Saturday, December 07, 2002

The urge to merge

While sitting in a movie theater today, waiting for the picture to start, a friend and I were talking about technological convergence. (I'll blog about the actual movie later.) Back during the tech boom there was a popular idea that a single box would do everything -- Internet, word processing, audio, video, communications etc. Since the dot-com bust that hasn't been discussed as much, but to a certain extent it's still happening.

I was telling him how a while ago I interviewed the CEO of a company that makes components for DVD players, who was arguing that the DVD player would become that converged box. I think as far as entertainment goes, he's probably right. Already the DVD player is taking over the functions of the stereo; many players play CDs and mp3s nowadays. And some new players are capable of recording TV shows, thereby delivering the final death blow to VHS. (How this will compete with the TiVo format remains to be seen.) I can certainly imagine this souped-up player being the conduit for TV, movies, radio (both regular and Internet), and recorded music. Since music, video and computer files seem to be merging into one CD/DVD-type disc format, I can imagine that single disc being downloaded or recorded on in the main box and transported to walkabout players and car stereos.

As to whether this object will converge with the PC, I'm more doubtful. I've never tried them, but I suspect one reason set-top boxes never really took off is that TV sets aren't very friendly to text. People like video to be big, so you can sit a few yards back and watch, while text we like close up. And no electronic device has yet equalled the book in terms of reader-friendliness. I imagine that will get better with improved technology that will be less hard on the eyes. But my personal feeling is that text will be handled in a separate device from the audio/video box, and that device will be something like a laptop, since that's the most booklike format there is. You'd want some sort of connection between that and the DVD thingy, but I do think you want a separate screen.

Of course, who knows what future generations will want? I'm the lady who still has a record player, after all. But that's my two cents' worth.

Friday, December 06, 2002

Beauty and the beast

The Village Voice reviews a new book about female competitiveness. The Ani DiFranco line it quote ("Everyone harbors a secret hatred/for the prettiest girl in the room") reminds me of my roommate in graduate school. She was a former model, and when I mentioned this fact to female classmates, the general reaction was pity. "Oh my God," said one woman, "you must hate her."

I didn't see much point in that, and indeed, living with her made me even less inclined to envy her. Her romantic history wasn't any better than any other single woman's I knew; if anything worse, because as a teenage model she had unsurprisingly attracted a lot of predatory men. I was a bit more surprised that she had a similar problem with dating that I've always had -- she was good at being friends with men, so they tended to see her more as a buddy than as a romantic prospect. That sounds strange coming from a model, but knowing her I could see how that could happen. There was a lot of the stringy tomboy in her, aggressive and direct, and not much feminine mystique.

She broke up with her boyfriend, in fact, while I was living with her. We weren't close enough for her to talk to me about it, but obviously it was extremely painful. I remember tiptoeing around the house, trying to be inconspicuous, while I heard her sobbing in her room. Whatever advantage beauty may give to starting things, it doesn't make the difficult business of human relations any easier.

Actually, the one area where resentment did sometimes spring up on my part wasn't over beauty but money. She had been modeling since she was 12 or something, and had made ridiculous amounts of money at a young age. Life as a medical student was a serious downgrade that she complained about rather a lot, and I was not inclined to feel sorry for her since she was still living better than I had for about the previous five years. But I realized that the money wasn't all good for her either, because here she was in her late twenties and she would probably never have that kind of income again. Instead of moving upward like most of us, she was heading down.

She had gotten interested in medicine from volunteering in some sort of emergency service. She discovered not only that she liked the adrenaline rush of all the running around (not surprising, since her favorite hobby was skydiving) but that it brought her spiritual fulfillment that she had never experienced in the modeling world. She was not happy with med school, though, and had serious doubts about whether she would practice medicine. I thought that, in terms of the job, she would probably have been happiest as an EMT, charging into danger zones and saving lives. But she didn't know how to live on an EMT's salary. And so whatever I could have envied her for, it tended to be complicated by reality. Like most things.

Thursday, December 05, 2002

Camassia downgrades!

