19 December 2008


From Inside Higher Ed this morning:

"Could science professors who focus more formally on teaching be the key to turning around the poor performance of many American students?"

Or, as the RSS summary reads, "New research suggests that faculty members focused on pedagogy as well as their disciplines may improve student learning."

Really? Who would have thought that the way a subject is taught has an impact on how well students learn it? Frankly, I'm shocked.

Of course, the article isn't all that stupid. It calls for science departments to focus more intentionally on education instead of relying on education professionals (who understand instruction but do not necessarily understand science) to come up with more effective approaches to teaching the discipline.

15 December 2008


"Hello, Brent?"


"This is Larry from the Police Protective Fund. What do you say?"

"I say no."

"Ok, thank you for your time."

13 December 2008


I don't know whether there's a name for the inverse of Godwin's Law (Reductio ad Hitlerum), but surely Flint, MI mayor Don Williamson comes as close as anyone ever has to the quintessence of it:
"Jesus Christ had his Judas and America [sic.] manufacturing has the U.S. senators who voted against this plan and the American people." (http://finance.yahoo.com/news/Many-in-Michigan-mad-at-apf-13821275.html).

09 December 2008


This morning in the shower I recalled that when I was in 8th grade (somewhere in there) I started picking shampoo based on whether the instructions on the bottle said "Lather, rinse, repeat if necessary," "Lather, rinse, repeat if desired," or simply, "Lather, rinse, repeat." I would unfailingly choose the last.


I'm not certain. My best guess now is that it was a lame (excruciatingly so) attempt at an early-teenage Mennonite rebellion. Waste was frowned upon in my home, so I knew that repeating would never be "necessary" or "desired." But if the instructions gave you no choice ...

29 November 2008


Roger has lived in Elkhart, on and off, for the last 65 years. He collects disability (about $750/mo.), lives with his ex-wife (different bedrooms) and his daughter, pays $300 for rent, laundry, and groceries, and drinks vodka to keep a buzz. When I mention that I have a glass of wine from time to time, he says, "What kind? Mad Dog? Wild Rose?" Then he offers that he's stopped drinking those because he's an alcoholic, once he starts he won't stop, and he doesn't like having a hangover.

I love walking our dog.

22 November 2008

Saturday Morning

Last Saturday I cleaned the garage. This Saturday I enjoyed reading the things I found on Nick Bostrom's site. Good times.

16 November 2008


Brent: 1
Garage: 0


14 November 2008

Poll Watching

A few, delayed for obvious reason, thoughts and observations from my day of poll watching for the Obama campaign:
  • The only line we had all day was at 6:00 AM when 43 people were waiting when the doors opened. Otherwise traffic was steady. The precinct at which I worked had double the turnout from the prior election.

  • One of the clerks, when telling people how to complete their ballots, told them that if they marked straight party ticket they should also mark separately for the presidential election. I asked her why and she said, "I want to be sure it gets counted."

    Me: "Supposing they mark Libertarian on the straight ticket vote, but accidentally vote Republican on the presidential line. Which gets counted?"

    Judge: "Well, let's just stick the ballot in the machine and see if it spits it back out as unacceptable or not. That should tell us."

    Me: "No, it doesn't -- it just says the ballot isn't spoiled. It does not tell us whether straight party takes precedence over individual choices, or vice-versa."

    Judge: "See? It's fine."

  • Without exception the people who showed up to vote but found out they weren't registered were black. So what channels of communication were missed when Indiana went around telling folks they needed to register to vote? TV? Radio? Newspaper? At some point individual responsibility comes into play, but the fact that 100% of not-registered attempted-voters were black is a little worrying.

  • Two people showed up with expired IDs. The one the election inspector knew, a white man with an ID eight-months expired, was allowed to vote. The other, a black man with an ID one-year expired, was not allowed to vote. Is this race? Who you know? It is not expiration date -- Indiana law is clear that valid IDs must "either be current or have expired sometime after the date of the last General Election (November 7, 2006)" (http://www.in.gov/sos/photoid/).

  • Absentee and early ballots go to the precinct where the voter would have voted had they waited to vote until election day. I never knew that. I was also delighted to be able to drop my own ballot in the machine.

  • At one point, when the absentee ballots were being processed, the optical scanner was spitting out ballots that the judges both agreed were not spoiled. So they began manually copying those ballots onto new ones. This caught the attention of the poll watchers of both parties. My colleague called the Obama campaign and someone came out and asked to see where Indiana Election Code says that copying ballots is legitimate. This caused a small uproar. Finally a call was placed to the elections board and all was resolved -- the ballots were copied, and the originals marked so that should a hand recount would consider the originals instead of the ones that were scanned.
In short, I'm generally of the following impressions:

1. Election work is kind of fun. I'll probably do it again sometime. Maybe even at the next election.
2. Race was more apparent for me in this election than it is at just about any other time.
3. I could do a better job than some of the other workers. Are conceit and accuracy mutually exclusive?

12 November 2008

James Sanders, 57

On October 31 I stood in line for an hour and a half before I was able to cast my vote for Barack Obama. While in line, I spoke with Henry DeJesus, whose mother was Puerto Rican and whose father was a black man. Henry was pretty convinced that Obama, if elected, would be shot—that the CIA and the Secret Service had a ready-made excuse in the reappearance from time to time of white supremacists. “Well, we can't get them all,” Henry imagined them saying. But Henry was casting his vote for Obama regardless. That's the kind of defiant hope that resonates with me. That hope that manifests itself in our acting, despite the unlikeliness that anything we do matters, despite even the expectation that our actions will, ultimately, be futile. It's the reason that I, too, voted for Obama though I know that he'll disappoint. It's the reason that I continue to go to church though I rarely feel like I've encountered God.

When the topic of church came up, James Sanders would start quoting the Sermon on the Mount. James went to church every Sunday until he was 17 when he started working. When I told him he couldn't serve both God and money, he said, “You got that right. I started making money and never went back.” But he still remembered the Sermon on the Mount. Or at least little bits of it.

On the day Barack Obama was elected president of the U.S.A., I worked in my local precinct, noting voter names as people came to vote. I saw very nearly all my neighbors, or a representative from their household, come through the doors. James' wife, Paula, stopped by at mid-morning and voted. Janet from across the street voted. Jay and Gabe, Dee and Denny, Matt and I-can-never-remember-her-name—they all came in and voted. And I felt like I was doing something worthwhile with my time that day. So when I returned home I was ready to watch election results, hopeful as to the outcome.

James, like Henry, was certain that if Obama got elected it would only be a matter of time before the Secret Service decided to go have coffee one day and leave him unprotected, and that would be that. James was also under the impression that he could not vote in the election due to having served time in prison—an impression that is not true in Indiana, it turns out. He was, over the summer, also of the impression that he would not live to see the election—another impression that was not true.

James had served several years in prison on a felony drug conviction. He yelled at his kids and beat his dog. He cussed too much, smoked too much, and drank too much, having once told me his goal was not to let lung cancer beat him—he was going to die of cirrhosis. He was insanely proud of his kids, friendly and outgoing. He was more effusively grateful than anyone else I know; strawberries given in June would be praised through October. He was welcoming to just about anyone who showed up on his porch while he was there, and inviting them to stop by at any time. And when the neighbors were gathered on his porch, which they were most days during the summer, he never had anywhere else to go. Nothing was as important to him as sitting there talking.

And he could talk. And talk. Much of the conversation included stock phrases, repeated.
“Big brown bug bit a big brown bear made the big brown bear bleed blue blood ... that's the B's ... bet you can't do that, and I ain't got no teeth.”

“The hell you say.”

