Friday, February 29, 2008

Not that you care, but . . .

This is a new wrinkle on the generic he / generic she issue:

"In RT [Relevance Theory], speakers or writers are commonly marked with feminine pronouns while hearers or readers are marked with masculine pronouns."

From Gene L. Green, "Lexical Pragmatics and Biblical Interpretation," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 50.4 (Dec 2007) 799-812.

You know what I miss? Fall.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Ave atque vale

William F. Buckley has passed. In tribute, I offer this discussion between Buckley and Noam Chomsky for your viewing pleasure. It's hard to imagine two people with more diametrically opposed political philosophies, and assumptions about the nature of the world. Yet they're having a mostly pleasant discussion. A nice contrast to today's cable shoutfests.

I'll agree with both parties that the world is a complex place. Forty years on, I think Chomsky's analysis is probably prevailing in public opinion. Is it too reductionistic, though? The world is a complex place, but at the bottom of every military action, attack or retreat, we are sure to find imperial interest. I'm not saying it's a silly argument that human beings do nothing good. (I'm surprised there aren't more Calvinists that hold this position. Total depravity and all that.) A problem with the theory, like most conspiracy theories, is that it requires the bad guys to be smarter than they could possibly be.

What do you think?

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Can our language be saved?

David Gelernter agonizes. I don't think the course he decries is reversible, and frankly, I don't care. I agree that it's historically inaccurate to suggest that generic "he" was meant to exclude women. But that ship, as they say, has sailed. Contemporary readers are now sensitized to the generic male pronoun and perceive it as exclusive. I'll also agree that "he or she," "he/she," and the space-saving "s/he" are ugly constructions. Personally, I like the tactic of replacing or alternating "he" with "she." I remember being jarred by that device when I first saw it, but it no longer creates any confusion for me, and I find it a satisfactory solution.

Do you find it distracting when an author uses a generic "she"? Have I just read one too many Cultural Studies texts?

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Another new acquaintance

I just noticed the comment from Richard A. Rhodes on the post below. I've read and appreciated his Better Bibles Blog a few times in the past. I interpret the first part of his comment to indicate his indignation at all linguists being lumped in with the East Coast schools (Chomsky et al.). I do apologize for that. My statement that linguists are to blame for the inaccesibility of the field was a reflection of my own frustration with some of the jargon-loving and insular tendencies of the linguistics that I was exposed to. Almost at the end of my very Chomskyan B. A. in Linguistics, I came to appreciated the tremendous contribution that SIL linguists have made (which is partly why I aspire to be one). And I have high hopes for their work influencing how we English speakers study the Bible. As for the position he takes in the post that he linked to, he'll get no arguments from me.

A new acquaintance

Here's the blog of a guy I met last night. I think I've stumbled across it before, in reading about the philosopher Slavoj Zizek. Anyway, the current post makes a good point about the temptation for Christians who are concerned about social justice to put their hope in a candidate instead of working for justice in their own communities. (Perhaps this is especially tempting for young evangelicals who are relative newcomers to social justice activism.)

One of the things I find frustrating about the presidential race is listening to all the promises the candidates make, all the problems that they pledge to solve. Call me crazy, but I'd rather the president focused on fewer problems rather than more. I'm developing a prejudice for local solutions over national ones. The flow of power and responsibility seems to always be in the direction of larger and more remote entities. If you're a libertarian/conservative, the evil entities in question are governmental; if you're Green/liberal, they're multinational corporations. I lack the data to judge which side is right, but in either scenario, the responsibility/ability to solve problems is shifting out and away from the communities that have the most awareness of the problem, the most motivation to solve it, and the flexibility to fine tune the solution.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

African Adam

Quite frankly, I don't exactly know what to do with data like this. The fact that genetic diversity decreases the further away you get from east Africa seems to be fairly convincing evidence that we are all descended from someone who lived in east Africa. As someone who believes in the truthfulness of Scripture and who doesn't believe that science is a conspiracy to turn people away from faith, I'm interested in the tension between this account of human ancestry and the account in Genesis, which locates our first parents in Mesopotamia.

