Spelling on tests. SIGH

I never grade for spelling on tests, except for proper names that I have insisted they must learn. But this sentence misses every technical term. The question is about a basilica:

You can see the naive leading up to the alter into the apps.

And overall it was a pretty good essay. BIG SIGH.

The Academy – why we don’t really love it

Weirdly, the less social authority a profession enjoys, the more restrictive the barriers to entry and the more rigid the process of producing new producers tend to become. You can become a lawyer in three years, an M.D. in four years, and an M.D.-Ph.D. in six years, but the median time to a doctoral degree in the humanities disciplines is nine years. And the more self-limiting the profession, the harder it is to acquire the credential and enter into practice, and the tighter the identification between the individual practitioner and the discipline.

And that’s from the first page. Read the whole thing – an essay by Louis Menand about the academy.
via Fr. Philip

Sorry for the slow posting…

But life has taken a turn to all-meetings-all-the-time. I was in 4 actual ones last week, and had several long, impromptu discussions with colleagues. I need the break. The good news is that I’m pretty much up on my grading, so I can actually sleep and read some over Thanksgiving.
Committee on the Faculty – Mondays, 4:30-6:30
President’s Budge Task Force – Tuesdays for the foreseeable future, 4-6
Library Committee – 3rd Wednesday, 4-6
Art historians wrangling the 300-level of our curriculum
and then side meetings.
I know, I know, I shouldn’t whine – but I felt very put-upon by Friday – when I happily attended an art opening. The real problem with the 4 p.m. meeting this time of year is that by the time you leave it’s dark – which makes it feel like the meeting lasted even longer! I think that Thursday was the only evening I didn’t have to be somewhere!

Closing the facility, he added, is “also just technically hard.”


BEIJING — President Obama directly acknowledged for the first time Wednesday that the prison facility at Guantanamo Bay will not close by the January deadline he set, but he said he hoped to still achieve that goal sometime next year.
Obama refused, however, to set a new deadline.
In an interview in the Chinese capital with Major Garrett of Fox News, Obama said he was “not disappointed” that the Guantanamo deadline had slipped, saying he “knew this was going to be hard.”
“People, I think understandably, are fearful after a lot of years where they were told that Guantanamo was critical to keep terrorists out,” Obama said. Closing the facility, he added, is “also just technically hard.”

Is there some added frisson that the story is bylined BEIJING? Or that this came out in an interview with that non-news organization, Fox News? I don’t know. I find it all amusing – down to the gratuitous “just.”

Rice Stadium – attendance defeat!

My university – 2,400 students in my day – has a stadium that seats 72,000. Yes, 3 zeros.

They have given up on ever filling the end zones.

Click on the picture to go to my flickr stream – there were great banners on the concourses – on one side they had photos of famous football players. On the reverse, Nobel prize winners. That’s Rice for you.

And back!

I am back to normal – sitting at my kitchen table, drinking coffee, and living virtually – but with the enormous advantage of knowing that I didn’t waste my youth – just a fair amount of time I could have used even better than I did. Rice University was a fine place full of interesting people, and in lots of ways it made me what I am today. And I’m happy about that.
And lots of uninterrupted grading time on the flights home!

Dante Blogging – Inferno Canto XXVI

Canto XXVI
Canto XXVI begins with an apostrophe to decadent Florence and ends with the punishment of evil counsellors – so Florence’s woes are place between the thieves and those who give bad advice, which seems fitting. The first tercet is splendidly horrible, with a reversal in the last line from fame to infamy:

Godi, Fiorenza, poi che se’ sì grande
  che per mare e per terra batti l’ali
  e per lo ‘nferno tuo nome si spande!

