Went Well

The presentation tonight went very well, I think. George gave a nice introduction for me, and everyone was very patient through the talk, and in the end I think it worked well. And loads of people were very excited in the confluence of Kevin’s Vote Links and my Seeded Search ideas. Then in the Q-and-A, people asked about librarians, searches, Lessig, and the Disseminary.

I’ll put my version of the talk in the extended comments section below. There’s some risk that the papers from this conference will be published in print eventually, so if you see a mistake or an imprecise argument, please be kind enough to protect me from looking utterly foolish, and let me know what to change.

Cards, Links and Research

Teaching Technological Learners

Back at the first iteration of this conference, I proposed a way of thinking along with technology that took its cues from what was then the exemplary killer app of the internet: Napster. This evening I propose a technology lesson from another web application, the über-search engine Google, as a way of evaluating pedagogical practice in a technologically-saturated learning environment.

A long time ago, back when I was in seminary — before I even had a computer to type on — I discovered some fascinating secrets of academic research. These were the days when every book was checked in or out of the Yale Divinity School library by signing and filing a 3 × 5 card rather like this one.

date due library book card

My discovery was that I could read the circulation cards in the books I saw, to see whether my professors had taken these books out. If I was uncertain of the value of the book at which I was looking, I could see whether (or how many) any of my professors had taken the book out. If all three of the active professors in my field had bothered to take the book out, it suggested that the book really was worth my attention. If one had renewed it for several terms, it probably played a role in his on-going research. Not only that, I deduced that books that were located in the Union Seminary Classification section, down in the third level of basement under the Institute of Sacred Music must not have circulated for the many years it had been since YDS Library switched to Library of Congress classification — obviously, these were not hot books on my subject. These and various other tricks helped me learn to recognize the academic sources that my teachers would also recognize, and to distinguish them from vernacular treatments.

I introduce this exercise in nostalgia not simply to impress upon my younger colleagues that once upon a time we used such primitive devices to regulate library collections, but more importantly to point to the tremendous value of metadata — contextual and para-textual information — in research. I was making decisions about the scholarly weight of particular viewpoints based not on the intrinsic quality of the arguments — not solely so, anyway — but on extrinsic markers that suggested that other people thought the book important (or unimportant). The classic instance of the value of metadata comes from The Social Life of Information:

I was working in an archive of a 250-year-old business, reading correspondence from about the time of the American Revolution. Incoming letters were stored inwooden boxes about the size of standard Styrofoam picnic cooler, each containing a fair portion of dust as old as the letters. As opening a letter triggered a brief asthmatic attack, I wore a scarf tied over my mouth an nose. Despite my bandit?s attire, my nose ran, my eyes wept, and I coughed, wheezed, and snorted. I longed for a digital system that would hold the information from the letters and leave paper and dust behind.

One afternoon, another historian came to work on a similar box. He read barely a word. Instead, he picked out bundles of letters and, in a move that sent my sinuses into shock, ran each letter beneath his nose and took a deep breath, at time almost inhaling the letter itself, but always getting a good dose of dust. Sometimes, after a particularly profound sniff, he would open the letter, glance at it briefly, make a note and move on.

Choking behind my mask, I asked him what he was doing. He was, he told me, a medical historian. . . . He was documenting outbreaks of cholera. When that disease occurred in a town in the eighteenth century, all letters from that town were disinfected with vinegar to prevent the disease from spreading. By sniffing for the faint traces of vinegar that survived 250 years and noting the date and source of the letters, he was able to chart the progress of cholera outbreaks.*1*

In a similar vein, Austin Henderson of Xerox/PARC said, “one of the most brilliant inventions of the paper bureaucracy was the idea of the margin” — the margin, by which metadata annotations can amplify the data in the text proper, thus making the text’s data more useful. The more data available relative to a bit of information, the more valuable that information becomes; the less metadata, the less valuable the information.*2*

At a point in my academic years when I was not yet equipped to know the difference between Rudolf Bultmann and Joe Shlabotnik, such pertinent metadata as the condition of the book, the stature of those who had taken it out before me, and the physical location of the book all provided me clues to help me weigh what I should think of the work in question. These useful tidbits of metadata were readily available in the pre-electronic library. In the up-to-date library, not only do I not know who has taken a book out before me, but it’s widely considered a matter of the borrower’s privacy rights that I not be permitted to know.*3*

Some sorts of metadata persist in the modern library — right here at the United Library, some books are catalogued in the online system, whereas others can be retrieved only through using the card catalogue — but other sorts of metadata have disappeared, impoverishing the repertoire of information on which researchers can draw. In the modern library, metadata begins to disappear into inaccessible reserves — but in the online library, metadata pulls an even more dramatic disappearing act. In online research, relatively few manifest signals of metadata appear to an untrained eye; instead of providing a helpful circumstantial clue to work’s standing to a beginning scholar, a researcher now needs expertise to get at the metadata. To a great extent, if you’re clever enough to get at the metadata, you’re clever enough to not need it.

This represents an acute turning point particularly for those institutions whose mission includes reaching out to learners whose main interest is less academic than pious and pastoral. Whereas a student in the 1980’s could count on abundant circumstantial data to help guide his research, in the 2000’s a student will find precious few breadcrumbs leading out of the forest. Yet more and more students rely more and more heavily on that [online] forest as a base for research. Just three years ago, at the previous Theology and Pedagogy in Cyberspace conference, I had occasion to sigh once or twice because I feared that my students would never get the hang of using the internet for research; now many of them are reluctant ever to look into the physical library collection.

Now, I’m not by any means the first one to notice this problem; numerous colleagues (Mark Goodacre, Felix Just, Torrey Seland , and Sheila McGinn) have devoted tremendous effort to compiling collections of more-or-less annotated links as a guide to their students, and I admire the diligence and charity that have gone into that work. The Wabash Center likewise has assembled a valuable guide to research on the internet. Pages of links offer researchers some of the metadata that online compendia strip away, and sometimes offer even more metadata.

