At Home He's a Tourist

He fills his head with culture/ He gives himself an ulcer.

Friday, February 14, 2003

Following up on my resolution to complain less, I will say that the rest of today turned out pretty well. While walking to the gym this afternoon the sky was so perfectly blue and the cumulus clouds so white and crisp that the vista looked eerily like a painting. After my workout I saw an enormous anvil cloud to the north, so I got in the car and took I-27 out of town. A mountain range of clouds tinged with orange from the setting sun hovered over the plains. The scene got dull after sunset so I turned back to town, picked up a pint of Shrimp Lo Mein on the way home, and watched my latest snooty French film from Netflix, The Taste of Others. It was well done and, as it turned out, very apropos for Valentine's Day. It's a story about three women whose prejudices lead them to resist the advances of the men with whom they eventually find love; the stage actress who rejects an unsophisticated businessman; the bar wench and occasional drug dealer who won't admit her feelings for an ex-cop; a make-up artist who has caught the eye of a bar owner with poor taste in clothing. I'll admit to making the same mistake once or twice. Lest I make the movie sound like an unrealistic Hollywood feel-good flick, I should also say that the unlucky get screen time too: the businessman's wife, sister, and chauffeur are all dumped by their romantic partners.

I suppose it was good to get out of the house, but the jazz combo last night was boring--middle aged guys playing old-fogey chestnuts like "My Funny Valentine," "New York, New York," "The Lady is a Tramp," "It's a Wonderful World." The one cool moment was when a couple of kids from the Tech jazz band were invited onstage for a high-RPM rendition of Monk's "Straight No Chaser."

I've noticed getting grumpier after having started this blog, and I think the problem is that it encourages me to make complaints like the above. Might it be healthier to keep my blog centered on ideas? Or are the complaints a symptom rather than a cause of malcontent?

To get away from the griping for a moment, let me share a theological argument that occurred to me and perhaps someone could scrutinize it. Could we compare certain RC practices like invoking the saints or eucharistic adoration with the practice of infant baptism? The former, like the latter, have no explicit basis in scripture, but all could be reasonably if not deductively inferred from more general biblical principles. Paedobaptism is often defended on the grounds of a comparison with circumcision, which brought (male) children into the Old Covenant, or on the doctrine of original sin. Invocation of saints is supposed to arise from the power of intercessory prayer coupled with the fact that, in some sense, Christians on earth are in the presence of "the spirits of just men made perfect." (Heb. 12:23), and eucharistic adoration is justified as a natural response to the unique presence of Jesus in the consecrated elements. In neither case are the arguments air-tight, but since a decision has to be made one way or the other despite the lack of clear Biblical injunction, it seems reasonable to accept these considerations, though they are less than compelling.

Thursday, February 13, 2003

The deadline for book requests is getting close and faculty across the campus are hastily circling random items in book catalogs and sending them my way so that all the money is spent. So I've been kept busy the past couple of days with the dull but easy work of double checking to make sure we don't already own the items and that no other faculty member has requested them. By the way, do any bibliophiles out there know if paperback books fitted with hardback library binding are as durable as books originally produced hardbound? When I have the option I choose the former, since we can save 30 or more dollars per book, but the savings may not be worth it if these books fall apart in a few years.

J. told me his wife wants to set me up with one of her coworkers. The only thing he told me about this person is that she has a "sweet personality." Yikes! Needless to say, I declined.

It is mildly annoying that a number of people here, generally older people, express shock at my being unmarried and tell me with not the least subtlety that I need to get hitched. Surprising, too, given the region's religiosity; haven't these people read St. Paul? I'm not saying that I myself have voluntarily chosen celibacy for the unfettered service of God, but making marriage normative is flat contrary to Christian teaching. Kierkegaard would get absolutely apoplectic in the Bible Belt.

Last night I read a long Cordwainer Smith story, "The Dead Lady of Clown Town." It's about a group of genetically engineered mutants who undertake a Gandhian non-violent protest to be recognized as humans. I liked it for its emotional and moral depth compared to the previous stories in the anthology, which were more like typical sci-fi in their focus on futuristic technology.

Tonight I think I'll drive down to Lubbock to check out a jazz combo composed of Texas Tech music faculty. No cover charge and the joint has a liquor license.

