Thursday, June 30, 2005

the concept of sacrilege

'Since the Enlightenment, it has been normal for Europeans to think of society as a contract. The novelty of the idea is two-fold: first, it implies that social membership is a free choice. Second, it suggests that all members of society are currently living. Neither of those thoughts is true. But, without religion, people tend to believe that they are true. Even if we recognize the social contract for what it is -- a fiction that hides the empty heart of modern politics -- we nevertheless find it hard to formulate our social and political obligations in other terms. Burke reacted violently to the social contract as interpreted by the French Revolutionaries. By making the 'people' sovereign, he argued, the Revolution had disenfranchised the dead and the unborn. Care for the dead and care for the unborn go hand-in-hand... By respecting the dead and their wishes we keep intact the accumulated resources of society, and place an obstacle before the living, in their desire to seize all savings for themselves... The concept of sacrilege is therefore a safeguarding and conserving force. Without it all resources are open to pillage -- a fact of which we, heirs to the Enlightenment, are acutely aware.' [Roger Scruton. Modern Culture.]

Monday, June 27, 2005

Words, words, words...

I am not sure how many of you are academically inclined, but if you are I recently ran across a really neat website called CiteULike. This is a free service that helps you keep track of papers and citation information you find on the web. If you are like me, you have a long list of papers you want to read but probably never will, so your hard drive is cluttered with PDFs named "A Bayesian Methodology towards Automatic Ontology Mapping" or "Introduction to Social Network Methods." Well, this website helps you keep track of all these papers and their reference information.

Friday, June 24, 2005

The Sporting Life

Recently I came across the website of the United States Croquet Association where you can look up official rules, club locations, and national rankings (yes they have rankings). You can also read a short history of the sport:

'Croquet as a public sport suffered a setback in the 1890's when the Boston clergy spoke out against the drinking, gambling, and licentious behavior associated with it on the Common.'

Of course some of us prefer the 'extreme' or 'cross country' croquet variety.

'Often called cross country croquet in Europe, extreme croquet is croquet on steroids. It can really be an outstanding challenge to any player. It is played not on lawns, but out in the wild. Easy courses can be layed out in a field, more challenging ones in a park. But to be a real afficianado, you have to take to the woods.'

Here is another 'extreme croquet' page, and they give the following rule called 'The Stump Rule' that I think should be more widely adopted:

'If a player's ball comes in contact with a tree stump, boulder, or other distinct object (i.e., not a dirt mound), that player has the option of placing the ball on top of that object on his or her next shot and teeing off. We recommend that they warn any other players in the vicinity with a courtesy shout of "fore!"'

Thursday, June 23, 2005

'Haven't been gone very long, but it feels like a lifetime'

1) So, the Summer Solstice was a couple days ago and so from now on the days will be getting shorter. I'll be sad to see them go. I suppose there is nothing to be done about it, though.

2) Some years ago, while in college, I constructed an elaborate joke where I did an allnighter for a class I wasn't in to do an assignment I was never given. The class was 'Creative Writing: Poetry', the assignment was a chapbook (mine was called 'coffee stains'), and the joke didn't do over too well (I don't think many people got it). Still I thought it was a good gag, and an okay book for a single night, and I printed a couple dozen copies and it is being made into a film. Unfortunately, I gave all my copies away. I want to revise some of them, so I was wondering: if any of you have a copy could you send me a photo copy? Or send it to me, I'll photocopy it, and then mail it back. Or you could transcribe the poems for me and email them to me. Or you can do nothing. Anything is just fine.

3) 5 Books I wouldn't mind reading over and over and over (unordered, not superlative): Annie's Holy the firm, Anna Karenina, Chatwin's In Pategonia, Vonnegut's Timequake, Merton's translation of Wisdom of the Desert.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Almost Summer

In honor of the lengthening days, I've uploaded another one of my old songs for your downloading enjoyment. The tune is called 'Summer'[1].



[1] Not the cleverest song name ever. I know.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Summer Teeth

A list for this hot summer evening:

1) About how many books do you own: ~1100 (Method: I counted bookshelf and multiplied by the number of shelves I have plus boxes in storage). [1]

2) Last book purchased: Grendel by John Gardner [2]

3) Last book finished: Pride and Prejudice. [3]

4) Five books I wish I could re-read for the first time (this is off the top of my head so gain of salt it. also, i cross posted it here): The Brothers Karamazov (Dostoevsky). The Wisdom of the Desert (Merton translation), The Sun Also Rises (Hemingway), One Hundred Years of Solitude (Garcia Marquez), Immortality (Kunera)

5) Book you are embarrassed to own: 7 Habits of Highly Effective People


[1] If you happen to want a bigger personal library and have thousands of dollars to throw around why not buy them all? (Thanks to my brother for this link).