The links page, however, entails certain definite pitfalls. The best of these provide annotations, but that’s hard and time-consuming, so useful annotations are uncommon. Moreover, several mechanical problems arise from links pages. First, they’re back-breakingly labor-intensive; only a researcher with good judgment and a troop of indentured student servants, or an independently wealthy researcher with no social life, can do a plausible job of keeping a links page quite up-to-date. Even then, new resources appear, contents of sites change, and the links page falls behind the inexorable forces of innovation and linkrot. Indeed, several of the above scholars reflected online about the burden of maintaining links pages, to which Seland (maintainer of the Philo of Alexandria links and the Resource Pages for Biblical Studies) observed, “I can foresee that it will be a more and more demanding task as a one-man work. . . The relevant material on the Internet is growing so rapidly, that it is hard to imagine what even the next year will bring.”*4* Without calling into question the generous and illuminating support of willing cataloguers and institutions, I suspect that links-pages will in a short while have to give way to the sheer brute accumulation of information.

Give way to what, however? Seland suggests developing specialized sites that concentrate on ever smaller bits of the online literature (thus replicating the specifically modern gesture of dividing up knowledge into smaller and smaller areas of authoritative expertise ? to which we might well apply Ray Ozzie’s cautionary words: “We should distrust any elaborately planned, centrally deployed, and carefully developed business system or process. Successful systems and processes will be agile and dynamically adaptive; they’ll grow and evolve as needed over time.”*5*). The response of gerneating ever-narrower links pages too, however, is fated to fall by the wayside as the avalanche of online information sweeps across the academic landscape. For example: in 2000, Ian Balfour reported on the explosion of information about Tertullian online.*6* He noted 2000 scholarly publications in the 500 years since the printing of Tertullian’s Apologeticum; since the inauguration of the Web, he counted 921 Tertullian-oriented sites online.This morning, Google found more than 104,000 sites with a connection to Tertullian. Even allowing for extensive duplication, we may guess that Dr. Balfour no longer has time to keep an up-to-date Tertullian bibliography.

The besetting problem with links pages, however, lies more deeply in the ways technology and knowledge work than in the mere practicality of maintaining such endeavors. A links page functions as a throttle to knowledge; even as it promotes awareness of responsible research on its topic, its job is to restrict the flow of attention. That runs diametrically against both the path of information technology and the course that human inquiry ought to take. Although knowledge constitutes much more than the mere accumulation of information, one essential ingredient in durable, flexible learning involves distinguishing sound from unsound information — a capacity that one can’t develop if one always encounters information that’s already been filtered. Further, if one never departs from the academic pastures that one’s mentors have fenced in, one will never experience the provocation and possible inspiration that come from an encounter with undomesticated thinkers.

Further, a filtered-links approach vests a problematic authority in the links-page maintainer. Even the fairest, most astute filterers will assess particular pages differently, and though they may agree on obviously reliable or unreliable sources, at the exact spot where they would be most useful — the soundness of sources whose brilliance or inanity isn’t obvious — they will diverge. And not every filterer shows the full degree of fairness and astuteness. Perhaps the links-page maintainer concerns herself primarily with the New Testament, but ventures out from that specialization to offer some pointers on patristics; should a researcher trust the patristic links as much? When a library establishes a links page to guide researchers, which librarian, with what degree of familiarity with the field, determines which pages should be linked and which should not? Is there metadata on the links page to indicate the degree of confidence with which the linker promulgates those links, and the degree of confidence that other scholars have in linker’s judgment? (Yes, there is, in a way; but we’ll get to that in a few minutes.)

Filtered links not only hobble our students’ intellectual growth — they also militate against the trajectory of technological development, which tends toward the proliferation of information and alternatives. Filtering tries to build a bulwark against information flow — but at the cost of denial, of inflexibility, and of an antithetical approach to technological possibilities. Rather than devoting our energies to holding back the flood of information, we and our students need to learn from the technology how best to navigate, to negotiate, to discern among the myriad alternatives for research.

What would be a more appropriate response to the dilemma of online research? In order to approach the problem of information abundance in a way accordant with the best characteristics of learning and of technology, our research practices should not constrict the scope of inquiry, but rather take advantage of the very plenitude of online information. Though individual pages may lack the familiar physical clues of metadata — the explicit clues to which we adapted under the conditions of research in physical libraries — the online reservoir has developed other, different metadata that can offer us different clues toward more refined research, if we look for the clues indigenous to online communication rather than bemoan the transition from the good old days.

The first generation of web search engines, for example, relied on the the content of web pages for cataloguing and retrieving information in response to searches. We were taught, once upon a time, to put relevant keywords into tags specifically named for metadata, so that search engines might more rapidly find our pages even when we don’t specifically mention those keywords. That didn’t last long; in relatively short order, the attention merchants realized that by pumping every possible word into their metadata, they could thrust themselves before the gaze of reluctant researchers. Moreover, the search results weren’t ordered by a particularly useful principle; as John Milton said of patristic exegesis, so might we say of search engine results, that “Whatsoever time or the heedless hand of blind chance hath drawn from of old to this present in her huge Dragnet, whether Fish or Seaweed, Shells or Shrubbs, unpicked, unchosen, those are the Fathers” (or, “early search engine results”).*7*

Enter the second generation of search engines, what we may call the Google era. What Sergei Brin and Larry Page realized was that they could produce more useful search results if they didn’t simply spider the contents of web pages, but analyzed the relative prominence of the pages they were spidering. They devised an algorithm that generated a recursive measure of the importance of each page based on the number of other pages that linked to it. The more pages that link to your page, the higher your page will appear in the list of results for a given search term.

