October 29, 2005

Speaking of Partisans

You are a

Social Liberal
(73% permissive)

and an...

Economic Liberal
(36% permissive)

You are best described as a:


Link: The Politics Test on Ok Cupid
Also: The OkCupid Dating Persona Test

I'm not certain that this is entirely accurate, really. But it's close enough for government work. I took some other quizzes, but they didn't have results I could paste into my blog, sadly. One of them told me that I will die in March, 2063.

On a lighter note:

You scored 15 Intelligence, 13 Wisdom, 14 Charisma, 7 Strength, 11 Constitution, and 14 Dexterity!
All stats are based on the original D&D system of 3-18. 3 being tragically weak and 18 being olympic level ability. Odds are you will be more towards the middle for most things (the middle being 10-11), as that is where most people should be. Taken properly, it is not possible to get above an 18 on any stat, unless you' over 70 years old. Get the other half of your stats at this companion test. My test tracked 6 variables How you compared to other people your age and gender:
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You scored higher than 50% on Intelligence
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You scored higher than 39% on Wisdom
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You scored higher than 76% on Charisma
Link: The D&D stats - Mental Test
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You scored higher than 8% on Strength
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You scored higher than 42% on Constitution
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You scored higher than 67% on Dexterity
Link: The D&D stats - Physical Test
Posted by Jared at 03:56 PM | TrackBack

October 28, 2005

The Partisan Menace: A Rabbit Trail

This is the last week of guided reading and response for Intellectual History because, frankly, we've run out of history to discuss. Well, that and the fact that we have the next month to produce a 20-25 page paper on our topic of choice. With that in mind, the discussion this week was more than a bit fragmented. I, for one, had my mind on a few hundred other things, few of which had anything to do with intellectual history, but we muddled through nonetheless.

As we talked over the the emerging oppositions between Liberals and Conservatives following World War II and growing into the divisive partisan politics of the present day, I remembered a few things in particular which struck me from the reading. I come from a staunchly conservative background, but extremes make me nervous and I prefer to approach issues from a more moderate perspective. Striving after balance, I often pull farther left than I would otherwise go when I am confronted with a narrow-minded, one-sided view from the right. I haven't yet had the chance to see whether I can swing the other way, too.

And speaking of such views, most people I know (on the Right) seem to have a very strange view of what it means to be Left. My understanding of it is almost always different from their understanding. The following excerpt from a piece published in 1960 not only sums up my view of the difference between the sides very neatly, but goes on to discuss (using issues of the times) the basic problems with the Right's criticism of the Left.

The Right, among other things, means — what you are doing, celebrating society as it is, a going concern. Left means, or ought to mean, just the opposite. It means: structural criticism and reportage and theories of society, which at some point or another are focussed politically as demands and programmes. These criticisms, demands, theories, programmes are guided morally by the humanist and secular ideals of Western civilisation — above all, reason and freedom and justice. To be “Left” means to connect up cultural with political criticism, and both with demands and programmes. And it means all this inside every country of the world.

Only one more point of definition: absence of public issues there may be, but this is not due to any absence of problems or of contradictions, antagonistic and otherwise. Impersonal and structural changes have not eliminated problems or issues. Their absence from many discussions — that is an ideological condition, regulated in the first place by whether or not intellectuals detect and state problems as potential issues for probable publics, and as troubles for a variety of individuals. One indispensable means of such work on these central tasks is what can only be described as ideological analysis. To be actively Left, among other things, is to carry on just such analysis.

To take seriously the problem of the need for a political orientation is not of course to seek for A Fanatical and Apocalyptic Lever of Change, for Dogmatic Ideology, for A Startling New Rhetoric, for Treacherous Abstractions — and all the other bogeymen of the dead-enders. These are of course “the extremes,” the straw-men, the red herrings, used by our political enemies as the polar oposite of where they think they stand.

They tell us, for example, that ordinary men can’t always be political “heroes.” Who said they could? But keep looking around you and why not search out the conditions of such heroism as men do and might display? They tell us we are too “impatient,” that our “pretentious” theories are not well enough grounded. That is true, but neither are they trivial; why don’t they get to work, refuting or grounding them? They tell us we “don’t really understand” Russia — and China — today. That is true; we don’t; neither do they; we are studying it. They tell us we are “ominous” in our formulations. That is true; we do have enough imagination to be frightened = and we don’t have to hide it: we are not afraid we'll panic. They tell us we “are grinding axes.” Of course we are: we do have, among other points of view, morally grounded ones; and we are aware of them. They tell us, in their wisdom, we don’t understand that The Struggle is Without End. True: we want to change its form, its focus, its object.

To summarize: Conservatism = "What we have done in the past is good. Society should either remain this way because it's working, or (as the case may be) return to an earlier state because that worked better." It's all about moving backward in order to move forward. Conservatives tend to idealize the past. Liberalism = "Look at everything we've done wrong in the past. Look at the problems with the current system which originated in these attitudes from the past. We should change this. It's time to move forward." It's all about leaving the past behind in order to move forward. Liberals tend to focus on the negatives in the past.

There are potential problems with sticking to closely to either of these views, of course. As always, I'm pretty sure the best view lies somewhere in the middle. However, other telling aspects which I noticed from the above excerpt were "labelling" and dismissive arguments. There is a tendency among conservatives to use terms like "bleeding heart liberal" and, almost in the same breath, to call the left "too intellectual." They go on to object to all of their points on grounds which are either irrelevant or only address the topic at hand tangentially. Too often conservatives object to what they perceive are inappropriate attitudes from their liberal counterparts without examining what they are saying.