After coming close to this a few times before, I've finally decided to cancel my cable TV service. This is partly for financial reasons: in the last few months my rent was raised and my ethical eating kick has jacked up my grocery bill, while my employer has frozen our salaries for more than a year. And cable in my neighborhood is costly: about $50 a month, and that's not even digital.

My TV-watching habits have waxed and waned over the years, but lately they've definitely waned. The blogosphere is part of the reason for this, not so much because of the time spent blogging (as you can see, I'm not the most prolific blogger out there) as the fact that I'm reading more both to find things to blog about and because of books mentioned by other bloggers. (A few days ago when Telford brought up another book he wanted me to read, I drew the line: I'm already reading three books because of him, I'm not taking any more till I'm finished!) Also, going to church has given me more to do and think about. So TV seems a lot less interesting compared to the other stuff that's going on. I'm going to miss a few things, but it's not worth the money to me any more.

The way cable TV works is so...20th century. This business of having great blocks of channels that you pay for en masse, some of which you're never going to watch, seems to go against the general tech trend of personalization and choice. The competition, what with satellite and digital, seems to be pushing things even farther in that direction -- bigger and bigger packages with more and more channels at ever-higher prices. They may cost less per channel, but past a certain point, how much TV are you going to watch?

Speaking of tech trends, I'm keeping my cable modem. Now there's something that's worth the money.
Muscular Christianity

The woman on the cross-trainer next to me at the gym today was reading the Book of Mormon while she worked out. Gotta love L.A...

Nice article about modern fatherhood in First Things. It makes a good point about working mothers:
In the premodern world of the traditional family, life was predominantly agricultural. While the mother cared for the young children and supervised the chores of her older daughters in the home, the father worked in the fields along with his older sons, usually within walking distance of the front door. The nuclear family would come together for meals and social gatherings, frequently joined by members of the extended family who, when they did not reside under the same roof, usually lived nearby.

For most of us, things are very different today. For all the hype about “telecommuting” in the 1990s, the fact remains that the overwhelming majority of people travel outside the home to work—a journey often involving a substantial real-world commute. Moreover, most Americans now live in suburbs, far away from extended family members. Ever since the 1950s, a woman choosing the life of the stay-at-home mom has faced the prospect of isolation far more profound than would have been typical in earlier times. After her husband walks out the door in the morning, she is usually left alone with only her child for company. Such a life is hardly traditional; nor is it, for many women, appealing. And understandably so.

For all the talk about the newness of women working outside the home, it's almost as new to have men working outside the home, at least in large numbers. I don't envy the lot of the premodern woman, but it does seem like the industrial age put more distance between husbands and wives than ever before. It's not so surprising that some women wanted to go out where the men are, and that some even came to see men as an alien tribe whose interests were opposed to theirs.

Tuesday, December 03, 2002

The ghost in you

By email, Telford also answered my question about the difference between an immortal soul and an eternal soul:
Oh, and the immortal soul of Origen (like the Highlander) can't be
destroyed. It is preexistent and not necessarily related in any
important way to the body. The eternal soul of Augustine and much other
Christian tradition is a creation whose end is physical embodiment and
whose eternity depends on God's grace. Immortal souls, no. Eternal
souls, maybe. I myself tend towards holism: my 'soul' is linguistic
shorthand for my 'self', which seems to be entirely material. When I
die, I'm nowhere but in the casket until resurrection day. Anabaptists
called that 'soul-sleep'. It solves a lot of metaphysical problems (but
not all).

I encountered that idea only recently, and it makes a lot more sense of Judgment Day than the usual version. If everybody's assigned to heaven, hell, purgatory or whatever upon death, what's the point of doing it all over again? But it does put a different cast on "resurrection." Since the bodies of most people who've ever lived have dissolved into the biosphere, the dead wouldn't be so much raised as re-created. They would be brought back into existence from nonexistence. Somehow this reminds me of the Star Trek episode where Scotty gets rematerialized 80 years after he disappeared in a transporter accident. But I digress...

