Monthly Archives: July 2012

On A Lighter Note

I commend to your attention the Hebridean Celtic Festival BBC webcast of live performances by Admiral Fallow (if you don’t know of them yet, pay special attention so that you can out-hipster your hipster friends) and the Proclaimers, among others. (As far as I can make out, there’s no embedding, alas.) Just two days left to watch it, before the BBC relegates the video to their dusty archives.
 

Come Now, Let Us Reason Together

In the aftermath of the Episcopal Church (USetc)’s General Convention, there’s been a flurry of breast-beating, moaning, finger-pointing, boasting, and other edifying demonstrations of ecclesiastical vitality (or not) in the various social media sites. So far, my favourite has been George Conger’s riposte to the Wall Street Journal’s slimy mendacity about General Convention, since Conger is by no means carrying water for the ECUS& establishment. But no sooner had most readers agreed that you get what Rupert Murdoch pays for when you read a financial red-top, than Ross Douthat stirred things up again by musing that (with specific attention to the Episcopal Church (US&) ) ‘liberal Christianity’ might not be able to survive; and then my grad-school classmate Diana Butler Bass parried that without liberal Christianity, the whole enterprise might not survive. Add in all the various supporters and detractors, and one can sympathise with Rachel Held Evans’s plea that people remember that not everyone has to belong to a partisan ‘side’.
 
As an observer, it seems that several points are being bandied about as though they all lined up tidily to separate sheep from goats. It ain’t necessarily so.
 
First, let’s please stop treating attendance statistics as simple indicators. They’re not by any means irrelevant, not a bit, but if I had a savings account, I’d bet a sizable portion of it that you could shift those attendance figures considerably just by making clergy into better preachers. Regardless of whether they’re preaching the true gospel, a false gospel, justice and equality, holiness and traditional sanctity, one can almost certainly improve attendance by recruiting and training better preachers. So if all you want to do is boost your attendance statistics, there’s a (non-partisan) way to increase attendance. Of course, that also suggests that attendance per se isn’t a very revealing test — but tackling the preaching deficit might enable you to game the system and claim something about your parish, or your side, or whatever.
 
Second, the rush toward cheerleading for one side and finger-wagging at the other side underscores a different problem (again, for any ‘side’). Rather than upholding deliberation, humility, respect for difference, and determination to seek truth and to support desperately needy, injured, oppressed people, a very great many people opt to stand on sidelines waving pom-poms for one side and taunting the other side.
 
Third, contra Ross Douthat, liberals have been doing theology over the past decades. But pro Douthat, that theological reflection has tended to allow itself to drift increasingly from points of orientation by which Christian faith can readily be distinguished from cultural humanism. So on one hand, it boots not to say ‘You haven’t done your homework!’ nor to respond ‘Oh yes we have!’ Douthat reasonably asserts that ‘liberals’ tend to relax their allegiance to the discrimen (‘a configuration of criteria…’) by which one recognises sound Christian teaching; and responses to Douthat say “Captivity to tradition is the problem!’ — but that’s not an argument against Douthat’s concern that ‘liberals’ don’t hew close to the Christian doctrinal tradition, it’s an affirmation of it.
 
Fourth, neither ‘we have to update doctrine’ nor ‘we mustn’t change anything’ bears a demonstrable causal relation to attendance numbers. You can sell people bottled tap water, my friends; you could fill a church with fiery social activists, or you could fill a church with entrenched doctrinaires, but neither proves anything about what the gospel is or should be — any more than the popularity of Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted shows that it’s a better film than Moonrise Kingdom. You can’t prove church teaching with attendance numbers, can’t, can’t, can’t. (I will offer a tip: the New Testament, if one still regards that as relevant, offers several lists of characteristics by which to identify the presence and effects of the Spirit. ‘Big attendance numbers’ doesn’t appear on any of those lists.)
 
