Wednesday, April 30, 2003

Lake Thurmond

Sunday, April 27, 2003

Off for a few days

I'm off to the convent tomorrow morning just for a couple of days. I'm ready for some quiet.

Friday, April 25, 2003

Marianne Moore and Ford

Thanks to Joseph Duemer for an amazing story of the American automobile: the time Ford hired Marianne Moore to come up with a new automobile name, for what eventually became the Edsel. Not that the automobile companies have gotten any better; check out this more recent automobile marketing.

The last day of classes

After my last class I tried to clean out overfull mailboxes and work on summer plans before I ran to a lunch at my kids' school and then to a meeting at church and then home. It only just now sunk in that I am done with classes until August. It is always hard to transition to the suddenly unstructured time, much less try to get things done at the same time. But I am very thankful for the break from the pressure and the effort of projecting myself out to a class (not my natural style).

Wednesday, April 23, 2003

Student Blogs

My students are hurrying to finish up their blogs by the Friday deadline. I didn't keep them on track very well. But if you want to check out the experiment they are all linked from my course blog.

Looking back at Easter

For years I've said I can feel very deeply the walk through Holy Week but then I can't turn the corner to Easter joy. This year I had some hope that I would be more able to join with my church community in the celebration of new life. I think I even began to, at the Easter Vigil, but then I went home and couldn't find my son's Easter present and crashed into feeling that there can be no new life for me.

The language of new life is of death and resurrection, of transformation. But perhaps I must learn to appreciate the partial and the fleeting. Change is for me not a journey away from the old place but coming to spend more days in the new place and fewer in the old.

Tuesday, April 22, 2003

Chiropractic, again

I was supposed to go back to the chiropractor for a third time today (then I was thinking of giving up). But he called me before 8 am to say that he didn't think it was worth my while to come because he didn't think that he could help me, unless I agreed to more intensive treatment. Maybe I was then supposed to agree to the more intensive treatment, but the way he said it put more emphasis on his not being able to help me more than what I was already accomplishing with exercises. It may just be that my massage therapist told him to back off and he did. But I'm wondering if it has to do with my calling after the last treatment angry about a diagnosis he had put on my record. He told me it was a mistake in his computer system and he would take it off, but I wondered what games were being played with the insurance company. Do chiropractors actively avoid patients who think critically?

I hate these situations where there is no middle ground because of the polarization of two competing groups of professionals. The worst case of it I have seen is between ophthalmologists and optometrists about surgery for eye muscle imbalances. I want again to be able to pick and choose and combine, not to have to cast my lot with one theory or another. Individualism, again.

Monday, April 21, 2003

Reading papers

The most interesting piece of trivia I learned from a student paper is that the American Quarter Horse Association tried to ban embryo transfer but lost a court case on the grounds that this was restraint of trade. The latest technology is coming to be seen not just as an opportunity but as a right. I'm with Wendell Berry wondering what will happen to the small farmers.

Friday, April 18, 2003

Watching at the Cross

In my church there is a Maundy Thursday service in which we wash each other's feet (my kids' favorite service of the year) and then after communion the stripping of the altar, when all the decorations are removed from the church. An eight foot crude wooden cross is brought in (it sits against the side of the building the rest of the year) and leaned agaist the altar, and members of the congregation take turns keeping a vigil at the cross for an hour each all night.

I was there from 6 to 7 this morning, and I did feel God's presence. But I will tell another part of the story, not that part. When I went in I noticed a small pile of sawdust on the polished wood of the altar platform, and when I went to the altar to pray I heard a faint noise coming from the cross. About 6:30, which must have been about sunrise, a carpenter bee emerged from the cross and started flying around, trying to find the sun. Now if you don't have carpenter bees you need to understand that they are larger, louder, and slower flying than bumble bees. The poor bee was stuck inside the church because its home had suddenly been moved. It must have been terribly confused trying to figure out where it was.


I can't resist a link to this morning's laugh: Redneck photos.

