Thursday, December 27, 2007

Minnesota is God's Country

In case you had any doubt, research now shows that Minnesota is the most biblical state. In terms of the tax system, that is (you have to read all the way to the bottom to get that tidbit). I was surprised when I moved from Minnesota to Illinois at how comparatively little this state does for the lower classes. I assumed that blue states were ipso facto good places to be poor, so I was surprised that I had to pay Illinois income tax when my wife and I had a combined income of $12,000 one year. There are a lot of other ways that Illinois sticks it to you, from tolls to the fact that you usually have to buy a sticker from your town of residence to put on your car windshield.

Now, the Rev. Josh Hansen will note (if he's reading) that South Dakota is one of the Sinful Six. I look forward to his rejoinder.

Anyway, I think this will have to be my last post for a while so that I can work on a paper I have to turn in next month. I will do my best to return to form as soon as possible.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Archbishop: Jesus Was Never Born (Not)

This article was passed around for scorning purposes at work today (HT: Adam Graber). Now, faithful readers know that the Right Reverend Lord Archbishop Williams is not my favorite thoroughly boring scholar with bushy eyebrows and a neck beard. However, the great injustice that this article does to him arouses my sympathy. Williams is simply debunking the post-biblical legends that have crept up around the nativity story through centuries of (legitimate) artistic depiction. He doesn't say a word, as far as I can tell, about whether the gospel accounts themselves are legendary.

If I ran the Telegraph, Ms. Sophie Borland would be on probation until she could explain the difference between "the nativity" and "a nativity scene." Of course, her article probably drove more traffic to the Telegraph website than any other today, which is probably why I'm not being asked to run the Telegraph. Nonetheless, she should also be required to read Ben Witherington's article in the Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels about the gospel birth narratives.

Speaking of Witherington, he debunks another element of post-biblical nativity legend here (HT: Jon Schindler).

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Does this really count as news? or research?

From the Star-Tribune:

Researchers have found that rural drivers are more complacent when it comes to common safety practices on the road than their urban counterparts, according to a new University of Minnesota study.

I hear tell that researchers in the College of Biological Sciences have also recently discovered that bears crap in the woods.

"The most interesting thing about the research is that people were willing to tell us the truth about their behaviors, Rakauskas said in a university news release Tuesday announcing his findings, "that rural drivers aren't wearing their seat belt and think that drunk driving isn't that dangerous, so education may help prevent crashes for these risk factors.

[By the way, I'm not responsible for the quotation-mark weirdness in that paragraph. That's how it reads in the original.]

Now, I grew up in a small town. I even drove a pick-up. But I was definitely a town kid, not a farm kid. Part of that legacy is that I wear my seatbelt automatically. Also, other than when I worked construction in the summers, I did not generally make eye contact with oncoming drivers and lift my index finger off the steering wheel to acknowledge them as they passed. (I'm surprised that piece of rural driving culture wasn't cited.)

On the other hand, when you drive a lot of places where you don't need a seatbelt (from the garage to the hog shed, on empty gravel roads) you kind of get out of the habit. Also, it's simply not possible to wear a seatbelt when you're driving around shirtless in the summer.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

More Lesser-known Verses

Linus has one of Jesus' less gentle statements up on his blog; I don't know why exactly. You can ask him if you think you'll get a straight answer. Linus's quote occurs in the same passage as one of my favorite enigmatic sayings:

"I have come to set the world on fire, and I wish it were already burning!"

Is he saying that he longs for the day of judgment? Most of the time, God is said to be slow to anger, not eager to punish. I suppose the best answer is that he's longing for his own day of judgment. He knows that the abyss lies ahead of him and he wants to get it over with:

"I have a terrible baptism of suffering ahead of me, and I am under a heavy burden until it is accomplished."

Monday, December 17, 2007

Lord please don't let me become a politics news junkie this year

It's probably too late. The race has been getting more exciting in the last couple of weeks. Of course, it was really boring before. I was ignoring all campaign news and debates out of principle before November. In my head at least, there is no campaigning allowed more than a year ahead of time.

