Memo to Copyright Holders

As Dean reminded me in a whimsical email the other day, people pay ludicrously inflated prices for water.

Free downloading doesn’t spell the end of payment-for-creativity. It changes the marketplace — but observe that it’s the oligopolists who still make money from selling water.

There is and will continue to be a viable business in the packaging and distribution of movies, music, books, whatever. “Viable,” that is, for operators perceptive and nimble enough to negotiate the change in the ecology of commerce.

Schweitzer, Cahill, and Wojtyla

Albert Schweitzer’s Quest of the Historical Jesus (whose German title, Geschichte der Leben-Jesu-Forschung, is much less dashing and merchandisable — older English edition available online here) includes the memorable line, “[H]ate as well as love can write a Life of Jesus, and the greatest of them are written with hate. . .” [my emphasis]. Why? Because

[i]t was not so much hate of the Person of Jesus as of the supernatural nimbus with which it was so easy to surround Him, and with which He had in fact been surrounded. They were eager to picture Him as truly and purely human, to strip from Him the robes of splendour with which He had been apparelled, and clothe Him once more with the coarse garments in which He had walked in Galilee.
And their hate sharpened their historical insight.

I remembered Schweitzer’s premise this morning when Micah pointed me to the op-ed in this morning’s New York Times by Thomas Cahill. I don’t know whether Cahill hates the late John Paul II, but his focused dissatisfaction certainly sheds a less flattering light on a figure regarding whom the opinion-makers have given a genial thumbs-up.

Cahill’s dyslogy over the sleeping Pope doesn’t only venture to strip away the flattering robes of splendor from a many-faceted theologian, activist, and politician; it also reveals one of the problems with Schweitzer’s axiom. Schweitzer notes that hatred of Jesus’ sanctity costs its sponsors their livelihood, their social standing, the satisfaction of seeing their work commended and advanced by sympathetic colleagues; Jesus research born of hatred was incorruptible, since it brought no rewards but only obloquy. Cahill’s denunciation, though, costs him little or nothing — and one may fairly wonder about the extent to which the holy martyrs of historical-Jesus research found their notoriety quite so odious as they enthusiastically advertised.

Yes, John Paul II showed a proclivity for promoting sympathizers; I don’t know enough to assess the extent to which he represents an extreme in this regard, but I’m confident that he didn’t promote only cardinals whom he could count as yes-men, and I guess that other popes may have tended to promote sympathizers as well (though they didn’t have as long a tenure with which to define the whole College of Cardinals). I doubt that the John Paul whom millions of people are flocking to venerate in death is ultimately responsible for the attendance levels in Roman Catholic parish churchs, and I see some congregations that appear to be flourishing. Perhaps distaste for one’s subject brings not only critical historical insight, but also a different, opposite sort of blindness. Cahill’s attempts to write historical work (I’m thinking of Desire of the Everlasting Hills, a shoddy work of wishful historical thinking, and of the romanticized picture of early church decision-making in the later paragraphs of his op-ed — notice Cahill’s unaccountable knowledge of St. Peter’s “frequent and humble confession that he was wrong”).

Maybe antipathy and sympathy emerge in almost everything that human creatures endeavor, and maybe we ought not be shocked, shocked, to learn that there is partisanship in papal appointments or historical retrospect.


Margaret arrives tomorrow for the weekend, huzzah!

This evening, after three and a half years of hard service, my TiBook encountered disaster: the bezel around the screen cracked through at the hinge. It’s sitting, open, on the dining room table. Who knows what’ll happen.

This year’s Biblical Theology class is using a blog for extramural discussion of our thematic sessions and case studies. I’ve included several Seabury alums in the discussion, and tonight post an entry about how Gilbert and Sullivan illuminate narrative theology.

But really, it’s rather late, I’m tired, and I must figure out the destiny of the trusty TiBook.

Dawn Breaks On Marble Head

I experienced an epiphany this weekend, a bleated epiphany, and not the liturgical-kalendar type. I saw at a glance how the social discursive physics effects a Gresham’s Law of reasoned argument on controversial topics.

I had been wondering how prominence in media (and in arrant defiance of Jeneane’s strictures, I’ll say both MSM and Blogarian media) (by the way, our prayers and best wishes are with you and George and Jenna today, Jeneane) correlates to genuine agreement. That is, do people who associate with/apparently approve of/link to (with positive vote links) Extreme Representatives really hold to everything the spokesperson advocates?