I have a few ideas on the subject, which have been knocking around in my head since at least halfway through college. For one thing, I think that we have to recognize some unique sensitivities we have as children of the Enlightenment. I'm not saying that these sensitivities are a bad thing, but we shouldn't be flabbergasted when people in premodern cultures don't share them. One thing I don't think premoderns cared so much about: anachronism. In Salisbury Cathedral, I saw medieval carvings of biblical stories with the characters dressed in what would have been contemporary clothing. I wondered, Did they really not know that people dressed and looked differently in the biblical cultures? Then I realized that the stonemason probably wouldn't have cared if he did know. In a world with only a handful of historical documents available to be read by the handful of literate people, and almost no cross-cultural contact for the average person, the more "accurate" the carving, the less meaningful it would be to its audience.

The point that I'm trying to reach is that the first readers of Genesis probably already thought of their origins as lying in the east, long before Genesis was written. So a story about origins was naturally framed in an eastern, Mesopotamian setting. I imagine a modern such as myself confronting Moses about his "anachronism" and getting a shrug, or a blank stare.

Not the most satisfying resolution, I know. I keep hoping to hear what better thinkers than myself have to say about the topic. I'm going to a conference about Science and Faith in March, but I don't remember seeing any papers on this subject. I've never seen the issue of human origins in Africa dealt with in a commentary on Genesis.

On a related subject, didn't someone I know work on the Potato Genome Project?

Extraterrestrial contact

[Tuesday evening in the Chaka household, during the commercial break for American Idol]

Chaka: Have you noticed how the models in Old Navy ads . . .
Mrs. Chaka: Are like from another planet?

Whatever planet they're on, the Old Navy stores there don't seem to sell paper thin, already-unraveling sweatshop wear.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Review of "Relevance Theory and the Translation of Scripture"

Alright, so I'm going to throw this out there on the web. It's a review of an article in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society that interacts with contemporary linguistics and Bible translation (hence, up my alley). You can read an article by the same author, Karen Jobes, that covers some of the same ground here. WARNING: This is some inside baseball, even by my standards. If it bores you to tears, you can watch this. Or this:

Review of Karen H. Jobes, “Relevance Theory and the Translation of Scripture” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 50.4 (December 2007) 773-797.



Jobes begins by pointing out the unique relationship between Christianity and translation. This embrace of translation is striking considering the long-discussed problems with translation and authority. In contrast to Islam and rabbinic Judaism, the first Christians embraced the translation of God’s authoritative Word into new languages. The apostles were content to quote the scriptures of the First Covenant in Greek translation, with every indication that they considered these quotes authoritative. Although Augustine considered the Old Greek translation the only authoritative Old Testament, evangelicals emphasize the authority of the autographs (original texts) and believe that translations are authoritative to the extent that they “faithfully communicate the same meaning as the original” (776).

The evangelical position requires us to interact with theories of language. Is it possible to translate “accurately into any and every other language?” (777). The many Christians engaged in Bible translation would say yes, but some linguistic scholars, both ancient (Iamblichus) and modern (Humboldt, Whorf, and Sapir) have said no. If accurate translation is possible, what makes for an accurate translation?

Controlling Beliefs

Jobes outlines 8 “controlling beliefs” about language that are “either explicitly stated in the Bible or . . . necessary entailment[s] of explicit biblical statements” (777). They are:

  1. “There is a fundamental correspondence between language used by human creatures and the world made by the Creator’s language—made independently of the human mind” (778). This is based on Gen 1:1-31; 2:7.
  2. God created human language so that we could communicate with him and each other (Gen 1:27; 2:16-23; 3:8-20).
  3. The relationship between language and reality among humans is no longer reliable, thanks to the fall. Humans believed the serpent’s false “reality” and perpetuate their own false “realities” with language. This is why God responds with verbal revelation.
  4. God is the originator of language diversity and the rules of each language (based on the story of Babel, Gen 11:1-9).
  5. An implication of #4 is that God’s message is not hindered by language diversity or the nature of any given language.
  6. “Meaning is sufficiently transferrable between languages for God’s purposes” (779).
  7. “There is no human language that is unsuitable for communicating God’s word” (779). Beliefs #6 and 7 are based on the story of Pentecost (Acts 2).
  8. “Bible translation is an essential part of God’s redemptive plan” (780). Jobes deduces this from the presence of speakers of every language in Rev 14:6.

