Monthly Archives: September 2008

Bad Car!

The Subaru will take — at an estimate — $2000 to rehabilitate the engine, plus money for the electrical system. We’re trying to figure out whether we’d buy our car for $3500 (or so, counting rental and miscellaneous), or whether we should pony up to get a car made in this century, all the while needing the car to get to and from airport and art center on a near-daily basis.
[Update: Margaret and I decided that the circumstances required action, and the most cautious course of action seemed to us to be renting a car for a month. That gives us time to get the car fixed, if we so choose, or to take the time to pick a different car without being rushed.]

“The Good News Is, We Got Him Down To Ten….”

Does anyone remember the periodic spasms of moral ferment that have bestirrred Blogarians to device “Codes of Blogging Ethics” or good-behavior certification systems? Well, Micah calls my attention to Ruth Gledhill’s report that “The Evangelical Alliance will on Monday publish the new Ten Commandments of Blogging.”
I suppose there’s something more laudable about this than, say, submitting that the internet obviates any concern about ethics — but will these commandments actually change anyone’s behavior? I tend to doubt that there are evangelical bloggers out there who have been scraping other people’s websites, but who now will stop because it]s against the Ten Commandments of Blogging to “steal another person’s content.”
In my interactions with evangelical blogging, the two leading ethical questions these blogs provoked concern anonymous writers defaming their enemies, and [openly-named] bloggers misrepresenting their opponents’ claims and persons. The same applies to progressive bloggers, of course, and to presidential politics on both sides; none of these groups has, as best I recall, codes of ethics that prohibit such conduct. Returning now to the topic, do the anonymous bloggers and public polemicists imagine that they’ve been transgressing — or do they understand themselves to be using their full repertoire of rhetorical leverage in order to expose the iniquity of their adversaries, who are obscuring the truth and destroying the church? Is someone going to be conscience-stricken, or will they reiterate their self-justifications? (And who am I, who are we, to determine that we know they are wrong?)
I’m all for ethics and Ten Commandments (the originals, that is). I’m just hesitant about well-intentioned grand gestures such as this one. It would be great if enough people demonstrated their commitment to righteous blogging that they could point to positive results that show me to have been unduly skeptical.


On the way to Pippa’s acting class in Carrboro, the Subaru started overheating again. Any helpful, economically-feasible suggestions welcome. We’d be inclined to lease a car for the rest of our Durham year, but at the prices I’ve been able to find, we might as well just buy a junker somewhere.

Imagine My Face All Scrunched Up, Trying To Figure Out

It occurred to me to check at the Ars Electronica webcast site, to see whether they had edited and posted the video footage from the festival. I was delighted to see that they had, and prepared to click on the link for my presentation (to see whether I’d have convinced myself, if I’d been paying attention at the time). I was disappointed to see that they’ve published the video in Windows Media format — who thought to distribute videos of a conference about open access as wmv? — but I recalled that QuickTime can open wmv files with the Flip4Mac add-on, so I went ahead and clicked on my name.
Nothing happened.
And not because my talk was boring. For some reason, although the link successfully launches QuickTime, I don’t get the video feed. I’m trying to figure out whether it’s a PC/Mac problem, or a transmission problem, or what, but for now I don’t know how I look in the video. Follow the links at your own risk; if you can view the presentation and it makes you wish they’d invited Sarah Palin instead of me, I tried to warn you.


I’ve admired fountain pens as long as I can remember. I recall my father’s Shaeffer Student cartridge pens, with which he recorded students’ marks in a weathered gradebook; I remember the hefty pens from visits and films, that I associated with elegance and class; I remember the Rapidograph that I brought back from France when I was in high school, and my mother’s Osmiroids with italic nibs. I have picked up miscellaneous pens over the decades: a few translucent Shaeffer Student pens of my own, some No Nonsense cartridge pens, Osmiroids of my own, the handsome Mont Blanc pen that my mother gave me when I got my Ph.D., the salmon marbled Esterbrook J pen that she handed down to me, a Pelikan from Margaret, a Stypen in which Nate lost interest, a Pelikan Future pen I bought on a whim. Some are still in the mug on my desk; some have eluded my attention and escaped to further adventures in someone else’s hand.
During my birthday season, I’ve returned to my primal fascination with fountain pens and gone on a mini-spree (hey, they’re a lot cheaper than sports cars) and replenished my fountain pen mug. I supplemented the Pelikan Future with a Lamy Safari; together they’ll provide the simple work-a-day pen support for my writing. I tracked down a couple of Esterbook J’s to complement the one from Mom (I’m a big-time sucker for Esterbrooks — though they don’t have the prestige of the costlier pens, I love their appearance and the way they write). I picked up a few Shaeffer Student pens from eBay, since (as it turns out) they no longer make those simple, hard-working cartridge writers. While I was on eBay, I spotted a couple more distinctive pens: a clear plastic Waterman Phileas, and a translucent purple Waterman Kultur (I can’t explain that one; it was auction fever). I’ll carry the Esterbrooks or the Phileas for more formal occasions. And I’ll love every jot and tittle of them (and every blot on my fingers).
Plus, it’s something Scot McKnight and I can agree about!

To Whom Would Jesus Lend?

