October 3, 2006

Bad news for colleges; good news for humanities teachers

Posted in Higher Education, Uncategorized at 3:14 pm by ndsmith

Inside Higher Ed is reporting today on a new survey released by an independent business group, The Conference Board, which finds that 431 HR representatives of companies hiring college graduates rate all college graduates–i.e., four-year as well as community college–poorly in the areas of Written Communication, Writting in English and Leadership. In fact, the only area in which all college graduates were rated as “excellent” by a majority of HR representatives was application of information technology.

This is a slap on the wrist of colleges, especially four-year liberal arts colleges. But it is an opportunity for those of us teaching in the humanities to demonstrate that our place in higher education is integral and ought to be reinforced. There is no better place to learn good writing skills than in History, Philosophy, Litterature, Theology or Classics courses. These courses are often begrudgingly included in the “core” curriculum for liberal arts colleges, but their faculty, financial support and status within the University has consistently been undermined: they are often seen as refuges for neo-marxist, feminist, queer-theoretical or postmodern nonsense and are consistently contrasted with those disciplines that fit more easily into the framework of modern technical sciences. This new report suggests that our emphasis on learning science and technology has done its job; now we need to return to the classical skills of reading and writing that can be taught so well in the humanities.

September 9, 2006

New Hall, Sutton Coldfield

Posted in Uncategorized at 6:09 pm by ndsmith

If you’re ever in the Birmingham area, you should definitely go see New Hall, a historic manor house, hotel and host of many weddings and private parties. In fact, New Hall is reputed to be the oldest surviving moated manor house in England, having been inhabitted from around the 12th century. As a result it boasts a rich history, surviving Norman invasions, the War of the Roses, and the transfer from royal to private property. One particularly noteworthy feature is what is called the Great Chamber. There is a very interesting story behind this room:

Henry Sacheverall (not to be confused with the Jacobite Dr. Henry Sacheverall) purchased the estate in 1590 and passed it on to his son, who eventually passed it on to the grandson George Sacheverall. But in the mean time, apparently the young George fell in love with his sister and was severely punished by being locked in the dining room for several months, to cure him of his lovelust. During his imprisonment in the room, having plenty of time for contemplation, he wrote short Latin epitaphs in the lead glass windows, using the diamond on his ring. Each of these phrases is signed and dated and remain on the windows of the Great Room (some of which have been translated and posted on one wall). Most of them are very clever little phrases concerning love and loss, even raising some question as to who was the pursuer and the pursued…

This was not the only time that the house was used as a prison. Later, in the 18th century, the unrelated Doctor Henry Sacheverall took up residence in the house and was there imprisoned for his Jacobite leanings.

We had the good fortune of being there for the wedding of my brother-in-law and his bride. Needless to say, it was magical.

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Run up to the election and anniversary of 9/11

Posted in Politics, Uncategorized at 5:05 am by ndsmith

Now that election season is open, it is interesting to see how the lines are being drawn. A couple of things that have recently caught my attention:

  • The New York Times is reporting that the Senate Intelligence Committee has officially stated there was no connection between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein, nor between al-Zarkawi and Saddam Hussein, also reiterating that there was no plausible evidence that Hussein was actively pursuing a nuclear weapons program.
  • Garrison Keiller has published a very interesting op-ed (I don’t know if this is a habit for him), commenting on the recent FAA admission that it did not warn the Pentagon on the morning of September 11, 2001 about any potential air traffic problems until after the third plane had already hit their building. This contradicts their testimony before the 9/11 commission.
  • Dana Priest, who published the Washington Post Articles ousting the secret overseas dention facilities engaged in unusual interrogation methods on terrorist suspects (and who subsequently received both a Pulitzer Prize and a storm of criticism for her efforts), appears on PBS’s Washington Week with Gwen Ifill providing some interesting perspective of the recent triumphal announcements by the White House that it is now moving these highly dangerous and previously non-existent terror suspects to Guantanamo.
  • And Juan Gonzalez, co-anchor on Democracy Now! and staff writer for the New York Daily News, follows up on his groundbreaking story in Oct. 26, 2001 that the air in lower Manhattan was unsafe in the days and weeks following 9-11 given the recently published longitudinal study showing that 70% of ground zero responders have developed serious resperatory complications since then.

August 5, 2006

Dear Political Activists in Colorado

Posted in Politics, Uncategorized at 8:35 am by ndsmith

The New York Times is reporting today on the crucial importance of Colorado’s 7th congressional district in the upcoming elections. This district is a rarity in modern politics, in the sense that it was specifically gerrymandered after the 2000 census in order to *reflect* the political diversity of Colorado, which was of course a hotly contested red-blue state in the last presidential election, and is currently at the crossroads of middle-America, family values, and economic growth. Many will look to the poltical process in the 7th district–with primary elections on August 8–as an indication of where politics is headed in the near future. So we should get out the vote, understand the issues and vote our conscience.

