Oct 31, 2009

The Island of Peleliu in the Second World War

War relic: my grandfather's Navy-issue sailor's cap

I have been spending quite a bit of time with my grandfather in the past year, and my wife and I visit him every Friday. Yesterday we talked at length about his service in World War II as a Seabee, especially the months he was stationed on a Pacific island after the Battle of Peleliu.

The draft board deemed Chuck Maples fit for service in 1943, and he spent about 12 months stateside before being shipped out in the fall of 1944 for the Pacific theater. After a short stay at Guam, he and his Seabee battalion next traveled to Peleliu, where he stayed until his term of service ended in 1945.

Chuck worked in a transportation garage as a mechanic, fixing such items as vehicles and pond pumps, and he shared with me quite a few memories of his work. One of the first vehicles he repaired was a recovered Japanese steamroller, which he and his buddies enjoyed driving around the island at "all of two miles an hour." One of his pet projects was trying to get running a three-wheeled Japanese motorcycle, but he "could never get the damned thing to run."

An officer one day came in with an unusual request. One of the other officers had a Jeep that could produce an impressive plume of smoke, and it seems the officer had a case of smoke-envy. My grandfather showed him how to add some oil to the gasoline to produce the effect, and then demonstrated by dropping some oil in the carburetor, at which point the officer's "eyes lit up like a little kid at Christmas."

Chuck always enjoyed playing baseball and had some natural talent, so when the officers began asking around at roll call for players on the team, my grandfather acknowledged that he "had played some ball back home." This somehow became interpreted that he was a semi-pro player, and soon the officers began boasting that they "had a pro on their team, and they were going to murder the other teams when Chuck got up to the plate."

He didn't have the heart to break their dreams, and I guess he played well enough to keep the officers happy.

Chuck had little interaction with the Japanese, as the captured soldiers were held on the other side of the island. Occasionally he would see Japanese soldiers working on road construction detail, but his most grisly memory is of seeing human remains in caves on the island.

"The flamethrowers got them, and sometimes all that was left was bones," he observed.

As my grandfather traveled on the island, one of the sights that sticks in his mind were the piles of weapons and ammunition that U.S. forces had recovered. He noted that "all along the roads you would see stacks of grenades, guns, and boxes of bullets." He carried around an old Japanese rifle that he found for a few months, intending to bring it home as a souvenir, but he set it down one day and "some sonofabitch stole it."

One day while swimming in the Pacific, Chuck found himself in turbulent waters. He thought that he was going to drown in the tropical waters, and he noted that "this was as close to dying as he came in the war." He told me that "somewhere in a Peleliu tree is a pair of black Navy swimming trunks" that he tossed, since he never went swimming in the Pacific again.

Oct 29, 2009

Dissertation - Finito

Well, at least the draft of my dissertation that I turned over this afternoon to my committee members is finished, but I reached the point today where I decided I had written enough to prove my academic worth. Now comes the weeks of nail-biting while my committee dissects the fruits of several years worth of my labors, followed by the inevitable textual revisions, additional citations, or content excisions that my reviewers recommend.

I hope to defend my dissertation in late November, provided the professors reviewing my work do not fall onto the floor laughing and denounce me as an academic fraud. However, at least for the next few days I can unwind a bit and not worry about this rhetorical albatross.

Oct 27, 2009

A Tasty Organic Salad Mix

Just a quick plug for a remarkable organic salad mix we bought at Costco last week. The product's brand name is Taylor Fresh Organic Baby Spring Mix, and the blend of greens has been a tasty accompaniment to our dinners the past week.

The one-pound package was something like $4.00, and I have prepared two-person portions for the last five meals. Even more interesting: the "sell-by" date was October 26 (yesterday), and the salad mix is almost as fresh today as it was when we bought it last week, despite being opened and closed at least five times.

Fresh produce, healthy living, and low cost - what's not to love?

