Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Yikes! Biden'll hate me!

I just found out that I am hit #2 on MSN search for the terms "Joe Biden: plagiarism". All I did was grump at Glenn Reynolds for soft-pedalling his plagiarism, a position I thought was not good for a professor to hold. Reynolds's site is hit #1. Now MSN has apparently decided I'm a rabid Biden-hater.

Now I've got to hope Biden never gets the Democratic nomination, or I'll be flooded with hate mail from readers of the Daily Kos and Alabama Democrat. Though, in all probability, they won't write their own hate e-mails; they'll just cut-and-paste them from website somewhere.

Hurricane Katrina Refugee

With all of the reporters vying to top one another with apocalyptic descriptions of the destruction of Katrina, I found the Hurricane Katrina Refugee blog all the more powerful in its simplicity.

Television reporters take note -- when you let your rhetoric become too overblown, you trivialize the event. Looking closely at individual situations, then realizing that each one can be multiplied by thousands of people creates an accurate image of life there. Here is not someone who has lost everything, but rather someone who still doesn't know what she has lost. No dramatic rooftop rescue, no giant wave of shots of debris, just the anxiety of one family.

Headlines like "Thousands homeless" communicate little next to "So basically, we're refugees. We have nowhere to live at the moment and will probably spend the next month shuffeling from relative to relative."

Hat tip to Poliblog.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Clearing the Pipes

We didn't lose power here, though internet access has been a bit wiggy, being slow with frequent crashes. Still, in a very short period of time, a lot of little blogginess occurred, so let me take a moment to clear the blog pipelines before preparing my Beowulf lecture.

Jeff Goldstein has a rather funny post "translating" a pompous article by *sigh* an English lecturer. Even if you don't agree with the political stuff, his puncturing of pompousity ought to evoke giggles. He has since complained that no one in TTLB Academic community responded to his post. Sorry, Jeff -- half of us were busy in our Indoctrination Planning and Assessment Committee meetings, and the other half were dealing with Katrina-related stuff. You've got to be patient with us professor-types. Try not to blog during our naps, as it might disturb our esteemed repose.

On the Battlestar Galactica front, Steve Taylor at Poliblog and I have successfully lured Paladin to the dark side. The Unofficial Battlestar Galactica Blog has been sending quite a few people over to read some of my thoughts on BSG, too (though some have been coming through Bloglines and such, suggesting Cylon infiltration of that blog.

Finally, King Alfred has unlocked a little-known wordhoard by St. Thomas Aquinas on the subject of petblogging.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Open Thread: Pet Blogging

Katrina's dark clouds are advancing in a blitzkrieg overhead, so I may not have power later. In order to keep everyone occupied, I'll open a thread here. The topic...

Pet Blogging: Evil, or Just Misguided?


Quality vs. Quantity

Bruce G. Murphy has an article in Inside Higher Ed entitled "Beyond Busy" in which he argues that busy hands don't necessarily make for a good university education.

I have to admit that I am predisposed toward busy-ness. The hardest intellectual discipline for me to develop was the ability to sit for hours just thinking. Part of that is probably a result of a blue collar work ethic from my upbringing; if I could be paid a commission on thoughts, I'd take that over a salary. Even this blog works as a way for me to make use of little bits of time -- 10 minutes between classes, 5 minutes before an appointment, etc -- that aren't sizable enough to grade a paper or read a chapter or write an article.

But Murphy makes some good points. In theory, my school only requires me to be on campus 22 hours per week (12 in class, 10 in office hours), though in practice that works out to at least 30 hours per week (classes aren't always back-to-back, we have other meetings, etc). Office hours are only good for grading a few papers, since students interrupt too frequently for sustained thought [I've been interrupted once already writing this, and it's not even my posted hours]. Also, in that in-between time I am able to get my internal paperwork done, though I'm always behind schedule on that. I think I could work a 40 hour week if I did no service or research, and used the rest of the time to grade papers and prepare for classes. If I taught no composition classes, re-used the same syllabi in literature classes every semester, and only re-read about half the texts every semester, I could probably get it under 40 hours ... maybe down to 35.

Research, then, is only possible if I cut out time from doing something else, such as sleeping. In practice, my only way to research is to do it over the summers, on Saturdays, or laaaaate at night. Is this really serving the purpose of the University, both Troy University and the platonic ideal university? Perhaps Murphy is right, and my teaching, research, and service all suffer.

I'm going to give this some careful consideration.

Jolie Beowulf movie

Got Medieval is perplexed over the role of Angelina Jolie's role as "queen of darkness" in one of the new Beowulf movies, primarily because there is no queen of darkness in Beowulf.

The speculation on AnSaxNet was that she would be playing Thryth, who had a bad habit of killing off suitors. Now, I wouldn't call that a "queen of darkness," but to call it "anti-social" would be a little understated.

As with many shrews in literature, all Thryth really needed was the discipline of a good man to tame her, which she eventually received.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

The Oddity of Privacy

On Wednesday, we really began laying the groundwork for my class "Love, Sex, and Marriage in Medieval Literature." If the students were hoping for porn, they were disappointed. The first two weeks of class are spent contextualizing the literature, which will begin in earnest on the third week.

Beginning Monday, we'll be looking at the writings of Augustine (the City of God one, not the one who converted Athelbert of Kent) and Jerome on marriage. Of course, they aren't really medieval, but they provide the intellectual foundation for medieval thinking on the subject. And so, in order to understand Augustine and Jerome, I made the students read from 1 Corinthians 6:12 - 7:40.

One subject we discussed was the issue of privacy. I wanted to make sure they didn't have unrealistic expectations about the role of privacy. So far as I can tell, privacy as a concept didn't really exist in the Middle Ages. The word privat already existed in Middle English, but it seems to have meant "private" in the way the Americans mean "private schools" -- that is to say, not of the state, rather than secret in some way. That secret side of privacy seems to have been found in a different form as modesty. Though modesty and privacy are arguably related, they aren't really the same thing. If there is any concept close to privacy in the medieval world, I think it must be privy (ME prive). One can see how the privy council idea, which seems to have originally been similar to the kitchen cabinet of American politics, developed into the idea of secret council. And (to get scatological for a moment), the use of the word "privy" for a toilet gets a lot closer to what we mean by "privacy" in the modern sexual context. Though we can cobble together a concept of privacy from various places, it seems anachronistic to me.

It would be wrong to say that the end of 1 Corinthians 6 refutes the idea of privacy; rather, privacy is completely alien to it. Paul talks about how God owns the body, how the body is part of Christ, and how the body becomes one with any sexual partner, including prostitutes. Paul assigns ownership of the body more to the spouse than to the self, and more to God than to the spouse. In other words, if we considered the body a kind of corporate entity, not only isn't it a sole proprietorship -- the self is the least of the major shareholders!

Flipping through television today, I saw some talking heads arguing about the "Right to Privacy," and it occurred to me that our concept of privacy is an oddity. Off the top of my head, I can't think of any society that even shared our concept of privacy, let alone enshrining it as a right. From our oldest literature, Gilgamesh, we have the idea of prima nocte, or the sovereign's right to sleep with a bride before her husband.

I wonder when the idea that we refer to as "privacy" really came into being. A quick Google and JSTOR search didn't yield anything about medieval privacy, though I'm certain if I dug deep enough I'd find that someone has researched it. The dearth of work on it, combined with my inability to think of any examples in world literature, is suggestive that it may not really have existed before the modern era.

So, where did it come from? Liberals might claim that it is an outgrowth of enlightenment about individual rights. Conservatives might claim that it is an outgrowth of the push for limited government. I think, though, that it is far more likely that the concept of privacy isn't particularly enlightened or virtuous; instead, it is probably a survival mechanism we have developed as the human population on Earth has grown. To give a rough sense of what this means, I've seen estimates that put the European population of 1000 AD at about 40 million (no citation ... I can't recall where I saw this). Today, the EU has roughly ten times that number. Think of it -- the average European today has one-tenth the space of his ancestors a millennium ago. Or, consider these figures on the global scale. When Paul was writing, the upper-end figures for global population was about 400 million, compared to about 6 billion today. In other words, we have, at best, one-fifteenth the space that someone at the Church at Corinth had.

Is privacy (sexual or otherwise) an innate human right? Or is it, as I'm beginning to suspect, a mechanism we have developed as we have grown more jealous of our space?