Fifth, as a Christian theologian, I believe that the soundness of theological teaching does indeed manifest itself over the long run. That doesn’t imply that the churches should teach only what has been handed down from long ago; the church has changed its mind, and the church has erred, not only in their living and manner of ceremonies, but also in matters of faith. There is no way to guarantee that you’re not off-base. On the other and, if you adhere to what millennia of the saints have taught and believed, you’re a least somewhat less likely to be found in error than if you decide that you’re going to think it all up on your own, taking as fundamental a set of political and philosophical ideas developed over the last couple hundred years. The Enlightenment wasn’t A Bad Thing, but neither was it the dawning of the messianic era. If there’s something you want to identify with Jesus, or Christianity, then your argument is stronger if you can actually give numerous reasons for making that identification; and the more such reasons that you can provide, the stronger the theological argument. And if you want to repudiate a great deal of what is plausibly associated with Jesus and Christianity, it’s not unreasonable for people to question the extent to which your enterprise is still ‘Christian’.
 
I won’t set myself up as a prophet who speaks God’s mind and adjudicates conflicts among ‘liberals’ and ‘conservatives’ relative to the vitality of churches. On strictly secular grounds, though, I can assure people who laud shallow theology and deprecate reasonable criticism that they’re selling sackcloth as silk, and that’s not a recipe for long-term viability. It’s not a family trade you want to hand down to your children. Cheerleading and finger-wagging help you sort out who’s on your side and who’s not, they make for great pep rallies, but they don’t obviate the need to do something wisely and well.
 

Foo’baw Flash

The Scottish Premier League has evidently decided to welcome Dundee from Division One to replace the New Rangers — rather than allowing relegated Dunfermline a reprieve for this year. This is not, of course, the last word on the topic; Dunfermline is threatening to sue (with the year they had last year, I’d think they would welcome the chance to win a game or two returning to Division One).
 
Barring further changes, we now have a sense of how the Scottish leagues and divisions will line up next year: Rangers in Div Three, Stranraer in Div Two, Airdrie United in Div One, Dunfermline in Div One, Dundee and Ross County in the Premier League. For all the fuss and bother over these developments, I hope that the coming year allows more interesting stories than just which Old Firm team is doing what; I think Scottish football stands to benefit immensely from opening up the seasons to more unforeseen results.
 

Alcove Of The Others

Friday, Meg asked me whether the next installment of my fountain pen photos would take visitors to the Great Hall of Sheaffer — knowing that the Great Hall is the largest room in the gallery. That would make sense, but if I opened up the Sheaffer Hall today, then next week’s tour of the oldest chamber of my fountain pen museum would be anticlimactic. No, today we tour the oldest part of the museum, the Alcove of the Others, and later we’ll enter the Great Hall.
 
When I first began plucking pens from eBay, I was impressed with Pelikans. Margaret had given me a Pelikan years ago when we lived in Princeton (now, very sadly, lost in one move or another), and heaven knows they’re elegant and noble. With some attention to sales patterns, I ended up with a Pelikan 120 (with rather a lot of brassing on the gold furniture), a nice Pelikan 140, a Pelikan M400, and a Pelikan M800 in red stripes. After the M800, I realised I was out of my depth — Pelikan collecting is too rich for my blood — and I’m not able to do any repair work on my Pelis. My last Pelikan came from the Raleigh Pen Show at the end of the year I lived in Durham; I had promised myself a pen show treat, and I like demonstrators, and this pen best fit the circumstances. The photo shows that I use it; it’s hard to get those last drops out without a hydrosonic cleaner! I recommend Pelis highly to anyone who can afford them and doesn’t expect to do any down-and-dirty repair work on them.
 

Rangers Recap

Last Sunday, Cedric thanked me for explaining the whole unruly Rangers saga for him — he had only picked up fragments of the story, and I helped him see the way those fit together. Since we’ve had further excitement on that front this week, it seemed good to me to narrate to you, dear Footyophilus, the further developments of the things that have been fulfilled among us.
 
When we last left the Rangers, they had been rebuffed in their application to (re)join the Premier League. This meant that, for the moment, they were a football club without a league to play in. Yesterday the Scottish Football League met to consider whether they would admit the New Rangers, and if so, in which of the three Divisions the New Rangers would play.
 
