Tuesday, November 26, 2002


Continuing to bounce off issues raised by One Pot Meal.

I asked my women's history class (about a third of whom are practicing Baptists) what being feminine means to them. Lots of them talked about wanting to be attractive, wanting to dress up. I didn't push them on who they wanted to attract (it was, after all, the last class before Thanksgiving), but I think they would first have said they wanted to feel good about themselves. However, they didn't think being feminine meant deferring to men. After some discussion it came out that while they absolutely thought women should be assertive, they did think that to be feminine involved putting others first.

I think the issue here may be understanding authority. They seemed to like the model of the mother who makes all the decisions for the household but never puts herself first. But I'm suspicious of that model both because it seems like a way of borrowing authority instead of having a right to it and also because I think putting oneself first in subtle ways can be more dangerous than being upfront about it.

I'm off for a few days, will be back here Dec. 1.

Monday, November 25, 2002

Blog Privacy

One Pot Meal asks whether professors worry about students reading their blogs. I wrote the following answer.

I do worry about student gossip. I don't feel it could endanger my job--I have tenure and a strong record and the support of my colleagues. But I feel it could reduce my effectiveness if the students are sniggering about me behind my back; they love any excuse to not respect the professor because then they don't feel obliged to learn. I remember in the early 1980s male colleagues laughing about how all the students paid attention to in the class of one tenured woman professor was her breasts. And I remember a student who said that he stopped reading a book I had assigned after 10 pages because he found one fact he knew was wrong so the book wasn't worth reading.

But I also figure students are usually lazy and the downside if students do start reading my blog isn't very severe. I have a web site on abuse issues which I keep very separate from my public identity. My blog I just keep a little bit separate. If you go to my blog it is easy to figure out who I am, but if you do a search on my name my blog doesn't come up.

Would my students be upset to read my writing about them in my blog? I don't know. I don't think I am disrespectful but it is always a bit of an uncomfortable feeling to be talked about.

I suppose it may be somewhat of a different issue next term, when I am going to call students' attention to blogs by requiring them to write one. I will write a separate one myself pertaining to the class as a model for them rather than giving them a link to this.

Saturday, November 23, 2002

Critiquing Evolutionary Psychology

There is a biting and amusing attack on evolutionary psychology in the lastest New Yorker, in the form of a review of Steven Pinker's book The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature. "Music appreciation, for instance, seems to be wired in at about the level of 'Hot Cross Buns.' But people learn to enjoy Wagner. They even learn to sing Wagner. One suspects that enjoying Wagner, singing Wagner, anything to do with Wagner, is in gross excess of the requirements of natural selection." There is also a critique in The New Republic.

Friday, November 22, 2002

Local Culture

The messages of local church signs often bother me, but here it gets even more basic--R U saved or lost?--on a winding mountain road. The sign has been there the 5 years I have been driving the road; I don't know if it goes back much farther or not. I don't like the question--I'll borrow the answer that I am saved, I am being saved, I will be saved--but I like the merger of nature and culture.

Thursday, November 21, 2002

I'm reading Soon We Will Not Cry, a biography of civil rights activist Ruby Doris Smith Robinson, with my women's history class. The courage of the activists of the early 1960s is remarkable. I already had some mental image of the lunch-counter sit-ins but none of what it was like to be arrested at a sit in and go to jail for 30 or 60 days. I notice how much nonviolence was about accepting pain, choosing pain, in order to stand up for what is right. Turning the other cheek doesn't mean giving up on justice (a camp counselor with lots of Christian ideas told my son that he should respond to teasing by turning the other cheek, and I struggled to explain why that was wrong).

Wednesday, November 20, 2002

Monday I had my students actually solve a problem on a slide rule. Today I told the story of what it was like to write computer programs and run them by batch processing of punch cards in the mid 1970s. I'm not sure the students even believe me.

Tuesday, November 19, 2002

Too pressed. I handed back book reviews and the students handed in rough drafts of their papers. Much to think about deep inside as well.

