Monthly Archives: December 2008


“High fructose corn syrup is to sugar as heroin is to opium.”
        — David Servan-Schreiber
I don’t have a comment one way or the other; I don’t know the science. I was impressed, however, with the analogy and with its attendant problems of verification and falsification.

Sunday Stromateis

Today the Triangle Pen Club meets at the Mad Hatter; Ross will probably bring pens that he has been repairing for me (pen repair is the next step of my progresion into pen geekdom), and I’ll ask Jim to identify a Sheaffer that I haven’t figured out.
I’ll continue working on my interview for WE Magazine (not We for Women (how good can that be, when none of my friends is numbered among the “101 Women Bloggers to Watch Fall 2008”?), but a journal published online and in print by Ulrike Reinhard).
Doonesbury today provokes the question, “What do Zonker and AKMA have in common?”

Not Blogging

Margaret and I are on our own for the holidays — Pip is off with her brothers, first in Chciago, then in Ypsi — and we’re doing what we feel like, when we feel like it. So far, that means mostly watching old episodes of House, M.D. that we missed when it was first airing. (Necessary supplementary reading is Polite Dissent’s episode-by-episode commentary).
I have a contrarian inclination to disagree with Thomas Friedman and Malcolm Gladwell even if they were to say “The ’69 Orioles were the best baseball team ever” or “Someone should hire AKMA and Margaret,” but Friedman‘s Tuesday op-ed in the Times points in a promising direction. Any Obamian stimulus package should emphasize stimulating the future, not the past. Maybe the taxpayers should subsidize Detroit’s managers’ short-sightedness, but only to the extent that its resources can be oriented toward useful tasks for the twenty-first century.
Four vital build-outs for resuscitating the U.S. economy: Internet (fiber to the home — don’t sacrifice innovation to appease the telcos); Education (this used to be a leading quality of U.S. culture, attracting the most capable imaginations of the world to schools in the U.S. as students and teachers); Health Care (sick, frightened workers will not vault to the top of the productivity scale); and Public Transportation. Entrenched industrial interests will resist thrre of the four programs that these would entail (and cultural anti-intellectualism will resist the fourth), but Obama and his mandate could defibrillate U.S. economic culture by cultivating a well-educated, healthy, mobile, digital culture. And nay-sayers owe an account of how much the three-card monte era of money-changing Ponzinomics benefited us all.
All of which is a long-winded way of saying, “If I don’t feel like blogging this week, I won’t, till I’ve bottled up a bunch of ideas that force their way out all at once.” Now, it’s time to drift up to bed with a book.

Thanks For Sharing

After weeks of relatively mild weather down here in Durham, this morning we received a hint — just a hint, I admit, but a hint nonetheless — of the frigid weather our northern friends have been enduring. I take consolation in the reassuring fact that the days will be getting longer for the next six months.

Eyeing Hawk

As I was walking along Perry Street, I was startled by a whoosh of feathers just to my left. I looked up and what to my wondering eyes had appeared but a — no, not a miniature sleigh (much less, eight tiny reindeer), but a sizable hawk, perched on the tree outside the Duke HR building.

Durham Hawk

Alas, I’m not exactly sure what sort of hawk this was, and the photo doesn’t help much, but it was a welcome treat on a gloomy, rainy day.