“My daughter got her first paycheck last week, and you know what she paid me? She paid me no attention.”

“It's it and that's that.”

“I am just sick and tired of being sick and tired.”
And when I heard the wailing and the sirens, I knew. And I put on my coat and shoes, and headed over. The rest of the neighbors were already there, comforting the 2nd grader as best as they could. All of us, though we knew it was coming, a little stunned. Stunned by the election results; stunned by James' death.

Paula came out, said “He's gone,” and gave hugs. Ja'mia sat on the porch clear-eyed, flanked by Janet and Sherry. Watching a 2nd grader process her father's death is a difficult thing.

“I called 911 four, no, three times. Once when he had a seizure, once when he fell, and one other time. I guess I won't need to call anymore, because he's dead. But I'm not gonna cry. Daddy told me to help momma and not to cry, and I'm gonna obey.”

And Sherry turned her head away and wiped tears from her eyes so Ja'mia wouldn't see them. And Brian cleared his throat and spat. And Paula said that James had told her that day that he was going to go after the election and she had said, “Oh, come on, James, you been talking like that all summer,” but that this time he was right.

On the night that Barack Obama was elected president of the U.S.A., as all the networks were showing footage of celebrations in Grant Park, Nairobi, and Ebenezer Baptist Church, James Sanders, 57, died. So instead of celebrating the concession speeches and the victory speeches, I spent the night with the neighborhood grieving.

I like to think he was watching the election results, staying alive until the election was called, then deciding that he could leave. And I felt a symmetry in the wee hours of November 5. I've not been particularly happy with the way the nation has been run the last eight years. And I got the sense on that evening that James and the nation in which he lived were sick and tired of being sick and tired no longer.

Rest peacefully, James Sanders.

Ezekiel the Observant

Based on Ezekiel 4. To be told just prior to serving Ezekiel Bars.


Most of our problems result from not paying attention.

Adam ate from the tree. He was not paying attention.
Cain offered to God vegetables grown in the cursed earth. He was not paying attention.
My ancestors complained about Manna; Samson ate honey taken from a carcass; Jonah complained about the cucumber vine--they were not paying attention.

As a child, I learned that details matter.

"There is no forest without the trees," my mother would say, "and no people without the law."

I became so consumed with detail, that my friends gave me a nickname.

Ezekiel the Observant.

The Observant. Observers notice detail. And, of all the Observers--seers, prophets, dreamers, priests--of all the Observers, priests, it seemed, were the most respected.

So I became a priest.

I devoted myself to the teaching and keeping of the law; to maintaining the boundary between sacred and profane, between clean and unclean.

Then one day God spoke to me.

The instructions began reasonably enough
: build a little Jerusalem out of brick, set a little siege wall against it, and a little siege ramp, and a little siege camp, and little battering rams all around. These, while not exactly your run-of-the-mill instructions, aren't especially peculiar by God's standards. And the detail suited me.
So there I was, making little models in the mud, when God told me to lie on my left side. For 390 days. One day for each year of the punishment of Israel, God said.

And then I to turn over to the right side for 40 days, and lie with my face set against mini-Jerusalem. One day for each year of the punishment of Judah, God said.

And, to ensure that I didn't weaken and fail to honor the command, I was supposed to tie myself in place.

So I lay down, and realized that 430 is a lot of days, and, if God's math was right, a lot of punishment. More punishment, perhaps, than would be reasonable for a people that had already lived through so much. Besides which, I had not a thing to eat. And then God spoke a third time.
Gather wheat, barley, lentils, beans, millet, and spelt, mix it all together, and eat it as barley cakes, God said. Half a pound each day, God said.

And bake it with human dung.

Human dung! How absurd. How inappropriate. How ... unclean.

I have always paid attention to the details.

I know what a siege looks like, and I know what an army encampment looks like.

I know about the deceptiveness of spelt--how it grows everywhere but yields little, and how miserably difficult it is to hull.

I know what it is to harvest wheat, millet, beans, lentils, and barley.

I know how much work it will be to prepare half a pound of barley cake each day for the next 430 days. I know how dessicated my throat will be from eating it.

I know what it is to be a captive in a land not my own.

And I know what the law says about the presence of human fecal matter in the camp.

Quote: "You shall have a designated area outside the camp to which you shall go. With your utensils you shall have a trowel; when you relieve yourself outside, you shall dig a hole with your trowel and cover up your excrement. Because Adonai your God travels along with your camp, to save you and to hand over your enemies to you, therefore your camp must be holy, so that God may not see anything indecent among you and turn away from you."

"There is no people without the law."
So I reminded God of this--not only the fact that no human dung was to be in an army camp, let alone to be used as fuel for food; not only the fact that God's very law decreed this; not only the fact that I had been Observant my entire life, but also and especially the fact that the reason for disallowing human dung in the camp was that God was present to save us and hand over our enemies to us.

And here I am? Lying on my right side, setting my face against Jerusalem for 40 day-years after doing the same to Israel for 390 day-years?

Here I am? Tied to the ground, immobile, unclean, taking upon myself the complete and utter defeat of our people despite the promise of God's presence in our camp, despite having plenty of water and food to eat, and despite being Observant?
Here I am? Eating food cooked with human dung?

I pointed this out to God.

And God relented.

I used cow dung.

Creative Commons License
Ezekiel the Observant by Brent M Graber is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License.
Based on a work at www.madgrab.net/2008/11/ezekiel-observant.html.

Ezekiel Bars

Here's a recipe for some tasty bars. The next post contains the story that must be told before serving these.

Ezekiel Bars (recipe based on this one)

1 1/2 c. Bob's Red Mill 10 Grain Cereal
2 c. whole wheat flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. sea salt
1/2 c. butter
1 c. dark brown sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 c. milk
2 eggs

Preheat oven to 375°. Lightly grease two 10x15 baking sheets. Set aside.

In a bowl sift the flour, baking soda, and salt.

In a larger bowl cream butter and sugar until smooth, then blend in milk and vanilla. Beat eggs and add. Stir flour mixture into the egg/butter/milk mixture. Add the cereal and mix well.

Divide the batter between the two baking sheets. Spread. Bake 10-12 minutes. Let rest before serving. Cut into 4 cm. squares. I cannot stress this enough: the pieces must be precisely 4 cm. x 4 cm. or it will taste just awful.

05 November 2008


Here's the kind of thing that gives me hope:
Where voters said race was important, they voted for Obama. Those who said race wasn't important also voted for him—in relatively the same percentages.
(from Slate.com, their emphasis)

25 October 2008

Loving This

A little explanation about a spurious "unable to obtain an RPC connection to the domain controller": http://trinityhome.org/Home/index.php?wpid=105&front_id=18.


17 October 2008

Hardness Scale

For the good folks at "Williams Pharmacy," who sent me "their" newsletter with the subject "Turn your tool into rock hard steel":


Just to say that I'm pretty certain I'd want any steel tool of mine to be considerably harder than most rock, never mind the fact that a tool is much more useful as a tool than as a chunk of metal.

16 October 2008


How to configure a two-switch stack using Amer SS3GR26i switches. Because I had such a time I decided I'd better write it down. This assumes you have a stacking cable.

Switch 1:
Log in, and go through the initial setup routine.

cluster run
cluster ip-pool [IP address:, e.g.]
cluster commander [cluster name: MyCluster, e.g.]
cluster auto-add enable
(I suspect this is optional)
mrpp enable
mrpp ring [ring #: 1, e.g.]
control-vlan [vlan #: 1, e.g.]
primary-port ethernet 1/27
secondary-port ethernet 1/28
node-mode master

Switch 2:
Log in, and do the initial setup routine

cluster run
mrpp enable
mrpp ring [same ring as in Switch 1]
control-vlan [same vlan as in Switch 1]
primary-port ethernet 1/28
secondary-port ethernet 1/27

Seems simple, yes? It's not nearly as simple as simply connecting two 3Com SuperStack II switches, which is what these will replace. Ah well.

