Friday, January 28, 2011

Winter Weather

Classes started at the University this week. Or, I should say, they were scheduled to start. The blanketing of snow that has turned the lot behind our apartment building into a winter wonderland (complete with bounding deer and comic squirrels) also managed to get most of my classes cancelled this week. I taught one section of the Women and Gender in the Classical World course, but did not have the opportunity to launch either The Roman Republic or The Roman World courses. In lieu of actual start-ups, I've decided to record some podcasts explaining the syllabus and my expectations. This way I won't lose valuable class time. I must cut out so much in order to fit the courses into the semester, I'd hate to lose another day and have even less time for actual, historical content. I downloaded Audacity, a bit of freeware that I hope will help me make decent-sounding podcasts. I tried to use the built-in software that came with my laptop, but it picked up too much background noise, and there was no way to edit around it. I haven't given the software a try yet, but I'll plug in my mic tomorrow and have at it.

On the home front, Thorn is better, but Fox is still ill. They both have antibiotics. Thorn started his first, and so that is probably the reason for his improved health. Fox started hers yesterday, and, as Jase-Ra tells me, she should feel better by tomorrow evening -- that being after the requisite 40-hour period. I felt a bit ill this morning, but I think it is the lack of sleep catching up with me. I slept very well last night, but I think I still need a bit more rest after the late nights this past week. Semester's start always leaves me wired, and I can never settle my mind down at a decent hour.

My father had surgery this week. He'd been suffering from CTS (Carpal Tunnel Syndrome), and the pain in his right arm was excruciating. The operation went well (according to the surgeon) and dad's home recovering.

Finally, I made another breakthrough on the dissertation, but as it is still rather raw, I'll wait to post on it. It was, however, relatively momentous for me, and so I couldn't let me news roundup end without a mention.

This weekend we are staying home, although maybe tomorrow we'll dash over to the nearby Barnes & Noble. Thorn needs new books. If I have to read Go, Dog. Go! one more time, I think I'll lose what is left of my addled mind.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Books, Books, Books

I am a bibliophile. Aside from the occasional desire for a piece of new gadgetry, the only shopping pleasure that I have is for books. I don't care much for buying clothing, though I will when I must. I don't have a fancy car, nor do I play video games (unless they are Fox's, at which point I might be tempted for an hour or so). Books and food are the essential purchases for life. Alas, I am not a wealthy man. If I were, I'd give large chunks of my fortune to charity, and the rest I'd spend on books. Since I am not a wealthy man, I do make good use of my university library. Today I took out nine books on a variety of topics. Most were on Roman topics, as they usually are. One was on the philosophical underpinnings of the modern and postmodern movements. I'm really eager to jump into that one. Another was a new Oxford World Classic containing stories from all three* Brontë sisters, and some contribution by the one Brontë brother. Since we may have an occasion to use Brontë as a middle name for the Raspbaby, I thought I might as well see how wide the family range was. At present, however, I'm working my way through books on women in antiquity. I grabbed my edition of Camille Paglia Sexual Personae off the shelf this afternoon. I think I may assign part of it to my students in the course I'm offering at University this spring. I also went hunting for a German book this evening, with the help of a friend. My mentor/advisor at Hopkins made a brief mention of a new book, but as he could not remember the title or the author, it has proven tricky to track down. Still, we made a go of it, and we've some contenders. We'll see if any of them pan out. Tomorrow is another book-filled day. Time to get my syllabi all wrapped up. Many thanks to Fox for editing my earlier drafts. As for tonight -- time to get back to Women in the Classical World. 

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Craving Oranges

This pregnancy has been different from the last. Not very different, but different enough that I've needed something of satifying sameness, so that I could be assured, in my irrational pregnant way, that this pregnancy is as normal as the last.

Things which were different:

* This morning sickness came earlier and hit much harder. It also hasn't lasted as long, fading around the twelfth week. I was still sick nineteen weeks into my last pregnancy.
* Pregnancy brain has started earlier. I'm as forgetful as a... a...
* A much more intense sense of smell.
* I haven't put on nearly as much weight as I did in the first trimester, last time. Probably due to the morning sickness. Or running after a toddler.
* I don't have this sense of impending change. Partly because this was such a surprise that I'm still in shock; partly because I've done this before.

But never fear! One thing is definitely the same. I'm craving INSANE amounts of oranges. At least one every day, and juice. And anything citrusy, like pineapple on pizzas, blood orange sodas, grapefruit, even lemons. And I know this is because of pregnancy and not just because of this horrid infectious disease I happen to have, because normally? I despise oranges. Especially in juice form. I'd eat a thousand grapefruits before I'd touch one orange. I'd even eat a lemon in the raw before an orange. And yet here I am, devouring the things like candy. If the pregnancy didn't sink in before now, this is the turning point. I can't crave oranges and not be pregnant. No can do.

