Monthly Archives: April 2010

If I Ran Labour

• Looks as though Labour is headed for a painful train wreck in next week’s election
• Looks as though the Tories will hold the single strongest hand in a hung Parliament
• Even if Brittania tilts the tables away from the Tories, Gordon Brown has spent the past week giving away reasons to think he oughtn’t be the leader for Labour
Especially if Tories and Lib Dems trounce Labour, Brown will have to be replaced
So why not throw Labour’s support behind a coalition government with Clegg as PM? There’ll remain enough differences between Labour and Lib Dems that in subsequent elections, a fresh Labour leadership will be in a position to run against the Lib Dems. Both Labour and Lib Dems would be able to rationalise reneging on particulars of their manifestos (ascribing that to the compromises the other half demanded). Labour would avoid looking like whipped-dog losers, and would be able to marshal their substantial (disproportionate) advantage in seats toward a prominent role in the Cabinet and policy decisions. Any good things that the Lib Dem coalition brings about, Labour will be able to claim to have brokered. It looks to this (apolitical, naîve, outsider) onlooker as though it would be win win win for everyone except Brown and his die-hard loyalists. And to be frank, it would probably look better for Brown than the upcoming electoral thrashing will.

Password Security

The Bible Study group Monday night had a short discussion about password security Monday night, including how bad we all are at it (some of us were guilty of worst password practices); this approach strikes me as very intriguing. I think I may adopt a strategy like it, perhaps hand-modifying the card they prepare, just in case someone somewhere along the line is using that site to harvest passwords. But a portable, non-specific memory prompt seems like a good strategy — and with enough noise in the data pool, it would be a waste of a thief’s time to try to work out which glyphs are actually part of passwords.
On the other hand, most users will need actually to record somewhere the matches among site, username, and password (whether directly recording the password or just marking a memory-prompt such as “pink/$”), which leads back to the problem of a thief getting access to that matching set. But if the password card is kept separate from the list of site/user/pw, a thief would have to get access to two separate sources of information, which improves your security. We’re still waiting, though, for the magic wand security solution.

Criticism and Pleasure

“Le plaisir de la critique nous ôte celui d’être vivement touchés de très belles choses.” — Jean de la Bruyère
I’m not quite sure how, in tenth grade, a copy of La Bruyère’s Les Caractéres came into my possession. My best estimate is that someone picked it up in a sale bin at the Pitt Bookstore (the center of my youthful universe, at that point) and gave it to me for my birthday or for Christmas. I do remember transcribing Aphorism 20 from the “Ouvrages de l’Esprit” portion of Les Caractéres with my shiny new black Rapidograph (bought in a stationers’s in San Sebastian, I think) into the notebook in which I had taken notes during my summer studies at the Lycée Maurice Ravel in St Jean de Luz, France. If memory doesn’t deceive me, I was sitting in Mrs Palumbo’s classroom, Room 372 at Taylor Allderdice High School, and I was reading La Bruyère during the time left over after I had finished one or another exercise for English class. I inscribed the words in my notebook, then methodically memorised them for safekeeping in my heart.
I can’t account for why I remember that moment so vividly, or why that particular aphorism stood out to my teenage imagination. The moment and the aphorism have stuck with me, though, first through the gauzy romanticism of adolescent assent, then through the seething crucible of early adult renunciation, even to this morning, after twenty-plus years as a card-carrying biblical critic (while I should be continuing my work on the article about the Mountain Goats, allusion, and biblical hermeneutics).
“The pleasure of criticism deprives us of that of being deeply moved by beautiful things.” There’s a certain populist appeal to that premise, a resistance to analysing — “The temptation / To take the precious things we have apart / To see how they work / Must be resisted for they never fit together again” (Billy Bragg, “Must I Paint You a Picture?”). In seminary, I often heard — and probably used, myself, on occasion — the trope of dissection; once the body is fully autopsied, one knows its insides well, but the subject is no longer alive.
But I also learned, in seminary, to appreciate the beauty of interpretive analysis when it’s done well. The luminous insights that I’d never have appreciated apart from a learned reader’s guidance suddenly mattered greatly to me, and amply warranted my pursuing a career in biblical forensic medicine. I embraced, for a (short) while, the ascetical antiseptic rigour of my vocation as a defining virtue. The pleasure of criticism may deprive us of the delight in unanalysed beauty, but the gain is worth the cost.
Pretty quickly, though, I began resisting the idea that the two were mutually opposed. I knew of brilliant interpreters (some of them my teachers) who did not compromise their critical faculties even as they wrought captivating exegetical and theological interpretations. Even more, though, I felt an implacable determination that I mustn’t allow La Bruyère’s aphorism to constrain the bounds of my hermeneutical practise. It takes learning and failing and trying again and getting it somewhat right-er and trying again and again and again, and devoting oneself to honest critical inquiry (not just setting up stages for the display of one’s own disciplinary wonderfulness) and to the restless pursuit of interpretive beauty. But it can be done; and if I be not judged successful myself, at least my efforts point toward a trajectory on which others might accomplish that of which I fall short.
Last night, at a Bible study group based at the cathedral, we spent two intense hours making connections, testing possibilities, observing resonances and harmonies, delighting in the wonders of a couple of paragraphs from the Book of Acts. This morning, I listened to “Cobra Tattoo” (beware pop-ups and pop-behinds; didn’t used to be so spam-infested) while I traced the way John Darnielle weaves Genesis 3 with Isaiah 14 with Matthew 3//Luke 3. I was deeply moved.

