Monday, June 30, 2008

Matt Roush on Dr. Horrible

Just in case you needed even more reasons to be excited about Dr. Horrible, check out this review from Matt Roush, one of my favorite TV critics.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Dr. Horrible Trailer

Amber emailed me this link for the Doctor Horrible Trailer. Awesome! As I just explained to her in an email, I have an ever-increasing crush on Neil Patrick Harris. And as for Nathan Fillion, well, I've loved him since his One Life to Live days. Swoon...

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Tales of Fourth-Grade Love

Here's just a brief glimpse of (we hope) lots of treasures to come: a note from Mike S.*, my fourth and fifth grade boyfriend. Here's what I remember about Mike S.: he was super cute, with dark hair and dark eyes, but short--probably the shortest boy in our class. He wore a three piece suit with a red tie to our first day of school. (We didn't wear uniforms back then, but did have a strict dress code--even still, a three-piece suit stood out!) He got into trouble all the time. This was of great concern to the teachers at our small private school, since I was a goody-goody who never got in trouble. Classic case of good girl/bad boy syndrome. He tried so hard to be good and impress me, but couldn't resist getting into trouble. I would get mad at him when he would get in trouble and then he would apologize and be good for a while. Seriously. How funny is that? One time, my teacher even tried to talk me out of liking him. But I was smitten with this little guy, and the feeling was mutual. I have a whole stack of notes from him--notes like the one I'll post below.

Here's a transcript:

"Dear Heidi,

Everyone thinks I like melanie and rayna. But I don't, they like me. Do you like Chris? I've heard he likes you. I'm in big trouble because my father found out I drew a heart with your name above it like this. [Drawing of heart with arrow with "Heidi" above it]

Love, Mike"

Sweet, right? This must have come early on in our "relationship," when insecurities and jealousies ran high. I also love the Romeo and Juliet touch of an angry father. (If I remember correctly, his dad wanted him to concentrate on school, not girls.)

Anyway, our romance continued for about a year and a half, until he was (no joke) expelled from our small, Lutheran school for wouldn't believe me if I told you...

*Last name withheld to protect his identity--and because, although I remember how to pronounce it, I sure can't remember how to spell it.

Nostalgia coming your way...

When I was in NY a couple of weekends ago, my mother sprung a most-unpleasant last-minute task on me: "Clean out the closet in your old bedroom. Make two piles: what you are taking with you and trash." Keep in mind that that closet is the just about the only place in the house where I still have things. And that she dropped this chore on me at 9:00 on Saturday night, when I had hours worth of work to do and an unexpected sleepover with my nine-year-old niece. You can imagine how happy I was. Ultimately, I threw out a ton of stuff and brought back quite a few boxes to WV, including several filled with all the notes and cards from my childhood and up through college. I haven't even started to look through these yet, but I have found a gem or two already. In the coming weeks, I'll go through these and post some of the good ones.

First, though, something that isn't a letter or a note at all: a collage my sister Tara made for me circa 1990/1991, when she was in college and I (apparently) was into well...some funny stuff. I remember thinking that this collage was just about the coolest thing my much-cooler older sister ever made for me, especially since she didn't give it to me for any special occasion: it was just because. Back then, I thought Tara was the epitome of awesome (and I still do, of course), but we didn't spend much time together. I mean, we were seven years apart--an hard age difference to overcome when you are younger. Plus Erin, clocking in at ten years younger, was infinitely cuter and a lot more fun for Tara. So when she give me this collage, I hung it with pride.

If you click on it, you should be able to get a better view. Highlights include: the boys of 90210*, Tom Cruise, and U2. I love the phrases, too: "You've got it....Together!", "The most popular boys" (a hybrid construction), "get a kick out of life," and "red hot." Some of them are probably wishful thinking characteristics on my sister's part, including "fashion," "elegant," and "chic." It was also originally in a frame (but I have no idea what happened to that).

