Q182: Whose Authority?

"First, the Christian is the man who no longer seeks his own salvation, his deliverance, his justification in himself, but in Jesus Christ alone. He knows that God's Word in Christ pronounces him guilty even when he does not feel his guilt, and God's Word pronounces him righteous, even when he does not feel he is righteous at all. The Christian no longer lives of himself by his own claims and of his own justification, but by God's claim and justification."

—  Dietrich Bonhoeffer

"Let My Tebow Go"

You won't read a better (or deeper) analysis of the whole Tim Tebow phenomenon than this article.   Stephen Marche for NYT:
"[...] Tebow has to play again, if not in New York, then somewhere. Not because it would be good for the Jets or good for the fans or good for football, but because of what he has come to represent (to me at least): the necessity, and the beauty, of absurdity.  [...] This is an atheist's plea: Let Tim Tebow play."
Full article...

Q181: Degree of Certainty

"To accept mathematical truth on rhetorical persuasions is almost a crime; so also to exact mathematical demonstrations from an orator."

—  Thomas Aquinas

Q180: Cost of Ownership

"The things we use fall apart and require constant maintenance. The things we abandon don’t get used and they last forever."

— from "When Sysadmins Ruled the Earth" by Cory Doctorow

The heart of the matter...

"Our Constitution, which was intended to limit government power and abuse, has failed.  The Founders warned that a free society depends on a virtuous and moral people.  The current crisis reflects that their concerns were justified."   

[...]  If the people are unhappy with the government performance it must be recognized that government is merely a reflection of an immoral society that rejected a moral government of constitutional limitations of power and love of freedom.  

If this is the problem all the tinkering with thousands of pages of new laws and regulations will do nothing to solve the problem."

— Rep. Ron Paul, from his farewell address


More interesting than an octagon and more intimidating that a five-sided fistagon:  the HeXaFLeXaGon!   Surrender your mysteries to me, O many-sided device...

Pistol Shrimp

"A neutral observer would not find this world to be believable."  — N.D. Wilson

Consider the pistol shrimp.  It...

  • ...can kill fish at a distance.
  • ...is one of the loudest animals on Earth.
  • ...is considered a nuisance by the Navy.
  • ...is friends with one particular kind of fish and hangs out with it all the time.
  • ...can generate temperatures equivalent to the surface of the Sun.

Pistol shrimp FTW.

A Logic Named Joe

"A Logic Named Joe": a 1950 radio play based on a 1946 short story.    It seems to get the basics of the modern-day Internet right, along with playing around with the idea of a technological singularity.

Q179: No neutral ground

"[I]deas have consequences. Moreover, all of them do."

— Douglas Wilson

Creatures of Contact

David Rakoff reads his poetic retelling of the Turtle and the Scorpion.

Christian fiction for the 10th century

Douglas Wilson on how it is possible to see Beowulf as a kind of Christian apologetic:

"Hrothgar does not fight, and he cannot save the people. Beowulf does fight, successfully—and the ultimate point of the poem is (as we will see) that he cannot save the people from this cycle of violence either. Not fighting does no good, but neither does fighting. 
[...] This is where the poem brings us, only to abandon us there. What can be done to save this people from their lost condition? By the end of the poem, it is absolutely certain that there is nothing that the people of this culture can do themselves about their lostness."

Read the complete essay here...

Q178: Past is prologue

"If you hate that it happened, then you hate that you are." 

— Margaret Cutright

(You can hear the whole background that leads up to this quote here.)

Shed a little light...

"You can only love what you die for [...]"

— Foy Vance, in "Shed a Little Light"

Turn up your speakers, and I dare you not to like this song:

An Untenanted Bicycle Rolls Into View...

