Thursday, February 28, 2008

Bob Geldof on George W. Bush

A really interesting essay at I like Geldof's tone here--he is clearly not a supporter of Bush's Iraq policy, but manages to engage with him respectfully and productively on the issues where they do agree. A key passage from the end:

"He is also, I feel, an emotional man. But sometimes he's a sentimentalist, and that's different. He is in love with America. Not the idea of America, but rather an inchoate notion of a space — a glorious metaphysical entity. But it is clear that since its mendacious beginnings, this war has thrown up a series of abuses that disgrace the U.S.'s central proposition. In the need to find morally neutralizing euphemisms to describe torture and abuse, the language itself became tortured and abused. Rendition, waterboarding, Guantánamo, Abu Ghraib — all are codes for what America is not. America has mortally compromised its own essential values of civil liberty while imposing its own idea of freedom on others who may not want it. The Bush regime has been divisive — but not in Africa. I read it has been incompetent — but not in Africa. It has created bitterness — but not here in Africa. Here, his administration has saved millions of lives."

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

William F. Buckley

Andrew Sullivan has a heck of a good tribute to the conservative thinker.

(I am really starting to toe the line here in my quest to be an apolitical blogger.)

Frederick Douglass National Historic Site

Back in January, when I was compiling my mental list of "things that will cause me stress this semester," one item loomed at the top of the chart: Field trips with my English 204 Honors class. The Honors Program here is Shepherd is great and I am having a blast teaching my section this semester. Every class with this group of students is such a treat. But one expectation of teaching these courses is that you will take the students outside the classroom. That makes sense to me and it's a pretty cool feature of the program. However, thinking about actually doing it brought me nothing but anxiety.

Since our class is so small (eleven students) and bus rentals are so expensive, I'd be driving us (in a university vehicle) for any trip we took. Now if you know me, you know I don't do travel well in an ordinary circumstance. I like being in new places and seeing new things, but the stress associated with getting there gets to me. I know why: I have the worst luck when it comes to traffic, airport delays, etc. Trips that take normal people two hours are likely to take me four, or eight, or twelve. Plus, my mother, who does not respond well at all to traffic or being lost or any of that stuff, instilled an deep sense of unease about traveling in me. It has taken me years to realize that missing a turn isn't a big deal--just relax and turn around. But it never seemed that simple when I was young and missed turns equaled meltdowns of mythic proportions. (Lord, I hope she never reads this post.) Anyway, don't get me wrong--I love a loose, relaxed road trip where we aren't racing to get somewhere (for, let's say, a job interview). But the idea of me taking eleven undergrads--in a van--into Washington D.C. (the only real feasible location for these kinds of trips) worried me--a lot.

I will spare you the details of the saga of working out transportation for our first scheduled trip, but needless to say, it was an almost epic process. In the end, on the cold and icy morning of February 14, 2008, I set out in a university mini-van. My companions? Eleven brave students and one RA who volunteered to drive a second vehicle (don't even ask--I told you there were details I am leaving out). Our destination? The Frederick Douglass National Historic Site. We had read Douglass's Narrative in class and since I think Douglass is one of the most important voices to listen to in an American literature survey course, a visit to his house made sense.

As it turns out (and I didn't know this when I picked the date), February 14 is the day Douglass picked to celebrate his birthday and the site was holding a 190th birthday celebration for him that morning. We were all excited about our good luck in choosing that date and were eager to get to the site for the ceremony, which began at 10:00 a.m. We pulled out of the Shepherd parking lot at 7:50.

FOUR HOURS LATER, we arrived at the museum. The trip that was supposed to take 1 hour and 40 minutes took oh-so-much longer. The last eight miles or so took us two hours. That's DC traffic for you. (This really wasn't my fault. I checked with folks later who said that we had actually left Shepherd at the "right time" to get to DC. Apparently, if we had left earlier, it would have been even worse as there would have been even more rush hour traffic.)

Of course, we were all very disappointed that we missed the birthday ceremony, but I could not have asked for a better group of students to be on this adventure with that day. No one really complained about the length of the trip. Then later, when we were waiting outside the house for tours (in way below freezing temperatures), they were great sports, too. In fact, they were trying to make me feel better about it. (Maybe they were concerned about me after the bit of cursing and steering-wheel-pounding I was doing under my breath while we were stuck in traffic?)

