Less than 2 months until my 25th Rice reunion. I guess I should make hotel reservations (thanks, for the pointer Grayson!) and start building a playlist.
The problem, of course, is that we have very little class identity. Really, Rice should rotate on a regular basis among the Colleges – say have Hanszen and Baker in year 1, Weiss and Sid in year 2, all those unknown new colleges in year 3, etc.
I have much more in common with a Hanszenite from 1965 than Weissman from 1984. And isn’t Reunion about shared references, shared love, and fundraising? Cater to us!

Remember all those lists of how George W. Bush was bringing Fascism to America?

I do – some of my colleagues had them posted outside their office doors.
Well, having read a fair amount, though in an amateur way, about historical Fascism, I figure that government interference in the arts has to be pretty high on the list of characteristics – certainly for Mussolini and Hitler.
So how you liking the Obama NEA, folks?
Or try here, if you find right wing bloggers upsetting when they tell you what’s going on.
Further: Yosi Sergant, the NEA Communications Director, resigns. Smoke, fire, new guidelines being drafted, yeah.

Dante Blogging – Inferno Canto XVII


Originally uploaded by Darren and Brad.

Canto XVII

Virgil threw Dante’s belt over the edge in Canto XVI to summon a beast to ride down the cliffs. When Geryon arrives he is horrifying – a “likeness of deceit” (17.7). He is, after all, their ride from the circles of the violent to the circles of the fraudulent.

The mythological Geryon that Hercules killed had 3 bodies. Dante’s version is a composite – kindly old man’s face on a serpent’s body with a lion’s legs and a scorpion’s sting – and he smells. But that’s who they are going to ride.

Virgil sends Dante to look at the last of the 3 categories of the Violent against God, the Usurers, while he explains to Geryon that one of the passengers will have human weight. Dante wanders over to where the usurers squat, brushing fire-flakes off their skin. Dante can make nothing of their features, but they each wear a money bag around their necks with their coats of arms (Esolen points out they were not driven to usury by poverty, but by greed).

Though Dante recognizes two Florentine coats of arms, the damned soul that speaks is a Scrovegni of Padua. Esolen doesn’t tell us, but every art historian can, that this is Reginaldo degli Scrovegni, whose son Enrico commissioned Giotto to paint the Arena or Scrovegni Chapel, partly in expiation for his father’s sins and partly for his own.

The picture here is the Last Judgement from the chapel’s west wall. Giotto may have heralded the Renaissance, but there’s nothing not right out of Medieval Last Judgements here – Christ is enthroned above, surrounded by a rainbow. He is flanked by the 12 Apostles and choirs of angels. Below to His right are the saved, queuing up in orderly fashion to approach the Throne. Fire pours out of the left side of Christ’s mandorla and streams down to Hell, where sinners are tormented.

At the foot of the cross a kneeling man presents a model of the chapel, carried by a kneeling Dominican friar, to a group of saints who will convey it to Christ. That’s Enrico Scrovegni.

Dante could perhaps have seen the chapel, even – it was completed around 1305 in Padua, a city he seems to have visited. Think I’ll be showing it in class? You bet!

Click here for all the Danteblogging and none of my other ramblings.

“…each tomato she purchased had a carbon footprint of several tons.”

The First Lady shops for produce.

Let’s say you’re preparing dinner and you realize with dismay that you don’t have any certified organic Tuscan kale. What to do?
Here’s how Michelle Obama handled this very predicament Thursday afternoon:
The Secret Service and the D.C. police brought in three dozen vehicles and shut down H Street, Vermont Avenue, two lanes of I Street and an entrance to the McPherson Square Metro station. They swept the area, in front of the Department of Veterans Affairs, with bomb-sniffing dogs and installed magnetometers in the middle of the street, put up barricades to keep pedestrians out, and took positions with binoculars atop trucks. Though the produce stand was only a block or so from the White House, the first lady hopped into her armored limousine and pulled into the market amid the wail of sirens.
Then, and only then, could Obama purchase her leafy greens. “Now it’s time to buy some food,” she told several hundred people who came to watch. “Let’s shop!”
Cowbells were rung. Somebody put a lei of marigolds around Obama’s neck. The first lady picked up a straw basket and headed for the “Farm at Sunnyside” tent, where she loaded up with organic Asian pears, cherry tomatoes, multicolored potatoes, free-range eggs and, yes, two bunches of Tuscan kale. She left the produce with an aide, who paid the cashier as Obama made her way back to the limousine.