Liberals are inherently critical of the establishment, and conservatives attack them for it. I often find myself attacked, or at least "gently reprimanded," for my criticism of those who are in authority, whether it be university administration or the government. When I see something that I don't think is right, I complain that it isn't right. Some of my fellow Christians have this bizarre idea that we shouldn't try to hold our authorities accountable or criticize them in any way because God placed them in the positions they are in. They believe me to be indirectly questioning God, I suppose. Nonsense. God knows better than I do that human beings are fallible.

There was another excerpt I would have liked to discuss, and of course I must be sure to recommend that all of you go read something by Reinhold Niebuhr, a balanced and perceptive scholar of the mid-twentieth century. You can find an excerpt of his work on Wilson's blog even now. I, however, have run out of space and run out of time. That's my two cents for this week.

Posted by Jared at 12:47 PM | TrackBack

October 27, 2005

A Proposal to Make

To be perfectly honest, I'd had my eye on the R. W. Norton Art Gallery in Shreveport (specifically, the beautiful gardens attached thereto) for months. Exactly one year before, Fall Break 2004, I had planned a visit to this same gallery with Anna, Scholl, and Randy as a fun break activity which would allow me the chance to see a page from a Gutenberg Bible. At the time I was taking History of the English Language, taught by Dr. Watson, and he offered extra credit for a one-page summary of the experience. The expedition was planned for October 26th, and, as Rachel and I had had DTR the day before, I asked her along. It was our first date, and I rather enjoyed myself.

By Fall 2005, marriage had already been a topic of serious conversation with Rachel. I had visited her family in California. She had played a role in the ring selection process. We were both well-aware of the approaching one-year-of-dating mark on October 25th, and she had stated a number of times that she rather expected me to propose on that day. I wanted to propose on that day, it seemed fitting somehow . . . and I wanted to do it in this great location I'd had my eye on due to its significance to us personally, its beauty, and the fact that it is outside of Longview, and even Texas. But how on earth was I to do that without giving away the game? It's not any fun if it's not a surprise.

Well, I by now I was enrolled in Reading the Bible as Literature, again with Dr. Watson, and once again he offered extra credit for a pilgrimage to visit the Gutenberg page. Gallagher and Randy were in the class with me, and the following idea occurred: If I framed this journey in the form of a quest for extra credit with friends along (and Gallagher actually doing the driving), while hinting that I still had business to attend to before I could propose (ring acquisition, parental consent), perhaps she wouldn't see it coming. Parental consent had, in actuality, been acquired nine days previously, and the ring had arrived the day after that, so everything was in place. I passed my Fall Break in a state of high anticipation, wishing I didn't have to wait until Tuesday.

We set out shortly after lunch on the 25th. Gallagher had the ring secured in his pocket so that its presence would not be detected on my person by accident. We had a pleasant drive to Shreveport, waving a gleeful goodbye to Texas at the border, and arrived at the art gallery in due time. Of course, before I could lead Rachel out into the gardens and do the deed, we had to tour the entire gallery.

It seemed much smaller the last time I was there, and every time I thought we had seen the last room, we found a new wing to explore. Finally, though, we had seen everything. When Rachel paused to tie her shoe, Gallagher hauled me around a corner on the pretext of re-examining a bronze sculpture called "The Puritan" which we had both previously admired and stuffed the box with the shiny in my left jacket pocket.

Suddenly, it seemed to be nearly impossible to get Rachel to leave the gallery. She stopped in every room on the way out to look at things we had already seen, and discovered another room we hadn't visited before we reached the exit. At the front door, she paused to slowly peruse the brochures and selected several to take with her. The instant we stepped outside and made for the gardens around the back of the building, she spotted a bench and sat down. All the while, I had my left hand in my jacket pocket, and I felt that it was starting to become noticeable.

Gallagher and Randy took the opportunity of her pausing at the bench to get a headstart towards the gardens, and left us completely in their dust. As we approached the first divide in the path and I attempted to steer her down towards the central pond, she stubbornly pulled towards the direction they had taken and I had to talk her into going a different way. To their credit, Randy and Gallagher went completely to ground, disappearing quickly and remaining out of sight for quite some time.

Rachel, meanwhile, (and, in retrospect, neither of us are certain of how the conversation took this turn) regailed me with the details of a recent conversation with her roommate, wherein they had both resolved to say "No" the first time some hapless fellow proposed to them. I still can't believe she did that to me. Here she was turning me down a full 2-5 minutes before I even planned to ask. Too late to change plans (were I to take her threat seriously), and too early to know whether she was serious, I chose to take this in the most positive possible light: as a sign that she had no idea what I was about to do.

Before long we had arrived at an isolated bridge over a trickling stream. The only people in sight were a pair of landscapers a few hundred feet upstream, totally absorbed in moving rocks, or digging, or something. I stopped mid-bridge, much to Rachel's confusion, and started talking. I'll probably never be able to remember exactly what I said . . . I got out a few semi-romantic and heartfelt, though probably platitudinous, statements. I was having a little trouble piercing directly to the heart of the matter, so I attempted to bridge the remaining gap with a private joke.

