Monthly Archives: January 2009

Visual Aids

Here are photos of the pens I worked on yesterday. I have another on the table; I’ll probably have at it with polish tonight as Margaret and I catch up on LOST.

Sheaffer Balance


Sheaffer Balance

This is the Sheaffer Balance. The crack runs slong the bottom edge of the lower photo.

No Name Red Celluloid

This is the no-name red pen. No crack, but you can see the pronounced distinction between the two halves of the barrel. Still, it’s a pretty thing, and (as I said) it writes nicely. I want to work on my pen photography (though I know enough from long-ago involvement with commercial photography tyo know that I don’t want to make a huge production out of it).
I also took photos last week when it actually snowed in Durham; here are a couple from that batch.

Snow In Durham


Snow In Durham

Satisfaction And Frustration

Among my many minor competencies, we may now number fountain pen repair and restoration, as long as we emphasize the “minor” part of the phrase. This afternoon I disassembled a smallish Sheaffer; it looks like a small version of an Balance, though not a Lifetime model (no white dot). It’s 4 5/8″ when capped, a lever filler with beautiful carmine pearlescent stripes, and a #5 Feathertouch nib.
The ink sac was the only real problem with this; I extracted the hardened remnants of the sac that had been installed, carefully scraped off the glued-on residue on the section, and attached a new sac. I polished and buffed, buffed and polished, and the renovated pen is quite a beauty. Sadly, it turned out to have a hairline crack from the lip of the cap well up toward the top of the cap. I’ll see about having a more skilled restorer have a crack at it. The pen writes smoothly; the nib doesn’t flex noticeably, but it’s a steady, firm writer.
In the same mail, I received another red celluloid (no-name) pen, but this one defies my every effort to unlock. It doesn’t have a lever; the barrel is bisected rather clumsily, as though it were supposed to unscrew (further down than I’d expect for a blind cap). The section won’t yet let go, and the nib likewise resists my gentle ministrations. Pippa claims that it’s an undercover ballpoint, but I think it’s just a handsome cheapie that hasn’t yet yielded its secrets. I’d give it a soak, but I’m slightly worried about the celluloid. On the other hand, if I can’t get the pen working, the celluloid will remain a secondary issue.
[An hour later: Patience and heat (wet heat in this case, after I tried dry heat for a long while) paid off; the upper portion of the barrel eventually twisted off, revealing a plastic piston. When I finally freed up the piston, it drew and expelled water satisfactorily, and now has proven its mettle as a firm writer.]

Two Ways

The same page at Inside Higher Education reports on one hand that a number of New England institutions are “are pushing ahead with searches or even adding searches, viewing this as a perfect time to attract faculty talent” (go! go! add searches in New Testament and theology!), and on the other hand that the American History Association saw job searches in their field decline by almost 25% this year (booo! boooo! — unless you’re using that faculty line to hire someone in theology or New Testament!).
No, no new prospects on the job front here.

Brain On Narrative

What happens when a biblical scholar influenced by both linguistics and by the narrative theology of Frei and Hauerwas encounters an enthusiastic Boing Boing endorsement of neuroscientific research that suggests that our brains simulate the action we read about in narrative? Well, for one thing, he waits to see what the neuroscience critics over at Language Log say about it; but if it passes muster, some form of this article will probably make its way onto the reading list for my biblical theology class, alongside Fast Company’s flyover of Gary Klein’s decision-making research.

Looking Ahead

Next Thursday, I’ll lead a discussion with the Anglican/Episcopal House of Studies at Duke, on the topic of digital technology. I’ll show them Wesch clips (don’t look ahead, if you’re an AEHS Duke student!) and urge my case that students who are preparing for church leadership may opt to prepare for a cultural environment that flourished in the 1950’s, began to age unbecomingly in the 60’s and 70’s, and now has one foot in the grave — or they can prepare for very different circumstances that already prevail in many quarters, and seem likely to overtake the rest of the world sooner than later.
I have to refrain from expounding my whole megillah “Meaning, Communication, Hermeneutics, Homiletics, Pastoral Practice, Sound Theology, and Everything Else” understanding of how they might best gird themselves for ministry in a pervasively digital cultural ecology, but I do want to leave a note here in case there’s something very important that readers may want to remind me to include.

Play It Again, Jonah

This morning’s worship at St. Joseph’s went very well — no mix-ups in the readings, the congregation received the sermon very warmly, and Rhonda described me in extravagantly laudatory terms that set back my spiritual discipline of “receiving compliments gracefully” by about ten years.
I left out the line that tickled me yesterday (and still delights me; I’ll be looking for years for a good context in which to place this): “Many are called, but few are boatswain.” I’ll put the sermon as I actually preached it in the “More” section of the post.
Now, it’s time for me to walk the dog, drive to the airport, pick up my beloved and rhinoviral daughter, and eventually to settle in for the night. I’ll swing over to J. P. Kang’s blog (he assures me that “I started blogging seriously”). I’ll start thinking of random things about myself, since both Kazpah and Yroa tagged me for one of these internet exercises in self-disclosure (Kazpah asked for a less inquisitorial 7 items, but I’ll roll hers into Yroa’s and pad them out with a few more). Continue reading Play It Again, Jonah

Gender Awareness, Evangelism, and Design

I wouldn’t ordinarily hotlink to someone else’s image, but the Presbyterian Church USA might change their page around. As part of their campaign to honor women’s ministries, they illustrated their home page with the following image:

Woman lifting the hem of her dress up to her waist and catching light bubbles in its folds

I have many reactions, among which I will post these: (a) I’m so very glad it wasn’t the Episcopal Church that chose this image for one of its projects; (b) I’m not sure that whoever produced this page did all their homework in gender studies class; (c) the Presbyterian women of my acquaintance are unlikely to participate in the activity illustrated; (d) this is no way to try to draw people to church; (e) thanks to Adam Walker Cleveland for the link.