Oct 26, 2009

Fall Colors and Stolen Minutes

After six hours of painfully laborious writing and editing work on my dissertation, I finally reached the point where I knew I had to leave this maddening document and go outside for some fresh fall air. If I spent one minute more on this blasted behemoth I might have descended into blithering lunacy.

Better still, I climbed on my hammock for what might be the last time of the year and absorbed the fall colors while swaying between a pair of bare cherry trees.

I would like to say that the 15 minutes of calm somehow magically rejuvenated me, but in fact this was just a short break from my bout with my lengthy academic rite of passage. I knew all along that the dissertation was still blinking on my computer, demanding to be hammered into a state of finishedness worthy of the eyes of my dissertation committee.

Yet even those few minutes were a welcome respite, and there is plenty of time in the next few days to drive myself batty trying to wind up this seemingly endless process of writing. One of the difficult facets of creating such a project is forcing yourself to cut out sections you think are vitally important, but which will otherwise drag out the dissertation process a few more weeks or months.

Much of my time this afternoon has been spent chopping whole sections of text and splicing in smaller replacements into other portions of the dissertation. Thus, it is with a somewhat heavy heart as I write this post, as I have "killed" more than a few hours of hard work, but if I left the incomplete sections intact, I would be writing until 2012.

And we all know that 2012 is not a good year for writing.

Oct 25, 2009

Congratulations to My Brother and His New Wife

Pictured on your left are my brother Chuck and his new wife Cheryl, who were joined together as husband and wife in front of a group of family and friends yesterday. In this photo are also my nephew Chris, who is an Army Ranger who has served three tours in Iraq, and my niece Amy, who is a theater buff and one of the funniest people I know. They were joined by Sarah, Chuck's older daughter, who was busy acting as the official photographer for the wedding.

My niece Sarah, who is an accomplished photographer and who wants to get a teaching license to teach (pause) HISTORY (pause), did not find my "hey-I-just-took-a-picture-of-a-person-taking-a-picture" joke to be very funny. In fact, her expression might be interpreted as "irritated" or "perturbed," given the fact that she was trying to snap some photos of family members. However, Sarah was a good sport and did not publicly berate her possibly brain-damaged uncle:

Left: Sarah and her camera

This is the second marriage for both Chuck and Cheryl, who have known each other since the 1970s. The consensus of opinion seems to be that this is a marriage destined for happiness, and I wish the two of them the best.

My big brother Chuck is an especially kind and patient man, and I have always looked up to him. He was the star athlete of the family, and even though I was supposedly the one with the brains, my brother earned his Associate's, Bachelor's, and Master's degrees before I even finished my BA in History.

Brains only carry you so far, just like good looks and Lamborghinis. Eventually it all comes down to hard work, and my brother has always been an excellent role model for me on this subject.

So to my hardworking brother with all the common sense, I congratulate you and my new sister Cheryl. May you have fifty years of happiness together!

Oct 23, 2009

In the Home Stretch

Thanks for your patience, dear readers, for putting up with my lack of blog activity the past month. The Muses have been smiling upon me this week, and I have been able to generate almost 25 pages of dissertation text in that time, putting me into the literal home stretch of this multi-year research project.

At this rate I will finish before my self-imposed deadline of October 31 to produce a draft that I think is worthy of the time my committee members will be spending in their efforts to help me improve the document (read: "shred my pathetic attempts at passing myself off as a scholar").

Though inevitably I will still have quite a few hours of revisions and corrections to make, it is gratifying to know that I am almost over the hump of the "bulk" work of writing this blasted dissertation.

Oct 20, 2009

On Dissertations, Expectations, and a Sense of Literary Scale

While churning out new pages of dissertation text today, I noticed that at some point this afternoon I passed the 70,000-word mark. One of the interesting aspects of creating such a lengthy document is how quickly a person can pass milestones without even thinking about them.

For example, I do not recall the moment when I passed the 60,000-word mark, although I posted about going beyond 51,000 words in September. Some days I am just too busy and too tired to keep track of anything more significant than my daily minimum writing goal. I am currently forcing myself to write at least two pages a day so that I can deliver a draft to my committee members by the beginning of November.

