May 31, 2011

In the afternoon rain

Umbrella in the alley

Why Peretti didn't write Left Behind

There doesn't seem to be any reliable information about why Frank Peretti, the Christian market author who radically expanded the horizon of Christian fiction, passed on writing Left Behind, that market's most successful series of books, the books that attracted public and academic attention to Christian fiction.

We know Tim LaHaye approached Peretti first with the idea for the series, and that Peretti passed, but why?

May 30, 2011

The pain of The Killing

I can't decide if I think The Killing works.

I still can't tell, for sure, even though the first season concluded last night. The show, the first American crime show based on the hot-now sub-genre of Scandinavian noir, I think, clearly has high ambitions. It has been pretty widely praised, critically, but I don't know if it does what it sets out to do. I like The Killing, but that's not the same as thinking it lived up to its own ambitions.

There are parts of it that clearly don't work (e.g.). Parts that I'd criticize as failing in the way crime shows usually do. And parts that work really well.

I am a sucker for long-arc crime narratives and probably would have watched it for that alone. But there's also another reason:

The Killing puts a lot of work into the exploration of the experience of pain, the reality of how suffering is lived.

Just look at Stan Larsen, the father of the dead girl.

May 28, 2011

No matter how far gone we gone

Gil Scott-Heron, spoken-word poet who inspired generations of rap artists, who wrote famous "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" and "We Almost Lost Detroit," died Friday afternoon in New York, at the age of 62.

May he rest in peace.

UPDATE: From a 2008 piece on Scott-Heron's attempt at comeback: "I ain’t saying I didn’t invent rapping,” says Gil Scott-Heron. “I just cannot recall the circumstances.”

May 27, 2011

Schöne gute reise

Fields of Baden-Württemberg

If you look at a lot of the photos people take of Germany, you see a country that’s all history, with no present. You see the old houses, the picturesque, fit-for-a-postcard parts. In Tuebingen, for example, if you just looked at the photos, you’d think everyone lived in the one row of houses along the river. You’d think that’s what the city was, and what it was like to live here.

The Germany I know, the one I live in, is more interesting than that.


May 24, 2011

May 23, 2011

dx/dt = yPyx(x, ux) - yPyx(x, ux)?

Is this the key, the explanation? Does this predict religion's end or tell us why religion is declining -- “towards extinction” -- in some apparently secularizing Western nations?


It turns out, contra reports, to be a bit of a sound and fury of math, explaining little.

A new study, touted as mathematically predicting the demise of religion in nine Western nations, does not actually tell us much. It definitely doesn't say as much as reports' say it does, with their headline's reading "extinction!"

It might not even say as much as the researchers think it does.

There's enough math in paper, "A mathematical model of social group competition with application to the growth of religious non-affiliation," that some, I'm sure, will take its conclusion as proven and true. Before the paper even gets to the math, however, it appears to commit itself to a tautology.

It's not wrong, necessarily, but its claim turns out to be trivial.

Bikes & windows in an alley

A Heidelberg street

May 21, 2011

Unironic end-of-the-world music

Being spectator to the predicted end of the world

It's going to happen.

We know it will happen today.

Sometime in the evening, East Coast time, probably, sometime around 5 o'clock, an hour before the earthquake that's supposed to announce Christ's unequivocal Second Coming is supposed to happen, someone will start to twitter the "end of the world."

With a snicker, of course.

There will be a countdown. A pose of being "written from the edge of the end," like a parody of one of those Walker Percy novels that were never very good. There will be suggested playlists of ironic choices (R.E.M.: It's The End of the World as We Know It; The Doors: The End; Britney Spears: Dance Until the World Ends; etc.), and maybe pictures from hip apocalypse parties on urban roof tops. There will be --obligatorily -- jokes about who can have whose stuff after a rapture.

The whole thing, of course, will be a big laugh.

And why not? The gnostic, numerological reading of the Bible is more than a bit unorthodox; the certainty with which the end is being proclaimed is wild-eyed, and goofy.

I have to wonder though, if some of that laughter, our laughter, isn't oddly aggressive. I mean, really, why do we care?

There are lots of groups of people in the world, and they believe lots of different things. This one, it's different for us. For them too, of course, but for us. I'm trying to think about us, because, I guess, I'm finding our reaction weird: Why is it we take such delight, such evident pleasure, in the idea of a really ridiculously small group being wrong? Aren't we a little too interested -- or at least to cavalier about not looking at why we're interested or why we're laughing the way we are?

None of the attention seems to be self-reflexive, or self-referential. No
one seems to have asked, why do we care?