Of course, if you don't do a write when you're done with each switch this will go away when you reboot. Always save your work.

14 October 2008

Tucker (Idle Thought)

I just wondered today, upon hearing the name Tucker Bounds, and remembering Tucker Carlson, whether all people named "Tucker" have conservative leanings. And, if so, what is it about the name that causes people to veer to the right?

07 October 2008


Tonight I tweeted most of the debate with ... no one else. Turns out, that's kind of dull.

29 September 2008


"This isn't a market for the timid." --Chris Johnson


26 September 2008

"Go, Christians!"

This was the conclusion of a lunch conversation when a Christian anarchist friend realized that the last eight years of being governed by a self-identifying Christian have resulted in the military being stretched too thin, the loss of American prestige in the world, and, now, the near collapse of the American economy. In short: Christians have successfully brought down the Empire. Who knew?

Idle Thought

Our dog recognizes patterns -- she knows when to expect food, she recognizes the sound of the treats bag, she knows when she gets a car walk and when she gets a regular walk. Does that mean she has a concept of time? Or is conscious of it in an abstract sense? What is it like to recognize patterns without a concept of time?

Just curious.

17 September 2008


Nearly a month without a post. Here's a lazy way out: a colleague sent me a link to this blog entry on White Privilege today. A different way of viewing the election.

21 August 2008


I've been remiss in not posting a photo of the results of the recent destruction. Here you go.

Yes, the color of the cabinets is different.
Yes, the color of the walls is different.
No, there was not a pattern on the North wall.
Yes, the microwave has been relocated.
Yes, the counter has been cleaned.
Yes, I waited to take the picture until the dishes were done.

14 August 2008

It's Nice

Conversation had with guy who lives two blocks north while I was walking the dog:

GWLTBN: Hey, where ya live?
B: Two blocks that way.
GWLTBN: It's nice to see more white people around here.
B: Why's that?
GWLTBN: You know, instead of all the Blacks and Latinos.
B: They're alright. I like my neighbors.
GWLTBN: I've lived here 14 years. There's just less and less Whites.
B: There's lots where I live.
GWLTBN: Well, if you see any ...
B: Send 'em your way?

I'm probably going to regret asking this, but how should that conversation have gone?


"About 65 years ago."

That was my first thought when I read this little blurb in my RSS feeds today: "At what point should we consider the long-term ramifications of technological developments?"

Really, is this a serious question? More to come, probably ...

Full article is available on the NYT site (sorry, registration required).

13 August 2008

This Just In (Mostly Found Poetry)

If recent spam is to be believed,
the following medications are those I need:

Comet Ring Highway Dress Nail Freeway,
Film Bank Clown Album Shop Button Pyramid,
Radar School Hieroglyph Foot Ice Table Leg Onion Monster Clock Shower Swimming Pool Car Milk.
Explosive Pillow Magnet Circus Mosquito Pocket Church

VISIT LINK Earth [link removed]

Button Snail Baby Planet Boss Girl Signature.
Circus Parachute Pants God Festival Festival Pocket.
Data Base Eyes Army Boss Post-office God Egg,
Sandpaper Alphabet Spectrum Crystal Ring Game Shop.

Bathroom Fan Spot Light Highway Fan Family Bomb.

Hammer Gate Space Shuttle Drill Needle Sun Button:
Fruit Staircase Skeleton Cappuccino Circus Chair Bible?
Finger Egg Airport Map Child Pants Cave,
Liquid Fan Perfume Table Snail Arm Needle.
Salt Shop Horse Album Cycle Chair Needle.

Needle Airport Microscope Balloon Signature Computer Girl!

07 August 2008

Thing Learned While Walking Dog

There are comestibles everywhere, if only one bothers to look, and if only one decides to be less than choosy. There is never a lot in one sitting, but during the course of a walk of a few blocks one can feast upon Cheetos, frosting or other remnants of cinnamon rolls, perhaps a french fry or two, crickets, and chicken bones, often with meat on them.

Of course, none of these things ever enters your stomach if you have an owner who is by turns vigilant and thieving.

06 August 2008


I generally think I don't have many memories of my childhood. Then something happens.

Today, while searching the office for an adapter, I had a vivid recollection of holding a sock in my hand, searching the house for its mate, only to discover that I was already wearing it. This happened when I was perhaps 7 or 8. I was in the dining room at the time.

I found the adapter, also, though not on my person.

28 July 2008

Spellcheck Wisdom (Accidental)

From an AP item in The Truth:
"It [an empty prison north of Baghdad] holds something else: a chronicle of U.S. government waste, misguided planning and construction shortcuts costing $40 million and stretching back to the American overseers who replaced Sadism Hussies" (my emphasis).
While not exactly the anagram game, the moniker is intriguing given some of America's the US's track record of running prisons located in Iraq. Come to think of it, maybe it's best that there are no prisoners held in this one.

Since a search of the AP Archive (whether past 7 days or archived material) reveals no results for "Sadism Hussies," and since the only two Google results are to a letter to the editor from the Eastern Daily Press (UK) and the Mediawatch blog of Radio New Zealand, and since The Truth's copy editing is known to be a bit adventurous, I'm inclined to place the credit for this misadventure in The Truth's lap.

21 July 2008


All too often, this is how we do things at our house. Kali the destroyer (pictured below) gets an idea that some remodeling of some sort of other needs to happen immediately. So she finds some tools to assist in the destruction, enlists her husband, and begins changing things. And now we no longer have soffit above the cabinets on the east wall of the kitchen. But there is some painting that needs to be done ...

09 July 2008

Remind Me

If ever I approach you and ask, "Hey , did you get my (e-mail | voice-mail | other message)?" feel free to remind me how irritating that is. Especially if I ask you within 1 hour of my having left it. Here, I'll even give you a template:

"Brent, if your (e-mail | voice-mail | other message) was so very (urgent | important | relevant), why did you bother to send it in the first place? Why not just seek me out so you can tell me in person what it is you wanted to tell me? Because that's what you're getting ready to do right now, isn't it?"

30 June 2008

Driving Traffic

I'm looking at the analytics for this blog. Search queries, as Dan points out regularly, are interesting things. For example, among the more-or-less expected queries that might lead one to this blog (including "blood on the lintels," "brent graber," and "madgrab") there are also things like the following:

  • "oconvpack" and "oconvpack.exe" -- neither of which appears in any of my posts
  • "a short parable" -- actually the title of a post. Who knew?
  • "rabid raccoon dream" -- this is my favorite, I think. And there's a related "dreaming of a baby raccoon what does it mean" query that drove some poor soul here.
  • "wouldn't it be adequate" and variations -- wow. Pretty sure those folks were looking for a synopsis of, or video from, "My Fair Laddy."
Of course, there are other strange searches as well. "John David Milhouse," "gillette turkmenistan," "funniest status updates facebook," and, my second most favorite, "hey, miss, i don't find you sexually attractive anymore, someone just figured out a way to double his productivity." And that person spent more than minute on the site. Just thought I'd share.

27 June 2008

Thursday Night

Here is something of a distillation of a Thursday evening spent on the neighbor's porch. As a distillation it does not quite capture the chaos of the conversation, but it does capture something of the consciousness-streaming element of it. A warning: there is some swearing. Rather a lot, actually. Those easily offended should probably not read further. One additional note: in the text every occurrence of "duuuh" should be read as though a teenager were saying it to her father when he just wasn't getting it.