Every now and then during the previous year of dating, I'd say something to Rachel like, "I have a proposal . . ." and she'd immediately interrupt with, "No! You can't do that yet! You have to have a ring first!" This response has become standard and automatic whenever the word "proposal" creeps into the conversation. So I said, "I have a proposal to make . . ." and my voice trailed off, waiting for the standard response so I could pull out the ring and proceed in proper fashion. I didn't get the standard response. I got Rachel's mouth dropping wide open, and a breathless, "You're not serious! Here? Now?" I guess I must have said it a bit differently than normal.

A combination of this unexpected response and the recent revelation that her answer would be "No" anyway caused me to hesitate. I had my hand out of my pocket by now, the small, padded box nestled in it, and I was standing there, vascillating. That would have been a good time to simply dive in, but I chose instead to make sure that it was, in fact, a good time. "I've got the ring. You want me to do it here?"

*mouth still agape*

"Well? Shall I?"

"Ummm . . . I . . . Uhhh . . ."

Somehow I got the idea that I could go for it, so I did: I hit one knee (a startlingly awkward position, it turns out) and popped the question. She was too shocked to do anything but say yes, and I suddenly realized that this must be the real reason that proposals ought to come as a surprise. It's not important so that she can have a pleasant surprise; it's important so she'll be caught completely off-guard and won't have time to think about doing anything stupid . . . like not accepting. I offered her the ring, box and all, only to be met with: "I'm not putting it on! That's your job!"

"Oh." Well, it was all the excuse I needed to stand back up, anyway. I fumbled it out, slipped it almost-deftly onto her finger, and we continued with our walk while she stared at the shiny-ness and tried to recover. We reached the bottom of the hill, and the center of the garden, only to find that it was even more isolated, and more beautiful, than the location I had picked. I had jumped the gun, snatching at the first hint of complete isolation for fear of somehow running into a large group of people around the next bend and being completely unable to proceed. Rachel looked around sadly, "This is a pretty spot, too."

*sigh* "You want me to ask again?"

*large grin, nod*

*sigh* "Okay, gimme the ring back."

We selected a new spot together. I really can't do it justice without a lengthy and awkward description, but it was very pretty: a shady flagstone island in the center of a largeish pond fed by small watefalls and surrounded by bronze sculptures. I asked for the second time in much the same manner as I had pictured myself asking for the first time. "See?" I said, as I slid the ring back on. "I improve with practice."

Rachel has two proposal stories to choose between, and personally I rather prefer my second attempt . . . but the historian within constrains me to accuracy. And the storyteller within says that this version has a higher entertainment value. And maybe neither story is truly complete without its other half.

Gallagher and Randy finally reappeared as Rachel was talking to her parents on her cell phone. Her first words to both her father and her mother had been some variation of, "How could you not tell me?!" She claims to hate surprises . . . and definitely hates being "the last to know." Gallagher amused himself by listing off everyone else who had known of my plans beforehand, including Uncle Doug and his (Gallagher's) parents. Oh, I feel should note somewhere the oddity of Randy's presence on both my first date and at the scene of my engagement a year later. I guess I'll file that away under "Random Wheeler Trivia." We returned to Longview in high spirits, allowing the conversation to roam here and there. One particularly memorable exchange comes to mind.

Randy (from the front seat, after a pause in the conversation): Rachel, are you looking at your ring?

Rachel (gaze flying guiltily upwards as right hand protectively covers ring): No!

When we got back on-campus, I walked Rachel back to her apartment and turned her over to Paige, then left before the squealing could begin in earnest. I called my parents, my siblings, my grandparents, Andy, and Scholl, and tried a few other people, but couldn't get through. Then I cleaned up, dressed up, and went to the Olive Garden for supper with Rachel. By then she was quite drained from talking to people herself, but food cheered us both up a great deal before we crossed the street to meet up with our friends at Marble Slab.

There was quite a crowd waiting when we arrived: Gallagher, Randy, Martinez, Uncle Doug, Anna, Scholl, Sharon, Moore, Sarah, Tim, Brian, Jonathan (my future brother-in-law), and a surprise appearance by Ardith, who had fortuitously blown into town for Thursday's Career Fair. The effect was only slightly overwhelming, and I had a wonderful time joking and laughing. And Gallagher bought me and Rachel ice cream. Gallagher is the man. Rachel and I spent the last few hours before sleep at the Mayes' apartment with Morgan, Caleb, Ashley and Audra, and then I dropped Rachel off on her porch and returned to collapse with exhaustion.


The past few days have been equally enjoyable. Rachel and I went around to tell all of our professors, and random people I barely know keep congratulating me in class or in the hallways. Word travels like a brushfire around here. Oh, and we got on the waiting list yesterday for Married Student Housing for next fall. We are couple #5. We beat couple #6 by about five minutes. Ah, yes, and I didn't mention that Rachel's finger wasn't properly sized when we investigated that aspect of the purchase some time ago, so the ring is a bit big. We wandered around for an hour this afternoon looking for someplace that had a ring guard that could help hold it in place, and made arrangements to have it sized down a bit. I'm supposed to take it back in tomorrow.

Anyway, now it's time to settle down into some semblance of normalcy again as we try to catch up on homework. I've got two or three major papers to write in the coming month, and I'm really hoping to do a good job on them because the topics interest me. And I'll be holding out for December 14th when I can escape to Guatemala for the first time in two years, this time with my fiancée in tow.