I've been watching readings of Edward Gorey stories on Youtube today.   They are sometimes a bit dark and absurd, but that's half the fun right there.   Here's a reading of "The Epiplectic Bicycle":

The Wearisome Machine

Just finished reading an interesting short story ("The Machine Stops...") written by E.M. Forster in 1909.     Some of what he describes is uncomfortably close to reality today.    Here is a link to the full text, and below are some quotes I thought were particularly good:

"Man must be adapted to his surroundings, must he not? In the dawn of the world our weakly must be exposed on Mount Taygetus, in its twilight our strong will suffer euthanasia, that the Machine may progress [...]"
~ · ~ 
"I want to see you not through the Machine," said Kuno. "I want to speak to you not through the wearisome Machine."
~ · ~ 
"[S]he did not notice the noise, for she had been born with it in her ears." 
~ · ~ 
"[She] was seized with the terrors of direct experience." 
~ · ~ 
"What was the good of going to Peking when it was just like Shrewsbury? Why return to Shrewsbury when it would all be like Peking? Men seldom moved their bodies; all unrest was concentrated in the soul."
~ · ~ 
"Rather did they yield to some invincible pressure, which came no one knew whither, and which, when gratified, was succeeded by some new pressure equally invincible. To such a state of affairs it is convenient to give the name of progress." 
~ · ~ 
"[B]ehind all the uproar was silence - the silence which is the voice of the earth and of the generations who have gone."

Q177: Etgar Keret

Just finished reading Four Stories, a small collection of writings by Etgar Keret.   If you haven't read anything by him, I'd encourage you to find some of his work — it's available at different places around the Web.    Here are a few quotes:

"[...] a great work of art is often just residual evidence of a great human soul.  [...]  what we call 'craft' is really just the means by which the writer manages to give clear passage to these positive virtues."
— George Saunders, from the introduction

"There is not one emotion that I have that you don't share with me.   What it means to be afraid or cold or hungry — maybe I felt it ten thousand times more than you'll ever do.  But you can understand it, for sure.   And it's your duty to try and understand it.  You cannot be excused from that."
— Keret, quoting his father

"But you don't always have to understand to learn from something."
— Keret

The book also contained the (extremely) short work called "Asthma Attack", which summarizes Keret's philosophy of writing.   It's like a one-paragraph writing seminar.    Here's a link to a copy online...

A Baby Sermon

"A Baby Sermon" - George MacDonald

The lightning and thunder
They go and they come:
But the stars and the stillness
Are always at home.

Poor Substitute

"What is love?  What is love in the time of ecstasy? 
[...] Don't tell me that he died for that."

—  from "Love In the Time of Ecstasy", by Withered Hand (Dan Wilson)

Q176: The minority that matters

"One of the great strengths of common law has been its general antipathy toward group rights, because the ultimate minority, the minority that matters, is the individual.   The minute you have collective rights, you require dramatically enhanced state power to mediate the hierarchy of different victim groups."

— Mark Steyn

Q175: No limit

"[T]here is no form of government more fundamentally anti-Christian than a government that recognizes, in principle, no limit to what it can require."

— Douglas Wilson  

Q174: Story Time

"Practice reading stories, because that is what your life is."

— Douglas Wilson

The Decline Effect

Jonah Lehrer on some problems that scientific studies have been having:
"The decline effect is troubling because it reminds us how difficult it is to prove anything. We like to pretend that our experiments define the truth for us. But that’s often not the case. Just because an idea is true doesn’t mean it can be proved. And just because an idea can be proved doesn’t mean it’s true. When the experiments are done, we still have to choose what to believe."
Full article here...

Blake's Jerusalem

And did those feet in ancient time,
Walk upon Englands mountains green:
And was the holy Lamb of God,
On Englands pleasant pastures seen!

And did the Countenance Divine,
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here,
Among these dark Satanic Mills?

Bring me my Bow of burning gold;
Bring me my Arrows of desire:
Bring me my Spear: O clouds unfold!
Bring me my Chariot of fire!

I will not cease from Mental Fight,
Nor shall my Sword sleep in my hand:
Till we have built Jerusalem,
In England's green & pleasant Land.

— from Milton, by William Blake

HD Transit of Venus Video

NASA's spaced-based observations of the recent transit of Venus are (I think) worth 3 minutes or so of your time, just on aesthetic grounds alone:

WP: Betteridge's Law of Headlines

From the article:
Betteridge's Law of Headlines is an adage that states, "Any headline which ends in a question mark can be answered by the word 'no'".
Read the rest on Wikipedia...