I enjoy trying to separate the personality from the policies by taking candidate match quizzes. When both parties are having full out primary campaigns and you've got a dozen candidates to choose from, it should be fairly easy to find someone who you agree with on most of the major issues, right? (By the way, I believe this is the first time since 1952 that no one is running who has already been president or vice-president. Cool, huh?)

The best quizzes allow you to rank how important an issue is to you. This one seems pretty good. Some quizzes are just awful, like this one. In the quiz creator's universe, my position on stem cell research can be summarized as "I don't think it is ok to develop new medicines and treatments, my god says so, or I think they kill babies for it." Also plays annoying music. This one is decent, but they include a lot of candidates who aren't really running. Including Stephen Colbert.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Favorite Christmas Song?

Today at my office Christmas party, we sang some of the rarer Christmas songs: "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel," "What Child Is This?" It prompts the question, What is the best Christmas song ever?

The correct answer will be revealed this weekend.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Your Life Hack of the Day

First of all, I want to thank Linus for the present. I haven't opened it yet, as Mrs. Chaka still isn't back from work. I assume that Linus is the sender--he's the only one I can think of who would send me something from Jungle Jim's International Market. So if you're reading, Linus, thank you.

Your life hack of the day is this: Premium postcards from the U. S. Postal Service. You can upload your own photo and create a postcard to send out to family and friends. This is way cheaper than ordering photocards at Wal-Mart or mailing Christmas letters, and you don't have to stamp and mail them yourself. There's a fairly tight word limit on the back, but if you don't have four kids to brag about, you'll probably have room to share the important news and wish people Merry Christmas.

Should either of the two readers care to receive one from the Chakas, please email me your address.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Chaka is not hipper-than-thou

Here's a short article about Rob Bell. I know very little about him, just the names of his books, this article, and this video. Go watch it. Go on.

I have one or two quibbles with the content, at the level of "I don't know if that's quite how I would put it." Overall, it's a beautiful production, very cool. I'm glad somebody out there is making stuff like this, because some of us have never been and will never be cool (despite getting slightly more rectangular glasses a couple years ago).

Is "jerk" a theological category?

D. C. Cramer posted this comic on his blog last week:

I've been thinking about the category of "jerk" ever since. As we saunter through life, is God evaluating our "jerkiness" in addition to our practice of love, justice, and mercy? One of my junior high classmates had a tie-dyed t-shirt with what looked like a dictionary definition of "jerk" on the back. Being a compulsive reader, I read it. When I got to definition 4, I ran into the punch line: "People who read the back of other people's t-shirts." So I guess I'm a jerk by at least one person's standards.

I have a feeling that a lot of people read this comic and thought, "Take that, evangelicals! Jerks!" It's a sentiment that seems to be growing in popularity, and one that I'm not certain how to respond to. I guess it's easier for me to interact with criticism about beliefs or practices, but what do you say to someone who calls you a jerk, given that, like my classmate's t-shirt, that's a pretty jerky thing to do in itself.

Monday, December 10, 2007

A Less Arcane Post

I apologize to Special K for the allusive nature of the last post. Did the links not send you on a Wikipedia-browsing binge? Wikipedia explains all.

So, dialing down the obscurity a hair, I'll talk about PBS. It's pledge drive time again, and you know what that means: concerts by that long-haired Dutch guy, Placido Domingo, Engelbert Humperdinck. (I would love to see the results of an experiment with sound symbolism that asked speakers of different languages to describe a man named Engelbert Humperdinck, based solely on the sound of his name. What imagery does it conjure for you?)

They don't seem to run Anne of Green Gables during pledge time anymore. The first time I remember being allowed to stay up past midnight was during the Anne of Green Gables marathon. I was very excited. No, we didn't have cable, why do you ask?

So, did I mention it's pledge drive time again? Operators are waiting to take your call. Out of the many things that make me feel obligated to give money (the Salvation Army kettle, missionaries, orphanages, food pantries, people with no gas in their cars), PBS has never managed to pluck the old heart strings and loosen the purse strings. Prospects for the future aren't promising, either, seeing as how I'll eventually have to start contributing to my alma maters (at least the U and Trinity; the University of Edinburgh is on its own). See, I got scholarships from the U, so I have to give back, and I didn't get scholarships from Trinity, so I need to help them build their endowment. So many dollars already spoken for.