Wednesday, April 16, 2003


I was going to sit out this issue, but what Dorothea writes about honesty pulls me in.

I was reading the developing discussion and accepting the idea that literary or symbolic truth is what matters. After all, as a historian I work with the idea of social construction; I don't believe in one truth. But like Dorothea, I have a history that makes honesty very important to me. I wouldn't want to feel close to someone and then discover that the story they have been telling was intended to deceive.

So the question to me is whether weblogs inherently imply honesty or give us genuine connection with another person (different from reading a novel). I like what Steve says about weblogs being a new form distinguished by reading over time as the author writes. In a larger sense, of course, Weblogs aren't inherently anything, but clearly two traditions have clashed here: the weblog as a way of exposing the self (which is what drew me into the community), and the equally strong on-line tradition of creating a character on-line that purposefully doesn't match the person actually doing the writing. I realize the second can also be liberating, but I don't like the feeling of having been fooled (I hate April fools day).

I certainly don't chose to tell everything, and I know even in more honest writings than these I edit events for narrative flow. But I seek to represent myself, not misrepresent myself, and I would rather live in a world where fiction is identified as such.

Update: Burningbird has a wonderful discussion of these issues.

Tuesday, April 15, 2003

laptop teaching

I'm teaching a workshop on the easy way to get started teaching laptop courses, for professors who don't want to completely rethink their courses but rather move into it one small step at a time. Part of the trick to this approach is that making material available to students on the web and assigning out-of-class exercises using computers goes a long way to satisfy students who want their laptops to be useful. It isn't necessary to actually have students use their laptops often in class.

But the center of this workshop needs to be ideas for exercises in which the students do use their laptops during class. The idea is to try a few of these the first year, then keep the ones that work and add a few more, and gradually build up what the students use the laptops for in class. My list so far of true in-class exercises (not just making available material on the web) is:
  • students work in groups in class to solve sample problems

  • students fill in a brief opinion survey in class (eg. on WebCT) that then becomes the basis for discussion

  • brief quizzes at the beginning of class or after a segment of lecture to see what students understand and what they need more help with

  • students spend 5 to 10 minutes doing a web search on a discussion topic and then share what they have found

  • take a field trip and have students bring their laptops and write about what they experience on site

  • students write tests (particularly if open book) on their laptops because many write more comfortably now with a wordprocessor and it saves the professor from having to read their handwriting

Monday, April 14, 2003


I was not comfortable with the chiropractor, both because I found the forceful adjustment threatening and because of the hard sell he gave me that I had to keep coming back. He told me I had arthritic degeneration in my spine; I assume most people do by the time they are 47. I was told 10 years ago I had arthritic degeneration in both knees and I do now use custom orthotics, but beyond that I'm not going to worry about the problem until it starts to give me pain, which it doesn't. I see the body as a good-enough machine, with lots of imperfections that can be ignored until they cause problems, not as a fine-tuned machine that has to be kept in perfect alignment. Perhaps those who treat their bodies as fine-tuned machines will live longer, healthier lives, but most of them I know are going to need knee replacements long before I do.

I'm not a fan of the authority games played by doctors, but I must say I respect more now how they have their act together. I tell my students that professionals are different from businessmen because they are responsible for serving the best interests of the client, they don't try to make money and let the buyer beware. Medical doctors (allopaths) have established at least the appearance of that professional role deep in their culture. I suppose the chiropractor believes that what he is recommending will all help me, but it sure felt like a hard sell where he was trading on his professional authority and my necessary trust to try to sell me much more than I needed. It was a real shock to have to treat someone who is in the role of a doctor like a car salesman. I found the comments to How-to lessons at Making Light helpful in thinking about that.

I can't tell at this point what difference it made, particularly because the most significant symptom (numb tingling toes) was already starting to get better. I probably will go back twice more since my massage therapist swears it will help me (to the point where he went with me to help me with how scary the force would feel to me). But the hard sell rings all my alarm bells.

