Monday, December 29, 2008

Anniversary Unnoticed #2

I've begun to wonder what it is about the fall and winter that leads more than a few of us to begin blogs in those months. Most recently, Phil celebrated his fifth anniversary of airing reflections publicly. Similarly, Buck recently celebrated the completion of his third year of a blog that, stylistically, has more 18th-century echoes than he probably even knows (and he doesn't strike me as the sort of person to sit around reading Samuel Johnson in his spare time, so I'm guessing those elements bleed over from an earlier career, 'dear reader,' whatever your views on that topic).

No doubt there are others whose anniversaries fall in this time frame, but which I've missed through sporadic reading or because they, like me, missed their own anniversary. 20 December was the two-year mark for They Rode On. It slipped by in a flurry of holiday activity.

On that particular day, I was busy flying to Colorado to spend holiday time with my daughters. That I even mention that here attests to the chameleon nature of such an enterprise as this. There are blogs where most of the readership is composed of people who are largely strangers to the author. There are others where the readership is almost wholly family and acquaintances. And there are many, I think, like this one--hybrids of sorts. I know there are strangers who read here, likewise there are family members and old friends. Best of all, perhaps, there are also people who were strangers once, and whom I've never actually met in the flesh, but whom I've come to think of as old friends. The life of the mind may be unique in that way, in its ability to bond people firmly and in a short time. There's less opportunity there to be swayed by superficial things.

And the beauty of a blog is that it allows that sort of yoking of dissimilar things. I had thought that eventually this would evolve into one sort of thing or another. Instead, it has remained as eclectic an endeavor after two years as it was on day one, perhaps even more so. To all of you who've come along for the journey, thank you and welcome to you. If anything, I would say make yourself more at home. Comments are the alms of the blogger. Some of us would write regardless, but it's always nice to know that someone's reading and to know that maybe what we've written makes them think, or smile. More than once, I've left nothing more than a smiley face as a comment at friends' places, just to let them know it wasn't the great void they were sending their missives into.

So, again, thanks to you all for tagging along, for commenting, for inspiring, and for tolerating. I hope that everyone had a wonderful Christmas and is looking forward to an exciting new year. I think we are all going to find ourselves somewhat victims of that ostensibly Chinese curse, "May you live in interesting times." Soon enough, I think, our answer to that will be a confident, if somewhat jaded, "Been there. Done that."

Monday, December 22, 2008

Thought for the Day

Joy is not a thing we come to after a long and tiring search; rather, it is a thing we allow to find us, once we have evaded it long enough. When it comes, we recognize it was within us all along.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Model Falls

I know that it's not right to laugh at someone else's misfortune, but if you can watch this, and not laugh, you're a better man than I. I laughed so hard I thought my contacts were going to pop out.

Monday, December 15, 2008

The Day the Earth Stood Still

Let me give you some advice. If you're thinking of going to see the remake of the 1951 movie, here's a better plan. You'll need a DVD of WALL-E and an airsickness bag. Watch WALL-E with the kids. It has the same "Humans are a virus," message as The Day the Earth Stood Still (and Agent Smith from The Matrix, oddly enough), but it has the benefit of a really cute robot. If, at any point, you begin to think maybe you should have gone to see the new Klaatu after all, stick your finger down your throat and retch into the airsickness bag.

There you go. Now you can be beaten over the head with the same environmental message and experience the same emetic effect you'd have gotten if you'd gone to see the remake. But this way, you get a really cute robot, as opposed to a giant plague of robotic locust held together temporarily by Gorilla Glue (I love that stuff).

You can thank me later.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Audible: Jim Dale reads Harry Potter

One more quick note about listening to books. This one especially for parents of children of the age to read the Harry Potter series.

My oldest daughter began the series when it first came out. She was all of 11, maybe 12. Only a short way into the first book, she proclaimed, "Daddy, you really should read this. It's great!" Well, it was, if nothing else, a phenomenon. I was resuming teaching duties as an assistant professor of English, after a five year hiatus, first as Federation Liaison to the Klingon Empire at Camp Pendleton, California, then as a PhD candidate at the University of Virginia. I didn't have a lot of time for leisure reading. But I do believe in staying involved in my children's intellectual lives, and I did know about Books on Tape (these were my pre-Palm, pre-Audible days). So, I gave the first book a listen.

Whatever objective judgment I might ever have made about the "literary" qualities of J. K. Rowling's work were lost in the delight of Jim Dale's ability to breathe life into every character and scene. I was hooked. I've listened to every book in the series. I have, officially, bought for myself, more of these books on CD than DVD's of movies, of any sort, ever. My daughter would read the books, and then listen to the CDs. Sometimes more than once. We would listen to them as a family on long road trips.

Jim Dale has won just about every award there is for his work on this series, and he has deserved each and every one.

Bottom line: if you have children reading these books, you owe it to yourself to enter their world and share it with them, and there is no better way than through the audible versions and the phenomenal work of Jim Dale.

For those who might be interested, I am currently listening to the second book of the Twilight series because my youngest daughter is a fan of that. Listening to it simultaneously with The Age of American Unreason. Now there's a contrast. You may also be interested to know that within the college English department where I used to teach, there were at least half a dozen of us who were fans of Rowling's work, including at least one I can think of with no children at all.

Saturday, December 13, 2008 II

It's II because I did a post on this topic back in February of last year. (I swear I don't get kickbacks for this.)

As an English professor, I read a lot. More importantly, an important part of my job, is to at least attempt to make "lifelong readers" of my students. As with so many other aspects of our lives, technology is changing the definition of "reading." I'll be teaching All the Pretty Horses later in the spring semester, so early in the term, I'll introduce the class to the book by playing the first few pages via my Audible account, either over my Treo, or from a CD I've burned. About the time we're going on spring break will be about the time they'll need to begin the novel in earnest. I've no doubt that a few will choose to listen to it as they drive wherever. I have fond memories of listening to it as I drove along Highway 53 in Virginia during my time there. Of course, I'd already read it in print twice by then.

That was fun, but little has ever compared to listening to The Road as I traveled the route more than a year ago.

My point before I got distracted was going to be this: if you think you don't have time to read, you need to get hooked up with Audible, or Books on Tape, or Recorded Books more than anyone. Do you commute? Run? Iron or fold clothes? Rake leaves? Wash your car? Ride a bike, stationary or otherwise? If you do, then you have time to read.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Beer Launcher

If I just had one of these, I could get through grading these essays so much faster.

From the made me laugh out loud bin:

Hat tip: JPL

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Making the Rounds

In a virtual reality, web-based sort of way, of course. It's finals week. I am typically not entirely human during this time of the year. Remember that Holiday Meme and the answer to question #13? It's a little less true this year, but not much, and only thanks to my ordering a few gifts online. Christmas shopping is the reward at the end of the semester grading crunch. Not there yet.

In the meantime, while my students were taking an exam this morning, I sat here and surfed a little, catching up on some of my friends in the blogosphere (also something I fall woefully behind on during "the grading season"). Some of the highlights (most worth a post of their own with commentary, but those damned essays and finals . . .) need sharing.