Posted by Jared at 10:23 PM | TrackBack

October 25, 2005

The Big News

So, basically I'm pretty sure all of my readers already know. Don't worry, an official version of events is near at hand. I'm just too tired to get to it tonight. It's been a fun day, a wonderful day, a memorable day . . . but a long day.

In the meantime, Rachel dearest, a few facts that might be of interest: I am your fiancé. You are my fiancée. Just remember, the one you have to spell has fewer letters. Here are a few other spellings that might come in handy in your account of events: "betrothed," "museum" (but remember, it was the R. W. Norton Art Gallery, not a museum), "Shreveport," "Louisiana," "diamond," and, of course, "Jared."

Yes, that last one is a joke.

Also, many sincere thanks to Gallagher and Randy for their integral role in the implementation of my schemings. I really appreciate it, you two. Gallagher, you are truly a Roommate among Roommates. I have a very high regard for most of my college roommates, and certainly for all of my current roommates, but you have definitely gone far beyond the call of duty today. Yes, I'll tell all my single friends.

As for the rest of you, you may amuse yourselves whilst you wait with Martinez's highly entertaining account of fall break. No, seriously, go read it.

Posted by Jared at 11:59 PM | TrackBack

October 21, 2005

The Idiot's Guide to Job . . . For Dummies

by Daniel and Jared

(Here is our "epic limerick" from last night's Reading the Bible as Lit presentation, complete with scripture references where relevant for the material we drew from the book of Job.)

NARRATOR: There once was a legend named Job. (1:1)
To shun evil and fear God, he strove. (1:8)
Then Satan went up, (1:6)
And said to God, "'sup?"

GOD: "Consider my servant Job." (1:8)

NARRATOR: So Satan began to connive,
Not one of Job's kids did survive, (1:18-19)
His cattle were gone, (1:13-17)
His burdens piled on,
And servants alone now survive. (1:15-17,19)

WIFE: What a foolish old man you are!
To let all of this go so far!
Curse God and die, (2:9)

JOB: Never! Not I!
Not even when life is sub-par. (2:10)

I wish that I'd never been born (3:3)
My life would not be so forlorn
With sores I'm accursed. (2:7-8)
Man! This is the worst! (9:21)
And even my clothes are all torn! (1:20)

ELIPHAZ: Such wonderful friends this Job has.
Now let's see, there's me, Eliphaz. (4:1)
Zophar and Bildad, (11:1,8:1)
Those two aren't so bad,
But they can be a pain in the . . . butt.

Can a man be more righteous than God? (4:17)
Yeah, that might be true, only NOT!
So repent of your sin, (8:4-6)
Whatever it's been,
And God will improve on your lot.

JOB: I haven't done anything wrong (31:1-40)
I don't even sing bawdy songs.
Your theory is flawed,
I've never cursed God. (2:10)
Have you guys been hitting the bong?

ELIPHAZ: Come on, dude, that cannot be true! (8:2)
God can't just be picking on you. (8:3)
So stop belly-aching
We know that you're faking
Repent and all this will be through. (8:4-6)

JOB: So God, what is all this about? (7:17-21,10:1-22)
Some children are calling me 'lout.' (30:1,9)
You've known all along, (31:1-40)
I've done nothing wrong.

ELIHU: So you're just gonna sit there and pout? (32:2-3)

I am a young man, but a wise one (32:6-9)
You old guys stop talking; you're done. (32:18-33:2)
The words from my mouth,
Are coming right out,
They're right on the tip of my tongue.

What do you think? That God's sleeping?
His answers around you are creeping. (33:14-22)
He could speak through a quake,
Or a cake your wife baked,
You might hear him if you could stop weeping.

So hearken ye now to this lightening. (36:27-37:24)
It's terribly, terribly frightening.
I see you're all balking,

GOD: Are you guys still talking?
Oh, now my frustration is heightening.

Who darkens my counsel today? (38:2)
Now I'll ask, and you'll answer, OK? (38:3)
Now you'd better get comfy,
Get your cushions all fluffy,
Because I'm gonna be yelling at you for the next four chapters or so, sound good? (37:1-41:34)

What?! God can't change the meter? *ahem* Excuse me.

Do you think you can argue with me? (40:2)
Well go right ahead, and we'll see!

JOB: Well, gee, I don't know, (40:4-5)

GOD: That's right, you don't know!
You think what I do is so easy?

You think you can rouse the Leviathan? (41:1)
You think that you can? Try again!

AUTHORS: But we had no idea
About what to write here,
Because nothing rhymes with Leviathan!

JOB: "Who darkens my counsel?" you asked. (42:3)
In your glory I never had basked. (42:5)
So now that we've met,
To convey my regret,
I'll break out the sackcloth and ash. (42:6)

NARRATOR: Job's story now draws to an end.
He offered up prayers for his friends. (42:9-10)
And God took his trouble, (42:10)
And gave him back double.
To God be the glory. Amen.

