Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Herding Cats

One of my favorite commercials* is the one from several years ago of a group of cowboys (catboys?) herding cats.

This commercial is now available on Google Video. Take a look. (HT:

*I know it is evidence of several magnitude of lameness to even have a concept of what one's favorite commercials are, but such is the state of my life and my sensibilities.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Linkage XXVII

Post-It = Problems John Holbo, writing at Crooked Timber, relates the story of a friend who was called in by an enraged university librarian for... leaving a Post-It note in a book. Seems the glue on those things can mess up the pages of the books. Who knew?

Hey, do you know a guy...? Need help with a software or application problem? Don't know how to do a particular task? Need some bodies to make something happen? Check out Favorville, a new social networking site, which gives you another way to ask for and to give favors. This is a great idea. (Via AJ Schwanz)

Wanna Hear Whitman? Here's a link to poet Walt Whitman reading four lines from his poem "America", taken from a wax cylinder. (Via Marginal Revolution)

Worst. Argument. Ever. On balance, I think that state sanctioning of same-sex marriage is a bad idea. But if this article (Nero? You gotta be joking!) is the best argument that cultural conservatives can come up with, I may have to change my mind. (Via Crooked Timber)

What Could Have Been (and wouldn't have needed to have been) Want to hear a politician deliver a thoughtful and coherent speech, one with complete sentences and correctly pronounced words? Go read Al Gore's MLK day speech where he calls on President Bush to stop trashing the Constitution (or listen to it here).

Monday, January 16, 2006

King Day

"Perhaps a new spirit is rising among us. If it is, let us trace its movements and pray that our own inner being may be sensitive to its guidance, for we are deeply in need of a new way beyond the darkness that seems so close around us."

-Martin Luther King, Jr.

Saturday, January 14, 2006


I wrote with obvious pride a couple of months ago when my son Chris made his high school soccer team. It's time for an update.

Chris started well, playing forward and scoring twice and assisting once (his best play) in the opening match. Then his team started playing other teams who knew how to play, and they started getting pounded - the next five matches were 1-3, 1-6, 1-5, 1-5, and 2-5. Unlike most other high school programs, none of our boys have played club soccer, and they are really lost out there. Sadly, they're not being very well coached, either. Our coach means well, but she seems to lack an understanding of how to teach kids how to play.

Our coach also seems to lack a very clear understanding of process. She only sees the final part of a play, and not what leads up to it. Two examples from last week. In the first, we gave up a soft goal on a counter attack because all three of our central midfielders (we play a 3-5-2) were caught way up field, leaving our center back exposed on a 3 v. 1 situation, and she yelled at the center back for giving up the goal. Second, our only goal of the match came when Chris, playing the left midfield spot, won the ball, cut inside, yelled at the right forward to make a run and then hit a beautiful curling diagonal ball over the defense directly into the path of the forward who then shot weakly at the keeper only to have the keeper miss badly and give up the goal. There was not a word for Chris but great praise for the goal scorer.

Chris has fared rather badly in our coach's "system". He has bounced around both forward spots, both wide midfield spots, and even a brief spell a right back, where had the only assist in one of our 1-6 debacles. In fact, Chris has all our team's assists this year but one, but that doesn't seem to count for much.

Today he got a bit of redemption. He started at left forward, assisting on the first goal by beating two defenders in the corner and then hitting a hard cross which the other forward mishit but it went in anyway. He assisted on the second when he dropped back into midfield, won a ball and then played a perfect through ball to the other forward. He should been able to score the third goal - he was running free down the middle and screaming for the ball but the other forward shot into a crowd and the ball bounced off of a defender and wrong footed the keeper. Chris was rewarded for his good play by being taken off immediately after the third goal.

In the second half, Chris returned to play right midfield and had several good runs unrewarded by the forward looking for his fourth goal. And then finally came his first whiff of a scoring chance, not only of the match but of the last month. A bouncing ball had been played outside to the forward and Chris made a run inside of him. The forward played the ball on in the air. Chris saw it coming and slowed his run to allow the ball to come over his right shoulder. He then let it bounce and on the short hop from just inside the penalty area smashed it past the keeper just inside the right post.

As they say on TV, un vero golazo.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Well, There's Truth and then there's The Truth

The truth has had a tough week.

This week, it has turned out that key events James Frey's memoir A Million Little Pieces didn't happen; that the famous South Korean researcher has not cloned anything human, and that a formal legislative hearing in Pennsylvania could only turn up one student, who had not filed a complaint, who would accuse liberal professors of intimidating and indoctrinating their students. Oh, and Dick Cheney is back to peddling a Saddam/al-Qaida connection.