Florence, rejoice! You fame’s so great to tell
   you beat your wings over the land and seas
   and spread your name throughout the deeps of Hell!
(26.1-3)

Poor Florence! Poor Dante! For me, who am no Florentiaphile,* the Tuscan politics gets tiresome sometimes. Who cares what stereotype Dante had (or assigns) to Pistoia, and whether it was fair or not? But the man’s love of his place, his city, is clear – and I can respect a particularist even if I find his particular love annoying.
The pilgrims move on to the 8th pouch, where evil counselors are tormented in flame. Dante sees them first from the hill above, and compares the moment to a peasant seeing fireflies filling a valley below in summertime.
When they draw closer Dante communicates with only one soul – Ulysses. Virgil speaks for him – telling Dante that Ulysses might scorn his (Tuscan) tongue, because he is a Greek (yet another annoying particularity). Virgil asks Ulysses where he died – and why he is here.
Ulysses tells a tale of searching for knowledge and experience unbounded by God’s will. After returning home to Ithaca, he took a boat-load of men and sailed out of the Mediterranean and south in search of the Antipodes, where finally his ship wrecked and all were lost.
The sin? Trying to reach Mount Purgatory without dying – this, from a man who went to the Underworld and back in the Odyssey and narrated by a man who will visit Heaven itself. The difference is that Dante is doing his journeying at God’s will, and Ulysses wanted to find out for himself.
What is really amazing, though, is that this story is Dante’s – it does not depend on the body of mythology. Dante made it up. That is poetic boldness, the poet’s mastery of his subject, when he can rival Homer and make up a new end for Odysseus!
*One of the many things that makes me happy about these Colleges is that our Italian program is based in Rome rather than Florence. Here’s this year’s program.
Click here for all the Danteblogging and none of my other ramblings.

Lewis Chessmen – maybe not for chess?

Here’s a report of an article about the Lewis Chessmen. These folks are suggesting that some (or most?) of the pieces were made for playing a Viking board game, Hnefatafl, which also involves a king and pawns. They also have some suggestions about the social conditions in the islands – that the chessmen need not have been abandoned by a traveler, but could have belonged on Lewis. That part is more interesting.
Here’s the British Museum’s page, with some more pictures. I have a nice resin reproduction of one of the bishops myself.

Dante Blogging – Inferno Canto XXV

Canto XXV
In Canto XXV Dante stretches his powers of surreal description to rival Lucan and Ovid – and he challenges the two classical poets quite specifically. We are still in the Malebolgia of the Thieves, where snakes torment sinners. Dante sees three souls transformed, transmuted, metamorphosized from their human – if naked and degraded – appearance – into something other.

Be silent, Lucan, where you touch upon
   wretched Sabellus and Nasidius,
  and listen to the arrow I shoot now.
Be silent, Ovid, with your Arethusa
  and Cadmus, where your poem turns
   this to a serpent, that one to a spring;
I hold no grudge, for never front to front
  did you transmute two natures so their forms
   were ready to change matter with each other.
(25.94-102)

Dante’s damned souls are bitten, and through the bite merge and transform into something other in a terrifying way. Esolen speculates that this transmutation is appropriate “for sinners who never respected what is proper to (what is the property of) the indivdiual or family. Now their own boundaries blur in a hideous defacing of the body: a false union, an “improperty,” so to speak” (468).
The direct challenge to the auctoritates Lucan and Ovid strikes me as Dante here, three-quarters of his way through Hell, feeling his mastery over his tools. He can deploy language, description, and allusion with the best of them now. Well, with the best save Virgil. Is the anxiety of influence is full-blown, though, when he names them? I’m not certain about that.
Click here for all the Danteblogging and none of my other ramblings.

Gosh Braveheart is bad

I had forgotten.
I’m watching it tonight for the first time all the way through since it came out. It’s AWFUL.
Maybe the worse is the ius prima noctis idiocy…. If you still believe in THAT one go buy this book, read it, and get back to me. Oh, while you’re on the topic of 18th century perversion projected onto the Middle Ages, feel free to buy and read this one, too.
But who can tell. It’s pretty awful.