A True Story that Flannery O’Connor Would Like

One time

when Mom and Dad were young,

they went with friends

on a picnic in the woods

by a lake.


Somebody found three peacock eggs

and took them home

in a pot of leftover beans.

Halfway home the children in the back seat

heard peeping and scratching

from the lukewarm pot between them.


Arrived, the family lifted the lid

and found three peachicks

amid the broken shells

and the crusty beans

which had tasted so good earlier.


They threw out the beans

but they kept the birds,

and for the rest of their lives

they roamed the yard, fanning their tailfeathers—

a shimmering trio

of purple, green, and blue sunsets.

Plagiarism Flowchart

It’s meant for journalists, but you academics can make the necessary adjustments. Click to see full size. (HT: Vox)flowchart

Being a Good Academic

Each year around this time the pace in our offices start to pick up. Students and professors heading back to school need books. We make books. Academics also seem to get back in their groove after a summer spent feverishly writing enjoying their breaks, and now they want to get their books in shape for publication before the annual conferences taking place in later autumn. Editors, designers, typesetters, and marketers (at least the ones with whom I work!) are doing their parts to make sure these books see the light of day. The intensity builds right up until we board the plane to make the trek to that year’s location for the AAR/SBL conference, the apex of our publishing year.

In many ways AAR/SBL (and ETS, which immediately precedes it in a nearby location) is an exciting and fun trip. It’s a lot of work to be sure, with days beginning in the early mornings and going into the later part of the nights, but it gives us a chance to show off our books, meet in person authors we’ve known only by email and phone for months, see old friends we’ve not seen since the last conference, and meet new authors and friends that will become a part of the two aforementioned groups. A good many of the academics I know who go to the annual conference year after year do so for two reasons: friends and books. Of course there are those younger, eager students or would-be-students who attend to meet luminaries, get that first paper presentation under their belt, and generally soak in the environment. There are also those seasoned veterans who like nothing more than attending sessions and hearing paper presentations. And usually there is a session or two featuring a hot topic, book, and/or figure that people will look forward to attending. But on the  whole the “academic” side of the conference is not at the top of most people’s list of reasons to attend. I’m lucky. My primary reasons for being at the conference—selling books and building relationships—are at the top of most lists.

This post is not about why people attend AAR/SBL, or to tell you how excited we get as the conference approaches. Rather, this time of the year makes two blog posts I’ve read recently especially pertinent, and I want to bring attention to them.

The first is a post from a while back by David Lincicum, “Some scattered tips for not being a jerk at conferences.” (See also Mark Goodacre’s much older post “How to enjoy SBL“) The second references David’s post and was written by an author with whom I’ve had the privilege of working: Christopher Skinner, “Negative Reviews and Unintentional Slights: Some Further Tips on Not Being a Jerk in Academia.” Both of these posts have great advice for academics: praise others effusively and genuinely, network without instrumentalizing, have fun, keep your ego in check, retaliation is rarely worth it, maintain perspective, be nice, etc. The thing is this is all advice for living as a human, whether one within or without academia. Though I wouldn’t use the same words every time, this is advice I’m trying to pass along to my three boys: encourage others, toys do not a friend make, have fun, don’t hit back, keep your reaction the same size as the problem, be nice. What Lincicum and Skinner are really saying to their academic peers is “Be a good person! Or, at least try.”

See you in San Diego!

On Critical Definitions

Not just a pet peeve, but one of the most serious problems in scholarly writing is when authors do not define their critical terms. The importance of this seems inescapable. But it seems as though the lack of defined terms leads scholarship down blind alleys. Continue reading

Scotland on Friday; England on Friday

Scotland on Friday

The discussion on Scottish independence has got more and more heated and many Scots are commenting that they have never known their nation so divided as it is now. As Jim Gordon reminded us in a blog post yesterday, whatever the result is on Thursday, Friday will be a very, very sad day for many Scots. For the issue on both sides is not simply politics or economics but the very sense of Scottish identity—and their own identity. We appreciate that whoever wins will be celebrating victory, but they would be foolish not to remember that about half of their fellow Scots will be feeling angry, frustrated, betrayed, and deeply disappointed. If that is not handled with wisdom and sensitivity then Scotland will lose, whatever the vote.

England on Friday

The English would do well to bear the above in mind. If the Union is retained, gloating is not going to help. Whatever one thinks about the Union, it is clear that something has gone wrong in the relationship and things need to change. The grievances of many in Scotland need to be treated very seriously.

