Monthly Archives: May 2010

Stromateis By Title

Peter Serafinowicz explains why he downloads files illegally, even ones in which he has a financial interest. There are too many good bites to single one out, but Serafinowicz makes it clear that only a mad person will think that you can make a business plan out of charging people for an inconvenient, limited, hard-to-use approach to a problem that can be solved conveniently, flexibly, simply, for free.
• Margaret and Pippa will be applying for visas this summer, which reminds me of this article from Cracked magazine.
• I automatically doubt any approach that presumes to solve too many problems all at once, but understanding Bowen’s family-system theory has helped me recognise salient pitfalls and possibilities in any number of settings. Yes, people can misapply it or use it for everything under the sun (usually with a knowing, self-congratulatory smile), but it has accurately characterised a great many social-institutional situations I’ve had to deal with.
• The estimable Tom Matrullo pointed my attention to this intriguing story about Islamic life in Glasgow. Two of my favorite establishments — the Bay Tree Café and the Curry Leaf restaurant — are halal; our Religious Studies program at the University is very strong in Islam; and we have a number of Islamic students, a good number of whom hail from from EU countries. Hey, and now the UK has a Muslim cabinet minister (Baroness Sayeeda Warsi).

Far Apart

This morning, in about two hours, Margaret should finally touch down in Glasgow for her last visit before relocating here in late July. In honour of her arrival, and the past nine months of living apart, and of the past six years (most of which we’ve spent in separate locations), here’s a link to Rene Engström’s new webcomic with her partner Rasmus Gran, “So Far Apart.” For each post, Rene and Rasmus present a sequence depicting the passage of time from each’s perspective. Only one episode up at this point, but I can identify.

Once More, With Reasoning

Vili Lehdonvirta presents another argument for the approach I took in the chapter I wrote on “Technology and Religion.” I haven’t read all the way through it yet, but I’m quite sympathetic to an argument that the “real”/“virtual” dichotomy persistently misleads us.
Plus, the BBC reports that a tawny owl somewhere in Britain has adopted two mandarin ducklings. Since I have a special fondness for owls and mandarin ducks, I’ll post a link as soon as one turns up.

Great Start (And An Unfortunate One)

The University of Nottingham has put together Bibledex, a series of brief introductions to the books of the Bible, available through a dedicated page and also a YouTube channel. This is a magnificent step forward in practically every right way, and I fully expect to use these clips in my teaching.
“Practically every way?” I hear you ask; “How could it have been better?”
Well, for starters, the videographer seems to have retained copyright control over the clips. For an educational project, I would wish that the production be distributed under one of a variety of Creative Commons licenses. They’re not a perfect firewall against unwelcome exploitation, as Doc has reminded us more than once — but at this stage in the very awkward transition to a digitally-robust economy, it’s a benefit to cause of education (among other ideals) if educational resources are made available with an eye to the future, and that’s part of what CC licenses are about. That, and actually making more resources available to more people. And since constructive learning is the most effective and durable sort of learning, allowing people to remix the Bibledex videos would encourage learning every bit as much as, or more than, merely allowing people to watch them. (PS — make the clips easily downloadable, rather than requiring people to resort to one or another hacked solution.)
Second, and these hereafter will be “next step” suggestions more than cavils about the present implementation, I would encourage Bibledex to solicit supplementary clips to round out the picture they’re giving. Not everyone will sympathise with the angles that Nottingham’s commentators give, but Nottingham benefits if the place to go for alternative takes on the Bible remains Nottingham’s own page. So if someone at Harvard feels like producing a “No, they’re wrong” video, fine, distribute it. If someone at Aberdeen wants to make a “And another thing” video, again, look for it at Nottingham’s own site. The more the merrier, and the better for Nottingham’s standing in the digital educational economy.
Third, encourage people to produce other-media complements to this project. A Bibledex textbook (open-source, of course) would be a natural outgrowth of the project. Charts and illustrations, bibliographies and reviews, and handsomely-produced digital editions of as many relevant texts as they can compile and mark up. Give teachers and learners more stuff with which to explore, analyse, get interested and active, and all under a banner raised by the University of Nottingham. Sounds like it’s win, win, win to me.

