October 15, 2014

Chinese Pay Cash and Other Non-Sequitors



The other night was one of those exceedingly rare occasions we hoofed it out for a “night on the town”.

The event, in this case, was and Evening With Authors series, this time held at the art museum and featuring Simon Winchester, author of the million-book seller The Professor and the Madman.

The talk itself was mildly entertaining if at times a bit dry. It's the sort of thing that really looks good in the Dispatch: literary talk by one of the authors I'm currently reading (The Story of the Oxford English Dictionary).

He grew up in London and he's lived everywhere since but has had a fascination with America since childhood and eventually he became a US citizen of which he is hugely proud. He says the country is “better than its politicians” which drew rousing, bipartisan applause, although I've always been of the sense that living in a democracy get the politicians we deserve.

He spoke about how his experiences with the generosity of Americans and how he wanted to write a book about this country and now has. He has a humorous fascination with the mundane - he thinks East Liverpool, Ohio has a great tourist attractions in America but don't realize it. They have an obelisk that is “point zero” of the 1785 Public Land Survey System that would open what the Northwest Territory for settlement. Definitely with historians there seems a tendency to be fascinated by minutiae. I've noticed it in some of David McCullough's books as well. It comes with the territory to some extent because you have to be fascinated by the mundane in order to be a decent researcher. You can't uncover a gold nugget without finding interest in the avalanche of rocks you have to sift through, i.e. if you don't love something, you really can't do it well.

Then he told a lengthy story of one of the first geologists who two wives and children and was able to keep them separate for his whole life, although it was hard financially for him, to put it mildly.

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Many gospels can hurt - the Scriptural blade is two-edged after all and meant not simply as a corrective to others but a corrective to self - but there's an “out” that is tempting: see all Our Lord's comments mainly directed at the Pharisees and scribes, not poor sinners. Many of his parables can be seen thus with a tiny bit more distance, notwithstanding how patently easy it is to be a present day Pharisee or scribe.

Of the excellent explanation of the Ignatius Study Bible on one passage, I certainly prefer the second interpretation, given that it emphasizes God's power:
A parable about Jesus’ generation. It may be understood in two ways.

(1) It is a warning to those who benefit from Jesus’ ministry without embracing his message and its demands. Since one must be not only emptied of evil but filled with divine goodness, the messianic works of Jesus should lead people to accept his messianic kingdom; otherwise they land themselves in a worse state than before (2 Pet 2:20–22).

(2) The controversy over exorcisms in the preceding context (12:22–29) sets the stage for Jesus to establish the superiority of his New Covenant ministry over the Old as administered by the Pharisees. Although the Pharisees expel evil spirits (“your sons” [12:27]), they leave a vacuum that exposes individuals to more severe counterattacks from Satan. Jesus also drives out demons, but, unlike the Pharisees, he fills believers with the greater power of his kingdom through the Spirit (12:28). Jesus’ contemporaries must prefer these blessings of his kingdom ministry to the real but limited benefits of the Pharisees’ ministry; otherwise they are left vulnerable to spiritual catastrophes worse than before.

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So a Chinese guy with limited English appeared at my brother's door to buy the car my brother had put on Craigslist. After some haggling $4,000 was agreed upon, which the guy paid in 50-dollar bills. “Chinese pay cash” he explained. And indeed, just now I googled “Chinese pay cash” and lo and behold tons of hits came up, including one from the New York Times titled “Chinese Way of Doing Business: In Cash We Trust”. The article says that most Chinese don't trust Chinese banks or the government, and that certainly makes sense.

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Night before last night was readerly joy. Lots of the Edmund Morris bio of Roosevelt with a heathy dash of an oral history of the Letterman show. What memories it bought back! Hal Gurnnee. Larry “Bud” Melman. What a cast of characters. I think Letterman lost his footing, no pun intended, when he swapped his trademark tennis shoes for dress-up shoes.

Also enjoyed the MLB app this morn, watching highlights of playoff baseball. I was struck dumb by the visual poetry of the ballpark at San Francisco. Late afternoon sun was stunning - as is usual out west - but the ballpark itself is a gem. A huge statue of baseball glove beyond the outfield, large wall Budweiser advertisement that reminded me of '40s/'50s ads, and of course that glittering, breathtaking bay just beyond the right field line. I watched the game recap mostly just for the setting.

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