NYC Love

I forgot to mention some good news. I'm going to speak at a conference in May in NYC. The topic is education in the ancient world, and I'm presenting a paper entitled: Defensor Magistrorum: Quintilian's Institutio Oratoria and the Place of Public Education in the High Empire. The conference paper was born out of one of my dissertation chapters, and I'm really excited to have the chance to present it in public. My last conference experience was not all I hoped it would be, so I'm putting the nose to the grindstone to make sure this one lives up to its full potential. Going to NYC also means stopping at some of my favorite places, like Alice's Tea Cup and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. And, of course, no trip to NY would ever be complete without seeing my folks. I will probably stay with them for the duration of the conference, and just use the train to get back and forth -- save Hopkins or the University a bit of money. As we get closer to May, I'll apprise you of my status.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Sleepless Nights II

(Written last night, but not finished. I have decided to post it regardless, as I cannot recall what I was planning to add.)

Poor Fox. She's sick. Quite sick, actually. Medieval medicine would judge her phlegmatic. I'm not sure what remedy the resident humorist (not the funny kind) would recommend. Strong tisanes and green tea help a bit, and humidity, too. We don't have a strong enough humidifier to warm and wet the outer rooms of our apartment, so we resort to a large lobster pot, full of water, set to boil slowly on the stove. It isn't the most efficient method, but it does the job. You can't ignore it, though. We've already ruined one pot on account of distraction. I think that the apartment owners wouldn't be keen on a kettle-caused fire. The weekend will be the judge for Fox' health.. If it is restored, we move on with our lives. If it isn't, then it is off to the modern physician -- who, unless pressed, will not prescribe leeches or opium. What does all of this mean for Sparrow? No sleep. Wide awake, actually, and I switched to drinking herbal tisanes hours ago. I probably shouldn't sit at the computer (all the guides tell you not to do that when you cannot sleep), but I needed to write.


Thursday, January 20, 2011

Sleepless Nights

My oldest friend used to say (and probably still does) whenever some part of his GI tract would disagree with the rest of his body that "my guts hate my guts." My turn, tonight, Jase-Ra. I was trying to go to bed early. Classes start in a week, and I wanted to be on the "school" schedule. My body, however, had other plans. I've taken my pills, which means that now I just have to wait. I realized I hadn't written an entry, so why not spend my time somewhat productively, rather than scanning through the same twelve email messages in my *starred file.

I'm still working through syllabi. I've three this semester. Fox is editing them. I've ditched the discussion boards. Blackboard's system is just too clunky. It isn't easy to read through the entries, and while you can search for individual students, that leaves you lacking the greater trends of the thread. I've a new lead on a possible non-Blackboard blog site, but I'll reserve comment until I set one up and am satisfied by the results. That leaves journals, which I will keep on Blackboard, if only for the ease of it, and because I don't want my inbox full of student submissions. The fewer files that I must keep track of the better, and with my dissertation at full steam and two articles in the works, I've more than enough to worry about.

Since this is an incredibly random entry, I'll close with a list of the books on my desk.

Women in the Classical World, by Elaine Fantham, Helene Foley, Natalie Kampen, Sarah Pomeroy, and Alan Shapiro

Ancient Warfare (VSI), Harry Sidebottom

Roman Women, by Eve D'Ambra

Feminism (VSI), by Margaret Walters

The Arabian Nights: A Norton Critical Edition, selected and edited by Daniel Heller-Roazen

The Past as Text, by Gabrielle Spiegel

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Fatherhood Saga

Thorn was born in May of 2009. He will be 20-months old a week from tomorrow. It isn't a lot of time. My own lifetime encompasses over 330 months, after all. And yet, it is as if I've lived through several lifetimes with my child. He changes so much from week to week, and sometimes even from day to day. At first he slept, ate, and evacuated. That was all. Life was simple, though we didn't get much sleep. Then he started to move a bit more, to pay attention whenever he was awake, and to make gurgling and giggling sounds. Now, of course, he walks, he runs, he climbs, he jumps and dives, he tosses balls (and can even catch them with a little coaching and some parental finagling), and he follows directions when it suits him to do so. He doesn't speak much. Only a few words. He prefers to use gestures. Dozens of gestures, and they grow more complicated daily. I'm having a hard time interpreting them now, which I suppose is when the language gears will jump, as he finds it necessary to communicate with me. Still, I am fascinated by his non-verbal, linguistic talents. I wonder if these gestures will fade away as words replace them, and if so, will I remember them in the days and years that (I hope) stretch before us? We want our children to grow up so that our work is less and our pleasure greater. We want to be able to communicate with them. But I will miss parts of this time. I will miss the hand motions, the pointing, and the elaborate physical twists that Thorn uses to try to convey messages to me. I will miss the excitement he gets when given his bottle, the little happy dance that makes me feel warm deep in my heart.

