Friday, February 27, 2004

big government

I showed part of a video in one of my classes today, "The Electric Valley" by Ross Spears from the James Agee Film Project. At one point Arthur Morgan's son talks about the controversy that forced Morgan to resign as head of the TVA. He says that the greatest loss is of Morgan's vision of what good public administration can do to improve society. I heard it as a socialist vision of social engineering, and what struck me is how foreign that now seems. I once wrote an article about practical uses of satellites that assumed the concept of the public good as a justification for government programs, but the concept is fading fast. The film was made in 1983.

Thursday, February 26, 2004


I've been thinking about a friend who said that she liked Ash Wednesday because it is the only day we get to walk around saying publicly "I am a sinner." That sounds negative and it had some of that edge for her, but I think it also felt positive to her because she wasn't the only one doing it. I started thinking how to put that in more positive terms. I decided that it is a good feeling to walk around with the message on my forehead: "I'm not perfect" instead of being afraid that people expect me to be.

Wednesday, February 25, 2004

Ash Wednesday

For a number of years I got stuck on Psalm 51, particularly the line "I am a sinner from my mother's womb" (in the translation in the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer). But this year what struck me were some lines from Psalm 103:
For as the heavens are high above the earth,
so is his mercy great upon those who fear him.
As far as the east is from the west,
so far has he removed our sins from us.
I went to the 7 am service and our interim priest was enthusiastic with the ashes. If my students ask me about the ashes I am happy to talk about it, but it feels awkward to bring it up if they don't ask. I think I should have--after my first class a woman who is sitting in on the class as a typist for a deaf student came up to me and asked me what happened to me. She thought it was a bruise, that I had been in a nasty accident.

Tuesday, February 24, 2004

what moved me Sunday

From St. Francis, by Nikos Kazantzakis, St. Francis speaking:
Deep down in the bowels of every man, even the saintliest ascetic, there sleeps a horrible, unclean larva. Lean over and say to this larva: "I love you!" and it shall sprout wings and become a butterfly.

Monday, February 23, 2004


I went to Dekalb Farmers Market Saturday--it says something about living in rural South Carolina that I happily drive two hours each way several times a year just to buy food. One of the things I usually buy there is fish, as Sams Club has good salmon but not much else is good here. The bluefish were too small and so I hesitated and then bought a 10 lb striped bass. I grew up eating striped bass from the Atlantic Ocean, but they have become a significant fish in southern freshwater lakes, and this was listed as a lake fish. The interesting thing about buying whole fish at Dekalb is they don't clean it until you buy it. The person cleaning my fish asked me if I wanted the head (my daughter vetoed that) and whether I wanted the roe. I was surprised but said yes, so I got a set of roe looking very much like shad roe. I cooked it like shad roe with butter, vermouth, lemon rind, and capers and it tasted similar but was considerably softer, almost creamy.

We ate the fish baked last night and tonight I will make chowder. I've always made a chowder with bacon, onions, potatoes, fish stock and cream. Since I don't use potatoes any more I decided to check recipes, and interestingly the fish chowder recipe Legal Seafoods has on their web site doesn't include potatoes. I will reduce the amount of fish stock and then I can certainly skip the flour. I'm torn whether I consider bacon is an essential ingredient or whether I want to try their recipe as written.

update: It was good, but I missed the bacon.

Friday, February 20, 2004


A very interesting quiz that will tell you what dialect you favor. I scored as barely yankee, which I suspect does reflect how long I have lived in the south now (getting close to half my life). Thanks to Chutry Experiment.

Wednesday, February 18, 2004


A friend pointed out that the newspaper article about the car accident says of my father: "At one time, when he was a sophomore at harvard, his talent at fashion design won him the editorship of the fashion section of the Radcliffe News." My friend was pointing out that this was ironic, as I am as uninterested in fashion as you can get. My father ended up an art historian working for the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston in what used to be called the Department of Decorative Arts.

Tuesday, February 17, 2004

legal records

Five years ago I did some research on my father's death in an automobile accident in 1958 and obtained a death certificate and found out that the driver of the other car plead guilty to manslaughter. Suddenly now I am back obsessed with the topic again, and it is very frustrating trying to find more information. What I need is someone in Massachusetts who would be interested in doing a little research for me, but all I can find is endless companies that do background searches of court records for the last 7 years. I can't figure out how to find an individual who does such work and would be able for a reasonable cost to look at the last 40 years.

Friday, February 13, 2004


The thing that cheered me up today was When Encountering a Stop Sign, which I happened upon thanks to Baraita.