Anyway, when I told Tara I found the collage, she had no memory of making it but did order that I could not throw it out. She even said I ought to blog about it, so here you go.

*I had a major crush on Luke Perry and was quite devoted to that show--until Brenda left and Kelly and Dylan hooked up. Then I was done.

Lit 101 Class, in Three Lines or Less

Via McSweeney's.

My favorite:

"Paradise Lost
ADAM: Paradise has arbitrary dietary restrictions?
DEVIL: They're really more like guidelines.
GOD: Incorrect."

Thursday, June 19, 2008

English is too hard...

...according to a presentation at the Spelling Society. (Does that sound like a fun crowd, or what?) Anyway, here's a list of 100 words identified as too hard:

"Orange, foreign, rhinoceros, properly, vomit, tambourine, tournament, tourist, heaven, engine, exquisite, opposite, advertisement, gnarled, rigid, risen, sinister, spinach, video, vinegar, tie, wheelie, quiet, science, crier, pliers, soldier, Monday, mongrel, monkey, courage, magic, manage, palace, four, journey, gnash, gnaw, gnome, ghastly, guard, miracle, miserable, pigeon, pity, prison, month, mother, nothing, once, smother, son, sponge, tongue, wonder, almost, both, comb, ghost, gross, most, only, post, programme, deny, reply, July, obey, caterpillar, chapel, damage, dragon, fabulous, family, famished, garage, glacier, habit, hazard, hexagonal, imagine, panic, radish, miaow, powder, cauliflower, plant, pyjamas, raft, rather, salami, task, vast, kiosk, kiwi, machine, encourage, somersault, swollen, souvenir"

There's no denying English is a crazy language, but forgive me for feeling the tone of this piece to be a bit panicky and over the top. This also reminds me of that wonderful alternative spelling of "fish": ghoti. Read all about it here.

This is just depressing...

"As summer vacation begins, 17 girls at Gloucester High School are expecting babies—more than four times the number of pregnancies the 1,200-student school had last year. Some adults dismissed the statistic as a blip. Others blamed hit movies like Juno and Knocked Up for glamorizing young unwed mothers. But principal Joseph Sullivan knows at least part of the reason there's been such a spike in teen pregnancies in this Massachusetts fishing town. School officials started looking into the matter as early as October after an unusual number of girls began filing into the school clinic to find out if they were pregnant. By May, several students had returned multiple times to get pregnancy tests, and on hearing the results, 'some girls seemed more upset when they weren't pregnant than when they were,' Sullivan says. All it took was a few simple questions before nearly half the expecting students, none older than 16, confessed to making a pact to get pregnant and raise their babies together. Then the story got worse. 'We found out one of the fathers is a 24-year-old homeless guy,' the principal says, shaking his head."

Read the whole thing here. Something is clearly off in the message these girls are getting about sex and single motherhood. While the post-birth support the mothers who keep their babies receive at this school is laudable (and so often a missing element of the pro-life campaign), you've got to wonder how anyone can make these students see that not getting pregnant at all is the best idea. And, of course, that adoption is often the very best thing for these babies. That's one of the things I loved about Juno, which seemed almost old-fashioned in its embrace of the idea.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008


If you need a quick laugh, check out GraphJam. Here are a couple of quick favorites:

"The Death of the Critic"

I am finally getting around to linking to this Salon essay about the prospects for professional literary criticism these days. I haven't read the book Bayard and Miller are discussing, but found their discussion quite interesting nonetheless.

One key part (for me) was their discussion on the pleasure of reading good criticism--how it's almost an art to itself. This is why, of course, creative writers often make such readable and enjoyable critics. And it's why my graduate school professors put so much emphasis on the quality of our prose. Anyway, here's a choice excerpt:

"I find I'm drawn to critics for the same reason I'm drawn to any writer: the quality of their prose. They can misinterpret and misevaluate to their heart's delight as long as they make the words dance. Helen Vendler and Harold Bloom may be preeminent in their respective fields, but I read their prose only under duress. Whereas, no matter how wrongheaded she is, I'll read anything by Pauline Kael. Or Anthony Lane or Clive James or, yes, James Wood.