[2] Technically this is a lie. I bought other books as well. I picked this one because it was the last I took off the shelf before checking out.

[3] Incidentally I used a letter sized envelope as a bookmark and wrote down every word I didn't know. Ended up filling both sides. Laugh if you want, but it's like you happen to know what connubial and panegyric mean?

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Okay, Last Post on Depravity. I promise.

More from C. S. Lewis [1]: "If God's moral judgment differs from ours so that our 'black' may be His 'white', we can mean nothing by calling Him good; for to say 'God is good', while asserting that His goodness is wholly other than ours, is really only to say 'God is we know not what'. And an utterly unknown quality in God cannot give us moral grounds for loving or obeying Him. If He is not (in our sense) 'good' we shall obey, if at all, only through fear--and should be equally ready to obey an omnipotent Fiend. The doctrine of Total Depravity--when the consequence is drawn that, since we are totally depraved, our idea of good is worth simply nothing--may thus turn Christianity into a form of devil-worship." [2]


[1] Thanks go to Luke Tallent for the recommending the reference

[2] The Problem of Pain

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

A Summer Wasting

I took time and it was a buzzer finnish, but I completed my entry in the Great Mike's Music Giveaway, and not a moment too soon. Unfortunately, I couldn't narrow it down to one disk. I hope I won't be disqualified...

M. R.[1] Mix: Disk The First: 'American Roots, Twigs, Fallen Leaves, and Petty Thievery"

1. Dry The Rain, The Beta Band
2. Failure, Kings Of Convenience
3. California Stars, Billy Bragg & Wilco
4. Feel Free, Jay Farrar
5. Cathedral 4 (The Unbreaking Branch And Song), Castanets
6. Radio Campaign, M. Ward
7. Handshake Drugs, Wilco
8. Don't Be Sad, Whiskeytown
9. Old Soul Song (For The New World Order), Bright Eyes
10. Outta My Head, M. Ward
11. Upward Over The Mountain, Iron & Wine
12. Look At Miss Ohio, Gillian Welch
13. Gone For Good, The Shins
14. In The Backseat, The Arcade Fire

M. R. Mix: Disk The Second: '"Without Fear of Wind or Vertigo"'

1. Diamond In Your Mind, Solomon Burke
2. A Summer Wasting, Belle & Sebastian
3. A Good Man Is Easy To Kill, Beulah
4. The Go In The Go-For-It, Grandaddy
5. Do the Whirlwind, Architecture In Helsinki
6. Big Boat, M. Ward
7. Race For The Prize (Remix), The Flaming Lips
8. The Book of Right-On, Joanna Newsom
9. Eighties Fan, Camera Obscura
10. Retrieval Of You, The Minus 5
11. The Soldiering Life, The Decemberists
12. Good Comrades Go To Heaven, Solex
13. Mayfly, Belle & Sebastian
14. Hey Joe, Tahiti 80
15. Questions, Papas Fritas
16. Parrallel Lines, Kings Of Convenience

[1] Note the ambiguous initials to keep the Recording Industry lawyers off the scent.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

10 Books I Haven't Read

Ten Books I Haven't Read (Unordered, Psuedo-Random [1]):

* The Lord of the Flies (Golding)
* The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (Gibbon)
* Catcher and the Rye (Salinger)
* The Pickwick Papers (Dickens)
* The Aeneid (Virgil)
* Faust (Goethe)
* Portrait of a Lady (James)
* The Gulag Archipelago (Solzhenitsyn)
* Middlemarch (Eliot)
* As I Lay Dying (Faulkner)

We often talk about the books we've read, etc., but I thought I might give some equal time to the books I haven't read, as there are a great many more of them out there. Of course, I can't really say these are the "Top" books I haven't read without reading them and removing them from the list, so you'll have to be content with the books that came to mind this morning. Cheers.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Cosmology and Cosmetology

