Thursday, March 31, 2011


It has been some time since I last posted, and there are reasons for it that I'll not go into here. They are, ultimately, unimportant. Then again, so, too, is most of what I write here, but why should I let that stop me when so many others fail to?

I am aware of the ad populum fallacy I just voiced. Too bad.

I had the insight while I was teaching a remedial class last week that riddles might be a good thing to give to my students. Typically, I teach proofreading by writing examples on the board and having the class go through them; as they get things right, I make the corrections, and as wrong answers are given, I explain the concepts to which they are tied. This way, I address the concerns that students have while allowing them the opportunity to apply and reinforce the knowledge they already have.

Using riddles as proofreading examples allows the students to engage other critical thinking faculties. It forces them to pay attention to minor details and to evaluate data along multiple lines of thought. Really, it gets their brains working, and the classes have had a good time with the exercises thus far; I have done it with all of the English classes I have taught this past week and a half.

I gave several riddles to the class I taught today. The one that I actually meant to do (and thus did not come up with on the fly), amended because I know that the folks who read this have a firmer grounding (and access to reference materials), is something more or less like this:

I am a child of the son of the first Bach's first in English. I am the reply of a false gospel--two--to an objection of the cloth. From where a cousin to the source of brisket wades across the water I come, and from one whose name can be read as another Arachne. I give a great many words in fine order, though prose and poetry are minor among them. In me do beauty and love come before thunder in days not truly known to hornéd helms but well known as foes of the habitual. Say what I am.

I look forward to seeing guesses advanced.

Thursday, March 17, 2011


Yes, it is St. Patrick's Day. Yes, I did wear green. No, I am not going to rattle off some stereotypically "Irish" thing here (elsewhere, sure, but not here).

I am always struck by the association of this saint's day with drinking and the fact that it is often solidly in Lent. It does make some things a bit more interesting.

Then again, it would be boring otherwise...

Sunday, March 13, 2011


I hate Daylight Savings Day.

I was supposed to have counted the collection plates at my church this morning. When I woke up after a troubled night of sleep, I looked over at my alarm clock, which read 8:00am. I remembered that I had not set the clocks forward like I was supposed to have done, and it occurred to me that it was really 9am--just a few minutes before I needed to leave to go to church. Knowing at that point that there would be no way I could make it to church on time--I was in need of a shower and a shave, after all--I decided that the clock had beaten me.

When I got upstairs to look at what was going on in the world, though, I noticed that my cell phone and my computer both read the same time that my alarm clock had. I know that both connect to the outside world, and when I looked at the US Naval Observatory website, I found that it, too, showed the same time.

My alarm clock had automatically updated.

Friday, March 11, 2011


I may have mentioned from time to time that I feel an imperative to take on the role of public intellectual. That is, I agree with my colleagues who call upon those of us who work in the humanities to explicitly engage with the broader public, relating our work to the greater public, explaining what it is that we do, why we do it, and why it is important that we do it. They are all weighty questions, and it is all too often the case that the answers given are overly simple and unsatisfactory.

That those who work in the humanities are required to justify their professional existence is in many senses lamentable--certainly, many among us who are in the many fields of the humanities are convinced of their value, and so have difficulty understanding the need for justification. In some ways, we follow a doctrine not unlike the Protestant notion of justification through faith; we believe in the value of what we do, and so it has value for us.

But just as people doubt the existence of a greater creative power, and even among those who do not there is disagreement as to the nature and worth of that power,* there is contention as to the regard in which the humanities as fields of study should be held. Some hold that there is no sense in trying to study such things as plays and poems and books; they are simply idle amusements in such views, not worth serious regard and certainly not worth the consideration or support of the general populace. Others see the passion that those who study the humanities often hold for the work, and so accord it some respect as a life-work, though they have little real understanding of what the work of the humanities is.

Even aside from the self-interest served by convincing the unconvinced that we are right, there is value in striving to justify our work. If we cannot even arrive at satisfactory explanations of our works to ourselves, we have little right to attempt to convince others; we need to be able to articulate some rationale, some underlying idea for our work, at least for ourselves. I find that I have often felt the need to articulate one for others, even those who love me and want to support me but are unsure how to do so.

I cannot help but think that others in my field and related fields have similar feelings. My beloved wife, I know, is often pressed to describe what she does in her field of study; there is a general lack of understanding of what it does and what her role is in it. I have had students claim that certain fields of study are flatly "stupid," and while I am not apt to take seriously their comments in this regard (or a number of others, it must be admitted), I cannot escape the notion that their ill-advised outbursts are representative of prevailing social attitudes.

And so I come back to the drive to explain to people what those of us in the humanities do. It might seem from my discussion thus far that it is to spend a lot of words saying very little--and I cannot deny that the work of the humanities often seems to be very much that, not only in my own writing, but in the mouths and from the ends of the pens of many others. But it truly is more than that.

The importance of creative arts to humanity generally is not much open to dispute. People would not have spent so much of their existences in making and taking in various art forms were there not something of value in them. Even in some of the worst circumstances that have been endured by people, some of the most poverty-stricken and oppressed regions and groups, there have been artworks generated. And if they are so important to make that even people who live under the constant threats of death from the other three horsemen** will take the time to make them, then it stands to reason that they are important enough to study.

