Monday, December 29, 2008

Pirate Jimmy's movies

Pirate Jimmy has taken the movie quotes challenge (done by me here, inspired by Jon here). I'm headed there to guess now . . .

The Return of the Fish

Stanley Fish is back from wherever he went. Probably something to do with teaching. I derived a lot of joy from his essay about AT&T, "The Worst Company in the World." Maybe joy isn't the right word, but it amused me that a big fancy-pants public figure has to go through the same idiotic electronic gauntlet that I do. It's a familiar set of steps:

1. Press zero until you get to talk to someone (doesn't always work, unfortunately)
2. Find out that you can't get what you want
3. Find out that the person you're talking to can't do anything helpful
4. Get transferred into the aether
5. Repeat 1-4.
Optional Step: Embarrass yourself by ranting impotently

An acquaintance of mine works for AT&T, and I'd love to ask him why a phone company is so bad at using a phone system. But it's easier to be a crank in the blogosphere.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas Reading

It has nothing to do with Christmas, but I enjoyed reading In the Beginning Was the Command Line, by Neal Stephanson. I was sent to it by Alan Jacobs on one of his blogs. It's a great combination of history (of technology), polemic, and literature (it definitely expanded my vocabulary). It's also somewhat of a time capsule, as a technology book published in 1999.

One of my favorite parts is his allegory of operating systems as vehicles. Windows sells clunky station wagons, Apple sells sleek, expensive Euro-style sedans, and a motley group of hackers (Linux) offers free tanks by the side of the road . . .

The group giving away the free tanks only stays alive because it is staffed by volunteers, who are lined up at the edge of the street with bullhorns, trying to draw customers' attention to this incredible situation. A typical conversation goes something like this:

Hacker with bullhorn: "Save your money! Accept one of our free tanks! It is invulnerable, and can drive across rocks and swamps at ninety miles an hour while getting a hundred miles to the gallon!"

Prospective station wagon buyer: "I know what you say is don't know how to maintain a tank!"

Bullhorn: "You don't know how to maintain a station wagon either!"

Buyer: "But this dealership has mechanics on staff. If something goes wrong with my station wagon, I can take a day off work, bring it here, and pay them to work on it while I sit in the waiting room for hours, listening to elevator music."

Bullhorn: "But if you accept one of our free tanks we will send volunteers to your house to fix it for free while you sleep!"

Buyer: "Stay away from my house, you freak!"

That accurately captures my feelings about Linux, although I've started to use a few free/GNU programs like the GIMP (which I used to create the effect on our Christmas card photo) and Notepad++.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Old School Web-log Post

Got up early today (for a Saturday) to go to what was probably the most important meeting of my short life. We may have made the right decision, but I don't think any of us feel good about it.

When we got back, I was keen to take advantage of 75-cent laundry day. It's a Christmas present from the apartment management. They've been putting out little gestures of kindness for the last several months, probably to soften the blow of impending measures to squeeze more money out of us. The latest plan is to start charging us for utilities, but according to the letter the management sent, it's to help the environment. So I guess that makes it all right.

Mrs. Chaka had to go to a cookie-decorating party, so she left the laundry in my hands. Regular readers will remember that these hands have been shown to be less than capable, so it was a risk on her part. I made it through without disaster, though, possibly because our only remaining expensive electronic items are too large to fit in pants pockets. Between trips to the laundry room, I got a recipe for pie crust, tracked down some more addresses for the Christmas card mailing, and did some German flashcards on my Palm.

Mrs. Chaka had told me last week that all she wanted for Christmas was for me to clean the bathtub, so I knocked that out; now I don't have to buy her anything. That's a relief, since I had no idea what to buy her.

I kid, I kid.

I've discovered that Sound Opinions makes an excellent companion to Saturday afternoon chores and errands. I also listened to an episode of Fibber McGee and Molly from Dec. 19, 1941. (on the Those Were the Days radio program). There was a little topical humor:

A: You know why Hitler gives all his addresses in Beer Gardens?
B: No why?
A: So that when he starts foaming at the mouth, nobody can tell!