All that Google does is contextualize the content of your page with the metadata of how many other pages think that your page is worth attention. They take pains to emphasize that theirs is a mathematical ranking, so that when undesirable outcomes arise — as when an anti-Semitic site wrests its way to the top spot in for the search term “Jew” — they refuse to jigger the rankings. On their account, if they tailor the results for one search, they’ll open the door to endless fiddling to promote one site or demote another.*8*

Google’s refinement of search-engine engineering makes all the difference in the world. Whereas once searches returned results based on how early in the document your search term appeared, or what percent of the content your search constituted, or some other characteristic, now searches return results that usually show the pages other users have identified as worth attention — all on the basis of existing metadata. Unfortunately, the democratic character of Google search results somewhat vitiates Google’s value as a research tool; for my students’ research purposes, one link from N. T. Wright or Dominic Crossan should outweigh hundreds of votes from St. Wilgefortis Episcopal Church Bible Study Group. Google improves the researcher’s odds, but still leaves much to be desired as a do-it-all tool.

Google itself has recognized that its one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t suit all web searches equally, and its advertisers have realized that their ad dollars would be targeted even more precisely. Google has recently begun offering a personalized web search service, with which a user can select particular topic areas of interest, which subsequent Google searches then emphasize (“religion,” “sports,” “American Literature,” and so on). The search results still follow Google’s PageRank algorithm, but the engine shifts the weights to emphasize religiously-oriented sites. You can see right away a number of weaknesses to this plan: Who decides what counts as a “religious” site? How much emphasis should the search engine assign to which sites? What if a religiously-active baseball-loving American Lit professor just wants to find information about Golden Retrievers? But the premise is on target. Google’s personalized searches move beyond a model wherein all searches are the same, to a model where different searches anticipate different kinds of results.*9*

Now, let’s imagine a function that doesn’t exist yet. Let’s imagine that before you run a search, you could stipulate one or more URIs that should serve as touchstones for weighting subsequent links. The further a result is from one of these touchstone sites, the lower the search engine will rank that site. If the touchstone site(s) link directly to a relevant site, that site would appear first in the results; if a relevant site had only a tenuous connection to the touchstone site, it would appear late in the results.

With this sort of seeded search, I could enter the URIs for Mark Goodacre, Jim Davila, and Sheila McGinn (for instance) as the touchstones — and then search for terms pertinent to the Gospel of Mark, confident that sites that my reference authorities deem worthy of attention would rise to the surface. Such a facility — though as I say, it is not yet available — would not be difficult to construct; the idea has generated positive reception online, and has been the subject of several conversations with developers at Technorati, the web search engine that focuses on volatile information (news pages, weblogs, and so on). Seeded-search capability would lend a clear focus to the weighting that Google’s personalized searches try to do with vague topical headings, and would add a great deal of value to the search results. While an academic searcher might want to check results against leading scholars in her field, a more casual searcher might want to find out what films Roger Ebert, Elvis Mitchell, and Kenneth Turan all agree are good.

That possibility, in turn, points to another weakness in the Google algorithm — that all links count as positive indicators in Google’s system. There’s no way to distinguish my linking (for ease of reference) to an essay I think gravely misguided, from my linking (as an encouragement to visit the site) to a page I think illuminating. To that end, Technorati’s Director of Engineering Kevin Marks has proposed including in anchor links a simple rel attribute value stating “vote-for” or “vote-against,” to indicate approval or disapproval of the site linked to.*10* Search engines could then readily weight their results to reflect the difference between a site that many people disdain, a site that many applaud, and a site that’s generating a lot of discussion pro- and con. Since the rel attribute already exists (though it’s underused), such a change would not require action by a standards bureau; you could begin writing vote links into your HTML tonight.

By combining Vote Links with seeded search, a third generation of search engine usefulness could leapfrog beyond Google’s bare link-counting. Such an implementation of searching would serve many of the purposes of filtered links pages; it would amplify the likelihood that a researcher would find a positively-regarded source, without requiring that anyone maintain a vast (growing, aging) links hierarchy. It would flex depending on the seed sites named in the initial search, so that various theological and academic factions would not need to generate and maintain sites customized to their particular interests and commitments. The Vote Links-Seeded Search combination provides a technologically-appropriate response to the convergence of information avalanche and the loss of metadata.

But I’m not talking to you tonight to sell a particular plan for installing and extracting metadata. The point of describing this potential hack for improving search functionality lies not in seeking your endorsement, but in calling attention to the central issue for electronically-informed pedagogy — and that is, in the end, essentially the same issue as for print-based pedagogy, blackboard-based pedagogy (remembering that the blackboard constituted a revolutionary innovation in educational technology when introduced in 1809), and peripatetic philosophical conversation. One of the leading lessons in teaching technological learners is that people can be credulous and uncritical in any information medium. In person, in print, on TV, at movies, online, wherever, people do not attain critical judgment just from being exposed to more information, or to information in a different shape and texture. The best teachers, those who most truly teach, help students make their way through confusing thickets of unfamiliar information. We help students discover how to exercise the faculty of judgment, so that eventually they would ideally be able to reckon for themselves how sound a web page, an article, or the other side of a casual conversation might be.

We teachers have been wrestling with that daunting challenge from Socrates onward. The challenge changes somewhat when we pursue it in the context of digitally-mediated information, but if we communicate to our students a fixation on the peculiarity of digital mediation, we will almost certainly miss the many elements of critical assessment that depend less on how we encounter information than upon the questions we ask of it, the connections we make with it, the uses to which we put it. If we never sniff an envelope, we’ll never learn about the spread of cholera in colonial America; if we never examine the names of those who’ve borrowed library books before us, we won’t derive the benefit of a rough-and-ready system of faculty endorsement. And if we conduct research only by retrieving references off an approved list of possible sources, it will take us that much longer to learn what makes those sources more or less reliable than others.