Q173: Unity

"[...] freedom and charity lead to the only unity worth having."

—   from an article by Steven Wedgeworth and Peter Escalante

Q172: All Fall Down

"Where your safety net is, there is your god."

  — Michael Horton

Q171: Try Harder

"[...] so many pulpits are filled with preachers who are telling one-legged people to run faster and jump higher." 

— Aaron Zimmerman

Q170: The White Horse

"[...] hasty and ad hoc decrees that addressed immediate national problems without taking the time to reflect on and consider the eternal principles of justice were fated to end in villainy and abuse.   Only those laws that had been founded on the eternal principles of justice, had stood the test of time, had been passed on from generation to generation, and had received the approval of the wisest counsellors should be enacted and enforced by a just king."

— Ben Merkle

— and —

"And though skies alter and empires melt,
This word shall still be true:
If we would have the horse of old,
Scour ye the horse anew."

— G. K. Chesterton

These (and some other recent quotes) have come from Ben Merkle's life of King Alfred the Great called The White Horse King.   I recommend it to you highly.  

Q169: Danegeld

"[...] if once you have paid him the Dane-geld, you never get rid of the Dane."

— Rudyard Kipling

SQF Radio #7

How 'bout some music?  Here's SQF Radio #7.  (Spin the big list here.)

  1. Sufjan Stevens - Casimir Pulaski Day.   A sad song if ever there was one.   "Oh, the glory that the Lord has made, and the complications you could do without...":

  2. Blitzen Trapper - Stranger in a Strange Land.    I'd stop putting Blitzen Trapper on these lists if they'd just stop writing excellent songs.   They refuse to do so, however, so here you go.   Some great lines in this song.   If there is ever a film-student type documentary on the band, I think "All My Love Songs Fall on Wasted Ears: the Music of Blitzen Trapper" would be an awesome title.    Also, can we all get together and have Bob Dylan cover this?

  3. Counting Crows - Mercy.   Speaking of great lines, I nearly wore this song out when it was released, just to hear the line, "but there is a train bound for Gilead" line over and over.    If you need some new listening material, you could do far worse than the band's recently-released album of covers.

  4. Spirit Family Reunion - Alright Prayer.    Note to Spirit Family Reunion: you're doing it right.   They are a New York-based band, and I'm not even sure they've released an album yet, but they combine bluegrass, Americana, folk, and old-time gospel influences into some feel-good music.  Here's a sample:

Post-Christian Justice

Al Mohler on how "post-Christian" culture is confused about criminal justice (in light of the Breivik trial in Norway):

And yet, in another statement from his commentary on this text, Westermann points straight to the reason that a post-Christian culture loses its moral confidence in the punishment of murderers. He states: "A community is only justified in executing the death penalty insofar as it respects the unique right of God over life and death and insofar as it respects the inviolability of human life that follows therefrom." 
Once those convictions and moral intuitions are lost, the death penalty no longer makes sense. Eventually, even the idea of punishment itself loses all cultural credibility.

Full article...

ht: Vitamin Z

Monumental failure?

Michael J. Lewis on the problems with recent monument-building in the U.S.:
"A painful literalism set in, which is hostile to figurative language in speech and to abstract allegory in art. Nowadays we tend to think literally rather than literarily, which explains why Frederick Hart had to portray the American military experience in Vietnam by means of three men of three distinct races—and why a women’s memorial was subsequently added. The fear of leaving someone or something out is hostile to the allegorical impulse, which seeks not to itemize but to generalize, and to speak not specific truths but great truths. It is not surprising that a culture ill at ease with the notion of absolute truth would find it very difficult to make monuments that show urgency and conviction."
Full essay...