Legend, Falsehood, And Dumbness

The other day a friend of mine fumed to me about an event at her child’s public school. The grade-school teacher had invited a special guest, who came to inform the kiddies about a special treat; she explained that candy canes are white with red stripes to symbolize the wounds of Christ.
Of course, this took place in Alaska… (rim shot).
That’s wrong in so many ways. The idea that an employee of a public school wouldn’t have gotten the message that it’s inappropriate — unconstitutionally inappropriate — to use the public schools to advance a religious agenda stuns me. All the more, however, that someone was passing along the bogus etiology of candy-striped sugar canes, a derivation that smelled suspicious the moment I heard it. Then, on top of all that, my friend was troubled about the idea of filling (secular) children’s imaginations with the notion of Jesus bleeding sacrificially for their sakes. The whole deal compounds civic malpractice with whoppers with questionable child-rearing.
Now, I have this all third hand (“A friend of mine really experienced this”), so since urban legends constitute one motif in this post, I should acknowledge that this story may (in theory; I’m not doubting you, Tealin) itself involve exaggerations or even falsehood. And I like legends; this one just strikes me as a pretty shoddy attempt to press-gang self-indulgence into the service of catechesis.


Newlywed Joi has compiled a selection from his photos into a new book, Freesouls. The book compiles a portfolio his protrait photos with essays (including contributions by Lawrence Lessig, Howard Rheingold, Cory Doctorow, and Yochai Benkler) and short reflections, all under a Creative Commons license — “Share This Book!” Joi went ahead with this project even though he and Chris Adams included photos of me

A. K. M. Adam

and of Margaret

Margaret Adam

and we both feel as though we look goofier than usual in these shots. I especially like the moodier, more reflective picture he took of Margaret a few minutes earlier in the evening.

Margaret Adam

and we both like the more conventional portrait shot Joi took of me.

A. K. M. Adam

Joi also elicited from all his subjects brief responses to the question, “What is a Freesoul?” which responses he has interspersed with and superimposed on the photos.
Joi’s an exceptionally gifted photographer, and his friends are a fascinating bunch (I mean, apart from a couple of ordinary theologians); the combination of his graphical representations of them, and their observations on freedom, make an intriguing depiction of a particular circle of friends and acquaintances at a particular moment — a circle, and a representation of it, that say a great deal about Joi himself as well as the subjects and their worlds. Throw in the essays, and it’s a remarkable document altogether — we’re honored to be associated with it.

Quotation Day

I was watching episodes from the first season of House last night, and one exchange particularly caught my attention.

Cuddy: “How is it you always know you’re right?”
House: “I don’t. I just find it hard to operate on the opposite assumption.” (emended per Pippa)
    House, M.D. Season 1, Episode 2, “Paternity”

People often press me on my approach to interpretation, supposing that my advocacy of differential hermeneutics implies that I must experience besetting doubt concerning the correctness of my own interpretive judgments (or that I’m inconsistent if I don’t allow that any old interpretation might be as right as my own). Contrariwise, I can all the more firmly hold fast to my own reasoned judgments if I allow full weight to the reasoning and intelligence behind different readings; it doesn’t weaken my own conclusions if I don’t imply that my interlocutors are dunces and simpletons.

And from Paul Krugman’s column in the Times:
The pay system on Wall Street lavishly rewards the appearance of profit, even if that appearance later turns out to have been an illusion.

Krugman gets at what I was ruminating about the other day relative to illusion and (self-)deception in conjunction with contemporary US culture. The fantasy of limitless acquisition goes hand-in-hand with the fantasy of immortality. The two actually support one another; the more stuff to which we lay claim, the less vulnerable to contingency we appear. The malignant irony involves not just the unveiling scene, when these Charles Foster Kane discover that their fabulous empires haven’t brought them what they want — even more, it involves the millions or billions of people whose lives have been impoverished to fuel the desperately delusional regime of greed, and whom the treasure-holders pass over in their haste to relieve the misery of the suddenly formerly-wealthy (thus doubly depriving them of a penurious share of Lazarus’ riches). As Krugman notes, “the vast riches achieved by those who managed other people’s money have had a corrupting effect on our society as a whole.”


“The number of job postings in the MLA’s Job Information List will be down 21 percent in 2008-9, the steepest annual decline in its 34-year history” — Inside Higher Education. When the SBL and AAR report their figures this year, it’ll be interesting to see how theological education fares (the sense of “interesting” varying, depending on whether Margaret or I actually has a teaching job next year).