The study of artworks in their various media is the object of the humanities.

There are meanings embedded in the creative works people do, whether they are intentionally embedded into them or not. Even when the art "means" something "on purpose," there is more going on than the artist necessarily realizes; we all do things without really being cognizant of doing them, and even when we know what we are doing, there are consequences of our actions which we do not intend. The task of those in the humanities is to examine the works of art that are created and pull out the meanings, intended and otherwise, that are contained within them. In doing so, we approach more closely the central core of what it is to be human; by looking at what meanings we make and how we make them, and even how we perceive them, we gain a greater understanding of who and what we are.

And that, folks, is well worth learning.

*In the interest of full disclosure, I submit that I was raised Methodist and currently attend a Methodist church in New York City.

**I am aware that war, famine, and pestilence can strike any of us at any time. Many people, though, are only peripherally aware of it; my comment is specifically in reference to those who are more immediately cognizant of their imminent mortality, whatever the means of it may be.

Thursday, March 10, 2011


I am privileged to be a student at the New York Aikikai, which is the foremost aikido dojo in the United States and among the most important aikido dojo in the world. Seriously.

One of the more senior students there--and there are some who have been studying there since it opened in 1964--is a wiry man who has been called, in a pun on his name, "All Night." Because he can whip my ass without effort, I will use the pun, rather than his real name, to refer to him.

All Night has a method in the dojo: he makes noises like he's in a martial arts movie. Seriously. Upon attacking with, say, yokomenuchi, he will rasp out something that sounds like "hoowah soh!"

I got to work with him for a good chunk of a class yesterday, and I responded in kind, though my own grunting was more Germanic--something entirely reasonable, given who I am and what I do. Evidently, not many of my fellow students indulge All Night in this way; he seemed quite pleased, if the raucous laughter that pealed from him between waza is any indication.

It was a good class.

Sunday, March 6, 2011


Today, the church I attend will begin its celebration of Women's History Month. I do not oppose highlighting the contributions women have made, which are many and many more than are recognized even in such a highlight as a dedicated month provides. After all, there would be no history without women.

I will not say that I am utterly without bias. I know that, due to my upbringing and the context in which that upbringing occurred, I have some chauvinist tendencies, though they manifest more in terms of what I must do than in what I expect to be done (my beloved wife tells me so, and I am not about to believe that she lies to me, which is, perhaps, a chauvinist attitude). But I do work to oppose those tendencies as they apply to other people. I oppose the overly simple virgin/whore dichotomy that pervades traditional Western thought (for one, there is a third category even in that thought-scheme, that of the chaste wife). I do very much believe in the evaluation of people's fitness by their performance--period. I also believe that women should have just as much opportunity for advancement, though I was taught by my dear, sainted mother, herself an honorably-discharged veteran of the United States Navy, that equal opportunity ought also to entail equal obligation.

I also oppose the relabeling of "history" as "herstory." I understand the word-play at work, but, like any such device, overuse makes an annoyance--and "herstory" gets overused. Just because there is a coincidence of a particulate "his" in the word does not mean that the word corresponds to one of the few remaining indicators of grammatical gender in modern English. Nor is it necessarily true that grammatical gender corresponds to physical gender in those languages which still display it (interestingly, the German for "maiden," Mädchen, is a neuter noun, rather than the feminine that a full association of grammatical with physical gender would expect).

Find a new joke, folks. And work towards a true equality, in which genital equipment or lack thereof has no bearing on rights or responsibilities and the demonstrated ability to do what needs doing is paramount.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011


Happy Texas Independence Day, y'all!

175 years ago today, the Republic of Texas declared its independence from Mexico. A brief war followed, ending in the recognition of independence by Mexico, and for nine years afterward, Texas stood as a separate nation in the midst of the continent. Much of the attitude attendant upon that defiant stance remains in Texas even today, contributing to the unique character of the state.

As a Texan--and I am one, despite being born in Louisiana and having moved to New York--I honor the underlying idea of independence and throwing off a tyranny. As a thinking person, however, I lament both the hypocrisies attendant upon Texan independence (the Anglo settlers were the invaders, really, and they turned against their Hispanic fellow-Texans in short order) and the stupidity that lingers as a result of the idea.

Evidence of that stupidity comes in the repeated calls for a new secession by Texas. The state receives quite a bit of money from the United States, after all; aside from such things as, say, highway funding (how else does a state with no personal income tax pay for the very, very nice roads in it?), there are an awful lot of military bases in the state, whose service personnel spend a damned lot of money (and who would have to turn their many large guns upon the state in the event of secession).

It may happen that Texas will, in time, re-emerge as an independent nation. I am not an oracle, that I know what the future holds. But for now, and as far ahead as it is given me to see, Texas needs to remain part of the United States. And, frankly, the United States needs Texas just as much, despite the stupidity coming out of it at present.

It's not like the nation is particularly intelligent at the moment, itself.