Category Archives: Random

A Few Books I Bought

I thought I’d tell you about a few books I just bought.

1. The Art of Biblical Narrative by Robert Alter. This is a bit of a classic. I’ve wanted to read it for a long time, but never got the chance. Alter is a literary critic, but this little book made a big impression back in the eighties. I hope to enjoy it.

2. Back to the Sources: Reading the Classic Jewish Texts, edited by Barry Holtz. I’ve been using the Mishnah and some rabbinic commentaries in my research, but I’m no expert in early Jewish literature. I’m hoping that this book will be a great introduction to reading this collection. I also hope it is more accessible than Introduction to the Talmud and Midrash by Strack and Stemberger. I found this book rather forbidding. It assumed you knew a lot about the topic it is trying to introduce. Maybe it will make more sense after reading Holtz.

3. The Golden Legend: Readings on the Saints, volume II, by Jacobus de Voragine, trans. William Granger Ryan. I got the first volume last year and I’m happy to have both now. I got interested in the Golden Legend after visiting the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC. The medieval section of the museum is rich with saint story paintings, but unfortunately, I found myself hopelessly unfamiliar with the stories presented. I was constantly scrambling to identify saints by their traits and symbols. Many of the stories depicted and the symbols collected around each saint are derived from the Golden Legend. It was extremely popular during the Middle Ages and from it flowed much religious art right at the time that Late Medieval Tuscan painting was born. That is, the book prompted lots of art at a time of great transition in Western art, when painters were moving from iconography to more realistic painting. I think reading the Golden Legend will give me a better understanding of the art of the time.

In addition, I recently grabbed Roland De Vaux’s book Early History of Israel  off my shelf and started reading. I’m hoping his scholarly and Catholic perspective will enhance my understanding of the Old Testament.

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New Amazon Kindle Lending Library

One of the reasons I have eschewed the Kindle from Amazon is that you can’t use the device to check out ebooks from your local library. Many public lending libraries now lend ebooks. They can be read on PC’s, Android devices and things like the Sony eReader. But they have never worked on an Amazon Kindle. I suppose some people might have found a way to convert proprietary file formats from libraries to work on Kindle, but I doubt it. It’s a big turn off for a book lover not to be able to get FREE library books on your electronic reading device when you can pick up real books at the library or use a compatible device. Rather than working with the library community, Amazon just performed an end-around. If you have an Amazon Prime membership (which I do) you can now read books in the Amazon Kindle Lending library for free. The catch is, you can only read them on a Kindle device. Weird, huh? Part of the draw of Kindle is that you can read your books on your Kindle, your PC, your phone or whatever device that can run the Kindle app. But with this lending library, the books are ONLY available on a Kindle device. To read a loaned book on your phone, you’ll have to pony up some cash and buy it. That seems to go against Amazon’s philosophy of ubiquity, but hey, free books! Now, of course, not everything is available in the lending library and it would take some time to sort through the available books to see if it is worth it. The content of the library seems to be mostly new stuff like NY Times bestsellers. But if you read a lot of new stuff and own a Kindle, the Prime membership could be worth its weight in gold. This new library will really change both the book selling market and the library scene. Revolutionary? Perhaps. I think a lot of public lending libraries that pay gobs of money to grant their patrons access to ebook collections are going to be up in arms. It also reveals a changing dynamic in Amazon’s business model. Their goal is to get people paying subscription fees (the annual $79 Prime fee) forever. If they get enough people to jump in and they continue to crush the competition, they’ll be free to crank up that annual price over time. I’m very curious as to what the pundits will have to say about this one. I also wonder if publishers are going to throw a fit. But knowing Amazon’s style, they probably worked out some kind of contract with publishers ahead of time. It’s bizarre to think that books are going the way of Netflix online streaming, but here it is in front of our faces.