Which is another reason that a more technologically-apt search process serves us all better than does a filtered links page. The blessing and the bane of Google is its open-ended quest for more; if we train learners to expect a limited range of acceptable sources, we re-impose an intellectual subordination from which higher education, we might hope, would deliver students. How will they handle their inquiry on the day our links page fails them, or inquiries that involve topics that our links don’t cover? The approach to searching that I commend tonight — or one like it — offers a degree of guidance to an inquiring learner, without foreclosing the range of possible answers.*11* So the pedagogy lesson that theological educators stand to learn from Google, the lesson that I propose tonight, is that we best serve the core obligation of our teaching by tackling head-on the challenge of cultivating our students’ critical sensibility in order to help them employ digital technology in their own learning as discriminating, critical users.


*1* John Seely Brown and Paul Duguid, The Social Life of Information (Cambridge, Mass.: (Harvard Business School Press, 2000), 173f.
*2* Quoted by Jon Udell in his column for InfoWorld, http://www.infoworld.com/article/04/04/09/15OPstrategic_1.html, visited April 15, 2004.
*3* This provides an accidental example of Lawrence Lessig?s point that changes in technology effect changes in the law, whether that change be deliberate or unintentional. Had the FBI wanted to know whether I was taking out terroristic books from the Yale Divinity Library, they would only have needed to go to a suspicious book in the stacks and look at its circulation card. Once that record becomes a matter of bits stored in an inaccessible database, however, my library borrowing pattern is no longer a public, but a private matter.
*4* http://philoblogger.blogspot.com/2004_01_01_philoblogger_archive.html#107398000949672067, last visited April 15, 2004.
*5* Ray Ozzie, from a pamphlet written in 2000, cited by Richard Eckel at http://www.groove.net/blog/?month=03&year=2004#3EB75869-B4E2-4EB4-B272-E17D3B3D6882.
*6* Ian L. S. Balfour, “Tertullian On and Off the Internet.” Journal of Early Christian Studies. 8:4 (2000): 579.
*7* Cited in F. W. Farrar, History of Interpretation (London: Macmillan, 1886).
*8* See http://www.jewishsf.com/content/2-0-/module/displaystory/story_id/21783/format/html/displaystory.html
*9* Actually, Google has already been doing this for a while. If you search for a phone number, Google will return the name and address for a listed number. If you search for a quantity in one unit of measurements and name another system of measurement (“15 miles in kilometers”), Google will calculate the quantity in the second units.
*10* See discussions at http://www.corante.com/many/archives/2004/02/14/vote_links.php, http://epeus.blogspot.com/2004_02_01_epeus_archive.html#107693111184685862, and
http://developers.technorati.com/wiki/VoteLinks.
*11* A theory that doesn’t appear on my links page will never come to a compliant student’s attention, after all, whereas a seeded search simply assigns that unwelcome result a place below more conventional citations.

 

Representing Hinduism

Getting back to Amardeep Singh’s question to me — what do I think of the Doniger controversy (registration required, sorry)? — I’m ambivalent.

First, let me state unambiguously that I am not a scholar of comparative religion, nor am I an expert on Doniger’s work. Acquainted with both the field and Doniger; not an expert.

I’ve never been partial to Doniger’s theories of Hindusim; they seem to draw more heavily than I approve of on a psychological foundation for religion. That’s not to banish psychological elements from the study of religions; that would be foolish. But (without invoking the boogie-word “reductionism”), I sensed her to account for religious phenomena more resolutely in terms of psychology than I would.

So as far as dissenting from her scholarly position, I would sympathize. And I am not unsympathetic to complaints that she represents a Hinduism that Hindus wouldn’t recognize. Arguments that she “loves Hinduism” miss the point; I’ve known people to love Buddhism, for instance, on the basis of a tendentious and (to my mind) very misguided construal of what Buddhism is all about. Prof. Doniger — a very brilliant scholar — may well have fallen in love with her own sense of what Hinduism must be about, which Hinduism may well not gibe with the real devotion of real Hindus. I understand; I often feel that way about people’s representations of Christian faith.

As far as attacking her or Prof. Courtright of Emory, of course, that’s intolerable. If Doniger and Courtright are wrong, they should be rebutted, not attacked.

Let’s Start Something

Anyone feel like recording a chapter of Lawrence Lessig’s new book?

The license pretty clearly indicates that, so long as we’re not making a commercial venture of it, we can make a recording of (“perform”) the text. There are a Preface, Introduction, fifteen chapters, a conclusion and an afterword. If you’re willing to contribute an MP3 recording of a chapter (ideally, hosting it on your own server — but I’ll bet we can gird up the Disseminary to host chapters for you, if you can host it yourself — drop us a comment and let us know which chapters you’ll take. Heck, we could have duelling chapters; which version of chapter 5 do you like, Accordion Guy’s or Jenny the Shifted Librarian’s? (Disclaimer: I just typed their names in there. They haven’t offered or anything. Yet.) (Another disclaimer: When I went to Jenny’s just now to get her link, I saw that she had the same idea — and we didn’t even talk about it Wednesday night!)

If we all chip in, the effort will be minimal and the benefits great.

Later:

Here’s what we have so far:

Among those who have volunteered and specified chapters that they’ll try, we have:

Preface: Kevin Marks, available here

Introduction: Raph Levien, available here

Intro to the “Piracy” section (thanks for noticing this!): Chris Farmer, available here

Chapter 1: Doug Kaye (download it here already! And it’s terrific), George’s version here (I’m glad they took this chapter; I’m not ready to try to pronounce doujinshi.)

Chapter 2: Victoria and A. J. Wright available here

Chapter 3: Victoria and A. J. Wright Now available here.

Chapter 4: Eric Rice (may be able to help with hosting), Adam Brault available here

Chapter with Governess and Bodice-Ripping: Halley (I want to hear this)

Chapter 5: AKMA (done — here it is, hefty at 15.67 Mb; anyone should feel free to compress it if you see a way to)

Chapter 6: Les Hall, Guan Yang (available here), and Adam Brault (available here)

Chapter 7: Michael Shook (probably can’t host) Available here.

