Monthly Archives: March 2010

Stockpiled-Tabs Stromateis

• Cheers to the Lib Dems, for standing up to Labour and the Tories over the blighted Digital Economy Bill (that’s so unpopular the corporate-beholden front-benchers won’t permit open debate by the people’s elected representatives); perhaps the Lib Dems can prick the conscience of the Parliament (but I’m not holding my breath).
• On a related note, Stephanie Booth blogs about the relation of performance (writing, acting, music-making) and digital publication (hat tip, Suw). Listen: I have wanted to be in a rock band since the early sixties, and at no point was I motivated by money. I have wanted to play baseball for the Baltimore Orioles, with no concern for the salary. I have written and edited a number of books, and the return on the number of the hours of my life that went into those efforts is probably well below minimum wage. We do these things for other reasons — most of us, anyway.
    So if John Darnielle were to call me up and ask me to tour Europe with him as a back-up vocalist, I wouldn’t ask how much I’d be paid. If the Orioles called me and said they needed a no-field, no-hit, slow-running outfielder, I’d be telling them my uniform size. And others who are better musicians and outfielders than I am would be even more likely to take the stage, or field, or whatever.
    Even if no one paid performers anything at all — absolute zero payment — music, sport, and writing wouldn’t stop. So when people start talking in apocalyptic terms about the disappearance of all your favourite performers in whatever field of endeavour, you can reasonably just stop listening to them. They’re scaremongering, not reasoning.
    What has happened in the past, what is happening around us right now, what will happen again and again in the future, is that the ways people reward and encourage various human endeavours change. The responsible way forward at this moment involves taking change seriously, and seeing how to work with it. If you are unwilling to float along with the flow of the current, at least seek out a backwater in which to stagnate; don’t try to dam up the river (especially now that the waters are flooding at an ever-increasing rate).
• And from cartel-ised digital culture to cartel-ised educational culture, Michael Feldstein has a fine column on Anya Kamenetz and the Open Education Movement. Change is coming for education, too, and it involves using digital technologies in ways that may look like “piracy.” But MIT and Yale can afford to offer courses on the internet, because they function not solely as dispensers of teaching, but also as accreditors of learning — and since their attestation is very highly valued, they can give away the teaching and still charge for the degree. Once this model takes root and more clearly constitutes an integral part of the role of academies, it will engender knock-on effects that will change the academies themselves in dramatic ways. But the academies aren’t going away any time soon — no, sirree.

In The Past Few Days

• Pippa and I spent a sweet afternoon relaxing chez our friends Vicky and Margaret (thanks, Vicky and Margaret!)
• The weather was rotten, so we cancelled our planned day trip to Edinburgh in favour of a trip to the Kelvingrove, where Pippa saw a wild haggis


• I threw my back out, lifting a heavy book at an oblique angle (my back’s better this morning)
• Nate shot me a version of the Exsultet, my familiarity with which I’m renewing this morning in preparation for the Easter Vigil
• Pippa traveled all the way to Glasgow and saw a painting of her Pa Moose in the Hunterian Art Gallery
• Doug pointed me to this brilliant Sarah Coakley superhero theological comic (golly, do I wish I could draw like that), and brought Pippa and me over to his house for a splendid dinner visit with his family (Thanks, Doug!)
• Pippa took two pictures of me that instantly vaulted to being my favourites; I wish I needed to send someone photos of me, so that I could use these

Untitled (Photo of A K M Adam)
portrait of my father in horrible lighting which i oh-so-hipsterly edited off in iphoto

• Today’s Pippa’s last day in Glasgow till August; don’t know what we’ll do yet (how can we top the acquisition of her fluorescent orange hat?)

Girl In The Fluorescent Orange Hat

• Pippa saw the fox in front of our flat!

Go, Blue Devils!

