The Library Basement
Reading under ground

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Welcome to the past and future of the arts

My favorite band Starflyer 59 had a successful campaign to raise funds for a new studio album. By appealing directly to the public for funding, they are able to produce the album without the assistance of a record label. This way the band can be paid to make the album and reap all of the rewards for the subsequent sales.

Patronage is the classical method for funding the arts. And it is the future as well. This current age of reaping royalties via copyright restrictions is coming to an end. It was an aberration of our culture caused by the rise of mass media preceding the democratization of media through the internet. The result will be fewer millionaire artists and billionaire record moguls, but it will be better for our culture.

There are currently two hits for "Bible translation" on Kickstarter. Someday a major Bible translation project will be financed this "new" way, and the publishers will make their money from selling physical copies, not from licensing the translations. I'm looking forward to it.

Emacs on OS X Pro Tip

Let's say that you are an OS X user, but your version of the OS (10.6 Snow Leopard, perhaps) has an out-dated version of Emacs installed. You would like to have Emacs 23.4, but you'd also like to continue to invoke The Editor from the command line, without having to open up a silly GUI. Here's what you do:

alias emacs='/Applications/Emacs.app/Contents/MacOS/Emacs -nw'

This will allow you to open the new version the next time you type "emacs" at the command prompt. Happy hacking.

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Category: κτλ

A new epoch in Biblical Studies

Yesterday I received via email the SBL newsletter, and this was the top item:

New Submission Policy: Beginning in January 2012, SBL is requesting that all manuscript submissions to JBL be sent electronically. Hardcopy submissions will no longer be accepted.

In seems that biblical scholarship has been forced into the twenty-first century!

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Category: κτλ Tags: SBL

On craftsmanship

Pre-industrial objects have a particular beauty that still carries the mark of the maker. I am especially drawn to methodical work that requires a lot of concentration. I find inspiration in the rhythm and repetition of the movements. There is this sense of ongoing drudgery that lends itself to introspection. I'm interested in the collective separation that keeps a room full of busy people divide. The fact that the body can be employed, but not necessarily the mind.

\~ Amy Cutler, in "A Conversation with Amy Cutler", by Aimee Bender, in Tin House No. 50, p. 158.

I think Cutler is suggestion that hand-made objects confer a double benefit: first, they are beautiful; second, the act of crafting them frees the mind of the maker for other thoughts. "Beauty" is not typically assumed to be the result of drudgery, but I think there is wisdom in Cutler's point here. Surely some of the best of what we appreciate from earlier times, from the charm of wooden toys to the steady quality of good brickwork, have been produced not in creative ecstasy but in the consistency of hard work.

The Arlene Schnitzer Concert HallI found myself pondering the nature of such adornment while visiting the Arlene Schnitzer concert hall in Portland. All of the interiors are embellished with hand-crafted designs. Even the drinking fountains are classy. Beyond the beauty of the expression, I was impressed by the fact that such craftsmanship is simply impossible in modern building. It is not just because they styles currently favor clean lines of brick, glass, steel, and stone. It is because the time and expense of building with care is simply inconceivable in our present society.

For the same reason the symphony itself, which finds its home in the concert hall, is somewhat incredible in that it operates in the here and now, in spite of requiring the same large scale of artist care. The orchestra has many players, and is terribly expensive to convene. The amount of practice needed to master music epitomizes drudge work. You play the scales and arpeggios over and over. You work and work and work a line until you can play it backwards. You memorize huge passages of music.

The symphony is handmade and pre-industrial. It has a beauty in its product which is rarely surpassed in our present cultural climate. The music is like the building itself, or well-made crafts, an expression of excellence and quality. It is an aspect of the good in our lives.

So I am feeling inspired to find such a place in life to master. There is drudgery and hard work, but out of that can come something beneficial. And in the course of making it I may have my mind freed for introspection, and perhaps I'll discover something new.