I went back and looked at earlier versions of my dissertation (I save a new version every few days just in case a file gets corrupted) to check my monthly progress this year via the total page count. I was intrigued by the faster and slower paces I set in different months, which of course are in part related to my teaching workload:

January 20 - 91 pages
March 1 - 173 pages
April 20 - 195 pages
June 5 - 198 pages
August 2 - 215 pages
September 7 - 226 pages
October 20 - 288 pages

That being said, I have written 62 pages in the past six weeks while working full time. This is not to say that I was slacking in those previous months, but instead to suggest that with a definite "deadline," my mind is much more focused on finishing this project. I suspect that my last 100 pages will end up having taken only eight weeks or so to finish.

It was not so very long ago when I returned to school to finish my BA that the idea of a 20-to-30-page term paper seemed like a monumental effort, and now I am on the verge of finishing a document that will be over 300 pages including bibliography and appendices. THAT is the surprising phenomenon: in just a few years my horizons have expanded to the point where I know that I am capable of writing as many pages as it takes to tell a story.

Anyways, back to writing. There will be plenty of time to reminisce about dissertation writing in the next few months, unless of course I wind up with an unexpected diagnosis of mesothelioma, in which case I am marching off to a high-powered attorney.

Oct 19, 2009

Mamas, Don't Let Your Babies Grow up to be Pumpkin-Attacking Rodents

True, the title of this post lacks the sense of poetic meter or world-weary advice of the song made famous by Waylon and Willie, but this is what popped into my head after seeing the damage wrought by unknown members of the family Sciuridae in recent days. This is perhaps the price I pay for failing to invest in some of those corn cob treats that some folks use to bribe squirrels from attacking their landscaping or bird feeders.

I must admit that my first thought upon seeing the desecrated pumpkins was that my youngest son was somehow involved. This is the kid whose eyes always lit up with a mischievous glow at the mere mention of the name of the band The Smashing Pumpkins, and I immediately considered him a prime suspect in the crime.

However, several years and several thousand dollars worth of orthodontic services ruled him out as a person with the necessary maxillary central incisors, and I later witnessed the true culprits cavorting around in the vicinity of the defiled gourds.

The only good news is that I do not have to worry about carving these specimens of Cucurbita pepo. Perhaps I can pass them off as some form of avant-garde holiday decoration.

Oct 18, 2009

Rapid Rhetoric: PERLUSTRATE

Raphael's depiction of Plato defining the difference between true and false rhetoric This is an irregular feature - both in frequency and oddness - dedicated to a word I came across that I have never previously used.

perlustrate (PEHR-luh-straight) v.to travel through and thoroughly survey; to traverse and inspect carefully.

Derived from the the past participle stem of the Latin word perlustrare ("to wander through"), this word conveys both a visual and movement sense.

I came across the related word perlustration in The Memoirs of Count Witte. The Baltic German Sergei Witte was an influential Tsarist minister who led the drive toward industrialization and modernization in the last decades of the Russian Empire. In the following passage he expressed his discontent with a perlustrative practice:
I believe that perlustration of private correspondence is essentially a harmful practice. It lays before the Administration intimate and purely confidential matters, thus giving the Minister of the Interior a means for settling personal accounts. I am certain that if Stolypin had not been given to the study of perlustrated mail he would have acted more properly with regard to many people, and would have had fewer enemies.
While Pyotr Arkadyevich Stolypin certainly garnered many enemies in his career - especially after the Coup of June 1907 - I suspect his habit of perlustrating other peoples' mail was the least likely of his behaviors to cause him to become the recipient of the bullets of an assassin.

Oct 17, 2009

On Unexpected Guests, Wrecked Plans, and Toxic Resentment

The stars seemed aligned for a productive afternoon of dissertation writing: no kids were in the house, and I had a few intriguing ideas that needed to be fleshed out in written form. Just turn on some quiet instrumental music - say, Andres Segovia - and me and my Muse would create 3-4 pages of useful text.