Most names have been changed.

Quentin: You want me to mow your lawn? You need your lawn mowed?

Junior: This motherfucker shows up at 6:00 in the fucking morning knocking on my door. 'You want your lawn mowed?' Do I want my fucking lawn mowed? It's 6:00 in the fucking morning. Duuuh. Do I want my fucking lawn mowed? Come back at fucking 10 or 11 and ask me if I want my fucking lawn mowed. It's fucking 6:00 in the fucking morning! But, Brent, I hate that white shit. You see that white shit growing in the yard?

Brent: Yeah.

Junior: I hate that white shit, man.

Quentin: I think you should get some Round-Up, but Susanna says you should use Ferti-lome. You should put it on tonight. It's going to rain tomorrow.

Junior: I ain't fucking going out tonight, man. I'm done for the day. Brent, this fucker shows up at 11:00 at night knocking on my door. 'You want your lawn mowed?' Hell, no, I don't want my fucking lawn mowed. It's 11:00 at fucking night and I'm in my pajamas and housecoat. Next time you show up knocking at 11:00 at night I'll greet you with my pistol, 'cause I got guns, Brent. I got guns.

Quentin: If you want to get rid of that white stuff you should put on Ferti-lome. Let's go get it. I'll get it tonight and put it on for $5.

Junior: I done told you, I ain't fucking going out tonight. Do I look to you like I'm going out? Duuuh. You know, Brent, I been sitting on the porch all day drinking, and Quentin wants me to go out and get Ferti-lome? Fuck that. But, listen, Brent: I don't drink to get drunk. Duuuh. I drink because it hurts, man. Priscilla says I'm an alcoholic. I don't think so, man. Maybe I am. Maybe I am. But I don't drink to get drunk. I drink because it hurts. Hey, Brent, do you eat at home?

Brent: Mostly.

Bryce: Yeah, I got supper at home waiting for me when I go.

Junior: Man, I don't eat nothing. My daughter says that my food is my beer. But I ain't an alcoholic, man. I don't drink to get drunk.

Bryce: You know in AA meetings they say you should get in touch with your higher power, whatever that is. Some guys use doorknobs. That's a bunch of shit.

Junior: Bryce, what do I fucking say? What do I fucking say? There's two things you should never talk about: politics and religion.

Bryce: We talked about religion last night.

Junior: That's true, that's true. But we shouldn't.

Brent: What's wrong with talking about politics and religion.

Bryce: Well, you can't talk about them in a bar. That's how you start fights.

Quentin: You know, what you believe don't matter. When God reveals himself to you, you get set straight.

Junior: Hey, I'm a Baptist, man, but I don't go talking about it. Duuuh.

Bryce: All I'm saying is me and God, you know, we're tight. Like I'll watch The Ten Commandments and cry every time, you know? I ain't no pussy, but I'll cry every time. I got God right here, and nothing's gonna convince me otherwise. I've seen God working miracles in my life, you know? And I still smoke and drink, but that's who I am. I'm Baptist, you know.

Junior: Hey, Brent, I know you're a church-goin' man, and that's cool, but we don't talk about it, right?

Brent: We could, though. Disagreeing is fun; it doesn't have to be fighting.

Bryce: We talked about it just last night, Junior.

Junior: That's true, that's true. But you never fucking talk about politics and religion.

Bryce: We talked about it just last night, Junior.

Quentin: Hey, when God shows up what you believe don't matter.

Bryce: All I'm saying is when I had been at Pasadena Baptist for three years I got arrested and put in prison 'cause they said I'd stolen a car. I never stole it, but I was in maximum for two weeks.

Brent: Maximum? For auto theft?

Bryce: They thought I was a flight risk. But God had me there for a reason. I truly believe that. That first week I was there, there were 32 of us in the room, and I called my pastor and talked with him and he said it would all be alright. And it was. That first week, I was the only one of us that went to chapel. But at night when they split us into two groups of 16 for sleeping, there was big black dude that heard me on the phone with my pastor. The next week he went to chapel. And the last week I was there all of us went. God had me there for a reason.

Junior: Brent, you never seen the inside of a prison, have you?

Brent: Why were you in prison, Junior?

Junior: Cocaine. I was in prison for five years. 1992-1997. I got arrested and the lawyers opened up a book that had yellow highlights and said that each of them highlights was something they thought I'd done, and I looked at that book and saw the highlights and I'd done every one of them and I took a plea, man. Otherwise I would have been in there for 20-25 fucking years.

Quentin: When God shows up what you believe don't matter. Junior, let's go get some Ferti-lome. It's gonna rain tomorrow and you should have that on your yard.

Junior: Shut the fuck up, Quentin. Brent, you know this guy? This motherfucker shows up at 6:00 in the fucking morning knocking on my door. 'You want your lawn mowed?' Do I want my fucking lawn mowed? You want me to go out at 6:00 in the morning, start my lawnmower, so you can mow my fucking yard? Are you on crack, man? 'No, Meth,' he says. Are you on crack? I ask, and he says 'No, Meth.' Dumb motherfucker.

Quentin: Hey, I'm detailing his car tomorrow. You go to a shop and a good detail job costs you $75, easy. I'll do it for $35-40.

Bryce: That's true, it would easy be $100 at a shop.

Quentin: I gotta go. I can still do a little edging tonight.

Junior: Hey, Brent, you happy with the job he did edging?

Brent: Yeah. Lines are straight, walks are clean. Looks good.

Junior: Yeah, but, honestly, Brent. You happy with that job?

Quentin: Don't ask him. Ask his wife. See, women are more critical than men, so if they're happy then the job was done right.

Junior: What's his wife got to do with it? He paid.

Brent: No I didn't. I didn't have any cash.

Junior: Oh. Really, though, you happy with it?

Brent: Yeah.

Quentin: See? Alright, I gotta go.

Bryce: His prices have gone up. Last night he told me $20-25. Tonight he wants $35-40. Hell, I'll give him $50 if he does a nice job. It'd easy cost $100 at a shop.

Junior: Fuck, man, don't give him no $50 for that. Give him $10.

Bryce: I'll give him $50 if he does a nice job.

Junior: Ok, man, ok. I gave him $1 per tire to clean the tires on my car. Hey, you see that car right there? That's my daughter's car, man. She's 33 years old and has a 10 year old daughter and she's moved in with us. Priscilla don't want her here, but she's my daughter, man, and her mom's dead, and what am I gonna do? She can stay till she gets on her feet. What the fuck am I supposed to do? I don't work, man, I got disability, but Priscilla works every day. 33 fucking years old and wants to live with her dad? She's just waiting to get some insurance money when I'm gone, but what can I do? Hey, Brent, Bryce, you want another beer? Joylynn! Bring a couple more beers out here! Hey, Brent, you did a nice job with your backyard, and I was in my housecoat to go look, right, because like I told you, some days are better than others man. Some days I just want to sleep. And Quentin wants me to go get fucking Ferti-lome? I hate that white shit, man, but I ain't fucking going out. And Bryce, his backyard's nice too. He calls it his compound back there, and they got to-

Bryce: You call it the compound.

Junior: -matoes, peppers, what else, man? That compound back there, but he's a good neighbor, man. I got good neighbors, man.

Bryce: We're salt and pepper.

Brent: Who's salt?

Bryce: Seasoned salt.

Junior: But like I say, I was in my housecoat right, because I'm drinking all day. I don't drink to get drunk, man, I drink because it hurts. They gave me all them pills, right, but then they want to give me that, what is it, that ...