Do What Must Be Done

Well, the government has gone and done it, despite the overwhelming opposition of people who actually understand the bill in question. Britain has passed the Digital Economy Bill, which mandates kicking whole families off the internet if one member is even accused of downloading (good thing those record companies never make mistakes), and accords to unelected officials the prerogative to change the provisions of internet enforcement without legislative warrant.
MP Lynne Featherstone (not my MP, sadly), Stef @ “DEBillitated”, and SkeptoRobot sum it up better than I could. And brilliant, articulate, consummate technologist Kevin Marks has been keeping his audiences up to date all along.
Cue the creepy music in the background, as a pitiless voice rasps, “Do what must be done, Lord Mandelson.”

The Stream Of St Mary’s

My cathedrallian (cathedrallic?) boss, Fr. Kelvin, has edited and posted Sunday’s Easter sermon on St Mary’s “sermons” page, whence I’m picking up this stream —

Kelvin also reminds me (well, I don’t think I knew it in the first place, but he charitably couched it as a reminder) that St Mary’s has an iTunes podcast channel through the iTunes store (no kidding!), whence you can subscribe to video or audio versions of whatever St Mary’s jolly well feels like podcasting. Looking at the offerings there, I see I have some homework yet to do.

Critical Mass of Browser Tabs

And leftover things emails I should acknowledge:
• I’ve been meaning for a while now to congratulate the inimitable Michael O’Connor Clarke, for his new gig as VP of Marketing at Freshbooks. (To be honest, you probably could imitate him, but if someone knew him they’d be able to tell the difference, and if they didn’t know him, they wouldn’t understand why you were acting that way, so why other trying?)
• The very cool people at Book Oven (led by Hugh ‘Librivox” McGuire) have been nurturing means for crowd-sourcing editing, including private and public proofreading and editing by multiple sets of eyes. They’ve included a neat bit called “Bite-Size Edits” in the most recent iterations of the plan; you view only a sentence at a time, the better to catch misspellings, poorly-placed punctuation, and so on. And you can get points for doing it! (This could be a very useful exercise for stufent writers, practising corrections and seeing whether they stick, and figuring out why or why not.)
• I’m not blogging about iPads again till I devote a full post to them, but they’re a big part of what’s clogging up my browser tabs. Suffice it to say that I see both sides of the aye-or-nay, but I’m positive about the device overall.
• I wish I could compel a number of administrators to read nad take a comprehension test on Clay Shirky’s “The Collapse of Complex Business Models.” Academic administration is one of those areas where the raison d’être for a complex bureaucratic apparatus gradually changes from “supporting teachers and students” to “running every aspect of this institution that depends on us for its very existence, so shut up and be grateful.” What if — and call me crazy here, because I’m spinning off a wild idea — what if you just started with teachers and students, and examined very closely the necessity of any function other than teaching and learning? Especially when it comes to self-perpetuating bureaucracies. OK, enough of that nonsense, I’m sorry, it just slipped out.
Or maybe someone could appoint Clay Shirky president of a college or university. OK, sorry, that’s too implausible.