Posted by Jared at 09:01 PM | TrackBack

October 20, 2005


I never want to do that again. Two Watson presentations in four days is a bit much . . . I don't have enough creativity to go around. On Monday I joined Paige, Ashley, and Randy in a 30-45 minute presentation over Deconstructive Literary Criticism in . . . well, Literary Criticism. Tonight I joined Randy and Gallagher in a 30-45 minute presentation over Wisdom Literature in the Bible in Reading the Bible as Literature. In the end, I dumped virtually every ounce of creative innovation I had into presentation one, and tried to let the momentum from that sail me through presentation two. It almost worked. We got a 100 on the first one, and a 92 on the second. I guess I'll briefly outline the two presentations.

For the first, Paige gave a devo over our tendency as Christians to "deconstruct" the Bible, taking verses out of context and ignoring historical and literary factors to make the text say whatever we want it to say. This was followed by two metaphorical representations of what deconstruction is not.

Randy and I donned signs which read "Deconstruction Critic" and Paige donned a sign which read "Famous Author." Taking up a notebook labelled "Great Work," she approached Randy and I (who had sunk to all fours and were prowling forward in as feral a manner as possible) with much trepidation. She gingerly held the notebook out at arm's length, whereupon we snatched it from her, and, with many savage snarls and growls, proceeded to tear it to shreds.

Next, Ashley came over and we gathered on one side of the room. I distributed dish towels and Paige distributed small glass plates to all group members. Then I pulled four hammers out of the crate and passed those out. We wrapped the plates up in the towels, and commenced to demolish them with the hammers. It was all very satisfying . . . but that's beside the point.

Ashley then stood up and gave an excellent summary of what deconstruction actually is while the rest of us passed out brownies. In case anyone doesn't know, deconstruction essentially attempts to take a literary text and reveal its inconsistencies and the subjective, hierarchical ways in which it uses language in order to point out the text can viably hold an infinite number of conflicting meanings. If that doesn't seem to make much sense, don't worry. Not even deconstructive critics seem to know what they're about half the time.

After that was over, Randy and I, standing in for deconstruction and formalism, respectively, attempted to portray the disagreements between these two opposing schools of theory through a scripted argument. The turn of phrase of which I was most proud was when I had the deconstructionist refer to the text as "an artificial construct of the hierarchical subconscious categorization of your binary language modalities." It sounds like total BS and doesn't seem to mean anything, but at the same time, its exactly what a deconstructionist would actually say. No wonder everyone complains that their writings are impossible to understand.

Anyway, the debate quickly degenerated into random name-calling, and . . . Well, this is probably a "you-had-to-be-there" gag, but I'm gonna tell it anyway. Randy and I had planned and practiced this joke several times, but we wanted to make it look like a complete accident. I wasn't confident of my ability to do this because it required me to bust up laughing, and we practiced so many times that I wasn't sure I could find it funny anymore. It didn't actually prove to be a problem.

I called Randy "crazy nonconformist!" He called me "self-deceiving traditionalist!" At this point, I snatched up a padded staff (taller than me) that we had borrowed from a friend. Holding it as low down as I could, I waved it at him (as suggestively as possible) and yelled, "Hack!" He responded immediately, "Freud! Fraud! . . . Fraud!" The script clearly called for him to say "fraud" and it was obviously what he had meant to say, but he passed it off perfectly as though he had just made the textbook definition of a Freudian slip. All I had to do was completely lose my composure and collapse, laughing, into the nearest wall, and the entire room broke up.

It took the better part of 60 seconds for us to pull it back together, and as we were about to begin again, Watson piped up from the back with, "Now that had meaning." I began again with the insults, and when we got to "fraud," everyone started laughing again, even though Randy said it perfectly the second time. That was when I knew we had won.

Moving on, we then gave a brief overview of some of the major figures in the field of deconstruction, and went into the "Deconstructive Magic Act" with "The Amazing Randy!" (and his lovely assistant, Paige) . . . "They will deconstruct a text before your very eyes!" We used Philip Larkin's "This Be the Verse," which was ideal for our purposes. Nevertheless, I was a bit nervous about how the class might react, and we prefaced the piece with a disclaimer/word of warning.

The poem begins "They fuck you up, your mum and dad" and contains an additional f-bomb later on. No one objected, however, and the deconstruction proceeded without a hitch. Watson later complimented us on our choice of text and deconstructing prowess. The poem had been entered into the Power Point slide word by word and we had filled the entire thing to the brim with animations of all kinds so that we could literally tear the text apart in front of them. I will withhold further details for now as I intend to reproduce what we came up with as my journal for this theory. It'll show up on here eventually.

After that, we ended the presentation with a little audience participation. We had gotten Uncle Doug to take his circular saw and slice a phone book in half for us, and had then wrapped it with wrapping paper and labelled it "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn." At this point, we got Dr. Solganick to come to the front of the room to "deconstruct the text." He was, as planned, unable to tear through it on his own, so I divided the class into their groups and went around with special instructions for all, as follows:

-Two groups of four were divided in half. Two people in one were to yell, "male!" and the other two would respond with, "female!" while the other group would go back and forth with "black!" and "white!" This symbolized the binary oppositional hierarchies within the text.

-Two groups of four were to wave their arms back and forth, chanting "Yes I will, no I won't!" repeatedly. This symbolized the inconsistencies within the text.

-One group of four was to turn upside-down in their chairs to symbolize turning the text on its head.

-One group of four (our guests, including Moore, Sharpton, and Martinez) was split into the four corners of the room, "marginalized" if you will, and had to approach the center of the room, waving their arms and chanting "centralize!" in unison. This symbolized, obviously, the idea of drawing attention to the marginalized details in the text.

