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Friday, April 29, 2011

Friday Morning Videos: "A Forest"

Last year, old-school music by The Cure. This year? Really old-school Cure. Dig it, man.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

As If Anything Could Keep Me Away

If there is any justice, Alan Rickman will be allowed--playing as he does, in the context of a film which is plainly intending to tell a story far more "adult" than the books did, the most interesting character in the whole tale--to walk away with the movie. We can only hope. And watch, of course.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

A Little Civil Religion On Holy Saturday

This is the sort of thing I like:

And this, from the always insightful Fred Clark, I like even better:

Nothing worth doing is completed in our lifetime; therefore, we are saved by hope. Nothing true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; therefore, we are saved by faith. Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore, we are saved by love.--Reinhold Niebuhr

This is my favorite day in Holy Week, this Saturday, this unrestful Sabbath, my favorite day in the whole of the liturgical calendar.

Well, actually, “favorite” is the wrong word. It’s not that I like this day so much as that I understand it. It’s recognizable, familiar, lived-in. This day, the Saturday that can’t know if there will ever be a Sunday, is the day we live in, you and I, today and every day for the whole of our lives. This is all we are given to know.

Easter Sunday? That’s tomorrow, the day after today. We’ll never get there in time. We can believe in Easter Sunday, but we can’t be sure. We can’t know for sure. We can’t know until we’re out of time. Here, in time, there’s just this day, this dreadful Saturday of not knowing.

There are some things we can know on this Saturday. Jesus is dead, to begin with, dead and buried. He said the world was upside-down and needed a revolution to turn it right-way-round and so he was executed for disturbing the peace. He came and said love was greater than power, and so power killed him.

And now it’s Saturday and Jesus is dead and we’re all going to die and everything I’ve told you about him turns out to be in vain and everything I’ve staked my life on turns out to be in vain. Our faith is futile and we’re still hopeless in our sins. Jesus is dead and we are of all people most to be pitied.

That last paragraph is a paraphrase from St. Paul. What he actually says there, in his letter to the Christians in Corinth, is "if." What he says, specifically, is:
If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain....If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have died in Christ have perished. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.

But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead...

But that’s Sunday language and Sunday certainty and it doesn’t make much sense here on Saturday. Here on Saturday, we can hope it’s true and we may even try to believe it’s true, but we can’t know “in fact” one way or another. Not now. Not on Saturday. And to be honest, it doesn’t seem terribly likely, because Saturday, this Saturday, is all we’ve ever known. Yesterday was this same Saturday, and so was the day before that, and the day before that, and the day before that.

Why should we expect that tomorrow will be any different? Seriously, just look around. Does it look like the meek are inheriting the earth? Does it look like those who hunger and thirst for justice are being filled? Does it look like the merciful are being shown mercy?

Jesus was meek and merciful and hungry for justice and look where that got him. They killed him. We killed him. Power won. That’s what this everyday Saturday shows us--power always wins. “If you want a picture of the future,” George Orwell wrote, “imagine a boot stomping on a human face--forever.”

“But in fact,” St. Paul says, everything changes on Sunday. Come Sunday power loses. Come Sunday, love wins, the meek shall inherit, the merciful will receive mercy and no one will ever go hungry for justice again. Come Sunday, everything changes.

If there ever is a Sunday.

And but so, this is why we hope for Sunday and why we live for the hope of Sunday. Even though we can’t know for sure that Sunday will ever come and even if Saturday is all we ever get to see.

Sunday, Easter, comes tomorrow. Around our house, we'll be blessed to be spending the day with one of my brothers and his wife and family, from a long ways away; the house will be bursting (they have six kids), and I'll be worried whether I bought a large enough ham. But we'll also go to church, and joke and laugh and talk, and pray. And be thankful, and hopeful. Because it's spring, and it'll be Easter Sunday. Again. Have a blessed one, everybody.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Friday Morning Videos: "Pop Goes the World"

I seem to recall Scott Lemieux, or perhaps some other Canadian blogger, once commenting that those of us who enjoy a little Men Without Hats nostalgia every once in a while ought to be thankful that we missed this band's "punk" phase. I'll take his word for it.