"Bob is an honorable man"

Over at Jay's place, Piper does the bard proud with a riff on Mark Antony's "Friends, Romans, countrymen" monologue:

Friends, Romans, football fans, lend me your ears:
We come to bury Urban, not to praise him.
The evil that Gators do lives after them;
The good is oft interred with their bones;
So let it be with Urban. The noble Bob
Hath told you Urban is ambitious:
If it were so, it was a grievous fault,
And grievously hath Urban answered it.
(Here, under leave of Bob and the team –
For Bob is an honorable man;
So are all Sooners, all honorable men )–
It goes on, and it's worth the read. :-)

On Writer's Block

At Kate's, she's discovered a wicked tool for overcoming writer's block. I'll be adding this to my list of tricks I teach students when they're having a hard time getting started.

The idea is to instill in the would-be writer with a fear of not writing. We do this by employing principles taught in Introduction to Psychology. Anyone remember Operant Conditioning and Negative Reinforcement?

Negative Reinforcement "strengthens a behavior because a negative condition is stopped or avoided as a consequence of the behavior."

  • Gentle Mode: A certain amount of time after you stop writing, a box will pop up, gently reminding you to continue writing.
  • Normal Mode: If you persistently avoid writing, you will be played a most unpleasant sound. The sound will stop if and only if you continue to write.
  • Kamikaze Mode: Keep Writing or Your Work Will Unwrite Itself

These consequences will persist until your preset conditions have been met (that is, your time is up or you've written you wordcount goal or both)

I'm not sure I'll be using it myself, but anything I can suggest to my students increases the chances that something will be the ticket for them.

The Intertwining of Math and Language

Lastly, for the students have all turned in their efforts and left me alone in the room, there was this interesting post and discussion over at Chap's place days ago that I've been too long in getting to. I found it particularly interesting in light of frequent stories about the math challenges a friend is facing with an eight-year-old. I'm wondering now if the problem isn't rooted in language in that case too. If you have children struggling with math, Chap's post is worth a few minutes.

Grading: Do Not Disturb

Everyone has his or her own way of saying it. Chap says "Rig Blog for Heavy Workload." Barry, "Blogging Will Be Light to Intermittent" We are all in the same boat this time of year. I'll try to post something in the days to come, but don't be surprised if I seem to have dropped off the face of the earth. I try to plan my assignments during the semester so that two courses don't turn in graded work at the same time, but the end of the semester comes at the same time for everyone. All in all though, the last four months have been the most fun I've ever had teaching, despite the chaos in my own life. I have good reason to hope the next will be even better.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Build Your Own Hell

Here's mine.

People who plan meetings during the last week of a semester
Circle I Limbo

Parents who bring squalling brats to R-rated movies
Circle II Whirling in a Dark & Stormy Wind

General asshats
Circle III Mud, Rain, Cold, Hail & Snow

The Inventor of Hand Drying Blowers
Circle IV Rolling Weights

The Inventor of Voice Recognition "Help" Lines
Circle V Stuck in Mud, Mangled

River Styx

Folks who drive in the left lane (at the same speed as the person beside them in the right)
Circle VI Buried for Eternity

River Phlegyas

Osama bin Laden
Circle VII Burning Sands

Qusay Hussein, Uday Hussein
Circle IIX Immersed in Excrement

Saddam Hussein
Circle IX Frozen in Ice

Design your own hell

Hat tip: Laura

Monday, December 8, 2008

The Doghouse

Too many papers to grade this time of year to be original. This is good for a break though. Stay out of the doghouse.

Hat tip: Laura.
(Apparently "to" many papers to grade to proof my own blog text too. Thanks Buzzard.)

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Livermush: Good Eatin'!

It's funny how some things you grew up with seem normal to you, but strike others as strange. Livermush is one of those things. I love it so much my mom usually makes a point of having some on hand to fry for breakfast when I'm home.

I've always known it was a distinctly southern thing, but imagine my surprise the first time I went to the grocery in Charleston and found no one had even heard of it. Not at Publix. (Okay, no surprise. They started in Florida, that geographically separated province of New York and Cuba.) Not at Bi-Lo. (A little more surprising, since this is a chain more restricted to the area of the south I think of as home.) But most surprisingly, not even at Piggly-Wiggly, which, really, even if it has spread to seventeen states, you'd think would proudly carry anything made from pig.

For the uninitiated, here's the Wikipedia entry on this "poor boy's pâté":

Livermush (or Liver Mush or Liver Pudding) is a Southern United States foodstuff composed of pig liver, head parts, and cornmeal. It is commonly spiced with pepper and sage. Vaguely similar to scrapple, livermush was most likely brought south through the Appalachian mountains by German settlers from Philadelphia. Livermush is colloquially known as poor man's or poor boy's pâté.

Shelby, North Carolina hosts an annual Livermush Exposition, which began in 1987 to celebrate the unique delicacy. In that year the Cleveland County Commissioners and the Shelby City Council passed resolutions proclaiming that "livermush is the most delicious, most economical and most versatile of meats." Other towns in North Carolina that have livermush festivals include Drexel and Marion. Sonnys Grill in Blowing Rock, NC is famous for its livermush [1]

It is commonly prepared by cutting a slice off of a prepared loaf and frying it with grease in a skillet until golden brown, much like you would Spam. At breakfast it would be served alongside grits and eggs. For lunch it can be made into a sandwich with mayonnaise or mustard, either fried as above, or left cold. As livermush's popularity rises, it is appearing as a primary ingredient in dishes such as omelette and pizza.

And for the literary-minded among you, Wikipedia included a link to a Christian Science Monitor article with this jewel:
Some of its fans enjoy publicizing the unusual meat. Jan Karon, author of a series of books set in fictional Mitford, N.C., has her characters eating livermush in almost every volume.
And finally, for even those who grew up with it, here's a great little video clip from Mark DiCarlo's Taste of America series, on a visit to Shelby, NC:

Bottom line for me? I'll be carrying "home" to Charleston at least a couple pounds of this poor boy's pâté every time I visit Mom and Dad from here on out.

That's all I've got for this morning. Time to go fry some livermush and scramble some eggs. Mmm mmm!

Saturday, December 6, 2008


The "Two Tramps in Mud Time" post brought the following from Con, not in a comment, but an e-mail. Too good not to share.

A poem begins in delight and ends in wisdom. -Robert Frost, poet (1874-1963)

A day begins in delight and ends in dedark. - Connelly Simmons, wiseass (1959 - )

Friday, December 5, 2008

King Lear: When, "F*** You!" Just Won't Get the Job Done

Prepping for tomorrow's Brit Lit class, I was reviewing Samuel Johnson's, "Preface to Shakespeare," and had to restrain my pen, lest I underline the whole thing. But this in particular struck me tonight:

Shakespeare has no heroes; his scenes are occupied only by men, who act and speak as the reader thinks that he should himself have spoken or acted on the same occasion; even where the agency is supernatural, the dialogue is level with life.
I had my students read King Lear this past semester. I love that play. One of my fondest things to do with it, in an attempt to point out to them how much the language really has lost in our drive to abbreviate everything to the size of a text message, is to ask them to sally forth with their most vicious curse, no holds barred. I needn't tell you that "F*** you, you motherf***ing SOB," is about as eloquent as it gets. And then, I tell them this true story.

