Conflits (Amiables) Perdus

Chris pointed out to me that our lovable madcap Saviour has been at it again, this time manifesting himself in the wood grain of the door to a “male toilet” at the local branch of Ikea, just outside Glasgow in Braehead. What makes this story unusual among the “face of Jesus seen on freezer/grilled cheese sandwich/burrito/fingerprint” stories is that I was there yesterday afternoon as the news was breaking. I observed no commotion, no rowdy pilgrims, no healings or feedings (and I could’ve used a few loaves — it was dinnertime). In fact, I didn’t see Jesus at all. I probably walked right past him without even noticing. Someone could write a maudlin country song about that, and I’d only ask for a small cut of the royalties.
I had spent £10 on a cab ride to get to Ikea because I needed a work chair for my flat, and I thought I’d pick up a laptop-height table so I could surf comfortably while sitting on the couch. Lacking a car, I had tried to order the items in question online, but o-o-o-o-o-oh no, Scots may not buy from Ikea online. So I telephoned the store, but no-o-o-o-o-o, they may not accept phone orders (you can order by phone from Edinburgh, but there’s a £60 delivery charge). I looked around for alternatives, but I didn’t see the same combination of suitable style and value, so I clenched my teeth and rode out to Braehead. (By the way, I’ve only been inside a motor vehicle twice in the last six weeks: once when I caught a ride from the man who brought the boxes of my personal effects from my office to my flat, and yesterday riding to and from Braehead. It’s weird to go from “driving somewhere pretty much every day” to “hardly ever stepping in a car.”) The cab fares to and from my flat still came in less than the fee for delivering the goods, so I came out ahead — if somewhat frustrated.
To abbreviate an already overlong story, I found Dave and Moses (the table and chair for which I was looking), and made one impulse buy:


There are still a few battle-scarred veterans of the days when the world of blogs could be set ablaze by controversies over the relative merits of soap-dispensing dish scrubbers. But sentimental guy that I am, a tear bedewed my eye as I spotted Ikea’s answer to the iconic Dishmatique, and I had to pick one up. Tonight, when I do the dishes, I will raise it high and laud the soapy name of Delacour!

Mind Reels

I’m plucking out readings for a course on interpretive method, and since it’s my job to introduce plain old historical criticism I turned to obvious prominent reference works as possible sources for readings, or for guidance in my endeavor to find other such sources.
Neither Abingdon’s Dictionary of Biblical Interpretation nor the Anchor[-Yale] Bible Dictionary has an entry under “Historical Criticism,” nor “History” (in the critical-interpretive sense), nor “Historiography” (again in the contemporary sense; the A[Y]BD has articles on Mesopotamian, Judaic, and Greco-Roman historiography).
I suppose that historical-critical interpretation is so transparently obvious that it needs no discussion?

The Other

While I was preoccupied with unpacking and conferring last week, the other (of the two topics I alluded to before) involved developments in the Google Book Empire. So, for instance, the NYTimes acknowledged the groundswell of resistance to the proposed settlement between Google and the Authors Guild, and also posed the question “Will [Digital] Books Be Napsterized?.”
For the time being, we’re all still stumbling around in the twilight of print-oriented copyright regimes. Change will come; the pressure of “napsterized” versions will contribute to that, as will consumer demand and competition, once real competition gets started. Eventually, we ought to develop a marketplace in which
  Books are published in digital-native form, without restrictive DRM;
  These digital editions are metadata-rich;
  Publishers acknowledge that in all but a very few cases, digital versions (even and especially when free) drive print sales up;
  Editions are not device-specific;
  We can concentrate on making better publications, rather than fighting over which redundant regulatory process controls them.
Someone will get there first, and benefit immensely from the market recognition. Since most of the world’s most treasured works are in the public domain, the first-comer can develop a powerhouse line of well-produced digital-print complementary editions (think Everyman’s Library or Modern Library) to support contemporary works. They’ll learn the ins and outs of production and marketplace first-hand, benefiting from their fundamental appreciation of the fact that digital publishing alters the conditions of print publishing at the same time it launches a new artery for distribution. And people will forget that this awkward intermediate phase ever afflicted us — I hope.

Pragmatics and Syntax of “Cheers”

So far as I have been able to observe, one says “Cheers!” over here:
  (a) as an alternative to “Thanks!”
  (b) as an alternative to “Goodbye”
  (c) some other times for which I can’t account
Does it work as a response to someone else’s thank-you “cheers!” as well — that is, as an alternative to “You’re welcome”? Are there other pertinent usages of which I should be aware?


Mark and Nathan both pointed me to (different versions of) this helpful story from the BBC yesterday. Swamped with unpacking and conference-going, I would have missed it entirely. I’m doing pretty well, though; the main impediments to my understanding derive from the speed with which my local interlocutors speak and the extent to which they articulate their phonemes. If I can hear the sounds distinctly, I can usually puzzle out the vowel shifts and colloquialisms. If, on the other hand, they’re talking like Brad Pitt in Snatch (link — NSFW language alert), then I’m at sea.