On a side note, I think it is quite possible that this is the first song I ever heard played on a "compact disc." I'm remembering an argument over just what the name of the band that Johnny and Jenny formed actually was, but not much else.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Living Habits of the 21st-Century Academic Philosopher, Explained

If I have to give this wonderful new blog a blurb, it would be: "This blog saved our marriage!" But of course, our marriage hasn't actually ever failed, so that wouldn't be quite accurate. Better to say that, at certain times when Melissa's and my relationship could have used some assistance, this blog's wise advice--providing a "a guide to living with your philosopher"--would have saved both of us a good of time and energy. Especially this bit, about gifts:

Let’s just simplify: Unless you are willing to follow your philosopher around a bookstore or ask them to send you links online to books they want, purchasing a book for your philosopher is a very bad idea....Some of you may be thinking, “This list of acceptable gifts is so impersonal. I want to give my philosopher something that they will treasure for a lifetime and always remember me by.” I’m sorry. Get them a gift card to buy a book. Philosophers are not like normal people. If you want to give your philosopher something they will treasure, then give them the resources to buy some books.


Friday, April 15, 2011

Friday Morning Videos: "The Look of Love"

Last year ago on this date (give or take a week), I put up ABC's "When Smokey Sings"--a great song, but the wrong video choice, according to a couple of my friends. So I'm trying to make it up to them today.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Back to New Zealand, Back to the Beginning

Full circle. I'm back in the year 2000, I'm back in graduate school, I'm back before Bush v. Gore and before September 11th, I'm back to when it was just Melissa and me and a couple of tiny tykes, I'm back to working at Borders and riding the Metro. I'm back to when the only things on the future horizon that really seemed to matter at all were 1) finishing the dissertation, 2) finding a teaching job that could support the family, and 3) waiting for the most important Geek Film ever. Eleven years later, it looks like I'll be someday be able to at least do the last of those once again.

Look at them! Peter Jackson, no longer a fat scruffy hobbit, but still every bit the whimsical, grown-up wunderkind of New Zealand. Look close at the crowds and backgrounds, and spot storyboard artists and make-up folks which the more obsessive among us can remember from all the bonus features on the extended editions, years ago. Look at Richard Armitage, and see the good-hearted, formal pomposity of Thorin Oakenshield in his welcoming words; look at Martin Freeman, trooping along and taking his turn in a wonderfully dorky and Bilbo-ish suit jacket. And Ian McKellan, of course, taking it all in stride--after all, he's been here before. And so have we, haven't we?

Some People Have Way Too Much Spare Time on Their Hands

(Via Laura McKenna)

Friday, April 08, 2011

Friday Morning Videos: "Wouldn't it Be Good"

Deserved to be a far bigger hit than it was.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

And I Don't Understand The Appeal of Clickers Either

I really don't particularly care how dopey, pseudo-Ludditish, or bull-headed it may be: I think this is my new professional manifesto:

Perhaps it is naïve of me to say that we’re at a crossroads in education, for it may well be that we came to the crossroads long ago, that we weren’t paying attention, and that now, like Young Goodman Brown, we’re well into the forest of sin and error, where the darkness around us is deep indeed. But if we are at crossroads, I would like to go on record as saying that the most important thing we can do right now is turn resolutely away from any gadget more sophisticated than chalk.

Yes! If you're able to effectively run a classroom where close readings take place and serious issues are discussed in the midst of discussion boards and video files and PowerPoint demonstrations, you have my applause. But please, please, let me keep my chalkboards. Failing that, at least keep me in classrooms where there actual "boards" (even if they are porcelain enamel whiteboards) upon upon which I can actually write, and erase, as the flow on conversation demands, and without worrying about accidentally making something blow up. At all costs, keep me away from those “smart boards,” in which your ability as a teacher to use the at all board is dependent upon your prior investment in a whole passel of online and embedded doo-dads that are designed to pop up for the students’ viewing pleasure at the barest touch. In such rooms, the possibility that a student question (remember those?) might take the lecture in an unexpected direction, requiring (wait for it) previously unprepared information dependent solely upon the spontaneously expressed expertise of the teacher be shared with the class on the board, is a thing of the past.

End of rant.

Rick Astley is in the (Oregon) House!

See? I keep telling my students that politics can be fun. (Via Garance Franke-Ruta.)

