Wednesday, January 31, 2007


I was in mourning the other day because another stem of my lily plant died here at work. There had been three of them in this one pot; they were a birthday present, and I liked them. But two died and now I've just got the one stem left, and it was looking rather unhealthy.

But then I got to looking at it, and noticed that one stem that had been cut off had, in a most minor-prophet-like way, begun to grow back. I inspected the other. It's starting to grow back. Happiness! My office-plants might survive the winter after all. :-)

I think when spring comes, I'll get pots of herbs--lavender and rosemary and thyme.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The linden

Once upon a time, there were a Russian boy and a girl who fell in love, but lived on opposite sides of the river and so could not marry. They stood on the banks and pined like trees until they did turn into trees--though into lindens, not pines. There they grew until their branches reached one another. But the river undermined their roots, and both fell in and were drowned.

In the Dragostea din tei song, too, the middle verse goes, "Chipul tau si dragostea din tei, Mi-amintesc de ochii tai," which apparently can be translated to "Your face and the love from the linden trees, and I remember your eyes."

I mention these rather obscure legends because, apparently, the linden is associated in eastern Europe with romantic love. This came up because there's a linden in the Tempest, and so I was asking the good doctor about it. I'll keep an eye out, but if anyone can see a glimpse of that particular linden doing anything at all symbolic of romance, I'd love it if you'd explain it to me.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Quote of the day

"I disbelieve, and therefore strongly resent, the assertion that I or anybody else could write better or more easily with a computer than with a pencil. I do not see why I should not be as scientific about this as the next fellow: when somebody has used a computer to write work that is demonstrably better than Dante's, and when this better is demonstrably attributable to the use of a computer, then I will speak of the computer with a more respectful tone of voice, though I still will not buy one."

--Wendell Berry, "Why I am Not Going to Buy a Computer," 1987

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Phenomenology the tragic hero

I finally found a quote that made sense of phenomenology. It was on quite a good blog, probably worth visiting if you're remotely interested, and full of short, digestible chunks.

Now, any tragic hero must have both admirable qualities and a fatal flaw; I love this quote because it brings out both for phenomenology. It is from Paolo Vaorli in 1975; it specifically discusses Husserlian ethics, but I think it applies more broadly to phenomenological epistemology as a whole.
…to derive ethics not from a metaphysical structure systematized in advance and therefore a priori, but from an authentically verified description of the phenomena of conscience. In a word, it is necessary to begin building the moral edifice from solid ground rather than from the roof. In this perspective the phenomenological method proves very useful as an introduction to a morality existentially lived and at the same time removed from a relativistic and historicist situationism [some italics from original removed].
You’ve got to admire this longing, this principle, that you start with what is firm. Husserl has got a solid grip on the means of gaining all knowledge: you go from what you know to what you don’t know. That’s why metaphors are such a powerful tool of communication, used everywhere from Scripture to naming technology.

But we find phenomenology’s fatal flaw in the ground it chooses for its moral foundation: "an authentically verified description of the phenomena of conscience." No human can really know which phenomena of consciousness are authentic and sufficiently verified. Between nonsense, finitude, errors, and lies, a mortal mind is not going to know and discern enough to build a moral edifice. The only certain foundation is God, who is the beginning of wisdom and knowledge, and in His revelation through His Son, the Bible, and the created world.

I can easily imagine a phenomenology that is based on God. But it would take a dramatic re-aligning of the universe, for some, rather like changing from geocentrism to heliocentrism. Phenomenology likes facts and logical thought about them; splendid. This is good for a protagonist. God likes facts and thought too. It’s just, He’s the main fact, and phenomenology is not at liberty to ignore Him. When human consciousness disagrees with revelation, consciousness is going to have to change. Until phenomenology becomes humble enough to acknowledge God, he will be a tragic character, and his pride will destroy him. And this will inspire fear and pity in the audience.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Things that occur to me as I'm typing...

'Pologies for the disunified blog post. I'm tired. Worked all day, you see.