Then my wife and I pulled into the driveway, and I was faced with an unexpected horror: an out-of-town guest sitting in his car.

The carefully laid plans came to a screeching halt, as our guest also brought with him a six-month-old dog and a five-year-old child. The quiet house I imagined would be conducive to the solitude I prefer for academic writing became a raucous zoo, with the film WALL-E blasting on the big screen TV and the barking visitor dog ratcheting up the energy levels of my own pooches.

"This is family," I reminded myself, but I still grumbled at the intrusion. Yes, I could have insisted that the visitors return on a different day, especially in a few weeks after I turn in my dissertation to my committee, but I suspect that only a shotgun would work to get the point across - we have tolerated the unannounced visits in the past, and we helped create the metaphorical monsters that now plague me.

The extra noise was only part of the problem, though, as there burned in my gut a resentment for the arrival of our visiting relatives. Getting past this emotion is going to prove more difficult than trying to tune out the noise, as my righteous indignation can be a formidable beast to quell. Yet I know too well that holding onto resentments is an unhealthy activity, and one that only aggravates dormant ulcers, so I decided to try and work through the rowdiness.

To make matters worse, my iTunes program refused to open, meaning that the palliative plucking of Segovia's nylon strings is not available to drown out the extra noise. So I write this missive as much as an exercise in spleen venting as much as anything else, and twenty minutes of composing this post seems to have reduced my irritation levels to the point where I can work again. Of course, the two-mile walk I took helped reduce my stress, not to mention the fact that exercise is always better than the most effective diet pill.

Thank you for your virtual ears, dear readers.

Oct 15, 2009

The Quote Shelf

Medieval text with Latin script A frequent feature on this site; feel free to comment on the quote or to supply a competing quote.

Patience is something you admire in the driver behind you, but not in the one ahead.

-- Bill McGlashen

Oct 14, 2009

On Certified Letters, Paranoid Anxiety, and Paperwork Nazis

While I was busy at work today the mail carrier attempted to deliver a certified letter, and when I arrived home I found the orange "We Missed You" notice in my mailbox. I saw that I would have to wait a few hours until the carrier returned to the station before I could learn about the mystery letter.

Let me preface this post by noting that I once owned a business that tanked in the late 1990s, and I am no stranger to the terror of certified letters. It took me almost a decade to finally wash my hands of the lingering legal fallout of that enterprise, and I have long since paid in full all debts to government entities for which my role as CEO made me liable under such frightening provisions as the Trust Fund Recovery Penalty (TFRP).

Thus, it is not without good historical reason that the anxiety and paranoia set in on me today.

I tried to convince myself that my fears were misplaced, but I had difficulty recalling a time when a certified letter meant something besides aggravation and headache. Usually a certified letter means a lawsuit, a debt collector, or an over-zealous city inspector, all of which I have encountered via this postal delivery method. My stomach churned for two hours as I grumbled about exactly which thieving government agency had set its sights on me to harass.

Finally the appointed time came, and I traveled to the post office to sign for my sealed fate. Of course, I had to wait in a lengthy line behind people sending out a dozen eBay packages and some advice-seeking and chatty landlord wanting to know the best way to get a recalcitrant tenant to sign for an eviction notice. At last my turn arrived, and I opened my dreaded item.

The envelope contained a one-page "Separation/Termination/Transfer" form that an ex-employer wanted me to fill out. This was for a part-time adjunct teaching job I left to take a full-time position at Bowling Green State University.

Somewhere at College X is a bureaucrat with way too much time to spend, and I noticed that this idiot wasted $5.54 on postage plus at least a few minutes of institutional time on a meaningless human resources form. Then there was the cost of my time (30 minutes) to drive to the post office, stand in line, and drive home.

Add to this my 90 minutes of anxiety and irritation, and you have yourself a great big stinking pile of bureaucratic surreality.

