From my diary

‘Twas Christmas Eve in the workhouse,
And the snow was raining fast.
When a barefoot boy with clogs on,
Went slowly speeding past.

It’s Christmas, and all of us start to recall the Christmases of days gone by.  Not all of these may be positive. But the memories of gladness from childhood shine through.

The nonsense verse with which I started is one such.  It came to mind today, as I saw a post on Twitter from some strange person asking, “Can you reject belief in the virgin birth and the resurrection and still be a Christian?”  Erm, no: that’s what the word “Christian” means.  But why would you want to?  What does the word mean, if anything, if you don’t actually want what it means?

In reality, we all know what such a man has in mind.  Some kind of social system, rather like paganism, where you all do the usual things, and play along, without believing any of it much.  I remember school assemblies where we all sang hymns, and prayers were read.  The idea that any of us believed any of it never even crossed my mind.

But being a Christian is not about how you dress, or what race or class you belong to – you can be any of those, so Christianity is very broad and accepting in that respect.  Everything has a boundary, beyond which it ceases to exist.   The boundary for Christianity is not class; it’s whether you submit to His teaching; to what our Lord taught, the disciples heard, the apostles preached and the scriptures record.  If you accept that teaching, no matter who you are, you are in; and if you reject it, then you are out, however many ecclesiastical honours you may possess.

In English nonsense questions like this are perfectly syntactically possible.  Nonsense verse is a genre.  It does not mean that every sentence has meaning.

Meanwhile Christmas is upon us.   I have put up and decorated a plastic Christmas tree myself, although there is none but me to see it.  However, I have found by experience that if I do not do so, then it feels as if it is always winter, but never Christmas.  That’s not good for your health.  Tomorrow I shall go off to spent the day with relatives.  But as everything is now done, I have some free time.  And I continue with the task of reducing the clutter in my study.

Last night I was busy in scanning an Ancient Christian Writers volume, to create a PDF for personal use.  I did this so that I could dispose of the paper book and free up some shelf-space.  I’ve been purging my shelves, and with good effect.  But I still have too many books.

I would have gladly spared myself the effort of scanning the book, had it been possible to buy a PDF.  But it isn’t.  So … it’s scan scan scan.

Next up is a volume by the late Acharya S.  Again, this is a “reduction of clutter” move. I bought it in case I needed to rebut the claims within it; but now that she is dead, it seems unlikely that they will circulate widely.  In this case, tho, I think I might chop the spine off and use a sheet-fed scanner.

I have found myself wondering whether we actually need paper translations of ancient texts at all.  What purpose do they serve?  Does anyone actually read through them, end-to-end? I suppose it does happen; but surely very rarely.  Most of the time we’re looking for things within them.  So an electronic copy is far more useful.

Novels, of course, one reads end-to-end.  But I’ve been buying novels on my Amazon kindle account, and reading them on my Samsung Galaxy S7 (which gets very hot sometimes when charging while turned on, I notice).  I’ve managed perfectly well; and I have not felt any urge to buy paper copies.

I notice that I treat a novel much less seriously when reading it on my phone, however.  It’s less of an event; more like tissue paper.  You read, and forget about it.  I have a lot of fantasy novels on my shelves, and I only keep the ones that I have reread.  Such novels are friends when I am ill.  The massive lumps that make up the Space Captain Smith series, with their splendid covers, are a pleasure to read, and to handle.  But I would certainly think them disposable, had I obtained them on kindle.  So … there is an issue here that I have not seen elsewhere.  Books dissolve into just data, once they are electronic.  Which of us does not have books that are dear to our hearts?  But will any of us feel such emotion towards a book in eBook form?  The format degrades the work.

I have another ACW volume to dispose of here, which is some 300 pages long.  I.e. 150 swipes of the flat-bed scanner.  That will take a while to scan.  I’d rather not… except that I bought it for a reason.