Translation Theory

Regarding translation theory, Jobes contrasts preserving the form of a text in translation with preserving its meaning. She cites Luther to show that meaning takes priority over form. To answer the question of how to best transfer meaning, we must interact with psycholinguistic theory, in particular, a relatively new field called Relevance Theory.

Relevance Theory

The prevailing linguistic model of the 20th century envisioned meaning as encoded primarily in words. The most influential thinker in Bible translation, Eugene Nida, shows dependence on this model. In contrast, relevance theory (whose best-known proponents are Dan Sperber and Deirdre Wilson) focuses on “how what is only implied in a statement contributes to determining the meaning of what is explicitly said” (782). Jobes argues that the attention to pragmatic context makes relevance theory more cognitively and neurologically realistic: The model more closely reflects how the brain actually processes meaning. Four concepts of cognitive science that fit with relevance theory are “best-fit matching,” “spreading activation of neural networks,” “conceptual schemas,” and “cultural frames.”

Experimentation has shown that even in utero, the human brain begins categorizing some information as relevant (such as the speech sounds of the mother’s language) and other information as irrelevant (the sounds of other languages). In adults, the brain constantly disambiguates multiple possible meanings of words and sentences. Research has shown that the disambiguation process proceeds on the basis of which neural networks have already been activated in the hearer’s mind. For example, the sentence “She doesn’t play here anymore” will be interpreted differently if the context is a tennis court vs. a concert hall.

Sperber and Wilson theorize that three types of information are activated when a word is perceived: (1) the lexical entry, which contains the word’s sound-shape and syntactic information (e.g., whether it is a noun or a verb); (2) the set of deductive relationships that apply to the word (e.g., a dog is an animal); and (3) the encyclopedic entry, which is basically everything the person knows about the word (e.g., that dogs supposedly chase cats).

Feldman proposes that certain universal schemas govern the mental processing of language. The schemas develop upon earliest contact with the physical environment, e.g., an infant comes to understand the concept of physical support before she can use words like “support,” “on,” etc.

The sentence “He slipped on the wet floor and dropped the glass pitcher” illustrates how the brain processes explicit information in light of schemas (i.e., the nature of gravity) and encyclopedic knowledge (i.e., the nature of glass). The statement “communicates the proposition, ‘The pitcher is broken,’ even though those words are not explicitly stated” (788). Jobes continues, “if the speaker did not mean to communicate that the pitcher broke, she would have to go on to say, ‘And amazingly the pitcher didn’t break’ to disconfirm the strongly associated inference” (788).

The illustration and psychological research show that “what is implied by language is just as much a part of the meaning communicated as what is explicitly said” (789). In this light, it is important for Bible translators to know that “simply plugging in the equivalent words more often than not will fail to preserve the implicatures intended by the original language.” The translator must constantly decide what implicatures are intended by the original and whether/how to make them explicit in the translation.

A Wycliffe translator named Ernst-August Gutt gives contrasting examples of “direct” translation (where the implicatures are not made explicit) and “indirect” translation (where they are).

Matt 9:6 (RSV): “But that you may know that the Son of man has authority on earth to forgive sin”—he then said to the paralytic—“Rise, take up your bed and go home.”

Matt 9:6 (back-translation from Ifugao version): “But I will prove my speech to you. You know that it is God alone who removes sickness. You also know that it is God alone who forgives sin. And so, if I remove the sickness of this person and he walks, that’s the proof that I, the Elder sibling of all people, I also have the ability to forgive sin.” Jesus turned toward the paralytic and said, “Get up, take your stretcher and go to your (pl.) house!”

This illustration shows that the more implicatures a translation makes explicit, the more verbose it becomes (note the verbosity of The Message). Jobes then presents a simple comparison of some English versions on the basis of their verbosity. “If formal equivalence could be ideally achieved . . . the number of words in the translation would correspond closely to the number of words in the original” (795). But a comparison of word count “shows some surprising results (796):


% more words than Hebrew and Greek originals




















In my experience, biblical scholars often do a fairly mediocre job of interacting with contemporary linguistics. The field is a difficult one to appreciate, and outsiders tend to latch on to some piece of theory which they appreciate or abhor without understanding the whole argument. However, Jobes's interaction with linguistic and cognitive theory is possibly the best I have seen from a biblical scholar. She clearly understands Sperber and Wilson's arguments and presents them clearly. Jobes's case for the cognitive reality of relevance theory and its importance for Bible translators is convincing.

