Sunday, December 23, 2007

A Christmas Story

We live in a strange world. I was looking for Christmas music to play while we clean and cook... I found the entire A Christmas Story (you'll shoot your eye out!).

And here's Good King Kong, by PDQ Bach, Peter Schickele.

Monday, December 17, 2007


I hope your celebration of Beethoven's birthday was as awesome as mine: shopping madness for Christmas. It is hard to find time to get away. I stole a parking spot from a big truck (not altogether intentionally) and, in one line, sang four Radiohead songs to myself.

Sarah and I went out in the cold to see the lights in downtown Denver. It was kind of fun, kind of chilly. I miss the shopping district in Seattle for that kind of expedition. And the steel drum band. There was a dude on a recorder, though.

Where we were, there's just an outdoor mall. We had thought they lit the state capitol, but we didn't see anything when we went by. The US Mint was just red in the top tower. They were showing Miracle on 34th Street, the original, on a big screen in a park.

I've been enjoying a set of computer programming problems called Project Euler. Basically, they are math problems that would not be easy to solve without a computer. We the people can solve problems that were beyond the world's mathematicians for centuries. They are not that easy to solve with a computer either, as the design of the program is the key, but every solution program should end in under one minute.

I've been taking the opportunity to learn a programming language new to me, Python. I learned Common Lisp in grad school, so a lot of the concepts are familiar to me. Still, it's been fun to make functional little programs that can run on basically any computer. I haven't been doing math problems just for fun since high school, basically, so it's been neat to get back to those roots. I could reflect on the circle of life, the more things change, nothing new under the sun...

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Start of book reviews

I was going over my reading record in the blog, and I think I must've either missed tagging some things with "books" or not talked about all that I did read. For instance, The Stand isn't on there. There are only 34 books! On the positive side, only four were rereads, so I tried to spread my wings a little this year. If you want to go back and check them, just click on the "books" tag at the bottom of this post.

There's a lot of science fiction and fantasy, some classics, some religious stuff, some Stephen King, and other miscellany from databases to math to poker.

It should go without saying that I'm soliciting reading suggestions. And I really should get a reading group.

This probably interests about two people in the entire world, but here's the list I found for 2007 blog-posted books, earliest to latest:

Left Hand of Darkness
Bujold: Brothers in Arms, Memory, Mirror Dance
The Shining
How Much for Just the Planet?
The Knight, The Wizard
V for Vendetta
The Biggest Game in Town
Understanding Comics
From Hell
Database in Depth
How Would You Move Mount Fuji?
Aspects of the Novel
Walking On Water
Girl Meets God
A Sort of Life
What's So Amazing About Grace
Audible Neil Gaiman
Charmed Life
The Power and the Glory
Night Shift
The Gunslinger
Till We Have Faces
The Color of Magic
Starship Troopers
The Language of the Night
The Man in the High Castle
Lord of the Flies
Journey Through Genius
Fragile Things

Tuesday, December 04, 2007


I forgot to put in the last post that I've noticed myself doing something funny lately. Sarah and I go out shopping, and around the second store I start to get really exhausted by the crowds, the lights, the aggressive product placements and advertising. I hate the experience of being bought and sold in those environments. For some reason, I just cannot handle it anymore.

So I take out the iPod that is always in my coat now, and start listening to Radiohead. I've even started putting on the tunes in the grocery store.

It is like a histamine blocker.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Checking in

My reading of Lord of the Flies was somewhat tainted by knowing how it ends. It's the model UN episode of The Simpsons, so I knew the plot from start to finish. It was still a very impressive book. I had to take several breaks from reading it because it was just too depressing, but it was very good.

One thing I wondered as I read it was whether this thing was written deliberately to provide fodder for critics of various schools. It is almost impossible to avoid reading it as an allegory; I don't know if this is a good thing or a bad thing. I used to think that true understanding of a work of fiction involved teasing out the allegory. Now, not so much.

In between Lord of the Flies sessions, I finally found Neil Gaiman's short story collection Fragile Things under a car seat and finished it off. The end of the book is a kind of post-quel to American Gods, another book I recommend highly. A story about The Matrix that was written when the movie came out. One about a society of gourmands that has eaten absolutely everything under the sun. A touching one called "How To Talk To Girls At Parties" about a shy kid who meets some very strange girls. A very funny one about a writer who lives in a gothic Halloween world who tries to overcome the stigma of writing contemporary literary fiction. All of them start out normal enough, then go a little bit crazy, magical-realism style.

I also finished Charmed Life, which was very entertaining. Today, I dove into the next one in the series, The Nine Lives of Christopher Chant.

Somehow I worked in time to "finish" Super Mario Galaxy. This is a charming game, a flagship for Nintendo. They hit every note just right. Mario is running around in the stars, visiting all kinds of planets. Some have normal gravity, some are very very strange. They have themes, like "" The plot is the Mario plot (Bowser kidnaps the princess, you go save her), but everything else was fresh and exciting. There was some great camera trickery involved, with Mario walking around on the ceiling a lot. The music was brilliant. Bee Mario is probably the cutest thing they have ever done. And beating the Robot Bowser level in Toyland felt like a real accomplishment. The first half of the game was easy enough, but the second half, which I am just starting, looks to be pretty hardcore. I say "finish" because even over the course of my rental, which was most of three evenings, I only got through half of the levels.

I got a wireless keyboard and mouse at Target this weekend. I hope to use it in conjunction with the Wii to surf the web from my couch. Stay tuned.

I've got that William Gibson book to read, and I have that end-of-year book sum-up to get to. I hope the early December days are treating you well. Sarah should have some exciting pictures up of the house decorated for Christmas soon...

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving

I hadn't looked at my Amazon recommendations in a while, so I was a little unprepared to find that many of the book recommendations it found for me were things I had recently checked out from the library or read using the reference libraries available through work. The tool basically predicted the future based on my past reading events. The one that was the weirdest was that it recommended The Man in the High Castle, by Philip K. Dick, and that was the first Dick novel I've ever read. A little spooky.

My first turkey: Alton Brown's roast turkey recipe was idiot-proof and amazing. You brine the turkey overnight and then roast with apples, onions, and herbs stuck in the cavity. It was moist and delicious, mission accomplished. The only thing that went wrong was that I bought too small a turkey. I won't make that mistake again.

I finally finished Charmed Life, (Diana Wynne Jones) which was quite good. The eerie similarities to Harry Potter continued to the end of the novel, which cements my opinion that it is basically source material for the series. I mean, two thirds of the way through, someone starts insisting that they not call the enchanter Chrestomanci by his name, to avoid summoning him, but instead call him... wait for it... You Know Who. Capital letters and all.

We had a nice Thanksgiving cooking together. Sarah's sweet potatoes were just divine, and even though the turkey was small, our little family of 3 barely got through a quarter of it. We have lots of leftovers. We did the wishbone, said what we were thankful for, and watched football while peeling potatoes. These were practically my only requirements for a successful day. Then we all fell asleep at 4:00. It was our first Thanksgiving away from everyone's relatives, but Sarah and Alex did videoconferencing with the Utah fam (with iChat; we are also set up to do it over Skype, but other programs are possible) so they got their fix.

There are some great poems about being thankful, so I will just let one take over. But first, I am thankful for life and love, for wife and son, for food and song, for walks and books, for every short, eternal day.

Welcome Morning

Anne Sexton

There is joy
in all:
in the hair I brush each morning,
in the Cannon towel, newly washed,
that I rub my body with each morning,
in the chapel of eggs I cook
each morning,
in the outcry from the kettle
that heats my coffee
each morning,
in the spoon and the chair
that cry "hello there, Anne"
each morning,
in the godhead of the table
that I set my silver, plate, cup upon
each morning.

All this is God,
right here in my pea-green house
each morning
and I mean,
though often forget,
to give thanks,
to faint down by the kitchen table
in a prayer of rejoicing
as the holy birds at the kitchen window
peck into their marriage of seeds.

So while I think of it,
let me paint a thank-you on my palm
for this God, this laughter of the morning,
lest it go unspoken.

The Joy that isn't shared, I've heard,
dies young.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

If you're like me

You got temporarily distracted from Lord of the Flies by Journey Through Genius: The Great Theorems of Mathematics. Along the way, you learned about transfinite numbers and how they used to have math-offs in the Italian Renaissance. You also picked up a new book by one of your favorite authors: Spook Country, by William Gibson. As the jacket says,

Spook: Specter, ghost, revenant. Slang for "intelligence agent."

Country: In the mind or in reality. The World. The United States of America, New Improved Edition. What lies before you. What lies behind.

Spook Country: The place where we all have landed, few by choice. The place where we are learning to live.

Last, but certainly not least, a desire to deepen your professional awareness led you to begin a thousand page journey through a computer science textbook: Compilers: Principles, Techniques, and Tools.

You have over twenty things checked out of the library. Five of them are the first season of Stargate SG-1, which you were surprised to learn is a true sequel to the movie. You have about fifteen CDs checked out, and today you heard Born To Run for the first time. You also listened to more Talking Heads songs than ever, a new Ozomatli album, and the latest Decemberists.

You took your first turkey out of the freezer on Sunday night and stuck it in a mixing bowl to thaw. Tomorrow, you will be dunking it in a five-gallon bucket filled with saltwater. Thursday, you will have your first Thanksgiving away from your parents and your in-laws.

Friday, you plan to laugh at insane shopping from the comfort of your living room, enjoying hot cider.