Friday, August 26, 2005

Number 6 -- Not a Cylon

After tonight's Battlestar Galactica, my friend Jason and I were beginning to lose heart a bit with the Baltar/Number Six storyline. It seemed that in their eagerness to create the "Baltar is a cylon" red herring, the writers were going to sacrifice continuity. Or, worse, they would make the "Baltar is a cylon" not a red herring at all, and pitch continuity out the window altogether.

Then, finally, we got it. Baltar is not (merely?) mad, and Number Six is not a chip in his head. Number Six is not a cylon at all.

OK, before I lose you, consider this: the Number Six in Baltar's head (we'll call that one "Baltar Six") seems to have the ability to tell the future. Not only do no other cylons seem to have this ability ... we've never even seen the other Number Six models have this ability.

"Our baby will be born in this room" is not secret cylon knowledge -- it's a prophecy. Even if Baltar Six were a cylon, how could she know that? She could not know that Boomer would survive on Kobol, and she could not know that the humans would not assassinate her/blow her out of the airlock, and she could not know in which cell in the brig they would detain her.

These last two episodes (linked by the apparently unnecessary "To Be Continued") were a major shift in the storyline. Besides Roslin, the only major religious figure has been killed. The relationship between Adama and Roslin has strengthened to the point that their tensions can no longer be the impetus for the human side of the story.

Instead, we have dueling prophets. When Roslin has visions, they come off as drug induced hallucinations. This does not mean that they are not drug induced, but by the same token it does not mean that the visions aren't real.

Baltar Six is the manifestation of Baltar's prophecies. She may be, as she claims, an "angel," though given her past behavior, "demon" might be a more specific appelation. Just as likely, he may be mad, and his hallucinations of her may be the only way he can understand his own prophecies.

At this point, I suspect Giaus Baltar is a prophet -- either a prophet of evil, or a prophet of the cylon god. Baltar Six's only connection to all the other Number Sixes is that she looks the same in his head. All the other Number Sixes are cylons, but Baltar Six is not. If this is the case, it is really a clever bit of writing, because it sucks the audience into Baltar's point of view, and causes us to be taken in by appearances (much like Shakespeare does to the audience in Othello by having it open with a half-overheard conversation).

Of course, I reserve the right to change my mind without notice.

Faculty and Ideology

Inside Higher Ed has an article entitled "Proving the Critics' Case." Though I didn't find the article very interesting (since it dismantles claims so weak that they hardly needed dismantling), the comments section is quite interesting. The comment by "Grover Furr" seemed so over-the-top that I wonder if it was really Furr who posted it; perhaps someone is just parodying him.

By the way, if you don't look into IHE occasionally, you should.

Prayers requested

I'm collecting my first batch of papers from my composition students today. Please pray for me.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

My offensive post on manliness and shorts

Althouse writes, "If you are in shorts, you are not a man." Pfft! Ann, you've got two strikes against you:

1. You are a woman. Real men don't let women define manhood -- that's how we got metrosexuals. Any "man" who takes fashion advice from a woman (except one to whom he is married -- dating doesn't count) or a Queer-Eye-wannabe is not a man. [Imagine, if you will, a Bizarro world in which women take fashion advice from men, and there is a TV show in which lesbians give fashion advice to straight women. Not lipstick lesbians -- really butch ones. Frightening for everyone not heavily invested in denim and plaid.]

2. You live in Wisconsin. Awfully big talk for Wisconsin. When I lived in Michigan and Indiana, I only wore shorts indoors. In fact, I can't recall ever wearing them outside, feeling that they were beneath my dignity. Now that I live in the South, it's another story. I wear shorts outdoors into late October. On the other hand, I don't wear winter coats (even though everyone else around here does). Wearing a winter coat this far south is beneath my dignity.

Now that I've offended everyone out there, from Northerners to Southerners to straight women to metrosexuals to lesbians to plaid manufacturers, I'm going to put on shorts, crack open a beer, and watch Mythbusters. Or maybe I'll rev up that new hammer drill I just bought, and punch some holes in some masonry. Or maybe I'll just nap on the sofa.

The Bugaboo of Bigotry

"Losing My Religion," an article in the most recent Chronicle of Higher Education, the psuedonymous author relates how he attempted to spin his CV to downplay his religious convictions, out of fear that hiring committees would reject him.

I find his claim that "[his] two years on the market have convinced [him] that, at the application stage, the fear of bigotry is worse than the bigotry itself" a bit dubious. I've seen the hiring process from both sides, and know that the peculiarities of the personalities making up the committee could easily create situations in which a Baptist (or Marxist, or Republican, or feminist, or kickboxer, or vegetarian, or whatnot) would have no chance of hire. By the same token, the same peculiarities could work in the other direction, nearly guaranteeing the applicant an interview. For example, a committee member might think, Look! He wrote a paper on the cultural poetics of Nascar. I love Nascar! Maybe if we interview him, I can pick his brain about it! Or, in the same imaginary example, the committee member might think, Ew, Nascar! My ex-husband liked Nascar. Do we really want a similar oaf around here? Insert the word "Baptist" in the place of "Nascar," and you see how religious bigotry could (and probably does) affect hires.

Nevertheless, this situation is completely beyond the control of the applicant. Indeed, from year-to-year it can change at an institution as the makeup of the hiring committee changes. As that is the case, better to be straightforward.

The wisdom of the article comes with the line, "At any rate, I couldn't see myself happy at an institution where colleagues secretly or openly believed that religious convictions made someone a less interesting and capable human being." I think that's exactly right. My own strategy was to be myself -- minivan and all. While being oneself might not be prudent in the short-term, in the long-term it leads to a happier career.

TTLB rankings mystery

Though I noticed that traffic was down a bit for the last couple of days, The Truth Laid Bear has decided to stop giving me the bird ... now I'm an Adorable Little Rodent. If you drop the qualifier "Adorable," I've been called that many times in the past.

Here is the real mystery of TTLB for me. I understand that the rankings go by unique links, and I understand that the community rankings go by links within the community ... but The Academy TTLB Community has a weird dynamic in opposition to the main ecosystem.

First, let me clarify that I am not complaining. The Academy only has about two dozen members, and I got in way back in my amphibious days when the Wordhoard was brand new. No doubt I was invited primarily out of the professional courtesy of Dr. Taylor over at Poliblog, since we're at the same institution. My goal here is not to dominate that community -- indeed, I'll be happy just so long as I don't embarrass it. I'm lucky to be in it.

But the dynamic is odd. Except for one time when I cyber-wept for being last in the community, and the community responded by pity-linking to me, as my main ecosystem ranking rises, my community ranking falls. After I made "Flappy Bird," I was consistently third from the bottom. Now that I'm a Rodent, I'm in the penultimate position ... a place I haven't been for a long time.

Perhaps my posts simply aren't as academic any more, and as I get links outside of the community, I lose them within the community. Maybe they didn't like my post on ID. Or Tolkien. Or something else. Who knows?

And now for a confession: Though I have said in the past I didn't care what my ranking was, I discovered that I didn't like being a reptile. It seemed too sinister. The whole time I was a reptile, I was hoping either to rise to Flappy Bird or drop to Crawly Amphibian. Though rodent might not sound a lot better, at least I am "adorable."

Emoticons and tone

Dr. Taylor at Poliblog has defended the use of emoticons because they better enable to e-mail to express tone. I've given a lot of thought to that issue in the past, and I'm a bit ambivalent about that argument.

The English professor in me wants to point out pre-print writing conveyed tone for millennia without the use of emoticons, and print culture managed to do it for half a millennium. With that in mind, emoticons seem to be taking the place of older, subtler methods of conveying tone.

That being said, punctuation is itself a guide toward expressing tone in the text, through something so subtle as comma placement or so unsubtle as an exclamation mark. Once we entered print culture, people began to mix font types in an effort to express tone, such as bolding or italics. I often find the inability to underline in Blogger (without also hyperlinking) awkward, and end of giving italics double duty.

As I mentioned in the original post, the oral and the written seem to be re-converging, and I think emoticons are an effort to make this tone feel more oral. It is certainly true that people read tone in e-mails differently than they do in other texts. So, an anecdote ...

When I was a graduate student, my advisor suggested that I ask someone to be on my dissertation committee because of her area of expertise, even though I didn't know that professor very well (I'll call her Dr. X here). I agreed that it was a good idea, and sent an e-mail to set up an appointment. The e-mail was short and business-like, just a couple of lines, something like:

Dear Dr. X,
I am putting together my dissertation committee, and would like to have you on it, if possible. Would it be possible for me to make an appointment to discuss it with you?