Dana Milbank even does some comparison shopping for her:

Obama, in her brief speech to the vendors and patrons, handled the affordability issue by pointing out that people who pay with food stamps would get double the coupon value at the market. Even then, though, it’s hard to imagine somebody using food stamps to buy what the market offered: $19 bison steak from Gunpowder Bison, organic dandelion greens for $12 per pound from Blueberry Hill Vegetables, the Piedmont Reserve cheese from Everson Dairy at $29 a pound. Rounding out the potential shopping cart: $4 for a piece of “walnut dacquoise” from the Praline Bakery, $9 for a jumbo crab cake at Chris’s Marketplace, $8 for a loaf of cranberry-walnut bread and $32 for a bolt of yarn.
The first lady said the market would particularly appeal to federal employees in nearby buildings to “pick up some good stuff for dinner.” Yet even they might think twice about spending $3 for a pint of potatoes when potatoes are on sale for 40 cents a pound at Giant. They could get nearly five dozen eggs at Giant for the $5 Obama spent for her dozen.

Not that Laura Bush showing up at a grammar school to read to children involved less of a display of Secret Service – but really. She wasn’t advising kindergartners they really ought to be shopping somewhere more upscale, more responsible than Scholastic Press for their leisure reading.
thanks, Lucius Septimius!

Adventures in Grilling – Brussel Sprouts!

I am a very lazy person – when I’m going to grill (on the 3rd floor balcony) I do not like to have vegetables cooking (in my 1st floor kitchen). Running back and forth is no fun – I like to make one trip with my compartmented butler’s tray full of goodies. On the other hand, I like brussel sprouts – good and good for me.
So, I cleaned a dozen brussel sprouts, put them in a glass bowl, and tossed them with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Vinaigrette might be good, too, but I didn’t think of that. I microwaved them for a minute, tossing again at 30 seconds.
Then I put them on the grill pretty promptly – the pork tenderloin took about 10 minutes and I thought the sprouts might take longer, so I put them on during the preheat phase. I rolled them around occasionally and they got evenly blackened.
Yum! Crispy on the outside, cooked all the way the way through with just a little crunch left at the center. Definitely something to do for company.

September 19 – first chilly morning

Well, not that it hasn’t been chilly – but this is the first morning I’ve walked out into the living room, turned around, gone back to the bedroom, and pulled on flannel pj pants before I started the coffee. 49 outside at 8:05 (I slept a little late this morning), 65 inside. I had even remembered to close all the windows other than my bedroom.
I like this crisp time of year – the mornings call for a hot breakfast — mmmmmm, bacon! The landlord will hold off on starting the furnace as long as possible, of course, and I’ll get cranky about it, but for now it’s a welcome change from summer. We got all new windows this year, so I’m looking forward to seeing how double-glazing and tight fits will affect things!

Sorry for the slow pace through Hell…

Sorry for the slow pace through Hell, but grading comes first. Little as anyone likes it.
I’m teaching 3 this term – Art 101 (Cave Painting to Gothic), European Studies 101 (Creation Stories to The Tempest), and Art 270 (first half of my medieval sequence). So far I’m pleased with the student work, but there’s a lot of it! Eust 101 turned in papers on Monday, and I don’t have them finished yet (I’m still inside a one week turnaround) and Art 101 turns in papers today. And there are long homework projects from Art 270 I’m still plowing through.
So – back to work. More Dante soon!

Dante Blogging – Inferno Canto XVI

Canto XVI
Dante shows the same reticence in Canto XVI about the sin and the same courteous interest in the sinners – three Florentines run up and find a different way to evade the ‘no stopping’ rule – they form a circle around the 2 pilgrims and keep moving – “as naked champions, muscles slicked with oil” (16.22). Again, I think we should remember the crowd at this level and wonder about the simile.
The four Florentines leave Virgil out of the conversation as they discuss the decline of their city. Ser Brunetto had blamed it on rustics moving in from Fiesole. Here, Dante blames the new-rich.
There is some odd by-play with Dante’s belt – Virgil takes it and throws it over the edge of a cliff to summon the monster Geryon, on whom they will ride down to the 8th Circle. Esolen reminds us that though the belt is ambiguous, Dante won’t have another one until Virgil makes him a new belt from a rush at the foot of Mount Purgatory. Belts obviously have something to do with restraint or constraint, but it’s not clear quite what.
Most noticeable in the canto is Dante’s naming the work! We’re almost halfway through the 34 canti of Hell, and here Dante addresses the reader:

ma qui tacer nol posso; e per le note
  di questa comedìa, lettor, ti giuro,
   s’elle non sien di lunga grazia vòte

. . . but I cannot
   keep silent here, and, Reader, by the notes
   of this my Comedy, I swear – and may

They keep in favor long(16.127-130)

So – a comedy. Remember, comedy is what ends happily and is probably low and vulgar (or so Aristotle). Dante is certainly going to end happily, and he’s writing in the volgare. That’s enough for the name. The attribute divina shows up quite soon after his death – and the favor has lasted more than 700 years.
Click here for all the Danteblogging and none of my other ramblings.