You've been playing the drums with your son lately. He likes rocking out on the xylophone. You have been listening to the drummer from Radiohead a lot. You also have been trying out guitar effects on the computer. You even played for half an hour straight at the guitar store, on your knees, with headphones with a short cord, just messing with one low-end effects pedal.

You brought homemade banana bread with chocolate chips inside to a Thanksgiving potluck at work, and every single person who tried it essentially asked you, "Chocolate in banana bread? Can you do that?" in between bites.

Yes. Yes, you can do that.

If you're like me.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007


I've been posting less. I'm not sure if this is because I've run out of long thoughts for now (which is certainly true, except for an ongoing conversation I've been having with my mom about the erosion of privacy and the demonizing of dissent in the post-9/11 America. I've written about this before, but we're all adults here and this is not the year PNE 6. For better or worse it's 2007 and we deserve a post-post-9/11 America.). It could be that my mind is more or less exhausted by work and home life, which is another half truth. Work is exhilarating, and for the most part I don't bring it home, which is good.

I never got around to Lord of the Flies in high school. I mentioned to my mom that we skipped a lot of the British white guys in IB. Sure, we had to have our Shakespeare and Dickens, but it was very international overall. Anna Karenina, Madame Bovary, The Sound of Waves, Things Fall Apart, Gabriel Garcia Marquez (what's the name of that one? I can't remember... oh, it's Chronicle of a Death Foretold), and so on. So I somehow missed this book about the savagery of school kids, about the apocalypse, about the heart of darkness, about everything under the sun, according to the jacket cover.

I read an essay recently that said that nerds were doomed to be cynical about high school because it is your whole world for a while, but it doesn't mean anything in the long run. He had read Lord of the Flies, and he said that he wished someone had made the connection between the book and the environment it was being taught in.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

iPod madness

I finally figured out how to get my music collection onto my brand old iPod. It was a gift from my father in law quite a while ago. It had all his old music, and I didn't have cords to get my music from the PC onto the iPod, and I didn't have the wherewithal to laboriously burn several gigabytes of music onto several more 800 MB CDs, so it became this amazing jukebox that I took, especially on flights and mowing the lawn.

It turns out all we had to do was set up a network between the Mac and the PC, start a new Mac account for my music, share a few folders, then copy several gigabytes over the air. It still takes a while, but you don't have to keep switching out physical media, so you can get up and go to Home Depot to buy your first rake while Beck, Radiohead, the Beatles, Nickel Creek, and a motley crew of others worm their electronic ways into your heart.

I am quite excited. For the first time, I will have better music on the iPod than I can find on the internet, and thus, a reason to take the iPod in to work.

I also watched Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior. I was going to, well, not pan it, but at least compare it to its superior predecessors, Drunken Master 2 and Fist of Legend until I read on the internet, just now, that there were no wires, CGI or camera tricks in this movie. Wow. It's just the brutal ballet, if the ballerinas all ganged up on the one little ballerina... and then the crunching started. And I thought all the elbow and knee strikes were getting a little repetitive. I actually might have to watch this thing again. Its plot is virtually nonexistent, but this is one of those movies where it would just get in the way.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Still more entertainment

I read The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick this week. He's the (departed) guy maybe most broadly known for writing the stories that got made into Blade Runner, Total Recall, Paycheck, and Minority Report, and more recently, you probably didn't see A Scanner Darkly and Next.

This book came out in 1962. It's the alternate present of America in 1962, 15 years after the Allies lost World War II (owing to, among other things, the assassination of FDR). The west coast is run by the Japanese, the east coast is run by the Germans, and the middle of the country has become a shadow of its former self. It's well-depicted and eerie. More than that, it's a novel about the Tao and about living inside and outside the flow of the world. It's also a novel about art, where the characters all seem to be reading an alternate history bestseller, banned in the Nazi countries, called The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, which depicts the Allied victory in World War II. It's also a stylistic tour-de-force, with each focus character narrated and talking in their own dialect and from their own peculiar points of view.

This truly appears to be my year of the novel. I also picked up a novel omnibus by Ursula K. LeGuin. If anybody has some more recommendations, I am all ears.

Vince brought up recently that our reading lists do not intersect much because I read a lot of fiction and he reads a lot of non-fiction. I love stories. I don't necessarily learn facts from them, but consider this: facts are true, but often irrelevant; theories are relevant, but often untrue. That is my philosophy of science, cribbed from a linguistics professor in undergrad. One day he was trying to explain a fundamental problem with Chomsky's linguistics and he put it this way: they keep trying to extend the theory to cover more and more cases, but by doing that, they lose the power of their original generalizations.

This appears to be a fundamental problem of the pursuit of knowledge: knowing how important the details are. This is so important that researchers routinely eliminate as many details as possible, by controlling the environment. To find important implications, you have to match valuable behavior with significant control.

Living as a human being, perhaps fortunately, does not provide us with similar control of our environment, with similar eliminations of variables, except perhaps to the insane, the Wall Street executive, the alienated... but I repeat myself. Instead of tearing our lives into constituent parts, I am convinced we try to tell ourselves a story with some integrity, some unity of action. And reading fiction, or even non-fiction stories, I think, gives us a chance to respond to our world, to another human being, not with a little part of ourselves, but with our hearts in our teeth, our minds engaged, our blood pumping through the pages. I have rarely been shaken or moved by non-fiction, or rather, by arguments. But I want to be moved when I read. I want to be someone else when I'm done.

Madeleine L'Engle said recently about Harry Potter that there's no underneath to the stories, and I think there is something to this. The Harry Potter books are interesting depictions of flawed heroes, and they are epic and fun, grand and entertaining, but ultimately, they are not meant to shake you up the way I'm talking about. They do not point to deeper meanings, do not exploit the power of ambiguity. They are safe. Impotent. Sterile. I hope for JK Rowling's sake that instead of writing the Harry Potter encyclopedia (she is currently suing a website that plans to make a similar product with her characters) and getting stuck in the safe world, she sits down with her pen and her knife, and creates a new story with a few more razorblades sticking out of it.

If you watch TV, point yourself toward the other best show on television. Yes, yes, there's Heroes, which you should still be watching (first season on DVD, quite poignant and epic, dangerous and potent), but the antics of the cheerleader have gotten boring, and the dead hand of the painter that depicts the future is choking the plot. All in all, things are a bit tedious at the moment. So why not watch a show about a dude who brings people back from the dead.

It's Pushing Daisies. In Pushing Daisies, Ned, a pie-maker in his mid-twenties, has been living with a strange power for more than a decade: touch a dead thing (animal, person) once, and it comes back to life. But touch it again and it's dead forever. Also, the catch, if the reanimated thing is not returned to death within a minute, something else dies in its place.

The backstory: when the guy was ten, he discovered his power when his mom died by accident, he brought her back to life. His girl-next-door's father died when, 60 seconds later, he hadn't returned his mom to death. Then his mom touched him anyway, and she died again, this time permanently. Afterwards, Ned's dad sent him to boarding school, but he never forgot Charlotte Charles, nicknamed Chuck, the childhood sweetheart whose father he had inadvertently killed.

The front story: Ned, now a full-time pie maker, falls in with a private investigator. The PI solves mysteries by talking to the dead for 60 seconds, using Ned's ability. Charlotte (Chuck) gets killed on a cruise and Ned goes in, ostensibly to touch her and solve the mystery of her death. But when she comes back to life, he is unwilling to see her dead again. So, 60 seconds go by and a grave-robbing funeral director nearby dies in her place.

Charlotte (Chuck) and Ned fall for each other instantly, but they cannot touch, or Charlotte will die. Nevertheless, they make the most of their second chance together, and therein lies the story. It is completely spell-binding. It's an urban fairy tale, still more evidence that the geeks have won. It is by turns surreal and kooky in the extreme, darling, hilarious, philosophical and heavy, and heartbreakingly romantic and beautiful. And, I just saw the episode where they do a They Might Be Giants song, which, unexpectedly, is germane to the content.

You can watch the show online if you like. ABC's player contains all the episodes to date; just click on the link that says "Watch Online Now."

Last off, here's a Radiohead concert in two acts. If you want to hear what they're all about, get it while it's hot. It's from Berkeley in 2006, so they play stuff from most of their catalog, including their newest album, excluding their first album. One thing that might impress you is how different the songs sound, even though it's always and only been the same five guys. They are a bit paranoid about contemporary Western society, but I for one am glad that someone is. It's dense, poetic, symphonic music.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Thursday, October 25, 2007

More books

Last week I had a lot of reading to do, in between the pastry making, visiting, cribbage (Rachel kicked my butt), backgammon (I played my brother to 32-32. We kept score on the cribbage board), shopping, etc. I read a very clever book called The Color of Magic by Terry Pratchett. This book, first in a 434 part series, is set on a world that is actually a disk, called Discworld. Its sun orbits around it. It sits atop A'Tuin, the great turtle, who sits in turn on top of four elephants (or maybe it's the other way around). It's not just great fantasy parody (the sections on Cthulhu and Pern seemed particularly well-done to me), it's at times thought-provoking. With jokes.

I also read an old classic, Robert Heinlein's Starship Troopers. Unless you have a specific need, like the need to read lots and lots of science fiction, I will actually suggest that you avoid this book. There is basically no story, the character arc is unconvincing, and there are endless info-dumps, and endless sermons on the value of serving in the armed forces. It's important to view it in its context, of course, (1959) but it suffers from Heroic Spaceman Syndrome along with a lot a lot of the fiction that was being done then. It won the Hugo, so if you are trying to read the Hugos, that might be another reason to read it.