Speaking of the body/soul question, Minute Particulars wrote about it again today. (This is what I love about the blogger geeks I hang out with; you want an analysis of the Aristotelian dualism and transmigration of souls in a comic strip, MP is your man.) I assume that as a Catholic he follows the eternal-soul model, which is still a bit murky to me. Like Telford he opposes body-soul dualism, but in this post he refers to "the soul separated from the body and then subsequently informing a glorified body." I gather this is the Catholic interpretation of St. Paul's lines: "What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And what you sow is not the body that is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body...So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable." (I've moved on in my NT reading to the letters of St. Paul; more blogging on that later.)

Despite being an anti-dualist, MP believes there is a soul that can be transferred from one body to another. Telford, I assume, would regard the creation of a different body as creating a different person, but one that is related to the former person as a plant is to its seed. What this means exactly I don't know, and what this means for the damned I really don't know (these seems to me to lead logically to annihilationism), but I haven't got to Revelation yet, so I'll hold off.
Said the spider to the fly

Telford has part one of his response to my weird dream post. Obviously I have to wait for part two before I can respond, because he hasn't really addressed the core question yet. But I do want to point out that, at least among the scientists I've read, the emphasis on savagery isn't as monolithic as he makes it sound. There's debate about this between scientists as well as between scientists and theologians. In fact, there's always been a bit of Rousseauian romanticism among zoologists, particularly studiers of the great apes.

That's why I was careful to avoid using language like "struggle for survival," or speculating overmuch about the past. You can get carried away with that sort of thing. But one thing that was striking about the spider dream was that it was so terrifying and yet it depicted something so ordinary. It's the sort of thing you can see happen in your own house. So why could I not bear to look?


When I was at church yesterday we were told to do something we'd done only once before when I was there: hold hands in prayer. Holding hands with strangers is a little odd, especially if you're not actually praying. But I think one of the things that attracted me to Pentecostalism was that, compared to more mainline denominations, it doesn't seem to be afraid of touch.

Last week I blogged about the sexual vibe I was feeling during baptism and communion, but I think touch is just as important when it isn't sexual. Our culture inherited from its Northern European forbears an aversion to touching; Americans travelling to places like southern Europe, the Middle East or Latin America tend to notice a lot more casual contact. We Anglos tend to see nearly all touching as sexually charged, but I think part of being a mammal is needing touch for its own sake. It's a shame we deprive ourselves.

In the Bible, descriptions of people's actions tend to be kept to a bare minimum, but you get hints this is a pretty high-touch culture. Grown men embrace, kiss, and cry on each others' shoulders. At the Last Supper one of the disciples is "leaning on Jesus' bosom." (Or at least, that's what the King James Version says; now that I look it up, the NRSV just says he was "reclining next to Jesus," so infer what you will.) Either way, Jesus spends a lot of time touching people, so clearly the habit of not touching people in church is a later development. It's nice that the Pentecostals brought it back. I've heard that in charismatic sects where people fall over from the Spirit and that sort of thing, there are designated "catchers" to make sure they don't get hurt. The CA doesn't do stuff like that, but you could also see the importance of touch in the baptisms I mentioned before. If you're being totally immersed, you need someone -- in this case, two people -- to hold you. Kind of like life.

Monday, December 02, 2002

Google me this

A popular blog pasttime is looking at your tracking software to see what Google phrases people might have typed in that turned up your site. Not surprisingly, this post attracted a few deves (I won't repeat what they wrote, lest I attract more deves!). But today somebody hit on me in search of "Augustine's philosophical views on cheating." I wonder if that was one of Telford's students...?
The nine billion names

Interesting column in the Boston Globe about the formation of Hinduism from a dizzying variety of local cults into a relatively coherent religion. The author says British scholars had a lot to do with it:
These scholars organized their impressions of Indian religion according to what they were familiar with at home: the monotheistic nature of Christianity and its exclusive claims to truth. When confronted by diverse Indian religions, they tended to see similarities among them. They assumed that different religious practices could only exist within a single overarching tradition.

