Etcetera Whatever

Things and stuff


"MEDIEVAL LAND FUN-TIME WORLD" TRAILER — A Bad Lip Reading of Game of Thrones

"Listen son…I’ll give you four cent each for those vanilla wafers…"

Invergo: An Automated Pour Over Coffee System


What if the best coffee ought not easily be made? What if it is a craft and a labor of love that is nuanced, improved, tweaked, and is finally perfected over timed? What if I want to actually learn how to make myself a damn good cup of coffee?

Philosophically, this is a fascinating instinct - to automate what otherwise is a robust and very humanly activity. 

1930s Reviews of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World

"A lugubrious and heavy-handed piece of propoganda." M.C. Dawson, Books

"…what it lacks in richness Mr. Huxley tries to make up by repetition; but we want rather more to a prophecy than Mr. Huxley gives us…There are not surprises in it; and if he had no surprises to give us, why should Mr. Huxley have bothered to turn this essay in indignation into a novel? To conclude, Brave New World is inert as a work of art: nothing can bring it alive.” The Reviewer for the British journal New Statesman and Nation

"It is not easy to become interested in the scientifically imagined details of life in this mechanical Utopia. Nor is there compensation in the amount of attention that he gives to the abundant sex life of these denatured human beings." Anonymous reviewer for London’s Times Literary Supplement

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you The Gulf That (usually) Exists Between Critic and the Bourgeois Reader. 

Note: It is astonishing that this book projects Huxley’s dystopia so far into the future when many of his far-flung projections are clearly being engendered only 80 past its published date. 

Every historical period has its own presiding powers and principalities on high. Ours, for what it is worth, seem to want to make us happy, even if only in an inert sort of way. Every age passes away in time, moreover, and late modernity is only an epoch. This being so, one should never doubt the uncanny force of what Freud called die Wiederkehr des Verdrängten—“the return of the repressed.” Dominant ideologies wither away, metaphysical myths exhaust their power to hold sway over cultural imaginations, material and spiritual conditions change inexorably and irreversibly. The human longing for God, however, persists from age to age. A particular cultural dispensation may succeed for a time in lulling the soul into a forgetful sleep, but the soul will still continue to hear that timeless call that comes at once from within and from beyond all things, even if for now it seems like only a voice heard in a dream. And, sooner or later, the sleeper will awaken.

David Bentley Hart. Thoughts to meditate on, often and long. (via ayjay)

My favorite Christmas gift - Joakim Garff’s biography of Kierkegaard. And those skull and crossbones microfleece pants? My second favorite gift.

My favorite Christmas gift - Joakim Garff’s biography of Kierkegaard. And those skull and crossbones microfleece pants? My second favorite gift.

The Decline of Evangelical American Christendom, or, a Short Book Review of Alan Kreider's "The Change of Convserion and the Origin of Christendom"

I finished reading Alan Kreider’s The Change of Conversion and the Origin of Christendom last night, just a scant few minutes before reading John S. Dickerson’s Op-ed in the New York Times, “The Decline of Evangelical America”. It was an interesting order of events. 

Kreider examines how the church fathers wrote about and thought about the process of conversion through the first three centuries of the church prior to the Edict of Milan in 313. Leaders such as Cyprian, Justin Martyr, Tertullian, Augustine, and John Chrysostom  all viewed conversion as a process of change. For a catechumen interested in joining the church community, this process was ritually articulated in four stages that included numerous behavioral ”scrutinies”, imitation of Christian brothers and sisters who served the poor, dynamic teaching on the teachings of Jesus, the Creeds, and the Lord’s Prayer, and spiritual cleansing brought about through exorcisms. In this process, as Kreider notes, the early church attempted to inculcate the re-socialization of an alternate community. Furthermore, this process was intentionally order to first change one’s behavior, then one’s beliefs, then one’s belonging (catechumens were not allowed to join the church community in the celebration of the eucharist until the day of their baptism, an Easter-morning experience that culminated the catechetical process). 

Though this process sounds strange and rigid to modern ears, it is stated that the early church grew at about 40% per decade for its first three centuries (Stark). 

Of course, this process began to shift after the conversion of Emperor Constantine. Though he later submitted himself to the church’s four-step catechetical process, it was a truncated one that began to serve as the model for conversions to come. Because of the growing influence of Christendom, whereby everyone was already “Christian” simply be one’s ethnic identity, the conversion process took on elements of coercion, an abbreviated catechetical process, and stratified visions of religious dedication (i.e. the conversion process was co-opted by monastics who saw second baptisms as a way of dedicating oneself to the religious life). Where, only a few centuries earlier, Constantine eventually submitted himself to the catechetical process meted out by the church, the Frankish king Clovis was baptized with no catechetical instruction and while clad in his warrior’s helmet. “Fast food” conversions became the norm.