Let’s suppose, for just a minute, that the Duke men’s basketball team lost to Baylor last night. Imagine the sports headlines: “Duke washes out again,” “Blue Devils can’t win the big ones,” “K is for Kaput.” I have read so many stories that note that “Duke hasn’t been to the Final Four since 2004,” that it’s time for a deep breath and some perspective.
Let’s start with that last point. “Since 2004,” — all of five tournaments — twelve teams have made it to the Final Four. So if shame and ignominy befall teams that fall short of that mark, there’s a lot of ignominy going around the men’s college hoops world. If we were to apply the “hasn’t been to the Final Four since…” tag to each team, only a dozen teams would be able to boast nearly as recent a trip to the finals as Duke has.
What has Duke done during that miserable, disappointing interval? They made it to the NCAA tournament every year (where they were first seeds twice, second seeds twice), compiled a 139-34 won-loss record, and won two ACC tournaments. They were eliminated from the NCAA tournament earlier than their seeding would predict each year — that’s true, and no Duke fan wanted those early exits. But to suggest that a team with that record of achievement was somehow in a slump overlooks the unlikelihood that you could find more than five teams to equal Duke’s success (I’m thinking of UNC and UCLA; no other programs showed comparably consistent accomplishment, as far as I can recall, but I don’t pay as close attention as I did once upon a time). Again, we’re setting the bar of success awfully high at that point.
Now, someone will say, “But Duke expects more,” and that’s also true — true because, by and large, Duke has established a record of consistent success to which very few programs in history can be compared, and has done so in a highly competitive conference. To that extent, one might say that for the past five years, Duke has “underachieved.” Even that, however, misses crucial points about the postseason tournament. To start with, practically every team that makes the tournament has lost at least one game to a lesser adversary. It happens during the season; there’s no reason it won’t happen during the tournament. Only one highly-regarded team in the nation wins its last six games, whereas most teams lose at least one game out of six in their regular schedule (and all the more so if one factors out the games against mismatched opponents). In the past five tournaments, Duke lost its one game earlier than its partisans would have liked; but everyone — fans and adversaries alike — should balance being disappointed with a program over a relatively short run (on one hand) with regarding the extremely rare record of achievement over a longer run.
So, we did in fact win yesterday, against a very impressive Baylor team (and against a tough Purdue team on Friday); but that’s not so very much more outstanding an accomplishment than the past five years have racked up, nor is it fair to treat those past five years as a let-down. An off stretch for Duke would the highlight of many programs’ history. If we win one or two games next weekend, it’ll be great, and I’ll be proud. But I won’t be much more proud than I am of a team that’s show astonishingly strong performances year over year for more than twenty-five years.

Aspiring Scholar Wanted

Up Front: The following is solely word-of-mouth, not a binding commitment or an assured fact.
Word has reached my ears that the University of Glasgow staff in the area of Theology and Religious Studies will have a scholarship to offer, including a stipend plus housing plus all fees paid, for a Dissenter (possibly a dissenting minister, I’m not sure) — no Anglicans nor Presbyterians need apply, but we think the various flavours of (Ana)Baptist, Quakers, presumably Congregationalists, would meet the requirement. For background, read up on the remarkable Dr Daniel Williams, who stipulated that a bursary from his Trust be used on behalf of a Dissenting postgraduate student at our fair University (one of the few where Dissenters were allowed to study back in the day).
From what I hear, the stipend and accommodations will be generous, and if I do say so myself, the teaching staff are top-notch. Ahem — especially if you’re interested in biblical studies. Ahem, koff koff.
Please spread the word! Interested parties should, I suspect, contact not only us at Glasgow, but also Dr David Wykes at Dr Williams’s Trust.

Awfully Good

The other day Nate asked me if I liked Phoenix, and I had to admit that although I have some of their cuts in my iTunes library, I don’t recall any in particular. I’ve accumulated so many tracks, and some I know so well and love so much that I want to hear them frequently, that it’s hard to make time to listen with focal awareness to new recordings. (Nate pointed me to the Phoenix website for a free d/l of one of their live gigs, so, you might like that, too. I haven’t been able to get through to the download, but I expect I’ll enjoy it when I do.)
One of the benefits of having an oceanic iTunes library on permanent shuffle, though, is that sometimes I hear a song that I don’t remember having heard before, with no recollection how or whence I acquired it. That’s the real joy of my style of listening, and I wanted to share with you this morning’s “Where’d that come from?” moment. This goes out to my sweetheart far away in the States —


Sarah Harmer, “I Am Aglow”

Lazy Web Query

I’ll be teaching a “New Testament Ethics” course next year. I plan to assign Richard Hays’s Moral Vision, Frank Matera’s NT Ethics, Wayne Meeks’s Origins of Christian Morality, Richard Burridge’s Imitating Jesus, and. . . one more book. My ideal choice would be a feminist analysis of the ethos of the New Testament, not concentrating on sexual behaviour (but not avoiding it, either). Most of my Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza books are in storage in the USA, so I can’t just hop over to the shelf and choose among them. Nominations?