My Bible reading this season seems to be flipping around to a book I haven’t read lately. The gone, but not forgotten Old Oligarch (can it really be 4 years ago he gave up blogging?) would understand my delight in Leviticus, but this week I’m reading Tobit for the first time in years.
I can really see why the Reformers were eager to toss this one out! In the benighted 16th Century they couldn’t imagine that fragments of Hebrew and Aramaic versions would one day turn up at Qumran, and their petty argument that it only survived in the Greek would go ‘boom.’ Famous last words in historical disciplines: “There is no evidence that . . .”
Always say “There is no evidence currently available.” Archaeology may well prove you silly otherwise.
So, Tobit. Angels who care – and tell white lies! Demons who flee to Egypt at the stink of fish, are run down, and bound hand and foot! Almsgiving and burying the dead (ooooh – Corporal Works of Mercy!). You can see how that would make Luther nuts. I enjoyed it – the description that it’s a religious novel with good historical detail works for me. And why shouldn’t we have a few of those in the Canon to read, too?
Even worse, from the Reformed point of view, must’ve been Tobit 12:10 (in either recension):
So now when you and Sarra prayed, I brought the memorial of your prayer before the glory of the Lord and did likewise when you would bury the dead.
There’s your Guardian Angel right there, laying your prayers as offerings before the Lord. Can’t have that!

Dante Blogging – Inferno Canto XV

Canto XV
Canto XV begins on the same structural note with which XIV ended – Dante observes the diking system of Hell – ingeniously made, like those which the Flemings make. It interests me that he uses such a foreign example first, then mentions the Paduans. He certainly would have been to Padua sometime – it would have been easy to get to Ravenna that way – but he never traveled in the North. I suppose Dutch dikes were already a byword. Lots of Florentines would have been to Bruges, of course.
The dike system provides a setting – Dante and Virgil are walking along the top at a higher level than the sinners racing below (remember, the blasphemers lie supine, the usurers squat, and the sodomites run).

When following the dike we met a band
  of spirits coming toward us, and each one
  stared at us hard as one is wont to stare

As someone in the dark of the new moon,
  knitting their brows to keep us keen in sight
  as an old tailor threads the needle’s eye.

Esolen notes this simile a little oddly: “The images in this tercet derive from common experience in town life and thus prepare us to meet one of Dante’s townsmen and to hear from him a harsh appraisal of that town” (445). I certainly get the everyday life aspect, but why would that make us think of Florence rather than everyday life?
Oh well – more pertinently, I think these two tercets are doing something else – and stand in contrast to Dante’s action just below, when “even the charred features could not keep / My intellect from recognizing them” (27-8). Dante’s use of vision corresponds to something we’ve seen over and over again – the reference to Aristotelian science and the Thomist appreciation of what goes wrong in sin – that sinners have failed in their intellect as well as in their flesh.
Contrariwise, the hard stare of the sinners is not the intellect-laden gaze, but cruising. Remember, the sinners in Dante’s Hell have never given up their sin – that’s why they’re there. People who gave up their sins are elsewhere – Purgatory and Heaven. Sinners who chose lust first and then chose God show up in Purgatory XXVI – sodomites explicitly among them.*
So it should be no surprise that a band of souls suffering for having spent time cruising under the new moon are still at it.
Dante greets the soul whose charred features he sees through with the polite pronoun and a title – only the second time in Hell Dante uses voi. Dante makes clear his respect for ser Brunetto as a mentor, “la cara e buona imagine paterna” (15.83).
The actual sin doesn’t get discussed in this canto – and Brunetto doesn’t even want to name many of his fellow sinners, and only describes the sin as “the same fall.”

Know, in a word, that they were scholars all,
  great men of letters, clerks of wide renown,
  made filthy in the world by the same fall.

In somma sappi che tutti fur cherci
  e litterati grandi e di gran fama
  d’n peccato medesmo al mondo lerci.

Listen to those sharp, bright clicks in the Italian! -pi, -ti, -ci, -di
So, without ever going into detail, ser Brunetto runs away – and Dante favors him with a last simile. He runs like someone in a race, “and of those he seemed / The one who wins, and not the one who loses” (15.123-4).
*Yes, yes, I know that some modern commentators on Scripture suggest, for good reasons involving things like references to Sodom in other parts of the Old Testament, other sins for the condemnation of Sodom, like violating host/guest relations or uncharitableness – but Dante had no question what counted as sodomy, and its his poem.
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Talk about old fashioned inbreeding!

I thought that college presidents with employment history like this were long gone…but Gettysburg has just appointed someone who, with the exception of four years away to start a Ph.D.,* has never been anywhere else since she (that part may be novel – the traditional story was always “old boy makes good”) was 18.** She even married someone from the same undergrad class.
Now I’m sure President Riggs is the greatest living Gettysburgian, enormously competent, widely beloved, and chosen strictly on merit. And at least she went away for two degrees. But in an age of liberal arts colleges seeking to innovate and broaden their horizons this is a little bewildering.
The upside – she knows where all the bodies are buried.
*the linked story says she’s class of 1977 and joined the Gettysburg faculty in 1981 as an instructor.
**visiting professorships, sabbatic leaves, terms abroad, or something like an ACE Fellowships aside.