And thanks to McDonald's book, I now want to read more of Northrop Frye, who fired this sterling round of grapeshot at T.S. Eliot for fiddling with the canon of great writers: '...all the literary chit-chat which makes the reputations of poets boom and crash in an imaginary stock-exchange. The wealthy investor, Mr. Eliot, after dumping Milton on the market, is now buying him again; Donne has probably reached his peak and will begin to taper off; Tennyson may be in for a slight flutter but the Shelley stocks are still bearish. This sort of thing cannot be part of any systematic study, for a systematic study can only progress: whatever dithers or vacillates or reacts is merely leisure-class gossip.' Of course, I take Frye's thematic point -- the vagaries of taste are a fickle criterion for evaluation -- but I'm more impressed by the dazzling execution of that stock-market metaphor and that ever-so-subtle colon in the last sentence. Anyone who wants to write about writing should be able to write."

One other point they touch on in the end: good criticism often reveals just how much the critic loves literature. If you can't sense that love--that genuine affection and enthusiasm for it--coming through the critic's words, then I'd be willing to be that you are less moved or persuaded by the argument the critic is making.

UPDATE: A commenter provided a link to his own exchange with the book's author. Check it out--along with his review.

Art from dirt...

This is pretty cool, although it's depressing to think about how dirty the world is.

Father's Day Weekend

This past weekend, I drove up to NY to see the family. I figured it would be good to see my folks, since my mom is still recovering from being sick, my dad is still dealing with some health issues, and of course, because it was almost Father's Day.

I left WV on Friday morning and got to my sister Tara's by early afternoon. While she did some grocery shopping, the kids and I hit the pool and spent almost two hours swimming. It was a blast!

Colin in his tube. Eventually, he let it go and did some real swimming.

Olivia swimming.

Colin and Olivia.

Eventually, I had to drag them out of the pool because their teeth were chattering. Olivia gave up first, asked me to wrap her in a towel, and then curled up on this chair in the sun (at my suggestion.) Then her brother followed suit (these kids are always copying each other.) I thought this was pretty funny and I called them little burrito babies.

Another shot of the oh-so-dramatic burrito babies. They really are drama queens--always hamming it up.

The next evening, we had a cook-out at my parents' house for Father's Day (a bit early since I had to leave on Sunday afternoon to get back to WV.)

Aidan getting in the pool. (Colin is behind him--I feel the need to explain that so you don't think he's a many-armed Hindu deity or something.)

One of the things I really got a kick out of seeing was how Aidan and Colin (who are about nine months apart) are buddies now. They weren't always. In the beginning, Colin saw Aidan as a kind of rival for my dad's affection or he was more or less disinterested in him. Now, though, they love spending time together, as this shot of them on the ladder illustrates.

My dad and Olivia.

Looking at the camera this time.

Yay for cupcakes! Seriously, they inhaled these things.

Uncle Ryan and the kids.

Philadelphia Road Trip, Part III

Our main purpose for the trip was to find an apartment for Vogel. Kind of an overwhelming task, but I felt we were up to the challenge. She ended up settling on a cool place pretty early on, a two bedroom in Chestnut Hill. Her neighborhood is so awesome--I am completely jealous. I took lots of pictures of the inside of the apartment (and the other places we looked at), but since the current tenants were still living there, their stuff is in all of the pictures and it would feel kind of creepy to post them. I will post just a few pictures from that day, though.

The outside of the apartment. There are two units in the building, one on the top floor and one in the middle. The bottom level has the laundry room and the garages. The houses all around the building are gorgeous--big old stone houses with eaves and nooks poking out all around. Again, I am super jealous.