I do hope you grow up, but not too quickly, little Thorn, not too quickly at all.    

Tuesday, January 18, 2011


It is one of the cruelties of history that many of the works you'd most like to hear, see, or read have been lost. For example, in the Hellenistic period we know of several women poets whose work inspired cities, achieved prizes, and awed listeners. Little, if anything, of the works of these women has survived. At least we know from other sources, like this dedication from Lamia, that they lived, that they wrote, and that they had place in the literary culture of their age.

From the Sylloge Inscriptionum Graecarum 3 532.

Decree in honor of Aristodama of Smyrna, 218-217 B.C.E.

Of the Aitolians the strategus is Hagetas, a citizen of Kallion. With good fortune. Resolved [by the city] of the Lamians. Since Aristodama, daughter Amyntas, a citizen of Smyrna in Io[nia], epic poet, while she was in our city, gave several [public recitations] of her poems in which the nation of the Aitolians [and] the People's ancestors were worthily commemorated and since the performance was done with great enthusiasm, she shall be a proxenos of the city and benefactor, and she shall be given citizenship and the right to purchase land and [a house] and the right of pasture and inviolability and security on land and sea in war and peace for herself and her descendants and their property for all time together with all other privileges that are given to other proxenoi and benefactors and Diony[sios], her brother, and his descendants shall have the rights of a proxenos, citizenship, inviolability.

(translation: Women in the Classical World, Fantham, Foley, Kampen, Pomeroy, and Shapiro - 1994)

Monday, January 17, 2011


Cleopatra VII was the last of the Ptolemies to rule in Egypt. Her suicide in August of 30 BC ended the Hellenistic era, which had begun with the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC. At the University there has been a bit of talk about someday bringing to life a Hellenistic history course. An elder colleague had first suggested it several years ago, but then abandoned the project. The Hellenistic, he found, was unwieldy. Now that I'm in a place where I can begin to think about future courses, I think I have a way bring the Hellenistic under control. My plan centers on Cleopatra. Begin the course not with Alexander, but with the last queen of the age he (without perhaps meaning to) founded. I think it would provide a very different tenor to the class, and one that more directly focuses on the social and cultural aspects that so define the Hellenistic. Cleopatra is also one of those historical figures that everyone is sure they know something about, but certainly know less than they think. That makes her a wonderful candidate for those "wow" moments you delight in as an instructor, as students shake off preconceptions and the accumulated debris of History-channel specials, New York Times articles, and Turner Classic Movies. I won't have time to draft a proposal this term, but over the summer I think I'll have a moment or two. Dissertation first. I just want a record that I thought of it now. The historian in me demands good records, after all.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

On Reading the Koran - Lesley Hazleton at TED

This was absolutely lovely, and as a textualist, I found it inspiring. Read before you say you understand, read again before you say you understand, read a third time in the original language before you say you understand.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Little Surprises

I love little surprises. I had just settled in for a bite of lunch when I heard a knock at our front door. Our neighbor from across the hall was standing there, so I opened up and asked what was the matter? She has never knocked on our door before. She pointed to the floor, and there was a thin, Amazon box, resting against the door post. I thanked her, still a bit surprised that she would think to knock to let me know I had this box waiting outside, and surprised that the box was there at all. I'll want to express my gratitude to this neighbor soon. That is twice she's alerted me to a waiting package, which never happened in our old place. As for the box, I'd ordered a few books for school, and wasn't expecting either of them to arrive on account of the snow, but one has. Women in the Athenian Agora by Susan Rotroff and Robert D. Lamberton. It is a slim volume, the twenty-sixth in the Excavations of the Athenian Agora Picture Book Series, and required reading for my Women and Gender in the Classical World course this spring. The book is lovely, and as the series title suggests, chock full of pictures. I'll see about scanning a few in for my lectures and presentations. Surprises are wonderful.

P.S. Not all surprises are wonderful. Thorn decided that our hallway wall was his canvass this morning, and so I've spent the better portion of fifteen minutes scrubbing with all my might against the squiggles and wiggles of brown, blue, and black crayon. Ah, toddlers. Gotta love'em.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011


While reading Walter M. Miller Jr.'s A Canticle for Leibowitz...

