27 February 2005 - Sunday


Take a look at this collection of unusual technical images of equipment used in World War II. It has some very nice period diagrams of battleships, submarines, minefields, and other engines of war.

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26 February 2005 - Saturday

History Carnival III

The third History Carnival is up at detrimental postulation (a few additional entries are here). There are several good discussions of theory as well as of particular topics and events. Here are some of the intriguing posts:

Orac tries to debunk myths about the Dresden firebombing; some follow-up analysis is here.

At The Rhine River, Nathanael compares attitudes toward written, oral, and visual evidence in history, as suggested by a PBS documentary on the disputed Vinland Map. (Dad, you may be interested in the reference to Genesis near the end of the article.)

Tim Burke reflects on recent visits to Ethiopia by Rastafarians, in which "the imagination of some in the African diaspora has come into collision with the historical reality of African societies." Burke ties this phenomenon to other disapora experiences, orientalism, and the stereotypes in The Phantom Menace.

The Little Professor comments on the historiographical approach of Victorian didactic historical fiction.

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23 February 2005 - Wednesday

Webb Society events

I should have posted this earlier.

Tonight at 9 p.m., the Webb Historical Society at LeTourneau is inviting students of all majors to attend a discussion about graduate school. Dr. Coppinger (English professor and Assistant VP for Academic Affairs) will lead the presentation. The meeting will take place in Heath-Hardwick 139. Attendance is required of all Webb Society members, but all students interested in graduate studies are encouraged to come.

On Friday, probably at 7 p.m., the society will host a film screening. I highly recommend the movie--it's a classic. The room will be Heath-Hardwick 104.

Also, the society will be volunteering at the Gregg County Historical Museum this Saturday. Again, attendance is mandatory for society members (and non-members may find it profitable). There will be two shifts: 10 a.m. to 12 p.m., and 12 p.m. to 2 p.m. Please contact Rebecca Minelga to sign on.

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The passing of a prescriptivist

Miss Gould was my hero, but I didn't even know about her until her death.

She was a fiend for problems of sequence and logic. In her presence, modifiers dared not dangle. She could find a solecism in a Stop sign. [. . .] Miss Gould once found what she believed were four grammatical errors in a three-word sentence.

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22 February 2005 - Tuesday

Must-see television

My proposals for next season:

American Harem
English Major: Life on the Streets
Law & Order: IAEA
NBC Nightly News with Tom Wolfe
Gomer Pyle, USDA
The Wimple Life
Scientific Marxism Frontiers
Life with Clyde
Peacekeepers Gone Wild
CSI: Duluth

Any other ideas?

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21 February 2005 - Monday

At last, the truth emerges

At Cliopatria, historian Greg James Robinson is boldly pursuing a controversial thesis. His analysis of President Truman's farewell letter to Dean Acheson is breathtaking in its simplicity but astounding in its courage.

If my tenured position was ever on the line for something I said, and my scholarly record was being subjected to a 30 day investigation, I would not want to be faced with the accusation that I did not pursue a fair and objective inquiry—especially where, as here, the question of plagiarism is involved.

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20 February 2005 - Sunday

Bookmeme redux

Why not? The weekend's almost over, after all.

T. S. Eliot, On Poetry and Poets:

"Furthermore, the biographer of an author should possess some critical ability; he should be a man of taste and judgment, appreciative of the work of the man whose biography he undertakes."

Quite so.

1. Grab the nearest book.
2. Open the book to page 123.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the text of the sentence in your journal along with these instructions.
5. Don't search around and look for the coolest book you can find. Do what's actually next to you.

Via Brandon.

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Bringing an end to history

The fact that European nations, more accustomed to the tragic vicissitudes of history, still have a measure of misgiving about our leadership in the world community is due to their fear that our "technocratic" tendency to equate the mastery of nature with the mastery of history could tempt us to lose patience with the tortuous course of history. We might be driven to hysteria by its inevitable frustrations. We might be tempted to bring the whole of modern history to a tragic conclusion by one final and mighty effort to overcome its frustrations. The political term for such an effort is "preventive war." It is not an immediate temptation; but it could become so in the next decade or two.

A democracy can not of course, engage in an explicit preventive war. But military leadership can heighten crises to the point where war becomes unavoidable.

The power of such a temptation to a nation, long accustomed to expanding possibilities and only recently subjected to frustration, is enhanced by the spiritual aberrations which arise in a situation of intense enmity. The certainty of the foe's continued intrasigence seems to be the only fixed fact in an uncertain future. Nations find it even more difficult than individuals to preserve sanity when confronted with a resolute and unscrupulous foe. Hatred disturbs all residual serenity of spirit and vindictiveness muddies every pool of sanity. In the present situation even the sanest of our statesmen have found it convenient to conform their policies to the public temper of fear and hatred which the most vulgar of our politicians have generated or exploited. Our foreign policy is thus threatened with a kind of apoplectic rigidity and inflexibility. Constant proof is required that the foe is hated with sufficient vigor. Unfortunately the only persuasive proof seems to be the disavowal of precisely those discriminate judgments which are so necessary for an effective conflict with the evil, which we are supposed to abhor.