Maybe they were just trying to make me happy, but in the end, the students said they enjoyed the trip and actually learned a thing or two. I suppose the whole incident wasn't too bad. Even driving the mini-van in DC traffic (through a couple of not-so-nice neighborhoods)--with another van with half of my class following me--even that wasn't bad. If it weren't for that traffic, the whole thing would have been perfect.

Anyway, how about some pictures from the visit?

Here's the outside of the house. You can see some of my students on the left. The house is small enough that they were only letting fifteen people tour at a time, which meant lots of standing out in the cold, since there were about fifty people in front of us. Douglass and his family moved to the house in 1877. Although the neighborhood where the house is is currently rather depressed (not a place you'd want to be at night), at the time, the location must have seemed amazing, as it is set up on a hill overlooking the Anacostia River and the city.

Andrew, Rachel, and Kara--see how they are smiling even though they are freezing? Good kids.

More cold students: Lawren, Emily (my navigator on the trip!), Austin, and Sara.

Even more shivering students: Rob (the driver of the other mini-van), Liz, Jessica, and Anthony.

Finally, finally, finally, we got in the house, although our group was broken up in two. Originally, we were all in agreement and singing songs of unity: "We'll go in together as one group!" After about twenty minutes in the freezing cold, that "let's stick together" mentality broke down. When the tour guide said, "We can take seven more in this group," seven of my students jumped at the chance to get inside. Screw the rest of us, who waited a bit more, but finally got inside.

Douglass's front parlor. I took one picture of this room, but it's worth including because of the picture of Lincoln above the fireplace.

From the study: Douglass's desk. Call me a nerd, but I love seeing famous peoples' desks.

Also from the study, just some of Douglass's books. I wish I could have gotten closer to make out some of the titles, but they had those velvet ropes. It's like Studio 54 for geeks.

The dining room: This was an impressive room, especially when you realized the famous people Douglass would have hosted in here.

Dining room: a silver tea service. I am including this photo because is a pretty good symbol for Douglass's wealth. One of the themes that the tour guides (and there were about five of them stationed through the house) kept emphasizing during our visit was how wealthy Douglass had become at the point that he could afford this house. Later, in class, the students talked about how they were surprised by that emphasis. I think they were expecting more of an emphasis on "Douglass the Slave" and not "Douglass the Millionaire." (And he was indeed a millionaire by the time he died.) I explained to them, though, that the tour guides must have been struck by the power of that transformation--the little boy born into slavery on a plantation ends up the powerful diplomat and leader. It really is a wonderful American success story. Douglass's life shows how hard work and determination can lead to great rewards--a great lesson for us all, especially the groups of inner-city elementary and middle-schoolers who took the tour ahead of us. So perhaps we can forgive the guides for occasionally lapsing into a 19th-century version of MTV's Cribs.

Dining room: I am including this picture for two reasons. First, the objects on the mantel are some of the things Douglass brought back from his trips all over the world, including Europe, Africa and Asia. They illustrate just how cultured and well-traveled he was. Second, the picture above the mantel (I know it isn't all that clear) shows Douglass and members of Grant's cabinet. Again, it just demonstrates how powerful he was.

The pantry: an ice-box, another symbol of Douglass's wealth, and evolving 19th-century technology.

Pantry: I really love this picture. It's an ice-cream maker, yet another sign that the Douglass family had means...and dessert!

Kitchen: the stove, apparently a "top-of-the-line" appliance back in the day.

One of the guest rooms. I really liked this look of this room--right down to the wallpaper. I believe the tour guide said Paul Laurence Dunbar had stayed here, which is also pretty darn cool.

One of Douglass's wives' rooms: I am not sure which wife (his first or his second) used this room--the tour guide didn't specify and we didn't ask too many questions since by this point, half our group was back out in the cold, but she did say that after Wife #1 died, Wife #2 (who came along pretty quickly) took a different room as her own. I found this quite interesting given that there was some controversy about that second marriage. (And yes, it would have been very common back then for husbands and wives to have separate rooms. In fact, it was even a sign of material wealth.)

Douglass's bedroom, complete with some of his personal items (like that hat on the chair).

Douglass's bedroom: a close up of his chair, his shoes, and his weights. Douglass was an active and physically fit man for most of his life, so the weights make sense.