"The quiggles just had to be done jet black, but that meant that the lines should be off-black, to assert the quiggles." (page 79)

Keeping a Journal

I have decided to go with journals for my two upper-level courses. In my own research and reading, I have found that the sooner I start to write ideas and information down, the more I retain what I'm reading, and the more that the reading has an impact on future thought and work. My students will be required to write in their journals on a weekly basis. So as not to leave them entirely without guidance, I'll begin each weekly session with a series of (what I hope will be) thoughtful questions. This way I can guide both the readings and the responses. This is yet another experiment using Blackboard technology. I won't go back to the discussion boards -- they are antiquated and unwieldy. Eventually I'll have made my path through all of Blackboard's options, and then I can decide truly if is something that I would stick with in the long term. I'm fascinated with the prospect of using something a bit more aesthetically pleasing, like Google Groups, but I don't want to make students sign up for anything extra. Since they are already bound to Blackboard by University fiat, I'll use that.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Mourning in Tuscon

I keep seeing the little girl. She was nine. Born, as the media says, on the 11th of September in 2001, she had a keen interest in politics. She was probably excited to meet a congresswoman. I hope Gabrielle Giffords survives. I hope she is fit enough to return to her work. But I keep thinking and seeing that little girl. My heart is with her parents, her grand-parents, and the rest of her family. In the hullabaloo that followed the shooting, I have read few pieces that fit well with me. Here are a few that I thought I'd share:

From Salon's Laura Miller: The real message of Loughner's book list

From The New Republic's Jonathan Chait: The Arizona Shooting Is Not A Product of Right-Wing Rage

From The New Republic's Jonathan Cohn: A Portrait of a Disturbed Assassin

Recipes of the Week

We'll be trying three new recipes this week. Two from Cooking Light's the essential dinner tonight cookbook, and one from the Alice's Tea Cup cookbook. The single recipe from the Alice's cookbook is simple: cucumber watercress sandwich with lemon chive butter. The Cooking Light selections are a bit tougher, but still fairly easy: polenta lasagna (vegetarian), and grilled tilapia with smoked paprika and Parmesan cheese. I'll post pictures and the full recipes as I do them. First, however, to the grocery!

EDIT: The grilled tilapia is off the menu. Whole Foods didn't have any tilapia left after the big sale. I'll probably still make the polenta with the Parmesan cheese, and I'll certainly make the polenta lasagna. Whole Foods also didn't have the watercress, so we're moving the cucumber sandwiches to next week. I'll let you know how the lasagna goes when I put it together tomorrow.

EDIT: Polenta lasagna is a success! Even Thorn had a taste. Zucchini, mushrooms, onions, and red bell peppers married well with the eggplant marinara, and all of it played beautifully with the polenta. A little cheese for Fox and me (Thorn's allergic), and we had a lovely, simple, nutritious dinner. I forgot to take pictures, so that'll have to wait until the next dish.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Assam Discovered

Reading Roy Moxham's Tea: Addiction, Exploitation, and Empire...

From a missive of the East India Company's Tea Committee to the Governor-General of India:

The tea shrub is beyond all doubt indigenous to Upper Assam ... We have no hesitation in declaring this discovery, which is due to the indefatigable researches of Captain Jenkins and Lieutenant Charlton, to be by far the most important and valuable that has ever been made on matters connected with the agricultural or commercial resources of this empire. We are perfectly confident that the tea plant which has been brought to light, will be found capable, under proper management, of being cultivated with complete success for commercial purposes, and that consequently the objects of our labours may be before long fully realized.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Tea and Opium

Reading Roy Moxham's Tea: Addiction, Exploitation, and Empire...

I never realized how intimately connected the tea and opium trades were. The British, to fuel their growing addiction to Chinese tea, poured silver into China, as the Chinese were not interested in Britain's manufactured goods. Cotton, which the British also had, was sometimes traded for tea, but never in the quantities of silver. The problem with trading your silver in an era when silver was the basis for currency is that you could debase your own money. The answer for the British was the Papaver somniferum, the opium poppy. For some reason, and one that baffles Mr. Moxham, the Chinese were quite beholden to India's poppy, even though Papaver somniferum would have grown quite nicely in native Chinese land. As the British began to export opium to China the balance of trade shifted, which would precipitate more aggressive Chinese action against foreign trade. This led to direct conflict with British citizens, and the British government responded by launching a war against the Chinese. William Ewart Gladstone, one of Britain's most influential statesmen, said this of the war:

     "A war more unjust in its origins, a war more calculated to cover this country with permanent disgrace, I
     do not know and I have not read of.'

Gladstone was in the minority, however, and war commenced. Of tea, and trade, and opium, and war, what a tangled jumble history is.

