Spectacular News

Joi Ito — one of my old-time Web pals — has been named Executive Director of the MIT Media Lab. Here’s his own blog about it, here’s the NY Times story, and here’s MIT’s press release.
It’s always exciting when the Good Guys win one, and Joi is a Good Guy par excellence. Moreover, since Good Guys often get chewed up and spat out by positions in academic administration, he’s both savvy and well-connected, uniquely able to build the sorts of alliance that will benefit the Media Lab in the long and short runs. And Joi has demonstrated the capacity to recognise opportunities and risks better than most people.
I’m thrilled as can be that Joi will be occupying this nexus of innovation, exchange, intellectual effervescence, and social transformation. Ding!

Bracciolini vs Valla

“This profane man hates Holy Scripture so much that he claims much in it is not written correctly!” (Bracciolini, Opera 1:199, cited in Henning Graf Reventlow, History of BIblical Interpretation Volume 3, p. 16)
Valla responds, “What, then, is… Holy Scripture. Is not everything an interpretation of the Old and New Testaments? It is even multifaceted and diverse and highly contradictory one to another.” (Antidotum, no further source, cited in Reventlow, p. 16)

Yes, Indeed!

Someone asked me today whether I’m that fellow who blogs, and I admitted that I am. But that means I have to blog now and then, so here’s me blogging. It’s not much, but it’s the thought that counts.
I heard some very exciting news yesterday, which news (embargoed, don’t bother asking) dovetails with my increasingly urgent interest in seeking a mega-grant to back a disruptive-digital-publishing venture (along lines complementary to Wharton Digital Publishing or various of the great Hugh McGuire’s ideas). If you’re a mega-philanthropist who’s interested in helping spark the kickover of the digital publishing revolution, please let me know! Especially with mega-aid, I could put together an all-star team of kindred minds, whose vision and energy — duly supported — would predictably make a signifcant dent in the world of publishing.

Open Coding OK Computer

Our son Nate — who first appeared in these digital pages as he prepared to begin his undergraduate studies at Eastman School of Music — will this afternoon defend his doctoral dissertation (US)/thesis (UK) at the University of Michigan. The work in question bears the title “Open Coding OK Computer: Categorization and Characterization of Disruptive Harmonic and Rhythmic Events in Rock Music”, and it concerns the composition of Radiohead’s musical oeuvre. He defends at 12:30 EDT/5:30 BST, and although we’re unwaveringly confident of him, we reserve the right to be a little heart-in-throat-y about the outcome (if only because we’re so proud of him and can’t stand the idea that anyone on his committee might give him a hard time). If you’re in the Ann Arbor area and feel like dropping in, the defense will be held in the West Conference Room, Rackham School of Graduate Studies.
But honestly, it should be a doddle. What a year!

Interpretation, Finality, Church, Academy — Again

I just finished a long response to colleagues on a subcommittee of a task force of a working group of a project of a Cabinet, which in the normal course of events would go unseen except by a dozen other people. Rather than consign the response to oblivion, I thought I’d drop it here (edited in places, to make it more general); I’ll put the bulk of the letter in a “Continue Reading” link, leaving just the first paragraph above the figurative fold.


In response to the materials you sent: I note particular emphasis on two points: One, the perception that we can arrive at definitive interpretations of the Bible, such that we have them sorted; and two, the perception that a hermeneutical gap separates the academy and the pew.

Continue reading “Interpretation, Finality, Church, Academy — Again”

Trepidations Confirmed

Back a long time ago, when the Web was a much smaller place, I had the opportunity to ask Stewart Butterfield (one of the founders of Flickr) whether my photos would be safe with Flickr in the aftermath of the Yahoo takeover. He assured me that as long as he had anything to say about it, Flickr would put its users first and would (for instance) keep linked-to photos visible even if, for instance, the account owner died, or left Flickr.
That was, of course, a long time ago, before Stewart left Yahoo/Flickr. And businesses change direction; they can’t be trammelled by previous executives’ pledges. At the same time, as Mike Arrington notes, Flickr’s current policy of closing access to the accounts of former paying customers is not just a matter of Yahoo’s balance sheet. The perception that Flickr was a web-friendly service underlies a large part of its standing as a good neighbour on the Web. By withholding photos from the Web, Flickr injures both the Web of which it’s supposed to be a pillar and its own reputation.
And the warning that it’s time to make sure that you have back-up copies of everything you’ve ever uploaded to Flickr may be increasingly urgent.