After the house tour, we picked up the rest of our group, took a few more pictures, and headed back to the visitor's center before hitting the road. Just a few more pictures:

The whole group posed outside the house.

A close-up of the group, although I took it before everyone was ready. I actually think that makes it a better picture.

A statue of Douglass in the Visitor's Center.

As I said, all in all, it was a good trip. I say that as a teacher, even as I try to tell myself that the students' favorite part wasn't when we stopped for lunch at Pizza Hut. If, in the end, our trip made us have a better appreciation for Douglass and his achievements and we carry that appreciation back to the study of his writings and the writing of his contemporaries, and if we can use what we learned to inform our discussions of American literature, then the trip was a success, traffic or no traffic.

Lest you think this is too rosy a conclusion, I'll end with this: with all that said, am I eager to hop back into the minivan and take them on another trip? Not so much...but I'm working on it.

Pet sterilization becomes the law... L.A. My libertarian streak rails just a bit against the government telling me what I have to do to my pets, but that's only for a moment. In the end, in a country with so many unwanted cats and dogs, I think this is very smart legislation. I can see problems, though, in terms of enforcement, etc. It seems to me that the people most likely to obey this law are the ones who would have spayed or neutered their pets anyway. But, it's a good start...

This issue has been on my mind a lot lately, especially since last week I had three homeless cats outside my back doors--sitting in the snow and peering in at me, Bing, and Wes. Heartbreaking stuff. It killed me, but as my sister reminded me, "You can't save all of them." Believe me, I know this--in fact, I think I am still paying off the costs of "saving" Huckleberry last summer.

What do the rest of you think about this law? And while I am thinking of it, give a click over at the Animal Rescue Site.

Update: Drudge is running this story, too, but also with the hilarious picture below:

You can practically hear the "Gulp!"

Monday, February 25, 2008

Things you overhear: Part III

Male Student 1: "What happened there was, I had a girlfriend who was more like a friend, and a friend who was more like a girlfriend, know what happened there."

Male Student 2: "I got ya, man."

(For those who don't remember, every once in a while, I feel the need to record the random and interesting conversations I hear going on outside my office. See here and here.)

Thursday, February 21, 2008

A disturbing sign of the times...

"The senior at the University of Utah gets dressed and then decides which gun is easiest to conceal under his clothes. If he's wearing a T-shirt, he'll take a smaller, low-profile gun to class. If he's wearing a coat, he may carry a different weapon, he said."

I won't comment much about this article from CNN, except to say that it depressed me.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Raymond Carver's "Cathedral"

Last week, we read Raymond Carver’s “Cathedral” in my English 102 class. In preparation for class that day, I did a little online reading to brainstorm for some discussion topics and stumbled upon this article by Samantha Gillison from January 2000.

“What would you do if you made the uncomfortable discovery that the most imitated writer in America might have lifted the plot, characters and theme of one of his most famous stories?

Well, for starters, you might try to dismiss the charges. Any old literary saw would do the trick. After all, everyone knows that Shakespeare cribbed his plots, that good writers borrow and great ones steal, and that all literary artists struggle under what Harold Bloom calls "the anxiety of influence." Maybe, as some have said, there are really only a few basic narratives, and a writer can only come up with different ways of telling them. But what if the similarities between two stories by two acknowledged masters were just too close to be easily brushed aside? If you were D.H. Lawrence scholar Keith Cushman*** and believed you had stumbled upon a brilliant rewrite of one of the master's tales you might draft a letter to the most influential short-story writer of your time. And Raymond Carver just might write you back.”

Great hook, right? It’s a fascinating read, as Gillison discusses how Carver’s most famous story might have been influenced (perhaps too light a word in this case) by D.H. Lawrence's “The Blind Man,” a story I haven’t read myself (or even heard of before this article).

