the general directions pretty cooperatively. That means that when they asked for my first name, I gave it. I anticipated that there would be a later chance to enter a different nickname or username. Alas, my expectation misled me.
So Facebook has known me as “Andrew K M Adam” all along. That’s true enough, because it’s a fine name and all; it’s just that I never use that full name in either formal or casual settings (only for legal purposes).
I recently started trying to induce Facebook to accept one of the names that I use in public. I asked it first to list “A K M” as my first name, so that I would show up as “A K M [no middle initial] Adam.” Their system didn’t like that, and I was not surprised, so I tried again: “A [middle initials] K M Adam.” That one failed, too; evidently “A” isn’t a long enough first name? ”AKMA [no middle initial] Adam.” That one’s unacceptable, too; it has too many upper-case letters. I suppose I could get “Akma Adam” past their censors, but that doesn’t communicate a connection to the writer/teacher “A K M Adam” as I would want it to.
I understand Facebook not wanting every hysterical teen putting their name in all-caps — but one might wish there were some reasonable accommodation for somebody to be identified by initials.

Allons, Enfants!

Happy Bastille Day from Princeton, where Margaret and I pulled in last evening. We didn’t unpack in Durham — just oversaw the unloading — so the relocation process is far from complete. But we’re knocking off a bit at a time, and last week was a very big bit. (In the last ten days or so, we took a ferry and drove to Boston on Friday the 4th, drove to Princeton on Saturday and to Durham on Sunday, flew to Chicago and took the El to Depaul on Monday, drove the 26-footer to Indianapolis on Wednesday, to Johnson City on Thursday, and to Durham on Friday, and drove from Durham to Princeton yesterday. That’s not even counting Margaret’s heroic work cleaning and organizing, or our participation in the Ekklesia Project.
So we’re taking the Quatorze Juillet off. Today is all relaxation, as much as we want.


We’re both running on fumes, in the midst of our crazy-quilt travel-and-move summer. On top of that, Margaret’s just feeling plain weird, coming back to Durham after having left for a year. I’m feeling waves of intense emotion as I realize that although I’m still uneasy about finding work for next year, and though we’ll still have to move again next summer, I no longer have any of the frustrations that had weighed on me back at Seabury.
This dawned on me as I was wondering why it felt so intensely good to return the U-Haul today. It’s not just that being responsible for the Big Green Dinosaur was stressful, nor that driving the thing wore us out — I suspect that the U-Haul contract was the last obligatory connection I had with Evanston.
So I still have worries about my future employment, but I don’t have residual anxieties, annoyances, disappointments, burdens from my situation at Seabury. Every twenty minutes or so, a wave of release shudders through my body, I sigh, and I let go a handful of past problems.

Status Report

The unloading crew arrived right on time this morning (on the early side, which turned out to be a good thing since hauling book boxes in high heat is non-fun). The neighbors are divinitarian types; one will be entering Duke Divinity, one will be working at an in-town ministry center. The unloaders toted everything that had been on the U-Haul into the new home, filling it tight with packaged possessions. Margaret and I returned the U-Haul (no extra charges, hurray!) and got the air conditioning in the Subaru recharged in anticipation of a toasty drive back to Princeton tomorrow. Then we rewarded ourselves with an exciting, but morally problematic, suspense movie, Wanted.
I’ll post an “after” picture later this afternoon, when we put the last few boxes from the car into the house. we’re tired, relieved, full of popcorn, and gearing up for our next adventure.



We’re He-e-e-re

Midafternoon, Margaret and I pulled into a parking lot down the street from our new abode, thereby officially ending the “odyssey” phase of this epic relocation. We picked up the keys, and tomorrow morning the unloaders come to stuff our belongings into the new house.

This Year's Living Room

It’s nice and light, air conditioned and burglar-alarmed, snug and freshly painted, and we won’t put anything into the basement since that’s practically an indoor swamp.
Tonight we’re taking our friend Anna out for dinner, then spending the evening not doing things. In fact, I foresee a lot of not doing things in the short-term future, limited mostly by the necessity of driving back to Princeton to pick up Beatrice.

Herd ’Em Up

Move ’em out:

Movin' Out

The crew is mostly done loading up the big U-Haul (bigger than we needed, but an appropriate estimate to have been on the safe side); we’ve arranged to leave various appliances behind; we’ll pick up Phil this evening at about 7; and after that (and after an intermission of a week or two), we will begin the new Durham chapter of family life.
[Later: It’s all loaded. I had estimated well on labor time, but underestimated the materials, so the tab ran higher than I expected — but amply worth it to get the work done professionally.]

From The Road

Margaret and I are at the Ekklesia Project gathering (well, today Margaret is at our [former] house, arranging the last details before the movers come tomorrow). Our friend from our first sojourn at Duke, Mikeal Broadway, gave a tremendous talk last night at the gathering.
It’s sinking in that I’m no longer an employee of Seabury; they’re canceling my email account (if you’re accustomed to contacting me at, please switch to my akma at or my akm dot adam at gmail dot com account). I have some weightier things to write about, but little opportunity just now.
Tomorrow we leave Evanston for keeps. It’s sad; it’s a relief; it’s a monstrous burden on Margaret, who has shouldered all the hard parts about relocating.

If It’s Sunday This Must Be Durham

We pulled in tonight just in time to see the house into which we’ll soon be moving. It’s a nice, humble duplex nearby the Mussers’ place, and not far from East Campus or even the Hall-Utz household.

New Home

I just don’t understand the allegations that I’ve heard about a drought; the lakes looked very full on our way along I-85, and it’s pouring cats and dogs as I type.

Checking In

I wish I could say that this sign greeted us when we boarded the ferry yesterday, but that sign was on a different ferry.

Security Alert

Just to be on the safe side, though, we made sure our carry-on bags were limited.
We’ve successfully made our way to Princeton. We enjoyed an unexpected visit with Dana; we watched as James knocked over a street sign with his bare hands. We have dispatched Pippa to her summer theater camp, and Beatrice to her summer doggie play date with Chase, Annie, and Bambi. Our future holds trips to Durham, Chicago, Evanston, Indianapolis, Johnson City, back to Durham, back to Princeton.
We’ll try to keep in touch, but connectivity has been limited for the past few days, and may be again.