According to Kreider, Christendom carries certain characteristics that determine a common belief, a common behavior, and a common belonging that are often tied in with national interests. In America, some of these characteristics aren’t so bad (the significant achievement of artists and intellectuals, for example); but other relics are ugly and unworthy, “among these, approaches and institutions that subject people to the control of Christians. Especially as the millenium approaches (the book was penned in 1999), many Western Christians have succumb to a nostalgic prescription for the future in which God, working through revival or renewal or reevangelization, will once again bring about a world that Christians can rule” (100). 

North American Christianity has the opportunity to grasp onto some of its “old ideas” for the sake of its future, especially in a time when North American is becoming post-Christendom (but not post-Christian). Among these old ideas Kreider offers the following: a dynamic missiological thinking toward bondage and addiction (something that Justin, Cyprian, Augustine, and Chrysostom had a lot to say about); a prophetic “looking under the surface” (a practice done well by Justin in his uncovering of the addictive power of the late second century Greco-Roman culture); conversions that change behavior as well as belief and experience (as Kreider notes, the early Christians were relatively unconcerned with psychological experience, but heavily emphasized the radical shift in one’s sense of belonging - one’s affinity and allegiance was to a new society and a new people), and the formative power of the four-step catechetical process (which is currently being revitalized by Roman Catholics in their RCIA process, the Rights of Christian Initiation for Adults). 

Cue Dickerson’s article. Dickerson states that American Evangelicalism is in decline because it’s no longer plausible or acceptable to the broader culture, and though this is lamentable, we need to find new and invigorating ways to be the church in the coming future. Thanks to Kreider’s analysis, I can see this decline is likely happening because of Christendom’s decline in America, not specifically Christianity’s decline. The two have too often been joined at the hip, and by God’s grace, are finally being rent from one another. 

Unfortunately, Dickerson sounds like your typical evangelical pastor in this article - “guys, we just need to lean on God’s grace and forgiveness…” - offering church-speak advise that lacks almost entirely in practical content. Perhaps he should read Kreider and the Patristics and attempt to “get old” in content and practice. 

East, Meet West

This is intense.

I finally caught the embattled Radiolab episode “Yellow Rain”, in which host Robert Krulwich explores a Hmong refuge’s claims of a mysterious - and poisonous - lethal mist that allegedly killed many of his fellow Laotians. 

It turns out to be a classic East-meets-West tale: the Hmong, Mr. Eng Yang, tells the story of vegetation, livestock, and human beings being persecuted and killed, with a toxic yellow rain having some sort of mysterious role in the murders; Krulwich presses Yang on whether he actually saw the yellow rain falling, or whether he simply witnessed the aftermath of death and destruction. Emotions rise, Yang and his family feel ambushed, and the interview comes to a sudden, emotional halt. The wrinkle in the story? A Harvard scientist who “proves” that what is thought to be Soviet chemical warfare (i.e. the “yellow rain”) is, in fact, only bee feces. 

Both Yang and Krulwich are trying to tell a story here what is true, and it’s fascinating to see the ways two cultures go about it, for what becomes clear is how complicated the truth-finding process is, especially when it is executed between people of two different cultures. Krulwich is a journalist and is simply trying to explain the yellow rain phenomenon - “did anybody ever actually see the yellow rain fall from an airplane? Is there any evidence to substantiate Yang’s claims?” Yang, on the other hand, is trying to tell a broader story of persecution, death, and the plight of his people - his people have been devastated, his leaders have been silenced, and nobody in the Western world seems to care.

The interesting point of contention (for me, a Western white bread kinda guy) comes when Krulwich seems unable to separate the truth claims being made about the yellow rain from the larger story of persecution experienced by Yang and the Hmong people (Krulwich said Yang and his family were attempting to “monopolize” the story, a comment he later apologized for). 

Anyway, it’s totally worth listening to. 

Shirky, Udacity, and the Academy

From Clay Shirky via my friend Brad: Napster, Udacity, and the Academy. It’s a long read, for sure, but it’s an interesting take on the task of online ed being taken up by Stanford, MIT, et. al. 

And yet, my question: isn’t education more than unfettered access by the masses to free information? If so, what is it? It would be helpful for the Futurists if they were able to better define and stick to what they think education really is.


Found this sitting alone and forlorn on top of the linen closet at a friend’s house…
"So perfect thou in mind, in form, and face, Thou’rt not of English, but angelic race."

Found this sitting alone and forlorn on top of the linen closet at a friend’s house…

"So perfect thou in mind, in form, and face, Thou’rt not of English, but angelic race."