As she examines what Carver said about the Lawrence story and puts together a bit of a literary criticism detective tale for us, Gillison also makes some smart points about the (ultimately impossible) quest for originality with which writers often struggle. She also asks great questions about what difference it makes to readers when we find out the “original” texts we loved are, in fact, influenced by other texts:

“But unacknowledged, unconscious ‘borrowing’ or no, what does all of this matter when Carver's fiction has given so many people so much pleasure? All artists (from great to lousy) in all media from time immemorial have borrowed and stolen, reinterpreted and reworked the art and ideas of their predecessors and contemporaries. It's the nature of creativity. So who cares if Carver shoplifted some ideas? Isn't Lady Chatterly herself a descendant of Emma Bovary? Isn't the most famous blind man of them all Oedipus Rex? And, as Professor Cushman suggests, isn't Lawrence himself working closely with Sophocles' ideas in his story? Yet, in the end, isn't there a line between being influenced and knocking off someone else's work?

Nevertheless, to suggest such an influence and to note Carver's denial of it can't fail to be seen as throwing down a gauntlet. Even in our era of sampling, of pastiche as high art and of the endless Hollywood remake, we still cherish originality as a cultural ideal, especially when it comes to the hallowed practice of literature.”

By the end of the article, there’s pretty convincing proof that, despite his denials, Carver had read Lawrence’s story, although that’s not really the important question. More important is why he felt the need to deny doing so. Again, by examining just what “Cathedral” and its acclaim meant to Carver, his reputation, and his place in the canon, she comes up with some interesting answers.

In the end, it’s kind of sad that Carver felt the need (apparently) to deny lawrence’s influence, especially if, as Gillison speculates, he does so because he feared estimation of his own story would suffer. “Cathedral” is an amazing story, whether influenced by Lawrence or not. In fact, the Lawrence connection almost makes it more interesting to me. For the record, my students enjoyed it, too—no small feat for a group of non-majors. I’ll end with Gillison’s conclusion:

“What then to make of this man who clearly saw himself as first and foremost a writer of literature, an art that he in turn claimed was of little more significance than bowling a rubber on a Saturday night? Nothing Carver himself didn't already identify and write in his stories for us: ambivalence, insecurity, ambition, need, cowardice and hope -- all the demons that beset the soul who wants to be Somebody. But judging from Carver's enduring popularity and beloved status with a whole new generation of short-story writers and readers, he needn't have worried.”

***Another reason this article really caught my eye? Dr. Cushman teaches at UNCG. I never worked with him while I was there, but I did know him and once wrote a short review of a collection of essays on D.H. Lawrence that he edited. I’ve gotta say, it’s pretty cool to think he wrote a letter to Carver—and that Carver wrote back. When you write about nineteenth-century American authors, that never happens.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

The Patriots are winners after Nicaragua.

My friend Amber and I used to joke/wonder what happened to all those shirts and hats teams had printed up in anticipation of wins in championships they ended up losing. For instance, I once posited, "Some little kids in Africa are going to be running around wearing NY Yankees, 2001 World Series Champions t-shirts." (That one still hurts a bit.)

Well, here's some confirmation of that theory.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Six word memoirs...

In the great tradition of six word short stories, here's a link to an article about six word memoirs. Some of these are really great. Some of my favorites:

No future, no past. Not lost.
- Matt Brensilver

Extremely responsible, secretly longed for spontaneity.
- Sabra Jennings

Painful nerd kid, happy nerd adult.
- Linda Williamson

Fight, work, persevere--gain slight notoriety.
- Harvey Pekar

Asked to quiet down; spoke louder.
- Wendy Lee

Naively expected logical world. Acted foolishly.
- Emily Thieler

So how about it, noble readers? Care to create your own six words memoirs?

Here's one I'm considering: Won't leave school. Hoping that's okay.

The sights of spring...

After a week that brought dangerous snow and ice to West Virginia, I appreciated even more than usual the news that pitchers and catchers have reported for Spring Training. Here's a strange image, though: Joe Torre in a Dodger's uniform.

On the other hand, here's an interesting article about Joe Girardi's first days as the Yankees' new manager.

"The guy in the manager's office is named Joe, there's a couple of boxes of green tea on the table behind his desk, and the phone rings a lot. Every so often, there will be a lunatic on the other end.

But that's where the similarities end. There's a new Joe in town, a stronger, bolder, more potent cup of Joe, not the smooth and mellow blend to which the Yankees had become accustomed the previous 12 seasons. This one is intended to be a wake-up call, the alarm clock that jolts you out of bed at 6 and the drip in the bathroom that keeps you up at night."

I'm eager (that's an understatement) to see how Girardi's persona meshes with this Yankee team. My gut tells me he'll do a fine job, provided the players actually show up and produce.