Wednesday, February 12, 2003

While playing aimlessly on the guitar I accidentally figured out the chords to "My Finest Hour" by The Sundays, off their first and best album. It's not a difficult song but I like the way the guitarist keeps the E and B strings open, creating a mildly hypnagogic drone and giving rise to some pleasing dissonances. Most of my favorite artists are British--the Beatles, Genesis, Led Zeppelin, Van Morrison, the Sex Pistols, the Smiths, the Sundays, PJ Harvey, Stereolab (leaving aside the two French chicks)...I wonder why. Bob Dylan and Steely Dan are about the only American artists I place in the pantheon, and the Canadian Joni Mitchell gets in on the strength of Blue and Court and Spark. It's almost closing time here at the library and I'm tired; a martini and Stereolab's Dots and Loops sounds like a good way to unwind.

Tuesday, February 11, 2003

This morning I looked up and ordered the Caldecott and Newbery winners and runners-up for our children's literature section. Apparently lots of other librarians have done the same, since whenever I looked up one title on amazon I was told that people who bought that title also purchased the others. Those awards judges have a lot of power; we librarians buy whatever they tell us to.

Monday, February 10, 2003

This morning I canceled our order with Baker and Taylor for the books that our accounting professor is eager to get, because B&T doesn't have any copies in their warehouse and the publisher claims they can get the books to us in a week. I would have ordered direct in the first place except that the books are paperback and Baker and Taylor would have bound them for us. I also put in orders for a couple of periodicals--Technical Services Quarterly for our database guy and Faith and Philosophy for the Religion department (my idea, not theirs, and the money comes from our periodicals budget, not the depleted departmental fund). Guess what I did in the afternoon? Yes, I read Choice. Are you interested in what books I have lately chosen to purchase on my own recognizance? Whether you are or not, here are some of them.
    Stanley Fish, How Milton Works and Surprised by Sin. I figured that a Baptist university could use some books by a literary critic who takes Milton seriously as a single-minded Christian and not, per the Romantics (following that fruitcake Blake), as one who secretly harbored sympathies with the devil.

    Mark Noll, America's God. It wasn't difficult to decide that an account of American Protestantism by one of the top religious historians is appropriate for our collection.

    It Has to Be Beautiful. I forgot the editor, but this collection of essays describing various famous equations of physical science got rave reviews from almost every source I consulted.

    Davies, God's Playground. The only general history of Poland our library holds was published a century ago, so this highly regarded two volume work from the 1970s will fill a gap in our collection.

I'll describe other recent purchases later.

This evening I went to the introductory session for the literacy volunteers. There were only four of us: a young woman whose husband was sent overseas with the military, two retired persons, and me. We watched a video demonstrating the teaching technique, and boy does it seem tedious, but I suppose that it is a good cause.

My mother sent me a recipe for "the perfect martini." What are mothers for? Right now I've gotten to the point where I just coat the glass with vermouth and then fill it with Tanqueray. Good stuff, but I've had gin every day for the past two weeks so I need to make a booze run to Lubbock for something different; I'm thinking Amaretto. (Which a Notre Dame friend chided me for drinking as being a "woman's drink.")

I haven't been using my Netflix privilege too much lately, because I've been occupied watching the first two seasons of the Simpsons on DVD (a birthday gift). However, I did just finish Scandal, a well-done period piece based on the true story of a 1960s English showgirl who had affairs with a defense minister and a Russian spy. Ian McKeller, younger and less hairy than in The Lord of the Rings, played the defense minister. I also spotted the lead singer of the Fine Young Cannibals as a member of the Jamaican community in London, and Bridget Fonda as the showgirl's best friend. Grade: B+ to A-

Sunday, February 09, 2003

I went to an Episcopal church in Lubbock which I liked pretty well. There were probably fifty or sixty people in attendance, the size of congregation I prefer. The building itself is in the California mission style, low and wide with red tile roof, adobe walls and a columned arcade surrounding a small courtyard. After the service the rector led a Bible study with the older adults, and I was told that a young adult class was starting soon, which I will probably attend in the future. Before I commit myself to this parish, though, I would like to visit the other Episcopal churches in Lubbock; however, this one suits me better than any church I have been to in this town. The drive will be inconvenient, but I will try to plan other activities in the city for Sunday.

Afterwards I ate lunch at a New York themed Italian restaurant called "Stella's." I've eaten out every day for the past couple of weeks. In between my eight hours of work and all my other interests, I just don't have time or energy for cooking. My mother would say that's why I need a wife, but I think one of those would be at least as expensive as dining out.

NASA now doubts (publicly at least) that foam from the external tank could have caused significant damage to the orbiter wing. Good news for my dad's company, although it occurred to me that a problem with the external tank could actually give them more work, since the problem would have to be fixed.