Areas for Development

There are a few underdeveloped themes in this essay, however, that I would love to see more work on. First, Jobes raises two fundamental (and related) questions about language: (1) Does language refer to things that are really "out there" in the world, or does it only refer to things "in our heads"? and (2) Is it possible to translate a message between all and any languages? Perhaps it is unfair to fault Jobes for not providing a complete answer to these complex questions, since to do so would take a completely different article (or even a few books). However, she answers them simply by deducing certain beliefs from Scripture, not by interacting with the linguistic or philosophical arguments for and against them. Namely, (1) because God created the universe by speech and spoke with human beings, there is a real connection between speech and the world "out there" and (2) because God spoke in multiple languages at Pentecost, all languages are suitable for God's revelation. I'm fairly sure I agree with Jobes's conclusions on both of these, but I don't see how her deductions would convince anyone who doesn't already agree. In particular, if I were an agnostic linguist who has made real arguments for language referring to things "in our heads", I think Jobes's argument from creation would simply annoy me. (As it is, I'm not sure what to believe on this question. Ray Jackendoff's argument for language referring to things "in our head" is compelling, and doesn't seem to be inimical to Christian faith. See Foundations of Language, chapter 10, "Reference and Truth".)


The chart of verbosity at the end is probably the part of the article that will grab the most attention, because it is concrete and it runs contrary to common perceptions about translations. The NLT comes off as less verbose than the ESV. This is not an argument for or against either translation, as Jobes makes clear. She makes the point that verbosity is a side effect of a legitimate endeavor, that is, making what is implicit in the text explicit. So the chart could be taken to show that the ESV is a "better" translation because it does more explaining.

The thing is, it's hard to believe that the NLT does less explaining of implicatures than the ESV. It seems like there has to be more to the difference in word count than explanatory expansions. One reason the ESV might have more words is that it translates the initial Ands while the NLT is more likely to leave them off in the interests of good English style. Let's look at an actual passage (Matt 9:1-3):

Matthew 9:1-3



Word Count

Wooden Translation; one English word for one Greek word

And embarking into boat crossed and came to his own town. And behold brought him paralytic lying upon bed. And the Jesus seeing the their faith said to paralytic, "Courage, child; your sins are forgiven." And behold some of scribes said to themselves, "He blasphemes."

45 words


And getting into a boat he crossed over and came to his own city. And behold, some people brought to him a paralytic, lying on a bed. And when [...] Jesus saw [...] their faith, he said to the paralytic, "Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven." And behold, some of the scribes said to themselves, "This man is blaspheming."

59 words; 13 words added (2 of which are making the implicit explicit--"some people"), 2 words omitted


Jesus climbed into a boat and went back across the lake [...] [...] to his own town. [...] [...] Some people brought to him a paralyzed man [...] on a mat. [...] Seeing [...] their faith, [...] Jesus said to the paralyzed man, “Be encouraged, my child! Your sins are forgiven.” But [...] some of the teachers of religious law said to themselves, “That’s blasphemy! Does he think he’s God?

61 words; 21 words added (13 of which are making the implicit explicit), 9 words omitted

The ESV and NLT both add words in some cases because English requires more words to express the same thought (e.g., the indefinite articles, subject pronouns, and expressions like "Take heart"). But the NLT clearly has more explanation than the ESV ("across the lake", "of religious law", "Does he think he's God?"). The NLT has roughly the same word count as the ESV because it also trims more words from the original to make up for the expansions, cutting words like "and", "behold", and "lying". Given that the ESV supposedly has 16,000 more words than NLT, my guess is that the NLT must trim these low-semantic-content words fairly aggressively throughout the Bible. I would also hypothesize that the NIV does a lot of the same trimming but doesn't make as many expansions, while the TNIV makes a few more expansions.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Yahweh Rides the Storm

One of my favorite things about the Bible are the poetic images of God. Take this passage from Psalm 18:

7 Then the earth quaked and trembled.
The foundations of the mountains shook;
they quaked because of his anger.
8 Smoke poured from his nostrils;
fierce flames leaped from his mouth.
Glowing coals blazed forth from him.
9 He opened the heavens and came down;
dark storm clouds were beneath his feet.
10 Mounted on a mighty angelic being, he flew,
soaring on the wings of the wind.
11 He shrouded himself in darkness,
veiling his approach with dark rain clouds.
12 Thick clouds shielded the brightness around him
and rained down hail and burning coals.
13 The Lord thundered from heaven;
the voice of the Most High resounded
amid the hail and burning coals.