In a fit of insanity last Sunday, I volunteered to go on the youth ski trip--if they needed another female chaperone. I learned this afternoon they do need another; did I still want to come? Yes, I did. Now, I don't ski. I've gone once. I enjoyed it, actually, but that one time was at Taos, several years ago when I was in the youth group. They left me on the bunny hill all morning, and in the afternoon took me up the mountain. Now, when you're up the mountain, you have to come down. And I did. But the next morning, I was so sore I could barely bend over to help in the nursery. But I'm going skiing here in a couple of weeks. It'll be an adventure.

Our furnace died and the house is cold. No particular idea when the next one will arrive and get cranking. Right now we huddle in the library, which has an independent heater. It's family bonding time.

The play... we had a good rehearsal Monday night. I think we learned a lot--what works, and some things that need changing. The cast situation currently is giving God another chance to show Himself working, let's put it that way. :-) I continue to say that if this play turns out, it'll be because He wanted it to. I certainly have no idea what's going to happen. But this is cool.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Another quote of the day

"I got what I thought was kind of a nasty letter from the history club. They wanted me to get a lifetime subscription. I wrote back and told them at 98, I'd seen more history than I'd have time to read about!"

Quote of the day

"Good news. No cavities today." Elderly lady
"That's great. We'll get you a piece of candy to celebrate." Her elderly husband

Saturday, January 20, 2007

The alphabet is no respecter of persons

Today I went to a welcome-to-the-women's-ministry tea, got most of a cast (the Lord be praised), and helped (i.e. mostly watched) my sister clean out the library.

In honor of this most bibliographic experience, I give some excerpts from my bookshelves—which are not the ones that got cleaned today. I'm talking about the ones in my room, including the big one I painted black last summer while listening to Macbeth: the Opera. I've got my books loosely categorized into Fiction/Literature (on the black shelf) and Nonfiction (on the rest of the shelves, including the one that held my dishes at school). It's kind of an odd distinction, and certainly doesn't correspond to False and True! But anyway, within these sections, I've got my books alphabetized by author. This leads to some interesting juxtapositions.

Through the Gates of Splendor by Elisabeth Elliot
Elements of Geometry by Euclid
Joshua Generation by Dr. Farris

Don't Waste Your Life by Piper
Communism by Pipes

Life, the Universe, and Everything by Adams
The Oresteian Trilogy by Aeschylus
The Book of Three by Alexander

The Consolation of Philosophy by Boethius
What Color is Your Parachute? by Bolles
The Rhetoric of Fiction by Booth

Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Truss
Under the Mercy by Vanauken
Worlds in Collision by Velikovsky

A Christian Manifesto by Schaeffer
The Hundred Years War by Siward

On Law, Morality, and Politics by Aquinas
Nicomachean Ethics by Aristotle
God, Are You There? by Kay Arthur
Confessions by Augustine

Miss Bianca in the Salt Mines by Sharp
Arms and the Man by Shaw
The Faerie Queene by Spenser


It has come to my attention that my previous post was insulting to lawyers in a way I hadn't intended. By "lawyerish" I meant "good at finding loopholes"--which is a neutral talent, and they'd better be good at reading the letter of the law if they're going to be good as lawyers. I was using "lawyerish" in connection with moneygrubbing in that instance, but hadn't meant to link them necessarily. After all, the lawyers I am personally acquainted with do have this lawyerish skill and they are not moneygrubbing. :-)

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

The conference

Right. I'm now blogging about the conference on periodontal disease. This is a rather nasty disease where, essentially, your gums (perio, around, dontia, teeth) get eaten away by bacteria until your teeth fall out. Please note: this is a very dumbed-down-for-literary-types explanation. All of you who actually understand the science will no doubt find me full of over-generalizations and worse. I can only say: be kind. :-)

I kept thinking of Ben through the whole conference because they emphasized so the connectedness of the human being. There's research, going back a good hundred years, about how the state of your mouth affects the rest of you. (They didn't say much about the spirit.)