Anyway, it's pledge drive time, and one of our local PBS stations ran one of the most enjoyable documentaries I've ever seen: a history of Chicago food. Full title: Foods of Chicago: A Delicious History. The linked site has previews. All the major immigrant communities get a chapter--except for the unconscionable and inexplicable omission of the Luxembourgers.

Friday, December 07, 2007

You know, it's been too long since a bearded man has appeared at the top of this page


That beard (and those eyebrows!) belong to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, who believes that the U.S. is a much worse imperialist than Britain ever was. Click on his smiling face to read all about it. I'd like to respond to this belief in a rather British way: i.e., with understatement, indirectness, and of course, ad hominem ridicule.

First, does my Most Reverend and Right Honorable Lord Archbishop have anything to say about his rather dull tome on Arius? Self-described history nerds are on record as saying "One might as well have published a catalog."

Second, as "the leader of the worldwide Anglican Communion," has my Most Reverend and Right Honorable Lord Archbishop noticed that the Anglican Communion is not limited to England, but is, in fact, worldwide? Now why is it that a British bishop should be the leader of such a diverse group of people? I suppose somebody has to be in charge. Like the Roman Catholics; their version of the Archbishop of Canterbury--I forget what they call him, but I'm sure my Lord Archbishop runs into him at the big conferences--their version is the bishop of Rome. They say it has to do with the apostle Peter, but one suspects Rome being the capital of the empire had something to do with it.

Third, is my Lord Archbishop acquainted with this Cecil Rhodes fellow?

Fourth, regarding the idea that "violent action will somehow clear the decks and that you can move on and other people will put it back together," has my Lord Archbishop heard the one about the Partition of India? No? How about the Mandate of Palestine?

Finally, does the beam in my Lord Archbishop's eye bother him much?

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

On Having the Right Enemies

I loved the days of the original Napster. Or as I will call them when narrating my youth to my grandchildren, "the wild and wooly days of the Internet." But they won't understand the word "wooly," in all likelihood. Or the word "Internet," for that matter. I will be as out of it as the 80-year-old woman I talked to who never bought a personal computer because she was waiting for the technology to stabilize. She used a computer as a college student (she attended college after her children had grown), but as she said, "I haven't sat down in front of a terminal in years."

I always say that the music industry got a lot more of my money because of Napster than they would have otherwise. I sample free music, I find out I like an artist, I buy CDs. They should have had me testify before Congress. (Unbelievably, YouTube doesn't have the video of Lars Ulrich testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee. You can read a transcript here, but it's just not the same as watching Orin Hatch launch questions at him like, "What if I buy a CD of the Black Album and make a tape of it to keep in my car? What if I then lend that tape to my wife. . .)

Why am I talking about Napster? Because the Google Books project may meet the same end, alas, or so says this author. Best line:

Google has, as they say, all the right enemies. Anytime the ALA, Microsoft, France, a trade guild, and a bunch of trial lawyers are lined up on one side of an argument, the other side is going to look extremely attractive.
Regarding yesterday's post, the original Napster and Google Books could be filed under "things I will do until the law tells me its wrong."

BTW: apparently Google is mapping Middle Earth.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

There Ought (Not) to Be a Law!

Reading Lileks today reminded me of a line from Alexander Solzhenitsyn's Harvard commencement address. (Not the part about Ed Sullivan. Scroll down to the paragraph that begins "Instapundit noted this ABC story: divorce hurts the planet" and read on from there.)

One of the primary conservative impulses is to resist the urge to outlaw everything that is bad. This is usually defended in libertarian terms, with the freedom of the individual elevated as the highest (or at least, higher) good. But Solzhenitsyn's address suggests a critique from the opposite direction: the urge to outlaw every bad thing correlates with the attitude that whatever is legal is good. Read the whole address here, but the paragraph I'm thinking of is excerpted below:

Western society has given itself the organization best suited to its purposes, based, I would say, on the letter of the law. The limits of human rights and righteousness are determined by a system of laws; such limits are very broad. People in the West have acquired considerable skill in using, interpreting and manipulating law, even though laws tend to be too complicated for an average person to understand without the help of an expert. Any conflict is solved according to the letter of the law and this is considered to be the supreme solution. If one is right from a legal point of view, nothing more is required, nobody may mention that one could still not be entirely right, and urge self-restraint, a willingness to renounce such legal rights, sacrifice and selfless risk: it would sound simply absurd. One almost never sees voluntary self-restraint. Everybody operates at the extreme limit of those legal frames. An oil company is legally blameless when it purchases an invention of a new type of energy in order to prevent its use. A food product manufacturer is legally blameless when he poisons his produce to make it last longer: after all, people are free not to buy it.