Hail, Margaret!

One of the many reasons I haven’t been blogging for the past few months has been the intensity, and focus, of the home atmosphere while Margaret has been working on her doctoral dissertation ( = UK “thesis”). The pace of her writing has picked up since she arrived in September; as she drew near the end, she was wringing out a truly startling page count week on week. When she submitted the manuscript two weeks ago, the wave of relief and exhaustion overtook both of us and swept us along in a surge of jubilation, anxiety, and accumulated weariness.
Yesterday, Margaret defended her dissertation at Duke, and by all accounts it was adjudged a very strong effort. Her advisor said the defence was “great”; another committee member said the dissertation was “terrific”, and I haven’t heard specific comments from the others, but Margaret indicates that they were very favourably disposed. The committee voted that Margaret should be awarded the Ph.D.
We believe in ritual and order enough that we don’t accord Margaret a degree that has not yet been awarded; there is, for a few weeks anyway, only one “Dr Adam” in the house. But we do like the sound of “Dr Margaret B Adam”, and we now know that the degree will be awarded at Duke’s graduation in about five weeks. Margaret will graduate in the robes of the father of a family friend, another exciting and tradition-laden aspect of the process. It’s intensely satisfying to come to this point.
Margaret actually began working toward this degree more than twenty years ago, indeed almost thirty years ago. Her undergraduate major at Bowdoin College was in Religious Studies, and her grades were markedly better than mine. She audited courses when I was at Yale Divinity School and Duke Graduate School (where she took courses from Mary McClintock Fulkerson and Stan Hauerwas, two of her committee members); she copy-edited Modern Theology for a couple of years, indexed and edited a number of our friends’ books, read papers at AAR meetings, published an essay and short articles, participated in church life and endeavours such as the Ekklesia Project, all the while she home-schooled our children and oversaw our extended household. She returned to academic life as an MTS student at Seabury, and then (at long last) began her doctoral studies at Duke, took time out to teach full-time for two years in one of the strongest undergraduate theology departments in the US, eventually writing her dissertation for a committee of scholars all of whom she had known for more twenty years or more.
The White Queen may regularly believe six impossible things before breakfast — but leave it to Margaret to do what seemed impossible, and to do it handily. Hail, Margaret!

Best-Kept Secret

I ordinarily avoid hyping the various products that clamour for attention and links on this pervasively-commercialised internet (remember way back when, when we used to argue about the ethics of blogging for money, or accepting ad links on one’s pages?). Today, though, I do want to call attention to two books by webby authors with whom I’ve been in digital conversation for nigh on to ten years, now.
Monday, the estimable Steve Himmer’s novel The Bee-Loud Glade was officially published; I bought a digital copy right away, and will be pestering bookshops in Glasgow to obtain a printed copy. Steve is not only a dear friend (and former Glasgow resident), but also a subtle and fine observer, and an excellent writer; I’m only a short way into the novel, but I’m enjoying it immensely and am eager to read further.
And David Weinberger — a true hero of Web wisdom — wrote a young adult novel a few years ago, about a boy who unexpectedly wins a lottery that he entered illicitly, and how he deals with the secret. I plugged it when he first published it (and kept on plugging), bought about a quarter of the total copies he’s sold and gave them to friends, and to this day I have a copy on my office bookshelf. It’s a well-written kid book, but is especially useful for dealing with moral quandaries in a narrative mode. People who rattle on about teaching ethics to children (or even “who teach undergraduate ethics”) could almost surely improve their programmes by adopting My 100 Million Dollar Secret as a text. Anyway, David has made a Kindle version of the book available for $.99, a real bargain!
I hope that a great many readers young and old buy these books and support these authors. These are fine works, written not by the legendary dyspeptic alcoholic misanthrope but by genuinely gracious, gentle, wise authors.
(Woohoo! I blogged two days in a row! And I have a feeling I may blog again tomorrow!)