I just don’t understand.
Very obviously, I don’t understand some things for technical reasons: I haven’t studied various topics in sufficient depth, I’m not the smartest character around, I hold to some premises that interfere with my giving other ideas full consideration. Nothing is comprehensible or unintelligible in itself; some apparently lucid ideas fail to fit functionally into the world in which they’re introduced, and some apparently bizarre ideas provide the most illuminating explanations for complex phenomena.
Now, after all that throat-clearing: I just don’t understand why people, smart people, still think that “the market” offers the most excellent way of assessing value and establishing trade patterns for goods and services. One can with a moment’s websurfing find examples of corporate executives who pull down salaries in the millions of dollars for presiding over the utter devastation of their firms’ assets; are we truly to believe that, because “the market” assesses the worth of their guidance at (let’s say) a couple million dollars, that they have actually contributed twenty thousand times as much to the general economy than does a day laborer who earns only ten thousand dollars? At least the day laborer’s work hasn’t harmed anyone; the postholes she drilled hold up actual fences, the burgers he flipped filled diners with empty calories. If the firm paying the two-million-dollar executive had actually just fired that character at the beginning of the fiscal year and relied on other employees to help make executive decisions, would the company have been that much worse off? Would our hypothetical day laborer have done a significantly worse job? Doesn’t the gruesome wreckage of these hypertrophic financial monsters suggest not that they’re “too big to fail,” but were in fact “too big to succeed” apart from transient, unmanageable fluctuations in the environment? If the financial services firm Engulf & Devour — or an entertainment corporation, or a widget, wodget, and aluminum storm door sales and manufacture company — encounters a stream of dollars, it can grow and thrive for a year or even a decade, but both plain reason and observed experience suggest that “the market” doesn’t dissuade investors, managers, executives, and politicians from chasing the easy money of cancerous economic growth in preference to the arduous nutrition and exercise of productivity, service, and modest rewards. It’s the same illogic that undergirds the music- and book-lottery industries (multi-millions for a handful of overpromoted superstars, versus a grudging pittance to tens of thousands of highly-skilled supporting acts): the lure of obscene wealth drowns out the actuality of widespread exploitation.
This is your “market”: a sociopathic, narcissistic Ponzi scheme raised up as the most reliable mechanism for distributing the resources that foster life, health, and happiness.
Stanley Fish’s recent article in the NYT touches on related topics, though in a way I take to be unhelpful. Fish proposes that because the humanities are not “useful” (according to market forces), they’re gradually being eroded by the market forces that shape academic enrollment, employment, and evaluation. As a quite-possibly-soon-to-be unemployed academic, I sympathize in part with Fish’s point. As a (theologically determined) humanist, though, I think that Fish manipulates his deployment of the term “usefulness,” and plays the contrarian game that has been his trademark since back when he argued against “Change” and in favor of ideas not having consequences. The schema involves constructing a very clear, precise definition of a concept, then showing that the concept (so understood) doesn’t display all of the characteristics conventionally associated with the concept (loosely understood). Outrage ensues!
I suppose Fish is probably correct that study in the humanities does not produce “a direct and designed relationship between its activities and measurable effects in the world” — but that implies not that the humanities are “useless,” but that they are useful in indirect, unmanageable ways, bringing about effects that do not easily lend themselves to quantitative analysis. The value of study in the humanities derives largely from its capacity to cultivate deliberative judgment about complex matters; that’s extremely useful, even if not in a way that fits Fish’s initial definition.
And to bring this round to the beginning topic, the sort of humanistic study that heightens our appreciation of, for example, David Copperfield, could quickly and accurately diagnose the dysfunction of market-driven binge-and-purge economics where the economists and fiscal policy pundits assured the world that all is well, that growth can continue unchecked, that this relocation of wealth upward will actually generate well-being all around. Even so tremendous a booster of the American marketplace as Horatio Alger promoted thrift, diligence, and critical evaluation — not misdirection, humbuggery, and evasion of responsibility for one’s avarice. Hey, the market made me do it.
I don’t understand that, and I tend to doubt that lectures on economics or anecdotes about righteous capitalists or tut-tutting condescension about what I don’t know about finance and management will illuminate me. But — my contract runs out in June, and from then on I’ll be available as CEO of your failing company. I pledge to drive your company into the ground on about the same schedule as the elite Wall Street wizard, but without the exorbitant salary and benefits. If I don’t make good on that pledge, you can dismiss me with a brass parachute.