Glasgow and Me, Part Two

1) I was wrong about the pgipigeons. I think they just had a long weekend off when last I commented about bird life here.
2) Yes, it is usually cloudy part of every day. No, it does not usually stay cloudy all day. Yes, it rains a lot. No, it’s mostly drizzle and showers, not steady rainfall.
3) Tonight I will have my first encounter with vegetarian haggis. My father would be proud (although he would probably give me a hard time about the “vegetarian” part).
4) My back has been behaving very, very badly for the last couple of days. I’m not sure to what I should attribute this. Margaret notes that she had been keeping an eye on my back this summer (when my back is tight, I tilt a little to the right and limp, pronouncedly so when the back is actively spasming as it has been the last few days). Gary noted the clammy, chilly weekend weather, and that certainly might be part of the picture. I’ve had extra stress, as I picked up five lectures in Church History for an absent colleague. And of course, I have steady stress from being apart from Margaret and my family, and when I’m beset by such troubles they go straight to the base of my spine and form a rat’s nest of spasms. People who knew my Seabury office may remember a small colony of pots of ibuprofen and naproxen on my desk, for just such circumstances.
Then, presumably because I’m walking oddly due to the back spasms (and due to my extensive walking here, up and down hills), my leg muscles and nerves have been flaring in various odd ways.
The good news is that this morning’s walk in to work was very smooth. Whereas Monday and yesterday I had to pause now and then to stretch my back and let my legs have a break, this morning I strolled right in to work. I was supporting my back most of the way (arms crossed behind me), but no spasms, no need to pause and stretch or gasp in pain.
5) But the really good news is that my boxes from the States are scheduled to arrive this morning, and once Estates & Buildings carries them up the three long flights of stairs to my crow’s nest, I’ll have free access to my library again. Plus, I found a local “removal” firm that will swing by the office after the shippers leave, and they’ll carry my boxes to the flat for £200 less than it would have cost to ask the shippers to deliver to two points.
This means I’ll have my fall and winter clothes and outerwear at hand (a nice change from the minimalist wardrobe I packed in late July), my full complement of dress shirts and neckties, various odds and ends that I didn’t miss till they were packed, and my fountain pens and inks (the comfort food of my spare time).
6) Speaking of comfort food, I’ve been branching out from my supplemented-ramen diet (take one packet of ramen, add chopped peppers, onions, mushrooms, or frozen peas, broccoli, or corn, and faux chicken bits or faux ground beef). I’ve made supplemented soups (take one can of soup, add ingredients as above), chili (no, I really made the chili), stir-fried vegetables and rice, and I’m set to make [drum roll] my favorite pesto-and-spinach, onion, and garlic pizza. I found blank pizza shells and pesto at a local market, and now I have to make sure I can lay my hands on spinach and garlic — but oh boy, will that be great!
7) I’m feeling more at home here, bit by bit. I am very fond of Glasgow, and I look forward to feeling less tired all the time, so that I can begin exploring.

Shine A Light

It is, in the nature of the case, impossible to confirm that the questions and circumstances that the Guardian may not identify correspond to Trafigura and its tens-of-millions-of-pounds settlement with the plaintiffs who allege they were poisoned by toxic waste that Trafigura knowingly dumped. At the same time, we can look at Trafigura’s corporate track record, especially its persistent efforts to suppress disclosure of its track record, and we can draw conclusions about how likely it might be that Trafigura was behind the gag order.


The biblical-studies constituency of Blogaria is all abuzz with the startling, dismaying news that the University of Sheffield is moving to dismantle its academic program in Bible. While the UK can boast a number of strong departments in this area, once you bracket the faculties of Oxford and Cambridge, Sheffield had to rank as one of the top programs in the country — especially given its long track record of scholarship that is not just sound and reputable, but that changes the shape of the discipline itself. To the extent that I understand things — and I make no pretense of being an insider — Sheffield lost two faculty members going into last year, and then was frozen out of replacing one of those positions, then was marked down for shrinking enrollments and diminished staff (both attributable, one might think, to the prior decision to not replace departing staff), with the administrative decision that the department might not recruit or accept any incoming undergraduates.
Such a decision would in all likelihood mean the dissolution of what has been a vibrant, provocative, agenda-setting centre of scholarly deliberation. Sheffield has a recognizable brand, and an administration’s decision to gut (and eventually to kill off) one of its most distinguished, distinctive faculties suggests a degree of managerial myopia that would make even David Brent or Michael Scott recoil in horror.
It’s not clear whether the resulting uproar will change anything; when managers commit to ill-considered programs, they often stick resolutely to their plans rather than acknowledge a misstep. Still, I could hardly be more startled or disappointed. If anything, Sheffield’s leadership should have seen an opportunity to reinforce and enhance the standing of the Biblical Studies program, which would still have an exceptional core staff of scholars in Hugh Pyper, Diana Edelman, and James Crossley. Rather than taking the opportunity to lead from strength, the University seems bent on eliminating one of its strong points, for reasons that remain unclear in the larger institutional perspective.
Not for the sake of Hugh and Diana and James, nor for the sake of the students do I ask that Sheffield reverse course on this ill-starred maneuver, but for the sake of the decision-makers whose records will forever show that they chose to dismantle a front-rank program that helped put Sheffield on academic maps, and used the savings to buy legal pads and paper clips.