Monthly Archives: February 2012

Please Disregard

On my last blog, I promised to not subject my readers to further electronic music. Unfortunately, it seems to be a habit I cannot fully break.

Generally I find Sébastien Tellier to be hit or miss, but his album Sexuality is simply amazing. When I looked into it, I found out why. It was produced by Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo, whose fingerprints are all over the album. (For those of you not in the know, and still reading this, Guy-Manuel is half of Daft Punk and the much lesser known Le Knight Club.)

My apologies.


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I don’t know why I keep writing about David Foster Wallace. He isn’t my favorite author, though I do enjoy his writing. Oddly, I prefer The Broom of the System to Infinite Jest, largely because it is an easier read by far. Infinite Jest has its moments of pure genius and, frankly, beauty, but also has lengthy stretches that inspire pure boredom. Generally I prefer a page turner to a novel that involves a great deal of “work.”

In any case, here are a couple articles on Wallace, as today would have been his 50th birthday.


Filed under Literature

Sunday Pipe

It was a Sunday morning, after Liturgy, down by the beach. It had been over a year since I had stepped foot into a decent tobacco shop. The local shop owner refused to stock quality pipe tobaccos, saying they wouldn’t sell, likely based upon long outdated experience, before popular pipe smoking took an artisanal turn, but perhaps he was correct. Online orders are not taxed by the great nanny state of California, so I took it as no great loss, patronizing the local for lesser products – pipe cleaners, humidifier disks and occasional tins of German cigarillos. When they shut down I shed no tears.

Yet this shop, of the same franchise, carries some of the good stuff. I made my way in, with baby in tow, the smell of burnt burley in the air, with some sort of topping – perhaps some nut with a hint of vanilla – a sort of grandfatherly smell. Cozy and homey. It was good to know someone was disregarding the law in such a pleasant manner.

Straight to the back, scanning the tins, I found what I was looking for, the shop’s raison d’être, Samuel Gawith’s Full Virginia Flake. Gawith’s offerings have been hard to come by, ever since they lost a shipment due to faulty vacuum seals a couple of years ago. They have never been able to overcome their backlog of demand, with FVF being exceptionally so, being prized for expertly blended virginias grown in regions of the old empire, largely Uganda. The quality really is unparallelled.

The Lakeland tobaccos of Samuel Gawith, and Gawith and Hoggarth, produce some of the last real English tobaccos. Unfortunately, English pipes and tobaccos are slowly becoming a thing of the past. It is one of those American Anglophile oddities to associate pipes with the English – pipe smoking is now more of a continental thing, where it remains at all. I’ll take a good Danish or Italian pipe over a Dunhill or even a Peterson, despite my Celtic pride – but then both now have their tobaccos produced by the Danes.

One of the interesting aspects of English tobacco tradition is how it was inadvertently created by market regulations. Tobacco growing was outlawed in the Isles proper, to ensure the Crown was well supplied with tobacco tariffs. Then casing and mixing tobaccos with any weight of flavorings was prohibited, to ensure as much sold weight as possible was tariffed tobacco. Thus, we have tobaccos from the world over, blended expertly for unadulterated or perfumed tobacco pleasure. In your face Libertarians.

The Danes are doing some interesting things in pipe making these days, playing with hand-carved shapes, taking advantage of the natural grain. On my way out, a pipe caught my eye. The front and back of the bowl rusticated, the sides and top squared off, glass smooth, stained a beautiful mahogany, bamboo insert in the stem. The clerk handed me the piece. It had been carved out of a large block, but was deceptively light. The briar had been well cured. All this was reflected in the price, to my inevitable dismay. At this point my wife arrived with rest of the clan. Seeing what I held, she asked how much, I replied, she rolled her eyes with a “Let’s go.”

I think pipe smoking is a very Christian practice. It is an art. It is contemplative. It takes time out of a world on the go. It is surprisingly cheap.


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Issus de L’immigration

If you listen to far-right politicians, you’ll think this immigrant wave means, inevitably, an onslaught of Islamic puritanism that will challenge European ways and force every woman to dress like a Taliban bride. But then you realize that many of the men and women jostling around you on the Marseille sand are from African and Arab backgrounds, and that the young women are wearing bikinis, not burkas.