The above is from memory, but it's pretty close. Dr. X was infuriated by the e-mail and went to my advisor with it. She said that the e-mail had a "hostile" tone, and that she could never work with someone as offensive as me. My advisor tried to smooth the ruffled feathers. I was bewildered, and re-read the e-mail over and over to try to find the hostile tone. My advisor couldn't figure it out either. I have often wondered if the medium of e-mail was partly to blame for the misunderstanding.

In way of epilogue, Dr. X apparently forgot all about the incident, and a couple of years later asked my why I never asked her to be on my committee. I didn't remind her, and instead stammered some lame excuse.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

"Guantlet" typo follies

I just realized today that a typo in the title of this post, entitled "Paladin Throws Down the Guantlet" (sic) now makes my site the number one hit on the MSN search engine for the spelling impaired.

For those who still don't get it, the word is properly spelled "gauntlet."

Medievalism in Video Games

A couple of months ago I was musing to a colleague that I might consider writing a paper on the conception of medieval political ideology in the transition from Everquest to Everquest II. He suggested that I might put my time to better use, and I agreed.

Given this CFP for papers on medievalism in video games, I might re-think that. I'm still leaning against it, but I'm re-thinking it.

Grrrr ... Blogroll!

What the heck is wrong with Blogroll lately? It's frequently down, I can't ping, and now I can't get in to add to my roll.

On Emoticons

Paladin over at A Knight's Blog had this to say about emoticons:

What purpose do they serve? If they are just decoration, well, okay, I guess I can see that. A little adornment to your text, like changing the color or something. But if it’s to convey an attitude or tone to the text, then it strikes me as a bit lazy. It seems like the text itself should convey your meaning, tone, attitude. To that end, I use (admittedly, overuse) italics and parentheses, sometimes bold, sometimes underlining, to convey tone and emphasis. If I was a really good writer, I suppose I wouldn’t even need those formatting crutches, but, in case you didn’t notice, Faulkner I’m not. Also, commas. I use commas way too much, but I use them to convey a speaking style — a pause, an interruption in thought, whatever.

Though they might seem like bits of electronic pop culture flotsam, emoticons reflect an interesting by-product of electronic textual technologies -- the reconciliation of the oral and written. Actually, even though he doesn't like this, Paladin seems to be intuiting a lot of interesting stuff about emoticons.

First, about punctuation. Paladin writes, "I use commas way too much, but I use them to convey a speaking style — a pause, an interruption in thought, whatever." Actually, Paladin, that's exactly what the original function of punctuation was. Silent reading is a relatively recent innovation; up until a few centuries ago, all reading was done aloud, or was at least sub-vocalized. Punctuation was a method of directing the reader in how to pause while reading aloud -- one beat, two beats, full stop, etc. [By the way, the history of punctuation is shockingly interesting for such a dull-sounding topic. I'd recommend Pause and Effect for anyone interested in it. Be careful, though, because there is a different book by the same title.]

As society has become more literate, we have slowly divorced the oral from the textual (herein, when I use the word "textual," I mean "written"). Actually, I think this is one of the reasons for the decline of poetry. The only poetry that seems not to have hit bottom (in terms of readership) is music, poetry that the audience takes in completely oral form. Eventually, our production and use of texts became very linear, with books designed to be read cover-to-cover. Non-linear elements (such as footnotes, which seem to me a version of marginalia) became rarer.

Trying to read electronic texts in a linear, modernist fashion seems to me to be fighting against the medium. The advent of electronic texts allowed for greater play between the oral and the literate, as well as other forms of communication (such as images). Webpages, for example, are much better read as medieval manuscripts than anything modern. When reading a blog posting, do you read it straight through, or do you click on the links throughout the posting? If you click on the links and interrupt your reading, only to return to it later, you're reading in a non-linear fashion. In e-texts, the link is the new marginalia.

We even acknowledge that relationship among the texts by what we call links: hypertext. It is text, and in some ways we claim it (by linking to it), but we also understand that through that link the two texts have a dynamic relationship. Actually, trackbacks acknowledge that the relationship between the prior text and the subsequent text by allowing the link to run both ways, in a sense. So, when reading a posting, we often consider the trackback links part of the original text in a similar way that we would a link from a subsequent text to a prior.

As for emoticons, they seem to have grown out of this reconciliation between the oral and the written. The original use of punctuation was to provide clues for the orator reading aloud. Emoticons, on the other hand, provide clues to the silent reader, inviting him to imagine the face of the orator in one of any number of possible iconographic facial expressions. The writer of an emoticon knows that the reader will access her text entirely through a written format, but wants to reader in his own mind to enact an oration, complete with gestures, asides, and facial expressions. Emoticons are one way of facilitating that.

Paladin's complaint is that the meaning, tone, and attitude should be conveyed by the text itself, by which (I assume) he means the words in the text (since the emoticons are part of the text too). He's right to be suspicious of a rather lazy application of emoticons to substitute for meaningful writing. On the other hand, in some ways emoticons suggest a complex relationship between the written and the oral which, if applied well, is not necessarily facile.

By the way, I should confess that I am an emoticon hypocrite. My reaction to them is similar to my reaction to serial killers; I find them fascinating in the abstract, but hate to see them hanging around my mailbox. I rarely use them (generally only ironically), and get a slight sense of irritation when they appear in a letter to me. ;)

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

New Broom Sweeps Clean

The wisdom of my mother is rarely expressed in aphorism. Oh, she has lots of aphorisms, but so far I haven't found them very wise. Her wisdom is best expressed in certain non-verbal habits.

I have found one of her aphorisms very useful in life: "A new broom sweeps clean." Every time a new foster child came to live with us, after a few weeks people would ask how the child was adapting, and my mother would usually reply, "You know ... new broom sweeps clean."

Yesterday began the new semester. My first class, 8AM, was my upper-division Studies in Medieval Literature: Love, Sex, and Marriage in Medieval Literature. When I arrived, the class seemed tired, and slightly bored to have to go through all the first-day housekeeping chores (like discussion of the syllabus).

Given the topic, I'm trying to keep the tone rather light, so that no one feels threatened by the sex stuff (which is rather tame anyway, for the most part). My strategy is to employ little risque jokes throughout the lectures, ribald but not raunchy. In that way, I'm hoping to keep the focus on the literature, and off of the individual students' anxieties.

When I began discussing "the problem of love," however, the room got very quiet. Several students leaned forward in their desks. In earlier posts (here and here), I've discussed the lack of good theoretical thought on romantic love. I realized yesterday that the lack may be felt even more than I had originally thought. These students seemed genuinely interested in giving deep and prolonged thought to the problem of love in literature.

Of course, all that is on the first day of class. We'll see if they are able to persevere through the semester, or if they are merely new brooms sweeping clean.

Monday, August 22, 2005

On Battlestar Galactica and Cylons

Over at Poliblog, Dr. Taylor has a post entitled "BSGblogging: Who’s a Cylon?" Now, before I start in here, you must remember that all this speculation is subject to change under the Laws of Bad Science Fiction Writing (which the BSG writers have avoided thus far), under which rules of continuity or logic can be thrown out the window by a cheap plot device (e.g. an apparently dead character was actually not killed, but his clone was; whatever happened in season four was simply a hallucination due to hitherto unknown alien mind-control powers; travel to and from alternate universes; etc). I'm sorry to say that SciFi has been known to operate under the Laws of Bad Science Fiction Writing, as in a particular series of episodes of Farscape in which Scorpius was "killed" three episodes in a row. Twice, his survival was explained implausibly ("I managed to outrun that nuclear explosion") -- and, as I recall, the third time they didn't even bother explaining it. So far, though, BSG has kept with logic and continuity, so we'll give them the benefit of the doubt.

I would reject the whole "trying to procreate" basis as a cylon test, since we do not really know who is trying to procreate. The cylons may very well simply take sexual pleasure for its own sake. Actually having procreated is a partial disqualifier, since it disqualifies one of the two participants. In other words, the whole "Adama has procreated and is therefore not a cylon" only proves that either he or his late wife was not a cylon.

Therefore, I agree with Taylor's statements that Helo, Starbuck (the egg harvesting), Bill and Lee Adama are not cylons, but I think we cannot know about the Chief. He had sex with Sharon, but she did not become pregnant.

That being said, we can know for certainty (excepting the Laws of Bad SciFi Writing) that Adama, Lee, and Col. Tighe are not cylons -- because they have known each other for too long. We have seen all three of them aging in flashbacks. Lee was born and grew, and Adama and Tighe share memories decades old. The only way any one of them could be a cylon would be if all three were cylons and shared fake memories.