The meeting dragged on a considerable while. The minute-by-minute BBC report, interspersed with Twitter comments of selected fans, depicts bemused sympathy for anxious RFC supporters, a weary, soup-spattered reporter, and plenty of conflicting input from the by-standers. The final outcome from yesterday’s deliberations officially admitted the New Rangers into the SFL, and assigned them to Division Three. The SFL evidently decided that clubs applying to the SFL customarily start at the bottom and work up, so that should be the case for the New Rangers as well. Certainly new owner Charles Green, manager Ally McCoist, and many players and supporters had expressed satisfaction at a resolution that promised to disperse all the clouds that lower’d o’er their house.
 
The wrangling isn’t over, though. The SPL had been floating the prospect of expanding the Premiership to a larger pool (the English Premier League includes some 20 clubs, as opposed to the 12 in the SPL). That prospect doesn’t seem to please anyone but league executives and perhaps television networks; the disappearance of the Rangers, and the absence of any Old Firm games, may cut SPL television revenues considerably. (On the other hand, it may distribute revenue differently, and allow a different cadre of strong teams rise to public attention, so some teams and viewers are looking forward to Shooing the Rangers offstage.)
 
But wait! There’s still more fallout to reckon with. First, some angry supporters of Division One teams are wondering whether their leadership voted to bring Rangers into the first division. Specifically, some Partick Thistle supporters want to know if Partick voted to allow the Rangers directly in Div One; they tweet that it would be an injustice to make a special allowance to one formerly-elite club, and they have been breathing angry threats to renounce their season tickets, or worse.Partick has not, at latest report, indicated whether they voted to allow RFC into Div One.
 
Second, we still don’t know whether Dunfermline (relegated from the SPL at the end of last season) or Dundee (closest to be promoted from Division One) will become Club 12 in the SPL, in the Rangers absence.
 
Third, there have been calls for resignations in the top management of Scottish football, as the chiefs of the Premier League and the Football League have both been accused of strong-arm tactics and manipulation in favour of Rangers.
 
Finally, it’s still possible — at least in someone’s imagination — for the New Rangers to be reinstated as Club 12.
 
Sixth there’s a tricky question of sanctions on the Rangers based on the malfeasance leading to last season’s debacle and going into administration. On one hand, some have argued that the New Rangers — since the Old Rangers were dissolved and sold to the ‘newco’ ( = ‘new company’) — are entering Division Three just as any new entry into the League; thus (they argue) the New Rangers should not be penalised for the transgressions of the defunct team. It’s a new start! But on the other hand, many retort that this supposedly new team is still being called Rangers, and will play at Ibrox just as the old Rangers did, and Rangers themselves have said that they ‘bought the history’ as part of the assets that came over to the newco. Granted that this new club identifies itself so strongly with the Rangers legacy, can they reasonably claim immunity from the punishment that the old team brought on itself?
 
Tune in later for any further developments!
 

Quick Ecclesiastical Check-In

I’ve been paying altogether too much attention to going-on at the Episcopal Church USA’s triennial General Convention, and can report that in the closing minutes of today’s final session, the House of Deputies voted in the change to the canons to which I allude earlier, substituting gentler language for the process of moving from one national-ecclesial jurisdiction to another (‘released’ and ‘removed’ instead of ‘renounced’). Raisin Horn and Micah Jackson shot me news via instant message and Facebook wall that future emigrants will not be required to renounce their orders, which is a good thing.
 
And the House of Bishops kiboshed the explicit ‘pastoral provision’ of the Communion Without Baptism resolution, which had already been focused clearly on the normative precedence of baptism. That too, in my estimation, is a good thing — though I know that my colleagues hold different assessments of that development. No one, anywhere, is proposing that people actively seek out and exclude unbaptised persons; that’s a smelly red herring. The bishops (and I’m not sure what action, if any, the Deputies took) affirmed that baptism is not a matter of indifference. I’m with them.
 
And so to bed.
 