Chapter 8: Suw Charman available here

Chapter 9: Tara now available here, Chuck Welch

Chapter 10: Giles Hoover [Scott Fiddelke, here]

Chapter 11: Neel (can probably host it), Dave Winer (available now, here!)

Chapter 12: Dave Winer, available here

Chapter 13: Jeneane Sesssum here [It’s George, according to archive.org, with an introduction from then-babyblogger Jenna]

Chapter 14: Ted Fletcher, David Weinberger, here

Conclusion: Enoch Choi, available here

Afterword: Linda and George, available here; Tim Samoff, here

Notes (ahem!): techt

Executive Summary: Halley “Executive” Suitt (no, it’s pronounced to rhyme with “root,” not “bleat”

Graphic: David Weinberger

I’ll read an unclaimed chapter as soon as I have a chance to get over to my office; there’s not much chance of enough quiet to read a chapter here.

Can anyone recommend downloadable recording software? I’m set on my TiBook nusing AudioRecorder; what about Windows users? Dave says the sound recorder app that comes with Windows XP only records sixty seconds at a time. [Whoops! Dave found and recommends PolderbitS for Windows, so we’ll have him on board as soon as his neighbor shuts down the lawn mower. Lawn mower? There’s something to mow already?]

Now, here’s a question for Jenny or Liz (or from a different direction, for Adam) — how should we frame the ID3 tags? I suppose the “album” should be Free Culture. The Track Name should follow the designations in the text (such as, “Chapter 1: Creators”). Is the Artist the reader, or Lawrence Lessig? If the Artist is Lessig, does the reader go into “comments”? Or shall we put both into the Artist tag (such as “Lawrence Lessig and Halley Suitt”)? Might as well do it right from the outset.

Doug suggests the settings he used: “Encoded as 48kbps mono MP3 using a licensed encoder.”

Today Lessig, tomorrow Doctorow.

Franciscans Sue Starbucks

ROME (CNS) In an unexpected move, today the Franciscan Order filed suit against the Starbucks chain of coffee houses, enjoining them to refrain from using the name “cappucino” to identify their cream-topped espresso product.
 
Friar Roberto Pascattio, spokesman for the Order, explained that the Franciscans like a good cup of espresso as much as the next person.
 
“But ‘cappucino’ is a description based on a brand that the Franciscans have been cultivating for centuries.” Cappucino is so named after its resemblance to the cowled, brown-robed monks of the Capuchin Friars, a branch of the Franciscan Order. The name of the coffee drink derives either from the brown color of the monks’ robes, or the pointed crown of steamed milk that resembles the Capuchin hood. “After we’ve spent centuries building up the name recognition of our spiritual movement for simpler living, these people pirate our name and our trademark pointed hood and the goodwill associated with them, just to identify an over-priced cup of coffee.”
 
The Capuchins are a branch of the Franciscan Order. They were founded in the early sixteenth century as a reform movement among the Franciscans, dedicated to returning to strict observance of St. Francis’s ideals. They adopted a long, pointed hood in contrast to the close, rounded hood that more relaxed Franciscans wore. The people among whom the reformers worked nicknamed them for their hoods — “Scappuccini” — and that nickname became part of their official designation as a religious order, the Order of Friars Minor, Capuchin.
 
Prominent Capuchins in history include St.. Bernard of Corleone, and Padre Pio, who was recently canonized by Pope John Paul II.
 
In Seattle, Starbucks lawyer Thomas Billingsgate soft-pedalled the suit. “Starbucks has a latte good will toward these spiritual seekers, but everyone knows you can’t make intellectual property claims on varieties of coffee, apart from Frappucino®, Caffè Verona®, and other proprietary formulations.”
 
Br. Roberto indicated that Starbucks was only the first in a series of possible copyright enforcement targets for the Order. “Next, we’re looking into negotiations with those monkeys.”

Neither “Either/Or” nor “Both/And”

The other morning I was talking to one of our classes about complexity in congregations, in theories, in pretty much everything — and I birthed an idea that had hitherto only been toying with me, awaiting the occasion to pop out of my mouth. “We know that we can’t deal with people on an either/or basis,” I allowed; “there are always shades, nuances, hybrids, unanticipated subtleties. ‘Either/or’ is the mode of modern effectiveness: ‘Don’t bother me with the details, we have to get this thing moving.’ Modernity thrived on compartmentalization, on analysis, on deciding which differences made a differences and which didn’t (from a dominant-culture perspective, which operated as the natural or necessary or obvious way of thinking).
 
“But after decades of modernity, we see that lumping people together into categories based on dominant-culture thinking doesn’t pan out. The category ‘colored’ worked adequately for White cultures, for a while; but ‘colored’ people aren’t all the same, and — surprise, surprise — white is a color, too. Either/or logic fails us and effaces the differences that make us interesting, indeed that make us who we are.
 
“But ‘both/and’ doesn’t solve our problems. Although this is the easiest and most prominent alternative to either/or, both/and simply occludes the necessary distinction-making that constitutes real behavior in the real world. When leaders start talking both/and, I keep a close eye on what they’re trying to distract me from noticing: the exclusions and privileges that inevitably permeate jolly, inclusive, both/and thinking. At least when the system’s working on either/or logic, one can point out ways that particular cases disrupt, defeat, the system of categorization; when both/and rules the system, there’s no explicit categorization in place against which one could push.”
 
So if not either/or (on one hand) or both/and (on the other), what? I proposed an idea that had been flitting through my thoughts intermittently: “both/but.” (That’s “but,” not “butt.”) In other words — and I hope we’re not locked into using “both” and “but” in every example of this sort of thinking — we can operate from a principle of openness, but since we’re always about making distinctions all the time anyway, we’re practically distinction-making creatures, we follow our gesture of inclusion with explicit reservations about the distinctions we’ making. We begin by acknowledging that there’s probably something to be said on both sides of an apparent impasse — but since we can’t have all of both options, we’re going to have to work out some alternative that, ideally, derives strength from the best of both proposals.
 