As we've approached May 21, 2011, and as I've been reading all the stories about Harold Camping, and Family Radio, and We Can Know, and those committed to this most recent expectation of the rapture and apocalypse, I've been trying to think about what it means to be a spectator to the predicted end of the world.

May 18, 2011

And in those days

In the days

Angry at an adjective

Journalistically, sentences like this make me froth hatred and loathing:

"An Ellenwood mother has been charged with pointing a handgun at the owner of a day care center, during an alleged altercation over late fees."

Spot what's wrong with it?

May 16, 2011

'Yeah, I guess she must be dead by now'

People who confess to murder are probably only ahead of those convicted of sex crimes in the contemporary category of "people we hate," "people we don't want to see treated fairly," and "people it's politically impossible to defend even a little bit."

So I was impressed to hear this statement from the author of a non-academic book on crime in American culture, Bill James:

There are, I believe, many more false confessions to murders than true confessions. In fact, if I could, freelance for just a second, I would be in favor of laws strictly limiting what can be described as a confession in a courtroom because what happens in too many cases is the police know how to get somebody to confess to something. They know how to make that happen and they will make that happen, and they get a sort of half confession which the prosecutors then describe relentlessly as a confession. But in reality, it was just something like, 'yeah, I guess she must be dead by now.'

Unfortunately, the NPR interviewer's insistence, "he did confess," and the repeated point, "I mean, um, a lot of people listening to this are wondering but, ahhh, to restate the obvious, he confessed," and James' sad and so tired "yes," is pretty much all the conversation we'll really get on the question of false confessions.

To keep an underclass invisible

An immigration story:

The police officer received a report of truancy. Kids, according to the caller, who used a racial expletive and complained about having made complaints before, weren't in school. They were all in an apartment having a mid-afternoon party. This, it turned out, was true.

This was 2007. Before George Bush attempted to reform immigration law and give those immigrants who are hard working, tax-paying, and law-abiding, immigrants that the American economy depends upon, a clear path to citizenship and protection from never-ending exploitation. These efforts, of course, were trounced, sometimes somewhat viciously, in an organized effort that tested the waters for the Tea Party's populist agitations a few years later.

An officer went to check on the truancy report, and found about a dozen teens in an apartment, listening to music and drinking beer. All of them were Hispanic. Some of them were there just to party. Some them were there to avoid the more-or-less unchecked harassment they get from the high school's African-American gangs. In the investigation, which was really just asking for ages and asking if there was a parent around and saying, basically, "aren't y'all supposed to be in school right now?", one of the kids talked back to the officer, insulting him.

I suspect the kid used a racial epithet, but wasn't ever able to get any reliable information about what was said. Probably the kid called the officer a nigger, but I don't know.

Whatever was said, though, the disrespected officer took offense, and said he was going to punish the whole lot of them. Since the kids were Hispanic, he took them all to the police station, and cuffed them to a long bench.

May 14, 2011

Women in Spring

easter 325

C.S. Lewis' Latin & an epic poem for evangelicals

I could be wrong, but I'm guessing Rick Warren's next book will not be something he translated from the Latin.

Nor Al Mohler's or John Piper's. T.D. Jakes', Max Lucado's, John Eldrege's or Tim Keller's. Even Brian McLaren or Donald Miller or Shane Clairborne, I don't think so.

It's difficult for me to even imagine that any of the marquee-name evangelicals are, somewhere, working on Latin translations -- Augustine, say, a line at a time in a journal, or Cicero in private in the evening. Maybe they are. There's some who could be, of course. N.T. Wright, etc. I doubt it, though.

It's not that there aren't evangelical figures who could be doing some messing around with Latin in their private study, it's just that it isn't done. It's not the style.

Even less likely is a major evangelical encouraging young evangelicals to spend some time with ancient Romans in the original, to read the poets or rhetoricians, the soldier-thinkers or myth makers. You can't find Virgil's Aneid in a Christian bookstore, for example, or in an average church library.

At least you couldn't.

C.S. Lewis, again, after being dead for however long, is expanding evangelical horizons.

May 12, 2011

And the (content) free exercise thereof

It's too easy to trivialize, privatize and otherwise make weightless and inconsequential the religious practices of others. Whenever there's a possible problem with some group's "free exercise thereof," as their religion turns out to not be completely a matter of internally-declared propositions, but, since it is a religion, a thing of both creedal belief and acting out those beliefs in the world, that is, practice, there's almost always this associated moment of not taking that practice seriously. There's this thought, why can't they just keep that part private? Or, why can't they just compromise? There's an assumption they could easily give up that practice, that religious way of being in the world, which to us seems silly, quirky, and surely not serious. Why don't they just not do it, since it's a problem (for me)? They can still keep their religion (un-infringed) inside, as something they think to themselves, something that has no real consequences for them or how they live.