Further On Feature Request

A while back, I mentioned how desirable it would be for someone to construct a bare-bones word processor with the capacity to limit the number of typefaces in use, to limit formatting options, and so on — a very basic word processor with footnoting (and, possibly6, a defined-format bibliographic process, but that sounds like unnecessary complications). This morning I realised that a vendor such as Google or Apple or Microsoft, one that wants aggressively to increase its market share, could simply produce such a reduced-feature-set word processor for its preferred platform — quite possibly gaining a toehold among students, and winning endorsements from teachers. As far as the educational market goes, a brain-dead simple word processor is sort of a reverse killer app: not that it advances computing in a way that makes a particular platform desirable, but that it simplifies a near-universal task to the point that it would attract a lot of sympathetic attention.
 
(If one of you producers does develop such a thing, I’m available for consultation, and would only ask for a new computer as recompense. And I promise I won’t sue you even if you don’t consult me or give me a new computer.)
 

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A030, Renouncing, Releasing, And Removing

The ‘AKMA Canon’ won’t be considered at this year’s General Convention, as its proposers saw that they’d have to keep up with developments on Resolution A030 which, in effect, substitutes the verbs ‘release’ and ‘remove’ in the canons that used to involve ‘renouncing’ one’s orders. According to A030’s sponsors, ‘renounce’ seemed to carry a negative connotation (as my late father used to say, ‘Surprise! Surprise!’) and this is a more neutral formulation.
 
That’s all to the good, as far as it goes — but it still reflects a sadly narrow ecclesiology. We — many of us, anyway — understand clergy to have been ordained for ministry in a catholic church. As such, a deacon, priest, or bishop who has been duly ordained isn’t ordained solely with regard to the diocese or province within which the ordination occurred, but with and for the whole world. We understand that different expressions of Christian faith will treat our initial premise differently; Roman Catholics will not recognise Episcopal orders as valid, but Lutherans in the USA will, the Porvoo churches will recognise one another’s orders and sacraments, and Episcopal/Anglican churches around the world are presumed to recognise the orders of other Episcopal/Anglican churches. Such, at least, was the case until we started busily anathematising or just plain ignoring one another.
 
So although I took somewhat different ordination vows from those I’d have taken if Bishop Gregor had ordained me, the premise of ‘the Anglican Communion’ dictates that within this Communion, the oaths, vows, sacraments, and orders are fundamentally equivalent around the world. Up until the recent outbreak of eristic ecclesiology, Anglican/Episcopal churches suffered one another’s oddities with shrugs or winks or sighs, but without calling into question the familial relationship.
 
All of which takes the long way ’round to saying that when a priest in good standing moves from Keokuk to Oahu, she need only obtain ‘letters dimissory’ from her original bishop in order to be received as a full-fledged priest in residence on the sunny beaches. There’s no particular reason in principle that such should not be the case when one moves from Keokuk to Auchermuchty, or from Leicester to Llandaff, or from Lusaka to Kandy; Episcopal polity would imply that the collegial relation of one bishop to another suffices for assurance that Deacon Ferrar was well and truly a deacon, and could serve Bishop Harris as he had served Bishop Terwilliger.
 
So, to return to A030 and the AKMA canon, it would be desirable, both on behalf of those of us who move from one province to another and for the sake of sound catholic ecclesiology, that the US canons make explicit provision for the bishop’s entrusting an ordained person to the episcopal oversight of another bishop in another province — rather than lumping us in with clergy who truly want to renounce their orders, or who want (for more neutral reasons of which I can’t think one up at the moment) simply to be released from ordained ministry. A030 is better than making globe-trotting, missional (ooooh) clergy ‘renounce’ their orders; but obliging us to ask to be ‘removed from’ and ‘released from’ their vocational responsibilities and prerogatives still falls short of recognising that the Episcopal Church USA is a constituent part of a greater global communion, and that ECUSA clergy are ordained not just for a patch of turf between Canada and Mexico but for the whole world, and for all the ages.
 
My thanks to advocates for an AKMA Canon — maybe next triennium, eh?
 