This poem pictures God riding to the rescue on storm clouds. It also pictures him riding a "mighty angelic being," a cherub. That doesn't make a lot of sense if you're thinking about one of these:

But when you learn that a cherub looks like this, it makes more sense:

Now, I'm going to go out on a limb and say that God has never thrown a leg over a cherub, seeing as how he doesn't really have legs (we'll leave the incarnation out of the discussion for the moment). But this is a poetic picture of God, not a theological description of his attributes. A lot of people don't like poetry. There are a lot of Christians who probably don't like the idea that God would present a picture of himself with poetic language; why wouldn't he just come out and say what he means? One answer is that poetry speaks to that potent but neglected part of our self, the imagination. But I'll leave that argument for another time.

One of the cool things about OT poetry is that every now and then, the poet rips off some imagery from the other religions in Canaan and redirects it to Yahweh. In fact, Psalm 18 could be an example of that. Baal was a storm-god; "the rider on the clouds" was one of his titles. But the psalmist claims that image for Yahweh, the God who revealed himself in a storm at Mount Sinai. And this isn't the last we see in the Bible of this image. One of the fundamental apostolic teachings is that this image will be enacted in real life; Christ, the Son of Man, will return riding the clouds. What is now only imagined will occur before our eyes. It's what God does, which makes him a darn good poet.

This rant inspired by a post on IVP's Addenda & Errata entitled "Yahweh's Bath Toy."

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Love is Not Enough

Happy St. Valentine's Day!

We read a chapter from C. S. Lewis's The Four Loves for our biweekly book group at work. You can read part of it here. Now, I am not the resident Lewis scholar at this blog; in fact, the degree to which Lewis is adored in the evangelical subculture has seemed somewhat amusing to me recently. I have to say, though, that every time I read him, I am newly impressed with his skills, and the chapter on Charity was no exception. The essay is very challenging; it reminds me, as Lewis often does, of how much my "good deeds" are self-serving, how radical a thing it is to display divine love. One line in particular struck me. I have to give you a running start at it, though:

Finally, by a high paradox, God enables men to have a Gift-love towards Himself. There is of course a sense in which no one can give to God anything which is not already His; and if it is already His, what have you given? But since it is only too obvious that we can withhold ourselves, our wills and hearts, from God, we can in that sense, also give them. What is His by right and would not exist for a moment if it ceased to be His (as the song is the singer's), He has nevertheless made ours in such a way that we can freely offer it back to Him. "Our wills are ours to make them Thine."

In the margin, I wrote, "I saw a song that refused to be sung; a picture of the damned soul."

Upon reading the passage again, I realized that this isn't quite what Lewis was saying. In this quote, that which is God's like the song is the singer's is our will, not our selves. But I think I'll put this image alongside Lewis's other images of damnation, which capture so well the continuity between spiritual death in this world and the next, the justice of punishment, the un-arbitrariness of it. For example, Lewis famously described final separation from God as God saying to those who have fled from him, "Thy will be done."

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Best Email Forward I've Seen Since 1998

A coworker forwarded this to me. Rather than send it to your inboxes, I'll just post it here (image and commentary came with the email):

Read the cake first:

Okay so this is how I imagine this conversation went:

Walmart Employee: "Hello 'dis Walmarts, how can I help you?"
Customer: "Yes, I would like to order a cake for a going away party this week."
Walmart Employee: "Whatchu want on the cake?"
Customer: "Best Wishes Suzanne." And underneath that "We will miss you."

I've been working on some 12 Step materials at work, which made this funnier:

The Senility Prayer

God, grant me the senility to forget the people I never liked anyway, the good fortune to run into those that I do, and the eyesight to tell the difference.

The full version of the original is here. It's a strange combination of hokey and profound. But you're used to that.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Gifts from God and American Idol

I've taken issue in this blog with the notion that God is too busy to trouble himself with small things. This notion shows up in the darndest places: Last Wednesday on American Idol, Simon Cowell mocked a young girl who said that her voice was a gift from God. "He just decided to give it to you one day? 'Nothing more to do, I'll just give Tiffany a voice.'" I think this is a good object lesson in the game of What Christians Say Vs. What People Hear.