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Category: κτλ

SBL Lapsed

I realized today that I had let my SBL membership lapse. I had been an associate member, but I am considering upgrading to the full membership, in case I decide to submit papers to next year's round of meetings. The best thing about the membership was the access to JBL, though I did not use it as much as I should have. Yet I think I'll re-up even though the previous year's membership was not as useful to me because I'd like to renew my participation in biblical studies.

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Category: κτλ Tags: SBL

Remember the quips of November

On a Sunday evening . . .

  • The great solipsist novel must be written in the first person.
  • The essence of being a twenty-something is thinking society is stupid but being unable to articulate (or even theorize) a superior alternative.
  • Zombies are an apt metaphor for capitalism, but it is the corporate executives who are the zombies, not the consumers.
  • The good shepherd left the 99% in the wilderness and went after the 1% that were lost.
  • If your denomination has its own Bible translation, you are probably doing it wrong.
  • I'd like to propose a new taxonomy of Christian churches based on sermon length.
  • The theoretical physicist is to the natural sciences as the theologian is to philosophy; both are trying to find the grand unified theory.
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Category: κτλ Tags: quips

Fusing old and new toys

We recently got an wooden puzzle for our son. It's a classic children's toy, but this one has a modern twist which I appreciate as someone who has done a bit of amateur hardware hacking. Underneath each piece is a photoresistor. When the piece is lifted and the light level goes up, the embedded controller plays a sound representing the piece which was lifted. Cool!

[][]

On a side note, I am somewhat sad that this toy is made in China, like virtually everything else we can buy.

[]: http://thelibrarybasement.com/images/2011/09/P1030874.jpg

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Category: κτλ Tags: hardware

College athletes should organize

With increasing frequency there are scandals brewing in college sports in America, particular surrounding football. Even my beloved Oregon Ducks are under investigation by the NCAA at this time. The basic problem is that the NCAA requires that student athletes not receive any compensation in return for recruitment for or participation in college athletics, apart from scholarships. However these infractions are happening quite frequently.

I see this matter in terms of dollars and cents rather than ethics. Some college sports departments are huge money-making enterprises. Football (and to a lesser extent, basketball) programs bring in a lot of money for their institutions. This revenue comes from ticket sales, alumni donations, corporate sponsorship, broadcasting rights, apparel licensing, scheduling, etc.

The true source of this revenue is of course the student athletes. They are the stars of the show. And for some star players in some big-time programs, the amount of revenue generated far exceeds the value of an athletic scholarship. But money has a way of finding its way to these athletes at any rate. This is of course contrary to NCAA rules and the ideal of amateur athletics. But instead of endless investigations and sanctions, I would like to propose another way.

College football players should organize a union. In so doing thy could negotiate compensation, health and disability insurance, licensing rights, revenue sharing, and the whole nine yards with their schools. By forming a union and getting paid, the players could effectively end the plague of ethics violations by making it no crime for the money to go where it is deserved.

I'll suggest a name for the hypothetical union: The Collegiate Athletic Labor Federation (CALF).

Now what's that I hear my reader saying? College athletics should remain amateur? I happen to agree. But I do not see how college football programs are going to be convinced to de-escalate their revenue streams. Unless they do, money will continue to find its way into the pockets of the players.

The Green Bible

Branded Bibles are the epitome of American capitalism in the modern age. The phenomenon has already gone from tragedy to farce. You cannot really blame the publishers. What better partner for a cross product promotion than God?

So allow me to coin this rule: whenever a concept gets its own branded Bible, that concept is officially mainstream in the American market.

The other night I saw that there is a now a "Green" Bible. It is an edition of the NRSV (of course) which is manufactured in an environmentally friendly way. A new notation system arrives in the form of the green letter edition ("verses and passages that speak to God’s care for creation highlighted in green").

Yes, "green" as a consumer philosophy has made it big time in America.

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Category: κτλ Tags: humor

We only have what we remember (music for July 2011)

It has been several years since I began listening to Me Without You. I must admit that at first I simply did not "get" their music. However as time went by I came to really appreciate the music, the lyrics, and Aaron Weiss' idiosyncratic delivery. Now It's All Crazy, etc. is one of my very favorite records. Acquiring a taste for Me Without You has led to my interest in Listener.