Bryce: Morphine.

Junior: Morphine. Right. Fuck that, man. I'll drink, man. But I don't drink to get drunk, man. Duuuh. My kids think I'm stupid, right? But I'm smarter than all of them. My daughter. That's her car right there. 33 fucking years old and she wants to live with her dad. Duuuh. Hey, Bryce, that's Susanna calling you. She wonders where your ass is, man.

Quentin (bicycling past): Duuuh. Duuuh. Duuuh. Duuuh.

Bryce: Yeah, she says she's going to bed. I gotta go to work at 6:00. But I'm glad to have a job.

Brent: I know people who've been looking for work for six months or a year and can't find work.

Bryce: My daughter and her boyfriend left the apartment we helped them rent. She's mad at me now.

Brent: Why?

Bryce: Last year they were here, right? And gonna have a kid. So we bought them a bed, and a bunch of other stuff for the kid, and helped them get an apartment. And they up and left everything behind.

Brent: Her boyfriend's the Ultimate Fighter, right?

Bryce: Yeah, a wannabe.

Junior: Wannabe. Duuuh.

Bryce: So they left and he's supposed to have a job, right? And he's got these things on his teeth, "grills" they call them.

Brent: We used to call them braces.

Bryce: That's just what they are, man, fake braces. Gold and jewels and hearts and clovers. They cost like $200. So my daughter calls me, right, and she says, "Dad, can you send us $200 to buy a baby bed?" And I say "what happened to the one we got you last year?" And she says, "We left it behind." Now she wants me to buy another one? I been taken before. I ain't gonna be taken again. So I said, and her boyfriend's supposed to be at work, right? So I said, "Hey, Junior could sell one of his grills." And she turns and says "Dad says you could sell one of your grills." And he's supposed to be at work. No wonder they don't have any money. If you ain't working, no wonder.

Junior: That's right, man. My daughter. She's 33 fucking years old. That's her car right there. Tomorrow's Friday, right? And Bryce's gonna be working. And Brent's gonna be working. Even Quentin's gonna be working. You want to get money, you gotta work when you supposed to be working. I'm gonna sit here and drink. But I don't drink to get drunk, man. I drink because it hurts.

Bryce: I'm gonna have some supper. See ya.

Junior: Hey Brent, you want another beer? You want another beer?

Brent: Nah, I'm good.

Junior: I don't drink to get drunk, man. I drink because it hurts. And, Brent, I sit here and drink all day, right? And we got one bathroom in the house. One bathroom and five women. And the toilet paper? Fuck. But that bathroom's upstairs, man, and that about kills me. So I drink here on the porch all day, and I gotta go, right? And I hold it and I hold it and I hold it until I can't hold it no more, man, but climbing those stairs about kills me. I get up there and I want to go to bed, man. And the doctors want to give me all them pills, and there's chemo and radiation, but I don't want them fucking pills, man. They mess you up. So I drink. You want another beer, man?

Brent: The fancy phrase for that is "self-medication."

Junior: That's just what Priscilla tells me, man! "Junior, you think you can medicate yourself?" 'Cause Priscilla's a CNA, right? "Junior, you think you can medicate yourself?" But I don't drink to get drunk, man, I drink 'cause it hurts. And I may die tomorrow, man. I don't think I'll be here in November anymore when Obama gets elected.

Brent: If you are, are you gonna vote?

Junior: Hell yes. But I don't think I'm gonna be here then, man. I could die at any time, right? But I'm blessed, man. I got good neighbors. You're a good neighbor, Bryce's a good neighbor, Junior's a good neighbor, even Michael's a good neighbor even though the bushes are too big. And, Julie, that's tough trying to do what she's doing. That's one thing, man, I know that Priscilla and the kids are taken care of when I go, man. I got insurance, and I got disability, and that's gonna pay for the $7-8,000 it's gonna take to bury my black ass, right? Priscilla and the kids are taken care of. And my daughter, she's 33 years old, right? And she's got a 10 year old daughter. And she moved in. What's she think? Daddy's not working; daddy's dying. Duuuh.

Brent: Is your chemo done now?

Junior: Yeah.

Brent: Is it smaller?

Junior: They say so, man, but it hurts. I don't drink to get drunk, man. I drink 'cause it hurts.

Brent: I gotta take the dog for a walk.

Junior: You're a good neighbor, man, you a good neighbor. I love you, man.

Joylynn: Yeah, you're a good neighbor.

Brent: You are too.

Junior: You're a good neighbor, man. You're a good neighbor. I don't drink to get drunk, man. I drink because it hurts. Hey, hey, hey! You take care, man. You take care.

22 June 2008


So "four or five hours" turned into more like eight or nine hours including cleanup. But it is finished.

Here are pictures from the back door and from the garden:

There are a few things that I may change yet, but they're mostly small and don't really show up in these photos (like adding screws to better fasten the step or adding wedges to better level the planters).

Total time spent: untold hours. Nearly every weekend (Friday and Saturday) including a couple of Sunday afternoons and some weekday evenings from early May until today.

For the remainder of this afternoon I'm going to relax on the porch--I'll better appreciate the patio once I've gotten a bit of distance from it.

21 June 2008

Missed Goal

Remember "Late Spring?" Well, late Spring ended at 11:59 last night. So the new goal is early Summer. I think I have about four or five hours of work left on the patio, and will post photos when it is complete.

18 June 2008


"Don't be overwhelmed," the auditor says to me, "this can be overwhelming."

Clarification: this is an IT audit at work, not an IRS audit at home.

13 June 2008

13 June 2008 (Friday)

To the right is the gas line that feeds our house. It's tough to see in this photo, but if you look really closely and use your imagination you'll see that the yellow bit bends neatly around the piece of rebar that holds the landscaping timber in place.

And to the left is the bit of gas line that was there before the rebar was driven into the landscaping timber. As you might have guessed, the small hole in this piece was caused by the rebar.

So today I had opportunity to learn: (1) the gas line that feeds our house is plastic, not metal; (2) gas lines, at least in our part of the world, are buried a minimum of 14" deep, not 24" deep like I imagined they might be; and (3) finding a buried gas line (about 3/8" inner diameter) by driving a 3/8" diameter piece of rebar into one's backyard is unlikely, but possible.


Two moments of restoration in the last week.

A couple of days ago Tabitha got loose. I think her leash did not fasten properly.

Both Esther and I were behind the garage doing some lawn work, when Esther headed toward the house to get something. As she passed the spot Tabitha should have been, she asked, "Where's Tabitha?" To which I replied, "I have no idea."

Esther saw one of the neighbors and asked whether he had seen a brown, white, and black beagle recently. He told her he saw a kid on a bicycle carrying a dog like that. So we got in the car and started driving. About two blocks south of us, Esther asked someone else. They pointed to the house across the street from them and told here that a kid on a bicycle gave a dog to the family that lived there. When she went to the house she saw Tabitha on their porch. They had paid $10 to the boy who had told them his mother did not want to keep the dog any longer.

Needless to say, we were delighted.

About a month ago one of our grape vines got severed. So we took the severed end and stuck it in the ground, hoping that either that end or the already-rooted end would sprout again. Yesterday I saw that the severed end has new growth.

08 June 2008


I may not be able to wait beyond breakfast for this (made from the first strawberries of the season).

07 June 2008


Had a good time with the neighbor on the porch, but had a note of dissonance. In the foreground was James, "Coop," and "Book," friends for about 50 years, cursing, drinking, and talking about loose women; in the background was WFRN, the local Christian music station playing continuous praise music.