Back around 1996, a suitor rejected by one of the women I claim some relation to decided that a potential avenue back into her good graces lay through my intervention on his behalf. The first time he called, I politely told him that this was his battle to fight, sorry, I couldn't help. I was kind. I didn't tell him I thought dumping his sorry butt was among the smartest things she'd ever done. Then I learned he was stalking her. Then I learned he was harassing my parents. Then I learned he'd filed charges against a member of my family for offering to perform a random rearrangement of a number of his joints if he didn't leave the entire family alone. Then he called me again. Idiot.

This time, I didn't mince words. I didn't even have the right words. But I knew where to find them. As soon as he'd finished with "Hello," I said, "Hold on a minute," and reaching over my shoulder to the bookshelf behind me, I pulled down my copy of the Riverside Shakespeare. I turned to King Lear. I turned to act 2, scene 2, to be precise, lines 13-22, Kent expressing to Oswald the exact sentiment I needed. Picking up the phone, I said, "I don't think I did a sufficient job of conveying to you what I really think of you the last time we spoke. Let me be more clear. I think you are:
A knave; a rascal; an eater of broken meats; a base, proud, shallow, beggarly, three-suited, hundred-pound, filthy, worsted-stockign knave; a lily-livered, action-taking knave; a whoreson, glass-gazing, superserviceable, finical rogue; one-trunk-inheriting slave; one that wouldst be a bawd in way of good service, and art nothing but the composition of a knave, beggar, coward, pandar, and the son and heir of a mongrel bitch; one whom I will beat into clamorous whining, if thou deniest the least syllable of thy addition.
Clear enough?" I asked. Silence at the other end. He never called again. Go figure.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Gorilla Glue

Okay. I love this stuff. Duct tape now has a partner. After Armageddon, if we can find enough of those two things, maybe we can put the world back together.

Over the break, I fell out of a chair. Yes, fell out. Leaned back in the wheeled chair at my father's desk and it shot out from under me like a horse with a bad attitude. On the way down, my Treo case caught the arm of the chair and the force literally ripped the belt clip right off. (Chinese thread isn't that sturdy anyway.) Dad took one look at it and said, "I've got some Gorilla Glue. Think that would work?" "Can't hurt," I replied.

Dude! Ten wicked horses in a team won't separate the belt clip from that case without a machete.

So I come home, and the first shower I take, the wooden-handled back scrubber comes apart and I stab myself in the back as used to happen about every three or four days. Not any more. A quick trip to Wal-Mart made me the proud owner of my own small container of Gorilla Glue. Nothing short of Darth Vader's light saber is separating that brush from the handle again.

Today, the wire rack on my shoe shine box came undone at two of its three attachment points . . . for the last time. That's what I'm talkin' about, Vern.

Gorilla Glue. Get some.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Start With Your Heart

Some four years ago, I was the deputy head in a department west of here, when my boss complained one day of having a problem seeing. And a headache. And numbness in one arm. I promptly informed said boss, a full colonel, that she was going to the clinic with me, post haste. When she resisted, I offered to get the Dean of the Faculty, a brigadier general, to accompany us.

Stroke is not a thing to be taken lightly. I scares the bloody hell out of me.

North Carolina takes it seriously enough to create a Task Force dedicated to it. Complete with helpful videos. They're even entertaining. Sweetness and light.

But the best part? That guy hosting the "game show" in the awareness spots below? He's another of those few that Robert Penn Warren aptly termed "the friends of our youth." Governor's School of North Carolina alums, we were to be roommates at UNC-Chapel Hill, had I headed that way instead of west to the Colorado School for Wayward Boys and Girls.

Enjoy. (Left clicking on the icons will open the video in a separate window.)

Hat tip: Connelly

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Guest Artist

I remain swamped with teaching and grading, leaving little time for writing here. But I received this piece the other day from a mother some of you know, who finds herself balancing the demands of parenting with those of renewing her teaching certification, finding employment in a job market devastated by Wall Street's implosion, supporting herself and two children, and rebuilding a life devastated by another's deception. The Art History class that she's taking is, thankfully, challenging and rewarding. Having had the pleasure of reading a few of her submissions for homework assignments, I expect the course's instructor is finding this particular student at least as rewarding as she finds the class. In nearly every course, there is always one student, sometimes more, who makes it possible to remember why you liked teaching in the first place. (I've been more blessed in that regard this semester than ever before.)

The assignment was to write a creative essay about one's following of a certain style in art. The students were encouraged to push this idea as far as they could take it. What follows is one result. When one invites creativity from the offspring of English professors, the results are seldom boring. Enjoy.

Over the last two years, I have been a close follower of my son's style of eating. Jackson, also known as The Savage, mastered the fine art of solid food consumption before his first birthday and has since explored a variety of techniques for exploring, testing, tasting, and on occasion, actually digesting the meals provided for him.

His initial suppers served a la high chair always came with the requisite spoon. At first this spoon was used merely as a tool of entertainment or as a missile and his finely minced meats, vegetables and sauces were as finger paint to the palette. Most items designed to journey to his belly were smeared ferociously about the high chair tray, his hair and face in a method most German Expressionist. Jack's direct approach to the deliberate plastering of his food in thick heavy strokes directly mirrored not just his curiosity, but his angst and rebellion with having to follow the traditional rule of sitting quietly while eating.

As Jack's fine motor control increased, so did his desire to control the quality and taste of his media. However, the fervor with which he enjoyed his meals developed a more Abstract-Expressionist quality. Food was dumped from his plate immediately and then flung, spattered, dotted in decided rows of clumps on the floor or in random spatterings on the window behind his chair. Experiments with the translucence of food as a result of smearing or of the effects of layering the various colors and consistencies—such as red beans and rice over applesauce-- became direct parallels to his study of Jackson Pollock prints from time spent perusing my bookshelf. The spoon and fork became more forcefully used instruments to push, scrape and splay tasty material. Even his cup, between being thrown forcefully and retrieved, would be used to practice inking and stamping a circular shape of mashed food, the symbolism of importance only understood by the little artist himself.

In the past few months, however, Jackson's style of consumption has had a massive overhaul and new direction. The spoon, fork, and cup are now used in a more traditional manner and the tasting and digestion seems to have a more naturalistic approach. He executes more restraint keeping his colorful meals on the plate and prefers to keep the colors from touching or blending. Violent heavings of food upon floor are less frequent, as is the aforementioned flying cup. His tray, once heavily impastoed, remains only slightly delineated with crumbs or sauce bits. His face, however, still retains the lean toward the free-food painting of the Expressionist eater. While Jack is not alone in this current trend, his enthusiasm and pervasive public restaurant displays make him a pioneer in this final style, which I call Realist Nouveau.

The styles of Jack's dining have traveled through various courses of exploration, one set of standards building upon the next. One can only guess the duration of his current food study and the progression into a following, unnamed, undecided phase. This critic thoroughly hopes, though, that the spirit of Jack's eat-ability and the joy he brings to table continues to influence not just fellow consumers, but to inspire onlookers to loftier heights of parental appreciation.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Quote for the Day: Frost

I'll inaugurate a new label for posts today: "Quote for the Day." Often circumstances or events bring to mind some appropriate passage or other from some work tucked away in a fold of my brain or a shelf of my office. I may as well share them.