Crafting the Syllabus

I will spend this weekend writing up my syllabi for the spring semester. Whenever I sit down to do this process, I pull out old teacher evaluations and make notes of those aspects of previous courses that did or did not seem to work for most students. Exams are such a ubiquitous part of education that they rarely receive complaint or praise, and so while I try to keep them to a minimum in my courses, I always include at least one. Papers, too, are ubiquitous, but because it seems that people are less practiced in writing, papers usually receive one or two complaints. This semester I've decided to keep the paper for my upper-level course, but to ditch the smaller paper for my lower-level course. Fox has had a few professors who had the students keep journals of their weekly readings. I like that idea, because it ostensibly keeps the students reading and writing. So I think I'll definitely have a journal for my upper-level course. I'm not really sure whether or not I'll do it for my lower-level course. As that course is more about gaining basic information about Roman society rather than extrapolating that information into a broader discussion about Roman culture, I think several data-based quizzes are in order. The biggest question that I have is the Blog feature on Blackboard, and whether or not it would be better to craft a personal blog elsewhere on the web for each of my courses. What think you? Blackboard keeps the blog self-contained for the course, without any added work on my part or the students. Blogs on the wider web, however, are prettier, and aesthetics can play a significant role in people's use and enjoyment of digital features. I use the Blog to get the students to discuss the course's material in a less-structured way, to share video, music, or whatever seems appropriate to our subject matter. What has utterly failed to produce any viable result has been the discussion board. I cannot decide if it is simply antiquated, and no longer a suitable platform for modern learning, or if I have just not managed to find the right balance for it. Since I have not managed to imagine a new way of using it, however, I'll drop it from all of my courses. I'll see how a semester without it goes. Here is my plan --

Upper-Level History Course:

     10-15 page paper
      weekly journal entries on assigned readings
      1 comprehensive examination at the end of the term
      blog (how exactly to do the credit for this is unclear to me at present)

Lower-Level Ancient Culture Course:

      several quizzes (exact number pending)
      1 or 2 comprehensive examinations
      blog (same problem as above)
      very short paper 3-5 pages

The above is tentative, but it is where my head it at the moment. As always, dear friends, I'm eager to hear from your own experience about what worked for you in school, or what is working now, or what you imagine would have worked had someone given it a try.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Ender's Game Movie (if only it were real)

I found this video on OSC's homepage. It was made by fans, but if a real studio finally picks up the movie, these people should be involved in it.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Tea Love

From my reading of Roy Moxham's Tea: Addiction, Exploitation, and Empire:

"The first known mention of tea as a drink in Europe is found in a Venetian book of 1559, Navigatione et Viaggi. The author, Giambattista Ramusio, related what he had been told by a Persian of 'chai catai':

     They take of that herb, whether dry or fresh, and boil it well in water. One or two cups of this decoction  
     taken on an empty stomach removes fever, headache, stomach-ache, pain in the side or in the joints, and it
     should be taken as hot as you can bear it."

I always knew that tea was a panacea.

Vertical Farms

The Economist's Technology Quarterly from December has a fascinating article about vertical farming. At its simplest, vertical farming requires a bit of rooftop and some hydroponic equipment. Eventually, and perhaps sooner rather than later, high-rise farm buildings could crop up in cities around the world. With the world population set to increase to 9.1 billion by 2050, we're going to need methods like vertical farming to feed everyone. According to the Economist, Professor Dickson Despommier of Columbia University in New York is the "progenitor" of vertical farming. Professor Despommier's recently published book, The Vertical Farm, has received mixed reviews, which is to be expected -- the book is a sociological manifesto, after all. Still, from what I see on Amazon's page the book is lovely, with several futuristic imaginings of vertical farm buildings. I think one of the main selling points for me to see this type of technology flourish is the ability for a vertical farm to provide local food to urban dwellers. Cities of a certain size can rarely support themselves from their local environs. Vertical farming would return that ability to the urban environment. New York city could become a world breadbasket. I think that is astounding, and I think I'll pick up Professor Despommier's book and judge his opinions for myself.

P.S. The Babbage Blog on the Economist's site also has this: Three views of the vertical farm

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Social Media and the Classroom

I sat down tonight to do some work on my syllabi for the spring semester. As I did so, and as I juggled through the traditional types of assignments, I began to wonder if there was a place for social media in my classroom. I don't think individual courses should have their own Facebook pages or Twitter feeds, but maybe there is another way that those platforms could be useful. Then there are podcasts, video streams, and blogs, all of which have proven applications in the classroom. What do you think, tech-savvy friends? Would you like to have had social media in your courses? If a teacher, have you used social media effectively?  