So my question revolves around the appropriate response to this Kafkaesque drama into which I found my semi-paranoid self today. Should I: a) be a compliant drone, simply filling out the form in a prompt fashion and mailing it to the obsessive lackey; b) ignore the letter and see if the twit has the audacity to keep wasting institutional funds on certified letters; or c) fill out and return the form with annoyingly incomplete details, thus making the pesky institutional zombie have to perform extra work to dig up the missing details?

Feel free to comment and to offer your creative solutions to dealing with such paperwork Nazis.

Oct 12, 2009

On Vinyl Replacement Windows and Tax Breaks

I took a break from dissertation-writing to observe the progress of the installation of some new vinyl replacement windows in my kitchen. Besides, the sounds of hammers and electric drills are not exactly conducive to the creative muse, though the installers from Toledo Window and Door were courteous, efficient, and out of my figurative hair after only a few hours.

My wife and I decided to replace our old windows because of their draftiness, but we were pleasantly surprised to learn that this investment qualifies for a federal tax credit for energy efficiency. Thus, the $1500 we needed to save to purchase four new windows will now cost us $1050 in the long run, not to mention the hundreds of dollars in energy costs per year that will no longer leak out of these windows.

We suspect that the windows will now pay for themselves in about three years, and perhaps even sooner if we have some particularly cold winters, or if global energy markets begin to creep back up in response to rising energy demand. Of course, if Israel or the United States decide to attack Iran's nuclear facilities, all bets are off on energy prices.

We deferred taking a vacation this winter in order to afford these windows. My wife and I originally toyed with the idea of traveling to Ireland for a week over the holidays, but perhaps a quiet couple of weeks in the increased warmth of our own house will be just the sort of rest we need. Lord knows I could use the time to enhance my studies on how to lose belly fat.

Considering an IT Degree?

I have taught at a number of institutions that have accreditation as an online university, and one factor is ultimately more important than any other in online education. It is the individuals who teach the course that inevitably create an environment where engaged learning takes place.

One institution that has made significant strides in online education is Western Governors University, which is a private accredited university with a non-profit status. WGU's commitment to making college affordable has been remarkable, and the university offers offers bachelor's and master's degrees in a number of fields, including an online degree in information technology (IT).

Attaining a degree online requires as much (or more) effort as one puts forth in a traditional face-to-face classroom. One of the best characteristics of online education is that students are able to complete coursework around their busy schedules. WGU offers students an affordable online education option, and prospective students are encouraged to consider the many fine programs the university offers.

Oct 10, 2009

The Buzz, Toledo-Area Barbershop Quartet

Though I never paid a great deal of attention to the musical genre of barbershop music, a friend called me the other day and invited me to the the fourth annual Barbershop Bash. The event was hosted by the Stateline Chorus, who sang well and entertained the crowd, but I was especially impressed with the highly talented headliners, a barbershop quartet known as The Buzz.

The group's well-rehearsed efforts wowed the audience, and I was fascinated with the quartet's ability to not only master the difficult key changes but also the tricky modulations in volume. Even more impressive was the fact that the group's tenor was unable to make tonight's performance, and the replacement tenor had only two weeks to prepare. Yet the show went off with nary an audible hitch, even to this relatively discriminating ear.

The barbershop sound is timeless, even though groups occasionally perform relatively new songs. When I listen to barbershop music I can transcend modernity ( or postmodernity, or whatever you want to call the present) and get a glimpse of a less complicated past. Perhaps this past never really existed except in artificially created memories - like in old films and 78 rpm records - or maybe it did exist someplace, and evenings like this harken back to a time when life was a little simpler and singers actually sang.

Barbershop may never be my favorite form of music, but I think it is an important component of our musical legacy. I hope that there are enough practitioners to keep this vital music alive for future generations.