I didn't have time to get to Ursula K. Le Guin's The Language of the Night, which is a first collection of her essays and articles on science fiction and fantasy. So I stole it from my dad.

I have plugged Le Guin here before, for The Left Hand of Darkness. I should mention that she also wrote (and is still writing) a terrific fantasy series called Earthsea that was recently made into a movie (not very faithful, if I remember the hearsay correctly). The first book is The Wizard of Earthsea. I still remember most of the second book too, The Tombs of Atuan. I tried to read the third book, The Farthest Shore, but I didn't really understand it at the time. She has written a ton of great stuff, though.

I am thinking about doing a 2007 book review Retrospecticus in December.

I have been busily listening to Radiohead's studio catalog. All of it. Amnesiac, yes, is the hardest listen and OK Computer is definitely still the best. It also turns out that there are Radiohead concerts on the internet. The best way to see them is to go to, search for your artist, then pick videos longer than 20 minutes. I tried the Beatles, and it appears to have the entire Yellow Submarine movie, the entire Help!, a 40 minute video from the Shea Stadium concert... ad infinitum. Give it a try with your favorite artist...

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Sorry; wedding; ending; book

Hey Seattle people, the schedule was not permitting outside activities. If I could have called with other than bad news, I would have.

Kefi is married! It now appears that my quick thinking, aided by a peculiar set of circumstances not likely to be repeated, may have saved the wedding video for posterity as we know it.

So first off, kids, videotape your wedding. Test your equipment and your batteries, get a tripod, task one person to do that and only that. My parents have regretted not having good pictures of their wedding, down through the decades (they've been married close to 30 years now!). Until we have 3D television and can view football in the living room tank, that videotape is as close as you're going to get to a record to support your fading memory of the most important single day in your life. So the first strange circumstance was that, as the wedding was heating up, I looked around the room, and there was no camera on a tripod with a bored-looking relative. This made me nervous, but I shrugged it off for a while. Let me repeat one more time: do not let this happen to you.

The second strange circumstance was the strange beeping noise my dad's camera made as it focused. I was a brother of the groom (not in the wedding, but it's ok. Destiny obviously had another heroic feat in mind), so I was seated in the front row. Dad made some lovely remarks during the wedding, so I was tasked to take pictures with his camera. I did so assiduously until I hit some strange button and the camera stopped focusing correctly. Or maybe it was fine, we'll all find out at that great camera debriefing in the sky. Anyway, every time I tried to take a picture with autofocus thereafter, one, the camera wouldn't focus, and two, the autofocus feature would make a strange beeping sound. This sound grated on my ears so much, for so little payoff, as the pictures weren't coming out, that I decided to start flipping through the menus of the camera.

It was getting down to crunch time. Speeches were ending, the rings were coming out. I swept a look over the ballroom (pretty generous word for a multi-purpose at the community center, but there you go) and I still couldn't see a camcorder anywhere. So, after a few nerve-wracking false-starts, centered around the fact that Dad's digital camera's video mode does not use a toggle to start and stop video, but rather requires you to hold down the snap for the entire video period, I got things going and taped the last five minutes of the wedding, with rings, I dos, kiss the bride, and exeunt. And boy were my hands tired. The tape is on Dad's computer, on the camera, on a CD, and hopefully, soon, on YouTube.

One detail does not appear on the tape. About halfway through the recording, I noticed that I was watching the key moments of my sister's wedding through a tiny viewfinder in the back of a Pentax Optio camera, when the real thing was happening in living color just behind the camera. This seemed like a bit of a 21st century moment to me, and I took five seconds to think about whether I cared. Eventually, I went back to the viewfinder so they would have a good tape. The day wasn't really about me, after all... and there my tale is done.

I would like to write more about the wedding, but the whole week was so action packed that I might as well just start at the beginning. Later. Long ending short, it snowed in Denver today, and Sarah, Alex and I got to the car at about 8:30. It was close to freezing, if not freezing, and there was wind chill too.

The car wouldn't start.

I started freaking out, and Sarah started calling people. I told her to call my dad, who, fortunately, knew that we should call the jumpstarting service at the airport. I flagged down a truck, and a nice man got out and gave me the numbers to call. Then we called the service, and exactly the same truck, only with different people, came out and jumped the car. It turns out that somehow I left the lights on, even though the car boos at me when I open the car door with the lights on... I still don't know quite what happened. Sarah passed on at the last minute that I needed to tip the dudes, so I gave them the money I could find in my wallet with my frozen fingers. And we made it home, and there the end of the end of the other tale is done. The balance of the tale, TBA.

Lastly, today, for the first time, I finished Till We Have Faces by CS Lewis, his last novel. I waited a long time to read A Grief Observed, and I waited just about longest for this one. I've read them all, folks (except That Hideous Strength). It's a brilliant catalog of fiction. Narnia. Perelandra. The Great Divorce. The Pilgrim's Regress. The Screwtape Letters. Not necessarily in that order. So believe me when I tell you, this is the best CS Lewis novel in existence, except perhaps in the Sandman's library, or in heaven. It is a perfect fricking masterpiece from beginning to end. Do not hold back any longer, like I did. Buy this book tomorrow. It is tremendous, in the sense of fear and trembling. I was shaking as I read the end, tears streaming down my face.

I won't spoil it, except to say that if you look at the back of the book, carefully ignoring the ending, you will find a note explaining the myth that Till We Have Faces is a retelling of. I strongly recommend that you read this note before you read the novel, and have the background that any undergraduate reader of mythology would bring to this amazing book. That way, you will be able to see, perhaps, why Lewis wanted to tell this story and go at it a little differently.


Friday, October 12, 2007

Seattle tomorrow

I'm heading to Seattle tomorrow with Sarah and Alex for my sister Kefalari's wedding. I'll be seeing my North Carolina relatives for the first time in years. I'm also hoping to see friends, so call my parents' house if you want to see me, or email me at the gmail address.

I'm looking forward to the trip, but I feel less prepared than I ever have to fly.

I bought a suit jacket for the first time in a long time. Dressing up is fun!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

In Rainbows

If you've already heard the Radiohead story, the short version is "Buy this album. First rate." For the rest of you,

Just a few days ago, a PR storm, or the holy grail of internet media, depending on your politics, hit the world. Experimental rock band Radiohead announced on their website that their first album in four years would be available in ten days. This alone was a bit surprising. Albums are promoted. They are talked up on Total Request Live. Songs come out early. They get stuck in heavy rotation on appropriate radio stations. Advance copies are sent to reviewers. Come in here dear boy, have a cigar, you're gonna go far. The A&R man said "I don't hear a single".

It's not just common practice, it's a complex system where a lot of middlemen take a cut along the way to a $16 CD in Target. But Radiohead has a dedicated fan base and doesn't have a recording contract, so they just decided to bugger the whole thing, at least initially.

But what happened next was even more surprising. The online store where one could pre-order this album showed only two options for acquisition. Option A, an online download, available October 10. Option B, a massive boxset with an extra album of B-sides, both albums in vinyl format, extra artwork and goodies, shipping in early December in time for Christmas, for 40 pounds sterling. The only way you can get this album right now is to download.

Oh, and I left out something. But before I get to that, let me back up for a second and give you some valuable background.

In 1999, Napster was born. A dude wanted to be able to find music on the internet, so he wrote a program that allowed people to easily share their music by registering with a central server. Not quite ten years later, the top 90% of the music in the known universe is available for free if you know where to look. Older people, as a rule, do not know, or their scruples prevent them. Younger people, as a rule, do, and it turns out they feel less scruples about doing so.

Given these facts, a debate has raged about the cause of the collapse of CD sales. In other words, how much money has the file-sharing phenomenon lost for all the middlemen? (Aside. For the record, CD sales never made much money for the artists. They get pennies on the dollar for every one sold. The iTunes music store cut out the packaging, lowering prices by about 20-30% for an album, but left all the middlemen in the loop.)

It's hard to say for sure. There is some evidence that file-sharers are music consumers and more likely to buy CDs. There is even some evidence that CD sales were trending downward prior to Napster. And there is an obvious viewpoint that CDs are just PR for the band's performance and touring, where they actually make their money. (I read somewhere that Radiohead was paid a million dollars to headline Bonnaroo in 2006. On the fair side, they played a lot of new stuff for 2.5 hours. As one reviewer put it, Radiohead is the soundtrack of the exquisite, uplifting agony that is truth in the midst of a world gone mad. The music was so flawless that I barely felt worthy to be there.)

And there is one last question, which is whether it is possible to provoke the file-sharers to come in from the cold by offering them a legal way to download music that is just as convenient as file-sharing and still makes a little money. The iTunes music store was a first draft of this. You might see Rhapsody, a monthly subscription service, as another approach to this idea. Recently, Amazon started a music store selling mp3s without copying restrictions... the trend continues.

Anyway, back to Radiohead, the missing piece of information. If you want to experience this for yourself, stop reading and click the following link to the store where Radiohead is selling the new album. Well, I guess you have to pre-order the download and look in your basket to really see it. You won't be forced to spend any money by doing this. When you see something verrry strange, click the question mark.

I'll wait, if you want.

It's up to you. The price is blank. You, the consumer, fill it in and pay what you want for this album.

I've heard of people putting full price in this barely-organized tipjar. I've heard of people downloading the album for a British penny. There is a nominal transaction fee, but that's it.

Remember how I said that bands don't make much off of album sales because so many middlemen touch it? This is what you get when you cut out the middlemen. Naturally, the middlemen are a bit nervous about what just happened. I think they'll be even more nervous if Radiohead ever release the price distribution they got, pocketing the profit after paying the hosting service and the online store. My guess is that this deal is a bit better than the iTunes deal or the brick-and-mortar deal.