Monday, January 3, 2011

The Fruit Stage

Thorn was "Bluebaby" before we knew his gender; today, we continued in the tradition of berry-naming the fruit of our loins by dubbing our Christmas surprise baby the "Raspbaby." We had the Raspbaby's first ultrasound earlier today. For all the surprise and worry and anticipation the wee creature caused us, the Raspbaby looked very content, nestled right in the center of my womb, with full knowledge of a right to existence. Relief flooded through us at the baby's strong heart: 164 beats per minute, to be exact. Right on schedule developmentally, which puts the baby's due date around August 11th. I'm tempted to say this is a girl already, since Thorn was always a week ahead developmentally, even though we knew his conception date. He came three weeks early, and was already over seven pounds when he was born. In contrast, I, a girl, was a very small baby: a little over five pounds. But there are many factors influencing development. I weigh over ten pounds less now than I did when I conceived Thorn, and a heavier mother tends to make for larger babies. Anyway, as we've told all and sundry, we do not care about the gender, really. We just want to move beyond the fruit stage and start using a real name! Is it a little K or a little V? Come back in early March, and we'll let you know.

Hello Baby...

I don't know your name yet, and I wasn't expecting to see you so soon, but I'm glad you're here. We were very worried for a time that you wouldn't be a baby, but now we've seen you. You are so little, barely bigger than a garbanzo bean, and yet your heart beats with vigor. You have short, stubby arms and tiny fingers. There is a still a bit of a tail on you, my littlest one, but that will go away. Your mother and I are so blessed to have you. Some part of me never thought I'd have more than one child. Thank you for proving that part of me wrong. I love you already, my little lion.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Book Recommendations from 2010

Once more I am vanquished by my own contest. We have had this challenge of reading fifty books each year for the last three, but I never quite make it. Fox has made it twice. To count a book must be read from cover to cover. Twenty-nine books were thus read by me, and this year I will endeavor to begin again. I even have a new and shiny book journal to help me. Looking back at 2010, however, I see a few books from my 29 that I would recommend.

My favorite book in 2010 was this slim volume by Jonah Lehrer. It explores the decision-making capabilities of the human brain. Mr. Lehrer opened my eyes to a world of cognitive science that I was completely ignorant of.  I never realized how chaotic, how terribly random so many of my choices were, and I also never realized how beholden I am to my brain's chemistry. This was a terrific read, utterly fascinating, and one of the very few books that I can actually see myself re-reading in the future.

This book changed my dissertation project. In fact, if it were not for this book, I think that my dissertation would be in a more tenuous position. More important than that, however, is how this book helped me to remember the strength of a child's aesthetic life, and the power of the young imagination. Watching Thorn grow and learn, observing him while he plays and imagines, are now vigorous moments for me. I have taken to heart Spitz' caution not to let these early encounters with wonder pass me by, and to do my very best to foster a sense of wonder in my child.

A dear friend recommended this book to me, and I am indebted to her for it. Set in an Israel both mythical and historical, it is the tale of a small village and the complicated lives of the families who call it home. I adored Shalev's tale, and I'm told that it is even better in the original Hebrew. Mysticism, so-called magical realism, abounds, as do the grittier, uglier details of human existence. I hunger for more Shalev, and so look for more recommendations of his work in 2011.  

Book Rants

Apologetics Bible Rant:

Hey, article-writers in my apologetics Bible. I'm getting a bit annoyed at your setting up postmodernism as the straw man, using the most extreme of its arguments to characterize it (no one can truly know anything), and then using postmodernist deconstruction and historical point-of-view to prove your points. Please acknowledge that postmodernism has and does inform current historical methods, including the ones you're using.

Pornland Rant:

To Gail Dines: not all of your readers are going to be liberal feminists. Some are moderate or conservative feminists, who may not agree with your usage of politically-charged metaphors. Don't alienate your allies.

Also, you are not up to date on women's usage of the Internet. There are more women on the 'net than men, and roughly half of porn viewers are women. Please add five or six more chapters to your book to deal with this.


Saturday, January 1, 2011

New Year's Resolutions

Last post of the day! This one is simple, and possibly the one I ought to have done first (uh oh, guilt already!): New Year's resolutions.

1. More Bible-reading, in addition to comparative religious study. I just got an awesome apologetics Bible from my parents-in-law, so I'm reinvigorated.
2. Eat properly and work out. Which I did do this past year, but it's the sort of thing you have to re-commit to when the holidays roll around, neh?
3. Submit at least one story for publication per month, once my editing contract is over.
4. Get my take-home exams to Dr. G so I can finally seal the deal on that lingering degree.
5. Assist Sparrow in his dissertation work. One chapter will be done by the end of the Spring semester.