It's worth noting that in the wikipedia entry I've linked to above, the first word used to describe Chestnut Hill is "affluent." That's the truth! Vogel will be in easy walking distance to pedestrian-friendly streets filled with shops and restaurants. There's even a cable car that still occasionally rides up and down the road. You can see it in the distance here.

In fact, the area is so ritzy, the McDonald's looks like a castle! (Are we sensing a castle theme?) I actually think the castle look makes a bit of sense, since there are so many gorgeous stone houses in the area. It still made me laugh, though. (On Long Island, in certain areas like this, they also have non-conventional looking McDonald's restaurants. Usually, they are the results of zoning laws and such.)

After looking at the first couple of places, Vogel was a bit overwhelmed, so we stopped for lunch at a place my handy GPS helped us find: Bruno's. Very yummy food. And a good lunch sometimes brings clarity. Well, that and a pro-con list made by your friend Heidi. By the time we were done, she was more or less settled on that first apartment.

While we loved Bruno's, Vogel was a bit offended by this sandwich selection. I just thought it was funny. I am also an awful person. (Apparently, this name for this kind of sandwich is common in the area, as we saw it on another menu the next day. Both of us--native New Yorkers--were unfamiliar with the name.)

All in all, it was a great trip and good results. I can't wait to visit her when she gets all settled into her new place.

Philadelphia Road Trip, Part II

Our next stop that first night was Arcadia. Vogel had recently told me that I would love one thing about her school--that there was a huge castle on the campus. She wasn't kidding--and it is pretty darn cool. You can read all about it here.

Some pictures from castle:

Impressive, no?

Closer-up. The stop-sign kind of ruins the effect, though.

A view of one of the towers.

I thought this archway shot was cool, but the mini-van kind of ruins it.

A view from around back.

I also took a bunch of close-ups of the gargoyles and faces carved into the stones.

What the heck is this?



This one looks well...constipated.

Finally, I talked Vogel into posing all around the castle.

Happy Vogel.

Eventually, I told her to put a bit of emotion into it and pose triumphantly.

My secret hope was that the English department was having a meeting in one of the rooms and was looking out thinking, "What the heck did we get ourselves into?"

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Philadelphia Road Trip, Part I

A couple of weekends ago, Vogel and I took a trip to Philadelphia. She was apartment hunting since she's just landed a tenure-track job at Arcadia University. Of course, I brought the camera along and snapped some totally random pictures. Seriously. These are all over the place.

First, some pics from the road. (Vogel actually took all of these, since I was driving.)

This one just made us laugh. "School students" seemed a bit redundant. I suppose it isn't as funny now.

A lovely picture of a horse's ass. Actually, since this was the day before the Belmont Stakes, we just pretended that this big brown horse was Big Brown, the triple-crown contender.

What self-respecting English academics wouldn't take a picture of Faulkner collision? I also like this building because of the gecko on the left.

Eventually, we made it to our hotel, which was actually in Fort Washington, just outside of Philadelphia. Not much worth talking about there, except that in front of the hotel was the strangest Subway I've ever seen.

I mean, I kind of get it--subway/train car, but still...random.

Just in case you were wondering... Bing and Wes are doing, here are a few recent pictures.

Bing sleeping in the laundry basket. I was doing a top-to-bottom housecleaning that day (as evidenced by the cord from the vacuum), but that didn't stop Bing from finding a comfortable place to sleep--right in the middle of it all.

Right after I snapped the first picture, I took this one of his slightly-annoyed "Can I help you?" look.

Wesley, looking very cerebral. (That's a kind of rarity for him.)

And lastly, Wesley making a plea for me to ignore the stack of midterms (on the right) and pay some attention to him.

After the heat broke...

Last week, as our heatwave ended with some violent storms, I snapped this picture of the sunset.

David Brooks on Debt

No doubt because my father raised me to fear debt like the plague, I spend a lot of time worrying about it--and not just my own debt, but the debts of others: family, friends, even people I see in the store buying things that it seems like they can't afford. (I know what you are thinking: I am very nosy and judgmental. What a combination.)