Now, the unwelcome start. It turns out that Margaret’s transatlantic flight was cancelled, not because of marauding ash clouds, but because of good old-fashioned bad weather. She would have been rebooked for Monday — losing five days of visit and the cost of lodging, attendant transportation complications, and so on — but decided simply to buy a whole new ticket to fly out today, arriving tomorrow. It’s all quite stressful, and neither of us needed these additional concerns on top of having been apart for eight weeks or so, and not seeing one another again till the end of July, and Margaret having closed out the Baltimore chapter of her life, and her having to redistribute, store, give away, and ship our possessions from the Durham garage where Clay and Sarah have been so patiently tolerating them. Sorry for complaining; lots of people have more dire problems. These are ours, though, and they’re rather irksome.


As it turns out, my colleague from Com Lit was captivated by Fun Home when I showed it to her, so I’m on her list to give three lectures next spring in the Level One course “Woman as Hero.” (This makes about the tenth copy of Fun Home I’ve sold for Alison Bechdel, plus all that we’ll sell as required reading for a 140-student course.)
We tentatively decided that I’d give lectures on (1) the unfolding of identity, foregrounding Alison as the detective/analyst/explorer of what the family had suppressed; (2) fathers and daughters, on the way Alison’s identity and her father’s diverge, converge, conflict, and generally complicate one another; and (3) on how Alison changes from young girl to the authorial voice that narrates the tragi-graphic-autobiography. It’ll be boatloads of fun, especially since I have months before I actually have to give the lectures!

Meeting Stanley

Wunderkammer online magazine has posted an interview — with video clips — of Stanley Hauerwas, who was my theology professor during my doctoral work, and who is working with Margaret on her dissertation. The interview marks the publication of Stanley’s autobiography, Hannah’s Child. Many of us think it’s a pretty peculiar thing for Stanley to do, writing an autobiography; but his long-time insistence on the importance of narrative for identity perhaps sheds light on the rationale.
The interview doesn’t reveal startling or unexpected aspects of Stan’s persona, but it certainly sounds like him. Stanley talks a lot, speaks freely and directly, and the things he says sometimes benefit from the added context and nuancing of his more developed writings. till it would be impossible to overstate the scope of his influence on Margaret and me, both directly through his roles as teacher and adviser, and (especially) indirectly, through the sorts of readings toward which he steered us, and through his attentive appreciation of our own work. Most of all, a gift beyond compare, he has entwined our lives with a company of the best friends a soul could ask for.
Not everyone likes Stan, not everyone agrees with him, and heaven knows his best students frequently depart markedly from what he himself argues (though truth obliges me to note that he has had students who treated his doctrines with oracular authority). But I can’t think of more than one or two scholars for whom I have greater combination of fondness and respect; he puts the pieces of his identity together brilliantly, and (especially to his credit) he tries not to insulate himself from criticism of his faults. Someday I’ll probably get around to reading his autobiography, but for now I don’t feel as though I need to — it’s been kneaded into me.

The Art of Political Wagering

I make no pretense of being a pundit relative to politics, but it does tickle me when part of my UK election proposal comes true. First, Labour did very poorly (check!); second, Tories have the most votes (check!); third and fourth, Gordon Brown constitutes a liability for Labour and resigns (check! check!). Now, if only Labour sees the value of not putting their fingerprints on the PM’s office for the next few months. . . .
BBC, I’m at home, waiting for my clip-on mike!
(Meanwhile, would pols and commentators please stop misusing the word “majority”? I’ve heard that word abused repeatedly for the past five days.)

Colonial Mothers’ Day

I have known a few mothers in my day, and I venture to say that it wasn’t an easy vocation for any of them. I could reel off a litany of the burdens that mothers bear, but it would lean too comfortably on the obvious; even more onerous than labour and childbirth and dirty diapers and midnight feedings and so on, though, must be the obligations so ingrained into the ways that cultures work, that we who inhabit those cultures can’t even see them. Indeed, there must be trials in motherhood that even mothers themselves can’t articulate, invisible splinters of duty jabbing mercilessly into the pace of daily expectation, foreclosed possibilities leering mockingly at aspiration.
I can’t say enough for mothers — for my mother (Hi, Mom!), Margaret’s mother, for my dearly beloved Margaret herself, prospectively perhaps for some of the other women to whom I’m related — but I can and must say: For what I do not understand, for what I’ve taken for granted, for what I’ve appreciated cursorily, for precisely the graces you have offered me and all of us, one day a year is but a window into the lifetime of thanks I offer to Margaret, Nancy, Pat, and all of you. Bless you, thank you, I’m sorry, and bless you and thank you all over again for not clobbering me over the head with the scale of your commitment and determination, and the 364-day years that go by without anyone saying, “How lovely, that you give so much to being a mother!”