Oct 9, 2009

Canine Furniture Inspector

In our personal bid to stimulate the American economy through consumer spending, my wife and I purchased a new set of furniture for the house. Among the economic experts weighing in on the effects of our stimulus package was our resident Bichon-Maltese, Candy.

After sniffing the decidedly artificial-smelling upholstery of the couch, Candy pronounced it to be appropriate for dogs to lay upon. Luckily for us, Candy also paid a visit to the groomer this morning, meaning that stray hairs will not be a problem from her sweet repose on this soggy October afternoon.

Yet I have little doubt that the male canines of the house are currently plotting fur-based terrorist acts as we speak. Perhaps we should have allocated the funding to our intelligence assets, as we currently do not have an interpreter fluent in the growls and barks in which the suspects communicate. What good is an economic recovery if we are at the mercy of the unpredictable whims of the terrorists?

Meet Lucy, a Rescue Pug

Pictured on your left is Lucy, a 13-pound Pug whose former owner could no longer care for her. She is not the proverbial spring chicken, as she is somewhere around seven years old, but Lucy seems to have many good years ahead of her.

I had several other pictures of Lucy, but this one I found especially endearing and representative of her personality.

Lucy is housebroken, gets along very well with our other dogs, and simply wants a forever home where she can cuddle up with someone. Lucy is best described with the phrases "affectionate" and "laid back," and I have yet to hear her bark. Lucy is just a good natured little dog who through no fault of her own found herself in unfortunate circumstances, and she will provide years of companionship to her next owners.

If you would like learn more about adopting Lucy, or if you want to help financially support Planned Pethood's mission to rescue dogs and cats in Northwest Ohio, visit the Planned Pethood website for more information.

Oct 8, 2009

Our Old Farm House

(Mount Clemens, MI) We recently attended a wedding north of Detroit, which is my hometown. While driving on the northern east side we decided to take a detour and drive past a house we owned from 1988-1990.

The house is located at 32 Third Street just outside of downtown Mount Clemens, MI. We moved from Detroit in the summer of 1988, thinking we could make a fortune on a fixer-upper in the suburbs. Of course, we did not stick around long enough to become real estate moguls, but we made a few dollars on the transaction.

However, this house was a labor of love for my wife and I. The place had been let go, and needed a lot of work. I remember that the windows looked yellow from all the cigarette tar that built up on them, and how my wife got involved in a two-day plumbing overhaul when the old iron pipes kept falling apart when all she wanted to do was install a vanity. She ended up replacing half the old cast iron lines with PVC, while teaching herself a bunch of plumbing skills on the fly.

I think we spent every free moment for two years improving that old farm house, which was built around 1900. We pulled out flea-infested carpeting and polished the hardwood floors, and we painted rooms that likely had not seen a fresh coat in 20 years. Along the way we replaced a hot water heater, a circuit breaker box, a rotten porch, and more amenities than I can remember.

I am glad to see that subsequent owners have continued improving the place. There is now a white fence around the property, and someone added shutters and gutter guards, from what I can see.

Take care, old house, and may you be someone's happy home for another 100 years.

A Note to Faithful Readers

I am heading into the home stretch of my dissertation, the rough draft of which I plan to complete by the end of this month. Because of this increasing workload, I have been less-than-dutiful in responding to blog emails and - more importantly - the many thoughtful comments that folks have posted.

Ah, the guilt.

Over the next three weeks I plan to post regularly, but my participation in the ongoing comments dialogue will be quite limited, even more than my virtual reticence of the past few weeks. Please do not interpret my silence as disagreement or a lack of interest in what you have to say, because nothing can be further from the truth. I cherish every visitor who stops by and is moved enough by something I write to leave a comment, and I promise to return to a more engaged level of conversation in a few weeks.

My task is quite simple, really: I need to write about 50 pages of text in three weeks. The past few days have been quite productive, and sticking to my goal of a minimum of two pages of new material a day will keep me on target for my goal (the final project will be somewhere around 310 pages, including bibliography and appendices).