If Scotland chooses, even if only by a tiny minority, to walk away then there will be a lot of hurt, anger, and resentment in England, because the English typically like their “marriage” with Scotland (they like Scotland and they like the Scots, and the two nations have been through a lot together) so they will feel the pain of being rejected. (Especially as a lot of the pro-independence campaigning has been fueled by an anti-English rhetoric.) The danger comes in that this pain will very easily turn to bitterness and resentment. I have already heard more than a few English people say that if Scotland goes independent then they want it to fail. There is a satisfaction in watching the one who rejects you for greener pastures discovering that the promised land is actually an arid wasteland. There is the satisfaction of the “we told you so.”

But this is an unhealthy and unChristian reaction. English Christians need to be especially careful to guard their hearts, to speak well of Scotland, and to pray for God’s blessing on Scotland, whatever the outcome. If independence comes and the venture goes belly-up, this should not be a cause of satisfaction for English Christians, but of sadness, and a motivation to seek to offer appropriate support. And if independence works then we should rejoice for Scotland.

The UK faces a difficult time from Friday onwards, and those in positions of influence need to work for healing and reconciliation. Christians on all sides need to pray and work for that same end.

Chris Beckett’s “Dark Eden”

Last week I finished the most rewarding science fiction book I have read in years. It is Chris Beckett’s Dark Eden (Corvus, 2012). It concerns a colony of humans on a planet at the other side of the Milky Way galaxy. The spaceship that took their ancestors to the planet, dubbed Eden, malfunctioned and has left the colonists stranded. They are now four or five generations along; they have grown from a group of two to a population of more than 500. They hope another expedition from earth will arrive and rescue them. In the meantime, they have dwelt in a small valley on a dark planet—there is no sun lighting it; the only source of illumination comes from glowing “lantern” trees that channel up heat and light from the hot underground.

The population is caught in inertia and fearfulness. They have refused to explore the planet beyond the small valley they dwell in. But they are running short on food. It takes a young visionary named John Redlantern to imagine the possibilities of journeying over the snowy mountains surrounding the valley and seeking out a more sustainable dwelling place for the growing population.

Redlantern’s story includes fascinating passages as he ventures beyond the confines of the home valley and experiments with “technologies” (such as warm clothing and waterproof footings) that will enable the colonists to go over the mountain. But Redlantern’s story is complicated; he breaks taboos and becomes the first citizen of Eden to commit murder.

The novel is an exploration of cultural development, and how that often (always?) includes dark sides and repercussions. Beckett shifts perspectives from one character to another in different chapters, and this allows subtle comment on how a visionary leader has flaws as well as virtues.

Needless to say, all of this echoes the story of Cain in Genesis, in which the beginnings of civilization arise from Cain’s lineage. It’s a profound theme, and Dark Eden probes it entertainingly and thoughtfully.


“Killing from the Inside Out: Moral Injury and Just War” by Robert Emmet Meagher


I’ve just completed work on an important new book on war by Robert Emmet Meagher titled Killing from the Inside Out: Moral Injury and Just WarThe book includes a foreword by Stanley Hauerwas, who extols Meagher’s transgression of standard disciplinary boundaries in his pursuit of the roots of our collective failure to address the profound moral injuries experienced by warriors: Continue reading

That Ain’t No Hill for a Stepper

Last week at this time I was trekking up the side of the third tallest mountain in Oregon. South Sister (aka “Charity”) is, as the name indicates, the southernmost peak among the Three Sisters in the Three Sisters Wilderness of the Cascade Range.

Three Sisters


My younger brother, Brad, turned 40 in late July. As a gift to him I used airline miles to fly him across the country for a short backpacking excursion into the beauty that is Oregon. He lives in Charlotte, NC. I didn’t have that many airline miles, so we were limited on the dates and flight times. The closest I could get to his birthday with the miles I had was last week. So last week he finally arrived in Eugene on Wednesday morning after an overnight delay in San Francisco. He hit the ground running. We took off toward the trailhead soon after his arrival. After an hour on the road, we stopped in Oakridge for lunch at The Brewers Union Local 180, Oregon’s only real ale pub and brewery. It’s the closest thing to a British pub I’ve seen in the States.

Brad checking out the hike I planned.

Brad checking out the hike I planned.

After lunch and another couple hours on the road, we arrived at the Green Lakes trailhead. We hiked along the Green Lakes Trail for a couple of miles until we reached the intersection with the Moraine Lake Trail. The Green Lakes Trail follows Falls Creek for most of this section. The hiking is easy and the scenery is idyllic. There was a waterfall around every turn.

One of about a dozen

One of about a dozen

Another mile and a half or so along the Moraine Lake Trail led us to Moraine Lake and the U-shaped valley/crater in which it is situated.