I make resolutions every year. And I do see improvement over time. After all, I haven't vowed to "do everything perfectly" this year, as I did when I was (much) younger. I guess I'll have to re-visit this post and see if I've done all I vowed by year's end. I think I can!

What have you vowed for 2011?

Women as Pastors; Women as Wives

"903.5. Women in Ministry," Manual 2009-2013, Church of the Nazarene:

The purpose of Christ's redemptive work is to set God's creation free from the curse of the Fall. Those who are "in Christ" are new creations (2 Corinthians 5:17). In this redemptive community, no human being is to be regarded as inferior on the basis of social status, race, or gender (Galatians 3:26-28).

Acknowledging the apparent paradox created by Paul's instruction to Timothy (1 Timothy 2:11-12) and to the church in Corinth (1 Corinthians 14:33-34), we believe interpreting these passages as limiting the role of women in ministry presents serious conflicts with specific passages of scripture that commend female participation in spiritual leadership roles (Joel 2:28-29; Acts 2:17-18; 21:8-9; Romans 16:1, 3, 7; Philippians 4:2-3), and violates the spirit and practice of the Wesleyan-holiness tradition. Finally, it is incompatible with the character of God presented throughout Scripture, especially as revealed in the person of Jesus Christ.

If Nazarenes can interpret Paul with this sort of nuance regarding ministry, why do I still hear the same stone age preaching about men ruling the spiritual household in marriage from Nazarene pastors and teachers? Those admonitions regarding women in marriage come from the same Pauline letters as the admonitions regarding women in the church. The Manual says women can be pastors, and therefore lead a church. Are pastors therefore saying that because women are female, they cannot use a spiritual gift of leadership in the home? What if the man has no gift for spiritual leadership? Does he lead by virtue of his penis?

I have seen this passage from Genesis used as a reason for gender division in marriage:

Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you. (Genesis 3:16, to Eve)

But this is a CURSE, people! This is part of the Fall of Humanity. The Manual clearly states that being Christian frees us from the curses of the Fall. Why, then, did I see this verse used in church as an insight about marriage?

Marriage is a partnership. There is no rule, save that of God. Women don't need an intermediary between their souls and Christ. And children don't need all members of the household to have a penis in order to lead them spiritually. There is no "obey" clause in a Nazarene wedding service, and there shouldn't be an "obey" implication in Nazarene sermons.


I have never had much interest in year-end or year-beginning celebrations. One day is much like another, and I do not see why the 31st of December should receive more excitement than the 22nd of August or the 3rd of May. Still, at this time of year, in order not to seem a total curmudgeon, I do make a habit of writing out a little list of resolutions. Most are banal, but some will add value to my future days.

1. Successfully complete the 2011 Fifty Book a Year challenge.
2. Submit two chapters of my dissertation to my advisors.
3. Write something daily.
4. Continue to curb annoying web-surfing habits.
5. Maintain organizational systems put in place during 2010.
6. Improve organizational systems put in place during 2010.
7. Lose 20 pounds.
8. Take more pictures of Thorn.
9. Keep book journal.
10. Write Fox letters.
11. Cook at home more.
12. Use each of my cooking gadgets at least once this year.
13. Get my borrowed library books under 100.
14. Host a game night once every other month.
15. Look for ways to be more innovative in the classroom.

Books of 2010

It's the first day of January, in an infant new year. I need to oil that precious baby rump with new words, so here they are.

Let's begin with books. I reached my goal of fifty this past year, which made me very happy. I credit Thorn for making it impossible for me to do anything other than read, and my husband, who shares my dislike of television, which sucks away reading time (not to mention IQ). With such bolstering influences, the books appeared, one after the other, on my list. I read history the most (12 books), followed by fantasy (10). Still, for all the fantasy I read, there are only two I'd heartily recommend from this year, on par with my two sci-fi suggestions. Here are my top eleven:

Sons, by Pearl S. Buck
Pearl Buck is the most widely translated American author. Her childhood was spent in China, and the authenticity of her experience, coupled with her keen awareness of the grayness of mankind, make her books wonderful reads. This is the sequel to her better-known novel, The Good Earth.

The Summer of the Great-Grandmother, by Madeline L'Engle
One of Madeline L'Engle's collections of diary entries, this one covering the year her mother sickened and died. It is a very honest account, describing what many of my peers may not be willing to look at: the progress of old age. For all that this book made me cry, L'Engle's faith blunts the edge of the suffering, and her recollection of memories helps the reader form a better idea of L'Engle as an author.

The Three Musketeers, by Alexandre Dumas
Classic. I re-read it this year because I loved it so.