Update: So I looked further into the details and the Amazon Library is not as golden as it seems. You get to “check out” 12 books per year, that’s one per month. It says there are no due dates, so why would you ever “return” a book. That’s a bit of a mystery to me. It seems like you would want to keep every one of your 12 annual books in your library and not return them. I’m sure this will get hashed out as people start using the library. Maybe an un-returned book will expire after  year or something, but that would seem to undo the “no due dates” claim. What if you’re a slow reader and you check out a 2000 page book? Will they take it away when your on page 1701?

Ok, I think I figured it out. It says you can only “check out one book at a time.” That means if you don’t read a book a month, then you won’t be able to check out 12 per year. Seems like a good service for short books you can read in a few weeks, but not for long stuff.

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Good Catholic Music

Today it is hard to find good Catholic music at mass. Many parishes have few, if any, well-qualified and committed musicians. The musicians they do have are often over-worked and underpaid (with 3 or 4 weekend masses, plus weddings and funerals). And then the musical selections they have to work with, well, lack quality, diversity and compositional excellence. Most Catholic parishes use hymnals published by GIA (Gregorian Institute of America) or OCP (Oregon Catholic Press). While detailed critique of these hymnals is not something I’ll indulge in right now, suffice it to say that the selections available in these hymnals are very limited: Traditional hymns are left out or their words are altered or neutered. Contemporary hymns are plentiful, but usually by only a few composers who are not necessarily world-renown apart from the GIA and OCP publications. Some of the hymns have theological/doctrinal problems. Some are just vapid.

The limitations of these hymnals do two main things: 1.) They discourage musicians who love great music from participating in parish music groups. They don’t want to be forced to perform sub-par music. This lack of musicians is frustrating for parishoners who then complain about the quality of the parish music  group. 2.) They discourage parishoners from singing (many of the contemporary hymns are not well composed for congregational singing).

Ok, so in response to all of this (and maybe I will discuss some of the problems in detail at a later date), a few good-hearted souls have decided to try to help us all out by publishing new hymnals not within the GIA/OCP monopoly and by performing alternate music that, shall we say, is a little more impressive. I have already mentioned one initiative (The St. Augustine Hymnal), but I’ll introduce you to a few more. I’m sure there are more efforts out there to produce good Catholic music, so if you know of any besides what I mention here, please comment below.

1. Adoremus Hymnal

The Adoremus Hymnal is a 14-year-old effort by Ignatius Press, which is not a music publisher, to provide a simple, traditional hymnal for Catholic parishes. It has the Gregorian Mass VIII and a decent selection of older hymns. It is limited by the fact that it does not include the Sunday readings cycle (which many parishes like) and it does not have a plentiful selection. That is, it’s a rather thin hymnal and many parishes would like a thick one. They are publishing a new edition for the new mass translation.

2. St. Augustine Hymnal

The St. Augustine Hymnal, which I have seen in one edition, is a new attempt. It comes in several editions and boasts a broader selection of music, some from the GIA/OCP monopoly. But it is published by its own outfit, the International Liturgy Publications (ILP). I leafed through it and I like it. It has both traditional and contemporary music–a good mix. The only trouble I see is that there are way too many compositions by one guy, Vince Ambrosetti, the founder of ILP. But you’ll find a broader range of hymns and fewer hymns with doctrinal or theological problems in the St. Augustine Hymnal. It is a great first step in the right direction.

3. Corpus Christi Watershed and the Vatican II Hymnal

I just learned about Corpus Christi Watershed. They are a singing group out of Corpus Christi, TX and they have a fantastic sound. I highly recommend checking out some of their videos on their Vimeo page. They have published a new hymnal called the Vatican II Hymnal. I have not held it in my hands yet, but it looks like it has quite a few mass settings and lots of traditional hymns. Some of the mass settings are by Kevin Allen, the leader of Corpus Christi Watershed. They have done a lot of work to include traditional Gregorian chant and Gregorian-style forms. It seems like a great effort and I think I’ll be purchasing a copy to look through the details. The only limitation I see is that the hymnal does not contain any contemporary-style hymns or songs, which many parished would probably like.