[][]"Talk music" is the genre label I most often hear associated with Listener. That probably is not the best descriptor, but it will do. Dan Smith's delivery is not sung, but it is nonetheless somewhat melodic. Most of all it is passionate, and that I can appreciate. I understand that many people will think that Listener makes Bob Dylan sound like a chorus of angels. But the "talk music" medium is part of the message: raw presentation of the story unadorned by vanities. Additionally the lyrics are top-notch. I have really appreciated what I have encountered so far. Check out Wooden Heart for a start.

Through a trial membership to an online music service I have finally checked out Bon Iver. The hype over the new album was ubiquitous in my circles of the internet, so I decided I must at least listen once. I really enjoyed both albums on the first hearing. Granted I am literally still on day one with Bon Iver, but I think I'll be sticking with them.

[]: http://thelibrarybasement.com/images/2011/07/wooden_heart.jpg

Is Death Cab learning to love?

Death Cab for Cutie has a new album out called Codes and Keys. After the release of their previous full-length album Narrow Stairs I alleged that Death Cab has a deficient view of love. However after digesting the new album for a bit, it seems that their tune is changing.

The most notable thing about this album is the conspicuous absence of a trademark Death Cab song: the one where love simply evaporates and two former mates inexplicably drift apart. For example, in "The Ice is Getting Thinner" on Narrow Stairs:

We're not the same, dear, as we used to be.
The seasons have changed and so have we.
There was little we could say, and even less we could do
To stop the ice from getting thinner under me and you.

But now lyricist Benjamin Gibbard is perhaps admitting that love is a verb, as in "Some Boys" on the new album:

Some boys are singing, some boys are singing the blues
Joylessly flinging with the girls that they're bringing to their rooms
And then leave when they're through
Some boys are sleeping, some boys are sleeping alone
Cause there's no one that's keeping them warm through evening
They know that they're on their own

Some boys don't know how to love

As in, it seems that the deficiency of love consists not in the nature of love, but in the character of the lover. So maybe Death Cab is growing up. As it happens, Gibbard got married since the last album came out. There also seems to be a new spark of optimism to overwhelm the dark themes of the last album. Previously, in "No Sunlight":

They disappeared at the same speed
The idealistic things I believed
The optimist died inside of me

Whereas now, in "Your are a Tourist":

When there's a burning in your heart
An endless yearning in your heart
Build it bigger than the sun
Let it grow, let it grow

How's that for a change? The lyrics aree much more listenable in Codes and Keys than the previous effort. It is no just blind, stupid optimism, however. It is an honest encounter with the fact that the sort of pessimistic attitude of Narrow Stairs is just not livable.

So I like the new album much better. The music is outstanding as well. It is an album you can learn to love.

Goodbye Hurricane

Switchfoot's albums Learning to Breathe, The Beautiful Letdown, Nothing is Sound and Oh Gravity are like Einstein's miracle year. It is remarkable to me that a band could put out so many quality albums in a row. And when you include Switchfoot frontman Jon Foreman's solo project Fall, Winter, Spring and Summer(released just after), it is even more amazing. But then came Hello Hurricane.

The first thing I heard from the new album was on a television commercial promoting a mobile phone. Clearly there was an effort afoot to promote the mainstream commercial success of this album. Mainstream success is not always bad, but music which suits my taste rarely makes it through the filter of popular media. With the exception of The Beautiful Letdown, with its generically encouraging message, none of Switchfoot's material has passed through this filter. As it happens, The Beautiful Letdown is my least favorite album of those I listed above, and I think there is a strong correlation between the relative dislike and its commercial palatability.

With the television commercial as a prelude, I was sadly unsurprised to find that the lyrical content of the new album was bland. Previous albums had themes questioning politics, capitalism, and self-righteousness. But I did not find anything so heavy or interesting in the new album. As it happens, I have never much liked the seemingly random inclusion of "you look beautiful tonight" in song lyrics. It also feels to me like the musical style and lyrics (and vocal delivery of those lyrics) are conspicuously  inspired by U2.

