31 January 2005 - Monday

Best fortune cookie ever

"You are broad minded [sic] and socially active."

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30 January 2005 - Sunday

Just in time

I bought a new umbrella today. I needed a replacement for the one I lost a few days ago. The old umbrella was navy; this one is black, the color I wanted in the first place. It is the same model otherwise: opens with the push of a button; is large enough for two people, as long as they are on . . . friendly . . . terms; has a blunt tip (why people enjoy putting metal spikes on gear meant to be used in thunderstorms, I do not understand).

It took me some time to find this umbrella. I searched various sections of Wal-Mart for the umbrella department, with little success. I found some golf umbrellas in sporting goods, but these were much too grand for my needs. Finally I gave in to the thought that had been tickling the back of my brain. I headed to the jewelry and handbags section. Surely the umbrellas wouldn't be . . . but there they were.

I had hoped that Wal-Mart's marketers understood the Tao of the umbrella. The umbrella--at least, the manly black umbrella--should be given a lofty station. The umbrella should be displayed prominently in menswear or even office supplies. The umbrella is the epitome, the reification of masculine civilization. Hang up your ultra-compact pink umbrellas near the baubles and trinkets if you must, but give the plain, virile Umbrella the respect it deserves.

The timing of my purchase was fortunate. After sunset, the heavens released a gentle but steady stream of rain. Martinez and I treated ourselves to a long stroll around campus. Each of us carried an umbrella. It was a lovely way to mark the beginning of a new week.

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29 January 2005 - Saturday

Free journals

Thanks to Gallagher (and Slashdot), I have discovered the Directory of Open Access Journals.

This service covers free, full text, quality controlled scientific and scholarly journals. We aim to cover all subjects and languages. There are now 1426 journals in the directory. Currently 347 journals are searchable at article level. As of today 62820 articles are included in the DOAJ service.

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27 January 2005 - Thursday

Memory and shame

City Journal has published an intriguing article called "The Specters Haunting Dresden." The author, Theodore Dalrymple, uses the rebuilt city of Dresden, which was firebombed out of existence by the Allies in World War II, as the basis of a discourse on the relationships among history, collective identity, and guilt.

Nowhere in the world (except, perhaps, in Israel or Russia) does history weigh as heavily, as palpably, upon ordinary people as in Germany. Sixty years after the end of the Second World War, the disaster of Nazism is still unmistakably and inescapably inscribed upon almost every town and cityscape, in whichever direction you look. The urban environment of Germany, whose towns and cities were once among the most beautiful in the world, second only to Italy’s, is now a wasteland of functional yet discordant modern architecture, soulless and incapable of inspiring anything but a vague existential unease, with a sense of impermanence and unreality that mere prosperity can do nothing to dispel. Well-stocked shops do not supply meaning or purpose. Beauty, at least in its man-made form, has left the land for good; and such remnants of past glories as remain serve only as a constant, nagging reminder of what has been lost, destroyed, utterly and irretrievably smashed up.

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What rough beast

When I walk the ground of the concentration camps, I fear that I am walking on the ashes of the victims.

--Moshe Katsav, president of Israel.

Auschwitz was liberated 60 years ago.

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22 January 2005 - Saturday


The soundtrack of my life includes a lot of coughing right now. One of my apartmentmates decided it would be a good idea to contract a fever and lose his voice. (The klaxonic gasping of his stricken girlfriend had entertained us for a week before spawning imitations.) Living on campus and desiring a certain amount of companionship, none of us can do much to avoid the pestilence; even those of us who are not spitting up alveoli have noticed suspicious symptoms. I applied disinfectant generously to several surfaces around the apartment today, but this was largely a symbolic gesture.

I have noticed that weekends disappear much faster when I have a lot of reading to do. Saturday should not be ending already.

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19 January 2005 - Wednesday

Slight eccentricity

In addition to working as student grader for the history department, it appears that I will be working as an English tutor this semester. I'm a little nervous, but I also look forward to this as a chance to develop crucial skills. At some point, I need to find my inner wells of helpfulness and tap 'em, if I plan to work in education.

I made a discovery tonight. Apparently, my habit of bowing slightly during introductions can create the impression that I am not entirely native. I've been told before that I seem vaguely international, but this is the first time I've been able to trace that impression to a particular physical mannerism. I never gave it much thought before. Now that someone has pointed it out, I'm pretty sure I bow a lot. The effect is probably strengthened by the fact that my accent gets more ambiguous when I become nervous, especially when meeting new people.

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15 January 2005 - Saturday

The question of an independent newspaper

I have avoided dealing with this here, for the same reasons that I avoid dealing with many of these little campus imbroglios. However, since part of this story has reached the blogosphere already, with questionable information and vitriolic personal attacks, I think I should respond. I have not made a thorough investigation of the affair, but I am party to a good deal of information without being personally involved in any way. I am avoiding the use of names, however, both to protect the innocent and to dampen personal grievance as details emerge.