When all of these got going at once, at my direction, the effect was noisy and chaotic . . . exactly as I hoped. I let it go for about 10 seconds, then cut everyone off and directed attention to Dr. Solganick who, with the aid of the class and a bit of physical effort, managed to rip that massive chunk of book completely in two. Cheers and applause followed, and our presentation ended.

Fast-forward to Thursday: This one can go much faster, cuz it kinda sucked. Paige, Ashley, Randy, and I came in first and pulled up our first Deconstruction slide, pretending to do the same presentation from Monday over again, since it went over so well the first time. Gallagher came in almost immediately and chased us out with the padded staff. Randy shouted "Freud! Fraud!" as he left the room. Randy and I changed into academic robes while Gallagher, who was already wearing them, gave a devo. We borrowed robes from Drs. Johnson, Solganick, and Hummel, 'cuz we thought it would be appropriate to a presentation on Wisdom Literature. Our doctoral robes were greeted with much appreciation.

I re-entered the room wearing a large, blue, Mexican sombrero, and Gallagher and I argue briefly over whether it was "funny" and "clever" or not before I gave in reluctantly and traded it for Dr. Solganick's poofy blue doctoral hat thingie. Gallagher then talked about the essentials of Wisdom Literature and we moved into Proverbs.

A few days before, Gallagher fed the book through the Markov Chain generator, which essentially picks a random word from whatever you feed it, then selects a random word from the list of words that follow that word, and repeats this cycle until you tell it to stop. From this we selected a number of humorous "proverbs" that sounded almost real and mixed them with actual proverbs. We were then ready to run our game show, "Bible or Blasphemy," hosted by "The Amazing Randy!" (and his lovely assistant, Gallagher). We used the exact same Power Point slide we had used from the other presentation.

The class failed miserably (mostly on purpose) at selecting the real proverbs, and were branded heretics, fit to be burned. Randy presented on the salient points of the book of Proverbs and we moved on to Ecclesiastes.

I gave a brief presentation on the prominence of Ecclesiastes and its themes in our literature, citing "Parker's Back" by Flannery O'Connor, The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway, Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, "The Waste Land" by T. S. Eliot, "Nothing New Under the Sun" (from Homer Price) by Robert McCloskey, Moby Dick by Herman Melville, and "Ozymandias" and "Mutability" by Percy Shelley. Then Gallagher talked about the important facets of the book itself.

Finally, Gallagher discussed the book of Job and we ended with an epic limerick which Gallagher and I had written on the book itself. We posted signs up on the board labelling the different parts, and moved around under the signs for each speaking part so people would know who was talking. That was basically it. We were underprepared, and while we had some pretty good gimmicks, overall we were not pleased with our efforts. We were happy to get a 92, and glad when it was over. I'll try to post the limerick soon, 'cuz I really am proud of it.

I'm tired. Goodnight.

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October 19, 2005

Intellectual Expatriates

America between the World Wars was an interesting place to live, to say the least. Prohibition, the Roaring Twenties, the Great Depression, the New Deal . . . okay, maybe not that last part so much. But this period of American history finally brings me within the realm that I hope to cover in my major paper for the course: the impact of the Southern Literary Renaissance on the South (fuzzily dated 1929-1965). The 1930s sees the emergence of the early renaissance writers: Faulkner, Caldwell, and Wolfe (to name the major voices).

These three authors were native Southerners writing about their home ground in a . . . well, less than flattering light. But our reading this week was packed to the limit with authors of the 1920s who were dissatisfied with the society and economic systems they saw around them: Upton Sinclair, Sinclair Lewis, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and a host of minor names I'd never encountered before. What makes the Southern voices so unique and noticeable?

I would guess that the key difference lies in what and who they were writing against. Upton Sinclair wrote an expose on the horrific practices of a meat-packing company, skewering a faceless corporation motivated by greed to disregard the consequences of their policies on everyone. Sinclair Lewis wrote about the closed minds and soulless existences of white-collar America, a faceless mass who only really harmed themselves through their actions. F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote about the destructiveness of amoral and hedonistic upper-class lifestyles. All of these authors were writing against the current of the populace, and many of the very people they targeted loved them for it.

But Faulkner, Caldwell, and Wolfe, and the Southern writers who came after them, were writing about blind prejudice and a backwards mentality which were keeping the entire region socially, economically, and mentally tied to an anachronistic ideal. The South was unable to develop past a certain point, and the results were poverty, ignorance, and discrimanation (to name a few). And Southern authors were not simply speaking out against these problems, nor were they addressing a faceless mass. Southern authors were condemning their own relatives, their own friends, the citizens of the small towns they grew up in. They were traitors and infidels. At least that's what their former friends and scandalized relatives called them.

The literature of the South during this period comprises a more significant, poignant, and truly revolutionary body of work because the writing of it required sufficient intellectual strength to tear loose of the generations-old mores surrounding these authors, and sufficient moral courage to speak out against people they knew personally.

Expect to see me develop this theme further before the end of the semester, but for now, that's all I've got.

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October 13, 2005

The Big Jump

Discussion this week was over the years 1870-1920 in American history, often referred to as a Transitional Period. That's a tricky term to use, because it seems to require further explanation. History is transitional in nature. As a description of events transpiring over the course of a flow of time, it presents with constant movement from one state to another. What, then, makes these particular fifty years in American history so transitional? Is it because we can't think of anything better to call it?