Remember how I said file-sharers might need a means to come in from the cold? Well, this might just be it. Radiohead managed to force questions of price, integrity, and the value of music into a wild free market. My feeling is that in a sense they didn't try to beat the file sharers, they just became the head file-sharer, and did it in such a way that you have to consider in your heart how much money you think is fair.

I looked at it as a way to not only purchase music, whatever that means (some record company executives are saying you can't legally rip your own CDs to mp3s, you have to buy it over and over again in different formats), but to compensate the artist for their work.

At the heart of this issue is a conflict between two great institutions: copyright and the public library. Copyright and patents were conceived as ways to encourage the useful arts and sciences, by ensuring that creators were allowed to manage their creations and not just get ripped off all the time. The library was conceived as a way to set those creations free in the community to spawn further creations and enrich life. Somewhere in there, copyright became a license for megacorporations to protect their IP by suing people left and right for absurd damage amounts (in the latest trial, $200000 for sharing 30 songs online, when the actual lost sales from this file-sharing amount to, at most, a traffic ticket).

My heart has been with the library on this issue. You guys get to hear about Radiohead and Beck and the new Andrew Bird album on this blog because I borrow CDs from the library without paying anyone a dime. That is valuable, a no-brainer. Are you cheating authors when you borrow their books?

PS Oh, the music? I downloaded it today, release day. It was not hard to get through. This morning, the servers were getting hammered by downloaders, but it seems to have cleared up.

It's actually rather accessible, for Radiohead. I think it's quite moving and beautiful, actually. Less experimental than epic, like OK Computer. I'm not going to stop listening to this thing for quite a while.

If there was ever a time to pick up a band's album for less than a pound ($2 US), now was it. Here's that link again:

I hope you like it.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Me and video games

I've gone a little overboard with the Nintendo Wii. Sarah beat her first video game ever on it: MySims, a somewhat juvenile and linear version of a much more significant, quirky, funny, and emotionally engaging game, Animal Crossing. We've been trying out things at Hollywood Video to see if there's anything great out there. I have high hopes for our next one, Trauma Center, which turns the Wii remote into a variety of medical tools, with which you perform surgery in the anime version of ER. Operation, eat your heart out.

We are also fond of Rayman Raving Rabbids, where you do a variety of crazy things with and to cartoony, psychotic, screaming, hilarious bunnies. I don't know if I would buy it before it really gets to the bargain bin (it's down to $30 from $50 now) because all that's left now that we've beaten story mode is to play the mini-games repeatedly, like Olympic trials, beating records, trying to throw that cow one last meter farther or keep the teeth of the bunny clean for a fraction of a second longer. There are associated Easter eggs and rewards, but I don't think I'd pay $30 to master the game...

I've been playing the sports game that comes packaged with the system, too. The game that seems to have the greatest staying power is, surprisingly, bowling. I enjoy tennis, too, but I have it pretty well in hand by now. Baseball is too easy, boxing is pretty difficult, and golf is going the way of tennis. But bowling is fickle and realistic, curving the ball and making incredible splits, chasing that immortal 300, knocking down pins. And best, everybody already knows how to do it, even your mom and dad.

My friends at work also got me to try World of Warcraft, which is supposed to be addictive. I could see that, as it's a large system to learn and world to explore, but it's also, in the long run, ridiculously boring. One of my friends says this routinely: "As a game, it's not a very good game." As for paying $15 per month to play it as a glorified chat program, with orcs, I'll pass.

I am somewhat more interested in a sci-fi trading and piracy game called EVE Online, which has a staff economist on retainer, functional markets, and of course, spaceships. Anyone who played Drug War on their calculators in calculus class, you know what I'm talking about.

So Dan, it sounds like you've been playing lots of video games. You don't talk about this much. In fact, I've never seen this side of you before. Care to elaborate?

The story goes like this. In the beginning, there was The Legend of Zelda. And it was very good. Actually, I think the first Nintendo game I ever saw was Kid Icarus, at a birthday party. I remember very early experiences with the light gun, shooting cans up in the air in Hogan's Alley, and of course Duck Hunt. But we didn't get our Nintendo for a while. Finally, our neighbor Jimbo, who played it too much, sold us his Nintendo with 7 games. I don't remember the titles really. I probably could, with a list of NES games and a few hours to puzzle it out. I think we got Tetris then, which is still a mind-blowing game, basically perfect, to this day. I had insomnia with Tetris pieces for a while, carefully sorting them as they fell for hours into lines 9 blocks wide. I still remember playing multiplayer Gameboy Tetris in the back of the bus with Joe Pham (at some math tournament? I think?) when I was a young man (I've known Joe since the fourth grade, I think). Then there was Dragon Warrior, our first RPG, and still a soft spot (they continue on the next-gen systems as the Dragon Quest games). My first diary entry (in history!) is about beating Double Dragon II.

I beat the Legend of Zelda (first quest) more than 20 times. I called my character DANMAN__, where __ equals the number of times I beat the first quest. I still have it pretty memorized, I think. It would all come back quickly.

Eventually, the Super Nintendo came along and I stayed up all night playing SimCity and F-Zero and (of course!) Street Fighter 2 with Paul, Adrian, Ian, and who knows. Then there was Oregon Trail in school. Somewhere in there is Scorched Earth with Brian Koepke. Final Fantasy with Matt Hughes, then with my brother Aaron. Tribes 2. Tekken 3. GTA. The list just goes on and on.

It's been a lifelong love affair, and a lot of you must be thinking, how much time have you wasted with this stuff? How many chances to live an amazing human life have fallen by the wayside?

Rather than indoctrinating you all in the ways of The Next Plastic Art, Interactive Media, I'd just say that there are a lot of reasons games are fun. They are variously challenging, creative, social, exploratory, thought-provoking, emotionally engaging, and so on. Like Bruce Lee says, "Boards... don't hit back." But video games do hit back, and as time goes on, chances are that they will more and more.

A lot of interesting stuff is being done with persistent, systematic worlds that operate realistically even though they are fantasies. They serve as interesting commentary on our world and, at their best, allow us interesting choices that fold into massive systems; they allow us to pretend, not just be ourselves. There can be a power fantasy in jumping on Goombas or saving the princess, but there is also a fantasy of discovery and imagination that we may not be able to exercise otherwise. And it's all connected to the oldest profession, storytelling. Super Noah's Ark 3D, ok, that was pretty dumb (for one thing, it was just a thinly-disguised skin of a game about killing mutant Nazis), but one can imagine games that place you in the role of different people and allow you to experience the world through their eyes, even closer than reading novels...

Also, some people really need to learn how to play again.

One blog covering the ongoing saga of Video Games qua Art is called Grand Text Auto. Another one I find interesting is by Raph Koster, the guy who wrote A Theory of Fun for Game Design and worked on Ultima Online. His blog is not strictly about video games, but it's still interesting.

I also have a PDF version of a book called Game Design: Theory and Practice by Richard Rouse III that was meant to be shared, if you're interested, which takes a trip through some of the greatest games and what made them so special, along with other geeky computer game stuff.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Fixing the hole

Sorry I left a giant content hole on this cash machine of a website. It's nothing specific, unless it's this:

There's an entertaining 40th anniversary cover of Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band in its entirety over here. The guy cannot sing, but just overlook that.

I had a conversation with our friend Sarah about whether or not someone can be a Buddhist and yet be saved in some sense. This kind of thing was important in Utah; it altered my view of the Mormons. It would also be important if you were an evangelist; it would allow you to ask yourself who is lost and who needs saving in a way that has nothing to do with surface labels. We attended a church service that almost went there on Sunday. The text was Romans 2 and the passage that perked up my ears was this:

A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a man's praise is not from men, but from God.

This is a remarkably forgiving view of "other" religions. To some extent, doctrines and rituals are just the trappings of religion. The outward person is deceptive and matters little. It says so right there in Romans (and elsewhere; the Sermon on the Mount goes there, as do the Proverbs and so on). Of course, if you continue on to the rest of Romans, the examination of the inward person does not fare very well either. In the rest of Romans, we are not in trouble because of what we appear to be, but what we are.

To what extent doctrines and rituals are the trappings of religion is the question I was trying to get at in the Heretics posts. I was getting ready for another post on this question. Is everything beyond the creeds garnish? To what extent is organized Christianity organized filigree? I have my own opinions, but we still return to the point that there is a limit to mere Christianity and to orthodoxy. Why we set it at the creeds and not elsewhere, where the creeds came from, why we trust ancient councils or at a minimum agree with them, are all interesting questions.

And how God may be working in and through non-Christians is another interesting question. The born-again Hindu; myth or reality?

I read "Trucks" for the first time in more than ten years. It was made into a movie called Maximum Overdrive, I think. It's about the evil day when all the semis become sentient and start killing everyone. Either the version I read in the seventh grade was heavily sanitized, or I forgot all kinds of violent things. I remembered a lot of it. It is a story that sticks with you, like "Lennington vs. the Ants", "The Most Dangerous Game", "The Lady and the Tiger". I'm reading Stephen King short stories, first collected in Night Shift. I think I've read "The Ledge" before too. It was also interesting to read forerunner stories of Salem's Lot, The Stand, and so on. A few of the stories are crap, but a lot of them are good. After this, I'll have read everything King wrote up to the first Dark Tower book, The Gunslinger, which I can thus dive into. As I understand Dark Tower, it runs in and out of the backstories and loose ends of King's fictional universe. Thus, I imagine it contains spoilers. King has already had some awesome novels, and I'm still barely up to 1982.

