I was pushing the sash of the window back up yesterday, and the windowshade fell down squarely on the bridge of my nose. I now have an angry red bruise on my nose, and it hurts. I’m just saying.

Now, to the point. This week has drawn together a variety of my interests. I’ll be talking to our Gospel Mission class tomorrow morning about Krazy Kat, I think — we need to talk about culture, purity, contamination, and authenticity, and George Herriman may provide an entree to my efforts to queer the concepts of purity and authenticity.

I was talking to Josiah about the topic last night over dinner, and he pointed me to Scott Kurtz’s recent plea to Bill Amend (“rhymes with ‘Raymond,’ ” Pippa sternly admonished us several times). I reciprocated by pointing him to the speech by Bill Watterson to which Kurtz alludes at the beginning of his post. (And as I type, the Bonzo Dog Doodah Band is playing “Mickey’ Son and Daughter” in the background — it’s that kind of day).

Meanwhile, the most recent issue of the Society of Biblical Literature’s imaginatively-named Forum (to which there’s evidently no distinctive entry-page or archive, alas) features two short essays on the Bible and comics. Greg Garrett writes about allusions to biblical myths in superhero comics, and G. Andrew Tooze cites instances in which a Bible appears in superhero comics. I’m delighted that they’re bringing these topics to scholarly attention, although both tend strongly toward the “Look! There it is!” genre. Of course, there’s a ton more to be said about this general phenomenon; we could start by discussing comics other than superheroes (both articles not only omit mention of other sorts of comics, but treat the superhero subgenre as though it were a privileged representative of the medium — a highly problematic gesture not only for what it neglects, but also for its tendency to play to dismissive observers’inclination to write off comics as a playground for adolescent power fantasies). We should likewise go beyond exercises in Bible-spotting toward a more adventurous analysis of what’s going on when [superhero] comics show us a Bible, or invoke a biblical trope.

All of this is progress, though. People are beginning to think provocative things in public, even in the field of biblical scholarship. Guild disciplinarian Ignatzes may lob bricks at us, but krazy interpreters have begun to claim some off-center discursive terrain from which to renew interpretations with strange fire.

More on Digital Distribution

When power meets resistance, the step that seems most logical, or obvious, or necessary usually entails amplifying the coercive force that power can bring against the resistance. History suggests that this tactic doesn’t succeed well enough to justify its status as “necessary,” or “obvious,” or even “logical.”

I’m not thinking about Iraq, or Star Wars (the plot of the film; in a sense, I am talking about the film as an entity), or Lord of the Rings (ditto); this afternoon, I’m thinking about the recording distribution companies’ escalation of their battle against technology. Recently, the RIAA launched a mind-bogglingly high-stakes lawsuit against, a Russian enterprise that takes advantage of Russian laws to distribute digital music recordings at a cost vastly lower than that required by (for instance) the iTunes Store. As best I understand it — and I’m likely to be missing important elements — Russian law treats the transmission of music recordings over the Net as equivalent to the transmission of music recordings by radio waves; hence, for the equivalent of a customary licensing fee of a few cents, a Russian “broadcaster” can legally “transmit” a digital version of “Stardust” to your hard drive. then charges its subscribers on a per-megabyte scale, so that a lower-quality copy of “Oops, I Did It Again” might cost about fifteen cents (though one could order a higher-quality copy — higher quality of encoding, that is, not an improvement on the music — for proportionately more).

OK, let’s bracket the arguments over whether the peculiar circumstances of the music-performance industry between the invention of the Edison cylinder and the Napster revolution constitute an eternal model of how the financial arrangements for rewarding artists and distributers must be organized. Let’s note several pertinent facts.