I didn’t sign up for any of the formal “call everyone’s attention to the Millennium Development Goals” events — not because I don’t appreciate the goals, but because I take the MDGs to be a side effect of good theology. That is, if the church is doing its job well, it’ll be reaching out and teaching and preaching in ways that advance the cause of eradicating global poverty.
That doesn’t mean that it escapes my notice, though, when the Congress and the world’s financial systems can within a week decide to allot more than a half a trillion dollars toward shoring up already-wealthy people and institutions. Under the circumstances, one can hardly avoid the conclusion that political leaders don’t think of malnutrition and starvation, disease, and the lack of educational resources and economic opportunity as that big a crisis.
Perhaps now is the time to remind our most vocally Christian political leaders (especially ones who profess to take the Bible seriously) that Jesus said, “If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again…. [L]end, expecting nothing in return.”

One For The Books

We already knew that this presidential campaign would make history in one of several ways — but this keeps getting weirder and weirder. Between Biden’s blurts and McCain’s call for a time-out, I half expect to find out that Rod Serling is managing someone’s campaign (maybe both).

Non Placet

There’s plenty that Pittsburgh’s Bishop Robert Duncan and I disagree about. No need to retail all those differences; they’ll be obvious to anyone who knows of us both. I do not understand why, however, the leadership of the Episcopal Church found it necessary to construe the canons in so very unconvincing a way, so as to be able to depose Bishop Duncan before he had the opportunity to commit the sorts of act that might (arguably) have warranted deposing him. (I don’t think the canon that’s being used to depose bishops who can no longer cooperate with the U.S. instantiation of the Episcopal Church should be so used, either, but even if it were, this action seems to premature to me.)
When a sizable proportion of Episcopal congregations blatantly ignore the canons every Sunday (offering communion to unbaptized people, to take just one example), it seems a vicious case of selective enforcement: find a charge to level against “the bad guys,” then force it through willy-nilly. I would not want to be so treated by those who disagree with me, and I cannot in conscience support that treatment when it is applied to someone with whom I disagree.
This sort of politics does not commend the gospel, nor does it proceed from a sound theology of the church’s catholicity, nor can it even claim the shabby banner of “inclusiveness.” However much I dissent from Bishop Duncan’s teachings and tactics, the end does not justify the means. Instead, the unexplained heavy-handedness with which the institutional force of the canons have been brought to bear against Bishop Duncan amplifies my sympathy for him and alienates me from leaders with whom I might otherwise be aligned.

Muchness And Not Muchness

The last few days have passed without the my feeling the fiery inclination to address to the internet my customary gems of insight. Either I see someone else saying all that needs to be said, or I don’t and it saddens me, or I don’t and I don’t see a way to articulate what seems important, or I’m just plain tired. (“And I’m ti’ed — T-I-D-E, ti’ed,” as Katie Webster sings to B.B. King in “Since I Met You Baby”).
At the same time, various items have come to my attention. Emily pointed out the “texting in church” practice of a St Louis congregation; I’m pretty pro-technology, but this one hasn’t convinced me yet. On the other hand, it may be the kind of congregation where texting questions to the preacher is as natural as it feels for me to take notes on the bulletin or in my Moleskine.
After Tim and I went ’round about digital and paper books, BoingBoing pointed to an article in New York magazine about the publishing industry. Cory had some apposite criticism of the article, and the article itself ignores what I expect to constitute the sweet spot for publishing in the digital epoch: freely available online text complemented by pay-for-printed bound copies. I reckon the article neglects that option because the industry itself disregards it. (It should be said here that all I know about publishing concerns the tiny academic-theology market, which I persist in believing to be distinctly suited to providing a foothold for alternative publishing/distribution practices — but I have no experience of the inside of trade publishing.)
I wanted to point one of my students to Jeffrey Lewis’s delicious “History of Punk On the Lower East Side,” so here it is on WFMU’s “On The Download” web page.

Arrr, Another Brick

It’s International Talk Like a Pirate Day, ye scurvy knaves — but the University of Michigan Shapiro Library too another step toward unbricking knowledge by installing a print-on-demand book machine. It’s another little increment, but it points ahead toward a book-preparation model where we distribute our fictions and arguments in complementary print and digital versions, each with its own affordances.
That reminds me that I’ve heard from several people that they were impressed by a slide from my presentation in Austria — a slide I popped in for the sake of visual rhythm, more than as a point I wanted to emphasize. The slide contrasted the benefits of digital books with printed versions: I suggested that digital media are shareable, searchable, and disposable, whereas their physical versions are durable, artifactual, and ownable. I’m very sure that this should be refined, but I’m also thankful that a spontaneous intuition sparked the interest of some observers.
I mean, “…sparrrrrked the intarrrrrest of some obserrrrverrrrrs, matey!”


I have plenty of skepticism about the McCain-Palin ticket, but Josh Marshall’s histrionics about McCain’s confusion over the name of Spain’s Prime Minister strike me as grossly overstated. Sure, one would like McCain to have responded clearly and fluently right away — but granted that the subject had been hostile Latin American governments, and granted the phonetic similarity between “Zapatero” and “Zapatista,” and granted the tremendous amount of information someone who’s running for President has to keep on top of all the time, I’m more than willing to give McCain a pass on this one. Of course, it would be better if he came out and said, “D’oh! I shoulda caught that” rather than trying to make it sound as though he self-consciously categorizes Spain with Venezuela and a rebel group in Mexico, but I can readily understand the basis for his experiencing an interval of disorientation when his interviewer changed the subject from Latin American opponents to European allies. Surely there are better reasons to not-vote for McCain than this, and surely it’s not an “über-gaffe.”