I've also got Neil Gaiman's latest short story collection too. The first story is worth the entire thing: "A Study In Emerald", a literary homage mashing up Sherlock Holmes with HP Lovecraft's Cthulhu mythos. It is hilarious. I am also looking forward to the novella follow-on to American Gods.

I tried sangria for the first time this weekend. I still taste the alcohol but am starting to consider it part of the experience (instead of overpowering my senses or making me crazy). I think that long ago, I must have trained my tongue to ignore spice in a similar way to ignoring alcohol. Alcohol is a once in a few months thing for me usually, but between the family visit and my birthday, we've ended up with more than normal. My parents are responsible for the sangria. They ordered it off and on at Mexican places throughout my childhood.

Speaking of my parents, those of you who know my mom as Mrs. Lewis, the French teacher, may be interested to know that my dad is now Mr. Lewis at Tyee HS in the Highline District. It's been a long life's journey for him, but he is a teacher now, working an 80% schedule with his foot in the door. Maybe it's just the sangria talking, but I am so proud I could cry. My dad followed his dream out of the book industry, into the teaching world, and I admire that immensely. I love you Dad.

I've been spinning more Radiohead and Beck from the library, along with Neil Young and John Prine, all well worth your music time. I don't know what it is about Greg Brown, but I find some of his songs kind of pretentious, so I can't recommend The Evening Call.

Work is going good. I am finding it very beneficial to go through a product delivery basically from start to finish. I am a little surprised that so much of the software engineering stuff I did in college is so applicable. I'm in an environment where we get audited regularly for conformance to the CMMI processes; we are a somewhat rapid-development/bleeding-edge environment, but the kinds of documents and goals we have are strongly in line with the project deliverables I learned about in class.

I picked up a free loop station called Mobius. It allows you to record yourself and layer on audio over and over, creating lush sonic palettes that never ever stop. (One of my favorite artists of the moment, Andrew Bird, makes killer music based on this concept, essentially playing his own continuo.) Look out world world world world...

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Quick notes

I had a very happy birthday, so thank you everyone who passed along well wishes. I hadn't heard from some of you in a while, so a special thanks to you. I will be writing soon, time permitting.

By now you may have seen a picture of a happy me clutching my Nintendo Wii box. I've been pretty impressed by it so far. But Sarah is still beating me at bowling, even though I'm learning how to curve the ball. She bowled a 173 the other day. We also rented Rayman Raving Rabbids last night. The first time you pick worms out of a screaming rabbit's teeth is not to be forgotten. You get a kind of existential crisis going, like, "Is this how I want to be spending the rest of my life?" Then, thirty seconds later, the mini-game ends. Last night I threw a cow (Sarah has the best throw by far at this point), raced on a warthog, closed outhouse doors as quickly as possible, drew food with a magic marker, and shot deranged bunnies with plungers. This is one of the more hilarious games I have ever played.

Sarah's brother Brian, father Vic, and stepmother Melissa are visiting from Utah. We are going to baseball tonight and the zoo tomorrow. We're keeping it action-packed.

I finished The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene this week. The word "masterpiece" gets thrown around a lot these days... It's set in early-20th-century Mexico. Anti-clerical laws were passed and finally enforced by Calles, "outlawing religious orders, depriving the Church of property rights and depriving the clergy of civil liberties, including their right to vote." Against that backdrop is the last priest in the state (province), who wanders around avoiding the police and holding religious services. Along the way, we learn that this priest is not a shining example of faith; rather, he's an alcoholic with other sins in his past, and he hasn't been able to confess because there are no other priests. He feels like a tarnished person, useless and pointless. Battered by events, he tries to figure out what God would have him do. It's a terrific novel, fascinating and entertaining, with questions of morality and religion at the core. It's not obvious about the backstory, but you get used to that after a while. Basically perfect. Adult content, maturity, challenge to faith warnings etc.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Unhappy anniversary

Well, it's here again. Just before my last perfect cube birthday before age 64, our nation is in mourning. The President, I gather, lit a candle for the victims of 9/11. I hear that it is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness, so I suppose I appreciate the sentiment.

I searched my blog for posts about 9/11, and a surprising number of hits came up. Some are duplicates, I'm sure, but I guess it's an event I've had on my mind. Most of the posts are about Iraqi civilians, the latest victims of 9/11.

I consume entertainments, so here is a list of the best few about 9/11.
The best comic about 9/11: In the Shadow of No Towers, by Art Spiegelman.
The best book about 9/11: Pattern Recognition, by William Gibson.
The best show about 9/11: Heroes (see this essay on a 9/11-based reading of Heroes by Juan Cole). Honorable mention for the ladder-to-heaven South Park episode.
The best movie about 9/11: V for Vendetta. (Okay, it's tangentially related, but it's definitely useful to think about 9/11 as you watch this movie.)
The best song about 9/11: Fiery Crash, by Andrew Bird. (Also hear it here.)

I think I've talked about all these in the past, except for Fiery Crash. It's the first song on the latest Andrew Bird album, which I finally borrowed from the library. The song is, on the surface, about a little ritual Mr. Bird does when he gets on a plane:

you were hurling through space
g-forces twisting your face
breeding superstition
a fatal premonition
you know you got to envision
the fiery crash

Get in your seat and visualize the future: if you envision the plane crash ahead of time, it won't happen. Because what are the odds that you imagine something happening and then it actually happens? Plane crashes are unlikely enough to happen as it is.

It's a cute idea, if that's all there was to it, but it's impossible to think of planes crashing now without thinking about 9/11, and Bird goes there in verse two:
beige tiles and magazines
lou dobbs and the cnn team on every monitor screen
you were caught in the crossfire
where every human face has you
reaching for your mace, so it's
kind of an imposition
a fatal premonition

This is all very dense, but I interpret it to be a reference to Dobbs' nativism, and in general our xenophobia, especially toward Muslims, since 9/11. Our problem as a nation, since 9/11, has been to turn back from envisioning another 9/11. Our country has gone haywire and paranoid trying to prevent the next 9/11. We've started spying on civilians. We've started torturing and killing innocent people. We've started wars. One thing this means

and to save our lives
you've got to envision
to save all our lives
you've got to envision
the fiery crash

is that we have to accept what happened. 9/11 is the nightmare we are not waking up from. The way to end the nightmare is not to make it so no terrorist can ever threaten us again; that's impossible. And we've spent so much energy trying not to envision the fiery crash that we have, paradoxically, become fixated on it, replaying the scenes in our minds over and over again. (Pattern Recognition brings this out especially well, too.)

Instead, we have to stare death in the face and accept it, if it comes. We have to accept the price of our liberties and of our free society. The price is our vulnerability.

Friday, September 07, 2007

One of those poker situations

So, you have a king-ten suited and someone raises you all-in with Ace Ace King on the board. You fold, right? Well, this is what happens:

I'm the chicken on the bottom.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Heretics, part 2: The heretical continuum

I wanted to make sure everyone saw Vince's comment:

I am certain that the Baptist tradition would not raise sprinkling-baptism to the level of heresy. It would be a disagreement of biblical interpretation, but the baptists would not anathematize the infant baptizer!

Heresies are extreme 'wrong-thinking' positions that would put one outside the limited doctrines of orthodox Christianity. There are not many 'right-thinking' requirements for most Christian denominations. The Nicene Creed probably covers the doctrines. Thus, the Mormon doctrine of three separate gods of in Godhead could reasonably be put in the category of heresy. Orthodox Christianity is Monotheistic with a trinitarian footnote.

There are a lot of little things Christians could disagree upon and still be within the 'one catholic (universal), apostolic church' and not be called a heretic. Mode of baptism is probably one of those non-heretical differences. There were both modes in Catholic history. I don't think any of the creeds (until you get to Baptists) included a mode of baptism. But since nearly all Baptists consider baptism a symbolic act, they would not insist that God only accept immersion-baptized people.

I think that most denominations and most Christians have very few things that are heresies.

Having said all that ... I keep running into too many Christians in conservative evangelical circles that have a very well-defined concept of what right-thinking Christianity is. This is certainly what Dan it talking about. Many of my thoughts on the age of the earth, on God's grace towards non-Christians, Bible understanding ... etc etc etc, would bring anathemas from some. So it goes.

Vince is right to point out that heresy suggests a very specific meaning in the context of Christian orthodoxy: doctrine that is so far out of the norm that it must be officially rejected by the gathered church. In the historical sense, there are sharply defined boundaries between orthodoxy and heresy. Either you're orthodox or you're not, just like Vince said. There is basically a list of beliefs that are out-of-bounds enough that they don't deserve the label of Christianity, and there is a list of beliefs that constitute orthodox Christian belief.

These concepts are problematic because of what they don't say about the rest of Christian belief. There is a wide gulf between historical orthodoxy and historical heresy, but any issue that is even slightly more squishy meets silence. You might say, following Paul, that we should "Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters" (Romans 14:1 ff.).

All well and good, but meanwhile, for instance, the issue of gay priesthood is tearing the Anglican church apart (the latest). The crux of the issue is whether or not a particular point of doctrine counts enough to pass judgment on, whether or not it is a disputable matter that gays should be candidates to be priests. Is this issue important enough to cause a schism in the church to preserve the belief? Does the centrality of this belief rise to the same level as the historical orthodoxies?