You know, faith without works, like normal people.

With a Muslim women wearing a hijab, for example, or Sikh men in turbans, the question, almost invariably, is why don't they just take it off? As if the religious-wear were of the same importance to them as any hat or scarf -- a fashion statement -- but no more serious than that.

With Seventh-day Adventist postmen or police, the reaction seems to be, sure, I'd like Saturday off too, but that's not the job. As if a religious commandment were the same as a desire to barbecue.

Jehovah's Witnesses' objection to blood transfusion is treated as the same as dislike for needles. Like, ah honey, just close your eyes.

In debates and conversations about the free exercise of religion, certain practices sympathetic to the majority end up being taken as inviolate, as not-to-be infringed upon by any law, and others, those more peculiar to the majority, to the social norm, ends up being allowed only insofar they aren't taken seriously, aren't taken as having any particular weight for those who practice them. They're fine, as long as those religious people seem willing to give up the importance of their practice whenever that's necessary.

Martha Nussbaum, for example,

May 8, 2011

Some brief comments about war photography in the news

1. One of the reasons that the New York Times gives for a noticeable lack of iconic Iraq war photographs -- that "the country was the country was too dangerous for photographers to move around freely" -- is the kind of reason a military spokesperson would give, but which wouldn't likely come from a war photographer. It was a reason given, actually, to not allow war photographers to do what they do.

They're making it sound like there was a calculated decision on the part of the photographers. Actually it was calculated by the government to control of the images coming out of the war zone. There was a pretty thorough cleaning-up and scrubbing of the conflict.

2. Americans believe they're more calloused against graphic images of gore than they are.

Pictures of people shot in the head are different than images from prime time crime TV, contra Jon Stewart, who I'm guessing from his comments hasn't spent any time looking at war photography, much less any uncensored war photography such as the "trophy photos" some soldiers took.

I have a photo of an Iraqi man shot in the head about where Osama bin Laden was reportedly shot. It's part of the major project I did on soldiers' war photography. In black and white, the photo provokes involuntary revulsion. In color, its worse, as you can actually see the color of the brains, blood, etc., coming from the goopy hole.

I support releasing the photos of bin Laden dead (for moral reasons, not practical/political ones). But this argument, that it wouldn't affect us or deeply disturb us, is just wrong.

3. It would be helpful if people remembered that most everything they see about war has been censored. Perhaps not by the government, but certainly by taste.

4. Images of war are not just images, not just documents and documentation. They are, in and of themselves, morally fraught. E.g. "porn for gore," "," and trophy photos.

5. I am uncomfortable with how willing I am, in my own heart, to romanticize dead war photographers. To make them straight heroes, and nothing but heroic. I am trying to remind myself of what Chris Hedges and others have said about the PTSD involved in the compulsion to go, again and again, into the violence with a camera, how death is addictive, and how there's something deeply unhealthy about how it becomes a need to take pictures of soldiers and war and violence and gory head shots of former enemies.

May 3, 2011

Window Buddhas

window buddhas

"When buddhas are truly buddhas, they do not necessarily notice that they are buddhas." -- Dogen

May 1, 2011

Lost Wittgenstein work found

"It is extremely interesting that very often when people say that science has not yet discovered this or that but if X will have discovered it then..., that they very often don’t know at all what sort of discovery they are waiting for, that they talk of a discovery without knowing of what nature this discovery would be. (For example when people say that one day when psychology will be far enough developed it will make us understand the nature of beauty.)"
-- marginal note in Wittgenstein's handwriting in an as-yet-unpublished work.

New works by Ludwig Wittgenstein -- original manuscripts of more than 150,000 words, which, until now, were unheard of except, at best, as rumour or speculation -- have been discovered and are being edited for publication by Cambridge.

The manuscripts include a revised and expanded version of The Brown Book, dictated lecture notes, a series of thousands of math calculation exploring "Fermat’s Little Theorem" that pysically stretch 20 feet, an unnamed 60-page manuscript, and what may be the rumoured "Yellow Book" or "Pink Book," a narrative with illustrations written in an exercise book during his time in Norway.

The manuscripts date from Wittgenstein's "middle period," and were lost in '41

His mama says he'll walk on water someday