Monday, April 04, 2011

Starting the Book of Mormon, All Over Again

[Cross-posted to By Common Consent]

Today, Monday, April 4, 2011, the Fox family finished reading the Book of Mormon together, a project we last began in August of 2006. Tomorrow, assuming we maintain our usual habits, we'll be starting it once again.

This is the second time we've all read all of the BoM together--going around the family, each reading a verse or two or three, and helping the youngest sound out the words--and it won't be the last. At some point over the years (I can't remember exactly when) we started using the fancy Book of Mormon for Latter-day Saint Families for our family reading; it divides the whole book into short disposable chunks of verses, making it easy for us to get into a rhythm. (The book is almost completely trashed now, held together by duct tape, but we're too cheap to buy another copy.) That rhythm varies through the months--reading in the evening during the school year, in the morning after breakfast in the summer--and it's hardly absolute (we almost never manage to read on Friday or Saturday nights, and it usually doesn't happen during vacations or when either Melissa or I are gone for any length of time either), but still, it has served us well. I figure it will continue for years to come, at least until all the children are grown and gone, even if means starting over with "I, Nephi..." a couple more times over the next decade and a half.

Why the Book of Mormon, all the way through, again and again? Several reasons: the counsel of our church leaders, the building of family traditions, the moral value of the stories and testimonies within it. But all of those, arguably, could be satisfied with choosing the read the Bible (something that one of my daughters in particular would rather we begin). So why the BoM? The best answer is, I think, the one James Faulconer recently gave: it's a gift. Jim's a deep thinker in matters of philosophy and scripture (I need to write something about his recent book sometime), and he's a former teacher and friend. His description of the value of the Book of Mormon to those of us who find ourselves part of the Mormon faith community--whether because we were brought up in it, or because at some point we felt spiritually converted to its truth claims, or some combination thereof--makes as much sense to me as any I've ever read: "[T]he Book of Mormon isn't one of the most important gifts in the history of world because it compares to the great literature or philosophy of the world or because it has objective historical worth. It is one of the most important gifts because it is how God has chosen in our day to testify that Jesus is the Messiah, our Savior."

The way I see it, the whole point of the Christian religion, in all its varieties, is to draw close to, to learn how to emulate, and to experience in one's own fallen and sinful life the grace and wisdom and love and forgiveness of Jesus Christ. You can get that through study and service, you can get that through devotion and prayer, and of course you ought to pursue all of those routes in your life. But whatever way you choose, whatever variety of Christianity is one's own, getting close to Jesus means keeping the fact of His existence before one's eyes. This isn't just Christianity; this is all religion, from Buddhist koans to Jewish phylacteries. In a world in which our lives are, both for better and for worse, variable and complex and mobile, physical reminders, civic structures, and bodily disciplines are few and far between, and consequently are of limited help in keeping oneself in the shadow of the cross, or whatever image of the divine is one's own or which spiritually pulls on you. For us Mormons, the Book of Mormon--this strange, unaccountable book, this text whose very existence as a supposed work of revelation, a restored holy record from a lost people, turns it into something which cannot be approached without being forced to reckon with whether or not there might not be a God who loves us and has something He wants us to know--serves as such a reminder, a discipline, a structure. It's 500+ pages of people talking about Jesus, and about the fights and rivalries and judgments which attend the lives of those doing the talking. Who are these people, where did they come from, where did they go, what's the backstory that led them to leave behind the many overlapping and sometimes even contradictory messages which they supposedly did? Figuring out an answer to those questions is an important and worthy task--but it is even being confronted with the questions in the first place that makes the Book of Mormon truly valuable.

The Bible is enormously valuable--as a source of theology, ethics, history, criticism, philosophy, and more. Frankly, I think it's a much superior record to that which the Book of Mormon purports to contain. In my personal scripture reading, I'm going through the New Testament right now, and I like it a lot more than the BoM. But I live in a world whose law, politics, society, and culture were built by hundreds of generations of millions of people all shaped by the Bible, whether they embraced it or rejected it or turned it inside out. If the Bible, with all its baggage, can make you into a good Christian, I'm delighted. But the Book of Mormon is a gift, a strange, challenging, surprising gift, and it keeps the message and power and promise of Jesus Christ in front of my eyes pretty damn well, perhaps better than anything else could. I recently read through the original 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon, the Reader's Edition published by Signature Books, and what it put in front of my eyes was often hard to accept; truth is, probably about half the time, it was easy for me to think I was reading a hastily scribbled 19th-century fiction, betrayed by its repetition and incoherence and occasionally horrendous grammar. But then I'd run across a passage, an account of a miracle, a word of counsel, that was just so out-of-place and wise that the possibility that only a loving God, wanting His children to somehow have access to these words "out of the dust", could have made it possible for me to be reading it in the first place made perfect sense.