But I can't help it. I see a young couple with a baby or two buying a huge TV and putting into a new car, and I think, "Can they really afford that?" I see students with the newest cellphones and I wonder how they are paying for them (especially at a school like Shepherd, where students don't tend to have a lot of resources.) Back when all of these people were buying huge houses with crazy mortgages, I worried. When I hear people talk about running out and spending their economic stimulus checks (an item worthy of its own post!), I worry that they should instead be using them to pay down debt.

While I am aware of many weaknesses in my character, I don't think this fear of debt is one of them and I am grateful to my dad for teaching me this lesson. Anyway, this essay by David Brooks is one that my dad would heartily endorse, I am sure. It's certainly worth a read.

Here are the opening paragraphs:

"The people who created this country built a moral structure around money. The Puritan legacy inhibited luxury and self-indulgence. Benjamin Franklin spread a practical gospel that emphasized hard work, temperance and frugality. Millions of parents, preachers, newspaper editors and teachers expounded the message. The result was quite remarkable.

The United States has been an affluent nation since its founding. But the country was, by and large, not corrupted by wealth. For centuries, it remained industrious, ambitious and frugal.

Over the past 30 years, much of that has been shredded. The social norms and institutions that encouraged frugality and spending what you earn have been undermined. The institutions that encourage debt and living for the moment have been strengthened. The country’s moral guardians are forever looking for decadence out of Hollywood and reality TV. But the most rampant decadence today is financial decadence, the trampling of decent norms about how to use and harness money."

City of Shadows

Check out this post on long-exposure photographs of crowds in St. Petersburg. Amazing visuals!

As if writing exams wasn't already hard enough... comes an article about a new site that allows students to upload tests for others to use. Ugh.

Am I a bad aunt?

This weekend I was home in NY for Father's Day and as we were cleaning up from a cook-out on Saturday night, the rain started to roll in, complete with thunder and lightening. The kids kept saying "It's raining!" which, for some unknown reason got me singing a certain song (wait for it). My niece Kelsie (all of nine years old) thought it was a funny song, so she asked to hear the whole thing, which led, eventually, to a visit to Youtube for the video. The rest of the night (she slept over) and all the next day, she kept laughing about it and saying, "Remember the part when the men danced around the bed in their underwear?" So I ask you again, am I a bad aunt or did I simply introduce her to a classic song?

Reel Geezers

Have you all seen these movie reviews? They are all kinds of awesome. Old people keep it real.

Stanford Law drops letter grades...

I just don't get this. How are these labels all that different from old-fashioned grades? It reminds me of a conversation I've had again and again with a friend who criticizes my use of number grades on papers (that are eventually translated into letter grades at the end of the semester). She prefers letter grades all along as they seem less scientific and absolute. In the end, though, you still end up having to make that final evaluation, which is based on numbers and will be interpreted on a scale. I love this response from a commenter:

"Hey, I have an idea for Stanford Law, Yale Law and the like. To simplify their evaluation system, assign letters to each level of achievement:

High honors = A Honors = B Pass = C Low Pass = D No Credit = F"

Twitter Stories

This article about Twitter stories (140 characters or less) is pretty interesting, especially given earlier posts on six-word short-stories, six-word memoirs, and one-sentence true stories. By the way, have you seen this story about the guy who used Twitter to get out of an Egyptian prison?

J.K. Rowling at Harvard

I will confess to never having read a single Harry Potter book, but I still have a lot of admiration for J.K. Rowling, who has done more to get people reading than just about anyone in recent memory. Anyway, a couple of weeks ago, she gave the commencement address at Harvard, and it's a pretty good one. You can read it all here. I'll paste a couple of my favorite parts below.