Orthodoxy, by Gilbert K. Chesterton
While some of the references in this work are outdated, Orthodoxy remains one of the best Christian apologetic works which simultaneously applauds reason and imagination. My favorite parts deal in faith of a sort long-term Christians in a logical world easily forget: the first love, the wonder of a child, and the joy behind creation. Just be aware that Chesterton grew up in an age of Ciceronian education, and he therefore uses invective more than would be comfortable to a 21st-century reader.

The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt's Darkest Journey, by Candice Millard
The title alone was so sexy I had to read it immediately, and then bought it for my father. This book regards Roosevelt's expedition down an uncharted tributary of the Amazon following his final election loss.

Byzantium: The Surprising Life of a Medieval Empire, by Judith Herrin
Everyone should learn more about Byzantium, as it has become virtually lost in the march of Western history. A popularly-accessible book written by a trusted scholar.

Powers, by Ursula K. Le Guin
Third in a series of young adult novels by the venerable queen of sci/fan. Her love and learning of ancient life couples with her unabashed social awareness to produce a very wise book. The first book in this series is Gifts.

Dragon Keeper, by Robin Hobb
The first of two books (Dragon Haven being the second) set in Hobb's Rain Wilds. While her first Ships books were better, she does not disappoint. I'd suggest that anyone interested in this world begin with Assassin's Apprentice, however.

Wireless, by Charles Stross
Get past the first few rather dry short stories, and Stross's writing and creative, broad worlds will entrance you. Several of the stories in this collection have won awards.

The Windup Girl, by Paolo Bacigalupi
This sci-fi set in Thailand, in a world of calorie kings, won both the Hugo and Nebula awards this year, and for good reason.

Northern Renaissance Art, by Susie Nash
Well-written in general, and dispels the notion that the Renaissance is all about Italy.

And just so I don't fail you by warning you away from the duds I read this year, here are the bottom five books:

Waiter Rant, by Steve Dublanica
Self-centered waiter tells you less about the restaurant business and more about his frustrated life ambitions.

How Few Remain, by Harry Turtledove
Alternate history. Sexist. Vacantly verbose. Will make you want to shoot yourself in the head.

The Wood Wife, by Terri Windling
Wishful-thinking story about artists and writers finding muses.

The Lovely Bones, by Alice Sebold
Well-written, postmodern drivel. All of its points were worn-out last decade, and the ending will made you want to die just so you can go to pseudo-heaven and shoot the protagonist for being a selfish idiot.

Muse of Fire, by Dan Simmons
Not sure what I can say about this one. Shakespeare allusions were cute, but didn't carry the story. It failed to stun on every level.

Here's a list of the other books I read this year. If you're interested, I'll review one, but otherwise, this is just for memories:

Christians in the Movies: A Century of Saints and Sinners, by Peter E. Dans
Blues Empress in Black Chattanooga: Bessie Smith and the Emerging Urban South, by Michelle Scott
Peony, by Pearl S. Buck
Regarding the Pain of Others, by Susan Sontag
Dr. Johnson's London, by Liza Picard
Except the Queen, by Jane Yolen & Midori Snyder
Death on a Friday Afternoon, by Richard John Neuhaus
Naval Wives and Mistresses, by Margarette Lincoln
Warrior Women and Popular Balladry, 1650-1850, by Diane Dugaw
The Lady Tars: The Autobiographies of Hannah Snell, Mary Lacy, and Mary Anne Talbot
by Stephen R. Lawhead
Monstrous Regiment, by Terry Prachett
The Plain-Dealer, by William Wycherley
Infidel, by Ayaan Hirsi Ali
Dragon Haven, by Robin Hobb
Thinking in Pictures, by Temple Grandin
The Case for Mars, by Robert Zubrin
The Scarlet Pimpernel, by Emmuska Orczy (re-read)
Toddler Owner's Manual, by Brett Kuhn & Joe Borgenicht
Mind in the Making: The Seven Essential Life Skills Every Child Needs, by Ellen Galinsky
Three Cups of Tea, by Greg Mortenson & David Oliver Relin
Swordspoint, by Ellen Kushner
Blood Colony, by Tananarive Due
The Unincorporated Man, by Dani & Eytan Kollin
Villette, by Charlotte Bronte
Tongues of Serpents, by Naomi Novik
Byzantine Art, by Jannic Durand
Byzantine Art, by Charles Bayet
In Search of My Homeland, by Er Tai Gao
Queer Theory, Gender Theory: An Instant Primer, by Riki Wilchins
Renaissance Art: A Very Short Introduction, by Geraldine A. Johnson
European Art of the Fifteenth Century, by Stefano Zuffi
I am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced, by Nujood Ali with Delphine Minoui
Singularity Sky, by Charles Stross