Tuesday, February 10, 2004

a picture from Ecuador

Doing laundry in a stream near Otavalo, Ecuador, Dec. 31, 2003.

Monday, February 09, 2004


I've always hated the line "things that don't kill you outright make you stronger" and the Christian variants about how God doesn't give us more than we can handle. Not true. Many people are crippled by pain that is more than they can handle. I don't feel crippled, but there was no good in my father's death a month before my third birthday, leaving me unprotected.

Friday, February 06, 2004

biology and gender

The idea that that homosexuality is inherent (for example the idea of a gay gene) has generally been appealing to the gay community. Obviously there is the danger that a biological approach can lead to seeing homosexuality as a defect that can be fixed, but it should lead to better policy to see homosexuals as an inevitable part of the community not as people who have chosen a bizarre lifestyle. The greater danger is that our biology will take away our choices--if you have a particular gene must you be gay, or if you don't you can't be? I do not think people would be happier if they could find out with a blood test.

And yet there is something so seductive about having biological evidence for who I am. I finally found out the results of the rest of my lab tests, and my testosterone was 67 in a reference (normal) range from 15 to 76. The doctor had originally speculated it was high and suggested medication, and my reaction was very clear that I like being masculine. Clearly it is more important to my identity than I had realized, though I am very happy with the life I have chosen.

Wednesday, February 04, 2004

more politics

I will get off the subject soon, but this has been an exciting primary. Edwards won by a lot more than the polls beforehand would have suggested. Looking at the results for the counties in this part of the state (where the African-American population is much lower than in the rest of the state), Kerry did somewhat better in the cities and Edwards in the country. Turnout was better than predicted but still low. In one 99% black urban precinct turnout was relatively high, 26 percent of the 1,636 registered voters, and the results were: Edwards, 33.2 percent; Kerry, 31 percent and Sharpton, 18.5 percent.

Somewhere I heard that people in South Carolina (assumably white people) were saying they voted for Edwards because he is "like us." I'm afraid that says it all. One of my favorite stories about diversity comes from a professor at MIT who is African-American. She said that she heard an older MIT professor bemoaning how much more diverse MIT has become. He said about teaching at MIT: "It is no fun anymore. They don't want to be me."

Tuesday, February 03, 2004

medical records

My doctor's office has tried three times to get the results of some lab tests, but only half the results have been delivered. I spoke to the lab today and got someone who promised to try to track down the missing results. I asked for a copy to be sent to me as well and she said "We can't do that; you can only get them from the ordering physician." I said that the law says I own my medical records. She said: "Oh, that is a different procedure, you need to come in and fill out a form and pay a fee." You don't get your rights unless you know what they are. Though I'm not sure that would get me the information I want, which seems not to be at the lab at all, only at the hospital where the analysis was done.


We were supposed to have an icestorm last night here in the upstate, but it never got that cold. Still, it is a cold rainy raw day. When I voted about 10:30 am there was no one else there, but that is a quiet time.

Update: The sun came out around noon.

Monday, February 02, 2004

South Carolina Primary

Some thoughts I sent to the Talking Dog:
I'm in a university town in South Carolina, and mostly what I hear is people trying to figure out who can beat Bush. I have an African-American friend, very liberal, who says she is going to vote for Clark for that reason. The trouble is, there is no general agreement about who can beat Bush; people argue for Kerry, Clark, Edwards, and even Dean. I wouldn't be shocked if Kerry won the primary here, because of the poll that said he was the only one who can beat Bush. Fear of liberals is much less prominent than usual (besides, all the conservative Democrats have already become Republicans). I have heard that Sharpton is giving inspiring speeches, but my guess is that most people are more concerned about beating Bush than about making a statement. Education here is really hurting here, mostly because of state and local tax cuts and budget woes, but I haven't heard many people talking about that or any other specific issue.

One wrinkle is that South Carolina does not have party registration, so non-Democrats can vote. In fact, Republicans can vote in the Democratic primary now and still vote in the Republican primary for Senate in June. The "Loyalty Oath" has been dropped. Crossover has been a concern in previous primaries but has never turned out to be a big issue. I thought of voting for McCain in the Republican primary the last time around but I couldn't bear the thought of pretending to be a Republican, particularly since I always see neighbors at the polling place.

Another wrinkle is that there are projections that 40 to 50 percent of the voters will be African-Americans. Kerry is hoping that Clyburn's endorsement will be influential.

Polls are here, but I don't think they mean much.