Q166: The Rain King

Just finished Saul Bellow's Henderson the Rain King, and here are some quotes that stood out:

"[...] in an age of madness, to expect to be untouched by madness is a form of madness."
"A brave man will try to make the evil stop with him.  He shall keep the blow.   No man shall get it from him, and that is a sublime ambition."
"Oh, death from what we do not want is the most common of all the causes."
"[...] if I wasn't going to abide by that one sentence, what good would it do to read the entire book?"
"[...] it's love that makes reality reality.   The opposite makes the opposite."
"More or less the same fear, more or less the same desire for thousands of generations.   Child, father, father, child doing the same.  Fear the same.  Desire the same.  [...]  Well, Henderson, what are the generations for, please explain to me?   Only to repeat fear and desire without a change?   This cannot be what the thing is for, over and over and over.  Any good man will try to break the cycle."
"But maybe time was invented so that misery might have an end.   So that it shouldn't last forever?   There may be something in this.   And bliss, just the opposite, is eternal?   There is no time in bliss.   All the clocks were thrown out of heaven."
"The repetition of a man's bad self, that's the worst suffering that's ever been known."

Happy Easter

" [...] we rejoice in the fact that it was in the beginning that our Lord cried out it is finished."

— Douglas Wilson


"What is the difference between doubts and questions? [...] The answer is straight-forward. Questions have answers, and doubts do not."

— Douglas Wilson

Maneki Neko

Saw one of these outside a Thai restaurant and wondered about it.   Now I know:

"The Maneki Neko is a common Japanese sculpture, often made of ceramic, which is believed to bring good luck to the owner. The sculpture depicts a cat beckoning with an upright paw, and is usually displayed — many times at the entrance — in shops, restaurants, pachinko parlors, and other businesses. Some of the sculptures are electric or battery-powered and have a slow-moving paw beckoning."

Wikipedia: Maneki Neko ...

Learning techniques

Wired has a conversation with Robert Bjork (who researches learning techniques at UCLA; no relation, or is there?).   He comes to some not-always-obvious conclusions:
"If you study and then you wait, tests show that the longer you wait, the more you will have forgotten," Bjork said.
But here's the cool part: If you study, wait, and then study again, the longer the wait, the more you’ll have learned after this second study session. Bjork explains it this way: "When we access things from our memory, we do more than reveal it's there. It's not like a playback. What we retrieve becomes more retrievable in the future. Provided the retrieval succeeds, the more difficult and involved the retrieval, the more beneficial it is."
Link to article...

Everyone's a criminal

GW Law professor Orin Kerr's testimony before the Judiciary Committee on why the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act is dangerous.    This and other carelessly written laws open almost everyone up to the possibility of Federal prosecution, just for doing what they do every day.    While this may or may not be a problem given current interpretations and enforcement, this is exactly the kind of thing that can do untold damage in the wrong hands.   If everyone is a criminal, then the decision to arrest or not arrest can be made based on other, more politically interesting criteria.

Full text (PDF) ...

M. Robinson on the Bible

Marilynne Robinson on the debt that literature owes the Scriptures.    This is a great example of why I love Robinson.   She didn't send a watered-down version of this to some Christian magazine.   She sets up camp in The New York Times and then calmly and contentedly (without a hint of anxiety) starts educating people.   She's just embarrassingly good at this.



David Damberger discusses failure, and why admitting it is integral to any eventual progress.   He details some (seemingly) impressive work he had done for non-profit organizations in Africa, and then shows why it was exactly the wrong thing to be doing.


I stumbled upon this (very) short story by E. A. Poe while searching for geographical information about the Congo River.     Life apparently is very like a box of chocolates...


Mary Karr interview

I've posted a poem by Mary Karr before, but here's a longer interview with her.   I've yet to read some of her longer works, but I think they'll make the list after watching this.

As a bonus, here's a link to one of her poems.


"The fundamental cause of the trouble is that in the modern world the stupid are cocksure while the intelligent are full of doubt."

— Bertrand Russell


"... [W]e are not at liberty to be enslaved."

— Douglas Wilson


"Careful thought is as morally obligatory as loving words." 

— Douglas Wilson


"Sometimes the mainstream goes right over Horseshoe Falls [...]"