Friday, April 11, 2003


"Beside the towering gray bridge the lighthouse still bravely stands. Though it knows now that it is little, it is still VERY, VERY, PROUD."
The Little Red Lighthouse and The Great Gray Bridge

Thursday, April 10, 2003


I heard a sermon Sunday about forgiving and forgetting and taking the risk of restoring relationship. I know the priest was coming out of issues he has to face himself, but it was a shock to hear forgive and forget. I'm more comfortable with ideas that say that forgiveness does not have to mean restoring relationship, which may not be safe to do. I don't want to restore relationship (beyond a superficial one) with an abuser on any grounds less than that person fully acknowledging what happened and their responsibility for it, and that isn't going to happen.

Wednesday, April 09, 2003

budget cuts

I spoke with someone yesterday at the University of South Carolina's M.A. program in history of art (in the Art Department). They are fighting efforts to shut down their program completely. It is a successful program and the only such program in the state, but because of retirements and departures they are short on tenured faculty and therefore the powers that be decided they would be an easy one to shut down. Things aren't quite that bad here; I guess I should be grateful. It is a depressing time to be in academia.

Monday, April 07, 2003

Technological Optimism

In Beyond Engineering: How Society Shapes Technology, Robert Pool quotes from David Dietz, Atomic Energy in the Coming Era, published in 1945:
Instead of filling the gasoline tank of your automobile two or three times a week, you will travel for a year on a pellet of atomic energy the size of a vitamin pill....The day is gone when nations will fight for oil....

No baseball game will be called off on account of rain in the Era of Atomic Energy.... No city will experience a winter traffic jam because of heavy snow. Summer resorts will be able to guarantee the weather and artificial suns will make it as easy to grow corn and potatoes indoors as on the farm.

Reading Wendell Berry's The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture has left me with ideas that keep echoing, such as the idea that "We began to see the whole Creation merely as raw material, to be transformed by machines into a manufactured Paradise." (p. 56) I wish I could better get students to think hard about whether they really believe that technology will allow us to transcend all limits.

Sunday, April 06, 2003

Snake Handlers

I heard a wonderful lecture yesterday by Nancy Hardesty entitled: "Baptists, Methodists, Snakes and Fire: 19th Century Religion in the South." She started her story with 19th century Methodists who emphasized the idea of sanctification. Her argument was that once you start validating religious extremes, people always want to go further.

She traced the story from the holiness movement to faith healing to baptism by fire to speaking in tongues to handling snakes to drinking poison. Those who handled serpents argued that their practice was required by Mark 16:17-18, but drinking poison was optional because the verse says: "if they drink any deadly thing it will not hurt them..." Snake handling is illegal in every state except West Virginia, where member of churches that followed the practice had enough political clout to prevent the passage of such a law.

Friday, April 04, 2003


Am I the last person in South Carolina who has never been to a chiropractor? I'm going next week hoping to get help with a back problem that I've had since I had to pack and unpack my office in the move last December and which isn't getting better. I grew up in New York and Massachusetts in a culture where chiropractic was considered really low class. Several years ago I read the history of chiropractic in Norman Gevitz, ed., Other Healers: Unorthodox Medicine in America (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1988) and it is not an inspiring story. Interesting, the focus for chiropractors who refuse to participate in the key compromise with mainstream medicine that gained them respectability is the local Sherman College of Straight Chiropractic.

Update: For a story about chiropractic as a hustle see How-to lessons on Making Light.

Thursday, April 03, 2003


Several people have offered me kindnesses the last few days that went way beyond what I would have though I could ask of them. I was feeling undeserving, and then I remembered something said to me in another context: that's what God wants me to have. A mindboggling thought.

Wednesday, April 02, 2003


I'm busy going over student paper topics, some predictable and some intriguing. I do want to read the history of artificial insemination of farm animals, if there is business and social history in the story.

Tuesday, April 01, 2003

Russian Fish Processing Ship, Narragansett Bay

This ship has for several years anchored in Narragansett Bay for the winter, buying fish from local fishermen and processing and freezing the fish. Local speculation is that it is a former whaling ship.