Right now the big research is connecting gum disease with other inflammatory diseases: heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimers. Because, of course, when you've got these festering sores in your mouth just leaking bacteria in and out, it does bad things to your immune system. The more inflammation you've got in one part of you, the less your immune system will be able to fight inflammation in other parts of you. Therefore, if you're teetering on the edge of diabetes, the added bacterial in your immune system you get with perio will probably be enough to send you over the edge into full diabetes. I have in my notes an illustration of a little bacterial challenge sending a patient over the edge. They're carrying spears.

It was astounding to me how right they were about that central premise, and how wrong they managed to be about everything else, including convincing us of it. I spent quite a while analyzing the rhetoric. Their chief argument for making sure we practicing dentists properly diagnosed and treated perio was--increased profits. Becca and I sort of cocked our heads and went, "what about patient care???" And after that, to do them justice, we noticed they did mention the best interests of the patient a couple times.

A second rhetorical approach was mostly from one speaker. She went heavy on the inspirational-speak, words like "forward-thinking" and "go to the next level" and "empower." My cliche-detectors went nuts. She didn't even think about her metaphors. She just threw them all out in a lump.

She talked about a paradigm shift from cause-and-effect, disease-and-vaccination, to a "web of causation." The whole body-as-an-intricate-unit thing made sense to me, as long as we don't eliminate cause and effect. As a result (we learned) it's time to move away from mechanical "fill and drill" dentistry to critical thinking, especially with dentists acquring a firm background in science. I can approve of that, though it seems that filling and drilling will continue to be required as long as teeth rot. But using one's mind when one works on teeth is a very good plan, and using one's mind in a logical and evidence-based manner is better still. The thought that dentists might not be thinking is terrifying and I completely believe it, judging by some patients we get from other people...

At one point, she told us to do the perio thing because it was where the future was going. That's the sort of comment to make me stubbornly medieval. How does she know where the future is going? And who says it's going somewhere better than the present? Mere age doesn't make a thing better, but neither does mere newness. Both are chronological snobbery.

The second guy went deeply into the scientific and biological components of perio disease, and I'm afraid he lost me. He was a good old boy from Kansas who's been teaching for getting on for fifty years, and he had a habit of saying what he thought and consigning everything else to the nether regions.

He talked about the probability of a particular person getting perio disease. You've got to have the genetic predisposition and the presence of red-complex anaerobic bacteria--which means areas of your mouth that haven't been exposed to oxygen, i.e. brushed, in way too long.

The third guy mostly talked about the economics of periodontal disease. It felt money-grubbing to me--lawyer-ish, you know, finding every loophole to get as much money as possible. Then it occurred to me that the idea, really, can come down to having just weights and measures. You charge people for what you actually do for them. And that I can do perfectly happily.

The fourth lady spoke a lot about the interpersonal issues that can come up in an office. I found it very great cause to be grateful for my own pleasant and non-dysfunctional office. The economic guy told us--in the name of proper practice management--to keep close tabs on hygienist and doctor income per month. The fourth lady asked us to all get along. Apparently, in most offices, doctors, hygienists, assistants, and front office staff have a me-against-them attitude and stab everyone else in the back. But it seems to me, if you want to cause division and strife, just start making a fuss about who makes more money. Honestly!

So. I learned a great deal about periodontal disease, and even more about the contemporary dental mindset. All in all, a very worthy weekend.

Perspectives on justice

“A man has stolen one hundred dollars: when caught, he will be fined one hundred dollars. Such is the famous “eye for an eye” principle in the Old Testament. Brought up in Christian schools, I was always told the principle was one of pure revenge. That is probably just a slander on Judaism, but I'll give my teachers the benefit of the doubt, and assume they may have dimly sensed there was something dubious about justice itself.

To be forever matching offenses with equivalent punishments is no good way to spend one's time, much less is it a good way for God to spend eternity. A truly superior being would utter the word Forgiveness with an immense sigh, not only of love, but of relief, so much effort would he be saving himself at the adding machine.

