Monthly Archives: August 2009

All Things

So, today I dropped Margaret and Pippa off at the airport. Since I haven’t yet heard anything from the British Embassy, there’s a high likelihood that I’ll see Margaret next weekend; she has changed her plans and will return to Durham Friday. I won’t see Pippa till Christmastime, though, and that makes me choke up and miss her.
I’ve started my SBL paper on theology and popular music a dozen times, and I’ve managed to lose all the drafts during our pinball itinerary this summer. I’ll try to put together an outline and post it tonight or tomorrow.
Did I say that the British Embassy hasn’t yet acknowledged receipt of my reapplication (arrived at their office last Tuesday)?

More Not Knowing

This article gives a scientific basis for the kind of caution I advocate for historical reasoning. I don’t think the neuroscience entails conclusive evidence of any particular thesis — after all, neuroscience had underwritten the “assured results” that preceded the new synthesis that Discover reports here — and anecdotal evidence abounds for the unreliability of memory.
Still, biblical scholarship plays for such very high stakes that historians assert firmly and loudly that such-and-such a thing definitely happened (or not) in such-and-such a way, quite disregarding the extent to which all memory changes in the process of recollection and preservation. Even if we could be sure that apostolic eyewitnesses transmitted verbatim instructions to diligent tradents, up to the point at which someone wrote them down — and we can’t — the apostles’ memories themselves would have been malleable.
We historians still have a basis for well-founded judgments about more or less likely courses of events. But please, please, let’s back down from the egregiously overconfident claims about ancient history. The stronger the claim to certainty we make, the surer we are to be wrong.

Farewell Again

A normal person’s summer usually involves a certain amount of goodbye-ing, even if it only reflects a departure for a week’s vacation (or a return from said vacation). Sometimes the summer begins with goodbyes, when people graduate or leave jobs; sometimes the summer ends with goodbyes (some folks just leave later). Our summer has triggered an overwhelming series of goodbyes, with more to come.
We have already said goodbye to Durham (Margaret will stop back from time to time, but Pippa more rarely, and it’s not clear when I’ll return); Princeton; New Haven; Nantucket (and my mother). I bid Baltimore goodbye a few weeks ago. Then I had to come back to Durham to finalize the visa reapplication, and that involved pro tem goodbyes to Pip and Margaret.
Tomorrow I’ll say goodbye to Margaret and Pippa. If my visa comes through this time, I won’t see them again for months; if I’m stuck back in the USA again, I might go up to Baltimore (again) to stay with her while we sort things out. Our hearts are torn up anyway, since we can’t count on seeing each other before the SBL meeting in November — and I won’t see Pippa till Christmastime.
The last few nights have been touch tough for sleeping. I’m going to miss PIppa and Margaret so much. The only thing worse than being apart so long will be if we have to scramble through some further as-yet unanticipated hoops to get me to Scotland in time for classes (or somewhat thereafter), whipsawing my sense of “home” for another few additional weeks.

Beyond Binary

I used to get some pushback when I called attention to Emily Nussbaum’s article on intersexed newborns. I argued that students should both be aware of the incidence of intersexed babies (for pastoral reasons), and should be able to think through some of the issues that arise as these children complicate people’s casual assumptions about gender either-ors. Not everybody agreed.
Caster Semenya’s situation, though, brings the topic of non-binary gender and identity back to the fore. However much simpler it would make life if we could just assert that everyone is one or the other, fundamentally and irrevocably, naturally and legally, that insistence tells us more about our uneasy need to categorize than about the way people turn out. Arguments from “nature” tend to rest on the premise that “nature” equals “nature operating the way we suppose it usually does and always ought to,” rather than by observing the unruly range of what actually (naturally) happens. We don’t know well enough what-we-don’t-know to make loud pronouncements about what it oughta be like.
I don’t know anything about Caster Semenya’s physiology, and I can see numerous debating points for and against admitting biologically-complex women-identified participants in racing events for “unambiguous” women. I don’t see any basis for insisting on a binary taxonomy of gender identity when we persistent encounter evidence that things are more complicated than that.