Well, in short, no.

Let’s say we have two parties. I could call them “Cyan” and “Orange,” but readers would eventually make them out to be liberals and conservatives anyway, so I’ll just tag them Left and Right, and add that nothing I am about to say amounts to an unambiguous attribution of characteristics to anyone. I’m working something out, and just at the beginning.

Now, let’s say I belong (roughly) to the Left side of an argument, but that I see some of the wisdom behind a Right way of looking at the problem. The hard-core Lefties have an interest in masking my respectful dissent (it might lend aid and comfort, and it might erode the univocity of Left support), so while they may acknowledge my conclusions — “He’s one of us” — they have a definite reason to ignore my arguments. Likewise, the hard-core Right has reason to ignore my arguments, since if I can appreciate their premises and still arrive at Left conclusions, I might persuade some otherwise loyal Rightists to change their minds. The same applies, backwards, to the Rightists; both parties benefit from the appearance of unanimity, regardless of the realities behind the appearances.

Moreover, each partisan center benefits from eliding the differences among their opposite numbers, to the extent that the more monolithic the opponents seem, the more important unanimity and solidarity on “our” side of the problem become. Again, this helps account for the over-simplification of controversial discourse: the more vigilantly a partisan stays on message (“inclusiveness” or “no gay agenda” or whatever), the less the risk that any of the possible divisions, nuances, disagreements within the partisan bloc will distract ardent supporters.

So, for instance, if I were to lambaste the Left for a repetitive, shallow, anti-intellectual institutional practice that sacrifices depth of reasoning in order to maintain a comfortably superficial, appealing message of “inclusiveness,” — whereas all too often the Right actually mounts awkward things like arguments to ground their case — neither Left nor Right could afford to notice the critique.

(Now, it’s always quite likely that I’m just a clanging gong unworthy of attention; that’s not by any means ruled out. For the purposes of argument, though, I’m supposing that the criticism in question rests on some sound evidence.)

By the same token, if I were to call to attention some problems on the Right’s side, or propose ways forward that don’t play into the all-or-nothing will-to-power games of who wins and who loses, we should not expect Extreme Spokespeople to attend. They’re already affirmed by their own (carefully groomed) constituencies, and they’re awfully busy. Who has time to wrangle details when so much is at stake, and when the people with good sense have already endorsed the urgency of Our Side’s struggle?

So I no longer expect anyone to pay much attention when I point out the loose threads in various sides’ positions.

On That Day

On the day that someone decides there’s a benefit (whether temporal or eternal) to gathering up, encouraging, and promoting reasoned theological reflection online, they’ll need to name Fred “Slacktivist” Clark as their first columnist. (I’m not saying I’d turn down an invitation if they hadn’t tapped Fred first, but I’d nag them at every staff meeting.)

I’ve linked to his page-by-page reviews of the dire literary and theological cataclysm that constitutes the Left Behind franchise (now regularized, we hope, as a weekly Friday feature), but really, I’ve never known him to post a trivial or ill-considered idea.

How Can This Be?

The morning was frantic, as usual; I was behind on some academic obligations, and am always behind in personal communication, and the sermon wasn’t quite set. I was supposed to bring over incense from our personal stock to use at Seabury’s Annunciation mass, but I forgot so I had to go home and pick it up, etc. etc., etc.

But the time came, I squared away my very most pressing administrative debts, checked in with my sweetheart, burnished the sermon (appended below) with some coherence and precision, and the service went well. Seabury doesn’t usually practice quite elaborate liturgy, so we negotiated some unplanned dialogues and maneuvers. God was praised, the congregation fed, and now I’m only just ordinarily behind, which feels almost like a vacation this afternoon.
Continue reading “How Can This Be?”


I’ve been wrestling with tomorrow morning’s sermon for the Feast of the Annunciation (well, they’re supposed to be no more than five minutes, so “homily” would be a more precise term). (I know that Annunciation comes on March 25, but it had to be transferred out of Holy Week, so this year it’s observed tomorrow.) I had a very vivid idea of what to do yesterday, at the installation of our new priest-in-charge at St. Luke’s, but on reflection it seems a bit too vivid in the mode I originally imagined for it. I need to rework the beginning bit so as to evoke the premise less explicitly; the conclusion can be pretty direct, but the opening needs to unfold more gently.