They keep trying to throw this Baltar red-herring out there, but that makes no sense either. If Baltar were a cylon, Number Six would never have had to seduce him and sneak around in the Defense mainframes -- they would have simply activated him and had him do it himself.

Then, there are the "this is just too good a storyline" non-cylons. As far as I can tell, we don't know enough about Ellen Tighe to know how far back Col. Tighe's memories of her go. Nevertheless, she can't be a cylon, because she's far too destructive a force for the writers to get rid of her by shooting her out of the airlock. No, they're not getting rid of her that easily; she's too deliciously bad.

Taylor writes:"So, really, I am going with Billy for sure, Gaeta maybe, and more likely than not the rest are in position we have not yet seen. I think that one will end up being planted in Zarek’s cabal in some capacity." That sums up my position exactly. Besides, have you ever met anyone named "Billy" who was NOT evil?

In just an aside, the blogsphere seems flooded with academics (and a few medievalists) who are quite taken with BSG. Somewhere long ago I read some medievalist (I forget who) who was blogging about BSG and the Aeneid. I've been since thinking about that, and may post something on that topic in the future.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Open Thread: Beowulf Films

Right now, the Anglo-Saxon medieval community is debating various aspects of the many Beowulf film adaptations past, present, and future. Some relevant news stories are here, here, and here. Some stories about Beowulf opera can be found here and here. The relevant IMDb pages are here, here, here, here and here. Finally, some relevant blog entries can be found here, here, and here. Please feel free to post other important links in replies.

Also, don't forget Da Rulz for open threads in the Wordhoard.

Ping Troubles

I've had a heck of a time the last day or so with pings. My Haloscan pings to Protein Wisdom were unsuccessful, and now this morning Blogroll won't let me ping.

Dang gremlins.

Manuscripts vs. "manuscripts"

I had lunch with Dr. Taylor over at Poliblog yesterday. At one point in the conversation, he said to me, "I guess you are working on a manuscript." I was caught off guard and muttered something negative. He then commented that the nice thing about blogs is that you always know what your colleagues are working on. That left me wondering what I had written that caused him to think I was working on a manuscript.

Then, at about 3AM today, it hit me ... he meant "manuscript" in the non-medieval sense -- a paper or an article. Of course, the answer is "yes," I'm working on two articles and editing three books at the moment (to a lesser or greater capacity on each of the above).

My ear, though, heard the medievalist version of "manuscript," by which I thought he meant I was editing a medieval codex. At the moment, I'm not working with any manuscripts at the moment, though I do have articles under submission about BL Royal 12.D.xvii and BL Harley 585. So, in that sense, the answer is "no."

Someone out there needs to write a Medievalist/Normal Person phrasebook, so we can communicate with the outside world.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

On Open Threads

As regular readers know, I'm still very much a tyro at the blogging game, so I'm experimenting with various aspects of the genre. One of the types of posts I've been considering is the "Open Thread."

I'm pretty suspicious of open threads. I like the "talk back" aspect of them, but I don't much care for the lack of control. As you know, I'm interested in keeping this blog mostly focused on the life of the mind, particularly (though not exclusively) relating to issues of medieval literature. The focus isn't laser-sharp; any kind of talk of medievalism or language or faith or thought can be found here. I'm already finding that I have to be careful about too much drift, having deleted about a half-dozen posts simply because, upon further thought, they were too far off topic. Enough other sites are out there for political posturing and mouthing off that I can't bear the thought of this blog becoming another such forum.

The other concern I have about open threads is accountability. My name appears on this blog, and as I am the only contributor, I am the one accountable for it. What if someone posts something nasty in an "open thread?" It doesn't have to be anything obscene, just something snotty. Who is accountable for this? I think, to some degree, I would be. Even though I didn't post the snottiness, I provided a forum for it.

Take the Daily Kos for instance. Though 'Kos himself tends to be slightly more circumspect, very often has open threads (more often than any major conservative sites I can think of). Reading through them is exploring one of the darker sides of the internet. Every sort of implausible conspiracy theorist, factually-challenged nutcase, hate-filled bigot, and generally disagreeable person can be found posting there. When browsing them, I sometimes get the feeling that I'm visiting a decadent and failing commune, and have accidentally seen something going on behind the outhouse that no outsiders were supposed to witness.

Who is responsible for all that nastiness? On the one hand, 'Kos didn't post it ... he just opened the thread. On the other hand, he permits it to happen on his blog. I don't think hosting bloggers can play Pontius Pilate and completely wash their hands of the comments made there. If I opened a thread about medieval literature and someone posted something objectionable (and I don't delete it), I would hold myself at least partially accountable for that material.

Despite my misgivings and suspicions, I'm strongly considering creating some semi-open threads, in which I simply declare a topic and wait to see if anyone has anything useful to say. If I do go with semi-open threads, I'm going to have an entirely subjective and arbitrary floating policy on deleting posts. Some of the vague guidelines, subject to change at my whim, would be:

  • Any commercial advertisements. I'd let people post links to their own non-commercial sites, though ... unless I really didn't like what was on the other end of that link.
  • Anything nasty. I don't mind the occasional "damn" or "hell," but when the posts start sounding like a South Park episode that didn't make it past the censors, I draw the line.
  • Anything too far off-topic. If I open a thread about Arthurian themes in Babylon 5 and people start whining about how SciFi always cancels the good shows, that's probably drifted too far. Unless I feel it doesn't. Or it does. Whatever I think when I look at it.
  • Anything too political. It's my soapbox, and I don't much care that you think Cindy Sheehan should be sainted/arrested/ignored. This rule would also go for the most common form of political bullying in academe, the assumption of consensus. We don't all agree on everything, and you know it, so when you pretend otherwise, all you are doing is trying to bully people from disagreeing. Shame on you.
  • Anything else that I don't like. For example, I really, really hate when people post pictures of their cats on the internet. You post a cat, and I will probably both delete the cat and make insulting comments about its appearance.
  • I would reserve the right to break my own rules whenever I want to. If I want to post pictures of myself naked, surrounded by cats, accompanying a screed about why I hate Barney Frank, and why I hate Anne Frank, and why the SciFi channel should re-run old episodes of The Prisoner, along with a link to my commercial site selling used paper cups -- I'll do it. If you don't like it, go start your own blog and open your own threads. So there.

Semtex-festooned medievalists

In a post entitled "What al-Qaida Really Wants" over at Protein Wisdom, Osama bin Ladin's followers are referred to as a "band of Semtex-festooned medievalists."

Jeff Goldstein has noticed the two rival bands of medievalists. Like the Jets and the Sharks, there is fierce competition between these two groups. Also, like street gangs, we mark ourselves by our colors or clothing.

Al-Qaida medievalists are the ones who are Semtex-festooned. My gang are the ones who are tweed-festooned.

On his bad side

Though I haven't got any comment on the substance of this post at Poliblog, I was amused by this line:

"To risk getting on Misanthrope’s bad side..."

Don't worry about getting on Misanthrope's bad side. Unless he is incorrectly named, or you are not human, you are already on Misanthrope's bad side.

TTLB Gives me the Bird

Today, Unlocked Wordhoard is a Flappy Bird in The Truth Laid Bear ecosystem.

Some will argue that the blog was created to be a Flappy Bird. Some will argue that it evolved from an Insignificant Microbe.

All agree, however, that it shows no sign of intelligent design.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Lawyers and Latin

Since we've got so many blogging law professor types out there, I'm hoping someone can answer this question for me.

In all the Roberts confirmation stuff, I keep hearing TV lawyers talking about Stare Decisis. What I find curious about this is how they pronounce it. I've noticed that everyone pronounces it as "desisis" rather than "dekisis." Now, the pronunciation of the letter C in Latin is largely determined by what form of Latin the speaker learned. In classical Latin, it would be pronounced as a Modern English K. In medieval and ecclesiastical Latin, it would be pronounced as a Modern English S.

In other words, these lawyers are all using the medieval and ecclesiastical pronunciation, rather than the classical. I would have thought that the Latin taught in law school would be classical. Why is this? Are Catholic schools particularly influential law schools?

Distracting You with Another Target

Arguing with Signposts has never even heard of the Silmarillion. Clearly a heathen.