1) "You might think that I chose my second theme, the importance of imagination, because of the part it played in rebuilding my life, but that is not wholly so. Though I will defend the value of bedtime stories to my last gasp, I have learned to value imagination in a much broader sense. Imagination is not only the uniquely human capacity to envision that which is not, and therefore the fount of all invention and innovation. In its arguably most transformative and revelatory capacity, it is the power that enables us to empathise with humans whose experiences we have never shared."

2) "One of the many things I learned at the end of that Classics corridor down which I ventured at the age of 18, in search of something I could not then define, was this, written by the Greek author Plutarch: What we achieve inwardly will change outer reality.

That is an astonishing statement and yet proven a thousand times every day of our lives. It expresses, in part, our inescapable connection with the outside world, the fact that we touch other people’s lives simply by existing."

You think Harvard graduates would be thrilled that they managed to get such a cool speaker. Not so fast. Check out this NPR story about some graduates' reactions. What a bunch of pompous jerks (I'm talking about the complainers here, who think they deserved a "real" speaker). Can't wait for you to hit the real world, kids, and see how that treats you.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Pictures from late March

Today I was cleaning up files on my camera and my computer and came across a few from an almost surreal time of my life last semester: the fews days around Easter.

As some of you know, right around then we had a terrifying medical scare with my mother, who went into the hospital on Wednesday, the very day I was heading to Asheville, North Carolina, to deliver a conference paper. By Friday evening, the situation had gotten so bad that I needed to come home to NY immediately. I drove all Friday night, met my sister in Martinsburg the next morning, and we drove up to NY, spending Saturday there and most of Sunday before heading back down here on Sunday afternoon (assured by my dad and my siblings that we didn't need to be there right then).

The happy news--eventually--was that my mom's diagnosis went from being quite dire to something completely treatable and she's almost fully recovered. But in my mind, those few days stand out as some of the worst of my life. So it was strange to find these pictures and be reminded of what helped me get through that awful time.

First, a few pictures from the conference. PAC is one of the highlights of the year for me because I get to see so many of my friends. It's like a reunion. This time, though, you can tell I wasn't in my normal mindset because there are only a couple photos worth posting.

A cute picture of Bethany and Emily, two of my best friends from my UNCG days.

From left to right: Vogel, Emily, Bethany, Gretchen, Heidi, and Kari. This picture of most of our group is a bit blurry, but it makes me smile. I am not sure who took it (maybe Tasha or Shannon, who are noticeably absent from the picture), but it was taken after we had finished with panels for the day and I was about to get that "you need to come home" phone call. I had been on the phone with my siblings all day, getting progressively worse news, and my friends knew this. God bless them--they were so wonderful. I really couldn't have picked a better place to be then surrounded by them during that time.

After those pictures from Asheville, I found a few from Easter Sunday. After church, Ryan, Erin, and I met Tara, Jeff, Jeff's mom, Colin, and Olivia for lunch at the diner, before Erin and I headed over to the hospital. I had my camera with me, and took just a couple of pictures, since it was Easter, after all, and we were trying to act normal for the kids. It was strange being at a restaurant and acting Easter-y with so much on our minds, but seeing those kids made me smile, just like always, on a day I really needed reasons to smile.

Colin and Jeff.

Olivia and Erin.

Colin and Heidi. (Is it just me, or do I look kind of young in this picture? Maybe it's the color I am wearing? If so, I need to buy more shirts in this color...)

Anyway, (and yes, I realize the huge cheese factor in this post), finding these photos reminded me of the ways God sends us what we need in trying times, especially in the forms of friends and family.

Robert Frost and Vermont justice...

So some punk kids vandalized Robert Frost's summer home. Their punishment? Listen to lectures about his poetry. Read the article--I am not sure the well-intentioned plan worked. Also, I agree with one of the commenters--why did the professor pick "The Road Not Taken" and present it as a poem about making moral choices? Every semester, I have to work to convince my students of the obvious error of that interpretation...oh well.

Science Thursday!