My question, then, is this: How can we fight the notion that "If one is right from a legal point of view, nothing more is required"?

Monday, December 03, 2007

New Topic!

Things I love about this story:

1) Spain has a king. Descendent of the Sun King, Queen Victoria--all that.

2) He dissed Chavez not only by telling him to shut up, but also by using the familiar "tu" form of the verb instead of the formal "Usted."

3) Chavez's quotes: "fascists are not human. A snake is more human." And "I do not offend by telling the truth." If only, my friend, if only.

Regarding the preceding discussion, I just want to note that Pirate Jimmy brings the discussion back to where it is most relevant in his comment about the church needing to be connected with the world. His argument is basically the argument that the presenter was making at this conference--a Christian author should be unafraid to use the f-bomb, since it demonstrates that you're not out of touch. I disagree, for the reasons cited. As the same presenter said, "Christ has to effect every detail of your life," including whether you practice sexual violence, but not excluding whether you draw power from alluding to sexual violence.

May we each follow our consciences and not despise each other.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Why the F-bomb is Sexist Verbal Violence

One of the fundamental principles of modern linguistics is that there is only an arbitrary connection between a word and what it signifies. It is a matter of social convention that the f-bomb means what it means and fudge means “To fit together or adjust in a clumsy, makeshift, or dishonest manner” (OED). So Pirate Jimmy is right to say that the power of the f-bomb is granted by the audience—it is social convention (the word-meaning association and the taboo), not the inherent nature of the word itself, that generates its power.

Yet this fact does nothing to diminish the reality of the f-bomb’s verbal violence. The fact that the word-meaning association is arbitrary means only that it could theoretically be changed; one can imagine a world where it was different. Arbitrariness does not mean that it is in fact in our power to change it. As speakers of English (or any language), we enter into a linguistic world that we had no hand in creating, and which we have almost no power over. Even though the word-meaning association was established arbitrarily, it is now established. I can no more drain the f-bomb of its power in the social sphere than I can abolish racism by willing the n-word to mean “dear brother.”

When a speaker deploys the f-bomb, he invokes a preexisting metaphor, one that depends upon a sexist and violent view of the world. Sometimes he does it because he is sexist and violent; most of the time, he does it simply because the metaphor is taboo, and he lends his words power by violating the taboo.

I can’t say it any better than Octavio Paz, and I offer this clumsy translation (with help from babelfish) of a part of his essay. In some places, I have changed forms of chingar to the equivalent form of the f-bomb.

But the plurality of meanings [of chingar] does not prevent the aggression idea (in all its degrees, from the simple sense of “make uncomfortable” . . . to the senses “to violate,” “to tear” and “to kill”) from always appearing as the ultimate meaning. The verb denotes violence, to leave the self and penetrate another by force. And also, to hurt, to tear, to violate (whether bodies, souls, or objects), to destroy. When something is broken, we say: “se chinga [It’s f---ed up]”. . . . The idea of "to break" and "to open" reappears in almost all the expressions. The word has a tinge of sexuality, but it is not synonymous with the sexual act; it is possible to chingar a woman without having it. And when the sexual act is alluded to, the sense of violation or deceit lends a particular shade to it. The one who [f---s] never does so with the consent of the [f----ed] one. In sum, to chingar is to do violence to another. It is a masculine, active, cruel verb: it stings, it hurts, it tears, it stains. And it causes a bitter, resented satisfaction in the one who does it. The [f---ed] thing is the passive, the inert and open thing, as opposed to that which [f---s], which is active, aggressive and closed. Ching√≥n is the male, the one that opens. The chingada one, the female, the pure passivity, defenseless before the outside. The relation between the two is violent, determined by the cynical power of the first and impotence of the other. The violation idea darkly governs all the meanings.