The Great Mobile Technology Leap Forward

A great article here from the Guardian that looks at the ways technology is impacting various spheres of culture (education, books/publishing, health, farming, retail, and technology itself) today, and anticipating how it might shift the future world. There are a lot of good quotes in this one, including this one on tech and teaching:

"Teachers, she says, will have an entirely different job in this new world. "You don’t need a teacher who knows everything when you can go onto the internet. The revolution is not the technology, it is the changing role of the teacher to make the most of the technology."

This is a fantastic way of describing how educators could possibly live in the grey area I described in one of my previous posts. The old model of “teacher imparting information while students sit and ‘learn’” is toast, and entrenching ourselves in either of the polarized camps - “Kids Can’t Learn Anymore!” “Teachers are Antiquated Luddites!” - is an unhelpful way forward.

Technology in the classroom, if executed well, can enable a role paradigm wherein teachers teach learning and not simply concepts. Tech seems to have initiated a more intuitive way of thinking and learning (want proof? Watch a 13 year-old play Bioshock for the first time…); why not pick up on this type of intuitive learning in the classroom? It would seem to help students choose to work independently or with a team (and all the collaborative aspects that go with that choice), to learn as they go and build off prior foundations, and to seek both the “whys” and “hows” of education. If teachers are able to shift their pedagogy here and adopt a “guiding” model of educating, it could potentially lead down a helpful path of formation on behalf of the students. 

I saw this middle-aged white guy carrying this sign last night after NBC called Ohio for Obama. All of it — the context, the guy carrying it, the 1960s-Civil-Rights-cry-cum-2012-presidential-race-slogan — seemed a bit…much. 

I saw this middle-aged white guy carrying this sign last night after NBC called Ohio for Obama. All of it — the context, the guy carrying it, the 1960s-Civil-Rights-cry-cum-2012-presidential-race-slogan — seemed a bit…much. 

In Which Indiana Jones Fails to Receive Tenure

Via Poetry and Scotch via McSweeney’s:

"Criticisms of Dr. Jones ranged from “possessing a perceptible methodological deficiency” to “practicing archaeology with a complete lack of, disregard for, and colossal ignorance of current methodology, theory, and ethics” to “unabashed grave-robbing.” Given such appraisals, perhaps it isn’t surprising to learn that several Central and South American countries recently assembled to enact legislation aimed at permanently prohibiting his entry.

Moreover, no one on the committee can identify who or what instilled Dr. Jones with the belief that an archaeologist’s tool kit should consist solely of a bullwhip and a revolver.”

Some of the stuff on McSweeney’s is brilliant. I wish I could write like that… 

Indirect Evidence of How Technology Shapes Students' Learning

This is a fascinating article. A few observations:

*IMHO, there is no doubt theoretically that “technology” possesses a certain shaping power and character that affects the ways teenagers think and act; what is lacking, it seems, is empirical evidence of this. As this article suggets, a long-term longitudinal study would benefit this discussion since, you know, we can’t draw definitive conclusions without “empirical” evidence (sarcasm). 

*One of my pet-peeves with modern journalism is the over-simplification of terms; “technology” in this article seems to mean everything from Apple products, video games, the internet, Google searches, and smart phones. It would benefit everyone involved if writers would simply define their terms rather than opting for generalities.

*I am fascinated to see how the debate will play out between “antiquated”, frustrated teachers (“Kids lack critical thinking skills and have zero attention span!!”) and “cognitively-changing”, tech-savvy students (“Grapes of Wrath is, like, the suck…”). Both groups seem happily entrenched in their version of the story.

*Comments like this drive me bat-shit crazy:

“What we’re labeling as ‘distraction,’ some see as a failure of adults to see how these kids process information,” Ms. Purcell said. “They’re not saying distraction is good but that the label of ‘distraction’ is a judgment of this generation.”

What, exactly, shall we call it then? Educational Interference? Cognitive Interruption? It doesn’t always have to be a “judgment” to call a spade a spade - kids are being shaped in a negative way by technology. Attention spans seem to be shortening, written compositional skills appear to be declining, and students are showing a decreasing ability to think long and hard about a given problem. An empirical study would likely only confirm what we know indirectly. 

So to ask teachers on a mass level to adjust their lessons in order to “fit” the way their students’ “process information”, in my opinion, would be to substitute one of the ultimate points of education - formation - for efficiency and control. We put our kids (and ourselves) through schooling because we want them (and us) to be formed cognitively, intellectually, psychologically, philosophically, and virtuously. To substitute this shaping process for one that is characterized by distraction, efficiency, and shorter attention spans would be a big mistake. Neil Postman made a career out of pointing out this fallacy, and it appears, perhaps educators and students would benefit from a fresh reading of him (in paperback OR Kindle!).