The above is from The Irony of American History (1952: Charles Scribner's Sons, pp. 145-146), by "Christian realist" Reinhold Niebuhr. The "preventive war" feared was a nuclear first strike.

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Facing west

Memorial Student Center

LeTourneau University's Memorial Student Center at sunset.

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Librarians of Europe, unite!

Jean-Noël Jeanneney, president of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, is raising a hue and cry about the new American hegemon, Google Print. This Internet behemoth, by providing information freely across the globe, poses an epistemological threat to the Continent:

Here we have the risk of a crushing domination by America in defining the idea that later generations will have of the world [...] the criteria of choice will be powerfully marked (even if we contribute ourselves, naturally without sulking, to these riches) by the perspective which is that of the Anglo-Saxons, with its specific coloration with respect to the diversity of civilizations.
Writing this in Le Monde, Jeanneney urges Brussels to mobilize to counter this threat with (surprise!) a bureaucratic solution:
It's by going forward with public funds that we will guarantee to citizens and to researchers -- providing needed expenses as taxpayers and not as consumers -- protection against the perverse effects of profit-seeking hidden behind the appearance of disinterested service.
Observing all of this at Language Log (which is the source of the preceding translations), Mark Liberman is amused:
As someone with a couple of decades of experience in negotiating information-sharing arrangements with European agencies in general, and French ones in particular, I'm enjoying a quiet chuckle at the thought of the "protection against perverse effects" that the people serving in such entities can be trusted to provide.

I think that I wish M. Jeanneney well in his campaign. An intercontinental competition to see whose library resources can be more interesting, attractive and open -- how could that be bad? (Well, since I asked: if all European digital library funding, along with various special IPR privileges, were to become the exclusive territory of an agency that is skilled in protecting its mandate, but sclerotic or incompetent in carrying it out. Could this happen? Let's say that there are precedents... It's not only in the private sector that more selfish motives can hide behind the appearance of disinterested service.)

I would add that it might be worth M. Jeanneney's time to consider the possibility that American cultural power is so great precisely because the USA generally avoids bureaucratic solutions; American organizations have to build market share in order to survive. American cultural production is of questionable quality but undeniable reach as a result.

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19 February 2005 - Saturday

Weekend grace

I desperately needed the break from campus that I got tonight. The last few days have been intense, and I'm under the weather again. Fortunately for my sanity, the Longview Symphony Orchestra performed this evening. The program included Elgar, Beethoven, and Christopher Theofanidis (Rainbow Body--composed in 2000 and based on Hildegard von Bingen's "Ave Maria"). Theofanidis' work was particularly captivating. I need to find more of it.

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16 February 2005 - Wednesday

Just because . . .

. . . I haven't said anything about Iraq in awhile:

Unrest in Iraq is providing Islamist militants with training and contacts which could be used in new attacks abroad, the head of the CIA has warned. . . .

In Iraq, [DCI Porter Goss] said, the militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was seeking to exploit the conflict to recruit for broader operations.

"Those jihadists who survive will leave Iraq experienced in and focused on acts of urban terrorism," he said.

"They represent a potential pool of contacts to build transnational terrorist cells, groups and networks." [emphasis mine]

I sympathize with the vision of Iraqi democracy as much as anyone. I would love to believe that democratization can be the top priority for American foreign policy. I will be as happy as anyone if this invasion ultimately succeeds in creating a stable and benign Iraqi government (I have doubts, but we won't have the whole story for a few more years).

But whatever its humanitarian merits, this invasion was not a legitimate part of a war on international terrorism. It destroyed a government that was, at worst, a second-order and relatively deterrable threat to our interests. There was no confirmed terrorist threat from Iraq for years before the invasion. Now the country hosts multiple organized and uncontrolled groups of anti-American militants.

You may defend the invasion on humanitarian grounds if you like, but please don't call it part of the "war on terror."

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Hitchhiker's Guide film trailer

I'm a bit concerned now. (Try here if you have trouble with the Quicktime version.)