Honestly? I enjoyed the foreground more. There was more laughter. Maybe I should start listening to WFRN's morning show, which promises "to keep you smiling."

06 June 2008

Friday Afternoon

The main patio is complete to the extent that it can be without cutting block. By my estimation I'll need to cut approximately 60 blocks. That I won't do until after I've laid the path as fully as I can. So maybe next weekend I'll spend a good bit of time cutting.

Friday Forenoon

Two pictures. Here's half-a-day's work:
I'm a little more proud than someone raised in a Mennonite home should be:

02 June 2008

Patio Update #Whatever

The gravel is placed and tamped down, and we're ready for the block. At this point I feel fairly safe in saying that most of the heavy lifting is done. What lifting there is from here on out will come in 42 lb. increments instead of wheelbarrow-loads. Of course, 250 blocks * 42 lb each still comes to several tons. But it's just a little at a time. Here's the most recent progress pics. The first is a view from the garden; the second a view from the house.

The only (minor) problem during this phase of the installation was when the pit bulls from down the street decided that they ought to find a nice gravel-filled patio in which to frolic. But we re-tamped, and I took the dogs back to the corner house, whereupon their owner rejoiced. And scolded a bit.

27 May 2008

Words Needed

With three tiles remaining in the virtual bag, here is my stick:

V, B, R, Q, L, F, K

Worst. Endgame. Ever.

26 May 2008

Patio Progress

Here are three photos of current progress on the patio. Now the digging is done, so only the hard work is left. The three pics: a view from the garden, a view from the house, and a view of the relocated dirt.


Personally, I'd think twice before hiring whoever placed this ad in the Truth:

"I am baffled by technology, but do it every day. I struggle with each change. But because I care, I meet your computer needs. I will fix your computer for only $129."

22 May 2008

Veterinary Science + Biblical Literacy

This is the sort of random question that occurs to me in the morning: is a cow, just prior to a particularly difficult birth, considered preprolapsarian?

13 May 2008

It Begins

My goal for this late Spring is to build a patio under the pergola I built last year. Here are three photos documenting the progress. The first picture is what will be the path heading back to the garden. No, that's not the pergola.

This is the pergola. And the outline of the patio where it hits the house.

And this is the slope I'm digging -- from about 3" below the string near the house to about 7 1/2" below the string where the path starts to about 12" below grade where the path hits the garden. Though by the time I get to the path the drainage wouldn't necessarily need to go away from the house, but could drain off the sides. And that's less digging, so it's probably what I'll do.

You might notice that there are posts in the way. To make matters more difficult, there are currently grape vines growing up the posts, so I plan to leave about a 2' square area around the posts to accommodate post and vine. That area I'll build up with some sort of lumber to create little planter-type things.

Maybe "late Spring" is a good start date, but it looks like it might be tough to finish by late Spring.

11 May 2008


Today I learned that the language Ewe, a member of the Niger-Congo language family, contains a bilabial fricative represented by the letter "w" in the name of the language itself. This bilabial fricative is formed by saying a "b" without letting ones lips touch each other so that what comes out sounds a little like a cross between a "b" and "w."

I learned this because I asked a Ghanaian in what language he was reading when he (with several other people) read a portion of Acts 2 simultaneously in various languages. Interestingly, and perhaps more relevant in the context of Pentecost, the result of this simultaneous reading was that rather than everyone in the congregation hearing the message in their own language, we heard it in many languages simultaneously, and therefore not at all. A second result was that I learned about Ewe. I'm certain neither of those results were the intended or anticipated one(s).

08 May 2008

Sports Section Koan

From an article in The Truth on Wednesday, 07 May (taken from the AP Wire, I assume):

"Schilling has a tendon injury and possibly a damaged
rotator cuff, depending on the diagnosis."

If a tendon injury is misdiagnosed as a damaged rotator cuff, is it still a tendon injury?

02 May 2008


You know what I like? I like when a television station, let's call it "BCD," plugs a one-off program, seasonal or otherwise, let's call that "This Program We Will Never Show Again," by saying something like this:

"On Thursday night watch 'The Program We Will Never Show Again' at a special time: 8/7 Central."

What makes me chuckle is the implied notion that the program itself isn't billed as being particularly special, rather the time at which it is shown is what is special. If it is really worth watching, why not advertise it like "On Thursday night watch the special program "The Program We Will Never Show Again" at 8/7 Central?" What about advertising am I missing here?

01 May 2008


Tonight my neighbor offered me a gun. For defending my property. I'm not entirely certain how many different emotions I feel as a result of this.

29 April 2008

Work Ahead

Our pergola measures about 11' x 15'. Tonight I set myself up for several days of hard labor by marking out a space approximately 15' x 19' around (as in, including) the pergola in which to put a brick patio. I also created space for a small path to head back to the garden.

Practically speaking, this means a lot of digging, then a lot of shoveling gravel, then some tamping, then carefully arranging the bricks to fill the space (which will likely include some cutting), then some sand and some water.

My plan is to take a couple weeks of vacation to dedicate to working on this, but there are two problems: the best digging time is right about now, but the best "slow time at work" isn't until July. What to do. What to do.

21 April 2008


One common response that people have to being burgled is a sense of violation. I can now authoritatively say that not everyone feels such violation. More like an odd mix of curiosity and sadness, and not a little perplexity.

19 April 2008


Yesterday was my triennial review. One comment from a colleague that got mutilated by spellcheck One spellcheck-mutilated comment from a colleague: "He has a sure grasp of the computer world and proposes a course of action without impatience or condensation."

Thank goodness. Excessive personal moisture is one of my greatest concerns.

On a completely unrelated note, I replaced washers on each of the bathtub faucets today. So now the bathroom is working properly.

13 April 2008


Yesterday I got bold and decided to attempt repairing the faucets in the bathroom since replacing the diverter and shower head had gone so well earlier in the week. So I removed the screw that holds the handle in place, removed the valve stem, went to Lowe's, found the appropriate washers, returned, replaced the washers, the stems, and the handles, and the sink faucets magically stopped leaking. Flush with success I thought I'd tackle the tub faucets.

The sink faucets, I should note, have shutoff valves located directly below the sink in the bathroom itself. The tub, on the other hand, has no shutoff valve. Indeed, the nearest I could find was just as the water enters the house. That's right ... to shut off water to the tub, I needed to kill the water to the whole house. And that posed a minor problem.

I attempted to remove the tub handles and was unable to do so, for fear of prying too hard and doing irreparable harm (need to get some penetrating fluid, I think). I returned to the basement and turned on the water, and noticed dripping from the main valve. Uh-oh.

As it turns out, when a valve doesn't get used with any regularity, the packing nut can "set," so that when the valve is next used the nut gets a little loose and looses its seal. A 1/8 or 1/4 turn of the nut fixes that problem.

So yesterday I learned that. And now I know it.

I also know that there is something called a "packing nut."

And, for what it's worth, today I replaced the bathroom mirror. Mr. Home Improvement. That's me.

09 April 2008

(Short) Train of Thought

Today as I walked to work I started thinking about Don, who is busy crafting the end pieces for the shelves in the AMBS Library. The panels in each end piece are supposed to be 1/2" thick, and Don is starting from 5/4" stock. Apart from being a handy example of why kids should learn common denominators and fraction subtraction, it got me to thinking about something else.

I thought to myself that when run a 5/4" thick plank of wood through a planer to remove 3/4" (see? fraction subtraction) from it, you don't set the planer to remove 3/4" all at once. Rather you set the planer to remove a little bit of wood and run the piece through several times.

Then I thought to myself that I knew that a person did not remove all 3/4" at once. How I know this I do not recall, precisely. Probably my father told me at some point. But the point is, I know it.

