One Sunday morning the Higgs Boson walked into a Catholic mass. The service is about to start, and the Higgs boson shouts, “Stop!”
The priest turns to look at him, and says, “Why should I stop?”
The Higgs boson says, “Because you can’t have mass without me.”
(This joke appears to have been told first by science comedian Brian Malow.)
I heard a funny sound on the roof a couple of minutes ago. “That sounds like rain,” I thought to myself. But it couldn’t be rain, because it doesn’t rain in the Bay area in the summer time. The sound on the roof continued: it really was rain.
I opened the door to our little balcony, and stuck my hand out. I had to feel the rain. A rain drop hit my hand, then another drop. There were low clouds overhead. A few more raindrops hit the balcony, and then it stopped.
Litterboxcam has gone the way of all mortal things, and is no more. What to watch instead when one is trying to procrastinate? Carol pointed me to Puppy Live Cam: Holly’s Half Dozen. The best thing is it prevents me from procrastinating for too long: I can only stand watching it for about a minute before I have to go back to work or be overwhelmed by excessive cuteness.
Public radio station KALW ran a short piece recently on Sacred Harp music recently, calling it “the punk rock of choral music.” I was one of the people interviewed for the piece, and you can hear it or read it on KALW’s Web site here.
According to biographer W. Jackson Bate, Dr. Samuel Johnson could write with extraordinary speed. Bate points to Johnson’s work for the London Magazine, when he was in his early thirties, and writing out Parliamentary debates as if he had recorded them verbatim, but based solely on second-hand and often fragmentary reports of the debates:
[Johnson] had always … been able to write rapidly. But now, as John Nichols said, “Three columns of the Magazine, in an hour, was no uncommon effort, which was faster than most persons could have transcribed that quantity.” Since a column there contains a little more than six hundred words, this would mean an average rate of at least eighteen hundred words an hour, or thirty a minute. On one day — “and that not a long on, beginning perhaps at noon, and ending early in the evening” — he wrote twenty columns (about twelve thousand words)…. —Samuel Johnson: A Biography, W. Jackson Bate (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1975; Berkeley: Counterpoint, 1998), pp. 205-206.
At my most productive, I have only been able to write about 2,500 words a day, which I found mentally exhausting; Johnson wrote nearly five times that amount, and what he wrote was of better quality than mine.
Bate goes on to quote a passage from James Boswell’s Tour of the Hebrides, in which Johnson is quoted as saying:
BOSWELL. “We have all observed how one man dresses himself slowly and another fast.” JOHNSON. “Yes, sir, it is wonderful how much time some people will consume in dressing: taking up a thing and looking at it, and laying it down, and taking it up again. Everyone should get in the habit of doing it quickly. I would say to a young divine, ‘Here is your text; let me see how soon you can make a sermon.’ Then I’d say, ‘Let me see how much better you can make it.’…
Since I am in the process of writing a sermon (in which Dr. Johnson makes a guest appearance), I had better take his advice, and begin writing quickly.
How far does reason serve to cure, or at least to palliate, the miseries of humankind? Not very far, according to Samuel Johnson:
The cure for the greater part of human miseries is not radical, but palliative. Infelicity is involved in corporeal nature and interwoven with our being. All attempts, therefore, to decline it wholly are useless and vain: the armies of pain send their arrows against us on every side, the choice is only between those which are more or less sharp, or tinged with poison of greater or less malignity; and the strongest armor which reason can supply will only blunt their points, but cannot repel them. —Rambler, no. 32
Johnson wrote this partially in response to the Stoics, who professed to be able to ignore misery, and to maintain equipoise when faced with calamity. But he, as someone who valued reason, was also exploring the limits of reason. Reason cannot cure every ill:
The great remedy which heaven has put in our hands is patience, by which, though we cannot lessen the torments of the body, we can in a great measure preserve the peace of the mind, and shall suffer only the natural and genuine force of an evil without heightening its acrimony or prolonging its effects. —Rambler, no. 32
Thus, says Johnson, patience and not reason serves to maintain our peace of mind when we are confronted with misery, torment, and suffering.
While on vacation, I missed the death of Rev. Dr. William R. Jones, who died on July 17 at age 78; commenter Dan Gerson drew my attention to that fact today. Jones was the pre-eminent Unitarian Universalist humanist theologian of the past fifty years, one of the handful of truly important Unitarian Universalist theologians of any kind from the past half century, and arguably the best Unitarian Universalist thinker on anti-racism.
Jones is a major figure who deserves a full critical biography, which I am not competent to write. But here is an all-too-brief overview of his life and work:
Education and ministry
William Ronald Jones was born in 1933. He received his undergraduate degree in philosophy at Howard University. He earned his Master of Divinity at Harvard University in 1958, and was ordained and fellowshipped as a Unitarian Universalist minister in that year. He served from 1958-1960 at a Unitarian Universalist congregation in Providence, Rhode Island. Mark Morrison-Reed states that Jones served at First Unitarian as assistant minister (Black Pioneers in a White Denomination, p. 139), but the UUA Web site states that he served at Church of the Mediator as “minister”; I’m inclined to believe Mark’s book, as the UUA listings of ministers are prone to error.
After a two-year stint as a minister, Jones went on to do doctoral work in religious studies at Brown University, receiving his Ph.D. in 1969. His dissertation was titled “On Sartre’s Critical Methodology,” which discussed “Jean-Paul Sartre’s philosophical anthropology” (Lewis R. Gordon, An Introduction to Africana Philosophy [Cambridge University, 2008], p. 171).
As you can see, Jones quickly moved from the parish to the academy. Of course he was well suited to the academy because of his intellectual abilities, but also there is little doubt that there were few doors open for African American ministers looking for Unitarian Universalist pulpits in the 1960s.
The years at Yale
After receiving his Ph.D., Jones was an assistant professor at Yale Divinity School from 1969 to 1977. It was while he was at Yale that he gained renown as a Black theologian with a unique take on the issue of theodicy. Continue reading “William R. Jones: a brief appreciation”