The Esterbrook Gallery Is On Your Left

A longish time ago, my Mom gave me a fountain pen that had been knocking around her family for years. It was a handsome deep salmon colour; I think I used it a couple of times, then set it aside. The next time it occurred to me to use it, nothing seemed to work and I heard a rattling sound inside the pen. So much for that plan! I kept the pen, though, for the sake of continuity with Mom, and one day in Durham I learned that there was a guy who repairs pens, who lived right in town with me (and in fact, who worked at Duke near me). I arranged to meet Ross and to hand over the pen to him for repair.
 

Esterbrook J Dubonnet (B)
(tooth marks courtesy of one or another family dog, I believe)

 

Ross explained this Esterbrook (identification was a no-brainer, since it says ‘Esterbrook’ on the clip and the barrel imprint) was a ‘third-tier’ pen, but that it stood out for having handsome plastics, a simple, easy to maintain lever-filling system, and excellent nibs. Indeed, Esterbrook nibs are readily interchangeable, and could be obtained in a variety of styles. Esties are hard-working, durable, good-looking, excellent writers, and are still relatively easy to track down in the USA (much less so in Britain; I haven’t seen any bargain Esterbrooks, and only even seen a few that passed through Peter Crook’s hands, via South Africa). These are perfect pens for beginners to collect and repair, and so I (as a beginner) did just that.
 
Continue reading The Esterbrook Gallery Is On Your Left

Now For Something

I’m trying to put General Convention out of my mind (especially the to-and-fro over communion without baptism), so instead of inveighing people who aren’t listening me to think the way I wish they would, I’ll write about something really important. Football.
 
I’ve blogged before about the world-dividing antagonism between Celtic and Rangers; this year, that rivalry took on a new, complicated dimension. (Important qualification: in what follows, I’m going by my recollection and only occasional refernce. If I get something wrong, correct me, and I’ll fix it.) As people had known for a long time, Rangers had been overspending and at the same time not paying their taxes. This produced a well-paid team of stars who won sixteen championships in Scotland between 2000 and 2011 (Scottish League Cup, Scottish Cup, and Scottish League Championship), but as those of you with household accountancy responsibilities will quickly understand, running a cumulative deficit of as much as £134 million even while you’re winning championships is not a sustainable business model. Rangers went into administration (= US ‘bankrupt’) this year, incurring a ten-point penalty and generating a mountain of problems going forward.
 
First, the administrators had to find a buyer for the club — something of a tricky proposition, since the buyers would be saddled with staggering debts from the very beginning. Those bidding for ownership have to prove their fitness for so important a position, which rules out most of the people with millions of pounds to throw around. The bidding was somewhat haphazard, with one relatively stable offer from an apparently financially sober source, contested by a series of bids from sentimental favourites who didn’t have as much cash, or as convincing a plan for solvency, or the impeccable moral character of the eventual owner. We didn’t know who would head the club until weeks after the season’s end. Meanwhile, in order to get to the end of the season, Rangers had to elicit pay cuts from its players, who agreed to those cuts (commendably, since that helped save the jobs of many support workers); but no one’s going to voluntarily accept a lowered salary for the long term, just to display loyalty to Rangers. Many of the team’s top players have already opted to abandon sip for more lucrative options at other clubs.
 
Now, once the eventual owner was determined, the ownership had to do something with all that debt. They proposed a Company Voluntary Agreement to pay off/write off their debts, but their debtors (especially including Her Majesty’s Revenue Commission) rejected that option. Since the idea of paying off the debt pound-for-pound was laughably improbable, the new owners had to come up with another way of escaping the crippling inherited debts — so they formally dissolved the owning company of the Rangers and sold all the Rangers’ assets to a successor company (a ‘newco’).
 
But wait — it turns out that if the old Rangers were dissolved, then the New Rangers aren’t automatically entitled to take the Old Rangers’ place in the Scottish Premier League. They needed eight votes of support from the eleven remaining clubs, and it soon became clear that hardly anyone wanted to just wave Rangers through. That’s pretty understandable; Rangers have been cheating (finncially) for years, and winning championships that would presumably have been more closely-contested if Rangers had been living within their means. It’s as if the neighbourhood bully who had been stealing your milk money for years suddenly needed your support to remain in the same neighbourhood; well, of course the former victims weren’t going to vote to let the old bullies back in. Indeed, it’s a wonder that they weren’t summarily shown two fingers and told to scram, pal.
 