It’s not a revolution, but it’s a way of resisting modern binary thinking, allegedly-postmodern indifferentism, in the name of working together toward something else. And if someone like Seth Godin or Rick Warren writes a best-selling self-help, business-guru book out of it, I’m claiming prior art right here.
 
DRMA: “Burning Down the House” by the Talking Heads; “Tenth Avenue Freeze Out” by Bruce Springsteen (Pippa used to think this was “Devil in the Freezer”); “Stop in the Name of Love” by the Supremes; “The Long And Winding Road” by the Beatles; “Penetration” by Tom Verlaine; “Souvenir From A Dream” by Tom Verlaine; “Wichita Sutra Vortex” by Philip Glass; “Plastic Man” by the Kinks; “Everything” by Ben Harper; “Can’t Help Falling in Love” by Elvis Presley; “Nothing Is Easy” by Jethro Tull; “Outtasite (Outta Mind)” by Wilco.

Replacement Panic

I’ve run into replacement panic on a couple of occasions recently, and since I have grading to finish, a major article and a major sermon to prepare in the next two weeks, I figured I’d open up a major blog topic.

“Replacement panic” is the expression I started using back at the Digital Genres conference that Alex Golub arranged (by the way, Alex, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette thinks that PNG is a near-perfect place for a vacation). I use “replacement panic” to refer to the fear — frequently a spontaneous reaction to positive assessments of online technology — that digital media will supplant physical interactions.

I should agree at the outset that replacement panic doesn’t arise out of nowhere. Some of the techno-romantics have heralded the advent of a day when our memories will be downloadable to hard drives, our thoughts presumably assisted by sophisticated applications, our sensations provided by elaborate simulation algorithms. David Weinberger has made a small campaign against such illusions, but they nonetheless play loud in mass media and (hence) the popular imagination.

At the same time, physical interaction won’t just go away. The people I know who seem to spend the most time online (starting with Josiah, but think of David Weinberger, Meg Hourihan, Doc, Chris Pirillo, Denise Howell) also spend lots of time in physical interaction with people. If anything, the way that online interaction permits a vehicle for modulated, careful interaction permits increased sociality for introverted people who might otherwise not venture out at all.

Before we succumb to replacement panic, we ought to look closely at the characteristics of our physical interactions, and how they’ve changed over time. Would we suggest that the class-determined interactions of Upstairs, Downstairs-era Britain, the physical-world interactions of slave-owners and their chattel, were fully authentic, present, relationships? Of course not; but one problem with replacement panic lies in its appeal to an unarticulated, illusory ideal speech situation in which everyone is present, everyone is candid, everyone is unclothed with mediating signifiers or modifiers that might distort speech. That speech situation has never existed, can never exist, and rests on pernicious assumptions about truth and the authenticity of communication. Nonetheless, the sponsors of replacement panic argue as though we all know of a situation for communication that’s uncontaminated by mediations (such as digital media), social determination (nobody say “power laws”), or class-, race-, or gender-based privilege. We don’t know of any such place — but if we did, my guess is that it would look a lot like the internet.

The point of online interaction is not that it will replace physical interaction, but that the tenor of all our interactions will shift, has already shifted, and that unnerves some people as it exhilarates others. We’re all dealing with the change, though, in our physical presence as in our online [self]-representations, and neither online interaction nor physical interaction will go away.

That’s My TinyURL

Via BoingBoing: add your name/initials/other personal identifier after the address“http://tinyurl.com/” to see where it leads you. Mine (“/akma”) points to a hack for making the Philips DVDR-880 region-free.

TinyURL is one of the handiest and most under-used web tricks going. If you enter a long, unwieldy URL, they return to you a short, simple URL that directs to the site you initially chose.

Stiff Competition

Now I stand to administer not only David Weinberger’s immortal bytes, but now also Joi Ito’s. Now, I’m honored and all, and I promise to do my best by both these distinguished citizens of Blogaria and by the interests of posterity.

But just who decided that $30 a year would be the going rate for hosting large, high-volume sites like theirs? Not to mention “pruning the hedges and scrubbing the grafitti off”? Guys, I have to talk with your estates about changing the terms of these arrangements. I mean, I’m busy now; if this idea starts catching on, I won’t have time to do anything but tend memorial websites — which outdoes even theological teaching for low labor-to-remuneration ratios.

Regarding Church Web Sites

I’m writing some follow-up notes to the places we visited on our tour, so (of course) I’m curious to know what the postal mail addresses are for these locations.

Here are the sites for the various cathedrals we visited:

Rochester Cathedral
Christ Church Cathedral
St. Paul’s Cathedral
The American Cathedral in Paris

If you have a spare hour or so, see if you can find the mailing addresses for the Cathedral Chapter (or other central location) of each institution on its site. The American Cathedral gets bonus points for having the address on its main page, though that’s hidden behind a useless decorative introductory screen. Christ Church was next easiest, as its address is prominently displayed on the main page for Christ Church College. Rochester Cathedral is a non-starter, and St. Paul’s simply doesn’t seem to want to divulge where one can contact the chapter — especially frustrating on as large and elaborate a site as theirs, where so many pages might possibly list a mailing address.

I know there are other ways of getting that information; I’ve worked some of them out. My point is that it’s quite bizarre that so important and so small a bit of information is so difficult (in some cases, impossible) to find on the web sites of such prominent cultural institutions.

Posted by AKMA at August 25, 2003 10:10 AM | TrackBack
Comments
Its not just cultural institutions! For my job before seminary, I frequently had to call admissions departments and career centers at other universities – it sometimes took six or seven screens before I could an address or phone number!

Posted by: Susie at August 25, 2003 12:10 PM
This is not just a cathedral problem, nor just a postal address problem. Try finding out how to contact anybody at all at Lambeth Palace from www.archbishopofcanterbury.org for example.