Basically, the Civil War was the pivotal event around which American history hinges. Most of the differences between the Young America of the Founding Fathers and the Modern America of the 1920s have their roots in the shift caused by those four years of bloody conflict. The 50+ years that followed are just America adjusting to this shift: Reconstruction, The Gilded Age, Industrialization, Closing the Frontier, the Progressive Era . . . It's almost as though the South was holding the country back, and when it suddenly lost the ability to do so, we leaped forward with a vengeance.

Considering all of the things that gained a solid hold in the United States after the Civil War, this seems to follow. Put another way, a number of important developments arose to coincide conveniently with the defeat of the South in the Civil War. Without their agrarian interests, America industrialized rapidly. Without their religious fundamentalism, Naturalism and its brethren took hold in the American mind. Soldiers from both sides, and many others, headed West and conquered the frontier.

Not that the South was not still a potent force in its own way, and not that it would never be again. The Ku Klux Klan began during the Reconstruction, and were nearing the peak of their influence by 1920. Southern authors and artists were influential and nationally popular during this time and afterwards.

Basically, though, I don't have a great deal of meaningful reflection from this week's class, which should be readily apparent by now. The Transitional Period is difficult to try and capture quickly and effectively, and I just can't seem to latch onto one particular element that interested me enough to generate a significant firing of the synapses, flowing of the creative juices, or stimulating the little grey cells.

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October 07, 2005

Paige's Shirt: A New Critical Approach

Dr. Watson is sick again today. His illness last night led to me and Gallagher running our Reading the Bible as Literature class. Today I was to have Literary Criticism with him, as usual, but sadly he was not here. Instead we were instructed to compose our journals for today using a poem or other short work and applying a formalist reading to the text.

I hate New Criticism. I find it limiting, narrow-minded, and pretentious. I, for one, would rather not put blinders on before I read something. But that is what I was instructed to do. As my Lit Crit group (self, Paige, Randy, and Ashley) got into a huddle, all of our eyes were drawn once again to Paige's shirt, a rather busy affair consisting of scads of black text in different fonts crowded onto a white background. I've already forgotten who suggested the idea, but it didn't take long for everyone to latch onto it and run with it . . . we must clearly analyze Paige's shirt using New Criticism. No, seriously, we should. See end of post for bibliography.

"Entity" by Daniel Benjamin is a work full of confusion, contrast, tension, and irony which, ultimately, resolves itself into a pointed description of a culture defined by superficial materialism. The work is composed of a wild, disorderly jumble of words in different fonts and different sizes. All of the words, phrases, and concepts in the work appear multiple times. Some of the words are associated with others, some seem to have nothing to do with anything else, and some change according to their context within the work.

For instance, the word "diet" (center, under collar; center, above stomach, left sleeve, shoulder) appears in numerous places throughout the work, but is never truly connected to anything else. However, the concept of encouraging weight-loss is affirmed by the few types of foods which appear scattered here and there: "apples" and "avocados" (right, under collar). Additionally, the text includes a number of disconnected references to tropical destinations like "Miami," (right sleeve, wrist) "Palm Beach," (center, upper back) and "Costa Rica" (center, lower back). One of the most telling phrases in terms of a unifying theme is "US leadership in terms of culture" (right, lower back).

Juxtaposition also plays an important role. For instance, when "Perfect Compromise" is linked with "Nothing," (center, chest) producing the impression that a perfect compromise is no compromise at all. In another spot, "Looking Younger" is placed next to "Production," (center, diaphragm) implying that one must work to avoid the effects of aging and produce a good impression. Or there is the connection of "Behind Those Blue Eyes" and "BOMBSHELL," (left, chest) indicating that shocking part of ourselves which we keep hidden from the world.

"Entity" is a jumbled work, full of contradiction, tension, and irony, but ultimately the entirety is unified through its connection to a single person: the average vapid materialist of modern culture. The work is a testament to the busyness and drive of their lifestyle, but also shows the emptiness of it all. It hints at dark tensions that lie beneath the surface of even the shallowest personality.

Work Cited

Benjamin, Daniel. "Entity." 45% polyester, 45% rayon, 10% lycra. Machine wash cold, gentle cycle, reshape, dry flat, no bleach, inside out. Cut 717, Style #1252-1. Made in USA, Small.

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October 05, 2005

An American Education

For Intellectual History this week I was required to finish reading The Education of Henry Adams, the lengthy autobiography of a historical figure I had never before encountered. Great-grandson of our second president, grandson of our sixth president, and son of the Union's ambassador to England during the Civil War, Henry Adams is rather a curious figure. At least, I am led to conclude that he was after completing the book. Perhaps the best place to start in a discussion of his ideas is with a summary.

Henry Adams was born in Boston in 1838 and spent most of the first sixteen years of his life there before attending Harvard College. This was followed by two or three years of unprofitable wanderings through Europe, chiefly Germany and Italy, under the guise of studying law. Then, throughout the Civil War and beyond, he served as his father's private secretary in England, returning to the United States in 1868.

For the next few years he drifted, trying to find a place for himself, particularly around Washington D. C. He tried writing for the press, particularly about political matters, and would have likely become involved in politics under a certain kind of president. U. S. Grant, however, dashed those hopes, and in 1871 he reluctantly took a teaching position in the history department at Harvard and also served as editor of the North American Review. He would remain there until 1877.