Another Reason to Hire Copy Editors

The Chamber of Commerce of my county released their annual "hey, move your business here" magazine the other day, and the very first non-advertisement page has a section of demographics. One of the statistics cited:

"31% of adults over the age of 25 are high school graduates" -- when I read that, I nearly spewed my tea across the room. Only 31%? How can that be? You mean that most of the people I meet off-campus every day are high school dropouts? I e-mailed the Chamber for clarification, but got no response.

I finally got sick of waiting, and checked the US Census Bureau data, which said instead that 69% were high school graduates, meaning that 31 % are not high school graduates. Now, while I think this is still not a statistic to be proud of (the national average is just over 80%), it's way better than they advertised.

Incidentally, the Census Bureau also says that in this county 18.4% have a Bachelor's degree or higher, with that figure jumping up to 20.9% for those 25-34 years old -- figures that are a bit low for the national average (which is about 25%), but seem pretty high considering the high dropout rate. Since the figure is actually higher for 25-34 years old (i.e. younger than the Troy University faculty) it seems that educational attainment is rising to the national average. In other words, most of the people I meet off-campus are either high school dropouts or college graduates, with little middle ground.

Still, way better than the 31% graduation rate error in the magazine. It's time to add a copy editor to the staff.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Beowulf and Motion Capture

Speaking of Beowulf movies, DKP over at The Lemmings Were Pushed has some trepidations about the upcoming non-Lambert Beowulf film, particularly about the use of motion capture for the special effects.

Translation of Lambert Beowulf

About Film has this translation of the Old English Beowulf ... well, ok, it's a rather loose translation of their mostly satirical Old English version to bring it in line with that abomination of a film that Christopher Lambert made.

A nod to The Bitter Scroll, which unearthed this treasure.

Dr. Taylor Joins the Fellowship

The saga over my "boring" comment regarding The Silmarillion continues with Steven Taylor joining our fellowship (in which I appear destined to play Boromir). Dr. Taylor comes to my defense here, shouting "Gondor! ... er, Troy!", to which I can only say: "Fly, you fool!" There's no need for us both to be pulled down into the darkness.

Incidentally, my life seems to be in a Tolkien phase at the moment, as people keep bringing him up in casual conversation with me. Twice today, people have commented me on my lecture "Lord of the Rings and the Medieval Literary Tradition" delivered at the Troy University Mythology Symposium.

Which leads me to this plug. That symposium was what got Dr. Gill and me talking about our responsibilities to try to fulfill the role of public intellectuals, which was what lead me ultimately to create this blog. So, since it has all come full circle, if anyone out there needs a speaker for their community group, and would like me to come deliver my lecture on "LotR and the Medieval Literary Tradition" to their organization, just drop me a line and we'll work things out.

I promise not to badmouth The Silmarillion if you want ... at least, not until the Q&A period.

On the Two Month Blogoversary

Today marks my two month blogoversary. Time to take stock again (no, I'm not going to do this every month).

At the end of my first month, I had achieved my goal of 500 hits. At that time, I mused about setting a new goal, but never did. One month later, I'm at 1600 hits and rising. Since 500 hits per month was what I wanted to maintain, I think it's going pretty well.

As much as I'd like to believe that it's a result of my good looks, the amount of traffic I receive is largely due to referrals from two sources: Poliblog and Evangelical Outpost. Dr. Taylor over at Poliblog first gave me a nice write-up and link, which is probably the main reason I'm not still down in "Insignificant Microbe" status on the TTLB Ecosystem (at this writing, I'm a very high end Slithering Reptile). That earned me the notice of some of my most faithful readers and referers, such as Mac over at Stones in the Field and Scott Gosnell at Pro's and Con's.

The second big jump came when I got a nice write-up at Evangelical Outpost. Joe Carter sent a lot of new traffic my way, and a good deal of my new readership gets referred in from his site. Actually, twice now Joe has said nice things about particular posts. Thanks, Joe.

Of course, none of this should be read as detracting from some of the folks, particularly medievalists, who seem to have found their way to me on their own. Most of these seem to have made their way through Michael Drout's Wormtalk and Slugspeak and Lisa Spangenberg's Digital Medievalist.

I guess my novice status is still apparent, as evidenced by my recent troubles with Trackback (and the fact that I'm not trackbacking these links since I can't figure out how to TB a whole site as opposed to individual posts) and the loss of a few comments. Nevertheless, thanks for all the people above and many more unmentioned for having faith in the Wordhoard. I hope I'm able to send a little traffic back your way.

On Lemmings and Those Who Would Push Them

My old friend DKP has an eclectic blog that's still seeking direction, The Lemmings Were Pushed. DKP is the person I'm mostly likely to turn to when I have a question about animation (yes, the cartoon variety), so I'm pretty pleased to see the blog.

And, in point of fact, the purpose of this post is both to help DKP test trackbacks, and practice on my own.

Peace Offering

As a peace offering, I offer this piece from Normblog: Sally Prue on The Lord of the Rings.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Paladin Thows Down the Guantlet


See, I knew it. Just as soon as I clicked the "Publish Post" button, I knew it. I knew that referring to any work by Tolkien as "boring" I was calling down the wrath of all Middle Earth. If I had written something like "I hate kittens and babies but love Nazis and Commies" I would have been less likely to provoke a backlash.

Paladin over at A Knight's Blog took some offense at my swipe at The Silmarillion, which was actually meant to be a post about how reading a particular author's prose can affect our own. As of this writing, I've also got Chris taking issue with me. You fellows can love The Silmarillion if you want -- I've got no problem with that. But before I find myself on the wrong end of a morgul blade, let me clarify a bit here.

I still find fault with The Simarillion because it would fail as a free-standing work. Presumably Paladin and Chris read The Silmarillion after reading The Lord of the Rings and therefore read it through the prism of LotR. Try imagining you had read The Sil first. Would you have read LotR? Or The Hobbit? Or any of the other collections of half-written works? I cannot see into your hearts, but I doubt it.

Let me put it to you another way -- you are in a burning library. The only two extant copies of The Sil and LotR are in the library, and you have time to save only one. Do you even have to think about which to save?

Of course, all that demonstrates is that LotR is superior to The Sil. Big Deal. LotR is superior to a lot of stuff. The question is, why is The Sil inferior to LotR?

Because The Silmarillion is not even really a myth; it's the formula for a myth. The mythology is what gets played out in the background of LotR. If you are unfamiliar with the work of Vladimir Propp, you'll know that the Russian formalist reduced all narrative down to a few dozen basic units. Take a look at his Morphology of the Folktale, and you'll find these units expressed as variables, with about 150 different elements (sorry for the vagueness of these numbers, but I'm at home, away from my copy of Propp). When Propp expresses a narrative myth, then, it looks rather like an equation, with variables taking the place of particular elements.

What Tolkien has done in The Silmarillion is simply express a basic Proppian mythological structure with specific names and places, without bothering with such things as character development. Sacred object is produced. Conflict over sacred object. Sacred object is lost. Hero endures trials to recover sacred object. Hero must sacrifice (usually a body part) for the object. Sacred object is recovered. Rinse. Repeat.

In other words, The Silmarillion is little more than a mythological scaffolding upon which to build a real mythology -- that of LotR. The blueprints might be lovely, but when it starts raining, it's time to get in the bricks-and-mortar house.

Stuff fixed

It might not be pretty, but I'm to the point at which I've got my Blogger comments and my Haloscan trackbacks. My apologies for all those who posted Haloscan comments, for though they are visible to me, they are lost in the ether of the internet for all other viewers. I prefer the Blogger comments because they automatically go out in the subscription service without having to pay a premium to Haloscan -- besides which I found Haloscan to be a bit slow on the comments.

Anyway, now that I'm done mucking about with the format for a bit, I'll try to have more substantive posts coming up.

Bent Gender

In a kindly post over at Philobiblon, which is hosting History Carnival #14, Natalie Bennett wrote:

WordHoard has also been considering a list of potential bloggers of history, noting the similarity of the practice to the tradition of the miscellany. I was pleased to see she's also a fan of Sei Shonagon - if you haven't read her, do! [Bold mine]

Thanks for the referral, Natalie ... just one caveat. Though others may question it, Mrs. Nokes assures me that I am a he. As she is generally a truthful woman, I take her at her word.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

A little unasked-for advice...

Here's a little unasked-for advice to the editors of the Chronicle of Higher Education:

If you would like to discourage the image of professors as tenured radicals, please refrain from publishing issues containing such headlines as "Conservative to Teach Constitutional Law" and "Man Will Lead Women's Studies," both found on the same page of the August 12th Chronicle.