A few science links that caught my eye:

1) A mission to Mars? There's lots to think about before you consider signing up. This really grabbed my attention:

"Nor will astronauts really be able to talk to anyone, either -- at least not on Earth -- mainly because of a 44-minute communication delay between the Blue and Red planets, 'which means you can't have a nice chat with your kids,' said Kanas. 'You are so far away; you really are isolated.'"

And then there's this:

" Yet the big unknown, according to Kanas, does not involve who astronauts will not be able to talk to or what gifts they will not be able to get, but instead what they will not be able to clearly see: planet Earth. Kanas has even coined a term for the situation: the "Earth out of view" phenomenon. 'Nobody in the history of mankind has ever experienced the Earth as a pale, insignificant blue dot in the sky,' he said. 'What that might do to a crew member, nobody knows.'"

2) A sixteen-year-old has decomposed a plastic bag in three months. I would say that earns him an "A" for his project, right?

The Big Picture

A cool new (or new-ish) blog at the Boston Globe website is "The Big Picture" -- each day, a single dramatic photo that tells a story. Below are a couple that stood out to me. Be sure to click on the pictures to see them full size (for maximum effect).

"Brazilian Indians ride a bus in Altamira, Brazil, Wednesday, May 21, 2008. Amazon Indians and activists continue to protest a proposed hydroelectric dam on the nearby Xingu River. (AP Photo/Andre Penner)"

"A couple reacts immediately after an earthquake struck during their wedding photo shoot at a deserted catholic seminary in Pengzhou in southwest China's Sichuan province Monday May 12, 2008. Five couples were having wedding photos taken when the earthquake struck, and all escaped without injury. The century-old seminary was destroyed in the quake, which left tens of thousands dead in Sichuan. (AP Photo)"

"An Afghan Special Forces policeman walks through a poppy field as he searches for Taliban fighters in the village of Sanjaray in Zhari district early April 26, 2008. (REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic)"

The Ups and Downs of Elevators

Another article that I've been meaning to get to is this one from The New Yorker from a while back. You might not think that an essay about elevators would be a good read, but this one certainly is. One of my favorite facts gleaned from the piece: most "door close" buttons in modern elevators do not work. They are just there to make passengers feel like they have some kind of control. The writer adds, "Once you know this, it can be illuminating to watch people compulsively press the door-close button. That the door eventually closes reinforces their belief in the button’s power. It’s a little like prayer. Elevator design is rooted in deception—to disguise not only the bare fact of the box hanging by ropes but also the tethering of tenants to a system over which they have no command."

Wednesday, June 4, 2008


Last Friday I had a training session for the Civility Response Team, an organization on campus that I've just joined. The session was held at the National Conservation Training Center (NCTC), a fish and wildlife training center (and government facility) on the outskirts of Shepherdstown. The NCTC is really something--an amazing facility with gorgeous grounds, beautiful buildings--it's just a great place to be.

On our way out when the all-day training session was done (and is there any phrase that evokes less fun than "all-day training session"?), we were walking to our cars, and Alan, one of my favorite people from my department, pointed out the eagles' nest at the NCTC. He explained that there is even an Eaglecam set up so you can watch the eagles and the eaglets online. My interest was piqued, so I checked out the website and now I am hooked!

This year there are three eaglets in the nest, and you can read all about them (and previous years' efforts) here. There is also a link to a blog for eagle-watchers, who seem to be an amazingly involved community of devotees. Of course, the day (Saturday) I discovered the blog and the eaglecam was also the day that severe thunderstorms roared through the area. This is, of course, a danger for these little birds and people were on edge most of the day. (Today was a similar day, with a tornado warning in the area--honestly, I thought my car was about to washed away at one point!) Anyway, the babies survived Saturday's storms.

Today one of the eaglets fledged (left the nest) for the first time. The bloggers went wild with excitement. Bad timing, though, considering the weather. As of this point, the two remaining babies seem fine (wet, but fine) and there is no sign of the parents or the baby who flew off--not that that is necessarily a sign of bad news.