...What, after, all, are plays about? Action and reaction. A slaps B's face, and B slaps A's face back.”

Eric Bentley, The Life of the Drama (1964), 323-324

“Lawrence! Why are you slapping that monkey? Who's evolved? Who's evolved?”

Teddy Roosevelt, Night at the Museum (2007)

“12. Whether it is fitting for God to forgive a sin out of mercy alone, without any restitution of what is owed to Him

Anselm. Let us now return to the main argument and see whether it is fitting for God to forgive a sin out of mercy alone, without any restitution of the honour taken away from him.

Boso. I do not see why this should not be fitting.

A. To forgive a sin in this way is nothing other than to refrain from inflicting punishment. And if no satisfaction is given, the way to regulate sin correctly is none other than to punish it. If, therefore, it is not punished, it is forgiven without its having been regulated.

B. What you say is logical. [Note: in a previous section, Anselm and Boso have agreed that they shall, for the purpose of this discussion, reject nothing logically proven and accept nothing illogical or unproven.]

A. But it is not fitting for God to allow anything in his kingdom to slip by unregulated.

B. I am in fear of sinning, if I want to disagree.

A. Therefore, it is not fitting for God to forgive a sin without punishment.

B. That follows.

A. There is another thing which also follows, if a sin is forgiven without punishment: that the position of sinner and non-sinner before God will be similar—and this does not befit God.

B. I cannot deny it.

A. Consider this too. Everyone knows that the righteousness of mankind is subject to a law whereby it is rewarded by God with a recompense proportional to its magnitude.

B. This is our belief.

A. If, however, sin is neither paid for nor punished, it is subject to no law.

B. I cannot interpret the matter in any other way.

A. Therefore, sinfulness is in a position of greater freedom, if it forgiven through mercy alone, than righteousness—and this seems extremely unfitting. And the incongruity extends even further—it makes sinfulness resemble God. For, just as God is subject to no law, the same is the case with sinfulness.”

St. Anselm, Cur Deus Homo (~1093)

Quote of the day

"If I was doing any better, I'd be twins."

New favorite website

Monday, January 15, 2007

Fortune cookie fortune of the day

If your desires are not extravagant, they will be granted.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Phone adventures

So I just got back this evening from a dental conference. I found it most informative and interesting, and fully intend to blog about it--maybe tomorrow. If I don't, ask me, because it's worth talking about. The quick summary is that what happens in your mouth affects the rest of your body.

But for this post, I'm going to talk about our hotel. We stayed just cati-corner from the convention center, at a splendid high-rise Hyatt. My room faced west on the thirteenth floor, which sounds very ominous. It had four one-cup-size packages of coffee to brew, four styrofoam cups, and three cream-and-sugar packages to put in the coffee. It had two glass glasses and a giant bottle of Fiji water labeled $5. The pool was under repairs. The lobby had several stores and a Starbucks in it. The room phone had the Starbucks on the quick-dial, which entertained me.

On the way over to the convention center, the first time we walked there, I told the story about the Life conference I'd attended in 2001. We stayed in these ancient and non-air-conditioned dorms at Ohio State, and it was hot as all-get-out, and one night some prankster got hold of the phone numbers for our whole floor and methodically called every room around two am. I'd slept pretty much through it, but my roommate hadn't been very happy. Mrs. M., the good doctor's wife, was pretty sure nobody would prank call us at the Hyatt. If so, she'd certainly have something to say about it.

I thought no more about it. We had a long and deeply scientific day, at which I learned the truth of the old Campus Crusade adage, "The mind can only absorb what the seat can endure." Becca and I crashed early that night, in our thirteenth-floor room facing west with a lovely view of the sunset over the ugly white building next door; we'd been up since well before the crack of dawn, and dinner was excellent and large. She read her dental textbook and I read about the Battle at Pelennor Fields, and about 9:00 we turned out the lights.