— Douglas Wilson

2011 Year-In-Review

It's time to look back at the year now passed.    Whether now or at tax time, I always enjoy the opportunity to review what I've done, and all that has happened in the previous year.   It provides the perfect moment to ask oneself,  in the words of John Mayer (not strange, present-day John Mayer, but earlier, up-and-coming-acoustic-prodigy John Mayer), "Am I livin' it right?"   Before we get to questions like that, however, it'll be helpful to review the raw material.    Here are some of the things that stand out (to me) about the foregoing year:


2011 was, more than anything else, a banner year for disasters.   From the Japanese earthquake / tsunami, to the Thailand floods, to Hurricane Irene (a friend of mine and I rode out the worst of it in a very leaky Chili's dining room), to any number of other occurrences, it was a rough year to be minding your own business.   Here are a few of the stories that will stick with me from the past 12 months:
  • '74 No More

    Growing up, I'd always heard stories about April 3, 1974.   Every time a tornado came through, people would say it was bad, but nothing like '74.   Well, now that spot in the collective memory of North Alabama will be replaced with the events of April 27, 2011.

    I sometimes forget that I wasn't physically present that day.   I watched the storms develop from far away in Northern Virginia.   I knew from the weather radar that things were taking a turn for the worse.   By midday at work, I called my manager to explain to her that I was signing out to concentrate on feeding information back to friends and family in AL.

    Every kind of natural disaster is different, I guess.   With tornadoes, it always feels a bit like a high-stakes game of Battleship.   The storm calls a number, and you wait to see if it is a hit or a miss.   The only difference is:  if it's a hit, somebody you know dies, is hurt, or loses everything they own.   On April 27, though, the storm got 92 turns in a row.  That's how many tornado warnings the NWS office in Huntsville issued.   For the people I knew, all 92 came up "miss", and I thank God for that.   For many others, though, one or more of the numbers called were theirs.    I saw some of that the following weekend when I traveled down to try to help.    The national focus has long since moved on, but for anyone connected with North Alabama, "2011" will long be remembered as shorthand for  "that day".

    If you're interested in learning more about the events of April 27, I'd recommend this article as a starting point.
  • Just Football

    Yeah, the whole Penn State thing.   The story itself was tragic enough in so many dimensions:  the crimes and the victims, the sad end to Joe Paterno's career.    It felt like a big piece of whatever decency America had left sort of crumbled loose and fell away.    Then to watch what happened next as the self-justifiers and Monday-morning quarterbacks in the media (and, to be honest, in the office, or wherever you looked)  took their turn dancing around while State College, PA, burned.  

    The whole thing was like watching a giant wreck in slow motion, standing close enough to see the facial expressions of those involved.  N.D. Wilson, commenting on the situation, observed that, "Little decisions [...] that don't really seem to matter can turn into massive problems.".    There are a lot of lessons to learn from what happened, but looking back, it's hard to get past just feeling sad.
  • DC Shake-up

    There are two moments I'll remember from the great DC earthquake of '11.   The first came a few seconds into the quake itself.   I work near a major airport, and not far from a heavily trafficked highway.   Vibrations from big trucks and low-flying jetliners shake the building at a low level regularly.   For the first few seconds, we thought it was more of the same.   Then, the shaking crossed some sort of invisible mental line, and everyone instantly knew that something was wrong.    That "wait, what?" moment will stick with me.  You can see that moment unfold for some tourists in the Washington Monument in the embedded video below.   The second moment came a few days later, when we discovered that the earthquake had actually done quite a bit of damage to the ceiling tiles at our church.   We had to spend most of Saturday afternoon that week at the church's first-ever earthquake clean-up work day.

  • This blog got its start in 2011 (though some posts are antedated to previous years, due to a large backlog of what-not that I'd been saving).   Instead of waiting around infinity more years to launch a well-formed and fully-polished blog site, I made the decision to go ahead and jump, doing my best to pack the parachute on the way down.  

  • And, lest we forget, Randy "Macho Man" Savage snapped into the afterlife this year at the age of 58.