About two weeks ago, maybe a few days more, my friend and former student the Very Rev. Hope Tinsley Benko (I didn’t know they`’d made you a canon! How excellent!) directed my attention to a link to a series of articles in Slate. She remembered my diligent attention to signs and visual communication, and she thought (quite correctly) that this series would interest me.
(Digression: Few things touch a teacher as much as people remembering what they tried hard to teach. I’m so very moved that some of that stuff stuck with Hope, and that she recalled me when she read the Slate article — thanks, Hope!)
The whole series is fine and informative, and I implore church leaders to think through their own efforts at communication with the mind of a designer of wayfinding signs. (I have an idle dream of a church conference session in which everyone brings the most recent bulletin from their Sunday worship, and we go over the many ways that they succeed (or not) in helping worshippers make their way through the liturgy. I can say that from my present position because I know my cathedral boss is very attentive to those matters.)
While we’re on the subject, I should note that Glasgow does very well at wayfinding signs (at least, in the medium-posh neighbourhood around the University). Here are a few I photographed on my way to church last Sunday (in the “extended” version, in case someone doesn’t want to load all the photos):
Continue reading Signs

Ada Lovelace Day 2010

Happy Ada Lovelace Day, everyone!
(Before I get to business, I want to remind everyone how proud and happy I am that my friend Suw is the one who kicked ALD into gear, and who thus may be instrumental in promoting the cultural memory of an admirable figure from the early days of our technological revolution. Props to Suw! Huzzah!)
This year, I’m reminding the world that “advanced technology” is always advanced relative to something else — so I’m honouring a couple of medieval saints, Catherine of Siena and Clare of Assisi.

CHARRY CLARKE - St Catherine of Siena
(photo from Fergal OP’s Flickr stream, CC licensed)

Catherine stands out in cultural history (and especially in church history) as a self-determining woman at a time when self-determination was not only difficult, but subject to risk of prosecution; despite her comprehensive fidelity to the church and its well-being, Catherine was interrogated for suspicion of heresy.
I nominate Catherine on Ada Lovelace Day because she exemplifies the resolute determination to use every medium, every technology available to her to work for the changes she recognised to be necessary. Catherine traveled extensively, and when she wasn’t traveling she wrote letters — technologies that may seem tediously obvious to 21st-century observers, but which, in the 14th century, demonstrated Catherine’s atypical boldness and ingenuity. And indeed, her persistence in lobbying for the return of the papacy to Rome, and her continuing influence in spiritual theology, show the value of her venturesome interventions.
As the child of a prosperous family, she had access to money and opportunities that her poorer neighbours couldn’t share; but Catherine lived austerely, and drew on her family’s wealth principally to share it with the needy (it’s not clear that she herself could write, but she seems to have been able to read). One can readily imagine Catherine in another age as a prolific blogger and tweeter (although she would not have owned her own computer).
So a digital cheer to St Catherine on Ada Lovelace Day! And St Clare — well, she’s patron of telecommunications, because of her apparent capacity to see things at prodigious distance. So cheers for Clare, too!

On Ayer

Arts and Letters Daily linked to a story about A. J. Ayer’s last year of life, including an experience of being clinically dead for four minutes. I’m not usually one for these “notorious atheist changes mind” stories — let atheists (especially deceased atheists) have their dignity, won’t you? — but I was struck by his wife’s comment relative to the eleven months between Ayer’s episode of asphyxia and his final demise:

“He became so much nicer after he died.”

I would submit that there’s a lesson in that for everyone, regardless of your faith (or lack thereof).

No Doubt A Kinsman

Cigarette Card - Archibald Geikie

My paternal family takes a lot of guff from (non-Scottish) outsiders because so many of us had, as forename or middle name, the honourable Scots moniker “Geikie.” (My dad and grandfather number among the proud Adam “Geikie”s.) This is just to remind people that this family name radiates with the glow of generations of Geikies. Including a geologist who ended up on a trading card — how cool is that?

Sad Moment

This morning as I was vesting for the 10:30 mass, I noticed that the shoulder of my alb was wearing through. Now, you well may roll your eyes, because you know that I haven’t bought any new vestments since I was ordained. But even more than that, this is an alb the my father-in-law handed down to me — so it had been in use since the 60’s, perhaps even the 50’s.
The servers were talking with me about a local tailor, but the linen has worn pretty thin all over. I think that it would be like trying to refurbish the One-Hoss Shay. I’ve put “poke around on vestment company websites” onto my to-do list.

To Patrick From Mungo

St Patrick’s Day seems to be no big deal here in Scotland — not a surprise, really, but interesting that the presumable cultural/ecclesiastical differences actually do play out. I have seen hardly any more green today than I do any other day, and I haven’t seen any prominent public promotions (at pubs, say, or stores).
On the other hand, you have to give Patrick credit for attracting unto himself a great theme song. I like it through and through, but perhaps especially the verse
     I bind unto myself the power
     Of the great love of cherubim;
     The sweet ‘Well done’ in judgment hour,
     The service of the seraphim,
     Confessors’ faith, Apostles’ word,
     The Patriarchs’ prayers, the prophets’ scrolls,
     All good deeds done unto the Lord
     And purity of virgin souls.
Y’all come around our city next 13 January, and we’ll try to come up with a theme song for St Mungo to which we all can sing along.