See, guys, most folks don't think that hiring men and allowing conservatives to teach should be a newsworthy event. Please avoid caricaturing yourselves (and the rest of us) again in the future.

Infectious language

I've apparently caught my children's illness, so I've spent the day primarily in running to the doctor and pharmacy, and napping. When I am conscious and not reading back copies of "A Boy's Life," I've been reading The Silmarillion, looking for references to health and medicine for this entry I'm writing.

First off, anyone who doesn't think Tolkien really is the Author of the (Twentieth) Century should read The Silmarillion and consider that this book is available in paperback. While lots of other writers have their notebooks published, these are usually of interest to scholars only, and so have short, expensive runs and sit in college libraries. This book has sold millions of copies, and (if I can say this without incurring the wrath of the many Tolkienophiles) is boring beyond belief. It doesn't have characters so much as it has concepts; it doesn't have a plot so much as it has general movement; and it doesn't have prose so much as it has an homage to the language of Romance. I can't imagine why anyone would read it for itself -- rather, I think, people read it in order for such revelations as saying, "Oh, that's why Frodo starts chanting about Elbereth" and other such things.

Dr. Gill and I were talking about it the other day, and he said something like, "It's the only book to make King James English seem like free-wheeling slang" (or something along those lines). And it's true -- you can find lines of startling, over-the-top formality, that seem to be mockeries of the OT book of numbers or Leviticus, like this: "The sons of Bor were Borlad, Borlach and Borthand; and they followed Maedhros and Maglor, and cheated the hope of Morgoth, and were faithful. The sons of Ulfang the Black were Ulfast, and Ulworth, and Uldor the accursed; and they followed Calanthir and swore allegiance to him, and proved faithless" (189).

If you read enough of this, though, it begins to affect your own language; at least, that's the suggestion of the reviewer blurbs found in and on the book. Consider these: Time wrote, "Medieval romances, fierce fairy tales, and fiercer wars that ring with heraldic fury." Ring with heraldic fury? Who exactly are these furious heralds? Not only is this a rather faux high-tone, it makes no sense. The Baltimore Sunday Sun wrote that "the language is always lovely to the ear." Listen, Sunday morning in Baltimore is no time or place to awaken and read prose like "lovely to the ear"." The Los Angeles Times wrote, "One is hypnotized, drawn into peaceful lands of bliss and glad life." In addition to the tone, I've got to wonder if the person who wrote that review had actually read the book, since there's a lot more war and strife than "bliss and glad life" in the book.

All these sound silly when Tolkien does not, perhaps because the writers haven't earned the right to make Arthurian pronouncements in their reviews. That they make them without blushing is a sign of the power of Tolkien, and the overwhelming quality of his prose.

Somewhere in my distant past, I read someone's remark about someone else's writing that they needed to remove all the Latin tags and obscure vocabulary. The author responded by saying that he had been influenced by Poe, and that is was the way Poe wrote. The editor, in a pragmatic and true answer, replied, "If you want to write like Poe, by God, you've got to be Poe!"

Let's steal that. If you want to write like Tolkien, you've got to be Tolkien.

Uncovering a little-known medieval practice

Got Medieval uncovers the little-known medieval practice of cabbage taunting.

Friday, August 12, 2005


At last, I've got the whole shebang working. Please don't ask me how I did it -- I have no idea. I just mucked about until it started looking OK.

I may still post something worthwhile today, but I've wasted so much time on these technical issues yesterday and today that I probably won't do much for the next few hours.

[UPDATE -- I just noticed I lost all my old comments, the "email this post" option, and my ability to quick edit. *weeps uncontrollably*]

Good news, bad news

The good news is that I've finally gotten trackbacks working! Hooray!

The bad news is that I've completely screwed up my format. Boo!

I'm still working on it.

Drout's cool, I'm not

Two quick things:

First, Michael Drout has a post over at his blog that uses H.P. Lovecraft as its central reference. Medievalists who like Lovecraft -- cool. [How's THAT for scholarly critique?]

Second, I (obviously) still haven't overcome my techno-rube issues enough to get the trackbacks working. Since one of the kiddies is home sick today, however, I won't be able to head into work, so perhaps I can get the thrice-cursed things working.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Trackbacks, please!

This is probably a violation of some blogger trackback netiquette I don't know about, but I'm really trying to figure out how to do this whole trackback thingy. I've successfully posted trackbacks to others sites (though I keep getting error messages, the tracks seem to go through), but I would like to beg my readers to submit trackbacks to this post, so I can see how it works from the receiving end.

If it is bad netiquette to beg for links and trackbacks, my apologies.

Technical problems today

In response to Steven Taylor's post on the Seven Deadly Sins of Blogging, along with chiding from both Erik Marshall and Paladin, I tried to set up trackbacks on my blog. The truth is, I still have no idea what they do, nor why they would be useful.

So far, so bad. All they've done is muck up my fonts ... and as a textual scholar, my fonts are VERY important to me! Anyway, I'll be dealing with those technical troubles today, so my apologies if the page seems more user-hostile than friendly.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

The Problem with Cutting...

One problem with cutting down texts is this -- when I go home tonight and the wife asks if I got a lot of work done today, all I'm going to be able to say is "I cut about 20 pages from an article," which doesn't sound nearly as good as "I wrote 20 pages today" -- even though the former is more difficult and painful.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Intelligent Design and Rhetoric

Given the sudden explosion of attention on Intelligent Design (even before Bush’s response to a question on the issue), and given the number of times it has come up in conversation of late, I thought I’d better mention the issue.

First of all, let me say that if there is a debate about Intelligent Design, I haven’t seen it. A lot of heat and noise and people shouting doth not a debate make. In fact, I would argue that a debate on Intelligent Design is nearly impossible in the current atmosphere, because no one knows what the three primary terms, “evolution,” “creation,” and “intelligent design” means when other people use them. The terms have become shibboleths, used as passwords by particular subcultures. If one uses the correct password, he is allowed to enter the city gates. If another uses the wrong word, he is stoned by an angry mob.

“Evolution” seems to have shed all of its original meaning. Proponents of evolution use the term as if it explains all that is true about life, the universe, and everything, when it actually tells us little beyond the inter-relatedness of all life. One does not even have to believe in natural selection as the primary cause of evolution to believe in evolution [I have a friend who is an evolutionary biologist who argues that there are other more convincing ways to explain such phenomena as punctuated equilibrium than natural selection. According to him, the ID debate has caused many scientists to foolishly dig in their heels around the issue of natural selection at a time when evidence against it is mounting, in the long run doing more damage to the idea of evolution than if they admitted Darwin’s version needs some work. I don’t pretend to have the expertise to critique his view … I simply present it as an example.]. Even more foolish are claims that evolution proves that nothing exists beyond the material universe.

Let us assume for the sake of argument that nothing does exist beyond the material universe. As evolutionary law draws all of its principles from the material world, it is incapable of proving (or commenting on) anything beyond that material world. It is rather like arguing that since all the thermometer measures is temperature, humidity does not exist – or, on the other side, must exist.

“Creation” also acts as a shibboleth. Proponents and opponents of creation use the term as if we all know what it means, and some of the shiftier ones rely on that slipperiness. The term means everything from a six-day beginning of everything 8,000 years ago, to several periods or ages of creation an indeterminate time ago, to a general principle that the material world has a non-material cause. Just as material humanists use the term “creation” as the justification to stone someone at the gates, Christians use the term as a password into the golden city … ignoring the fact that the concept of creation is not necessarily a Christian idea. That the universe is a created object is an idea that stretches back at least as far as Zoroastrianism, and probably farther. Unless my understanding is flawed, I believe all of the major world religions today have at least a creation myth. So, when someone says “creation” like I’m supposed to know what it means, I sure don’t.

“Intelligent Design” is the newcomer here. I have heard it mean everything from a refutation of evolution to an accommodation of evolution. Only very recently has the culture emphatically decided that ID is a weapon against material humanism, rather than conciliatory gesture. But even if, for the sake of argument, we assume that the material universe shows all the signs of design – that’s still a far cry from saying much of anything regarding evolution, or even about faith. In the case of the theistic religions, the obvious intelligence behind the design is God or the gods. ID is just as compatible with deism, and seems to me to be entirely in line with, for example, Jefferson’s brand of deism and the clockwork universe.