Looking online, I find that one may own all the 70-odd ACW volumes in electronic form, for a mere $700, if you get them as an add-on to the Logos bible software.  That’s a very reasonable $10 each.  I would buy them, at that price!  But you can’t buy them individually.  You can buy individual eBooks of the CUA series, Fathers of the Church.  These are thoughtfully priced at exactly the same price as the paperback; meaning that either the print and mail process costs pretty much nothing, or else that the CUA are taking the chance to charge more.  You can again get the whole 120 volumes as a Logos add-on, for a trifling $1,300.  I’m sure that all of us are so dashed rich that we can do that.  The Loeb volumes are likewise available as some “complete set”.

It’s a bit sad really.  I think I’d pay $10 a go, when I am chasing something down, for a text.  I could afford that.  But otherwise I am dependent on whatever I can acquire by other means.

This situation must be temporary, however.  I think the evident uselessness of paper copies, and the equally evident utility of electronic ones, will force this situation to change.  Human nature won’t put up with this nonsense for long.  And, once paper copies are  gone, the exaggerated prices should drop too.  The publishers pay nothing for the books, and the costs will be minimal.

Let me end this ramble with a bit of Christmas good news.  It seems that German universities have had enough of the academic journal rip-off.  Sixty universities are refusing to renew their subscriptions with Elsevier at the end of the year.  The reason?  Elsevier just wanted too much money, as blackmail, in return for granting permission to university staff to post the material written by themselves, and edited by themselves, onto the web.

The offer made by Elsevier to DEAL would “not comply with the principles of open access,” the librarians of the University of Goettingen wrote in a message to their users, and “despite its current profit margin of 40 percent, the publisher is still intent on pursuing even higher price increases.”

This is excellent news.  Likewise in Finland:

Over 16,000 scientists followed the call of renowned mathematician Tim Gowers in 2012 not to further publish or peer-review for Elsevier.

The traditional model of journal publishing is obsolete.  The actions of Elsevier, once an honest servant of learning, now in acting in a predatory way, are simply hastening the end of that model.  It may take a while; but freedom for research is on the way!

In case I forget to say it later, Merry Christmas!!


5 thoughts on “From my diary

  1. While I fully understand your way of archiving your collection, I find it very difficult to work that way myself. The physical experience of going through a book is very important to me – and yes, I read from from front to back cover, even the ancients. I have tried it with a tablet, but anything larger then an article just won’t stick… It’s even worse: I go to the library, I scan the books I need and turn them into decently looking PDFs, and subsequently mail them to a printing service in order to have a workable paper version!

    If you need infrequent access to Loeb, know that the proxy service of you-know-which-site can help you…

    Happy Christmas 🙂

  2. Ha! For me, it all depends. Some works I want in paper. I can’t read a book on screen. But if I just want snippets, then I don’t need the whole book; just the ability to search it. (And yes, I too have scanned to PDF in order to get a printed version of some out-of-print reference tome).

  3. “Does anyone ever read through them end to end?” you ask. The Laudator Temporis Acti has a very timely answer, of sorts, over at his blog:

    To quote:

    Matthew Leigh, From Polypragmon to Curiosus: Ancient Concepts of Curious and Meddlesome Behaviour (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), p. 2:

    In order to answer the questions that I set myself it has been necessary to adopt the methods of the lexicographer. I have made no little use of the various electronic resources that have so accelerated the first stages of any word search, but am also in debt to the work of those less technologically privileged inquirers who issued the first concordances to individual authors or composed the meticulous entries to be found in Stephanus’ Thesaurus Linguae Graecae and the Thesaurus Linguae Latinae. More often than not, however, I have found that to leap in and out of a text only where a particular word is to be found can lead to but a superficial understanding, and have therefore taken the time to read whole works through where it seemed important to do so.

    Hat tip: Ian Jackson.

    I have often noticed how the Laudator’s posts can often be read as comments to yours.

  4. How very interesting – thank you! Of course he’s right – loss of context, loss of the thrust of the argument, can result in all kinds of misunderstandings.

    I do look at that blog sometimes and always find it interesting. Any similarities are probably caused by subjects going around the web, and being picked up by various writers one after another!

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