Today's was brought to mind by a conversation yesterday with a dear friend whom I left behind with so much of my life in Colorado. He had opportunity over the holiday to spend time in the woods engaged in physical labor of the sort that being voluntary makes a sort of church. As he described it, a poem by Robert Frost came to mind. The entire poem is short enough to read in a few minutes, and well worth the time, but a short quote will suffice here to get the main point across. Frost's point and my friend's--Robert's point in Robert's words:

But yield who will to their separation,
My object in living is to unite
My avocation and my vocation
As my two eyes make one in sight.
Only where love and need are one,
And the work is play for mortal stakes,
Is the deed ever really done
For Heaven and the future's sakes.

From "Two Tramps in Mud Time," by Robert Frost.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Dear Santa, Jet Pack, Please!

Dear Santa,

I'd like a jet pack and a cool GoFast jumpsuit. Please. I promise, I've been a really good boy this year.

There was a backup plan if things went wrong Monday when a man attempted to fly 1,500 feet across the Royal Gorge using a jet pack.

But it wasn't a good one.

"There is no parachute, there is no safety net," said the pilot, 45-year-old former stuntman Eric Scott, minutes before takeoff. "There is just 800 horsepower that should be able to get me there."

That was plan A. Plan B, if 800 horsepower didn't prove enough, involved falling short of the canyon rim, plunging into the shadowy abyss and trying to smash into one of the higher ledges to keep from hurtling the full 1,100 feet to the raging river below.

"I'm hoping I don't have to use those plans," Scott said.
Yeah. I'll bet. The rest of the story is here, including more photos.

And for anyone interested, here's an earlier flight:

Monday, November 24, 2008

Holiday Meme, Continued

[Update: All I've done is change the time on this post to better reflect when it truly hit the air. Seems if I start a post at some point, and eventually go back and finish it, the "post" time is from when it was originally created, unless I manually update it. I'm still learning.]

For the first nine questions and their answers, as well as general background and instructions on this quiz, go here first. If you've already been there, here are my answers to the rest.

9. Do you have a Nativity Scene? No. My ex does. I don't have diddly this year. Even the tree ornaments and lights that I did keep are in storage in Colorado. But . . . thanks to my youngest daughter, I have this great set of holiday Penguin kitchen towels and a little penguin doll and a penguin cup and they're all sort of Christmasy. And when we went to the dollar store tonight, I bought a bow to go on the front of the Jeep. The question was really about decorations, right? So, baby penguins . . . I have baby penguins. And they make me happy, because they remind me of my own child.

10. Mail or email Christmas cards? I can't remember the last time I sent out Christmas cards in digits or with digits. Life's been on hold for longer than I care to think about really.

11. Worst Christmas gift you ever received? Think I'll pass on this one. I've never received a gift that didn't make me happy to have been thought of.

12. Favorite Christmas Movie? Whichever one I get to watch while listening to the laughter of my daughters.

13. When do you start shopping for Christmas? Generally, the day after grades are in for the fall semester. Up till then, I'm usually just trying to survive.

14. Have you ever recycled a Christmas Present? Not exactly. The closest I've ever come has been getting a bottle of some really good adult beverage taken from me more than once at those holiday parties where you draw numbers and when your turn comes you can choose to take a gift from under the tree and open it or you can shark someone else's that's already been unwrapped. Then I learned that if you open the bottle the minute you unwrap it and take a big swig while everyone is still watching, you can really cut down on the number of people willing to shark your bottle of Gentleman Jack.

15. Favorite thing to eat at Christmas? Barbeque has to rank up there. Used to be, my dad would have all my aunts and uncles over one night just before Christmas. He'd buy a whole barbequed pork shoulder from Gary's, in China Grove, and chop it all himself. Dinner was barbeque sandwiches with cole slaw, chips and dip, and coconut layer cake or chocolate pound cake he would make from scratch and lock in tupperware on the cold back porch. The pound cake would go "sad," i.e., the bottom half inch or so would become this rich, moist, almost fudge-like layer. My oldest daughter remembers it as one of her favorite things about Christmas at Grandma and Grandpa's. I guess, really, I do too.

16. Lights on the tree? Yes? As opposed to no lights? Candles? Yes, lights. White preferably.

17. Favorite Christmas song? "Carol of the Bells" ranks up there, because I remember loving singing it so much in Men's Chorus, under the direction of Frances Cowan, the greatest gift many of us ever received during our three years at South. Lately though, I think singing "Baby, It's Cold Outside," with my youngest daughter has to take first place.

18. Do you stay home for Christmas? Where's home? I know I may be wearing this particular tune out, but I'm going to resort to Edwin McCain again:
So I raise a toast to family
Put thanks in my glass
In the arms of your loved ones
It's the only home that lasts
So, yeah, I stay as close to home as I can, wherever that is.

19. Can you name all of Santa's reindeer's? Well, no. But I did remember there were eight of them, and I could remember six without any trouble.

20. Angel on the tree top or a star? Definitely tree top; I can't reach a star, and if I could, no one would be able to see it there anyway.

21. Open the presents Christmas Eve or morning? Yes. My family's tradition was always Christmas morning. But one tradition we adopted from my ex-wife's was that of opening one present on Christmas night, and that present was always a new set of PJ's, usually worn for the first time on Christmas morning. Of course, there was that one time when my mother-in-law gave us all bright red cotton PJs. By the end of the next morning, her beautiful white couches were a sad shade of pink from everyone sitting around on them during the festivities. I'm pretty sure she got a new set of couches out of that. The couches weren't much older than the PJ's, and that really shouldn't have happened.

Funny thing, remembering that, and remembering Christmas in my in-laws house brings back a flood of memories, mostly good. For a moment there, I could smell Christmas. Funny how that works. I hope their holidays are joyful.

22. Most annoying thing about this time of the year? Being too busy to enjoy it. The rhythm of an academic life is such that the busiest time of every semester comes near the end. For the fall, that means that when I'd love to be shopping and sending out Christmas cards, I'm usually writing finals and grading essays. That annoys me. One of these days, I'm going to find a way to beat it.

23. What theme or color are you using? Well, red and green, of course. Duh.

24. Favorite food for Christmas dinner? I'd have to say my mother-in-law's prime rib, and black, pitted olives, and sweet midget pickles. I'm easy.

25. What do you want for Christmas this year? I want to spend it with people that I love. That's all. Really. And I intend to.

I'll be away from my daughters for only the second Christmas since their births, but this one will be far better than one spent in a tent in Afghanistan. I'll miss them, but I'll expect them to have a joyous day with their mother, and I plan to find great joy in my day as well.

26. Who is most likely to respond to this? I would have said maybe Buck, or possibly Jay or Phil. Their blogs are personal enough for something like this to feel at home. But the fact is, the answer is already in: Buzzard sent me a response in e-mail yesterday. You are the man, Buzzard.