Moraine Lake


At Moraine Lake we found a spot to pitch our tent and settle in for the night.

Me as chef for the evening

Me as chef for the evening

View of Moraine Lake from our tent spot

View of Moraine Lake from our tent spot


The next morning we hit the trail to the South Sister summit. The hike ascends over 4000 feet and is about 9 miles round trip. In addition to the elevation and distance, we had to contend with lots of wind and tons of scree. It took about 7.5 hours all total—about 4.5 up and 3 down. Despite my aching joints, grit in my teeth, and scree in my boots, it was magnificent.

Here we go!

Here we go!


Moraine Lake from the summit trail

Moraine Lake from the summit trail


Brad trekking across Teardrop Pool, Oregon's highest lake.

Brad trekking across Teardrop Pool, Oregon’s highest lake.


Two brothers with two sisters in the background

Two brothers with two sisters in the background


You might be wondering what’s the big deal about a backpacking trip with my brother. Well, it’s a trip of firsts. I had never been backpacking before. Brad and I had never been camping together ever. It took us over 40 years and living on opposite coasts finally to do something like this. I can’t say that I caught the backpacking bug; although I am sure I will do it again. The best part was the time with my brother. I miss seeing him regularly. We may see each other once a year at best. I hadn’t seen him since Thanksgiving of last year, and I am not sure when I will see him again. And when we do see each other it is always with lots of family around. It was really nice to spend about 48 hours with him. It made me nostalgic in a lot of ways. One thing that kept coming to mind while we grew more silent as our hike grew more strenuous was a saying our parents used to say to us when we faced difficulties—”That ain’t no hill for a stepper.” It works well in Texas. It hasn’t gone over as well with my boys. They don’t quite understand Ain’t. The saying came to mind for obvious reasons on our hike toward the summit, but I thought of it as well with regard to where Brad and I have gone in life. We’ve both had our hills to step over. Brad more so than me in a lot of ways. As we hiked up that hill, I was more times than not following my little brother. He’s always been more of an athlete. I would look up to see how far ahead he was and think how proud I was of him—not for leaving me in the dust on our hike, but for the person he had become. He’s not perfect, but he’s a good man, and I love him dearly. Happy late, late birthday little brother.

Death of a Diva

An NPR story by Tom Huizenga on “All Things Considered” yesterday was an obituary for Magda Olivero. She was an amazing woman who died at age 104 and was still singing into her 90s, even though she left the operatic stage in her 70s. She was born in 1910 and had her opera debut in 1933. She debuted at the Metropolitan Opera in 1975! This is the sort of story that makes one rethink age, longevity, endurance, and persistence.

David Cameron sings about Scottish independence

Well, over here in Great Britain all the talk is about whether Scotland should and/or will leave the United Kingdom, and if it does, what the consequences will be. It is all very interesting.

The debate is complex and more than a tad confusing, both sides claiming that Scotland will be better off if it goes their way. I cannot pretend to understand the ins and outs enough to make a strong declaration either way, though from what I have heard from both sides, I am inclined to believe that if Scotland chose independence then (in economic terms) the chances are that England and Wales would suffer somewhat, but Scotland would suffer more. Everyone would survive ok, but we’d all be worse off for cutting our ties. The slogan “better together” does capture my instinct in this matter. I tend to think that Scotland has benefitted greatly from the Union, as have the other partners in the UK. Of course, all such unions are a matter of give and take and so one can easily point to areas where Scotland would be better off without the Union, but the same could be said of the other members of the UK. There are costs, but there are benefits.

I suspect that culturally there’d be little major change in Scotland post independence, as it already has a thriving cultural sense of self-identity. England may benefit in that a stronger cultural sense of being English (as opposed to being British) may arise. Indeed, we may well see a rise in English regions seeking more devolution of power.

There’d be a heck of a lot of complex disentangling to do in order to detach Scotland from the UK (—understatement!), but where there’s a will . . .

And we would get along afterwards, even if not quite as well as before.

I am by nature Mr Inertia—that is part of my bias in this discussion—so my biggest confusion is that it seems to me that choosing independence would create a huge amount of problems and work and would be a massive economic risk for Scotland. It may work out beautifully, but it could very easily go horribly wrong. There is little to gain and lots to lose, so why do it? I often wonder whether this sentiment is also because I am English and I just don’t “get” the Scottish need to go it alone. That is certainly part of it. So I need to learn to listen better. However, I know plenty of Scots who feel the same way, so perhaps it is not just my English parochialism.

However, I don’t imagine that anyone could give a fig what I think anyway. So I thought this David Cameron song may inspire you instead.