July 23, 2006

Tour de France

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:38 pm by ndsmith

As you may have heard, today was the final stage of the Tour de France. We happened to be there for the final circuit around the Champs-Elysées in Paris. The race itself is quite an event, and this year’s drama was certainly worthy of the name. We saw Floyd Landis in yellow amongst his Phonak teamates pass us up and down the boulevard, during their eight-lap mini-criterium. The event was enormous, complete with a parade of strange cars and costumed women waving at us as they sped by. This is the traditional “caravane” that precedes the arrival of the main peleton.

When the riders arrived, I was amazed by the speed. They were racing along the cobblestones of the old “Elysian Fields” at probably between 50 and 60 km/h. That’s really fast. You barely have enough time to pick out the jerseys of the cyclists, much less identify specific riders. However, we could always see Landis’ yellow jersey safely tucked behind his teamates at the front, and it was also easy to pick out Michael Rasmussen’s polka-dot kit hanging on a few riders from the back. When the largest breakaway emerged, that stayed away for a good two laps, we could make out Jens Voigt, Chris Horner, and Yaroslav Popyvich, but after that it was just a sea of jerseys.

Thor Huschovd won the day on a breakneck sprint that–unusually–split the peloton, giving riders different finishing times, and saw Robbie McEwen and Erik Zabel just in arears. The thing that impressed me the most about the race was the unrelenting pace. Watching on television can give you no sense of just how consistently fast these riders ride. When they finish a stage averaging 45 km/h, that means that when they break for turns, they are going as fast as most people ever go on a bike.

We watched the race with the Floyd Landis fan-club. That’s Sarah and Liz Boltz, from Indiana, who had followed the tour with their mother to every stage! They had gotten to the point that a couple of cars in the caravan, and the Phonak team driver, actually recognized them. They had t-shirts made, painted umbrellas and an American flag. We got way more camera time than we deserved and front row seats, so life was pretty good.

June 27, 2006

Out of office

Posted in Life, Uncategorized at 9:51 pm by ndsmith

Not sure if I really like those “out of office” automatic replies on email. Just get back to me when you can. I’ll appreciate that a lot more than a bunch of nonsense emails in my inbox.

But I suppose this is an ‘out of office’ blog which is assuredly much less offensive.

I’m out of the office right now because I just spent my 3rd wedding anniversary with my wife, and I am expecting to go to her brother’s wedding in a couple of days, so I’m preoccupied.

On a related side note, we ate dinner at a place called ‘Louis Vins’–it’s one of those very clever plays on word because “vingt” and “vins” are indistinguishable phonetically in French, so it sounds like “Louis the 20th” which of course never was–the restaraunt, however, is in the Latin Quarter in Paris, France where we’ve been living for the past year. It also happened to be the night of the “fete de la musique” which takes place every 21st of June.

At any rate, the restaurant is located on a side street between rue des Ecoles and St. Germain de Pres right next to the Maubert Mutualite metro stop. The cuisine is traditional French that is at the same time lively and colorful. It is located just across from a parking lot, which is handy because you can easily see it.

Their wine cellar is “entree libre” so you can look and choose your own wine, from a very respectable collection. Wine prices are reasonable and the “prix fixe” menu is 26 euro for entree, plat and dessert.

We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves, despite a bit of rain, and felt really lucky to be able to spend our wedding anniversary in Paris on the night of the summer solstice.

June 18, 2006

Untitled

Posted in Uncategorized at 4:31 pm by ndsmith

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June 17, 2006

Wiki on the NY Times

Posted in Uncategorized at 10:45 am by ndsmith

Wikipedia discussion has made it to the NY Times in an article in today's paper. The article is actually less well balanced on the central issues that what one finds in the recent online discussions. But what I find most vexing is that the way NYT presents it, wikipedia is now being criticized for not living up to its billing of a web page "anyone can edit."

This is such a knee-jerck political reaction: someone takes a principled stand or advances a new idea, that principle is then taken to the extreme (e.g., if anyone can edit, than no edit should ever be censured), and then the company is criticized for not upholding this apsurd standard. Wiki is a continual process, and certain measures of protection (of which wikipedia's are minor) should be considered necessary maintenance. And this should not undermine the basic idea that a collective of amateurs with easy access to a network of information can provide better encyclopedia services than traditional editing practices.

It seems that there might be ways of employing restricitions to wiki editing, ones for instance that were small technical hurdles and in no way impinged a priori on anyone's participating, such that these rules could retain the democratic principles of the wiki.