So by all means continue to offer your thoughts in the comments section, as this may among the only human interaction I enjoy for the next month. Oh, and thank you, Jesus: the unexpected gift of a free hour of time at work today allowed me to churn out yet another page.

Oct 7, 2009

Strange Facebook Word Verification

While surfing Facebook the other day I encountered an especially weird combination of words that seemed to be telling some sort of story. The letters spelled out the words "romping Gerald," and I found odd the verb-noun combination and the images it evoked.

I first considered that "romping Gerald" might have been a young child on a sunny summer afternoon, spending time in the backyard with a dog or some friends. This "romping Gerald" could have been any one of us on an idyllic July day.

I next thought of the former U.S. president with the first name of Gerald, and I considered how he once played center and linebacker for the University of Michigan football team during the 1930s. This "romping Gerald" certainly matched the historical record, though as far as I know his romping remained on the football field, unlike several of our more lustful chief executives.

I briefly pondered "romping Gerald" in the context of gang initiation, but then I decided that I had wasted far too much time on a randomly-generated pair of words.

Oct 6, 2009

On Being Overwhelmed and Attacking a Nagging Backlog of Work

I opted to spend my day attacking a backlog of items that I have been putting off for a few weeks. I was getting to the point where there were enough of these relatively small projects piling up that their collective weight was beginning to approach the overwhelming stage.

My first goal was to whittle down my email inbox, which had over 20 important but not time-sensitive items. I think that this was a smart move, because I had an equal amount of people waiting for some response from me, and some of these unanswered emails date back to last week. I always answer student emails ASAP, but a bunch of these emails were from readers of this blog. The idea of 20 people virtually looking over my shoulder was a bit unnerving, and I am glad that I started with this stress reducing activity.

I next started working on the many pages of forms I need to placate the graduate school. There is a cynical joke in the world of academia that there are more university forms needed to graduate than a person might write in a medium-sized thesis. I had been putting this off since, oh, last summer, and if I intend to graduate in December, this necessary paperwork needs to get completed.

Feeling refreshed after a four-mile walk, I jumped into my spring semester book orders. With regard to this task I actually am about a week ahead of schedule, but I like to get this finished early - department chairs appreciate not chasing down instructors, and students can use the extra time to shop around for textbooks if they are turned in on time.

Interestingly, the process of cleaning out the adminstrative skeletons from my closet seemd to energize my writing. After spending most of the day working on tasks other than my dissertation, the writing muse paid me a visit, and I cranked out another five pages of new text.

So to those of you feeling ovewhelmed by work, I highly recommend attacking a bunch of small, nagging problems first. I suspect you will find that a significnt burden has been lifted from your workload, and perhaps this will carry over into your more pressing concerns.

Oct 5, 2009

Prester John and the Seven Deadly Sins

I came across an old drawing today that kept me puzzled for over an hour. Pictured on your left is a woodcut illustration of a late fifteenth century chapbook for some poems by Giuliano Dati, a prominent Italian poet. The first of these poems was entitled Treatise on the Supreme Prester John, Pope and Emperor of India and Ethiopia, while the second poem bore the slightly less magnanimous title of Second Song of India.

The minor mystery that engaged me for an hour was the translation and meaning behind the inscription on the steps beneath the feet of Prester John:

My Italian is not strong, but I knew enough to figure out that FVGE is a verb meaning "flee," and that the second word in each admonition corresponds to one of the seven deadly sins:

superbian = pride
luxuria = extravagance
gulam = gluttony
iram = wrath
invidiam = envy
acidiam = sloth
avaritiam = greed

I was previously unfamiliar, however, with the association of certain elements with the seven deadly sins. There are seven "planetary" metals in alchemy: gold, silver, mercury, copper, lead, iron, and tin.

Dan Brown would eat this stuff up. Call me, Dan-O.

Oct 4, 2009

On Gray Hair, the Cult of Juvenescence, and Continued Relevance

I started going gray in my mid-thirties, and I have to admit that the first few years I used some of that "Just for Men" beard coloring. This had less to do with me wishing to avoid looking my age than the fact that my gray hair tends to come in distinct splotches as opposed to a balanced salt-and-pepper look.