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15 February 2005 - Tuesday

MCP: Ezra Pound

I completed this reading assignment:

"Portrait d'une Femme"
"The Return"
"A Pact"
"The Rest"
"In a Station of the Metro"
"The River-Merchant's Wife: A Letter"
"Lament of the Frontier Guard"
"The Temperaments"
The Cantos I, II, VII, and XIV
Here are my reflections:

"In a Station of the Metro" astonishes me. Pound described this two-line poem as his third attempt to capture the overwhelming emotion generated by seeing a succession of beautiful faces at a metro station in Paris. The verse astonishes me because it merely couples one brief image with another; it is not even clearly a simile or metaphor, only a comparison of simple sights. I focus on the contrast between petals (presumably of a light color) and their black branch; perhaps Pound was startled to find lovely faces in the dullness of an urban underground.

"Lament of the Frontier Guard" seems very still; the image of the North Gate is quiet and subdued. The war seems far away, as it might to sentinels at a gate before it is attacked, but the poet speaks in retrospect; the guard has already been overcome. The despondency in the image reflects a very modern attitude toward the destruction; there is no hint of purpose or nobility, and even memory will fade. Perhaps this is why Pound chose such an ancient foreign war as a topic. Without any stake in the outcome, the modern reader in the West needs only to feel the brutality of the loss. I have only one thing in common with that frontier guard: mortality.

The adaptation of ancient myth in Cantos I, II, and VII, blending with more recent history and even modern life, reminds me of a theory of language that was first introduced to me by Northrop Frye. According to this theory (as I recall it now), language has passed through three major stages: metaphoric language, in which we rather unconsciously speak of abstracts as if they were concrete (instead of referring to love, for example, we might tell stories about the god Eros); metonymic language, in which we consciously refer to abstracts as equal to concrete things ("love conquers all"); and descriptive language, in which we avoid abstracts as much as possible and confine ourselves to the world of the senses ("they kissed").

I thought of this system because I am aware that Pound paradoxically emphasized the need for intensity and clarity even while using some very obscure language. To me, Pound's elaborations on myth represent part of a redefinition of our way of looking at abstracts. Instead of writing stiltedly of ephemeral concepts, he presents images that, taken together, lend themselves to a flexible perspective on life. He compiles particulars; on the surface, at least, the worldview emerges from the the details rather than details from the worldview. Each allusion or bit of narrative stands on its own, with the poet presenting little overt judgment of its value.

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14 February 2005 - Monday

Don't let them win

If you're not doing something romantic today, you're letting them win.

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13 February 2005 - Sunday

Optimistic outlook

I did my first history grading work last week. Dr. Kubricht had me work on Western Civ II exams, processing Scantron forms and correcting a section of matching questions.

The matching section was alarming; far too many students identified Edmund Burke as a prominent liberal and Goethe as a nationalist rather than a Romantic. A number of students missed every question. Worse was the student who left every matching question blank (she also left two open blanks on the multiple-choice section). I helpfully wrote "guess" on that exam in red ink.

Dr. Johnson informed me that this sort of self-destructive behavior is the reason he lies awake at night.

Meanwhile, at Cliopatria, Jonathan T. Reynolds reviews the results of a map quiz:

We support our troops.. wherever they are. 58% of students placed Iraq properly. For all the Iraq-is-another-Vietnam types, you will be interested to know that nearly half of the incorrect answers for Iraq placed it in Southeast Asia.
I look forward to a wonderful career.

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11 February 2005 - Friday


Sigma Tau Delta: The International English Honor Society

Last night, I was informed that I am now something like president-elect of Alpha Eta Mu, the LeTourneau chapter of Sigma Tau Delta.

My first act as president shall be to find us some members.

My next act shall be to sign a free trade and mutual defense agreement with the LeTourneau chapter of Phi Alpha Theta, which does not, in actuality, exist.

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Concept aeroplanes

A collection of aircraft that never quite made it, but really should have. These are the best.

Via Metafilter.

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10 February 2005 - Thursday

MCP: Stevens, Williams, and Wylie

I completed this reading assignment:

Wallace Stevens:
"Sunday Morning"

William Carlos Williams:
"The Young Housewife"
"Danse Russe"
"Sympathetic Portrait of a Child"
"Portrait of a Lady"
"The Widow's Lament in Springtime"

Elinor Wylie:
"The Wild Peaches"
"Let No Charitable Hope"

Here are my reflections:

Ironically, Stevens' "Sunday Morning" has a mythic and even apocalyptic texture. Here, a still morning provides the backdrop for a discourse on metaphysics, a discourse that makes use of Greco-Roman mythology, Christian doctrine, and horticultural archetypes. The author holds up the details of the natural world as preferable to the "silent shadows and dreams" of spiritual speculations (line 18). We should look for paradise within the material order, he says, not hope for ethereal deliverance. This raises the question of death; our supposedly paradisaic order is notable for its impermanence. Stevens' answer to the problem of death is to embrace it as "the mother of beauty" (line 63); as the fulfillment of life and the only imperishable quality in nature, death defines existence.

