Monthly Archives: September 2009

Link Dump

I have several tabbed windows open so that I’ll remember to blog them — so I’ll blog them out now, so I can finally lose the tbas.
Peter Carrell provided an entry on Cranmer’s “Homily on the Reading of Scripture,” reminding me of his (Cranmer’s, not Peter’s) preface to the Great Bible. Someday I’d love to lead some students through a close reading of early Anglican documents on biblical interpretation, and these texts would be right at the start of the course.
Jane (I think) pointed me to Bob Cringely’s scorching warning to the education industry. I don’t think Cringely is quite right about most of what he says, but he’s another witness to the premise that there’s a problem with the current model, wherein the same bodies supervise both instruction and accreditation. The resulting conflict of interests as well as the administrative complications of sustaining both missions may well turn out to be unsupportable over the long run. That doesn’t mean I care less about “standards” — hey, it would be easy to find people who think I’m way too concerned about high standards — but that one of the forces that militates against effective standards-keeping is the entanglement of the standards-bearers of evaluation with the process of instruction (so that in evaluating students, teachers are in a certain way evaluating themselves, so that grade inflation is self-inflation) and its inverse: the tuition-paying students’ expectation that they will emerge with credentials in exchange for their expenditures. I suspect that such tensions and pressures will alter the system in many places (though not everywhere).
This is too creepy, especially since I just moved closer to it.
John called Margaret’s attention to these terrific hawk-fledging photos from a park in Durham. Where are the hawks in Baltimore?
I didn’t get around to obtaining a sip of whisky on my birthday today, as I had been encouraged to do, but I will definitely make a point of exploring this new horizon very soon.

Meta, Data, Noise, Signal

David’s perceptive entry this morning reminds us that the distinction between data and metadata is a pragmatic distinction, not a difference in kind. That, in turn, prompts me to apply his perspective to conventional (“decryption”) models of hermeneutics: while scholars typically invest in one particular category as the proper interpretive key for decoding the intrinsic meaning of a text, the distinction between message and key (or especially “signal“ and “noise“) is likewise a pragmatic distinction. There‘s just no device, no way, that cuts cleanly between the real, true meaning and the key, the evidence, the authentication. A strong interpretive argument includes text, interpretation, warrants, evidence, precedents, implications, and more — and all of the constituent elements require interpretive judgments too. The static that interrupts your enjoyment of Molly Hatchett’s “Flirtin’ With Disaster,” thus constituting “noise” for you, the Southern-rock lover*, might be “message” to the radio station employee who’s trying to track down sources of radio-signal interference or an astronomer investigating sunspot activity.
(P.S. My plane leaves in a few hours. I’m writing from the Mad Hatter, feeling misty-eyed and sentimental about leaving all the people I know and love in the USA, and feeling vaguely trepidacious about making a new home in Scotland. I mean no offense to my ancestral homeland, of course; I’ll feel more attuned to the “exciting adventure” aspect of the experience once the plane takes off. For now, though, I’m a weepy bundle of nostalgic affection, so don’t say anything to set me off unless you’re prepared for embarrassing rivers of tears.)
* That’s as opposed to a geologist from Biloxi, a Southern rock-lover.


In less than twenty-four hours, I will move from the USA to Scotland. That’s not such a big deal; plenty of my tech friends have moved among continents, and some seem to have no fixed residence at all, but only to drift from hotel to conference hall to pied-à-terre to consulting gig to Tim O’Reilly’s back yard. Still, I had never imagined that I’d live outside the US. I never imagined that I would leave my family an ocean behind me. I never expected to be starting over in the late-middle of my life, in a new home, at an ancient university. Everywhere I look around me, I see people and scenes that will no longer characterize my daily life. Tears vie with exultation as I consider all that I’ll be missing, and all that opens up ahead of me.
Tomorrow’s plane flight begins a project simultaneously thrilling and daunting, enticing and lonely. I don’t know what to expect — you Warcraft players, I feel as though I’m standing on one side of an instance barrier. I can see the threshold to cross, but I can’t see the other side.
I’ll tell you about it once I get there.


I’m reading through Daniel McClellan’s “Decoupling YHWH and El,” and as a side effect of thinking about cultural polytheism, I began to think about Exodus 20:3//Dt 5:7 [//34:12-14]: “you shall have no other gods before me.” Surely most casual readers in the monotheistically-dominated West construe this as, “Don’t even consider the [non-existent] so-called deities of other denominated ‘religions’” — right? Whereas in the polytheistic environment of antiquity, it will have conveyed the sense that in the rivalry of gods, the people of the covenant were obliged to honor their Tetragrammatical Lord as Number One.
Now, one hears preachers often enough charge congregations with dalliances with idolatry — but it seems to me that they pick unfairly unreal alternate deities like “money” or “fame” or “success,” which are hardly ever hypostasized and ascribed effectual agency. Even the apparent exceptions to that claim, such as “It was beauty killed the beast,” don’t invoke a power so much as an abstract quality.
On the other hand, commonplace discourse does invoke some hypostasized entities that are regarded as affecting lives and the world directly. Several of them involve macroeconomics: “the market” or its synecdoche, “the invisible hand,” seems to provide the purest form, since it can’t be localized to the operations of a coterie of individuals. “The media” or “mainstream media”; Wall Street; Hollywood, perhaps?; these are less precise an example, since they can be mapped closely to human actors. I’m sure there must be other examples of hypostasized non-human (or “all-human,” not specific-humans) agents whose existence and effects seem so self-evident to acculturated observers that it seems absurd to call their reality into question. What am I missing?