So, ho-hum. People with agendas shading the truth or even flat out lying. It happens. This kind of stuff is bad because it poisons the well for everyone else, but it happens. This makes me sad, but on questions like this, I'm trying to follow the advice from my youth from Elvis Costello - "I used to get disgusted, but now I try to be amused".

But I cannot find anything amusing in the responses of supporters of the people discredited this week.

Oprah Winfrey, who had promoted Frey's book, said whole controversy is "much ado about nothing". Koreans have rioted and threatened the people who exposed the fraudulent researcher. A representative for the group which agitated for the Pennsylvania investigation against "liberal indoctrination" insisted that even after the hearings that the burden was still on the universities to prove they weren't indoctrinating the students, rather than on the students to prove their claims. And the Vice President? Well, just as I commented earlier that a "cat is going to be a cat", Dick Cheney is going to be Dick Cheney.

What are we to make of this? Somebody help me out here.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

This Makes Sense

"The sane appear as strange to the mad as the mad to the sane."

-Joe Orton
"What the Butler Saw"

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Exegetical Smackdown: Robertson vs. Ramsey

When Pat Robertson recently asserted that Ariel Sharon's stroke was God's reaction to Sharon's policy of "dividing" the land of Israel, he was roundly condemned. (Well, maybe not as roundly as one would wish, but there you go).

Here's what Robertson said (you can watch the clip here):
But I think we need to look at the Bible and the Book of Joel. The prophet Joel makes it very clear that God has enmity against those who, quote, "divide my land." God considers this land to be his. You read the Bible, he says, "This is my land." And for any prime minister of Israel who decides he going carve it up and give it away, God says, "No. This is mine."
Now, Robertson is a kook, and it looks like this time, even more so than when he issued a fatwa against Hugo Chavez, he is being regarded as such. But all of the discussion I've seen has been about the "appropriateness" of his remarks. I too, think that what Robertson said was inappropriate, but note that he wasn't interested in asserting that his remarks were socially appropriate. He was saying that the Bible, and not Pat Robertson, in the book of Joel says that God has enmity for those who "divide my land". And so this leads me to ask, does the Bible really say that?

The quick answer is "No".

Here's the text Robertson is citing, in it's broader context - Joel 3:1-3 (4:1-3 Heb):
For then, in those days and at that time, when I restore the fortunes of Judah and Jersusalem, I will gather all the nations and bring them down to the valley of Jehoshaphat, and I will enter into judgment with them there, on account of my people and my heritage Israel, because they have scattered them among the nations. They have divided my land, and cast lots for my people, and traded boys for prostitutes, and sold girls for wine, and drunk it down. (NRSV)
So in context, what the prophet Joel "makes very clear", to borrow Robertson's phrase, is that one day the Lord will come with power and re-establish his people and pay back the nations for what they did to His people Israel.

This passage in Joel appears to be answering another text in an earlier prophet: Amos 7:17:
Therefore, thus says the Lord: 'Your wife shall become a prostitute in the city, and your sons and daughters shall fall by the sword, and you land shall be parceled out by line; you yourself shall die in an unclean land, and Israel shall surely go into exile away from its land'.
The translations have obscured it, but the same Hebrew word occurs in both texts, translated "divided" in Joel and "parceled out" in Amos. So it appears that Joel is saying that, one day, the Lord will undo the damage to which Amos looked forward. This is a very common theme in the biblical prophets and rather a nice thing, too. So then, how does one read this as a threat against any leader or nation who is willing to cede land held by the modern nation-state of Israel, land held within the original 1947 borders or through the 1967 war?

Well, first, you have to ignore verb tense. Joel 3:2 (4:2) promises God's judgment against those who "have divided" God's land. This phrase seems to refer to a past event, in all likelihood the division of the land by the Assyrians and Babylonians when the conquered different parts of Israel in the 8th and 6th centuries bce. Notice in Robertson's quote, he claims Joel says "divide" - present tense - a significant difference.