Still, this was vanity, and this could be interpreted as a cardinal sin, should I be so judged in the hereafter.

These days I let the gray appear where it may, and I view the acquisition of gray hair as I would badges of honor. I should add that I work in a field (academia) where gray hair is not necessarily seen as a detriment, and in some cases being gray- or white-haired might be viewed as a sign of scholarly authenticity.

Or doddering senility, but that is another story.

Yet for much of the world - especially the youth-obsessed business world - gray and/or thinning hair increasingly means personal irrelevance, declining energy, and outmoded thinking. The problem is even more acute for women, as women face significant stigma by having gray hair. Many folks will spend thousands of dollars fighting the natural and inevitable changes to their hair, and with good reason: there is a perception that having gray hair is equivalent to career suicide.

Perhaps in the next few decades gray will become more fashionable, especially as the American population continues to age. We may also see the pendulum swing back to respect for the wisdom that our elders have acquired, instead of our absurd obsession with the cult of juvenescence.

Anyways, I hope to live long enough to be relevant for another four decades. Provided I do not succumb to Alzheimer's disease or some equally destructive condition, I plan to write and teach as long as my body permits.

Oct 3, 2009

On Jinxing Your Team by Tuning into the Game

Left: MSU's Larry Caper scoring the winning touchdown in OT against the Michigan Wolverines (photo by Todd McInturf / The Detroit News)

I am sad to report that the University Of Michigan's four-game winning streak came to an end in a 26-20 overtime loss to Michigan State University. The loss is even tougher since Michigan came back from a 20-6 late fourth quarter deficit to tie the game as regulation ended.

Yet I think I may have jinxed the Wolverines in their loss.

You see, I had not been watching the game, and I kept checking in online at ESPN.com. I saw that the score went from 20-6 to 20-13, and then I followed the progress online, virtually watching young Tate Forcier guide the Michigan offense to a touchdown with seconds to go, making the game 20-20.

That is when I gave up work on my dissertation and frantically began searching the cable for the game. After all, I thought, this was a game that was bordering on the epic, and for Michigan to come back and pull out a road win after being down by 14 points late in the game was something for a fan like me to behold.

Unfortunately, as soon as I found the game hidden away on the Big Ten Network (Buckeye Cablevision channel 645-HD), Michigan fell apart. First there was the tipped interception, and then Michigan State score a game-winning OT touchdown.

Sorry, Michigan fans: I blew the game by tuning in late. The team played just fine until I switched from online updates to watching the game live. It is now time for this shame-ridden fan to start looking for Manhattan hotels in which to hide until the team wins again.

The only possible exception to my jinx-guilt is the fact that some South Asian telemarketer interrupted my overtime game-watching with some annoying questions. Perhaps had I not been pestered by this outsourced, underpaid call center worker, my full psychic powers could have been transferred to the Michigan Wolverines, and they actually would have won the game.

I think I like the blame-the-Gujarati-worker scenario better: I can thump my nationalistic chest and avoid culpability.

Oct 1, 2009

Meet Bolt, an Australian Shepherd Mix

Pictured on your left is Bolt, a one-year-old Australian shepherd mix who was rescued from a local shelter. He is quite a bit underweight, weighing in at only 27 pounds today at the vet. Bolt looks like he will probably be around 40 pounds when he fills out.

Bolt gets along well with our other dogs, and he has a big toothy smile. He has a lot of energy, since he is still a puppy, though he already seems to know some commands. He is a bit timid at first, but he seems quite sociable and likes to sit at my feet while I work on the computer. Bolt is housebroken and also enjoys running around the backyard and being chased by the other dogs.

If you would like learn more about adopting Bolt, or you want to help financially support Planned Pethood's mission to rescue dogs and cats in Northwest Ohio, visit the Planned Pethood website for more information.