First, seems to be wildly successful. Moreover, it’s success hasn’t cost RIAA companies a penny in direct costs — so that (speaking rough equivalences) if the RIAA had offered the same recordings under the same terms as its Russian counterpart, it could have collected all the profits that Allofmp3 has garnered. The RIAA is doing fundamentally the same thing as Allofmp3, but Allofmp3 is doing it for less money, and in a way that responds better to customers’ interests (more flexible recording options, with no intrusive DRM). Yes, there would be server and bandwidth costs, but Allofmp3 faces those costs, too. Yes, there would be issues with how much one pays performers, but that’s always a problem for the music recording industry. My point is that if the RIAA companies offered the same service that Allofmp3 has offered, they would have stood to make a lot of money that they have lost. (Imagine how much business they’d have done if Allofmp3 weren’t less well-known, operating in a country whose security environment makes credit-card transactions a risky proposition.) Note that people are going out of their way to pay for an insecure-but-currently-legal alternative to simply downloading music without paying from the numerous file-sharing networks.

Second, they could have done so for a long time. Allofmp3 started in 2000, according to the Times. Instead, the titans of industry have tried to hold this different business model at bay, and now are trying to quash it in favor of a business model that’s more expensive, less convenient, less flexible, and less suited to the medium in which the business is taking place. It’s as though an early recording company required that one buy a ticket to listen to a record, or sit still in a special auditorium-style seat to an entire unit of music — or as though CDs weren’t allowed to hold more recordings than an LP would, and the recording must be interrupted halfway through.

Third, there’s no earthly reason for restricting this mode of transmission to music recordings. Movies, audiobooks, ebooks, all sorts of media could very simply be sold on the Allofmp3 model. Allofmp3 importantly proves that a significant proportion of possible customers would prefer to buy a recording (at a fair price) than acquire it illegally, and if the Allofmp3 model were legitimized, we have every reason to expect that sales would boom.

Fourth, all of the music enforcers’ energies (and legal expenses) will not stop, but only complicate and redirect users’ interest in obtaining recorded works at a time, a rate, a price, and in a form that they have chosen. The vast sums that the RIAA has spent on fighting file-sharing have only slowed the growth of file-sharing; they have not diminished it, and certainly have not brought it to a stop.

“But what about the artists?” The sole effective bastion behind which the RIAA rallies even modest public support involves the premise that their model alone provides for the well-being of hard-working musicians. By riposte, one might note that the RIAA is the last place one should look for conscientious concern for performers’ well being. Apart from ad industriam challenges, though, we have to un-bracket the question of how we know what constitutes a fair reward for performers’ efforts. To this, we can most forcefully respond that we can’t know in advance how the Allofmp3 model will affect compensation for performers. We can, however, note that internet buzz (fueled by file-sharing) contributes to thriving live-music performance scenes around the world. We can note that Allofmp3 apparently does pay the transmission-licensing fee, the same as if it were a radio station, so artists stand to benefit directly from sales at that rate. We can note that digital distribution at a very low cost increases the likelihood that particular selections will be bought, rather than downloaded from a file-sharing network or ripped from a physical copy of the recording. We can note that music distributers can continue the practice of offering “enhanced” packages, to encourage customers to buy the physical products as well as their digital counterparts. And we can note that as music performers were paid before the advent of recorded music, so we have every reason to expect that they will continue to be paid after the heyday of the LP model of recording sales.

The RIAA, however, would rather fight the future than cooperate with it.

Training Loaf

Last night Pippa made pita sandwiches for us. We had to shop for groceries to prepare for the feast, and we chose a brand of pitas with which we were hitherto unfamiliar. As she chopped vegetables, crumbled feta, mixed herbs, and toasted pitas, I heard her say, “Hunh!” I inquired as to the cause of her bemusement, and she said, “This must be special pita for seminarians.”

“Why, honey?”

“Because it’s perforated down the middle, to make it easier for them to practice breaking the bread.”

What’s Wrong

Let me illustrate one aspect of the problem with the current hysteria over DRM.