God, help me to hear what is in my heart and at the same time to live up to my responsibilities without getting overwhelmed. Help me to see how it all weaves together into a life. Amen

Monday, November 18, 2002

The Mangel Wurzel

The elementary students were curious about the use of turnips (actually beets) as animal feed in the agricultural revolution that preceded the British Industrial Revolution. I did some searching and found one description with a picture. It also seems that the mangel-wurzel was at least in some areas of England the original jack-o-lantern and all those stories at halloween that talked about the use of turnips didn't explain about the kind of turnips/beets used for animal feed.

But my favorite find is about Robert Nichols who "refused to deny the rumour, current among younger Oxford poets, that he had been sent down from the University for throwing a mangel-wurzel at Lloyd George."

jumping between topics

I had an intense phone conversation with my therapist this morning--I had found an article debunking recovered memories in a publication he reads (I won't dignify it with a link) and I needed reassurance that he believes me. We acknowledged that all the details aren't necessarily accurate, but I wanted him to say he believes me, what I remember was real. He got stuck on exactly what I meant by that, but it was so important that I kept pushing. I acknowledged that details get mixed up with symbols and feelings but I need the overall statement that he believes it was real. Finally he did give me that.

By the time we had worked that out it was time for me to give a talk to 4th-6th graders on the history of factory workers. I gave a brief description not just of the development of textile factories in England, New England, and the American South but also of the basic principles of capitalism (why the profits go to the owners, not the workers). I had a lot of energy to put into it, I guess.

I have almost an hour to catch my breath before lecturing on the history of computers before the computer. It intrigues me to try to get my students to understand what a slide rule did and didn't do. I'm going to get them to try one on their laptops.

Friday, November 15, 2002

Abusive Priests

Amy Welborn posted an interesting discussion of the bishop's revised policy on sexual abuse (scroll down to Nov. 14--the post links aren't working). I very much like her approach, and I think many of the issues she raises are applicable beyond the Catholic church. But I want to push us all to think more carefully about one issue.

Amy writes: "Try to help others understand the difference between forgiveness and allowing to continue in ministry. This is the story that keeps popping up, and will continue to. We have not seen the end of parishes crying over their lost Father Predator who only did it once twenty years ago. People really need to understand that the desire to be sexually involved with a child or youth is not normal and goes beyond the way we normally speak and think of sin. It betrays a wealth of problems that should alert anyone to the fact that such a person isn't fit for ministry to others. He may be fit to fix cars, but a person who harbors sexual desires for a child or a teen, even if he recognizes it and fights it, doesn't belong in ministry."

I agree absolutely that someone with just one offense doesn't belong in ministry, if only because the institution must do its best to live up to the trust we cannot help but hold it in. But I think it is dangerous to see these people as somehow fundamentally different from you and me. My abusers were and are upstanding citizens--it is very hard to see them as not normal. Such grevious harm (and it is grevious, it is beyond our everyday concept of sin) is something that many of us could fall into the trap of committing, if we both made a series of bad choices and got trapped by circumstances and couldn't imagine a way out. I fear that if we say these people are different we avoid facing the risk, we distance it by identifying it only with a small group of perverts.

My addition to Amy's call to action, particularly her point about being alert, is to stress the importance of avoiding minimizing. My mother told a story recently about a family where the grandfather lived with them and the daughters told their friends who came to visit overnight to make sure to lock the bedroom door because grandpa would come prowling. We too easily work around problems instead of confronting them, define less serious abuses as not harmful. My mother told the story in a casual tone, accepting this as ordinary. We should be shocked and horrified and take action against all offenses, not define some as less serious.

Thursday, November 14, 2002


The sun is shining, finally. It seems out of season.

"...for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night."

Matthew Arnold, Dover Beach

Somehow that poem usually feels hopeful to me, despite its pessimistic message. Somehow I feel the light still there behind the words.

Wednesday, November 13, 2002


I went to a meeting this morning that was intended to encourage interdisciplinary cooperation, particularly in the humanities and architecture, around issues of health care. The most striking comment was one of the architects who said some of our worst experiences of the built environment are in health care settings.

Then I went to visit my friend in the hospital. I can't tell how much it was scary because of the arrangement of the space and how much it was that I remember being in that hospital with my son nine years ago. He had a serious kidney infection that led eventually to surgery. My daughter was just 3 months old at the time but my son wanted me with him so my husband would drive to the hospital and I would go down to the car and nurse my daughter there.