Studying Heroes

The Comp Lit Department here teaches a two-part course for first-year students. The first part is “Heroic Men”; the second, “Heroic Women.” I was trading emails the other day with the convenor of the course, who had been asking for suggestions for texts about heroes they might use for the course. I noted that possibility of studying a record album as text; the examples that came immediately to mind were Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust and the Who’s Tommy and Quadrophenia.
So, the assignment (for those who choose to accept it) is to think of other albums that constitute teachable works, that depict a heroic man or woman. I know there are some hip-hop albums about the rapper as (anti-)hero; what are the best examples, would you say? And super extra bonus points if you can think of the “heroic woman” one. I’m a little dazed this weekend, but I haven’t come up with one yet.

Parliament And Me

I’m not entitled to vote here, and if I were I would be a non-voter on principle. Still, the UK election has provided a fascinating contrast to my years of observing US elections. Although the outcome of this particular election doesn’t point toward a government with which I’d be likely to sympathise, I am pleased to see a hung Parliament, within which people will actually have to work with one another.
In my district, Glasgow North, my vote (were I a voter) would probably have gone to Angela McCormick, the fighting Socialist. Sadly, she only got 287 votes, fewer even than the neo-fascist BNP candidate (296). I don’t know much about the Green candidate, and both Tory and Labour candidates were right out (Tory just in general, Labour because she staunchly defended the revolting Digital Economy Act). That leaves the Lib Dems and the Scottish National Party (and the Greens). I don’t know which way I’d have voted between them, but if I didn’t vote Socialist I’d have been tempted to vote Lib Dem to get someone besides Ann McKechin (Labour) into Parliament. But all that is strictly, multiply hypothetical anyway.
I see benefits to hung Parliament, but I’m uneasy about (if you excuse this way of putting it) the way it is hung. As things stand, there is but one Tory seat in Scotland. I can’t see this ending well under the most likely scenario (Cameron somehow puts together a government), since any cuts to Scotland will taste like English Conservatives serving their (unrepresented in government) Scots serfs bread and water. Wales’s vote is more evenly distributed, and I don’t know how the Northern Irish seats align themselves. But unless something remarkable happens, the UK is in not only for hard economic times, but also for some pretty awkward political maneuvering for the next few years.

Temps Perdu

Over the internet lifetimes I’ve been online, people have coalesced and drifted apart many times over. One of the cool moments comes when someone figures out a way to deploy new technologies to bring together a community from a while back. Through a variety of means, I’ve fallen back in touch with Sean Bonner, and I noticed a tweet from him the other day saying
seanbonner Just rocked some new @intelligentsia Bolivian beans in my Clever coffee dripper. Worked pretty nice!
I skipped the stage of remonstrating with him about adverbs, I noticed his endorsement of the Clever Coffee Dripper, and (since I had never heard of such a thing) I looked into it. I was impressed that it seemed to promise to ameliorate the things I dislike about a French press (disposing of grounds, and grit in the bottom of the cup) without the drawback of standard filtration systems (coffee doesn’t brew, it makes friends with the water and influences the water to be more coffee-like on its way through the filter).
So I was convinced by the premise of the Clever approach, but in the first place I already have a French press and a filter cone thingy, and in the second instance I’m trying to economise, and in the third instance. . . I’ve still got a hacker streak in me. So I looked around the kitchen and asked myself how I could realise the benefits of the Clever approach with the materials at hand.
Voilà! I pour the coffee and boiling water together into a Pyrex measuring cup, and cover the cup with a plate. After the coffee has brewed sufficiently, I pour it through the filter into my mug. Brewing + filtration = no grounds-disposal problem, no grit, full flavour, and the satisfaction of having done it yourself.