They also had a strong literary bias. They thought that since Christianity had canonical texts, Indian tradition must have the same. Their local intermediaries tended to be Brahmans, who alone knew the languages needed to study such ancient texts as the Vedas and the Bhagavad-Gita. Together, the British scholars and their Brahman interpreters came up with a canon of sorts, mostly Brahmanical literature and ideology, which they began to identify with a single Hindu religion.

There seems to be a trend lately of articles discovering the Western (mis)interpretations of Eastern religions: I blogged a while ago about this in regard to Buddhism, and the Atlantic discussed similar theories about Confucianism a few years back. All this emphasizes the point that, from the standpoint of general religious practice in world history, Christianity is weird. Obviously Judaism and Islam bear a family resemblance, and perhaps it was contact with these that led Europeans to think that all "advanced" religions follow the model. But if you go afield of the Judaic faiths, things get radically different.

The columnist makes an interesting comparison when he says India when the British came was "not unlike the pagan chaos a Christian from the eastern provinces of the Roman empire might have encountered in the West just before Constantine's conversion." Hinduism probably is a lot like Europe would have been had Christianity not taken hold. Hindus tend to deal with the multifarious gods by regarding them as incarnations of higher gods, who are in turn incarnations of the Brahman, who incarnates everything. The Romans started similarly accommadating different gods by equating other peoples' gods with their own -- not only the Greek gods (Jupiter/Zeus, Juno/Hera, Venus/Aphrodite etc.) but all the ones they encountered. "First and foremost, Mercury is regarded as the inventor of all the useful arts, the protector of routes and travellers," Julius Caesar wrote about the Gallic pantheon. "After Mercury, they worship Apollo, Jupiter, Mars and Minerva. They think of these gods in roughly the same way as other peoples." Caesar didn't bother writing what the Celts actually called their gods -- he knew who they were.

The Romans recognized what Carl Jung figured out 2,000 years later: there are certain common characters and stories that turn up in folklore around the world. But in the European case they might have actually been related. One of the oldest and most mysterious Germanic gods is called Tiw (or Tiuz or Ziu, depending on the source), known to us mainly for giving his name to Tuesday. Scholars have noticed the resemblance of the name to other primary Indo-European gods such as Zeus and the Sanskrit Dyaush. It also may be the root of the generic Latin word for god, deus, and its feminine form, diana. Kind of funny to think all the Latin masses are invoking the name of a pagan god, isn't it?

Anyway, if some foreign power had showed up and seen all this, they could conceivably have taken the various equivalent gods and the works of Greek philosophy and the epics of Virgil and Homer and the Eddas and whatnot and welded it into some sort of coherent worldview. Heck, it might have happened by itself, given time. But a strange thing happened along the way...

Sunday, December 01, 2002

Save As...

Telford is impressed that I put up with his familial distractions when we visited today. I have to say, it doesn't bother me because I feel like I'm the intruder.

I've actually never been friends before with someone who had kids. Single people and family people tend to run in different circles. I suppose this is one of the barriers that the Internet overcomes. So I was never quite sure how to deal with the family, but they have been awfully good at dealing with me. Telford's wife has been very cool about everything, and the kids basically ignore me, which is OK because I ignore them back.

I've wondered, actually, what his children think of me, if they think of me at all. When I was a child, my parents' friends were mostly other parents, as you might expect. There was no one like me hanging around. I don't know if the little Worklings know why I periodically come along and peel their father away from them, or if they figure it's just one of those inexplicable adult things. When you're a kid there are an awful lot of those, aren't there?

Anyway, I was never very good at "parallel processing" to begin with. I like to do one thing at a time. This is rather a handicap for a reporter, but if I'm on something that's important to me I stick with it and ignore distractions. So I'm not about to go wandering off to other apps. Plus I think I got used to the interrupted style of talking from doing it with my mother. For many years I've been having long philosophical conversations with her too, but like most mothers she's got too many things going on at once. So I've learned the art of gently corralling the train of the discussion ("So anyway, you were saying that..."). That's the way it is when you talk to parents, even your own.