• I didn’t want to blog about Kelvin’s clever April Fools joke until after Sunday’s sermon, so I’m mentioning it now. And speaking of April Fools, my all-time favorite is the NPR story from 2005, “New England Suffers Maple Woes.” And speaking of Easter, Gordon from the cathedral took some pictures of the Easter Vigil, including several that include me desperately trying to keep the Paschal Candle from blowing out in the drizzly breeze, and one of me as a dark blob in the background holding the Paschal Candle aloft.
• When Pippa visited Glasgow, we went to the annual Art Fair, at which Pippa was somewhat dismissively unimpressed. It turns out she’s not the only one; the promoter of the fair himself is quitting over “a growing impression in the Scottish art world that the standard of the works on show has slumped and the fair was being swamped by cheaper, run-of-the mill paintings.” Not that Pippa’s taste needed to be vindicated, of course.
• Go, Duke (while I sleep)!
• Micah Jackson (whose doppelganger I saw in a coffeeshop on Byres Road last week) sent me to Jimmy Guterman’s perceptive column about giving digital products away as part of marketing.
• And finally, a whole crowd of people have called my attention to Episcopal Priest Barbie, about which I have several observations. First, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a priest with those dimensions. I have contrariwise seen many who were most prominent at the middle and significantly less so as you look to their extremities. Second, I applaud the craft of sewing these miniatures; they’re apparently a satisfying hobby, requiring great dexterity and offering some limited but real educational opportunities. Third — well, those jokes would just sound cynical, and this is Easter season.
Well, that eliminates most of the excess tabs, and brings me moderately close to inbox-zero in my email folder, so I’ll try to clear the inbox tomorrow, and we’ll see when I get around to summarising my responses to iPads. And if Butler wins, well, heck, they’re a cool, tough underdog. But I’m hoping to wake up to a Blue Devil triumph.


No, I’m not talking about the beginning of the baseball season, nor of Duke’s convincing victory over WVU (sorry, Mountaineer friends). I’m talking about navigating last week’s complications without having run smack into any shoals. Oh, plus, there’s that whole Jesus thing.
My lectures ended a week ago last Friday, which might have triggered my annual end-of-year physical collapse, except that Pippa was here and I fought on to do as much with her as her sleep schedule, the weather, her interests, and the days allotted us permitted. Then I put her on her plane Thursday, and that might have triggered my annual end-of-year let-down plus missing-Pippa let-down, but it’s Holy Week and I had services in which to participate and a sermon to write. Then too, Friday was the anniversary of my father’s death, so that might have triggered my annual let-down, compounded with missing Pippa and missing my Dad, but I still had the sermon to write and services today. So I spent yesterday working on the sermon, chanted the Exsultet at this morning’s Easter Vigil (happy Baptism, Ruth! Happy baptismal anniversary, Si!), preached at the ten-thirty main Easter service (sermon included in the extended portion of the post), had a sip of celebratory champagne, and walked the two miles home.
So guess what it’s time for now.
I’ll finish eating (ferociously hungry) and have a wee lie-down. The Festal Evensong starts at 6:30, and I may take a cab tonight, or perhaps just give it a miss altogether. For now, though, I wish you all a happy Easter, and we’ll see how I feel in a few hours.
Continue reading Alleluia!