Suppose, as Vince basically says, orthodoxy is about basic, weighty issues of the nature of God, Jesus, and salvation, and its contents can be confined to the creeds. Or, suppose as the letter to the Hebrews, Chapter 6, put it, that orthodoxy involves the elementary beliefs of "repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, instruction about baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment." Where does that leave issues like gay marriage, the gay priesthood, or the other "minor heresy" issues that were not covered in councils hundreds of years ago? Where I think it leaves them is somewhere between the center and the periphery of belief. Our friend Sarah mentioned that her husband had to do a homework at school where he placed a long list of beliefs on this continuum, stretching from "timeless, central" to "temporal, peripheral".

In the context of heresies, thus, all heresies are equal, but some are more equal than others.

Another aphorism is also coming to mind: "One person's heresy is another person's orthodoxy". I suppose over the course of this little series, I will be trying to ask whether we can get any deeper definitions of orthodoxy than "what the orthodox people say". I bring this up because the belief that is orthodox in the end did not necessarily outnumber the belief that was orthodox in the beginning. Is the Kierkegaardian knight of faith, denying the community standard in favor of the will of God, a heretic? Ponder Martin Luther. It may be helpful to remember that I am thinking about this. It also occurs to me that there may be better words for what I am trying to talk about than "orthodoxy" and "heresy". If you know them, please suggest them.

The other reason I tried to talk about my dunking baptism in the context of heresy is because of a commentary on Dante's Inferno: The Figure of Beatrice, by Charles Williams. Williams writes:
[By heresy Dante] meant an obduracy of the mind; a spiritual state which defied, consciously, a power 'to which trust and obedience are due'; an intellectual obstinacy. A heretic, strictly, was a man who knew what he was doing; he accepted the Church, but at the same time he preferred his own judgment to that of the Church.

From the day I read this passage, I've thought of heresy in the context of disobedience to the will of the church. I felt it was important enough to become a member of Maranatha to accept a belief I thought was wrong (or, at best, only weakly justifiable). The heretics are willing to insist, against the will of the church where they are a member, on their own ideas and the actions springing from those ideas. In a sense, they love their idea of the church more than they love the real church; their problem is a lack of humility. We often think of heresy as incorrect belief; I think another aspect of heresy is that it is a belief held against the community.

The gray area of orthodoxy only gives rise to more questions. For instance, where Vince says, "Heresies are extreme 'wrong-thinking' positions that would put one outside the limited doctrines of orthodox Christianity", the hidden assumption is about where those limits are. Are they only the conclusions of A, B, and C ancient councils? And if so, by what authority do they draw their conclusions? If you say on the authority of the Bible, how must you read the Bible? By what authority do you choose the right way to read the Bible? (The Catholics have interesting answers to these questions; friend of the Lewis family Mark Shea wrote an illuminating book on those answers, By What Authority?)

Again, what makes an orthodox belief orthodox? And we might add, what makes an orthodox belief central rather than peripheral?

I also skimmed lightly over a subject that really requires more attention, which is how we should treat the heretics, both in the historical sense and in the more squishy sense of people who hold beliefs we find offensive to our personal definition of orthodoxy. So, we have plenty to talk about.

On a personal note, we had to take our friend Sarah (originally from England, but our friend for many years from her time at USU, now taking up some missionary work overseas with her husband) to Denver International tonight. It was a bit of a strange parting, as we are dear friends, but we are unlikely to see each other for five years, and that at a minimum. When we got to ticketing, we were surprised to find Ina Williams and Kathy Eccles from Logan wearing enormous backpacks, waiting for a ride to begin a hiking trip. Our paths overlapped for about ten minutes, but it was great to see some more friends out here.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Heretics, part 1

Bored holes through our tongues
So sing a song about it
Held our breath for too long
Till we're half sick about it
Tell us what we did wrong
And you can blame us for it
Turn the clamp on our thumbs
We're so whipped out about it

Heretics -- Andrew Bird

Some of my friends already know the story of my second baptism. Or rather, my second water baptism. (There is stuff in the Bible about a believer's second baptism; after water, then the Holy Spirit. I guess this story is about my third baptism.) My parents did not baptize my brother, my sisters, and I when we were infants. Instead, we were supposed to make our own choice when we grew up. I held out the longest, I think; anyway, it was a long time, and I was baptized at age 20 in the Presbyterian church in Seattle I grew up going to (at 8th Ave S and S 200 St, across the street from where Mt. Rainier is right now; they moved it into Olympic Elementary, where I went to the first grade). There are pictures floating around of the whole thing, of Pastor Ben Lindstrom blessing me and marking the sign of the cross on my forehead. It was as good as I could imagine; I still look back on that event with a sense that it was very good indeed.

After I got to Utah, married Sarah, and settled in, Sarah and I decided that we wanted to declare our membership in Maranatha Baptist Church after some years of going there. This meant to us that we were affirming our relationships with the people there, kind of like saying that we were part of a family now.

There was just a little catch. One of the Baptist distinctives is full-immersion water baptism. What that means is that the ceremony that marked a passage into spiritual adulthood, that publicly stated my faith and commitment as a Christian, that symbolized my death and rebirth into a new life, just as Christ died and lived again, not to mention the spiritual ramifications... that wussy sprinkling of water on top of my head just wasn't making it for the Baptists. My membership of Maranatha would be inaugurated in a white robe, holding my nose, in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, underwater.

Or not.

Pastor Emerson came to our apartment to talk membership over with Sarah and I. I brought up the fact that I had already been baptized, so this wouldn't, couldn't mean exactly the same thing to me, and he seemed to accept that. He also wanted me to know that nevertheless, this was the Baptist way, their interpretation of the relevant Biblical sources, so it was not optional. The question then was whether or not I would accept that.

Welcome to the world of heresy and orthodoxy. Heresy means the wrong way; orthodoxy means the right way that heresy is wrong about. Sometimes, claims that violate some discipline's received wisdom are called heretical, but you will most often hear about heresy in the context of religious doctrine, where heresy means wrong belief.

Heresies, like Patripassianism and Arianism and Pelagianism and Manichaeism, are named after people, not ideas, and if you know what these people were thinking or disagreeing with in the context of their times, you are a historian. In fact, some of the theological issues involved are so abstruse that from a distance, if you don't know your history, you might not remember which idea is orthodox and which is the heretic. If I say homoiousios, for example, and say that it's a word used to say that Jesus was like God the Father, it sounds pretty innocuous. Until I tell you, you may not recognize it as one of the distinctives of a heresy that nearly split the Christian church down the middle in the 4th century.

Who orthodoxes the orthodox? How can we tell the orthodox from the heretical?

Good news

A conversation with our visiting friend Sarah (lately of Birmingham, England, and Logan, UT, and destined for parts beyond) clarified some of my thoughts on heresy. This is providing fresh material. I am beginning to be surprised by how much of my religious experience is related to questions of orthodoxy and heresy...

I think I just have to start writing and split it up as much as I can. With that, history of the heresy part 1.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

One thought per post?

I thought once that if I put one thought per post, I'd get a lot more posts out here. But I don't know if I can adjust to that lifestyle. One of my friends once said I had long thoughts, like paragraphs.

I noticed today that my family is on Facebook even if I am not (or only nominally). Maybe I'm too old to see the point, your powers grow weak old man. One of the strange connections was seeing people I thought of as kids at Southminster all grown up and doing their thing. Other than Steven Martel, I really hadn't noticed.

I was going through my papers again (for more information, see With the benefit of hindsight). One that really stuck out to me was dated September 16-17, 1995. It is just a slice of life, where lots of little things happened all at once. That weekend, I went to see "Oklahoma!" a couple of times at the Highline Performing Arts Center. A lot of my friends were in it, or around it. Ian and Paul went with me to see them. I really wanted to remember, I was seized to write, thank goodness. When I annotated it last night, I said, "Some days are perfect, that's all."

That date is significant because it means I wrote this thing basically the day or two before the 19th, when Chris Tyni killed himself. You couldn't draw it up better in a Stephen King book: all is calm, all is bright, and then all is dark. It is like a time capsule, not only for the twelve years intervening, but also for my innocent childhood. It wasn't the beginning of my adulthood by any stretch, but the end of my childhood... yes. When I tell myself the stories of my life, that day sticks out in many of them.

The other interesting thing I found was a record of a dream I've never forgotten. It actually makes a lot of sense, for a dream:

I go into a large elevator and ride it to the top floor of a building, where there's a museum. After the doors open and lights come on, I must be distracted because the lights go out and I have a feeling of being too late, or waiting too long as the doors close and the elevator continues up. I'm crushed and I can't see anything, but I feel things breaking until finally my head goes too. Everything is silent. I hear a sigh, and I don't know if it's mine. Then I wait for the next thing. Then I wake up.

The most likely date on the dream is 1997. I was not a Christian then. It brings together two great fears: my ongoing fear of being killed by the automatic operations of senseless, ignorant machines (along with fear of my teeth falling out, it is the only thing I have remotely resembling a phobia), and my fear that somehow life has already passed me by, that the great decisions and moments occurred when I was too young to understand what to do with them, and that the life I have lived must be resigned to, must be borne and not enjoyed, that the story of my life is a story of failure.

I was paging through the moments of my life, which, thank God, I have saved in boxes because my head is too small for them, and thinking about my past a little bit. I saw names who should still be friends, words that should have been held and remembered for all this time. Instead, the story chops off insensibly, out of apathy, or a falling-out, or my ignorance or my ill behavior, or just the vagaries of chance. I thought about these things and I felt like a discontinuous person, a person lacking structural, spiritual integrity. It's not that I've forgotten, it's that little parts of my life that should be there are blacked out: I remember nothing of the life I should be having with these people down to today.