4. Songs in His Presence

Songs in His Presence is an effort associated with ILP. They have published a few CD’s and song books, especially Psalms settings called “Psalms in His Presence.” Using the praise and worship style, their goal is to put forth music that is singable, contemporary, doctrinally correct and easy to use in a parish. I must say I’m biased since I know a lot of the people involved. The main limitation with this group is that they have not published a full hymnal. The most readily useful stuff for a parish would be their psalms settings since the congregation won’t need song books.

I think there are probably more efforts out there at producing good Catholic music. These are the ones I have discovered. I just hope that pastors, bishops and parish music directors will begin finding and using some of this music. I think new efforts in this direction will go a long way to renewing music in the Catholic parish, shaking off the GIA/OCP duopoly, getting more qualified musicans involved and encouraging parishoners to open their mouths and sing!

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Amazon Kindle Fire (but I’m still waiting)

Amazon just released their new Kindle Fire tablet…sort of. You can pre-order one, but it won’t arrive until after November 15. I, however, will pass on the neat device and wait until Amazon produces a full color E Ink touch screen Kindle, hopefully with a keyboard. I told you before how the E ink company has developed a color version of their technology. That is way more attractive to me because of the super long battery life, the light weight, the ability to read in bright light. Overall, I see the E Ink technology way more conducive to reading than any kind of LCD screen. We’ll see, but I’m hoping to see a full color Kindle in the next 18 months.

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John of Ford on Biblical Authorship

When discussing whether Solomon himself or some of his companions wrote Song of Songs 8:11-12, he pronounces the question unanswerable and says,

Since we all agree that the voice is that of the Holy Ghost, why squabble about his instrument? Let us rather look for what the Holy Spirit wanted to convey to use in these words, seeing that he is the sole author of this marriage song, in the deepest sense.

–John of Ford, “Sermon One Hundred and Sixteen,” in Sermons on the Final Verses of the Song of Songs, translated by  Wendy Mary Beckett (Cistercian Fathers 47; Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications, 1984), 193.

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Noah’s Ark (in real life!)

For all you Genesis enthusiasts out there, a Dutchman by the name of Johan Huibers is building a giant life-size replica of Noah’s ark (or “Ark van Noach” in Dutch). It’s well worth taking time to scope out the photos on his website. Pretty soon, it should be open for tourist business. So next time you’re in Europe, maybe you could swing by and walk around inside. If you get  a chance, send me some pictures!

And, if you’d like, you can see the Today Show video on the boat:

If you can’t make it all the way to the land of wooden shoes, maybe you can pay a visit to the Bluegrass state to visit the Ark Encounter theme park with a life-size Noah’s Ark.

I’m not sure why there’s a surge in Ark-interest, but hey, whatever floats your boat!

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My Thoughts on Amazon Kindle 4

Amazon has been pushing its current version of the Kindle–Kindle 3–with lots of price drops and new categories like the “Kindle with Special Offers” which puts a bar of ads across the bottom of the Kindle screen while you’re reading. I’ve been interested in the Kindle for a long time because I love reading and I love ordering books from Amazon. But also, the Kindle uses a really special technology called e-ink. It’s not an LCD screen, but a “bi-polar” ink that changes color from white to black when it receives a tiny electric charge. This technology is amazing. It’s low-power and it’s not backlit, so it doesn’t hurt your eyes. It’s way more like reading a real ink-and-paper book than any other kind of screen. I’ve been impressed by it ever since Popular Science did an article about it more than 10 years ago.

There are a few drawbacks to the Kindle, however:
1. No touch screen. This means you can’t write on the screen like you can on paper,  so making notes in books is impossible. And to be honest, have you really read a book if you haven’t made a mark in it? See Mortimer Adler’s book, How to Read a Book, if you don’t know what I’m talking about. Ok, ok, the Kindle does allow you to make notes, but only typed notes, so how does that help us folks who underline, star and bracket things all the time.