Tonight Pippa was telling me about Dreamgirls, which she saw with Jennifer and Mile over the break. She commented on the incident in which white artists cover [awkwardly] the Dreamgirls’ hit record, and I pointed out the SNL sketch in which the “Young Caucasians” cover Ray Charles’s “What’d I say” (“What Did I Say!?”in the Young Caucasians’ version). I pulled the laptop over to track it down on YouTube or Google video, or even for pay on the iTunes music store. NBC has successfully kept the sketch off the free channels, and hasn’t released it on iTunes.

I’m not supposing that Pippa and I had any kind of right to find that clip if we want to; I wonder, though, whether anyone profits from making us wait to see the sketch. Frankly, I’m not about to pursue that clip any further; I’d have bought it (or the show it appeared in) at a reasonable price if NBC offered it, and if it were available on one of the free services and I’d shown it to Pippa, when she enjoyed it, we might have made it a priority to buy the episode some other time. Because it’s not available, no one makes an easy dollar from Pippa and me. That just doesn’t make sense to me.


Heather sent me the following link to a Fantasy Church League, awarding points for various features of Sunday morning worship. There’s no percentage in fussing over the details of allotting points — but I can’t resist.

For instance, the “Number of Bible translations used in the sermon:” category rewards using one translation at a 10-to-1 advantage over using two to four translations; what’s with that? I’m inclined to question homiletical moves that make explicit reference to technical details of interpretation, but if a preacher uses a couple different translations, why should she lose 9 points?

The scorebook awards “1 point for each word provided in the original language (1 Bonus point if pronounced correctly)” — but make sure not to offer a different translation?

“Referring to ‘The Message’ as a translation: -100 points” Well, I can’t argue with that one.

Such categories as “Ratio of hymns to contemporary songs” and above all “Decisions” seem heavily biased toward evangelical Protestant congregations; that fits the stipulation that players choose from “2 Baptist churches, 2 Presbyterian churches, 2 Charismatic churches, 1 non-denominational church and 1 flex church (any denomination)” suggests that they don’t reckon Anglo-Catholics (or [non-charismatic] Roman Catholics, Methodists, Orthodox, Lutherans, or Congregationalists) have much of a chance. On a typical Sunday, though, St. Luke’s would get 3 points for sermon length, 10 points for sticking with one translation, 2 points for offering an audio download (it wouldn’t take much effort to make it a podcast), -30 for leftover bulletins (at a guess), 5 points for the number of hymns, 2 for a single instrument, no points for the hymn/contemporary ratio (no contemporary songs), -10 for announcements. That’s -18, on the negative strength of my leftover-bulletin estimate and the ineradicable practice of making announcements in the middle of the service. But Jeannette never calls Jesus “dude” or “buddy” (that would be -50 each time), wears a Hawai’ian shirt while preaching (-50), or moans “Mmmmm, thank you, Jesus” (-2 each time). If we allow for denominational bias — say, throw in extra points for our incense, or the healing altar at the side — and we’d do pretty well.


Margaret and I gave one another a copy of Paula Poundstone’s book, There’s Nothing in This Book That I Meant to Say for Christmas. She tickles us when she appears on Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me, and we went to see her stand-up show last New Year’s Eve.

I was reading from it last night when Pippa trundled into the room. Pip glanced down at the cover of Poundstone’s book, then up at me.

“Dad, when your write your next book” — and I register it as something of a triumph that a teenaged daughter considers it probable that her doddering dad will actually achieve anything ever again — “I think it would be better if you don’t make the cover a picture of you wearing a pink pin-striped suit with your shirt untucked.”

OK, got it. Thanks, sweetheart.

Speaking of books and Pippa, she’s furthering my subversive effort to corrupt the youth of America. She decided she’d sound out her home-school book club relative to reading David Weinberger’s My 100 Million Dollar Secret. I think that’s a great idea; they’d be a terrific, sophisticated audience for the book. You’d probably like it, too.

Continue reading “Fashionista”


Our home is back to two; I just dropped Jennifer and Margaret at the El, on their way to Midway. It doesn’t get easier to say goodbye — even as the home schedule will be more predictable.