However, at this point the narrative skips about two decades, resuming in 1892. During the intervening period he married, and, after the death of his wife's father in 1885, she killed herself. This portion of his life is ignored completely. Adams died in 1918, and this book was written in 1907. The latter half, after the twenty-year break, is chiefly concerned with ideas rather than experiences. Adams travels all over the United States and Europe, visiting the Chicago and St. Louis World Fairs and the Great Exposition in Paris, studying stained glass windows in medieval cathedrals, and developing and expounding upon his own theory of the movement and direction of history.

During his life, Adams rubbed shoulders with some of the great names of his age: poets and authors like A. C. Swinburne, Rudyard Kipling, and Henry James, famous statesmen like Charles Sumner, John Hay, and William Gladstone, and no less than twelve United States presidents. His areas of study and interest were broad and far-reaching, extending through history, art, geology, diplomacy, politics, journalism, etc. The life he led, to my mind, was almost an ideal 19th century existence. Here we have a man who, while he was not particularly famous himself, either then or now, was often intimate with men who were, and who experienced history firsthand in a way that few others did. Henry Adams witnessed history without significantly influencing it, a historian's dream.

And yet he was pleased with very little of what he got out of life. His obsession with education, and failure to become educated to his own satisfaction, interfered with contentment. Paige observed in class that his search for an education seems to have been a search for purpose, not only for himself but for humanity and its very existence. Adams's search could also be viewed as a search for unity, the hope to discover a Theory of Everything. And in both of these searches he seems to have failed.

Having said that he failed to find purpose, it is hardly necessary to point out that Adams was an atheist. He spends very little time discussing his personal view of God, but when his sister dies painfully and horribly of tetanus over the course of ten days in 1870, he strongly rejects the possibility of God's existence. It's the old problem of the loving God who allows suffering and evil in the world.

However, I hope it is not to awful to say that, had he been a Christian, it is doubtful that he would have produced a work of any use to a historian. It was his inability to find either unity or purpose that drove him to continue the search and, however unsatisfactory the results may have been to him, they yield some interesting material for us. As straight history, Henry Adams often seems to have little to tell us. He is unabashedly biased in much of his writing, and so concerned with his own journey of self-discovery that he frequently ignores major historical events which are transpiring under his very nose.

Adams's chief concern, and his great use to us, is his interest in the minds of his time. He has a great deal to show with regard to intellectual history . . . not surprising considering the nature of the course I am reading this for. Adams's investigations into, and expirements with, the various disciplines he dabbled in are fascinating. His interests are often informed by some of the great minds and events of his time, such as his research on Darwinism and his investigations into the scandals of the Grant Administration.

Additionally, he discusses at great length his own "18th Century" mind and the contrast it presents with the American minds around him. America after the extremely transitional Civil War was a veritable beehive of activity for over a quarter of a century. Americans were industrializing rapidly, taming the West, dealing with an increasingly enormous influx of immigrants, and, in short, marching rapidly to the beat of progress. Adams, though unable to keep up, stands back and watches in fascination, allowing us to watch with him. It is from these observations, and his attempt to unify everything, that his grand theory of history comes.

This theory is laid out in two of the final three chapters of the book: "A Dynamic Theory of History" and "A Law of Acceleration." Adams's theory "defines Progress as the development and economy of Forces" and "defines force as anything that does, or helps to do work" (474). Further, the movement of force throughout history has produced a certain amount of inertia, causing an ever-faster acceleration of progress. Things are moving forward with increasing speed, and they cannot be stopped.

Adams postulates that, for instance, the increase in the amount of energy at man's disposal between 1840 and 1900 accelerated at an exponential rate. Further, if one were to map out the values of the energy man has been capable of harvesting throughout history, it would be possible to show a fixed ratio of accelerating force going back to at least the year 1400. What this amounts to in his mind is a leap forward during the next hundred years (between 1900 and 2000) of a magnitude which the mind of 1900 can scarcely imagine or fathom.

His examples are quite fascinating, particularly his perspective on the power of the Cross as a symbol and a driving force after 300 AD. His observations about the leap which he foresees in just a few short years are indeed perceptive. My mind goes immediately to air and space travel, nuclear power and weapons, computers, satellite communications . . . the list could extend almost indefinitely.

I was following very closely his conclusions, as much about the past as about the future, and nodding in agreement. That was probably why it was such a shock to see him observe that, in 1905 and within two pages of the end of the book, "For the first time in fifteen hundred years a true Roman pax [is] in sight . . ." (503). And, on the final page, "Perhaps some day -- say 1938, their centenary -- they might be allowed to return . . . and perhaps then, for the first time since man began . . . they would find a world that sensitive and timid natures could regard without a shudder" (505).

To find that Henry Adams was, once again, so totally wrong in his assertions, even unto the end, left me discouraged for his sake. He spent his entire life trying to figure the world out, and having his dearest theories turned upside down. However, even in his final, false prediction he leaves us with one final bit of education for ourselves. Adams's hopeful outlook towards the future was a common product of the time he lived in, one more valuable glimpse into the minds of the past. As for his attempt to find unity in multiplicity, we of the year 2005 are still searching. Whether we shall be any more successful than Henry Adams remains to be seen.

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