Ummm, I’m Getting This Thing Working

The Typekey registration seems to be working — at least one comment has now appeared with an “approve user” rather than “approve comment.” That means that if you’re a regular commenter you could save me some effort by registering for a Typekey account. That way your comments will show up immediately, too! Not that I’m really all that busy, but I sure am all that lazy.


Admittedly today is the warmest day here in Geneva since sometime in mid-December, but I just spoke sharply to a student who I saw walking out of his residence wearing flip flops. Warmest = 33 degrees at 5:05 p.m. EST. I was just acting in loco parentis iracundi. He laughed. When he gets sick and dies, then he’ll be sorry.

The Inside Scoop – Or Not?

Here’s a very interesting article about perceptions of religious groups inside a religion — specifically Judaism. Wendy Shalit is writing in the New York Times about — well, read this excerpt:

Some of my Jewish friends have intermarried with people of other faiths; others have gone back to their traditional roots. Because I did the latter, I’m fascinated by the ways different Jewish communities understand and misunderstand one another. As a writer, I’m especially fascinated by how this happens in print. And it seems I’m not the only one. Although some Jewish outsiders, like Allegra Goodman, have written sympathetically of the haredi, other writers have purported to explain the ultra-Orthodox from an insider’s perspective. But are these authors really insiders? As I changed from outsider to insider, my perspective changed too.

Her examples of “outsider insiders” are interesting and well-worth reading.

Life in a Postcard

Yesterday I did one of those little things that keeps one happy to live in the Frozen North — I went cross-country skiing. Here at these Colleges (click to see why I always use the plural) we have a nice big room full of outdoor equipment available for check out and a wonderful teacher whose enthusiasm for winter is dangerously infections. Aliceann Wilber’s main job is coach for the William Smith soccer team (and she seems to do THAT very well, too — 20 straight winning seasons is pretty good, right?); luckily for me she also teaches recreation classes in skating and cross-country skiing.
Yesterday we skiid (skiied? Went skiing? Gosh, what a stupid looking verb.) on the Keuka Outlet Trail, which drains Keuka Lake into Seneca Lake. The link, by the way, is quite interesting. The trail is an old railroad right of way (mainly) along a nice stream with an occasional old mill. This link has a photo of two of the falls along the outlet. The sun was out, the sky was blue, the snow was lovely and unsnowmobiled (an uglier verb, but useful). We probably went 4 miles total, but I was whacked!
Life in the Finger Lakes, night time lows below zero and all, isn’t so bad.

Update: The postcard views don’t show the sore muscles. Even my feet hurt from that little kicking motion you have to do to get into a glide . . . .

I Miss “Film” Sometimes

It’s all the VCR’s fault. When I was in college long ago and far away we went to the River Oaks at least once a week (often twice, sometimes 4 times). Those once-a-weekers were usually a time when the Rice Film Whatever It Was Called was showing something irresistable (they had the worst seats in the world, or I would’ve gone more often). We divided movies into “film,” “movie,” and “celluloid,” with a marked preference for the first and 3rd categories (did you see Ator in the theater? I did. And then again and again on Channel 17 when I lived in Atlanta.)
Film is harder to find on college campuses nowadays than it used to be. I think of this because I’m going to Fritz Lang’s Siegrieds Tod on Monday. The colleague with whom I taught “The Anglo-Saxons” last term is teaching “Male Heroism” this term and is showing the film in the last large-scale sponsored film series on campus. Yes, the language people show a more than occasional film, but no one seems to go other than their students who are checking off boxes.
Of course, they’ll all have Netflix in 20 years and they’ll discover all this amazing stuff and wonder why we never showed it to them, the same way that people I meet tell me “I hated history in school, but now it’s all I read….” Oh, well. The youthful ability to stay up late is wasted on the young.

The Natural History of Syphilis

Now isn’t this weird? Infectiousness may be more complicated than we think, and syphilis epidemic shifts may be cyclical and unrelated to — umm — sex. Well, not unrelated. Just less related. I find the reported (and I’m depending on the media reports — I’m no medical historian) difference between syphilis and gonorrhea (by the way, I cut’n’pasted that last word from the article {rough breathing rho spellings are always tricky and I was lazy} and found an extraneous -o- in it. That’s what I get for quoting a British source.) quite interesting, though I’ll depend on more learned folk to tease out the truth of the matter.
Given the importance of syphilis as a driver of historical work I wonder how this will turn up in history?