Then I thought about how difficult it would be for me, or for anyone, to convey to someone else everything I know. Sure there would be some obvious things, but some things I know, like the fact that you don't use a planer to remove 3/4" of wood from a plank in one pass, I cannot even conceive of remembering to convey. And most of the things I know are like that, I suspect. Where would a person even begin?

I know that when you use a planer to reduce the thickness of a plank of wood by more than, say 1/8", you make several passes removing a small amount of material each time rather than attempting to remove the total desired thickness in one pass.

There, I've started.

29 March 2008

Lost Data

Yesterday at the ATS Ed Tech Conference (first-ever) I presented my job logging scripts. Today I thought I'd upload the presentation materials to my website. Sadly, no materials. I'm certain they used to be on the USB Flash Drive I brought down here. It's the drive I have misplaced. Feh.

(one hour passes ...)

Found it. Now everything is posted.

21 March 2008


While in Chicago I saw the following ad plastered all over Millenium Station:

"Mach 3 disposable. Enough said."

I'm greatly relieved, as the only thing preventing me from purchasing a Gillette Mach 3 razor was the fact that I couldn't throw it away.

18 March 2008

Conference Incident

Today I attempted to slip past a fellow conference goer without disturbing him. In doing so, I dropped my (nearly full) water bottle on his head. Oops.

17 March 2008

Shoe Polish

Yesterday, as Esther and I were walking around downtown Chicago, we noticed my still quite sturdy, but also quite scuffed, shoes. The only pair I brought. And we stopped in at the Clark's shoe store in Water Tower Place. After trying on a pair of shoes, we walked away without them.

Last night I was thinking about this more, yearning for new shoes. Then, this morning, it occurred to me: shoe polish is much cheaper. One might reasonably ask at this point how it happens that I have come so far from my Mennonite roots that shoe polish was not the default answer to spring to mind when my shoes were scuffed; that is a separate investigation.

I went to Walgreen's, and purchased some scuff coverer and a cloth. Then I went back to the hotel room, sat on the bed, opened the scuff coverer, and promptly dumped it in my lap -- on the only pair of pants I had.

Long story short: instead of sporting a new pair of shoes, I am now sporting a new pair of pants. They're wrinkle resistant, and quite comfortable.

13 March 2008


Well, the peach trees are pruned. I guess we'll know whether I did the right thing come August, eh?

06 March 2008

Borgmann Consultation: Sessions 3, 4, 5

Three sessions, each introduced by a person. One session on pastoring a suburban congregation; a second on community; a third on friendship. Highlights:

Notion of pastor as technology so that people don't have to deal with the dirty work of ministry; pastor as ministry outsourced.

AB: glad to hear other people telling the same stories he tells his students. Now they don't need to think he's quite as lunatic.

Interesting that good stewardship can break down community -- live near to work, so live close to work since one drives there five days a week, but live far from church since drive there only once.

Parable of lost sheep is not just about seeking one lost individual, it is about bringing that individual back into community. "I am uncomfortable using the word 'community' for anything that happens online."

AB: "cult of counter-example" elaboration -- start with intuition, but then temper and test. And what social sciences can teach us, anecdotes are misleading. Must ask what is typical. Analysis is a careful phenomenology. Another peril is to speak only in the abstract -- so you can say that a person could lie in physical community by, say, removing their wedding band, but the typical case is that this does not happen -- need to be descriptive, not normative. Think concretely, not abstractly.

AB (on what traits are most important for people to have): "Generosity comes first, then sense of humor, then intelligence. Nonetheless, it's (intelligence's) helpful in philosophy."

The whole discussion on friendship was way too involved, and it's way too late to summarize now. Basically it involved getting the church to think about friendship as integral to church life -- a robust ethical friendship, not the cheap loose friendship as we think of it; the friendship from which the term koininia originally sprung. Question: how does friendship relate to agape? AB: friendship requires equality, devotion to others' moral improvement, sharing a common good, and finding pleasure in the other's company. Agape does not require mutuality. Someday the poor will no longer be with us (hopefully). At that point, Agape will be irrelevant and friendship will be key.

Borgmann Consultation: All Campus Forum

Borgmann distilled his thinking into a brief lecture about the material and the moral. Essentially:

150 years ago we used to have to move around physically, deal with physical objects, have some skill. A person could not establish himself in society, e.g., without being married. Listening to music required either (1) making it yourself or (2) going to a function where other living beings were making it. Technology has lifted this from our shoulders.

The new reality is the economy, which is like water for sea creatures. Either we learn to swim in it or we drown. Due to technology, things that were once material necessities have become moral tasks; tasks not forced upon us due to the material nature of our reality. We still have a need for community, for physical activity, but we need to recreate, on moral grounds, conditions that were once the gift of material circumstance.

But even in these new "material" communities, the water still exists; the Old Order, for example, are more like an island in an ocean than a continent. And even recreating the conditions does not make it the same; 150 years ago no one could opt out. Now we can.

So the moral must work back on the material. The water won't go away, but the islands can be made larger. Critical mass of people can change the culture at large.


When asked what the most common criticism he faces is, Borgmann mentioned two: from philosophers, he hears that he is irrelevant (or that he is not doing philosophy); from liberals and Marxists he hears that he is politically naive ("What about the power structure?"). He quickly indicated he does not much care whether philosophers think he is relevant, as they are mostly irrelevant (and he challenged anyone to name the most important currently living philosopher ... one person proferred MacIntyre, everyone else was silent).

One quote regarding philosophy, Borgmann described the guild as being consumed by the "cult of counter-example," that is, the tendency of philosophers to hear an argument and immediately begin casting about for the one thing that will destroy that argument. Nice phrase, that.

Borgmann Consultation: Session 2

(Note that I am restarting numbering with each session, so P1 in Session 2 is not necessarily the same as P1 in Session 1. I'll probably regret this later.)

DK starts out with some explanation of Amish culture.

P1: What impulse led to the Amish starting to distinguish themselves from broader culture technologically? If they were basically indistinguishable in the 1800s, what changed?

P2: Well in the 19th century the split was over church polity, and the Amish favored tradition and local orientation so they did not accept Sunday School (which would have entailed getting curriculum from outside their community). This type of decision parallels how Amish respond to technology, but whether we could predict this outcome (that is differentiation by way of technology) is uncertain.

P3: It is worth noting that accommodations to technology tend to happen in the realm of male work.

DK: technology is gendered in Old Order communities. They distinguish between earning a living and being at home.

P4: Two points about this consultation: 1) regardless of the specific practices, Old Orders create space to converse about technology; that's one thing we want to accomplish here. 2) Old Orders evaluate the impact of technology on the community based on values they hold high. We don't do that either.

The Discussion that Ensued

As alluded to in my previous post, much discussion ensued following Borgmann's opening remarks. The other "official" guide at the consultation is Donald Kraybill, sociologist. Apart from Kraybill (DK) and Borgmann (AB), remarks of other participants are indicated with numbers. And, no, none of them are me.

Kraybill: What is the good news? What do we proclaim in a culture of high tech? To what do we attend. Focal practices in Technology and the Character of Contemporary Life, focal practices seem individualistic and oriented toward leisure. Where is the community? Resistance and transformation (as in the Amish) are only possible in community; by participating in communal focal practices.

Borgmann: Yes, TCCL lacks emphasis on community. I attempt to address this in later books. Communities in a traditional sense lived together; we are scattered. How can communities of celebration function to give a gathered body strength to carry on as a scattered body?

P1: culture of technology allows me to live alone; supports my isolation while allowing me to bridge the isolation by keeping in touch with those at a distance.