But the idea that the universe shows signs of intelligent design is even compatible with atheist views. Though we don’t use the term “Intelligent Design” to describe it, the atheist version of ID is called the Anthrophic Principle, which runs something like this: The universe seems designed for us because if it were not, we would not be here to observe it. There are millions of potential universes in which humanity did NOT evolve, but we do not consider them because we do not live in that reality to consider them. In this case, the intelligence is perceiving a random design, not designing out of randomness – in other words, the intelligent designer in the Anthropic Principle is Man himself, as observer.

Perhaps all this is moot, because as far as I can tell, no one cares. All the rhetoric I have seen on the issue thus far is destructive. Both sides suffer from terminal hubris. “Evolution”-partisans have dug in their heels so that they now insist that the material world is all that there is, and that anyone who denies this is a fool. “Creation”-partisans have dug in their heels so that they now insist that extra-Biblical traditions (you can see my Restoration Movement bias here) trump both our observations of the material world and the Scriptures themselves, and anyone who denies this is damned. Neither, so far as I can tell, is actually talking about either evolution or creation, and both are using Intelligent Design as the no-man’s-land upon which to do battle.

In the end, there is no debate about biology or faith – just some angry mobs demanding people choose sides, and ignoring epistemology.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Added Links

Just wanted to point out that I added two links to the blogroll today. One is A Memorable Fancy from Erik Marshall, a colleague from grad school who seems to be blogging on new media and film stuff.

The other is Gypsy Scholar by Horace Jeffery Hodges, whom I don't know but I primarily included because I suspect he is the only other non-Korean medievalist who speaks Korean. Perhaps we should start a very, very small club.

Subscription service up and running

Unlocked Wordhoard's e-mail subscription service should be up and running, but this announcement is also functioning as the first test of the service. If you are interested in getting Wordhoard updates in your e-mail, the subscription link is in the sidebar to the right.

More Nokesian Ignorance

Given how user-friendly Blogger is, it's scandalous that I'm still trying to master the medium. Scouting around this morning I noticed that the Blogroll on Poliblog's roll has the Wordhoard last being unlocked on June 21st. Obviously, I've updated the blog many times since then. Perhaps I have to ping Blogroll? If so ... I'm far to lazy to go in and ping every time I post something.

So, let me see ... trackbacks, blogrolling ... at least I've still got proper use of the subjunctive on my side.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Pre-computer blogging

Public Brewery has a post entitled "Mark Twain: Blogger," in praise of some of Twain's work on a common-yet-unmentionable practice.

He also asks,

I wonder what other people from the pre-blogging era might have made good bloggers. I'll throw out H. L. Mencken, Dorothy Parker, and Oscar Wilde for starters...

Whenever I teach The Pillowbook of Sei Shonagon, I always make the point to my students that the post-modern practice of the blog is descended from the earlier practice of miscellanies. Perhaps for that reason I find that Sei Shonagon teaches very, very well. In any case, the list of "people from the pre-blogging era [who] might have made good bloggers" has to include all writers of miscellanies. Of these, my favorites (of the top of my head) are probably Sei Shonagon and Francis Bacon, though if I really thought about it I could probably come up with a dozens more -- a whole flock of Transcendentalists, certain essayists, and even some late twentieth-century writers like Lewis Thomas.

Of course, some blogs are more like miscellanies than others; some emphasize links, while others tend to be short off-the-cuff essays (like mine). I also think the way that CD mixing and burning is practiced is much like the old practice of swapping journals or miscellanies. Whenever I ask my students if they have ever given to a friend or lover a collection of poetry they have copied, they laugh at the quaint anachronism of the idea, but whenever I ask if they have ever mixed and burnt a CD for the purpose of giving it to a friend or lover as self-expression (as opposed to burning whole albums for the purpose of copyright infringement), most of them have done it.

Same old practices, transformed by different technology in new media.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Afterlife and object permanence

In a conversation with Dr. Gill the other day, I made a passing reference to the Neanderthals having religion (because of burials in the fetal position). He correctly fine-tuned that to mean that the Neanderthals had a belief in the afterlife. He was right, of course, since some religions don't have a belief in the afterlife.

I began thinking about what other kinds of things we can intuit from this information, and started thinking about the idea of object permanence. Most of you who have children will know what the concept of object permanence is, but for those who don't, I'll give a very simplified explanation.

Object permanence is the concept that when we do not perceive an object, it continues to exist. Babies are apparently born without the concept of object permanence, believing that if they don't see/hear/feel/smell/taste something, it ceases to exist. Every mother knows that pathetic cry of a young baby when it wakes and she is not there; the baby thinks his mother is no more. Every mother also knows how annoying it can be when the baby learns that it can cry, and "summon" his mother back into existence. You can tell a child is developing a concept of object permanence when he finds the game of peek-a-boo immensely entertaining -- he is learning that when you cover your face and "disappear," you will reappear shortly.

The idea of an afterlife, i.e. a non-material world that is a continuation of the material world, seems to me to be a version of object permanence. The subconscious reasoning goes something like this:

I see John. John leaves the room. I no longer see John, but he continues to exist. Later, if I go into the room he is in, I will see him again. John dies. I no longer see him, but he continues to exist. If I go into the place he is in, I will see him again.

In Bede's account of the conversion of King Edwin, the pagan high priest Coefi is convinced of the right of Christianity, and describes the image of a bird flying through a meadhall through two windows on a winter's day. The bird, a soul, passes quickly through the meadhall (the material world, life), yet we know that the time flying through the meadhall is only a brief moment in its flight. Though there are obviously some other things going on here as well, it seems to me that part of the idea he is expressing is object permanence. Just as we know that the bird continues to fly once it exits the window and is no longer visible, so also do we know the soul continues to exist after it flits out the window of life. The allegory of the Bird and the Meadhall is rather like Plato's Allegory of the Cave, with the idea of object permanence overlaid on top of it.

I wonder if any of this is suggestive of the psychology of material atheists, believers that all that exists is the material world (this is not to be expanded to all atheism, since Buddhism is an atheist religion, yet still has ideas that might be considered a type of object permanence). It may very well be that material atheists, believers in reincarnation, and believers in an other-worldly afterlife are in some small way nudged toward their beliefs by experiences as infants.

Friday, August 05, 2005

My Sister Unlocks Her Wordhoard

I just found out my sister has a blog. I put it on my blogroll, but may have to remove it if she doesn't stop discussing her personal hygiene and referring to people as "super awesome chicks."

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Get the Wordhoard in your e-Wordhoard

As those who know me know, I am quite lazy. My friend Les, however, is even lazier. He would like to read my blog, but can't be bothered to check it for updates, so he asked if I would set up a subscription service to send it straight to his e-mail. Hey, Les, perhaps you'd like me to call you on the phone and read it to you as well? ;)

Fair enough, but as said before, I too am lazy, and am too lazy to go to the trouble for one guy -- especially one guy who knows me well enough that he has to forgive me if I don't do it. If I have enough interest, though, I'll do it.

Therefore, if anyone is interested in receiving Unlocked Wordhoard in their e-mail, please express interest in a comment below. Enough replies, and I'll set up a subscription.

Reason, Tradition, and Evangelical Outpost

Evangelical Outpost builds on my earlier analysis of Lee Harris's piece on the apparent conflict between reason and tradition in a posting here. The comments section is well worth reading, too.

Hooray! 1000 visitors!

I got online this morning to find my counter at 1001 visitors. Now that I am using Tracksy, I also find that I have regular readers in Spain, Ireland, and Australia (and not-so-regular readers in other countries).

Maybe Spain, Ireland, and Australia can get into a three-front war against one another, so I can blog things of particular interest to each.

Caedmon's blogging

I notice that Caedmon's Hymn had been posted over at "So I Said I Am Ezra," and Ezra has confirmed for me that it was done to thank me for linking to the blog. Thanks Ezra ... that's really a nice tribute.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Ugh ... CV!

The previous post makes me realize that my CV is in desperate need of updating -- it is several articles and book contracts old!

Non-academic perspectives

Hwaet, I answered Michael Drout's call for contributors for the Tolkien Encyclopedia, primarily because one of the categories was "health and medicine" and I happen to know a bit about medieval health and medicine. As I've committed to do a paper on Tolkien for the Popular Culture Association next year, I thought it would be good to re-read all his stuff for the encyclopedia entry, just in case I find something good for the PCA paper. Plus, I'm becoming rather taken with my PCA paper, and will likely try to write an article-length version for publication.

Little did I know I was to become a minor celebrity.