So while I try to work that out, I’ll tell you what Pippa and I thought of at the supermarket yesterday. We walked down the aisle with office supplies, to see whether I needed any of the goodies for my new digs, and as we surveyed the offerings, we noticed the clock array. “In this era of consumerism,” we thought, “are there any superficialities that haven’t been taken advantage of? Maybe just one. . . .”

“What if you sold special clocks pre-adjusted for Daylight Savings Time?” (You can sell the “Standard Time” models in the fall, and can quickly branch out into special clocks pre-adjusted for each time zone, too.) Now, don’t tell us that American consumers are too sophisticated for an idea such as that — Pip and I just take our cues from the advertising industry.

Her Own Tag

I was chatting with Joi this morning to thank him for his [qualified] endorsement, and he wished there was an RSS feed just for posts that involve Pippa (I’m setting aside what that (and the “usually”) imply about the rest of my posts).

At first, I thought that I should break down and begin using the MT Categories, but I’ve never liked those much. I pointed out that I tag Pippa’s pictures on flickr with her name, so he can subscribe to that feed anyway.

Then it occurred to me: I checked to see whether anything but her pictures showed up when I treated her name as a Technorati tag; no, no other “Pippa”-tagged posts or pictures. So I went back, tagged the last few posts that involved her, and now the world of Pippa fans can subscribe to the RSS feed of the Technorati tag page for Pippa. And you other Pippas of the world, sorry, you’ll have to devise modifiers for your own tags.

[Update: I’m going through the archives and adding tags now for Josiah and Nate — will work one up for Margaret sooner or later.]

F-Bombs and S-pletives — Nuts!

Since the Freedom to Connect conference concerned itself (among other things) with the FCC’s recent Reign of Prudery, many speakers went out of their way to emphasize their points with emphatic profanity. More than once, the speaker accompanied that with an explicit (or muttered) apology to me, as though I were unaccustomed to hear such language. (They don’t spend enough time around seminarians and teenagers — though Pippa tsk-tsks Si when his language turns colorful). Word: I’m not that fragile. Profanity provides vivid prose with some of its most vivid moments, especially when the profanity is well-rendered (though I’m not convinced that Matt really needed to adopt a metaphor that implies that men uniquely possess the physiology for technological innovation. . . ).

What Then Of Boasting?

What of boasting? It is committed.

Josiah has heard from schools number two through four among his five applications, and Two College and Three College both wait-listed him, and Four College admitted him with a generous offer. That leaves Five College, a sort of wild-card; but not only is he a wanted undergraduate, but he’s wanted by more every institution to which he applied, and two of them want him enough to admit and fund him. You go, boy!

Margaret’s getting positive feedback from all around her; she’s doing great work in her classes, thinking hard with her profs and a wonderfully positive presence for her colleagues. She and Nate are studying hard and doing well, though since they’re both in remote locations, and since academic work involves fewer obvious occasions for laud, but they’re both spectacular.

Pippa continues making wonderful images with paint and pen and keyboard (Margaret and I cherish her email messages). At F2C, Dave isenberg brought out a t-shirt he’d been given by his print shop; it read in big letters, “God Bless America,” with an American flag imprint. He reckoned that the clergy delegate was the right conferee to get the shirt, so he threw it out to me. (This story does get back to how proud I am of Pippa.) I sat with the shirt displayed beside me through Thursday’s program, and brought it home, uncertain of what should become of it. When I explained the situation to the family, Pippa quickly pointed out some of the theo-political problems with the shirt; her first reaction was that it should be a prayer, but that instead it reads as a command. But she volunteered to take it, perhaps to wear inside-out or use for her painting shirt. Fifteen minutes later she came back. . . .

Pippa Fixes Her Shirt

I’m so proud of them, it makes my heart pound. What, as Dick Leonard says, did I do to deserve this? [Don’t worry; you probably don’t know Dick. But he always used to say that when he lived with us, so the family always quotes him.]

Height of Absurdity

Clay “They Ought Know Better Than To Mess With Me” Shirky calls in to Boing Boing with a demonstration of the corrupt incoherence of writing copyright protection into hardware and software.

Yes, those who make our lives marvelous with their creativity must be supported.
Yes, the advent of digital reproduction changes the fundamental conditions that apply to such support.

No, that does not mean perpetuating obsolete mechanisms to protect the vestiges of a [deliberately dysfunctional] legacy system of distribution and rewards.