2. No SD card slot. The original Kindle had an SD card slot–just like your camera, phone or other device. This meant that the size of storage was customizable at the user end of things. It also meant you take a huge file, throw it on an SD card using your computer at work or wherever and then read it on your Kindle. But now, no can do. To get something on your Kindle from your computer, you have to transfer it over USB. Boring! This is like 10-year-old technology or more. The reason the Kindle has this limitation is so that you are tempted to get everything you read on your Kindle through the Amazon store. Yuck. Ok, they do have a lot of free public domain books, but there are so many other kinds of things I’d like to read besides them.

3. No Color. The original e-ink technology is just black and white, with a little grayscale thrown in. Not so hot for our full color world. (I mean, when was the last time you saw a black-and-white TV?)

These are the reasons I have not bought a Kindle. But there are rumors out there about Kindle 4, no real information. However, I think we have reason to hope that Amazon Kindle 4 will have a color touchscreen. And that would overcome two of my three objections! But why do I say this? Is it just idle speculation. Nope. It’s based on evidence–very clear evidence in my mind.

The Eink company, which makes the screens for Kindle, is now advertising a new product–color e-ink displays that also act as a touchscreen. The new technology is called “Triton.” They have a PDF brochure which explains the new technology. In the brochure, they describe the new color display like this:

With the E Ink Triton color configuration, a thin transparent colored filter array (CFA) is added in front of the black and white display. Now the display can also reflect color. The CFA consists four sub-pixels – red, green, blue, and white – that are combined to create a full-colorpixel. The result? A low-power, direct-sunlight, readable color ePaper display that is mass manufactured in a practical way.

So the original white pixel hides behind four color subpixels that then combine to produce visible colord. I just want to know how they tell the screen which of the four subpixels to use. Here’s a little commercial from them on how it works:

Ok, but what about the touchscreen capabilities? Will I really be able to draw on the screen of a Kindle 4 with Triton technology?

Well, on the brochure, it says, “Touch-compatible E Ink technology enables pen or finger input which enhances
the user-experience.” Now I’m not entirely sure why it says “touch compatible” instead of just “touch,” but hey, who’s counting.

All this means that we’re likely to see an Amazon Kindle 4 with a color display and touch capability. But when? That’s another important question. I vote we’ll see it in 2012. A recent CNET interview the Vice President of Eink says they don’t plan to release any Triton-based e-reader in 2011. I’m still tempted to get a Kindle 3, but these new features to be released possibly next year, make me want to wait for the Kindle 4. I don’t think I’ll be disappointed if I do.

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Chaff and Fire

I came across a reference to chaff being burning in the Bible in Exodus 15:7 and I thought,
“Hey, why does the Bible always mention chaff and fire at the same time?”

Here are some examples:
…you send out your fury; it consumes them like stubble. (Exo 15:7 ESV)
Therefore, as the tongue of fire devours the stubble… (Isa 5:24 ESV)
You conceive chaff; you give birth to stubble; your breath is a fire that will consume you. (Isa 33:11 ESV)
Behold, they are like stubble; the fire consumes them… (Isa 47:14 ESV)
…like the crackling of a flame of fire devouring the stubble… (Joe 2:5 ESV)
The house of Jacob shall be a fire, and the house of Joseph a flame, and the house of Esau stubble; they shall burn them and consume them… (Oba 1:18 ESV)
they are consumed like stubble fully dried. (Nah 1:10 ESV)
For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble. (Mal 4:1 ESV)
…but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire (Mat 3:12 ESV)
…but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” (Luk 3:17 ESV)

Chaff is the leftovers of the wheat stalk when the edible grain has been removed by the process of threshing and winnowing. Chaff is also sometimes called “stubble.” In Hebrew, there are actually two words, one for chaff (?????), the little inedible fuzzies at the top of the stalk and one for stubble (???), the long stick-like part of the stalk. Apparently, it was a normal part of Israelite agriculture to burn the chaff after the winnowing process was complete. And it seems that the burning pile of chaff was a rather impressive show since it impressed itself on the Hebrew imagination so thoroughly as to serve as a good metaphor for God’s judgment. I got curious, and of course, looked it up on YouTube. I found a burning field of wheat stubble–slightly different than flaming piles of chaff. Take a look, if you like:

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