Moreover, in cases where there was thematic affinity between Hello Hurricane and Foreman's solo project, I find that the presentation in the solo work is better. For example, in the celebrated genre of self-loathing, Jon Foreman sings thus:

How miserable I am
I feel like a fruit-picker who arrived here
After the harvest
There's nothing here at all
Nothing at all here that could placate my hunger
The godly people are all gone
There's not one honest soul left alive
Here on the planet
We're all murderers and thieves
Setting traps here for even our brothers

And both of our hands are equally skilled
At doing evil, equally skilled
At bribing the judges, equally skilled
At perverting justice
Both of our hands

But in Hello Hurricane we are met with

I've made a mess of me
I wanna get back the rest of me
I've made a mess of me
and I wanna spend the rest of my life alive!

There are a number of other places where the genius of the solo project songs are repackaged in inferior ways. And there seems to be a shortage of operative metaphors at Switchfoot HQ, because we see two tracks employing songs themselves: "Ooh your love is a symphony"; "Take what is left of me, make it a melody." But I think they felt that these songs would sell better.

So I guess I am trying to say they "sold out." But maybe the selling out did not work as intended. I do not know much about the music industry, but I do not think that the success of Hello Hurricane has been on a par with The Beautiful Letdown. I cannot help but wonder if as a result Switchfoot will abandon this commercially palatable style in favor of their former edginess. However, some promotional interviews from Jon Foreman made it sound like Hello Hurricane was the apogee of his artistic expression, so my hope may be in vain:

Talking about the songs leading up to the those that would become Switchfoot’s newest album “Hello Hurricane” Jon Foreman said this. “They didn’t feel like the type of the song you wanted to die singing. And for ‘Hello Hurricane’ that became the prerequisite for the song. If you’re not crying why are you singing it. If you don’t believe it with every ounce of you then there’s no point in singing it.”

I believed in the old songs.

Dichotomy

There are only two types of rhetoricians: those who present dichotomies and those who don't.

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Category: κτλ Tags: quips

Strange Negotiations

David Bazan is now David Bazan. That is, his new album Strange Negotiationsmarks the completion of his transition from Pedro the Lion. It is not just a change of moniker, but a change in ideology. Pedro the Lion was a "Christian" band, David Bazan is not.

This transition has been ongoing for some time. Bazan's lyrics were already "edgy" in the Pedro the Lion days. But since changing names Bazan's lyrical themes have become unpalatable to most of his former Christian fanbase. In spite of this, the subject matter of his previous album Curse Your Branches was theologically focused: it was his break-up with God album. As such it was still a Christian album of sorts. And Bazan was teasing his audience:

I might as well admit it / like I even have a choice / the crew have killed the captain / but they still can here is voice / a shadow on the water / a whisper in the wind / on long walks with my daughter / who is lately filled with questions about you

Therefore we Christians still had some obscure hope that maybe Bazan was some form of "Christian" artist still.

However Bazan seems determined to fully sever the link to his evangelical Christian roots with this new venture. I suspect this desire is behind some curious features of the new album. The album art includes a reflection of a woman's nude backside, and that is complemented by a Ouija board in the album booklet. The lyrics also have an occasional "god damn" for good measure. That should keep the evangelicals out.

As for the album itself, I do not have much to say. It is not unusual for Bazan's work to take some time to grow on me. However this album is not my favorite. The music is not as engaging as some other Bazan ventures, and the lyrical content is a bit soft in its impact. For example, I found the "Strange Negotiations" in the title track to not be particularly strange. Of particular note is the cut "Don't Change" sounds like it could have been left over from Pedro the Lion's The Only Reason I Feel Secure.

I'll put this record down for a while and come back to it at some point. However, I am not sure that Bazan holds the same interest for me as he once did. I'll probably remember Headphones and Fewer Moving Parts as the definitive post-Pedro projects of Bazan's. Since I've given a less-than-flattering review, I'll quote Bazan's "Selling Advertizing" from the latter:

You're so creative / with your reviews / of what other people do / how satisfying that must be for you

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