27. Who is least likely to respond to this? Of people subscribed to this blog, I'm going to say Mom and Dad. They'll read and enjoy. That'll be enough.
And that wraps it up. Have a great holiday y'all. I hope nothing above was too shocking. Now you know me a little better.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Holiday Meme

I got this from two friends already, so since my doing it seems almost a fait accompli, I thought I'd just as well do it here and call it a post. I tried to answer the questions before reading the responses of either person who sent it to me, but the shorter their answer, the harder that was. I'll not lay the obligation of sending this "to a whole bunch of people" on any of you though. Do with it as you will. Still, it was sort of fun, at least as much as I've done so far.
Welcome to the of Christmas Edition of getting to know your friends.

Okay, here's what you're supposed to do, and try not to be a SCROOGE!!! Just copy (not forward) this entire email and paste into a new e-mail that you can send. Change all the answers so that they apply to you. Then send this to a whole bunch of people you know, INCLUDING the person that sent it to you......Tis the Season to be NICE!

1. Wrapping paper or gift bags? Yes.

2. Real tree or Artificial? The last artificial tree I had was in college, and Carter was the president then (that's for you Buzzard). So, Real. Some years we trekked to a tree farm and cut it ourselves, mostly when the children were smaller. The last dozen or so, we just bought them already cut at either Lowes or King Sooper. The last two or three years, the really hard part was tying it to the top of a VW Jetta in blizzard conditions. The thing about teaching is that the Christmas season, when you'd most like to spend weekends doing family things, you're swamped with papers and finals to grade.

When I was a child, we always hiked into the woods at the old home place. Those are really cool memories. Dad had quite the eye for trees. Cedar was the most plentiful and it's what I remember most often as the family tree. Cedar and those huge multicolored bulbs.

This year, good question. I don't expect to be home enough to water a real tree here, and besides, whatever decorations I came away with are in storage in Colorado. Like college, I'm about half likely to go back to artificial or, more likely, no tree at all. But don't think I'll miss out. If things work out the way I hope, I'll get to find and trim a tree after all. And even if that activity doesn't quite come together, I can still safely expect to spend a lot of time this Christmas among children and parents that love them. What sort of tree we gather around won't make nearly as much difference as the company we share around it. Long answer. Sorry.

3. When do you put up the tree? Usually the weekend after Thanksgiving, unless it's really early, then the next weekend.

4. When do you take the tree down? Ideally one of the first two weekends in January. But, I have been known to leave it up until the cat couldn't tiptoe through the room without inducing a shower of dead needles. And I can just hear my fire chief father cringing at the thought of that. And in case you don't understand why, here's a video demonstration:

5. Do you like eggnog? Does Scotch Pine make good kindling? From Thanksgiving to Christmas, I try to slam a shot of it before bed whether I need it or not, though in truth, I don't really know what it would feel like not to need it. There's nothing alcoholic about it. I choose the shot glass because it basically contains about 100 calories per ounce. You know about calories, right? They're the things in food that make it taste good. Eggnog taste really, really good. :-)

6. Favorite gift received as a child? Probably my first or second bicycle. I lived on my bicycle as a kid.

7. Hardest person to buy for? My father. He has most things he needs, and he has admirably simple tastes. Long ago I sort of gave up finding the perfect gift for him. Now I tend to get him things I think he would never think of getting for himself and hope that they'll turn out to be useful or fun. I had to have children of my own to understand that he really doesn't care. A hug, a card, and to know that we love him--that's all he really wants. Heck, even the card is optional. Once I really got a grip on that, it became a little easier, but it's still no cakewalk.

Still, it's not angst-ridden either. He may be hard to buy for, but not painful. The person who's really hardest to buy for is the one you love the most but that you think needs convincing. Whether they're really going to measure your love by how amazing a present you find for them or not, if you think they are, you may as well film a Scotch Pine conflagration at close range--you'll come away feeling better in the end.

8. Easiest person to buy for? I think this changes from year to year. Not for everyone perhaps, but at least for me.

That said, I can't help but note that "Person whom it's the most fun to buy for," should be a question all its own, so I'm going to throw this out there too. That would be the person who knows how much you love them and has no reason to doubt it. Whatever you get them, they'll love, not because of what it is or how well it suits them or how much it costs, but simply because it's from you. It's not a test. Again, perception is more important than reality here. This could be the single aspect of this particular Christmas I'm looking forward to more than any other. This year, I get to remember what this is like.

[Note: there are nineteen more questions in this meme--count 'em. For those who might want to complete the exercise and send it on, I'm including the remaining questions here. Answering them will have to wait for another day. Scrooge is tired.]

[Update 20081125, 0134: You'll find the questions below answered here.]

9. Do you have a Nativity Scene?

10. Mail or email Christmas cards?

11. Worst Christmas gift you ever received?

12. Favorite Christmas Movie?

13. When do you start shopping for Christmas?

14. Have you ever recycled a Christmas Present?

15. Favorite thing to eat at Christmas?

16. Lights on the tree?

17. Favorite Christmas song?

18. Do you stay home for Christmas?

19. Can you name all of Santa's reindeer's?

20. Angel on the tree top or a star?

21. Open the presents Christmas Eve or morning?

22. Most annoying thing about this time of the year?

23. What theme or color are you using?

24. Favorite food for Christmas dinner?

25. What do you want for Christmas this year?

26. Who is most likely to respond to this?

27. Who is least likely to respond to this?
To be continued.

Saturday, November 22, 2008


I'm writing this quickly on Thursday night, because my life is about to pick up pace for the next few days. My daughter arrives in Charleston from Colorado Springs on Saturday (the day this should post, if I get this right).

We have cars to look at, movies to see, colleges to tour, siblings, aunts, uncles, grandparents, and cousins to visit, feasts to enjoy, tattoos to discuss, beaches to walk, and general catching up to do. If I could, I would stop time on Saturday and just bask for a while in her presence. Our sons and daughters grow up way too fast. And you can tell a young parent, "You're gonna miss this," until you're blue in the face. Until that time comes, they really have no idea. So, rather than missing anything, I plan to enjoy every second of the next week, until I put her on a plane back to Colorado the Saturday after Thanksgiving.

I've been good lately about posting something every day. If I'm not so good this coming week, I hope you'll come back. With luck, I'll have plenty stories to tell by then. Just in case I don't make the time between now and then, I say up front, I hope everyone out there has a grand Thanksgiving in the company of the people they love most.

So I raise a toast to family
Put thanks in my glass
In the arms of your loved ones
It's the only home that lasts

--Edwin McCain
Peace ya'll.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Watershed Essay: the Assignment

I sent out an assignment to my composition students on Thursday. Today, Friday, they're turning in their research essays--really the capstone essay for the course. For the last essay of the semester, I thought they should have some fun, and see just how far they've come in terms of their writing. I plan on joining the fun. I thought the assignment (which I wish I could take credit for, but can only take credit for tweaking) sounded like so much fun I promised to do it with them. And the more I thought about it, I thought it sounded like enough fun some of you, those with blogs and without, might like to give it a shot as well.

Without further ado, here's what I sent out:

Here is your assignment for Essay 5, due in class, in hardcopy so that you may read it aloud, on the Wednesday after we return. This essay replaces the "Letter to the Editor" listed in your syllabus as Essay 5.

The attached .doc file is simply what follows, included here just in case anyone has trouble receiving attachments or opening Word files.

Watershed Essay

(Based on an assignment originally provided to me by Col James Rembert, himself something of a legend in the Dept of English at the Citadel. It came to him, I know not whence. In our profession though, the most flattering thing you can do for a teacher is steal his or her best stuff to use in your own classes.)