I don't just think about forgiveness, however relevant it is in several of my discontinuities. I do want to be forgiven for what I did, or failed to do, with these people. But even more, I want not the closure of forgiveness, but the aperture of connection, of renewed friendship. That other universe, that life where we are whole people, together again, we should be living there today.

[You can read some great stories about this, like The Girl I Left Behind and Deep River by Shusaku Endo.]

Tuesday, August 28, 2007


So what with one thing and another we've been pretty busy. So here is a capsule of the last two weeks:

Cujo sucks.

Ocean's Twelve isn't nearly as bad (so far) as I had previously been led to believe. I'm finishing it tonight.

Gaudy Night and Strong Poison do not, thanks Anon for encouraging me to pick them up again.

Charmed Life is going well.

The Painted Veil, the movie version of the book by W. Somerset Maugham with Ed Norton and Naomi Watts, was really pretty good. For some reason these "British people in the uncouth wilderness of the foreign devil" stories have very similar feels to me. But it was also a well-done story of alienation, love, and forgiveness, a Graham Greene kind of thing.

A Hard Day's Night (original, that is not American) has about 7 good songs on it. No surprise, they're almost all the ones that made the actual movie, except for "Any Time At All", which I think should have been an A side, and the execrable "I'm Happy Just To Dance with You", which is the most phoned-in Beatles song I have ever heard. It's an F side.

In the where have you been all my life department, Radiohead's masterpiece OK Computer. The album is 10 years old now, and people have been telling me for ages that I would love these guys. Ummm, instead of telling me, you could have perhaps strapped me to a chair and slapped on some headphones. That would have spared me a lot of regrets right now. I've been listening to this thing for a week straight, about 3 hours a day. Maybe you remember the first week you heard this album. I had heard tracks from it, of course, without knowing the whole story: "Lucky", "Exit Music (For a Film)", "Karma Police"... I had even played "Karma Police" on the bass once for a party (without getting the key change on the bridge quite right, in hindsight). If you haven't heard it at least once, and you can stand modern/indie rock in the slightest, you owe it to yourself to try it at least once.

Oh, and I finished a project at work and I've been staying too late this week. And Sarah's Uncle Tim stopped by our house on a cross-country drive. And I'm going to be in Seattle for a week in October (13-21), prior to my sister Kefi's wedding. Congratulations, Kefi! And if anyone is around, we'll make time to see you.

Be well; the magnum opus on heresy is still being written.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

What I did this weekend

Ok, ok, so there's not a brand new opus on hermeneutics, heresy, and orthodoxy occupying this space. Let me explain why.

I have a 9-80 schedule, so every other Friday is free. This weekend was an off Friday, so Sarah and I decided to go get the dining set we've been dreaming of. To do this, we drove out to a warehouse east of I-25, about half an hour away. We found a great oval table, counter height, with white and blue tile for $100. It had a little crack in one tile and a new base, but hardly anything to worry about. Certainly worth a $150 discount. We got bar stools that swiveled to go with it, rented a truck to drop it all off at our house, then drove home, ready to enjoy the rest of the day and the weekend together.

Or so we thought.

It turned out, when we sat at this so-called counter-height table, that it was just a few inches short of standard. Unfortunately, those were the few inches between the bottom of the table and the tops of my legs. We hadn't found this out before, because we bought the chairs from the showroom area and the table from the clearance area. We have since resolved to measure all our furniture to avoid these kinds of problems.

We agonized over what to do, and eventually we decided that the best course of action was to return this furniture, then spend more for an uncracked version of the table at normal height. So we had to rent another truck, this time from the local Home Depot, to take back the old furniture and to bring home the new furniture. Finally, when I got back, we had no trouble returning the furniture, but every one of our alternate tables was out of stock, even though it was on the floor. It took a few phone calls to get to the table we agreed on. Finally, I got everything back to the Home Depot, crammed it into my car, covered the open trunk with a comforter and wrapped the whole thing up in a shiny pink rope, and drove home.

That was Saturday. I've now driven enough Ford trucks to know that I would prefer not to own one. My stepfather-in-law's Honda Ridgeline totally blew away the F-250 and F-350. Strangely, the F-250 was worse than the F-350. As far as I can tell, it had no shock absorbers at all. In both trucks, I noticed that I had very poor instincts for my speed on the road. I was constantly looking down at the speedometer and going about 15 mph faster than I thought. I think it has something to do with being so much higher off the ground than in my Corolla, learned parallax or something. I didn't hit anyone, only got lost once, and only ran a toll booth once (I paid later).

Today I got us lost on the way back from a park and my whole family trudged along a busy street. Sarah asked me if I was lost. In response, I kept repeating the cross streets where I had parked the car, even though for most of our walk, said streets were not visible. Also, I clogged the garbage disposal with potato skins and had to take apart the tubes under the sink to get it out, soaking the kitchen in the process.

Plus, the last two days included the Colorado Scottish Festival and a Rockies game, neither of which I got to go to.


On the plus side, the potato dish was pretty good. It was Italian potato pie, which basically means baking mashed potatoes for half an hour in the oven. There were a lot of leftovers.

In other news, we started Diana Wynne Jones' Chrestomanci books, with Charmed Life. The front of the paperback says, "If you're mad about Harry, try Diana." There are a lot of echoes of the beginning of Harry Potter in these books: the protagonists lose their parents, one seems to be extra-talented at magic, the other has no talent, both receive portentous fortunes, they ride a train to a castle where an extremely powerful wizard has adopted them... Sarah said to me, this sounds a lot like Harry Potter. And I said, "That's funny. Of course, this was written in 1977."

We also listened to a few of Neil Gaiman's children's stories: "The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish", "The Wolves in the Walls", "Cinnamon", and "Crazy Hair". He's one of my favorite authors, so I was glad to finally get around to these.

Back to religion, here's an interesting thought experiment that bounced around in my head the last few years of living in Utah, related to the topic I am mulling over. It requires a little background information.

The Mormons have a highly-organized church structure. One of the things they believe is special about their Christian revelation is the organization of the church, which is, if memory serves, laid out by Jesus himself in the progress of the narrative of the Book of Mormon. At the top of the pyramid is the church President, currently Gordon B. Hinckley. There have been several church Presidents; Joseph Smith was the first one. Next to the President are two close advisers; these three are collectively known as the First Presidency. Next down are the council of apostles, twelve in number. Down the chain it goes, with numbers and roles. I think next are the Seventies, but we're beyond my expertise.

Belonging to a church that contains God's representative on earth in the President, Mormons expect the continuing, progressive revelation of God from the President. This was a practice begun in earnest by Joseph Smith, who received at least dozens (hundreds, maybe) of personal revelations from God. These revelations, and subsequent additions by other church Presidents, are collected in another book in the Mormon scripture, the Doctrine and Covenants. I don't know if the D&C contains anything else.

The process of revelation continues to this day. In 1978, there was a big deal because a new revelation came out declaring blacks eligible for the priesthood, which is basically like church membership in Protestant circles; being barred from the priesthood was basically second-class worshiper status. To find out more about this, Google . For another interesting case study in revelation, learn more about the Mormon stances on polygamy.

To an outsider like myself, this whole thing feels like 1984, and the entrance to Mos Eisley. We have always been at war with Eastasia, polygamy is wrong, blacks aren't the cursed descendants of Cain, these aren't the droids you're looking for. And so on. But it raises interesting questions about the boundaries of heresy and orthodoxy in the Mormon religion. On the one hand, there is established doctrine that can be used as a standard to excommunicate non-conforming members. On the other hand, that doctrine is subject to sudden, violent change.

So, here is that thought experiment, perhaps most relevant to those who have been living in Utah. Is there any revelation that the Mormon President cannot make? Can he (and they are are all old white men) reveal that there are no more revelations from God? Can he reveal that the Book of Mormon is not true or that Joseph Smith was a liar? Can he tell the church that they are all Catholics now? In the balance, which will win: the received doctrine, or the progressive revelation? Could the Mormon President ever be a heretic?

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

You're really not going to believe this

Okay, if you read that last post, you might be thinking as follows: Suppose, Dan, that I go along with your crazy ideas about not reading too much into the text of the Bible, and I decide not to play cryptic crossword with parallel passages, or impart too much knowingly significant double entendre to the ones that just happen to support my worldview. Tell me, Dan, is anything left of the Bible at all? Is Christian faith possible? I'm glad you asked. Without having the time to go into it tonight, let me just say a quick yes and definitely to that. There are views of inspiration, of the spiritual intervention of God in shaping the Bible, that do not require us to construct Bible codes to divine God's intent (such as we can).

I also had an interesting talk with Sarah about whether or not it is right to take these positions on marriage and the Bible when so many other people disagree with you. Are you crazy? I think she felt better to get that out there, not in so many words. I guess this is a question that can challenge any Christian thinking. Is it important to be right, in the doctrinal sense? Does right in the doctrinal sense mean right with God? And if not, what good is it? As a related issue, how can we tell Christian orthodoxy from Christian heresy? Are you a heretic? And if so, what should you do about it?

I hope to get to these questions this week, so berate me if I am being slow.

But now for something completely different. Long-time readers of this blog will have heard ad nauseam about Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and its related spinoff show Angel. It took Sarah and I most of a year to watch them all. Once, under the weather, we did 8 episodes in a day. Well, a few days ago, having no Harry Potter to read and no obvious substitutes (yet; we are taking a trip to the library soon) without much discussion, Sarah and I decided to start watching them again. 3 episodes down, 251 to go.