I'm not convinced of the truth of everything in, or everything about, the Book of Mormon. But I'm a Christian, a Mormon Christian in particular, and--sweeping all the legitimate arguments and questions about its historicity, its language, its hermeneutics aside--dealing with this strange and out-of-place book is the way my faith community keeps Jesus before ourselves. We may collectively do other things with the book, and I don't necessarily sign on with all of those things--but I do sign on with its bottom-line status as a reminder, a gift. Believing (though also doubting) Christian that I am, getting my children to sign on with that as well is something I want, something that Melissa and I agree is a good thing. And so for that reason--along with all the others--it's the Book of Mormon for us. Beginning tomorrow. I'll give you another status report when those Foxes still living at home get to the end again, sometime in 2015 or 2016. Hope the blog will still be around then.

I Wonder If I Look Even One-Quarter this Good Sitting in Front of my Dell?

George Orwell at his typewriter, part of a Famous Writers and Their Typewriters collection, via Laura. Orwell's my favorite of those pictured, but Hitchcock, hunt-and-pecking away, is pretty good as well.

Forty-Three Years Ago in Memphis, Yesterday and Today

Martin Luther King, in Memphis on April 3, 1968, talking about the demand for union rights by public employees--and really, about all of us:

[L]et us keep the issues where they are. The issue is injustice. The issue is the refusal of Memphis to be fair and honest in its dealings with its public servants, who happen to be sanitation workers. Now, we've got to keep attention on that....

If I lived in China or even Russia, or any totalitarian country, maybe I could understand some of these illegal injunctions. Maybe I could understand the denial of certain basic First Amendment privileges, because they hadn't committed themselves to that over there. But somewhere I read of the freedom of assembly. Somewhere I read of the freedom of speech. Somewhere I read of the freedom of press. Somewhere I read that the greatness of America is the right to protest for right....

[Jesus] talked about a certain man, who fell among thieves. You remember that a Levite and a priest passed by on the other side. They didn't stop to help him. And finally a man of another race came by. He got down from his beast, decided not to be compassionate by proxy. But he got down with him, administered first aid, and helped the man in need. Jesus ended up saying, this was the good man, this was the great man, because he had the capacity to project the "I" into the "thou," and to be concerned about his brother.

Now you know, we use our imagination a great deal to try to determine why the priest and the Levite didn't stop. At times we say they were busy going to a church meeting, an ecclesiastical gathering, and they had to get on down to Jerusalem so they wouldn't be late for their meeting. At other times we would speculate that there was a religious law that "One who was engaged in religious ceremonials was not to touch a human body twenty-four hours before the ceremony." And every now and then we begin to wonder whether maybe they were not going down to Jerusalem -- or down to Jericho, rather to organize a "Jericho Road Improvement Association." That's a possibility. Maybe they felt that it was better to deal with the problem from the causal root, rather than to get bogged down with an individual effect.

But I'm going to tell you what my imagination tells me. It's possible that those men were afraid. You see, the Jericho road is a dangerous road. I remember when Mrs. King and I were first in Jerusalem. We rented a car and drove from Jerusalem down to Jericho. And as soon as we got on that road, I said to my wife, "I can see why Jesus used this as the setting for his parable." It's a winding, meandering road. It's really conducive for ambushing. You start out in Jerusalem, which is about 1200 miles -- or rather 1200 feet above sea level. And by the time you get down to Jericho, fifteen or twenty minutes later, you're about 2200 feet below sea level. That's a dangerous road. In the days of Jesus it came to be known as the "Bloody Pass." And you know, it's possible that the priest and the Levite looked over that man on the ground and wondered if the robbers were still around. Or it's possible that they felt that the man on the ground was merely faking. And he was acting like he had been robbed and hurt, in order to seize them over there, lure them there for quick and easy seizure. And so the first question that the priest asked -- the first question that the Levite asked was, "If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?" But then the Good Samaritan came by. And he reversed the question: "If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?"