(Title: Anything descriptive of your contents, but must not be a sentence.)

Watershed essay—a description and analysis of the watershed event in your life, the incident or event that changed your life. Everything before the event was part of your life lived before this event changed you; everything after the watershed event is part of the you since then, the different you, the you with the new insight about the way the world really is, for better or worse. The incident or event can be something fine and positive, like catching the touchdown pass that won the state championship or hearing your father finally say he loves you; or, it can be something negative, like the car accident described immediately below.

1st paragraph: The first sentence must be the dramatic high point of the incident, the watershed event in your life. A bad example: “I saw that at this speed I could not make the turn in the highway but must go over the edge.” That is not the dramatic high point. This description is better: “I felt the car leave the road and sail through the air as my girlfriend screamed and braced her hands against the dashboard,” or better still, “I found myself hanging upside down in the car, held by the seat belt, brake fluid dripping from the floorboard onto my head, and my girlfriend lying on the ceiling, bloody and moaning in a fetal position, her now misshapen face inches from my own.” That changed your life, not worrying about not making a curve.

The rest of the 1st paragraph is simply describing what happened the next few minutes (only) after the event or incident: 911 call, police, ambulance, parents notified, etc.

2nd paragraph: Begin a week or a month before the incident in the 1st paragraph, and describe what led up to the event or incident. Pass quickly over the actual event already described.

3rd paragraph: Describe the aftermath, the results of the incident. What effect did the event have on your life the next week or month or year? Make the last sentence of this paragraph precisely this: “I learned three things from this incident: that (blah, blah, blah); that (bleah, bleah, bleah); and, that (blooey, blooey, blooey).” Instead of that, you may use first, second and last. [For Lt Col Campbell’s class, because we are striving to shatter the image of three as a holy number in composition, you may reduce the number of lessons to two, but no fewer.] Obviously you may use the first-person pronoun (I, me, my, mine, we, our, us, etc.)

4th paragraph: The first thing I learned is . . .

5th paragraph: The second thing I learned is . . . (or: I also learned . . .)

6th paragraph: The third thing I learned is . . . (or: Finally I learned . . .) [Unless you have only two epiphanies, in which case, adjust accordingly.]

7th paragraph: Explain what it all means. You must use the words “what it all means” or almost identical words. You must use the word “means.” What you say in this paragraph must differ from the 4th, 5th, and 6th paragraphs. This last paragraph is just this: what it all means.

You must follow these direction exactly, precisely, if you want to make a good grade. If you deviate and do your own “thing,” believe me you will make a lower or much lower grade than if you had followed directions. Use no vulgarity, no sex (pick another watershed), no four-letter words, no informal diction. As usual, we are writing formal English. We will read these aloud in class. You will like these. Don’t hold back. The more honest the paper the better received it will be, by your classmates and by the professor.

I promise to let you know how it goes.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Typealyzer: Analyzing Your Blog

This, from Typealyzer:

The analysis indicates that the author of is of the type:

ISTP - The Mechanics

The independent and problem-solving type. They are especially attuned to the demands of the moment are masters of responding to challenges that arise spontaneously. They generelly prefer to think things out for themselves and often avoid inter-personal conflicts.

The Mechanics enjoy working together with other independent and highly skilled people and often like seek fun and action both in their work and personal life. They enjoy adventure and risk such as in driving race cars or working as policemen and firefighters.


This show what parts of the brain that were dominant during writing.

Whatever it all means.

Hat tip: Lex

In the News: Snow and Bad Judgment

Not together though.

Saturday morning here it was 73 degrees when I went out to walk the dog first thing in the morning. Tuesday, it was about 41. That's a little bit of a shift. The best part though was getting a text from my oldest daughter in Wilmington, NC: "It's snowing here . . . SNOWING." Here's the article from Wednesday's Star News.

In another interesting article from the Charlotte Observer, some teachers are learning the hard way what they should have known already: that the person you hype yourself as on web social sites can come back to haunt you.

The warning reinforces what one elementary-school teacher learned the hard way: Last week she was suspended and recommended for firing after a WCNC reporter showed CMS [Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools] officials her Facebook page listing “teaching chitlins in the ghetto of Charlotte" as one of her activities. Four other teachers faced milder penalties for pages that showed “poor judgment and bad taste.”

WCNC, the Observer's news partner, found the pages by searching Facebook for people who listed CMS as their employer. The teachers in question did not use a privacy setting that would have blocked general access to their information. The station found photos of female teachers in sexually suggestive poses and a black male teacher who listed "Chillin wit my n---as!!!" as an activity. CMS would not specify which of those pages brought discipline.
This is an issue of which I've always been painfully conscious. I have pages on both MySpace and FaceBook (and the lack of links here is not an accident) for one simple reason: I have daughters with pages there. In order to keep tabs on what's going on in their lives and to be sure that their own such sites aren't going to jump up and bite them in future years, it was necessary to establish a beachhead of my own.

A number of professors I know maintain a very visible presence in such places, even working them into their teaching. The breaches of good taste above are somewhat astonishing to me, but then thinking in terms of OpSec and InfoSec is rather second nature at this point. Teachers are people too, but that mantle of role model doesn't get hung in the closet at the end of the day, especially if you're going to hang out in the same internet venues as your students.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Revisiting the Mountain

I've been dreadfully busy lately, and haven't posted much original in the past few days. Nor today. Instead, since readership has more or less doubled of late, I thought I'd take this opportunity to revisit a post, especially since, last night in the wee hours, I sat here in Charleston, SC, and read this particular piece to my youngest daughter from start to finish. It was late, even in Colorado, but she couldn't sleep. You see yesterday she got to see something that NASCAR drivers are accustomed to, but 16-yr-olds in their first year of driving are not: another vehicle crossing both lanes right in front of you before hitting the curb, going airborne, and landing upside down in a sidewalk planter. She couldn't sleep. She wanted a story. She knew the tale of Daddy's plane crash and some of the family history, but I'd never shared this account with her, since she wasn't yet ten when I wrote it.

So last night, I read it to her over the phone, hoping I was able to get away with playing a few long pauses off as being for dramatic effect, then sent her the doc file and the mp3. If you're new to the blog and you've not read "See Off This Mountain," give it a go. I'd like to believe it's more the sort of thing people visit for than breakdancing videos. It's certainly more the reason I have a blog.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Professor Wikipedia

A post over at Barry's place reminded me of this video. My daughter in college originally sent me the link, and I promptly showed it to my freshman comp classes, adding it to the lesson I teach about evaluating web sources. Enjoy.

Monday, November 17, 2008


No time for a truly thoughtful post today, so I'll just offer this up. I have tremendous respect for athletes, especially the non-traditional ones. I'm pretty sure the guys in this video could keep up with the folks from Cirque du Soleil on most days. Enjoy.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

A New Baby Boom

An entire airborne division and then some has deployed and returned recently. Many of the soldiers were married. The result has been a new baby boom on and around Ft. Bragg, NC. Who'd a thunk it?

FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. — Joanne Chavonne saw pregnant women everywhere in town, shopping at Target for diapers or dining at a Mexican restaurant.