DK: This is the paradox; tech allows connection with diaspora community, but usually only two people at a time; dyads, not communities.

P2: The state has vested interest in virtual communities over against physical communities; virtual communities are powerless.

DK: But virtual community has given power to citizen groups, right?

P3: movements of bodies are not just from material to virtual but also from virtual to material; moveon.org works virtually to get people to meet materially. We are our virtual selves; they are not disassociated (I am myself in an e-mail not in a way different from how I am myself in a letter).

P4: Yes, but that is a bluff; we have the illusion of power, but it is power the state allows.

AB: I don't think it is all that complicated. Virtually the problem is low cost of entry and low cost of exit

P5 (responding to P4, above): Isn't part of the complexity that the culture turns even resistance into commodity? Protest is great media; you design the protest for 30s soundbites. And what about the evidence that digital brains are wired differently? Cab drivers in London, for instance, literally rewire their brains as they learn the street system; why would we expect the brains of digital natives to be the same as ours?

AB: Not much research on multitasking, but what there is indicates we can only multitask on unimportant things. On important things, multitasking does not happen.

AB (responding to P3, above): The significant thing of the internet is ambiguity. Resistance of the medium makes people more thoughtful. The ambiguity consists of the impoverishment of what gets to you.

P3: I merely want to challenge the neat separation between the virtual and the physical.

P6: What do we mean by community? By quality of community? F2F does not necessarily equal good community. Furthermore, we tend to tell horror stories -- let's also think about tech in service of community; in service to our bodied selves.

AB: Where connections are strong, technology is helpful. What it cannot do is generate community -- there must be at least a cause in common.

P7 (responding to AB's opening remarks that it would be morally irresponsible not to have a cell phone): That is too quick of a summary. Say more -- we cannot leave technologists to determine what is acceptable risk. Do we not have moral obligation to say no?

P8: To whom are we responsible? Christians looks somewhere not in technology; clarification wrt the Amish: if we are all implicated we all have responsibility to reform the system. Is that the Christian calling? I think we're called to neither to embrace nor reform but to model difference.

AB: The Old Order claim, legitimately, to be a city on a hill. But that is insufficient. Three ways of dealing with the world: 1) service to others; help unto death; 2) don't worry about the world, our reward is spiritual; 3) attempt redemption of the material culture knowing it will at best only approximate the reign of God.

AB (responding to P7, above): Yes, there is a continuity between acceptable and unacceptable risk. In some ways the line drawn must be arbitrary. "The world is getting so soft and squishy that we're going to need some hardness ... we should not find that resistance in risk." Resistance with legitimate claims are in relationships, sports, gardening, etc.

P9: What if we made Christian community even more demanding than it is? What if we stopped catering, for example, to those persons who miss worship, and require that they work to find out what happened?

P5: Do we live in a society that is inherently wicked, or in a society where good things are desired badly?

AB: The latter. But we also live in a society where good things are desired rightly.

*** P10 introduces a new set of questions, not directly tied to preceding ***

P10: 1) how is culture of technology tied to other cultures of which we find ourselves a part? A culture that rejects tradition (American, e.g.) gives guidance to people by using fear and anxiety - technology does the same. So how does culture of technology fit in with larger culture? 2) Can technology itigate against a culture of anxiety and fear as well as play into it?

AB: say more about culture of fear

P10: Political appeals are not to vote for the person who mosts reminds you of your father (tradition) but the one who is most comforting.

P11: What is at the root of culture of fear? Is it fear of mistake? Injury?

P6: We cannot distinguish between real fear and unimportant fear (quoting some young Christian ethicist whose name was never mentioned).

P12: But, AB, the Amish are quite fearless (referring to ABs remarks in opening that the Amish seem to have conquered envy but perhaps not fear). AB, you've made different choices on the types of risks you take on.

AB: Using Aristotle, recklessness is the inability to see what you are up against; it looks like courage, but it is not. Defiance is not enough. The Amish seem more defiant than courageous.

AB (picking up on P10's opening questions): There was a sea change in the culture when misfortune changed from being a providential burden to being an intolerable scandal. Technology moves from removing intolerables to removing inconveniences to eventually removing even frivolous "problems." Fear of misfortune (picking up on P11, above) is evolutionarily ingrained in us. But society was structured in such a way that it made sense to overcome and compensate for that fear -- we had to face our fears to get berries and to hunt because food was scarce and difficult to get. Now the scarcity is no longer there, and technology has removed the threats, so we overindulge. Technology has transformed the environment in such a way that our reactions that were once beneficial are now detrimental.

P10: Would you distinguish between overindulgence and distractability? Are they interchangeable, or are they two different ways of not being engaged properly?

AB: The latter.


This was the most free flowing session of the day. The others seemed much more disjointed, so I'll probably just drop in highlights if I do anything at all.

Borgmann: Introductory Comments

Just some quick notes on Borgmann's introductory comments at the consultation this morning. I'll try to detail the rest of the conversation later.

Borgmann articulated three reasons it is important to understand technology: fear, mission, and our condition.

As regards fear, "we," that is, citizens of the US mostly, have a sense of not being able to take on the power structures that govern our lives -- that is, we are afraid of it. But not only that, because we live in the system we are all implicated in it. For this reason we are required to understand it.

As regards mission, Borgmann notes that often missionaries were the ones who introduced grammars and dictionaries into native cultures. The natives did not need grammars and dictionaries, as they were, well, natives. But in order to understand the culture to which we are to bring good news, we require those tools. Hence, we must understand technology to be good news in a culture saturated with it.

As regards our condition, Borgmann notes that we, as members of the culture to which we are to bring good news, are also suffused with technology, and that this technology (largely, but not exclusively, information technology) is invisible. In order to understand ourselves, we are required to understand technology.

And just a couple of fun quotes: hope, according to Borgmann, is found when people do something they know to be good. Or, quoting Henry Bugby (?), "There are certain things that cannot play you false."

A second quote, regarding why he (Borgmann) owns a cell phone. Apparently his children are concerned for his and Nancy's relative safety living on a mountain in, fittingly, Montana. So they have cell phones, and recognize that there is a certain moral requirement to do so. "It would be irresponsible, once it's available, not to have it." Borgmann recognizes that this sort of attitude can cause troubles, and follows up by arguing that there is always a continuum of use, never a sharp break, so that any line that is drawn, and lines are constantly drawn, is necessarily somewhat arbitrary.

Much disucssion ensued.

05 March 2008

He's here

Dr. Albert Borgmann is on campus for a couple of days to participate in a consultation with a bunch of Anabaptist scholars, activists, pastors and other people who were picked based on criteria to which I am not privy. I'm very excited.

19 February 2008

Armistice Day

The DVD format wars are dead! Long live the ... actually, let's not do that again.

15 February 2008

Extending the Family

It was a good day.

Tonight at King Gyros, Esther and I were waiting on our order and an African American woman entered loaded down with a baby carrier and a bag of some sort. When she picked up her order, another customer, who had been seated, jumped up, got the order, and carried it out to the car. So was our faith in humanity reaffirmed. People are good.

Just a bit earlier, also at King Gyros, Esther and I were commenting to each other that there are people of hidden talent in all walks of life. Like one of the co-owners of the franchise we visit, who is fluent in three languages, and can understand a fourth. Perhaps this should not be remarkable, but it is.

And all this after we got Tabitha.

Tabitha is a shy, quiet, maybe a little bit lazy, Beagle or Beagle mix. She still has a little adoption shock -- we've not yet managed to get her to do any more than nibble a little food and drink a little water -- but we hope she settles in soon. We feel so responsible and adult. And, strangely, proud.