That's the question before you tonight. Not, "If I stop to help the sanitation workers, what will happen to my job. Not, "If I stop to help the sanitation workers what will happen to all of the hours that I usually spend in my office every day and every week as a pastor?" The question is not, "If I stop to help this man in need, what will happen to me?" The question is, "If I do not stop to help the sanitation workers, what will happen to them?" That's the question.

MLK was assassinated the next day.

Friday, April 01, 2011

Special April Fools Friday Morning Videos: "I Lost On Jeopardy"

Who else could I select for today except Weird Al? Let's go way back, everyone:

I know, I could have done "Eat It"--or "The Saga Begins", or "Fat", or "White and Nerdy", or "Smells Like Nirvana", or a personal favorite of mine, "Dare to Be Stupid". Too many to choose from people, just too many. But hey, at least in this one gives Weird Al's inspiration, Dr. Demento, a much-deserved nod.

Oh Man--the British Even do April Fools Better Than Us

Is there no holiday that the British can't outclass Americans in? Sigh. Anyway, enjoy this from The Guardian, via Chris Brooke:

A decade ago, the Guardian prominently announced its commitment to republicanism. But Prince William has shown that he can be a new kind of king. That is why, in a significant change of course, we today pledge our full-throated support for the British monarchy.

Let's face it: the current crop of world leaders is far from inspiring. Across the Arab world, dictators battle their own people; at home, attitudes towards [David] Cameron and [Nick] Clegg alternate between apathy and outrage. In America, the hope that greeted Barack Obama has long since faded. As The King's Speech so vividly reminded us, there are times when only the calming leadership of a hereditary monarch will do; and as the MPs' expenses scandal illustrates, it can be dangerous to trust power-hungry elected officials, who lack the security provided by land ownership and immense wealth. Amid all this, William in particular stands out as something unique: a bastion of tradition with a deeply modern sensibility – not to mention a helicopter pilot's licence. When the time comes, we urge Prince Charles to redouble his focus on his important work in the field of alternative medicine, and to pass the mantle of head of state to his son.

For too long, a hair-shirt tendency on the left has insisted that a commitment to progressive values is incompatible with an appreciation for the magic and wonder of royalty. But in this era of austerity, couldn't we all do with being a bit more "happy and glorious"? Few things, after all, are as likely to lift the spirits of Britain's embattled public sector workers or benefit claimants than the sight of Kate Middleton's sure-to-be-spectacular wedding dress.

The couple themselves, meanwhile, reflect values close to this paper's own. William encapsulates our spirit of internationalism, thanks to his Greek and German heritage on his father's side, and his gap year in Chile. Kate embodies our commitment to gender equality in the way in which she has faced work-life challenges common to many women today, juggling such roles as accessories buyer for Jigsaw and being one of Tattler magazine's top 10 fashion icons. Other royals, too, are surely deserving of recognition: belatedly, for example, we have come to appreciate the crucial work done by Prince Andrew, using his personal connections to plant the seeds of democracy in repressive regimes worldwide.

Beginning today, the Guardian announces a raft of changes designed to ensure that our royal coverage is unrivalled by any other media organisation. We begin an unprecedented month-long, 24-hour royal wedding live blog, offering minute-by-minute coverage of the preparations. We will be recalling correspondents from some less newsworthy parts of the globe, such as north Africa and south-east Asia, so they can focus on palace matters instead. And we will shortly be making available to readers a range of attractive commemorative crockery.

The marriage of a prince to a commoner – a true bridging of class divides, if ever there was one – represents the perfect moment for progressives to commit again to the promise of hereditary monarchy. Great philosophers, from Burke to Andrew Morton, have argued powerfully for the institution's value. In any case, it would be churlish to fight the tide of excitement and optimism currently flooding the nation. It is time to put away the cynicism, and get out the union jacks.

(For the above image, hat tip: Laura McKenna. Just be glad I didn't choose to feature the commemorative condoms.)