Well, I'm reminded of Dorothy L Sayers on Dante's Divine Comedy. She said, more or less, "Once I cracked the book, all my prejudices were dispelled. I read it as fast as I could. When I came up for air, I looked around and saw nothing better to read out there. So, I started it again as breathlessly as the first time."

Except for The Simpsons, which pile on to the DVR about three times a day (and some of the newer episodes are getting pretty good again), there's nothing better to watch this summer than Buffy and Angel. Period. Ok, ok, so Season 1 is pretty hokey-fenokee and everybody looks so young. But it's the best.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Love and marriage

When I hear those words, I immediately think of two things. The first is Frank Sinatra singing the theme song to Married with Children. I've actually been to that fountain in Chicago, incidentally. It was a math trip. The other one is a Woody Allen movie called "Love and Death", which is a parody of Scandinavian existentialist films.

Jen asked me to expand upon my funny reaction to the lines "Head of household" and "Spouse" in the nursery check-in form at the megachurch I attended two Sundays ago:

What feelings did that line ignite in you and why? Let's hear the heated theological debate.

Ok, you asked for it.

As a recap, those lines were for the names of the parents of the child. There was an unspoken premise, obvious to me, that under "head of household", one was supposed to write the father's name, and that left the mother for "spouse". Leaving aside all the alternative family arrangements this ignores (grandparents, nannies, unmarried couples, divorcees all come to mind), I didn't want to just leave that values system sitting there. Plus, I was irked at having to give my information for a one-time visit, like I said. I put myself as spouse, and Sarah as head of household.

So here we go. I've thought about this a lot, in the context of living in Utah, in the context of having evangelical friends, in the context of my own marriage and how I want to spend the next fifty years. I thought about it before I got married, and now that I'm married, I spend less time thinking about it and more time trying to live it.

Caveat lector; this is one of those religious things that divides people along lines of opinion. You can see a civil example here.

As I said once on Vince's blog, I think that one mode of reading the Bible, as a philosophical premise source-book, in order to learn what to believe, is like building elaborate sand castles. The architecture of these belief systems may be thrilling to behold, even beautiful, but they tend not to survive their tidal contacts with the ocean of life.

I say it that way because it happened to me in college. When I became a Christian, it was first as a sort of theologist, and life started washing that away almost immediately. I had a gay roommate in the spring of 1999, and my other roommate decided to become a Christian in the vein of Marcus Borg and the Jesus Seminar (bugaboos of a liberal stripe, to fundamentalists such as myself; I still don't like them and the mockery they made of criticism, but that's another digression). I was having trouble deciding how to live, struggling with how to talk to and deal with my roommate. I started from the position that I didn't agree with what he was doing, how he was living (it turned out I was actually saying, who he was), but I could live with him anyway. I told him words to that effect, and it got really chilly. My liberal roommate threatened to move out, I think, and then I took some long walks around campus trying to figure out if I should just move out. I figured out that I was the third wheel. I read my little green-plastic-covered Gideon bible as I walked, but not the verses on homosexuality... I think it was the book of John.

I went back to the dorm, and somewhere in there, my gay roommate had left me a poem he had written about being gay, about being rejected by his parents, but learning to find himself beautiful anyway. As someone who writes things that rhyme, I just couldn't ignore this. He got through to me. I think I understood what was so wrong with the way I had been acting. I pasted words on top of that man I didn't know, then got all righteous about my own labels. So I tried to explain. I said I loved him, and I meant it, and I apologized, I think, and gave him a hug. Looking back, I don't know whether he understood too, or just thought I was weird. But I might be misremembering; we might have cried and had a moment. My liberal roommate later said that I really came through there; he might have said it was strengthening his faith. We were all good for the rest of the semester. The next year, the gay guy moved to a house and my other roommate moved in with his best friend.

Appendix, none of this is in my diary and the UW deleted most of my email (although I may have saved some of it in an archive I recently recovered), but I'm pretty sure I still have the poem in my things. It's been a long-term project of mine to go through my papers, so I may find it sooner or later.

I tell this story because I am aware that the New Testament says things that turn into admonitions and strictures against homosexuality when read by the American evangelical subculture. The fact that they're almost all don't-do-it commandments suggests a certain attitude toward homosexuals as well: a spirit of righteousness and judgment. Thus, the fire-and-brimstone signage, the counter-parades, the angry Christians on your TV set, the obsession with dog-whistle political issues instead of the war in Iraq. This is playing word games with the Bible. (Another short take on this, a couple years old.)

I forget where I read that Christians misidentify the Bible with the Word (probably because the Bible has so many words in it). I think Karl Barth said something to that effect. I don't think it makes me un-Christian to agree, or to point out in addition that we are not supposed to follow what the Bible says. The Bible does not have a little tag on it with the words "DRINK ME". Instead it tells the story of a man; he is the one who says "Drink me."

This is a lot of preamble for a pretty short thesis: I consider the argument "'Wives, submit to your husbands; husbands, love your wives' is a prescription for stratified gender roles in Christian marriages" to be based on word games with the Bible. One reads the Adam and Eve story in Genesis, and so much is implied. One reads the passage in Ephesians that the husband is head of the wife, and so much is implied. And so on. And faced with all this circumstantial evidence, the combined weight of implications, how could one not be persuaded to the roles worldview? Well, something fishy is going on here. It is not hard to find differing views on this evidence; see Vince in that discussion I linked to earlier, or the first Google hit for "husband is the head of the wife": The Husband is Head of the Wife?, which is one more fascinating take on the subject by a Greek Orthodox guy. It's hard to call fascinating ideas a dime a dozen, so let's just say it doesn't stop there.

If one reads the life of the Word, one sees a different portrait emerging. This is my take, Christians can be free to disagree. As the Greek Orthodox guy says, Jesus did not come to us in order to fall into stereotypes or prescribe them for other people. He blew them apart every chance he got. The Samaritan, the centurion, the woman with a bleeding problem, the children, the sinners, the poor, the sick, the prostitutes. He told a tax collector to come and he told farmers to stay behind. What he did come to do was not to be served, but to serve, and to offer himself. There is nothing male or female about that; that is for everyone who would follow him. Remember who will be greatest in heaven; is that person a boy or a girl?

One thought I have as I reread Ephesians 5 is that in the middle of Paul talking about how the husband is like the head and the wife is like the body, he quotes Genesis:
In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church--for we are members of his body. "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh."

Before Descartes laid his thumb on the globe and spun, we believed, among other things, in a unity of mind and body. Christians say now that we are body, mind, and spirit, or some equivalent; I just read a passage in John Michael Talbot's book that this idea is pervasive throughout all of Christianity, and in the Eastern religions he is interested in as well. Why does Paul bring up this idea in the middle of talking about the head and body? Maybe it's to point out that in marriage, man and woman are to be growing so close to each other that you cannot tell where one ends and the other one begins. Or, to put it another way, the goal of marriage is to end gender roles, not preserve them.

I don't think this is a terribly convincing argument. It's another word game about what may or may not be implied by the chance inclusion of a quotation in a letter whose main subject is obviously other things, hatched by my view of the context, which may disagree with yours. But my point is not to argue, really; I merely think that it's plausible to read these passages this way. Also, my conclusion may not be as complex as the gender-roles word game, but it uses the same hermeneutical approach with opposite results. This does not say much about who is right, but it does say something about the shortcomings of this manner of reading.

You might say Joseph Smith and the Mormons took this kind of reading to the logical extreme when they read the stories of the patriarchs taking multiple wives, and resurrected polygamy. The fact that they oops, got it wrong (they would say, followed the inscrutable, changing will of God), is one of those chapters in Mormon history that has to be read to be believed. To this day, Mormons believe that there will be polygamy in heaven, as men progress to become Father Gods and their wives progress to becoming Mother Gods, eternally giving birth, populating new worlds with their spirit children. Now those are some gender roles in marriage! In fact, there was some to-do when some feminist Mormons sought to formally worship the Mother God who had birthed them onto Earth with the approval of the LDS church... this did not go over well, to say the least.

So, if you don't have roles in marriage, what do you have? If there's one thing I've learned in my Christian journey, it's that there are things you believe because they sound correct to you, and there are things you believe because you lived them yourself. (Aside: watch the show Thirty Days.) When I had a gay roommate, there was a war in me between these two kinds of beliefs. I went through a similar struggle before I married Sarah. We talked about this stuff, and I read books about it, both sides; eventually, I decided that given two plausible ways to go on this roles stuff, to head for equality within marriage, almost on instinct. Later, I wondered if I'd really gotten it right, but I have never regretted that decision. I decided if I ever did have to explain it, I would say that you might be able to win an argument that gender roles in marriage are Christian and important, but that wouldn't be the same thing as me being ready to live that belief anyway. I have been a person willing to change who I am for what I am convinced is right, but convincing is a matter of conviction, not just A implies B, QED.

Equality in marriage is simple to me; it means knowing who we are as people, and treating each other like the gifts from God we know each other to be. Someone is good at math (me), someone is good at finances (her), someone is going to work (me), someone is raising our son (her), someone is addicted to video games (me), someone loves to take pictures and blog into the wee hours (her). What equality in marriage means to me is that it could easily have been the other way around. I don't get the final say in decisions, we just have to agree, or compromise. She is not the nurturer, I am not the leader; each of us acts in those capacities at different times. At least, we're supposed to. I see my failures in marriage not as a consequence of my failure to conform to a role, but as personal failures.

Past my bedtime.