What I’m Reading

One of the best things about being a professor is getting to have the library order books one would otherwise have to order for oneself. Yay, budgets! We just got a reprint of Elliot Rose’s very useful Razor for a Goat: A Discussion of Certain Problems in the History of Witchcraft and Diabolism. If you’re regularly pestered by students who think that Wicca has high historical credibility (whatever it may be as a belief system or means of life orientation) or — God help you — that Margaret Murray was right about a Dianic Witch Cult, then this is the book for you.
Rose was both a real historian of (much of) the period he wrote about (unlike Murray, who was trained as an Egyptologist) and was a good writer on top of that. There’s a nice foreward by Richard Kieckheffer, who knows a lot about the subject, too.
A Razor for a Goat is hardly where you should stop (of the more recent folks I love Carlo Ginzburg best, though I don’t always believe him), but it’s a great place to start.

Embarassment of Riches, or “Damn! Another Statue! Hide it!”

Europe is different. We have heavy rains, houses get washed away. Sometimes a dinosaur bone shows up in the stream bank. They have heavy rains, and this kind of thing happens:

Last week’s heavy rainfall in Athens has led to the discovery of a Roman marble statue which had been apparently dumped in a streambed in the southern suburbs, an archaeologist said yesterday.

The 1.8-meter tall marble torso of a young man was spotted on Thursday night in the Pikrodafni streambed, in Palaio Faliron — near the intersection of Dimocratias and Pikrodafnis Streets — by a passer-by who alerted authorities, said Yiorgos Steinhauer, head of the Culture Ministry’s local antiquities department.

The first-century-AD work is a Roman copy of a fourth-century-BC classical original and possibly represents Apollo Lykeios. Steinhauer said the statue could have been recently discovered by builders during construction work, and dumped in the streambed for fear archaeologists might stop the works if alerted to the find.

A colleague of mine, born and raised in France and educated in Spain, tries to explain it to our students this way — in America we have extent of space; you can go in any direction and America keeps going. In Europe we have extent of time; everywhere you look there’s something 2,000 years old peeking out from under a rock. It’s not a bad formulation.
via Cronaca, source of fine email updates for art history classes.

Pilgrimage Stampedes

I was reading the sad article about the pilgrimage disaster in India (over 200 dead so far), remembering that this has been a trampling-free Hajj this year, and reflecting on the history of Gothic architecture.
In the late 1130s the abbot Suger of St. Denis, just outside Paris, began rebuilding the West entrance to the abbey church. One of the reasons for the rebuilding Suger gives in his book on the activities of his abbacy (Liber de rebus in administratione sua gestis – which you can find part of here in recent translation — scroll to section XXV. Concerning the First Addition to the Church) was

because of the inadequacy we often felt on special days such as the feast of the blessed Denis, the fair, and many other times, when the narrowness of the place forced women to run to the altar on the heads of men as on a pavement with great anguish and confusion.

I tend to see the development of Gothic as a long, drawn-out process that depends on a series of structural innovations made by builders, but if you prefer the single-inventor-driven model of innovation and the Eureka-moment-anecdote, there you have one. Gothic architecture was invented so that pilgrims could get in and out of the abbey church of St. Denis without trampling on each other. Some semesters I say it out loud in front of students.
Here’s a pagefull of images, with a plan* of the church. The doors immediately under the plan are those of the West facade, rebuilt for crowd access, which Suger dedicated in 1140. Click on the plan to see a few more. He went on to rebuild the East end (where we all talk about light, light, light, light, light, as though you could actually read a service book in a Gothic church without candles), but it’s the West end that we’re talking about here. The 3 portals each open into one of the vessels of the church (via a porch space) — the central door into the nave and each side door into one of the side aisles. This truly would have improved crowd movements on feast and fair days (there was a major fair held in the square outside the Abbey).

*The image links to the wonderful resources provided by Professor Alison Stones and hosted by the University of Pittsburgh. Prof. Stones is posting her own photographs (and I think she’s accepting donations, too) for free academic use (though she is retaining copyright). Projects like these are the only kinds I like to link to — there are few worries that the pictures will disappear and none that they are copyright violations.

Underreporting Success – Heaven forbid we disclose information!

This is priceless. Priceless.

Every student in last year’s 11th-grade class at the DeBakey High School for Health Professions passed every section of the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills.
But officials at the Texas Education Agency are reluctant to report that happy news, fearing it might violate a federal law.
The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act is designed to protect students’ privacy. The argument goes that, knowing 100 percent of the students passed a test would let the world know how each student did.

Heaven forbid we should — shudder — disclose information!
Via Joanne Jacobs.