I'll end with "Joe's Law," apparently a partial list of some of his rules for Spring Training.

1. Be on time. No excuse for lateness.

2. Shorts and T-shirts only permitted during spring training.
3. Curfew of 1 a.m.
4. Jewelry - only one chain is permitted. No earrings.
5. Only neatly cut beards, mustaches, goatees. No long hair or "unshaven looks."
6. No family members in the clubhouse until after games.
7. No cell phones in the dugout.
8. Cell phones only allowed in the clubhouse until one hour before games.
9. No competing speakers in the clubhouse.

Sounds good to me! These guys need some discipline. Interestingly, these aren't all that different from some of the rules I wish I could impose in my classroom. Just substitute "classroom" for "clubhouse." (No, I can't control how they dress or groom themselves, but I often wish I could...)

Friday, February 15, 2008


He's got a whole series of clips.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Just in time for Valentine's Day...

...A thoroughly depressing Atlantic Monthly article with advice for single women age 30 and up: Settle! Ugh.

I will admit, though, that I related to this passage, even though I never watched Will and Grace:

"It’s not that I’ve become jaded to the point that I don’t believe in, or even crave, romantic connection. It’s that my understanding of it has changed. In my formative years, romance was John Cusack and Ione Skye in Say Anything. But when I think about marriage nowadays, my role models are the television characters Will and Grace, who, though Will was gay and his relationship with Grace was platonic, were one of the most romantic couples I can think of. What I long for in a marriage is that sense of having a partner in crime. Someone who knows your day-to-day trivia. Someone who both calls you on your bullshit and puts up with your quirks."

Actually, I think that what the author describes here (changing notions of romance) isn't settling at all, so much as it's growing up. Than again, maybe growing up is about settling into reality, whatever the heck that is.

Interestingly, I have just re-read Joyce's "Araby," a text we'll discuss in my ENG 102 course on Wednesday, and a story all about idealistic, romantic notions being crushed and put away:

"Gazing up into the darkness I saw myself as a creature driven and derided by vanity; and my eyes burned with anguish and anger.

Wake me up on February 15, okay?

Inappropriate? Yes. Hilarious? Yes. And so I link...

Send the kiddies to their room, folks, if you want to follow this link to a rather hilarious story. Of course, 99% of its hilarity comes from the picture of the offenders.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

The Walden Project

An interesting article from about an alternative school called "The Walden Project." It sounds like a pretty cool program, although certainly not for everyone.

My favorite part: a former student's answer when asked if she and the other students ever get tired of Thoreau:

"We do, we definitely do," she says, laughing. "We make jokes about him, we make fun of him, but then in the more serious times, we kind of come back to him and his basic message. So it's a love-hate relationship with 'H.D.', as we call him, or 'H-Dog.'"

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Time wasters with weird pay-offs...

Actually, I found this link by doing a google image search* for my name.

Check out what it says under "Editorial Reviews." That's me, baby!

Yes, yes...I'll get back to work...

*That's a fun and often really weird thing to do. For instance, if you type my friend Shannon's first and last name into the google image search (in quotation marks), you get one picture--of our friend Heather's pregnant belly. Bizarre.

Monday, February 4, 2008

I can't resist the urge anymore...

A friend of mine posted this on her Facebook page and it made me laugh so hard. For some reason, I said I wouldn't post it, but I can't help myself. I feel obligated to share it with you, faithful readers (basically that's you, Shannon).

Lost and found pictures...

I was really struck by this news story about how an old picture helped solve a mystery. Side note: the picture was taken not too far from where I grew up. Ultimately, it's a sad story, but at least the family has some answers.

On a related topic, check out this cool new blog I found through a link from PostSecret: a blog for Found Cameras and Orphan Pictures.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Famous authors predict the winner of tomorrow's game...

Very funny stuff.

"Yes We Can" Video

Again, I am staying as apolitical as possible on this blog, but this video some Obama supporters put together is pretty amazing. With rhetoric like this--messages of unity, hope, a promise for the future--it's hard to resist this candidate's appeal. And while celebrity endorsements usually leave me cold, the famous folks in this video somehow don't bother me.

As everyone else has been noting, this candidate is a force to be reckoned with--and if he's who the Republicans end up facing in November, they will have their work cut out for them.