Case Closed

The visa has arrived; I’m officially permitted into the United Kingdom; I’ll be leaving Sunday afternoon. I am very greatly relieved.
And for something entirely different, the Harvard open-access project Digital Access to Scholarship at Harvard is open. It’ll be a lot more useful when more faculty deposit more pre-prints and permit more access to them — but it’s a start, and Harvard should be commended for setting a positive example in this.

In Transition

IT seems that the British Embassy reached its decision on me too late on Wednesday to get my visa to the UPS in time for Thursday delivery — so I spent yesterday hovering around the front door of Château Musser in vain. Not that my effort were wasted; I had the opportunity to sit with my three-year-old host, Master Luke, as we watched his favorite David Attendorough wildlife videos. Master Luke watches these so carefully and so repeatedly that he’s on a first-name basis with David. Luke observes and emphasizes the details of Attenborough’s narration. Certain sections of these videos hold a particular fascination for him; he can watch the flying squirrels soar from tree to tree over and over again, and his particular favorite is the segment in which Attenborough howls to attract the attention of wolves. Luke will watch along till this segment arrives, and immediately after the howling part, he’ll say, “I wanna watch the wolf howling again, please.” (We’ve been working on the “please” part.) So I back up the DVD to the beginning of the scene, and he watches it again. And again. And again. Wednesday we got up to twelve viewings; yesterday a mere six; this morning we’re up to ten so far. I will miss watching animal videos with Luke while Sarah ekes out a few more minutes of rest in her morning.
Any time now, though, the UPS delivery person will swing by with my passport and visa, and then I’ll shift into get-ready mode. My plane leaves Sunday in the late afternoon, and at this point it seems almost certain that Monday morning I will arrive in Scotland. What a long, strange, trip it will have been.

Orbitz FAIL

Last night after dinner, I settled down to arrange my plane flight to Glasgow. It was supposed to be pretty easy; the last time we bought a ticket, we had paid Orbitz a little extra for a previous ticket, for the prerogative of being able to exchange it for another ticket if (as we expected) I hadn’t been cleared for travel by the time of that ticket. In fact, several days before that scheduled flight, Margaret emailed Orbitz customer service to make sure we handled the exchange correctly.
Margaret couldn’t induce the website to offer a path for exchanging a previously-issued ticket, so on August 20 she entered the following query in the Contact Us blank on the Orbitz site:

I made a reservation for my husband to fly from the states to Scotland on Aug 23. When his first attempt at a work visa failed, I cancelled the Aug 23 flight, thinking I could get some credit from that flight toward another, as long as we made the new reservation before Aug 23. Now, however, when I’m ready to make a new reservation, I cannot find the information on line about how to proceed. How can I get some credit (I realize there are fees involved) from the cancelled reservation toward a new (changed) reservation?

Notice that she asked on the 20th, three days before the day of the scheduled flight; we were aware that we had to make our next reservation before the date of the original flight. In a very short while, she got the following response from Orbitz:

Dear Orbitz Customer,
Thank you for contacting Orbitz.
I understand you wish to make a new flight reservation using the credit from a cancelled flight.
The time limitations to use the credits are up to one year [my emphasis]. Upon re-booking, it must be with the same airline, same passenger but you can change the routing.
To make a new flight reservation using the credit, please call Orbitz Customer Service at (888) 656-4546 from the US and (312) 416-0018 from outside the US. Our Customer Service Agents will be happy to help you.
M******* W*******
OrbitzTLC Team

Orbitz – Travel Well

In other words, three days before the original flight, when we were still operating on the understanding that “as long as we made the new reservation before Aug 23” we could exchange the ticket, we were told by an Orbitz employee that we had a full year in which to exchange the canceled ticket.
Returning to the scene last night, I called Orbitz to arrange the exchange. I called, and was referred a couple of times to different customer service specialists. I had spent a half hour on hold when I guessed that someone had lost track of my call, and I hung up and called back. When I called back, I went through the same referral process, and after a few minutes the spokesperson said, “I’m sorry, but you had to rebook before the day of your flight.” I read to her the message from Orbitz saying that we had a year in which to rebook; she responded that “the ticket has no more value,” and although we had paid extra for an exchangeable ticket, and although they had assured us we had a year in which to rebook, we had lost the full price of the ticket.
We went back and forth a couple of times, and I asked to speak to a supervisor. The supervisor wouldn’t budge. She could see that their employee had told us we had a year, but she insisted that it was impossible for them to honor the arrangement he had offered us. In the end, she sent us a $100 voucher for future travel arranged through Orbitz, as “a gesture of goodwill.”
I booked my flight through another agency; it cost a little bit more than it would have to rebook through Orbitz (-$100), but it was worth it to be dealing with a company that hadn’t demonstrated its willingness to renege on their employees’ instructions. I don’t plan on using the voucher; how would I know whether Orbitz would honor it?

Sound Reasoning

Honest, when I posted this entry earlier today, I knew no more than you did about the Home Office’s standards for approving or rejecting visas. But at 6:14 this evening — pardon me, at 20:14 — I received an email from the visa agency stating that my visa has been issued, and that I should expect delivery tomorrow. (I will be sitting on the porch, quite possibly holding my suitcases.)
So, now I have to set about shopping for a plane ticket — but at last, I’m on my way!