Rumsfeld Was Right

No, I’m not re-evaluating my objections to the U.S. military adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan. Rather, I’m acknowledging and affirming one of the lessons from this summer’s emigration process. We received the contract in July and began working on a carefully articulated plan, but unknown unknowns intervened, and we’ve had to rework almost everything to do with our family life. On the other side of my first visa rejection, it’s tempting to think that I learned what was wrong with the first application and remedied it — but I’m more inclined to take it that the first rejection should function as a reminder that at any given time, we understand less about our circumstances nd the contingencies that affect us than we can know. Hence, when today comes and we don’t hear that the Embassy is processing my (second) application even though I heard that my first application was being processed after the same interval since sending it, I’m not surprised. I’m not in a position to out-think a system that I’m generally unfamiliar with; I can’t make plans as though possibilities or even likelihoods were givens. I corrected the defects that the Embassy identified in my first application, but I don’t know what other defects may persist in the second recension.
Which is a roundabout way of saying that we”re still waiting to hear more about my reapplication, and it would be nice if the British Ambassador would call me up and say, “Pip-pip, AKMA, old sock; come over, your visa has been approved.” But the fate of my application remains an unknown unknown.

Two Things

One: I was having an annoying problem with my iPhone. Whenever I started listening to it, it would get only a short way into a track before it made a funny sound and skipped ahead. I suspected that somehow the files had become corrupted, but that seemed not to be true since the tracks would play uninterrupted when I selected them individually. I resolved the problem (temporarily) by just holding the iPhone in my hand while I was walking; for some reason, that seemed to eliminate the problem.
That just didn’t seem right to me, so on a hunch, I opened up the Settings panel for the iPod function. Sure enough, the “Shake to Skip” function was on, and the player was skipping ahead when I jostled the iPhone in my pocket. When I held it in my hand, I kept it steady enough that it didn’t skip. A long time ago I had turned on the “Shake to Skip” option, but it didn’t work. Since it wasn’t affecting my listening then, I didn’t turn the option off. In the interim, something — an update, or a restart, or some other factor — set the Shake function working. Problem solved, no defect.
Two: We currently bank with Bank of America, and it would be handy if they had a cooperative arrangement with a Scottish bank, so that Margaret and I could transfer money back and forth with minimal fuss and expense. Well, sure enough, they do have an alliance with Barclays Bank — but Barclays has three locations within about six blocks of one another in downtown Glasgow, but none in Partick or the West End at all. Hmmm.

While I Wait

Federal Express has delivered my re-application for my visa to work in the UK, so all I can do now is wait and try (in vain) to concentrate on other topics.
I did concentrate on following up a conversation I had with Clay, one of the friends with whom we’re staying this summer. I was talking to Clay and Sarah about a course I’d like to teach in Glasgow (eventually), a course about Death (which I’d hope to teach with a member of the medical faculty); that reminded Clay of the work of Nortin Hadler, who teaches at UNC. Clay has heard Hadler give a few lectures, and has read his books (The Last Well Person and Worried Sick) ; Sarah has read him and keeps an ear open for him on NPR. Anyway, I’m intrigued by Hadler’s way of thinking about health issues; he shows a lot more attention to “forest” issues, while the dominant public discourses concentrate on individual trees or, at most, species of tree. At a time when “rationing” (and whether it be done by a for-profit private entity or by the government) and “death panels” are in the news, I appreciate Hadler’s approach to shaping medical care. Now, he’d make a strong Surgeon General or Health Czar.
I know enough credentialed New Testament scholars who propose idiosyncratic solutions to vexing dilemmas (i.e., “cranks”) that I don’t simply take Hadler’s word for everything he says. Clay’s pretty impressed, though, and I’m sympathetic with Hadler’s account of why the medical system functions as it does, and how it might function more humanely on behalf of all.


I woke up early and had dozed sporadically: this morning, I’m expecting the last bit of documentation for my visa application 2.0. Once it arrives, I’ll hurry over to Kinko’s and overnight it to New York, to repeat the cycle from late July. If the same timing prevails, I’ll learn on Friday that the package arrived, and on next Monday will hear whether they’ll approve my visa (in which case Margaret and I begin frantically to seek an affordable flight to Glasgow).
I’m not sure what to say about the possibility that the Home Office will find a defect in my second application, so I won’t think about it.