Marseille’s Melting Pot

An interesting article on how geography and urban planning may have influenced the relatively greater stability of the immigrant community in Marseille.  It touches a bit on the over blown nature of the Right’s narrative of the  islamisification of Europe. I would have liked it if they had gone more into the political and social dynamics due to this also being the region most heavily populated by the Pieds-Noirs; which contributed greatly to  the south switching from being a bastion of Leftism to the domain of the National Front.   

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St. Winifred

Little Gwenny’s icon. A gift from her godparents.

I love the well scene.


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I asked Sahlberg how it was possible to hold teachers or schools accountable when there were no standardized tests. He replied that Finnish educators speak not of accountability, but of responsibility. He said, “Our teachers are very responsible; they are professionals.” When asked what happens to incompetent teachers, Sahlberg insisted that they would never be appointed; once qualified teachers are appointed, it is very difficult to remove them. When asked how Finnish teachers would react if they were told they would be judged by their students’ test scores, he replied, “They would walk out and they wouldn’t return until the authorities stopped this crazy idea.”

Schools We Can Envy

When we first moved into the city, we were excited at the prospect of what we thought would be good public schools, given that our elementary school covers one of the wealthiest local neighborhoods. My first warning that these hopes were in vain came some years ago, when one of my bosses was telling me he pulled his children from public school, because the decision came down to integrate the gifted children with the general population, in some strange hope that they would be a good influence on their new classmates. Which likely explains why the majority of the local school’s students are on food assistance – middle and upper class flight from horrendous policies.

In researching the local elementary schools, we find they all practice the same policy, teaching to the test. Things have changed from when I was a student.

One interesting aspect of the new school reform ideology, that the article hints on, is the idea that if their policies improve education (a big if), that this education will have a positive effect upon poverty. That really only seems to be the only solution to poverty these days – improved education and broader access to college. One is left wondering how a BA or BS will affect a janitor financially, other than providing another source of crippling debt.


Filed under Culture

Head Coverings and Patriarchy

“The whole thing about Judaism and Christianity,” Clair said, ” and just about every monotheistic religion, is that they’re all patriarchal. Men made these religions up. So guess who God is? A man.”
“Watch out, Clair,” Larry said. “Mitchell was a religious studies major.”
Clair grimaced and said, “Oh, my God.”
“I’ll tell you what I learned in religious studies,” Mitchell said with a slight smile. “If you read any of the mystics, or any decent theology – Catholic, Protestant, kabbalistic – the one thing they all agree on is that God is beyond any human concept or category. That’s why Moses can’t look at Yahweh. That’s why, in Judaism, you can’t spell out God’s name. The human mind can’t conceive what God is. God doesn’t have a sex or anything else.”
“Then why is he a man with a long white beard on the Sistine Chapel?”
“Because that’s what the masses like.”
“The masses?”
“Some people need a picture. Any great religion has to be inclusive. And to be inclusive you have to accommodate different levels of sophistication.”

-Jeffry Eugenides, The Marriage Plot

I was reminded of this passage yesterday morning, whilst reading the patriarchal theologizing of head coverings over at Energetic Procession.

When it comes to church, I am partial to head coverings, dresses and long skirts, or slacks, cardigans and vests for that matter. Which is not to say I can’t appreciate jeans or a short skirt, or the suitably eclectic jeans and headscarf combo, which my wife pulls off from time to time. I just have a special place in my heart for anachronisms and old things, generally, and frumpy old things, more specifically. However Stuff White People Like that may be.

Of course, there can easily arise a theological sexism out of these preferences, or more often, these sort of preferences can easily arise out of a dogmatic sexism. It is no coincidence that calls for broad use of head coverings are generally made by misogynists. The strange tend to dominate the margins.

Some years ago, I theologized my beard, first as a tounge-in-cheek exercise, for the purpose of religiously justifying my facial pubis, should an unlikely workplace dress code situation occur – which would not take place at my current place of employment, though the man whose name inhabits the letterhead jokingly accuses me of anarchism. Later, under the influence of some strange, and long excised enthusia, I began dogmatizing it seriously. As though there was some cosmic meaning behind the wiry hair that has inhabited my chin, near continuously, since I was a 15 year old Lutheran, because of some ancient musings on machismo fashion – perhaps with a dash of envy over pre-islamic burkas.

I wonder if there is a way to approach attire in a way that does not boil down to patriarchal gender roles and language of feminine submission, or just plain old aesthetic preference.


Filed under Religion