So how does he take this contextually specific phrase and turn it into a blanket statement? Well, a whole lot of "ifs" have to fall together. Here we go:

Robertson is right... if it was God's plan to fulfill the promises of the prophets by re-establishing a modern nation-state called Israel and not to merely roll all of those promises into the Second Coming as the New Testament seems to indicate; ...if one is willing to take the essential eschatological tension of the New Testament, in which some of the things promised in the Old testament are present realities but will not come into ultimate fulfillment until Christ's Second Coming and turn that tension into license to be non-sensical; ...if the current nation-state of Israel is in fact that fulfillment; ...if the promise in Joel can be fulfilled in stages; ...if parts of even the same sentence can be fulfilled in stages, wherein the phrase "I will restore the fortunes of Judah and Jerusalem" is understood to have already happened in 1947, or 1967 or in 1973, but that the rest of the sentence is held back until some later time when all of the other things will come to pass; ...if somehow during that in between period one assumes that being OK with Israel's 1967/1973 boundaries and not the much larger set of boundaries addressed in Deuteronomy and Joshua is not also somehow "dividing the land"; ...if one assumes that only giving up land gained by the wars in 1967 and 1973 is "dividing the land"; ...and if, again, one assumes that one can speak coherently by citing one part of a sentence and not the other, or that one part of sentence may be in force but that the second part will not be in force until some murky time in the future, and one can assume a number of other odd ways of reading the Bible that I am suddenly too tired to go into...

...if all of that is true then yes, Pat Robertson could be right.

But for me, that's too many ifs.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Lessons Learned This Past Year

- Get your wisdom teeth pulled when you have the chance. If you wait too long, they can't take them out and it leads to lots of trouble.

- Don't give up too early - witness the L.A. Galaxy's championship this year.

- When committing human ashes to the sea from a boat, make sure you do so from the downwind side of the boat.

- Expect your students to amaze you once a week. I consciously tried to do this last semester and I was amazed in each of my classes at least eleven of the fourteen weeks of the term.

- When something mechanical goes wrong, don't make the mistake of combining temperamental pessimism with a limited sense of mechanical insight. Don't assume it can't be helped. Get someone else to take a second look so you won't, for instance, end up bending a car door hinge beyond repair.

- Go ahead and ask God for good things, and don't let your circumstances determine your horizons. I had failed to pray about a constellation of issues for some time because I couldn't see any way they could happen. After several years of grumbling and sadness about this, I prayed and asked and things fell together for me within a month. This gave me the unique feeling of feeling profoundly blessed and profoundly stupid at the same time.

- A cat is going to be a cat, whether you like it or not.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Linkage XXVI

Oh, the Nerdity Star Wars has a disturbingly strong pull on the hearts and wallets of many men of a certain age and inclination. Here's more grist for the mill - - a site "...created as a labor of love in homage to the 25th anniversary of The Star Wars Holiday Special, which aired one time only on November 17th, 1978 and has been virtually lost ever since. The intent was to gather as much as there is to possibly know about the Holiday Special and document it in great detail, since this has never really been done before." (Via Susan Kitchens)

Cy or Blinky? Jeff links to a picture of a cat born with only one eye. (I can't imagine what he was searching for to arrive at that image, can you?)

Archie's Boy links to this breakdown of the Colts quarterback - Peyton Manning: the Man and the Brand. I find myself thinking about things like this, and I love it when I come across someone who is smarter than me and can do it in ways that I would never think of.

Insulin Required To counterbalance Jeff's one-eyed cat, here is a photo of a horse and a cat that love each other. And they're Australian, no less, so as we anthropomorphize them we can imagine they have cute Aussie accents. (via BoingBoing)

Barbie Torture No, not Klaus Barbie, the "Butcher of Lyons". I mean little girls torturing their dolls. Read about it here. I'm not sure what the fuss is - this just seems to be the counterpart to boys messing up GI Joes, but since I did neither as a kid, I may be missing something here. (from Marginal Revolution)

Friday, January 06, 2006

As I Walk This Earth... (Episode II)

... I note that:
  • many of the people who work in parking garages around SoCal seem to be Ethiopians (or Eritreans, or perhaps Somalis). Why is that?
  • in an ad in the LA Weekly, Ozomatli is playing at the same club as Foreigner and Eddie Money. I know I'm a little behind on the rock en Espanol scene, but aren't Ozomatli cooler than this? Are Indian casinos next?
  • in the 1/6/06 LA Times crossword, the answer to 53 down, "He played Obi-Wan", is Ewan, not Alec. Hmm.

OK. so...'s been one month since I last did a post of any real substance, or at least one that is of the kind of thing I really hoped to do by starting this.

I'm still having trouble for the same reasons I cited before, now even more so.

But, Pat Robertson has once again goaded me to action, like he did last summer. Look for my own exegesis of the Joel text he cited in this space either later today or tomorrow.