1) Now and then most thinking Christians have to ask themselves "Am I a Calvanist?" [1]. If a person discovers that he or she is in fact a Calvinist, the person typically goes to work purchasing dark, plain clothing and starts to practice their frowning [2]. After asking the question recently and researching the subject, I found out with relief that I'm not a Calvinist. Indeed, if I had to choose I would be an Armenian before I would be a Calvinist, but I try my best to stay out of Dutch theological debates so luckily I don't have to make that choice [3]. Calvinism, to me, is like a man who goes to visit a great Cathedral, witnesses the Church grounds, the magnificent architecture, looks at the great artworks and stain glass, breathes in the incense, and listens to a large choir's beautiful polyphony, then returns home to describe passionately to his friends the Cathedral's dimensions to the centimeter, convinced that 175 X 100 yards sums it up neatly. If a fellow traveller tries to contradict him saying, "But what about the frescos? what about the alter?" the first might reply, "Fool! Do you doubt the accuracy of my measuring stick?!" In other words, Calvinism is a fantastic exercise in missing the point.

2) In other news, today I was actually able to use the sentence "Well, there is money in hair" successfully in conversation [4].


[1] Of course this isn't the only or even most important question we sometimes have to ask. Other good ones are: "Should I be a Christian at all?", "Am I a Catholic and, if not, should I be?", and "If I stay up extremely late on Saturday night should I really go to Church the next morning as 11 is awfully early?"

[2] This new Calvinist might decide to develop some sort of acid reflux condition, but it isn't a requirement. Frequent impersonations of Mussolini are also optional.

[3] Speaking of the Dutch, I recently learned that a pneumonic acronym for the five points of Calvinism is TULIP. I prefer the flower.

[4] Okay, this doesn't relate at all but I have to say that the best line I've heard from a television show in years is from the show Arrested Development: "Say what you will about America, but $13 will still buy a hell of a lot of mice!"

Thursday, June 02, 2005

An Ergonomics of Suspicion

Writes C. S. Lewis[1]: 'No poem will give up its secret to a reader who enters it regarding the poet as a potential deceiver, and determined not to be taken in. We must risk being taken in, if we are to get anything. The best safeguard against bad literature is a full experience of good; just as a real and affectionate acquaintance with honest people gives a better protection against rogues than a habitual distrust of everyone.'

So. The difficulty is we have on one side those critics who try to unveil literature and other artwork[2] as really being something else (politics, gender, et cetera), and on the other those that dismiss it all as charlatanism. Right or left, the both make the same mistake, treating the artist as a deceiver. The interesting thing is that it works a little. But only a little, and if you learn a bit about art from your program, the drawback is that you destroy art in the process. Although it is possible to live in a world where everything is suspicious, containing some sinister hidden meaning, yet that is a pitiful world. You'll end up like Richard Nixon: stiff neck, embedded scowl. That's no way to live.

On the other hand, I am a very trusting person, and yet I can often be seen with a scowl. Further, the dentist says I grind my teeth. Ah well.


[1] An Experiment in Criticism. Ch 8.

[2] This is just as relevant to paintings as it is to poetry. Vonnegut wrote that he thought modern art was "a conspiracy by the rich to make poor people feel stupid." You'll have to read Breakfast of Champions to find out why he was wrong on that point. But you get a lot more enjoyment out of art if you take it on faith that the artist isn't a swindler. Perhaps realism is so important to some because it is an easy litmus test for deciding whether a piece of artwork is 'good'? We have to remember that in the history of art, Realism only makes a few cameo appearances.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Status Report

Books Completed In May

War and Peace, Book One only (still a long way to go, but I am still working away at it)
An Experiment in Criticism, C. S. Lewis
The Very Short Poems of A. R. Ammons

Books Started in May

War and Peace, Book Two
The Lonely Guy, Bruce Jay Friedman
Pride and Prejudice, Austen

The Lewis and Friedman books are proof that I am getting better at reading books loaned to me, and the War and Peace proves it is easier to read a massive Russian novel when you have no day job; still I am confident I'll complete it (the last 50 pages will be tough, I'm sure). I've actually never read anything by Jane, but there was a Prof on NPR a week or so ago who was so enthusiastic I thought I should do my duty and read something. Good news: at used book stores, paperbacks are cheap at only a couple dollars, and you don't have to feel guilty about killing trees (if you happen to be inclined to that sort of guilt).

No Music this month because I forgot to reset my counts and anyway I am having synchronization troubles which I won't talk about on the grounds that it could incriminate me. I'll work all this out and give a fresh list next month...