Williams' "The Widow's Lament in Springtime" also addresses the relationship between nature and death. It captures the sorrow of a woman (the poet's mother, according to the notes in the textbook) who has recently lost her husband. This widow observes the freshness of spring from a new perspective; she sees the beauty around her but can only think of her despair. I see in this poem, therefore, a modernist's parody on Romanticism. Yes, the poet says, the world is lovely--but the burdens of existence mock any attempt to idealize it. The widow is drawn to the blooms of spring, but she also desires "to sink into the marsh near them" (line 28).

Elinor Wylie uses "Let No Charitable Hope" to express an equally austere but much more tranquil outlook. Like the previous two authors, she rejects attempts to idealize the world, but she would rather resign herself to quiet enjoyment of what may be enjoyed than rhapsodize on death or pain. Yes, she says, life is difficult--but life is not to be feared any more than it is to be spiritualized.

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8 February 2005 - Tuesday

MCP: Frost and Sandburg

This semester, my routine work in Modern and Contemporary Poetry consists of written responses to assigned readings. I am expected to turn in evidence of interaction with the texts, presenting at least three responsive ideas with every report. These responses may take a variety of forms. I decided yesterday that it would be interesting to try blogging them.

First, I completed the reading assignment:

Robert Frost:
"Mending Wall"
"Acquainted with the Night"
"Two Tramps in Mud Time"
"Never Again Would Birds' Song Be the Same"

Carl Sandburg:
"The Harbor"
"Cool Tombs"

Here are my reflections:

In "The Need of Being Versed in Country Things," Frost describes the burnt shell of a country house. The wreck is now home to the birds of the forest, who see nothing sad in the remains of human civilization. Despite the irrelevance of human sorrow to these creatures, Frost writes, "one had to be versed in country things not to believe the phoebes wept." These words seem to express a human desire to be significant. We would like to attribute a general design and connectedness to the events of life. Whether Frost belittles this desire or joins in it is not entirely clear to me. Should we resist being "versed in country things"--holding out hope that the phoebes do weep for us? Should we resign ourselves to the impermanence of life? Should we simply appreciate the bittersweetness of a world resilient enough not to care much about us?

'Two Tramps in Mud Time," also the work of Frost, presents another scene from country life. In this poem, the narrator describes the approach of two strangers "out of the mud" as he splits wood in his own yard. These "hulking tramps," it seems, come from the lumber camps; they want to be hired to do the work the narrator is doing for himself. Such work is rightfully theirs, they think, but the narrator loves doing it himself. "My object in living," he explains, "is to unite my avocation and my vocation as my two eyes make one in sight." In the poem, beautiful descriptions of the narrator's natural setting associate his work with peacefulness, but the approach of the strangers seems dark and disturbing somehow. There seems to be something wrong--something dirty and mechanical--about work performed only for the sake of gain.

Carl Sandburg's "Grass" is the work I found the most striking. It is very terse and harsh. In the poem, the grass speaks: "Pile the bodies high at Austerlitz and Waterloo . . . at Gettysburg . . . at Ypres and Verdun. Shovel them under and let me work." The publication date, 1918, is of obvious significance to the rhetorical force of the work. Less clear is what reaction the author would prefer the audience to have. Should time's effectiveness in healing the world's wounds be a source of comfort? Should the ease of forgetting the wartime dead be a source of remorse? Does the poem present restrained, sardonic rage? I would like to think that this last suggestion is the best. The image of humanity being shoveled by the ton into the ground, where the guilt of war can be conveniently hidden, provokes a harsh response. For me, this poem is a source of wrath, not nostalgia.

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5 February 2005 - Saturday

Aim high

I can dream, can't I?

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Being an historical ham

JSTOR is teh r0x0rz.

I am taking advantage of my AHA membership to search for American Historical Review articles relevant to a paper I hope to write on my own. The results are mainly book reviews, of course, but that suits my needs perfectly at this point.

Sitting comfortably in my apartment on campus, I can access crisp full-page scans of AHR issues. Every time I print a page, the printout comes with exact documentation information in the heading ("JSTOR: American Historical Review: Vol. 100, No. 4, p. 1294"). Microfiche is so twentieth-century.

It's a great time to be an undergraduate. Especially if one is at a small engineering school in East Texas.

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3 February 2005 - Thursday


This is a lot of fun. I just killed a wave of comment spam that hit multiple SC weblogs. With a few keystrokes, I eliminated the offending messages from the blogs before their owners even knew they'd been spammed.

I also got crafty and decided to block all URLs ending in ".biz" from our comment forms. Please bleat plaintively if you feel a pressing need to supply us with such hyperlinks.

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