The base has seen an estimated 50 percent surge in births.

Then she heard that so many families were calling the medical clinic at nearby Fort Bragg for the results of pregnancy tests that the Army had to install an extra telephone line.

And finally, over the summer, an administrator told her that the hospital on base was overrun with women in labor, and was delivering nearly 300 babies a month. “I was shocked,” said Ms. Chavonne, whose husband, Anthony, is the mayor here. “That’s 10 a day.”
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

But Wanda McCants, a nurse on the labor and delivery unit, said she did not mind the extra work, especially considering the high rates of injured veterans that she sees around the hospital. “I think it’s the nature of war to come back and to want to create something,” she said. Seeing all the new life after so much tragedy, she added, “is uplifting for me, too.”

The full story is in The New York Times.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Movie Review: Quantum of Solace

Update #2: I read over half a dozen newspapers' front pages daily, some large, some small. Among the small is the Wilmington, NC, Star News. There, of all places, I found this really nice article, published last night. It's less about the new movie than about the franchise itself and the relation between the books (yes, I've read them all), the movies, and the men who've brought Bond to life on screen. And for that very reason, all the more worth reading.

Update: Bottom line (in case you don't want to slog through all that below): worth seeing. B/B+
Saw this last night, at the last showing of opening night here in Charleston. Something of an act of faith, since yesterday morning I read Lawrence Toppman's review in the Charlotte Observer. Now I know how to value Toppman's critiques: not at all. He gave Quantum one and a half out of four or five stars (text says "By Lawrence Toppman (rates on a 4-star scale)" just below a graphic with one and a half of five stars highlighted--we'll see if my submission to the FAIL Blog makes the cut) and wasted a deal of time critiquing a few things that indicated he understood nearly as much about the Bond franchise as Harold Bloom understands about Cormac McCarthy.

If you're a Bond fan, you won't be disappointed. If you're a Daniel Craig Bond fan, you'll even be pleased. Craig is, I think, clearly the best Bond since Sean Connery. What the newest Casino Royale did was take us back to a purer Bond of sorts, a character more like the one that inhabits the books by Ian Fleming. Gone are the gadgets, gone are many of the tag lines. Craig's Bond is the first in a while that we might believe, like Fleming's, could start the day with scalding hot shower, finishing icy cold, if I remember correctly.

I'll never make much of a critic, really. The professional critic feels too obligated to point out every shortcoming of a film with deep analysis of its roots. This sort of exercise is less about the actual film in question than about, "See how much I know about FILM." So go read elsewhere if you want a good analysis of the film's shortcomings, especially its lamentably Bournesque elements, which you can't help but notice, sadly, yet they don't rob it of enough fun to make it worth seeing. Freneticism is here to stay in the action film, I'm sorry to say. Chalk it up to the tastes of a multitasking generation. If you want slow drama with long holds on facial expressions and pauses between lines that carry the weight of the world, this is not your film. Nor Bourne either.

So rather than belabor those points, I'll just mention two I think the film got really right. One is the switch inside Bond that Craig seems to capture just right. While others (Toppman included) may lament Craig's performance as one-dimensional, I disagree. And the scene that captures it best, I think, is his stopping long enough to cradle a dying friend in his arms, before depositing the body in a dumpster. The film's Bond girl, Olga Kurylenko, is touched by the moment, then appalled by its brevity. "This is how you treat your friends?" she asks. Without blinking, looking back, or slowing down, Bond replies, "He wouldn't mind." That ability to feel, and to turn it off, is Bond, Fleming's Bond. The other incarnations of him have, I think, played along a more level emotional field. Put another way, Toppman see's Bond's emotional graph as flatlining; I see it as having a greater amplitude, if a lower frequency. Craig's Bond feels deeply, dangerously so, and his method of dealing with it, is to channel it. Other critics have read this as his being "a brutish pitbull." I disagree.

The other thing I believe they got right is the film's focus on water as the precious natural resource being hoarded here. We are less than a decade away, I think, from our first, honest-to-God war over water. More on that some other time.

Lastly, the film takes us back to an older Bond drink, the Vesper, from a time before a tag line, spoken first in Goldfinger, single-handedly changed the preferred principal element of a martini from gin to vodka. The drink first appeared in the novel Casino Royale, and was revived, appropriately in the 2006 film. From the original Fleming:
"A dry martini," [Bond] said. "One. In a deep champagne goblet."

"Oui, monsieur."

"Just a moment. Three measures of Gordon's, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it very well until it's ice-cold, then add a large thin slice of lemon peel. Got it?"

"Certainly, monsieur." The barman seemed pleased with the idea.

"Gosh, that's certainly a drink," said Leiter.

Bond laughed. "When I'," he explained, "I never have more than one drink before dinner. But I do like that one to be large and very strong and very cold and very well-made. I hate small portions of anything, particularly when they taste bad. This drink's my own invention. I'm going to patent it when I can think of a good name."

-Ian Fleming, Casino Royale

I'll be trying this, just as soon as I can find that wine. Bond has six of them on the flight to South America in this movie. And still can't sleep.

Go see the movie. You'll not be sorry. And if you are, you'll know to go to Toppman for your movie reviews after this.

PS: The Wikipedia entry on "Shaken, not stirred" is worth the time, if you're any sort of a martini drinker at all.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Korengal Valley, Afghanistan

The difference between Afghanistan when I was there in 2002-03 and now? Then, we owned it, and were trying to figure out how to give it back to a more friendly government than the one we'd taken it from. Now, fight's on. We're trying to figure out how best to help the government we gave it to keep it.

For a sobering photo essay about the war we're now fighting in that country, pay this site a visit.

In Colorado Springs, people walk or run up the Manitou Incline for exercise.
In Afghanistan, it's how the troops get to work.
Hat tip: Lex

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Snapshot: Marsh in Fog, Evening

Shem Creek. Short fishing pier, unfrequented. 6 p.m. The dark comes early now. Quiet but for the soft whrrr of heat pumps, the faraway sound of traffic, but all that muffled tonight by a light, warm fog. Someone's streetlamp visible half a mile away over pier or boathouse, but beyond that, the condos and hotel normally visible are shrouded. A tall crystal glass of some Aussie Cab/Merlot silhouetted against the grey. A conversation of canines across the creek. Mine rests silent at my feet. She likes the pier, I think--accustomed now to coming here, sometimes only to look out across the water and marsh grass and retreat, and sometimes, like tonight, to pause for a while. To listen to the occasional splash of something alive in the marsh. To allow the breeze, heavy with the weight of the fog to caress us. The crickets to stroke our ears.

I'm learning this place. Tides. So high this morning that I could almost reach down and touch the surface. So, to the chart: +6.9 feet, it says. Then +7.0 tomorrow, before a steady regression to more normal depths. Pull of the full moon.

Fog horn this morning on waking and again now. Took a while to believe it was what it sounded like. No idea where. Something else to learn. Less than three miles to the harbor from here.

Cigar tonight perhaps. Later. After dinner, some Addison, some Steele, a little Swift, and the ever pressing paperwork. Mentally recapping the day leading up to this quiet. Solitary office hours this morning. The afternoon at the Air Force base. Retiree ID card, finally. Register for TriCare Prime. Learn what it is to pay for my health care--a pittance really, compared to anyone else, but after so long at no cost, one more reality check. Ready to be done with that life, but not ready for this.