Recently, I learned that a group of LeTourneau students was working on an idea for an "independent" student newspaper. (There is an official student newspaper on campus; it was of unbelievably low quality last year but improved significantly under new management this fall.) This independent newspaper would operate as a nonprofit entity, but would support itself with advertisements placed by local companies. Advertisers, printing facilities, and an initial staff of student writers and editors had already been secured. Students working on the project were in a state of great anticipation. The first issue was scheduled to be published yesterday.

This week, however, I heard that plans for the newspaper had been scrubbed, upon a threat from the president of the university. I was told that a personal telephone call had come from the president to the editor of the newspaper. He had threatened expulsion and legal action against all involved. It was unclear how the president had learned of the project.

Students connected with the publication were stunned. Some had anticipated a negative response from the administration, but none had expected such a harsh preemptive move. None could see grounds for either dismissal or a lawsuit, but the mere threat was (of course) all that was required to end the project.

Word of this quashing spread quickly. Many students (current and former) expressed extreme displeasure; a professor mentioned the controversy to me with wry amusement. By Friday, the administration was issuing denials in several different directions. I received a personal email from the university chaplain, denying that the president or "anyone from the Administration" had issued any threat against this publication. A friend of mine received similar assurance, in person, from the vice president for student affairs.

At this point, then, it appears that someone is lying or has lied. While it is possible that honest miscommunication is involved, this would not account for the nature of the dispute. Because the students' accusation is specific, and the administration's denial is categorical, there must be a factual lie somewhere in the mix. Either the newspaper editor is lying about receiving the threat; or the university administration is lying about making the threat; or the president is lying to his subordinates about making the threat; or the person who telephoned the newspaper editor was lying about being the university president.

At this point, I have no reason to believe that any individual I know personally is lying. It is inconsistent with the character of most of them to lie to me about this sort of thing, and I judge it unlikely that the others would find a lie to be in their best interests. The indignation of the students I have spoken with is genuine, and the absolute nature of the administration's denial would make a lie on its part fairly easy to expose. The editor seems to have put a fair amount of effort into the legitimacy and success of the publication, and the vehemence of the university's denials could be counterproductive to the actual suppression of the newspaper. (Unless the newspaper is actually dead, the administration's denials amount nearly to an imprimatur.)

Procedurally, I think it highly unlikely that the president of the university would make a personal telephone call to a student to make such a threat; disciplinary action is arranged by the vice president for student affairs. Therefore, I suspect either that this telephone call did not take place or that it was a prank by someone posing as the president. Although I am not well acquainted with the editor of the newspaper, I am inclined to trust that he received the telephone call, so my theory at this time is that he (along with the rest of us) is the victim of a hoax.

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14 January 2005 - Friday

History Carnival

The first History Carnival is up at Early Modern Notes. The best recent work of the historybloggers is on display there for your enjoyment and enlightenment.

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12 January 2005 - Wednesday

Further adventures

World Literature: Enlightenment through Twentieth Century is a Watson class. It is small, and most of the students in it are very intelligent and entertaining people. Unfortunately, it will (per Watson's wont) involve a group presentation; I will have to be in a group of four people, which I find prohibitively large. Nevertheless, I'm sure this will be one of my favorite courses this semester . . . which is to say, it is one of my English courses this semester.

Organizational Culture is a one-hour honors seminar. This one should be highly entertaining. Mrs. Mays is a very good classroom teacher. In a few minutes she was able to establish a convivial atmosphere in a class with a remarkably diverse set of personalities.

The only class left to explore is Solganick's honors course. The Amusing Use and Abuse of Comedy: Is Comedy Divine? will debut tomorrow night in a three-hour evening block.

By the way, if my demeanor has offended anyone in the last couple of days (if I've ignored you, barked at you, etc.), I apologize. I am not feeling very well, and the malady is making me moody from time to time.

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11 January 2005 - Tuesday

And they're off!

Unfortunately, I began the first week of classes on a sleep deficit. A case of insomnia hit Sunday night, and I was unable to make up the difference on Monday. Sadly, my next opportunity to catch up on sleep will be Friday afternoon.

The first day of classes found me in Human Resource Management at 9:30. I judge HRM unlikely to mean much to me academically, but it could make corporate life easier, if I ever have the misfortune to blunder into the "real" world.

In the afternoon, International Business was highly amusing. Dr. Castro was in fine form, beginning with his suggestion that we dub everybody in the class Juan 1, Juan 2, Juan 3, and so forth, for the sake of simplicity. As usual, he gave us a syllabus with an elephantine and often erroneous semester schedule attached. Fortunately, this is my third Castro class, and I have learned to be flexible.