I would suggest that not providing email addresses or telephone numbers is a greater sin of omission than not providing postal addresses.

Simon

Posted by: Simon at August 25, 2003 03:42 PM
What up, AKMA? No link to Westminster Cathedral?

Posted by: Dennis at August 27, 2003 05:31 PM
A common sin of the web-centric – forgetting that outside the net there is a real brick-and-mortar world with real people in it.

Posted by: Wes at August 28, 2003 03:50 PM

What Happened On What Wasn’t Exactly A Summer Vacation, Final Part

I know that some of you who read this blog can’t quite imagine spending three weeks cooped up in a bus coach with a male choir of forty ranging in age from ten to about sixty (that’s a guess). I myself would have had a hard time imagining what it would be like, and some of what boggles my imagination won’t be published here for all the world to read — but it was interesting in the fullest sense of the word.

So, I left off a week ago. (Is that really possible? Only a week ago I was in London, getting ready to meet Gary and Fiona and Cameron? Wow!) We were supposed to meet up with Gary at 12:30 in the Crypt of St. Paul’s (a cheery place, with lots of memorials I was too scrupulously conscientious to photograph, including Sir Arthur Sullivan, Florence Nightingale, Henry Moore, and of course Christopher Wren, along with Lord Nelson, the Duke of Wellington, and so many other military heroes that one of our friends referred to it as “St. Paul’s Cathedral and Armed Services Memorial” — if you click on the “About St. Paul’s” menu, you can see a layout of the Crypt that will show relevant memorials, and if you click on “cathedral floor” you can see QuickTimeVR panoramas of the cathedral, including the Quire, where the choir sang, and the centre of the cathedral, through which our procession entered the Quire). But traffic was bad, and the Turners were running late; we knew, because Gary kept calling to update us on where they were (“It’s ten after twelve, and we’ll be a little late”; “We’re about ten minutes away”; (ten minutes later) “We’re about five minutes away”), and finally we agreed to meet out in front of St. Paul’s. We didn’t care — we had to see Cameron, and if that meant waiting around for Gary and Fiona, well, that’s just the cost of the excitement.

So we ended up playing a game of “Where’s Gary?”

Were they Gary and Fiona?

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What about them?

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They might be Gary and Fiona.

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Or the occupants of this snazzy car?

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I don’t think they’re the Turners.

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Here they are!

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We wandered up and down Ludgate Hill looking for just the right place to eat lunch, and talking about Cameron (other topics emerged, but none so important). We knew Gary would be a delight, and we estimated that Fiona would be as congenial as she is beautiful (she turned out to be more so), but we longed to get to know Cameron better, and we must report that she was both lovely and fascinating. She evinced a strong interest in digital ID, for instance.

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That’s Margaret’s ID, with Cameron’s digits.

The time passed all too quickly. Gary was as funny and clever as you’d expect (and you have high expectations, I know); I like his use of “organic” as the characterization of what others sometimes refer to as “meatspace” or “real life” (although it does work as well for saying things like, “QuickTime VR is cool, but you have to see St. Paul’s organically”). Fiona was just spectacularly sweet and bright and breathtakingly lovely; Cameron had the exemplary good taste to bond quickly with Margaret, who has a very soft spot for infants. It was all we could do to resist the temptation to hop into the car with them as they pulled away from their parking space in Smithfield Market.

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Gary’s picture is better, I think (would you send me a full-size version, please, Gary?), but this was the photo of ours that I liked most.

Organic interaction enriches tremendously the pleasure of knowing people online, but it’s not fundamentally different. I miss Gary, but not as much as I miss Fiona and Cameron ’cos I can read Gary’s blog. ’Twould be great if we were closer neighbors, though, and not only because we might get to babysit sometimes. . . .

Now, back to choir events. The Saturday Evensong went exceptionally well; it would have been exciting to sing the Sunday mass, that wasn’t on our agenda. By the way, leading worship always evokes an indescribable awe, but doing so in the ancient, historic cathedrals of Rochester, Oxford, and especially St. Paul’s raises that feeling to an entirely different order. I will not soon forget the experience of hearing the choir’s harmonies reverberate for eight or nine seconds (down from the canonical eleven seconds because of the shroud of scaffolding surrounding parts of the nave), or of reading the lessons from in front of the high altar. Entirely humbling and amazing.

Sunday morning we got up early and boarded the coach in time to get to the Sunday mass at Canterbury Cathedral (our fourth cathedral in two weeks). I had an entirely incorrect notion of what it would look like; it was manifestly ancient and lovely, but it simply wasn’t the cathedral I had imagined. During the service, some seminarians studying in Canterbury for the summer stood up to sing, and to our surprise, one of the group was Seabury’s own Gwynne Wright. We visited the shrine of Thomas à Becket — simple and, again, overwhelming — then set out for Dover, where we embarked for the ferry ride across the Channel to France. (By the way, I want to put in a plug here for the intensely entertaining journal of Mike and Tex’s winter trip to Paris from 2000. It’s not strictly relevant to our tour, but it’s funny and reflects many experiences that St. Luke’s choir members may also have encountered. One of the martyrs in his pictures from the Louvre, of whose identity Mike wasn’t sure, are the same Peter Martyr whose image graces the Jerusalem chamber at St. Luke’s.)

John the Coach Driver made good time getting us to Saint-Denis, but unfortunately wasn’t clear on where in Saint-Denis our hotel could be found, so we spent a good while reconnoitering this suburb of Paris before we made our way to our lodgings. The hotel was right around the corner from the basilica, but our schedule wouldn’t allow for us to explore the lovely church until late afternoon, Tuesday. We were on a narrow street winding through the apartment complexes that housed many commuters; the bus coach could fit through the streets, but it was another of John’s impressive feats of driverosity that he got us where we needed to go without knocking over any signs, bollards, trees, or pedestrians.