Anyway, if you are so inclined, check out the Eaglecam! Warning: it's kind of addictive.

Postcards from Yo Mamma...

I've been meaning to link to this blog for a long time (tonight, as you might be able to tell, is a bit of a blogging catch-up night, as I sort through collected bookmarks from two computers.) My mom doesn't email, but this blog makes a part of me wish she did, because I am sure she'd come up with some doozies.

Just try not smiling...

...when you watch this video of Lithuanian baby racing...

Edward Said's Orientalism

When I was in graduate school, we talked a whole lot about Edward Said, especially his Orientalism. Given all I had heard and read about Said back then, if there were to be a Mount Rushmore of literary critics, I figured Said's head would be there.

History isn't always kind to literary criticism, and that's probably a good thing. Here's an interesting link that's been in my bookmarks for a few weeks now: a book review of two new texts that take on Said, especially for his sometimes sloppy and intellectually dishonest scholarship (my words, not the reviewers). Interesting stuff...

For what it's worth, my sentiments lie with the article's first commenter:

"No academic in the field would argue that 'Orientalism' was not polemic or flawed--most argue the opposite. Instead, it's the idea of a discursive, binary East/West opposition that still holds traction, with reason."

As I said above, this seems like a fair reading of Said, and his enduring value to literary criticism. A favorite piece of mine is his analysis of Austen's Mansfield Park, from his Culture and Imperialism, which argued for a political and imperialist interpretation of the book. Apparently this is a problematic thesis and people have jumped all over it since it first appeared, but I still enjoyed reading it and seeing how Said encourages us to read what is in the margins--or beyond the margins--of a text--and how we should look at what systems/beliefs/ideologies hold a text up and make it work.

About last night...

No matter your party affiliation, you can't deny that a bit of history was made last night (despite Senator Clinton's destructive delusions that this thing isn't over yet). Over at Andrew Sullivan's Daily Dish, readers have been sending in their responses. Here are two that I found particularly moving:

1) "Tomorrow I will go to the African American cemetery outside of Chicago where my great-grandparents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, friends, neighbors, and my mother and father are buried. And I will tell them that they were right -- that if we studied hard, worked hard, kept the faith, fought for justice, prayed, that this day would come.

And it has."

2) "My grandfather, 86 years old and a veteran of WWII, just gave me a call. He was calling all of his grandchildren to let them know what an important night this was in the history of our country.

Grandpa drove a truck for over 50 years, and he told the story of how he drove with a team of drivers, 2 white (including him), and 4 black. When they stopped at the truck stops, the black drivers had to use separate restrooms and showers, and had to eat in a small room in the back of the kitchen. Grandpa and his co-driver would eat in the back with the rest of the team, and while they didn't speak of it at the time, they knew it was wrong yet felt powerless to change it, and believed that it would never change.

Tonight, he told me, we have come full-circle. Many people, especially the younger generation who supported Obama, will never fully realize the historical import of what happened tonight. But he wanted his grandchildren to know this story that he had never told us, and it was the second time in my 33 years that I have heard my grandpa cry."

Yesterday, I taught The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass and selections from Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin in English 204. What would they--especially Douglass--have to say about how far we've come in American politics? Today in class, we discussed that great American poet, Walt Whitman. How perfect, right? Consider what Whitman writes in the Preface to Leaves of Grass:

"The Americans of all nations at any time upon the earth have probably the fullest poetical nature. The United States themselves are essentially the greatest poem. In the history of the earth hitherto the largest and most stirring appear tame and orderly to their ampler largeness and stir. Here at last is something in the doings of man that corresponds with the broadcast doings of the day and night. Here is not merely a nation but a teeming nation of nations. Here is action untied from strings necessarily blind to particulars and details magnificently moving in vast masses. Here is the hospitality which forever indicates heroes . . .

Again, Republican, Democrat, whatever you are--you have reason to smile today and be extra proud to be an American.