In the meantime, the Premier League has had to make up its fixtures (= US ‘schedule’) for next year, so they’ve built the fixtures around a yet-to-be determined ‘Club 12’. If I had a suitable bankroll, I’d have immediately ordered a whole slew of Club 12 gear so that undecided SPL supporters could show their allegiance to an undefined entity. I’ll sell you the idea for a couple of jerseys.
 
So now we have several interlocked problems: Who will Club 12 be, if not the Rangers? Where will the Rangers play? The Scottish Football League (which administers the three non-Premier divisions of Scottish football) will vote in a week on that issue. One option will be to place the Rangers in the First Division, on the premise that they really are a Premier-level club, and it would be a foolish loss to place them anywhere else. Plus, although people might sustain their loyalty and television ratings while the Rangers play one season in Division One (assuming that they will be promoted to the Premier League at the end of their first Division One season), it might injure the team and Scottish football in general too much if Rangers were relegated all the way down to Division Three. But the Division One teams are none too pleased with the prospect of Rangers just swooping in and claiming their Division championship next year; if Rangers are to be made to pay a penalty for their overspend, why should that punishment come at the expense of good Division One clubs that will (presumably) fare more poorly in the standings at the hands of the carpetbagging Rangers? So Division One doesn’t want the New Rangers. But if the Rangers are admitted to Division Three, the normal point of entry for a new football club, they’d spend years climbing back up through the ranks, losing thousands of pounds of spotlit revenues (and quite possibly many fans and season ticket-holders) along the way.
 
And the SPL has to decide whether to award Club 12 status to Dunfermline, who were relegated to Division One at the end of last season, but who arguably ‘belong to’ the SPL more than any other contender, or Dundee, who were the Division One runners-up last year, who would ordinarily be promoted to the SPL if there were another vacancy.
 
Pretty exciting, eh?
 
So with the season beginning in a few weeks, we don’t know who the constituent teams will be for three of the Scottish Leagues (no one has suggested adding Rangers to Division Two — yet). Rangers don’t know who’ll be playing for them next year, or what level they’ll be playing in.
 
So that’s taking my mind off ECUSA’s General Convention for the time being. I’ll go look at the Twitter feed sometime, but when I’m tempted to hyperventilate about the actions of the US Episcopalians, I’ll distract myself by wondering about Rangers again. Go, Jags! And hey, tomorrow we’ll be visited with Orangemen marching to commemorate the Battle of the Boyne. That’s plenty of distraction for me.
 

Banging On

Let’s say you had access to dozens, maybe even hundreds, of imaginative, brilliant, cutting-edge thinkers. Let’s say you wanted to call attention to them, and to your own enterprise, because you benefit financially from the world noticing how brilliant and imaginative they are. Let’s say that, as a matter of fact, the public acclaim for these thinkers constituted the primary capital of your enterprise. What would you do?
 
I know! Cajole them, harass them, and treat them as a problem rather than an asset!
 
Or, one could do what Chris Anderson at TED has done: bring creative thinkers together with people who want to learn from them, and make a runaway success of it. So successful, in fact, that now an advertising/media company is developing a similar programme of presentations. Imagine that! You can actually benefit from displaying smart people as they make a case for their insights, in public!
 
Hmmm, wonder which tack most university administrators take — ‘staff as problem’ or ‘staff as the main raison d’être of the university: fascinating, articulate, intelligent lovers of wisdom’?
 
Honestly, I don’t like the idea of ‘University as business’, but if it’s done thoughtfully, I can live with it. The thing that fires the incandescent fury of my exasperation comes from seeing administrators replicating all the most short-sighted, dysfunctional, demonstrable failures of managerialism — ‘Dumbest Flops of the Management Fads’ — in the name of making the university run like a business. No, you’re making it run like a cumbersome bankrupt cadre of pointy-haired managers. Where’s the Golgafrincham B Ark when you need it?