Sometime during our stay in Oxford, where the staff at Lady Margaret Hall kindly provided us with cute little miniature toiletries kits, someone (whose name might sound like “Budzynski”) started a fad of seeking out shower caps and wearing them on the coach, identifying them by their French designation “bonnets de douche.” At varying points, tour participants adopted hair nets, rain bonnets, and several varieties of the genuine bonnet de douche. At the end of Monday’s travels, John gave Mr. Budzynski the ultimate refinement — the beret de douche — in a touching ceremony recorded on my photos page.

Monday went well; John gave us a ground tour of Paris (carefully avoiding making any commentary on what we saw, lest he transgress the law forbidding non-French guides using onboard intercoms for guided tours of the city), then we splintered into smaller touring groups to explore on our own. Margaret and I covered the exterior of the Louvre (we decided that rather than short-change that museum and miss everything else about Paris, we wouldn’t look in), thence to Notre Dame. After we explored Notre Dame, we stopped for lunch at a cafe on the Boulevard St. Germain which, as we discovered with some vexation, offered free wifi (“Bandwidth, bandwidth everywhere/and not a laptop to connect with”). Vegetarianism not being a prevalent way of life in France, so far as we can tell, Margaret and I had omelettes for lunch, then set out to see the Pantheon and make our way back to then Eiffel Tower, near where we’d meet the rest of the tour again to take a ride on one of the bateaux-mouches that ply the Seine.

Just after we docked, we rushed to the American Cathedral in Paris for rehearsal and Evensong. Margaret and I visited with our friend & Seabury alumna Sharon Gracen about her work as Canon Pastor at the cathedral, then slipped into the cathedral for the service. The choir was a little worn out by this time in the tour, but Evensong ended the worship schedule of the tour triumphantly. We returned to the hotel for dinner and collapsed into bed.

Tuesday — just five days ago as I write — we clambered aboard the coach to drive past Versailles (“don’t look too closely, we only have five minutes!”) on our way to Chartres, where we explored the amazing cathedral, had lunch, and played by the riverside (successfully losing one of the tour frisbees in the Eure), and returned to Saint-Denis, where we had the chance to look in at the basilica (unfortunately, the necropolis had closed by the time we got there). This was in many ways my favorite of the French churches we visited; it was airier than either Notre Dame de Paris or Chartres, and the necropolis — what we could see of it — was staggering (more than seventy-one French monarchs have been interred at Saint-Denis!).

We concluded the tour with a sumptuous dinner, a farewell ceremony, and on Wednesday flew back. No teenagers were lost, left behind on purpose, locked in the baggage portion of the coach, nor were any of the adults. Margaret’s already working on next year’s tour with the girl’ choir and Schola.

Photos of the last few days’ events here, and a collection of photos-of-participants here.

At Last!

Made it! I survived class today, after which Frank dropped me at the Apple Store, where I would meet Si for the grand opening. I walked to the door, followed the line to the corner of Huron and Michigan, turned east and walked the whole block to St. Clair. I turned south on St. Clair, again following the line, and beginning to wonder whether Si had gotten there at all, when a woman somewhat older than I called out, “Dad!”

As I gazed at her in bewilderment, she pointed to her feet, where Josiah sat eating the sub he had bought for dinner.

By 6:00, the time the store was scheduled to open, the line stretched all the way around the block and lapped over the whole length of the Huron St. side of the block. We spotted Aaron Swartz while we were standing in line, and Si introduced himself later on. Eventually we made our way in, look around, tried in vain to win an iSight (I was very, very impressed at the image quality they generated, much better than any other webcam I’ve seen), and picked up our free T-shirts. (Pictures at my dot-Mac address.)

I was going to come home, eat popcorn, watch a movie, post my pictures, and drift to sleep — but I didn’t really have time to watch the movie, and though I could have eaten popcorn while I typed and image-edited, I hastened through the process so that I could sleep all the sooner.

Reference Note

I don’t think the full lyrics of Washington Phillips’s “Denomination Blues” appear anywhere online; three or four sites have a version of Ry Cooder’s performance of it, but that leaves out a number of verses, and I disagree with some of the interpretations of Phillips’s lyrics. So I thought I’d list the lyrics here, and we can refine my hearing of them, and perhaps you can nominate a few more verses.

I want to tell you the natural facts
Every man don’t understand the Bible alike
But that’s all now, I tell you that’s all
But you better have Jesus, I tell you that’s all (repeat after each verse)

Well denominations have no right to fight
They ought to just treat each other right

The Primitive Baptists they believe
You can’t get to heaven less you wash your feet

The onliest Primitive that has any part
Is the one that does the washing with the pure heart

Now the Missionary Baptists they believe
Go under the water and not to wash his feet

Now the A.M.E. Methodists they believe
Sprinkle the head and not to wash the feet

Now the African Methodists they believe the same
Cause they know denominations ain’t a thing but a name

Now the Holiness people when they came in
They said “Boy you can make it by living above sin”

Now the Church of God has it in their mind
They can get to heaven without the sacramental wine

You’re fighting each other and you think you’re doing well
And the sinner’s on the outside and going to hell

Now the preachers is preaching and they think they’re doing well
But all they want is your money and you can go to hell

Now, another class of preachers they’re high in speech
They had to go to college to learn how to preach

But you can go to the college, and you can go to the school
But if you don’t have Jesus you’re an educated fool

That kind of a man’s hard to convince
A man can’t preach unless’n he sin

When people jump from church to church
You know the conversion don’t amount to much

When Jesus come on that Divining Day
Gonna call the sheep to enter, turn the goats away

It’s right to stand together, wrong to stand apart
Cause no one’s gonna enter but the pure in heart

The fact that I begin teaching my summer preaching course next week does not, of course, have anything to do with the fact that I was particularly interested in the lyrics to this song. Perish the thought! (If anyone helps with the Phillips lyrics, I’ll edit the text in the main entry; additional verses will stay in the comments, unless I can’t resist).