For the non-academics among my readers, let me explain how rankings of academic publications go. These rankings generally aren't codified (though I seem to recall Wayne State did codify them and give them numerical value for tenure and promotion), but are part of the academic culture. The totem pole looks something like this:

1. Book of theory or criticism
2. Edition or translation (elsewhere I've complained that this should be subordinated, but regardless of the justice of its ranking, it is generally valued less than books of criticism).
3. Journal article
4. Book reviews and reference work entries
5. Conference presentation

Of course, this is a gross simplification. A really well-placed and well-received journal article can be of greater value to one's career than a not-so-well-placed book, for example. Even within these categories, there are lots of subtle differences. For example, my article in Anglo-Saxon England, the premier annual in the field, is of greater value than my article in Alabama English, since the latter is basically only going to be read by locals.

Now, let's consider where a single entry in the Tolkien Encyclopedia falls -- next to last. The only kind of peer-reviewed publication of equal-or-lesser value is a book review. Now, none of this is to denigrate book reviews and encyclopedia entries, since these are often hard work and need to be done. Nevertheless, the amount of effort I am putting into, for example, Curing Elf-shot and Other Mysterious Maladies: New Scholarship on Old English Charms that I am editing with Kathryn Laity is far more than I put into the recent Facts-on-File entry I wrote.

I mentioned to a non-academic that I was doing this entry, and she gasped, "Oh my gosh! What an honor!" An honor? I thought of it as filler while I was waiting to do some larger projects that require coordination with other scholars and their schedules. I mentioned it to my chair, and he replied, "Oh, good" -- a more typical academic response. Just to see what would happen, I started mentioning the entry to other non-academics, and the response has been remarkable. Someone said to me, "At last people are recognizing you as an important scholar." When I pointed out that Michael Drout is the editor, not me, he replied, "Still, it's an honor." This word "honor" keeps coming up again and again.

So now, I find people who in the past never showed any interest in my work asking how the Tolkien entry is coming (just fine, thank you ... I'm still in the re-reading stage). And in a box in my study, about two dozen offprint copies of my article in Anglo-Saxon England sit undisturbed, and un-asked for.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Bible in Public Schools

Ann Althouse has a story here about adding the study of Bible to high school curricula, followed by a vigorous debate in the comments section. As the debate in the comments section seems to have devolved into stories of Christians who hate atheists and atheists who hate Christians, I thought I'd comment on this issue here.

The story she links to suggests, I think, that adding the study of the Bible to high school curricula is a Trojan horse, out of which streams of screaming Christians will descend. To be honest, I have no idea of the intentions of the particular program described here, nor the intentions of opponents of the program. Both sides seem kind of fishy to me from the article.

Let me, therefore, make an unequivocal statement regarding Bible education (and one that will likely get me in trouble with some folks) -- no Westerner without a broad knowledge of the Bible and classical mythology can be considered an educated person. Without both of these, the entire literary, philosophical, and historic tradition of the West cannot be understood.

I'm distressed every semester by English majors who have to overcome a deep ignorance of the Bible -- and this includes self-described Christian students. I found this to be true in both the urban North and rural South. In this I mean no insult to the intelligence of these students, since they have a good grasp of things that have been taught to them, such as Greek mythology (they tend to be shakier on the Roman variants for some reason). High schools understand perfectly well the hurdles they need to overcome if they are to teach the Bible in any context, and so they decide (reasonably, in my judgment) to expend their political capital elsewhere. Legal hostility to Christianity has led to a general hostility to the Bible, and results in high school graduates poorly equipped to grapple with difficult literary texts.

To be sure, ignorance of the Bible is only one of many factors that make the study of literature difficult for so many students. Nevertheless, the centrality of the Bible to Western thought makes our refusal to teach it inexcusable. It is rather as if we try to teach physics but discourage the study of arithmatic.

For example, Althouse writes:

"While there is clearly nothing wrong per se with studying the Bible in public schools -- a local high school here in Madison has a "Bible as Literature" course, for example -- there are some ways of teaching about the Bible that violate the Establishment Clause."

Let's stop and think about her statement here. Althouse feels compelled to point out, with caveats, that studying the Bible in public schools is not wrong per se. She is, I think, trying to offer this as a defense of academic, non-devotional Bible study, and rightfully so. But why are we positioned so that this statement is anything beyond absurd? I would counter with a statement of my own, amending hers to read:

"While there is clearly everything wrong per se with failing to study the Bible in public , private, and parochial schools -- a local high school here in Madison has a "Bible as Literature" course, for example -- there are some ways of teaching about the Bible that violate the Establishment Clause" [bolded words my editorial changes, obviously].

My point is not to take Althouse to task, since she is simply participating using the rhetoric popular in legal circles, and seems to be doing a fine job of it. Rather, it is to point out the absurdity of having to point out that study of the central text of the West is not wrong per se.

Don't buy that book!

My medieval literature class for fall doesn't have the robust enrollment I had hoped, probably because of its 8AM MWF time slot. As long as it doesn't kill the class, I'm not too distressed about the time, since I'll be up anyway. The only trick will be to keep the students conscious.

Today at the bookstore I discovered another possible reason for the low enrollment -- instead of ordering the $30 paperback version of Conor McCarthy's Love Sex and Marriage in the Middle Ages, they ordered the hardback version which they were selling for $130 (Amazon has it in hardback for $100). Given that I've probably assigned about $150 worth of books anyway, the extra hit of $130 must have seemed devastating.

So, to any of my students out there, I spoke to the bookstore, and they are returning the hardbacks in favor of the much cheaper paperbacks. As soon as I decide what book to start with I'll post it, so that anyone who can find a cheaper used version online can start looking. Don't buy the hardcover edition -- you can save yourself at least $100 getting paper.

In an aside, while I was snooping around the shelves I saw the books for my colleague's class on medieval European history (Allen Jones). It looked pretty cool, including a couple of books I've never read. If you are interested in the history side too, I'd strongly encourage you to take Dr. Jones's class.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Putting up with Potter

I spent the evening in Nashville last night with my parents, in a relay race handoff of my children who have spent the last month visiting them. My father made mention of the oddity that my daughter didn't seem particularly interested in the Harry Potter book he received and read last week. She probably gets that from me.

For so many people, I'm supposed to be the guru of all things medievalist, and Harry Potter falls (albeit uncertainly) into the area of pop culture medievalism. People frequently ask me about the Harry Potter books, and for years I had to confess I had read none of them. About two years ago, I finally decided that enough was enough, and I plowed my way through the first one (the title of which, I much confess, eludes me at the moment).

I wasn't overwhelmed, and I wasn't even underwhelmed. I was just whelmed. I'm not generally taken in by hype, but when something is ubiquitously praised, I expect it to be at least good, or if not good, at least collossally bad in interesting ways. Take, for example, Michael Crichton novels -- his plots are gruel-thin, his characters aspire to two-dimensionality, and the dialogue is an insult to boilerplates everywhere. Nevertheless, Crichton's novels always have underlying them one really cool interesting idea. This is probably why his novels make good movies, because a legion of better artists in film-making can keep the cool stuff and improve on the weak stuff. In other words, I thought Harry Potter novels would be like Crichton novels -- generally bad, but with one or two really cool elements.

If anything, I found the one novel I read brutally mediocre (and yes, I mean to pair those two words). It wasn't terrible, nor was it very good. It reminded me of book adaptations of popular movies, and had a rather workmanlike quality about it. I thought, well, I'd trust Rowling to adapt a screenplay for me, I guess, if a better writer were unavailable.

The problem with the mediocrity is that the novel wasn't even bad enough to work up a good jeremiad over. Is it distressing that adults are basing their entire reading-life around a series of children's books? I suppose, but the stories are at least longish, and not completely facile. Is it good that kids are reading long books? I guess, though I'm not sure these kids wouldn't be reading shorter-and-more-frequently-updated series if they weren't reading this.

A couple of Harry Potter books ago, I asked my daughter if she wanted me to buy one. She knows that if she asks for a toy outside of birthdays or Christmas, she's very unlikely to get it, but if she asks for a book, it will be in her hands very shortly. She just shrugged. She told me that the kids at school liked Harry Potter. When I asked her why she wasn't interested, she just shrugged again and said "eh." I think that response might be genetic.

So, in answer to the MANY inquiries: no I haven't read the latest Harry Potter book; no, I have no particular objection to the series; yes, I would read another Harry Potter book if it were all I had and I were on a long flight; and no, I have no intention of reading the series, more out of lack of interest than anything else. If you seek intelligent commentary on Harry Potter and that phenomenon, you'll have to find it elsewhere.