A word of advice: Monolingual sounds like a terrific application, but there’s a serious risk that you’ll end up deleting a file upon which some other application depends. Not that I did that.

For Your Gift-Giving Consideration

I’m basking in the delight of holiday bounty — what a fantastic family! — and among the items that recently took up residence among us here, I wanted to point out three particularly neat books. Margaret and I picked up The Timechart History of the World for the family; I wish I could use it in Early Church History, because its simultaneous display of events in nineteenth-century design and typography enchants and illuminates. Of course, it would be great to fine-tune and expand it with a fuller, more precise chronology, but it’s a lovely starting-point.

This summer at the Catholic Biblical Association meeting, I grabbed a copy of Saints: A Visual Guide; it gives capsule introductions to saints who figure prominently in the church’s iconographic tradition (and it catalogues the saints’ principal symbols). Before Christmas, Margaret and I discovered Saints: A Year in Faith and Art, a similar book oriented toward the kalendar. Both these books are visually rich; I particularly relish the latter’s fussy unwillingness to acknowledge the plebian holy cards it uses as illustrations. No, in Saints: A Year in Faith and Art they’re “popular sacred images.” That makes me feel a lot more elegant about the pasteboard pictures I sometimes order from eBay.

Returns, Diminishing

The household population is shrinking again. Nate left Saturday; Si left for a week on Sunday (he’ll be back for another two weeks in a while); Mile left yesterday; Jennifer and Margaret leave tomorrow. It’s been an intense interval; eight people make a whole lot more dishes than two, especially when you throw in higher-profile menus and holiday baking. And the emotional wash has drained me.

But hey, jolly, classes are about to resume, I have more administrative responsibility than fall term, and have made little progress on my writing projects (including an essay I’d forgotten I had agreed to). Who has time to be burned out?

Oh, and I’m keeping a cold at bay.

By the way, Microsoft did not pick up on my obvious Blogarian masculinity to offer me a Vista-equipped laptop. This was a big mistake for them, since I won’t have even a vague acquaintance with Vista otherwise. If Ray Ozzie and Jon Udell want to correct their oversight and send me a Ferrari, I’m easy to find. Just saying. . . .

For My Students

I received an email notice yesterday that the latest version of Greek morphological/lexical tool Kalós has been released. Kalós does a job one wished one didn’t need, and does it very well: it analyzes forms to give the parsing information (full information for nouns, adjectives, pronouns, and verbs – including participles), with simple glosses.

It’s not perfect; it stumbled over εἶπον / eipon, the first strong aorist form I gave it (it actually stumbled first over εἶπαν / eipan; I was checking for strong aorist forms with weak aorist endings). It knows εἶδον / eidon, though, so I’m not sure why it doesn’t know εἶπον / eipon.

It’s nagware, but I think it’s worth the fee — and if you’re on a straitened student budget, you can just enter the pseudoregistration number repeatedly.

No, Really Last Words

About ten days ago, I pointed to a posting of Derrida’s last words. Margaret called my attention, this morning, to the epigraph to John Caputo’s The Weakness of God:

Mes amis, je vous remercie d’être venus. Je vous remercie pour la chance de votre amitié. Ne pleurez pas: souriez comme je vous aurais souri. Je vous bénis. Je vous aime. Je vous souris, où que je sois.

My friends, I thank you for coming. I thank you for the good fortune of your friendship. Do not cry; smile as I would smile at you. I bless you. I love you. I am smiling at you, wherever I am. (reported and translated by John Caputo, frontispiece)

OK, we can note with snarky appreciation the complexity of rival accounts of which words were Derrida’s last, and we can wonder what difference it makes when this or that constitutes one’s final articulate gestures (as opposed to “very late words, when the final words were ‘No, that hurts a lot’ ”). The two versions of his farewell actually resemble one another quite closely, and both include expressions that bear at least implicitly theological resonances — if they don’t amount to an ultimate confession of faith (in a certain way).