Not a great joke, but it got the biggest laugh of the show.

What's odd about those radio shows is how stationary they are. The whole show takes place in one scene, in one room. Characters walk on, tell exactly five jokes, and walk off. Half of the jokes are in stories that people are telling about things that happened offstage.

Mrs. Chaka returned in the afternoon, concealing my Christmas present and nursing an upset stomach. She's been out of commission for the rest of the day. We concluded that the anxiety of the morning meeting may have done it to her. At least, we're hoping it's that and not some virus that will now be spread throughout the Western suburbs via a vector of Christmas cookies.

I catalogued some books for the library that a friend is planning to found in Liberia. We passed the 1,000-volume mark with a commentary on Revelation from Inter-Varsity Press (this volume was published by the British version, which uses the hyphen, unlike its CamelCased American cousin).

Then it was dinner, a comfort movie for my ailing wife (which featured Ann Paul Veal!), and writing this.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

A new Il-LOW-nois

At least the last one wasn't arrested in office. But that probably just means the prosecutors weren't on the ball as fast. I know I shouldn't trust Wikipedia's entry on a controversial public figure, but I couldn't resist reading Milorad's. It was a trip down inbred-scandal-ridden-Illinois-politics lane.

Mrs. Chaka reports: "We had a little discussion in our office in which N____ and I assured D___ and L___ (both Illinois natives) that other states aren't like this."

Just so you know, she wasn't cursing. I redacted the names (a la a Victorian novelist) to protect the innocent.

I just have one question: Can we take his name off the Open Road Tolling arches now?

No? How about the children's healthcare plan logo?

Saturday, December 06, 2008

The Paradox of Christian Ethics

Jon has posted an excellent, lengthy quote from Chesterton, in which he speaks of the paradoxes inherent in the Christian virtues: faith, hope, and charity. It reminds me of a question I wanted to pose to my ethics professor. (Unfortunately, the class was not question-friendly. Maybe D. C. Cramer can shed light on the question.)

The ethics class introduced me to the categories of moral erogation and moral super-erogation. Erogation is doing what is ethically required of you, like not shooting your enemy in the back. Super-erogation is going beyond what is ethically required, like jumping in front of a bullet to save your enemy. You could see these categories in terms of Chesterton's pagan virtue of justice: erogation is giving a man what he deserves, super-erogation is giving him better than what he deserves.

The ethics course also taught that the foundation of ethics was divine command. That is, we don't first determine what is ethical based on the consequences of our action. The ethical mandate isn't some consequentialist goal such as "Maximize happiness," or "Acheive equality for all persons." Your first call is to do what God has commanded.

But here's the wrinkle: Hasn't God in Christ commanded us to do super-erogation? Hasn't he said that we are obligated to "go the extra mile," love our enemies, and treat the undeserving with charity? If so, then based on divine command theory, just about anything you can think of to call super-erogation is just plain old erogation. What I wanted to ask my professor is how these can be useful categories in divine command theory.

I think that Christ likes to play havoc with our categories. He takes the common idea of justice--giving a man what he's due--and inverts it. Justice isn't a matter of giving someone what they've earned; it's a matter of giving someone what you haven't earned, but have gotten anyway. You must forgive, because you have been forgiven. God's grace to you obligates you to be gracious.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

The Gobbler

I've been meaning to post this link since Thanksgiving Day. You must check out Lileks's Gobbler site. This will make your day, friend.

Old Message, New Vid

This is really well produced:

Thanks to Pirate Jimmy for accepting the movie challenge. PJ, you know Alan Tudyk's name but not his character's name? That's weird. Also, you should have known #8 from the beginning.

Then again, I'm sure I won't be able to rattle off half of your list when you make it.

Monday, December 01, 2008