At 9:26 the phone rang. I was still just awake enough to realize it was the room phone and to want to do something about it. I whacked and fumbled around the wall, trying to find the switch for the bedside light, and never did get it. About three rings in, Becca got her light on, and I picked up the phone. I didn't even drop it, which is better than I do mid-afternoon sometimes.

"Yes, is this Ms. M--?"
::I deduced from this that they thought they'd called the good doctor's room and figured I was his wife. Pure habit kicked in.:: "I'm afraid she's not available. May I take a message?"
"I just wanted to make sure you found the rooms acceptable."
::Ah. Of course. The rooms. The rooms?:: "I believe we were all happy with our rooms, thank you."
"Is there anything we can do for you?"
"Just...let us get back to sleep."
"Certainly. I'm sorry to disturb you and hope you have a pleasant stay."
"Thank you. Good night."

Becca and I looked at each other. Our first impulse was to call the front desk and make sure it was really them calling. In mysteries, of course, odd calls are usually the bad guy trying to lure the heroines somewhere. But the caller didn't try to lure us anywhere and our thirteenth-floor room facing west was locked.

Our next impulse was the call the good doctor. They were probably asleep, ha! But we decided not to call. They were probably asleep.

Our third impulse was to turn off the light and go back to sleep, which we did.

The next morning we told them our adventure. Mrs. M-- had something to say to the front desk about discourteous courtesy calls at that time of night. The front desk guy didn't know about the specific call, but could tell us they did make such calls up until ten pm, and would certainly take into account the feedback that that was rather too late.

So we probably didn't have a bad guy calling us in the night. But I still get a kick out of taking a secretarial call up to and beyond bedtime. :-)

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Quote of the day

"I've got a quick computer question for you." Mrs. M
"I don't do quick computer questions. I only get called on slow computers." Our tech miracle worker

Wednesday, January 10, 2007


I love my great-aunt's shoes...they're all in style again. :-)

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Quote of the day

"I've got to tell you, [her] bitewings looked like a war zone. There were craters everywhere." --the good doctor
"You've got to take care of that! You'll lose all your teeth! It's not attractive to take your teeth out and put them by your bed at night." the mom
"It's a real guy magnet..." the good doctor

Monday, January 08, 2007


Standing at the bottom of a snowy hill, looking up through pines toward the sun, is a high-contrast experience.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Back to work (and liking it)

The dentist's office is back in full swing, and here I am in the midst of it: plants in the window, confirming appointments, fights with insurance, classical music, many languages, and all.

Some people have an underdeveloped sense of houseplant. I've got a lily and a small palm, and this woman came in and made jokes about growing our own pot. I sort of looked at her, bemused.

I would just like to reaffirm my position, that if you or your mother tell me you'll be at an appointment (which you made in the first place), I'm going to believe you, and it's rather discourteous to stand us up.

Insurance...ah, the American insurance companies. I've been going back and forth with one of them over a particular claim for a couple months now. They're currently trying to tell me they can't pay because an ID number is missing. This is errant nonsense because they know perfectly well who we're talking about; after all, we've been talking about this patient for a couple months. But it's all part of the dance of wits. "And now, it has come down to you, and it has come down to me." They think if they send it back enough times, I'll give up. But now they've gotten me stubborn. Little do they know what they've gotten themselves into.

And our newest addition to the office, a dental student, is fluent in Hindi.

I'm liking my job.

Monday, January 01, 2007

A year begins

So. 2007 is here, in all its white and chill glory. Somehow, I can't come up with a whole lot to say about it.

I read Job 3 this morning, and Job is busy cursing the day of his birth. I can't quite figure it out. He speaks as though if he could keep the day from taking its place in the calendar, as if his curse could actually do something. He's got to have a different view of time. I mean, usually we think of a day being done and then it's--well, entered in the calendar, forever. You may object to your own birth, but there's not a lot to do about it; the day exists, or is in a state of having existed, depending on your metaphysics, and that's that.

Anyhow, despite snow and time--a great deal of both--we safely got home from Grandma's, and boy are we grateful for it.

I wonder what this year brings?