Walking back in, a conversation of fog horns in differing pitch, like a hearing test for the wide wet world. I press the button.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008


I think it was probably Lex's post the other day that initially sent me to the FAIL Blog, where you'll find lots of images like this one:
which, in and of itself, explains a lot.

Or this one:
which I consider the software version of the recorded message you get when you call your Internet Service Provider and hear, "For faster service, you can log on to our web site at . . . " It's all I can do not to scream into the phone, "If I could log on to your or any other web site, I wouldn't be freakin' calling!!"

At any rate, check out the FAIL blog if you need a brief pick me up. Now I just need to figure out how to submit a few photos of my own (or my daughter's in this case).

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

There She Stands, and The Gratitude Campaign

Veteran's Day has passed, but not without two moving e-mails from friends, both coming with videos.

The first video comes from perhaps the first girl I ever kissed, too young even to remember (though I do have this vague memory of sitting on the parsonage steps holding her hand), but reminded of it often enough by my mother to think I do. She has a beautiful family of her own these days, and looking at a photo of her, her husband, and their children recently, I know myself well enough to know that if her daughter's face is any bit a reflection of her own at an even younger age, she likely did steal (and just as likely break) my too young heart. How fast time flies.

The second I'll offer here because, newly retired, it's time for me to start saying "Thank you" to those who remain in uniform, carrying on the job I no longer have the privilege of doing. It hasn't been that long though, just over a month now. And it hasn't been three days since someone saw the parachute team sticker on my rear window or the HALO plate on my front bumper and said "Thank you for serving" to me. Even now, retired, the thank you's come.

But really, it's my turn to say thank you for younger hearts, stronger arms, even greater sacrifices than were ever asked of me or my family. If you've known me long, you know I think we ask too much, these days, of our young troops. Not as a nation, for I think the public is grateful in a way never before seen. But the people in Washington, the people running the war, the people making the decisions . . . they ask far too much with too little appreciation of the cost.

So if you have the chance to say thank you, do. I will. And if you ever think it doesn't matter, think again. It moves them, it moved me, often, to hidden tears.

The video can't be embedded, but if you'll click here, it will take you to the short movie. It's worth it. And I owe thanks for this to a newer but equally dear friend in the Pacific Northwest.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Election Aftermath: Obama Supporters

Okay, this falls in the category of LMFAO. Stolen from Buck, this is too good not to pass on. Be sure to pay attention to the text that changes in the lower corner of the screen as the video progresses. Oh, too funny. Way too funny. All my conservative friends who have been beating me up for the last couple of months will love this one.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

What College is For

Just over a month ago, I wrote a long e-mail to a student of mine. He would say, I expect, that he was having trouble coming up with a thesis for an essay. I would say, he wasn't really trying. In my composition courses, I construct my writing assignments so that there are clear guidelines about the type of paper one should write (evaluation, cause & effect, proposal, etc), but I leave the selection of topic open. Everyone announces his or her thesis in class and we refine them as a group and everyone learns from everyone else's trial and error.

Not this student. He wanted me to tell him what to write about. He was unable even to come up with a poor thesis that I could help him refine. Sports. Basketball. That's all the help I could get from him. The essay in question was a comparison/contrast essay with two works of art as topic. It could be two films, two books, two poems, two buildings--you get the picture. I suggested he compare sports films, Remember the Titans and Glory Road, I think. When he sent me an e-mail basically throwing up his hands with regard to how to find the films and what to write about in their stead, my response was probably more than he was bargaining for.

For yucks, we'll call him Jake. I reprint this here, not for what it says about Jake, but for what it says about college, just in case I have any readers out there thinking about college, or who have offspring of an age to think about it. The choice to go to college shouldn't be a mindless one. It should be, rather, a choice. I reprint this here for the little help it may be to some facing that choice, or to others in understanding the true import of a choice they've already made.



You need to decide whether college is for you or not. And I don't mean this in terms of, "It's a cool thing to have a college degree," or "I like to play college sports." Higher education can be just a means to an end, i.e., the degree and a better paying job, but the whole assumption behind the degree being worth a better paying job is that a college graduate's mind will function differently from that of the person who only graduated from high school. Just as there is a similar assumption that the person who sticks with it and graduates from high school has something in their character and intellect that's missing in the dropout. (The fairness of either assumption can be the topic for another debate. For our purpose today, we need only acknowledge that these assumptions/prejudices exist and govern the playing field.)

College is only partially about storing away history, facts, and formulas, Jake. Done right, it's more about learning how to think. That is what you need to decide whether you want or not. Do you want to learn how to think? If what you really want is just to _do_, and to leave the thinking to others, then why drag yourself and your teachers through the next four years?

I'm not suggesting that you should leave. What I'm suggesting is that if you are going to stay, you begin to understand and engage in the process you signed up for by coming here. This letter is part of that process. Not every student needs to be told these things, but you are not the only one who does need to be told.

You say you don't read. Start. If it's difficult, get help. If it's difficult, come see me and I will help you get help. I am happy to participate in your educational journey. I will not, however, carry you. That is not my job.

I give my students flexibility in choosing the topics for their essays because they do a better job on things that interest them. It doesn't work if you rely on me to spoon-feed you. I didn't assign you those films, I suggested them because you were unable to come up with anything on your own. I could spend the time I've spent writing this letter trying to come up with a thesis for you as well, and trying to figure out how you can get access to those films, but, again, that is not why I'm here. That time is better spent writing this letter, inviting you to grow up, grow out, grow beyond the limited expectations you seem to have had for yourself to this point. Take charge of your life, your mind, your education. I will be happy to help you. I cannot do it for you. As Morpheus said to Neo, "I'm trying to free your mind. But I can only show you the door. You're the one who has to walk through it."

You are on your own for locating the movies if you still want to write about them. (I'd start at the library though.) You are on your own for devising a thesis. I will help you refine a thesis. I will not give you one. I refine student's theses. Rarely do I pluck them from thin air. Take the assignment description from your syllabus and go to the Writing and Learning Center. Perhaps they can help. But if you do, go for their help. They are not there to do it for you either, although they may try.

If you are still stumped by the time of our conference on Friday, I will assign you a thesis and we'll see what results. It won't necessarily be on something you'll like writing about, but I'll try to see that it's on something you need to write about.

It's early in the semester for us to be at this point, but better now than after you've wasted weeks in an academic highchair. I want you to come in and sit at the big table. Welcome to college.
He left shortly thereafter to try his luck, I hear, at a community college for a while. Not because of the letter above, so far as I know. Whatever the reason though, I approve of his choice. He needs, I think, a little more time to adjust to the idea of seeking knowledge of any sort for its own sake. A recruited athlete, my sense of him from the little time we shared was that he was here for all the things that being a college grad represented; but, almost wholly unaccustomed to abstract thought, he had little interest in the process underlying his attaining that status. My hope is that in a few years he may return, ready this time for the journey he's signed on to. Paradoxically, he may have demonstrated more maturity in his decision to leave, for now, than a great number of students occupying the chairs of college classrooms show by staying. Either way, I wish him luck.