Tuesday, November 12, 2002

Too much to juggle

Classes to prepare and teach, papers to grade.
Took my daughter to the doctor because after two weeks of duct tape the wart on the bottom of her foot looked really weird.
Praying for a friend having surgery today.
Laundry from the trip.
A long "to do" list from the trip--this time I don't want to get home and forget to do the things I said I would do.
A special meeting tomorrow that I have to go to because I occasionally (foolishly) teach history of medicine.
What I need to move up the priority list is paying attention to the parts of me that got squeezed out by the professional conference.

Monday, November 11, 2002

Professional Conferences

It was a good conference--some very interesting papers and productive professional conversations. But I'm gradually getting clearer on how I crash when I get home from professional conferences because all the parts of me that aren't welcome there have built up so much pressure. I feel like the task of this part of my life (I am 47) is to find some integration of the different parts of my life. But I don't know if that is possible in a professional setting (I don't feel it is appropriate in the classroom, except in very subtle ways). I have one friend I talk to about personal stuff, beyond that I have a very clear sense that people don't want to know. Last year there was a more personal discussion on another society's women's group's listserv after 9/11, but then it wasn't mentioned when we got to the conference.

Wednesday, November 06, 2002

Away for 4 Days

I'm off to a conference for the rest of this week and won't be posting. I'm not looking forward to going to Milwaukee--there will be lots of talk about beer and I don't drink. I'll be back here Monday.
Reverse Sokal Hoax II

The reverse Sokal hoax fake physics paper seems to be at least somewhat confirmed by experts to be nonsense, despite the denials of the authors. See an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education and another description by a mathematical physicist. (I found these links via Arts and Letters Daily)

Tuesday, November 05, 2002

Praying for Rain

My church has been using the prayer for rain for several months:

O God, heavenly Father, who by thy Son Jesus Christ hast promised to all those who seek thy kingdom and its righteousness all things necessary to sustain their life: Send us, we entreat thee, in this time of need, such moderate rain and showers, that we may receive the fruits of the earth, to our comfort and to thy honor; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (Book of Common Prayer p. 828)

We have been having a lot of cold gray weather with rain on and off, and I think of the prayer and don't complain so much.

Monday, November 04, 2002


We have today off as well as election day but I foolishly agreed to give a talk today at a public school more than an hour away. It is done, anyway. And compulsiveness paid off. I usually prepare a web site with illustrations--PowerPoint is too linear for me. I realized that while I had said I wanted to use computer projection I hadn't clarified that I planned to use a web site, so just to be safe I copied my web page onto a disk. And sure enough, when I tried to call up the page via the web it turned out that the web server was down. I knew the university was turning off the power for repairs, but I didn't realize that included the web server most of us use for teaching (in fact, the power is back on and that server still isn't up).

Saturday, November 02, 2002

I shouldn't complain about how other people vote. Living in South Carolina I hold my nose and vote for whomever the Democrat is, even the one who ran a commercial showing himself and his wife skeet shooting (and it ran while the sniper in Washington was still on the loose). I learned my lesson when I refused to vote for Jimmy Carter; the lesser of two evils may be hard to swallow but the greater of two evils really can make things worse. Thankfully we have a real (and nonpartisan) choice in our city council election--several pro-growth white people who want to cut taxes and several African-Americans who want to make the city fairer. They got politicized after the police didn't do a breath test on a white college student whose car hit and killed a black man. I hope they last longer than the smart-growth (anti-WalMart) college professors who have run and been elected and then resigned for various reasons before their terms ended.

Friday, November 01, 2002


I keep talking to my classes about the choices we as a society have and about particular people (most obviously Jane Addams) who didn't believe their lives were worthwhile unless they had done something to make the world a better place. But I wonder if individualism has gone so far that my students don't really take it in; if they think about their lives only in terms of what they want. Do people vote on the basis of their own self-interest or some rather individual sense of who best matches their sense of right and wrong or do they have an image of the larger good, of where they want our society to go?