The day officially ended with Modern and Contemporary Poetry. This class will be a great deal of fun, if only because the textbook is the Norton Anthology of Modern and Contemporary Poetry. Unfortunately, some members of the class seem to have signed up for this senior-level course because they, as engineers, needed the lit credit. Once again I have underestimated them. We'll see what happens.

I ended the evening by sitting in on Historiography. I didn't want Johnson and Hummel to think they'd gotten rid of me, after all. It was highly entertaining to observe the class from the perspective of a student who had already taken it.

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10 January 2005 - Monday


I should not be awake this early on the day before classes begin. As much as I like walking through morning fog, I'm not sure man was ever really meant to be conscious before 9 a.m.

I am about to spend the morning and afternoon in a highly inefficient manner: sitting at a table in the course registration line, enabling students to register to vote. Experience says that only a handful of students will be interested; most register long before they get here. This semester should be even less exciting than usual, since everybody interested in voting should have registered for the last presidential election. The exceptions will be those students just turning 18, just arriving at LeTourneau for the first time this semester, or needing to change their voter registration from one location to another. For the most part, my job today will be simply to answer questions and help direct people through the course registration lines.

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7 January 2005 - Friday

Make your own Bayeux

With the Historic Tale Construction Kit.

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I apologize for the unavailability of this site earlier today. I believe our problems have been solved.

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4 January 2005 - Tuesday

Breaking free from the bloc

A friend and I recently had a conversation about my plans for graduate school. I outlined some of what I will need in order to qualify for a doctorate in history. She warned me that I should be careful -- I could suffer burnout, "or worse."

Burnout does not particularly worry me. I am far less likely to burn out in academia than in (for example) retail work, judging by my experiences so far. However much I seem to punish myself in school, it is far more attractive to me than the alternatives.

"Or worse," I found out, meant becoming a liberal.

Where I come from, turning into a liberal (culturally, politically, or theologically) is about as desirable as (and possibly tantamount to) signing a membership card for the CPUSA.

Nervermind that, these days, "they" are supposed to include everybody from devout Muslims to totalitarian atheists to libertarian agnostics to mainline Protestants to journalists (the lot of 'em) to Republican diplomats who opposed the invasion of Iraq. It's still us versus "them" collectively -- red states versus blue.

Anyway, I tried to point out that evangelicals have done well for themselves at some of the most prestigious schools in the world. I also pointed out that some intellectuals who are liberal by the standards of American evangelicals (I gave the example of C. S. Lewis) are highly regarded by the evangelical community.

I am beginning to detest the "conservative" versus "liberal," "us" versus "them" dichotomy. First, it glosses over the true philosophical divisions involved: we often misapprehend entirely the motivations and convictions of our ideological opponents.* Second, it politicizes things that should not be politicized: we tend to substitute bullying for valid argument. Third, it makes us paranoid: we trust no one except those who already agree with us on particulars. (And when I say "we" are vulnerable to these problems, I mean everyone who adopts the mentality, whether characterized as conservative or liberal.)

The common perception among the evangelical Christians I know is that the world's universities are run by the enemies of the evangelical faith and of healthy values in general. But if this is so, I maintain, evangelicals can only exacerbate the problem by being scared of it.

Unless we can make an honest effort to understand the ideas of those who disagree with us, in order to develop and maintain respectful dialogue, we will remain intellectually crippled. Whether or not those who disagree with us are willing to make the same concession, we must make it if we are to make any progress at all. We must also foster freedom of thought within our own community; we cannot afford to push aside brothers and sisters who question. A good start would be recognizing that it is possible for people of similar ideals to disagree about methods.

I like the academy. There are very few places I would rather be than university (and most of those other places are found near universities). I love what the academic world stands for. I especially love what the liberal arts stand for, even when I disagree with ideas that are commonly held within the liberal arts community.

And I, as a member of that community, plan to influence your children. You'll enjoy it all much more if you try to work with me than if you worry about how dangerous it might be.

*For one example of how conservative Christians can misinterpret opposing thought, click here.

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2 January 2005 - Sunday

In 2005, I resolve

To grow only one day older on my birthday.

To spend some part of each day in a state of consciousness.

Not to end dates with "2004."

To set attainable goals.

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1 January 2005 - Saturday


A lovely party
That keeps going and going
Awaiting its host.

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Welcome to 2005

I have returned from a Sunday school get-together. We roasted hot dogs on an open fire early in the evening. Indoors, we played charades. My team won. Somebody asked me whether I have a girlfriend. People always ask me that. Then we went back outside. We stared into the glowing goals of our bonfire at midnight as fireworks erupted in neighboring yards. It was a hopeful sort of night.

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