A girl who sings in the church choir says, "God gave me my voice."

Taking her words purely at face value, a Christian can't argue with this. God is the source of every talent and ability. He is the source from which we draw our very being. I love the story of Moses' encounter with God at the burning bush (Exod 3-4). The dialog between the God-Who-Is-There and the reluctant prophet escalates as Moses keeps looking for a way to get out of his mission. When he protests that he is "not very good with words," God thunders back:

Who makes a person’s mouth? Who decides whether people speak or do not speak, hear or do not hear, see or do not see? Is it not I, the Lord? Now go! I will be with you as you speak, and I will instruct you in what to say.

But when most nonchurchgoing people hear the claim "God gave me my voice," they understand it to mean "My voice is superhuman. It's so transcendently beautiful that it could only be granted by God himself, unlike other voices that are merely human."

It's funny how the same five-word sentence can mean completely opposite things, isn't it? In the speaker's mouth, it's a self-deprecating statement, a statement of dependence on God. In the audience's ears, it's a self-exalting statement, a claim for exclusive superiority.

(I should say here that I'm giving Tiffany the benefit of the doubt here. She could have meant exactly what the judges thought she meant. But based on her calm and humble reaction to being rejected by the judges, I think she meant something more along the lines of what I'm stating here.)

The moral of the story is that Christians should be careful how they express gratitude to God in front of unbelievers. First, if they're using gratitude as a cover to exalt themselves, it won't work. It may work in a church context to cloak self-praise in praise of God, but unbelievers will see it for what it is. Second, if they really are acknowledging their dependence on God, they should make it clear that they're not claiming any special attention from him. It's not that we're so great that God took notice of us and decided to bless us.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

The Great British Venn Diagram

You're all smart people, so you probably know this, but here's a visual explanation of the political, ethnic, and geographic categories of the British Isles.

Also in Britain, polygamists will start receiving government benefits in proportion to their number of wives. I'm no expert on polygamy, but I thought the rule in such societies was you could take multiple wives if you could support them. Rich men get multiple wives; poor men get one or none. If you're on the dole, don't the extra wives have to go back to their father's house or something?

HT: Found these tidbits in the Corner.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Any sufficiently primitive technology is indistinguishible from magic

In a world full of technological magic, sometimes we need to take a step back and marvel at the acheivements of an earlier age. In that spirit, I pass along to you the wonder that is an Ascii-animated version of Star Wars. To view this masterpiece:

1. Click the Start Button, then Click Run

2. Type TELNET and hit Enter

3. A separate window will open

4. First hit enter, then type the letter o and hit enter again, then type and press enter.

Or you can just watch it online here, which seems far less magical.

No doubt Lucas is trying to scrub this off the internet (or telnet, whatever that is), because Han shoots first. (The scene seems abbreviated, however. I think Greedo's supposed to say "That's the idea," but he doesn't.)


I did not expect to enjoy the Superbowl, but like just about everyone south or west of Massachusetts, I enjoyed it thoroughly. (See funny article here.) As is common to all, I was cheering for the underdog. But I of course had a vindictive desire to see former Viking Randy Moss denied the championship that he wants so badly. We have a (borrowed) word or two to describe my delight at seeing Moss's failure. What we really need (at least for Minnesotans) is a word to describe that vindictive desire for former-associates-turned-opponents to fail. On second thought, I guess we call that malice or envy.

On a less evil note, Lileks writes about the old stomping grounds here.

Saturday, February 02, 2008


Pictures of myself and Mrs. Chaka as though painted by Modigliani. It's one of the image transformation options on The Face of the Future, a site run by the Computer Science department at St. Andrews University (HT: Dance Dance Revolution World Record Holder DJ Sterf). You can also transform yourself into a different age, a different race, a Manga character, or an Ape-person. My blond beard made it difficult to transform me into anything other than myself, though I do like the El Greco version of me:

Makes me look taller. Anyway, while I'm talking about images, I found out a few months ago about a freely distributed image manipulation program called GIMP. Ableist name aside, it works pretty well for what I need, which is mostly cropping pictures and maybe some color/contrast changes. But it looks like there's a lot more you can do with it.