2011 seemed like it might be the very beginning of a comeback for music, or at least for the sort of music I want to hear.    Maybe my tastes are just changing with the time.     I won't rank them against each other, but here are five albums from the past year that I thought were excellent, along with a taste of each:
  • Blitzen Trapper - American Goldwing

  • Owl City - All Things Bright and Beautiful

  • The Decemberists - The King Is Dead

  • Burlap to Cashmere -  Burlap to Cashmere

  • Redbird - Live At Café Carpe


So, for better or for worse, I don't often read things that have come out recently.   Consequently, it wouldn't make much sense to talk about books that were published in 2011.   Instead, I'll note some of the books that influenced me over the course of the past year, their publication date notwithstanding.

  • Uncle Tom's Cabin (Harriet Beecher Stowe).   So I'd heard this or that about the book, and had a vague sense that it dealt with important issues but was somehow embarrassing in its treatment of them.   What a surprise when I actually read it.    It ended up being one of the best (and most thoroughly Christian) novels I've ever read.    Uncle Tom is such a virtuous and strong character that the next person I hear using his name as an insult in my presence is liable to get punched in the mouth.    I can't for the life of me understand why this isn't required reading in every Christian school in America.

  • I finally started in on Wodehouse, who comes to me much recommended.    I read Carry On, Jeeves, which familiarized me with the general idea of the Jeeves stories.   Some of the turns of phrase are as amusing as I had been promised.    One character refers to another as "as vague and wooley-headed a blighter as ever bit a sandwich".   In addition, the hero prefers a good game of skee-ball to more serious pursuits.   I only just recently discovered that there is an early-90s British TV series based on the Jeeves stories, starring Hugh Laurie (yes, Dr. House) as Bertie Wooster, with Stephen Fry as Jeeves.  

When considering something as long as a year, you are sufficiently "zoomed-out" to start to notice big trends in what the events of your life are meant to teach you.   I don't believe that any event or circumstance comes about by chance; rather, they are ordered to some purpose — or, better, to many different purposes at once.   One of these purposes is our instruction.     When major or minor happenings begin to line up in one direction or another, it's possible to begin to see intention and meaning in them.   What did I notice (in my life) this year?

  • Insufficiency.    I could have told you this in 2010, but I didn't really understand it the way I do now.     Do you believe that you can make yourself be the person you want to be, and do the things you want to do?   Do you believe that if you just try harder, get a system, increase your net stick-to-it-iveness, that you can have what you want?   Do you believe that if you believe it, you can achieve it?   Then you're believing a lie.   It just isn't possible to will yourself to perfection, or even adequacy.   We are every one of us broken, and unable to do it (whatever "it" is) on our own.    The longer you defy gravity, the bigger house of cards you are building.  "Get busy living, or get busy dying," but with all due respect to The Shawshank Redemption, you'd be better served to get busy dying, and then get busy rising from the dead...  

  • Grace.   ... because God prefers to work with dead people.   Two little girls went to the store to buy a snack.  Each had ninety-nine cents, but the items they wanted cost a dollar.    Seeing that they were short, they asked a nice man in line if he would help them.   "Of course," he replied.   The first little girl approached the cashier, put her ninety-nine cents on the counter and turned to the man.   "I just need one cent," she said.    He supplied the penny, she thanked him, and took her snack.   The second little girl looked at her money, looked at the man, and put her money away.   "I can't afford the snack," she said.    The man took out a crisp dollar bill and paid the cost outright.    I tell you that the second little girl went down to her house justified.

    If I were in the cheesy sermon sloganeering business, I'd say:  "Grace doesn't make up the difference, grace makes all the difference!"   The bumper-sticker people beat me to it, though, with: "If God is your co-pilot, switch seats!".   I forget this lesson about twice a day, but I was reminded throughout the year of my own inability, and of my own need for someone who is able. 

Well, much more could be said about 2011, and much of it will be said — elsewhere.   As the Christmastide rolls on and into 2012, I wish you all the best for the coming year.    Now,

"May the Lord bless you and keep you. May the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you. May the Lord lift up His divine countenance upon you and give you peace."