Roman forum


I just met with a student who is a multi-lingual learner (that is, English is not her first language and she’s busy at work acquiring a third language, as well). I had asked her to meet with me because her I could not grade her last paper. Although it was clear she had taken a great deal of care with it—the spelling was flawless—the sentences were so poorly constructed as to be virtually unintelligible.

As I have decided to give all my students option to rewrite this assignment, I wanted to make sure she understood that she really really needed to work with the writing center on the revised version (of course, looking back at my comments on her first paper, I told her exactly the same thing three weeks ago).

None of this is new or surprising. Multilingual learners poses interesting challenges, students ignore instructors’ comments, and students are often surprised that instructors really mean what they say (for example, clearly one third of my students thought that my minimum page limit requirement on the last assignment was merely advisory, despite my repeated indications that it wasn’t; the same students were also most surprised that I really meant it when I said that any paper not meeting the minimum page limit would be rewarded with a D).

But I digress....

What I was intrigued with is this student’s assertion that I apparently was the only instructor who had difficulties with her writing (she was not being confrontational, just informing me when I asked if she had similar problems in other coursework). She added that she had received Bs and B+s on her writing assignments in her 100-level English courses. Huh.

I can’t see how that is possible, unless she either took a lot more care in those classes or the instructors weren’t paying attention. Or, it’s possible she is either deliberately or unintentionally misremembering.

So, here I sit, pondering....

Still....that level of work is not acceptable in my classes regardless of how carefully it is spell-checked.
  • Current Music
    The low hum of the heating system

Giving blood just sucks the life out of you...

...but only temporarily.

Before I left the college today, I stopped off to give a pint of blood to someone who can make better use of it. I have been doing this off and on since I was 16 or 17, more regularly of late in a world where I seem surrounded by opportunities to donate (and motivated by pleading emails from the blood bank).

Consequently, giving blood has become so routine for me I often quickly forget that I’m missing some of that iron-rich stuff that makes all sorts of daily activities possible. Once I gave blood in the morning and then tried to swim a mile in the afternoon, another time I hit the gym (and it hit back). You are warned not to do anything strenuous for 12 hours—and I forget.

LIke this afternoon: I was trying to figure out why I was feeling so tired as I revised a lecture (not really heavy lifting, but it did involve thick books)—oh yeah, I’m down a pint. I guess it gives me an excuse to take a nap—if only I didn’t have this lecture to revise.....

Giving blood can also force a sort of unexpected existential crisis. In filling out the questionnaire to see if you are qualified to give blood, you, the successful donor, discover how boring and mundane a life you really lead.

No, I haven’t traveled anywhere in the last three years. Nope, have never lived abroad for an extended period of time.

Nada on the body piercings in the last 12 months? Tattoos. Uh, no.

Am I an IV druggy? No. Do I sleep with them? No.

How about hookers? What? Are you, or have you ever been, a prostitute? (It actually says something like “received money in exchange for sex.”) Would I be driving an 11-year-old car if that were the case?

How about hiring hookers? I have an 11-year-old car, do you think I can afford a hooker?

The good news is, boredom has its reward: you are qualified to have someone stick a needle in your arm and drain away a bit of your life (naps are optional and only for those not in need of revising lectures).

And, once its done, after you have the requisite cookies and juice, they’ll send you off with a heartfelt thanks, but you know what they are thinking:

“That dude has a real boring life.”

But then they look around at the empty donor cots and add the kicker:

“I hope it stays that way until next time.”
  • Current Music
    Architecture In Helsinki - Maybe You Can Owe Me

Advanced Physiology and Hygiene, c. 1919

I have a weakness for old (around 100 or more years) school books and have a small collection of readers dating from the late 1800s to about 1920.

Today, on my way out of Ellensburg, I stopped by the Goodwill and scored two more. One is the Columbus Series Fifth Reading Book (1904). The other is Advanced Physiology and Hygiene (revised edition) from 1919. Designed for use in secondary schools, it features all sorts of interesting facts—or state-of-the-art health science at the end of World War I. (Recall that 1919 was also the dreadful year of the Spanish Flu).

Among the lab experiments (one on the workings of the eye) asks the instructor to “mount the perfectly fresh eye of a chloroformed albino rabbit” in the end of a cardboard tube so students can look through it to see how lens inverted the image. But, if you think this is all quaint nonsense—along the lines of “we know so much more/better now than we did then”) I had to chuckle when I ran across this bit:

“The so-called ‘soft drinks,’ soda waters, etc., may have small sugar value, but as generally taken, interfere with the appetite for wholesome food, and besides the purchase of them is a waste of money.”

Yes, we are so much smarter about these things than they were in 1919.
  • Current Music
    Styx - Mr. Roboto

Heathens don't laugh (or sing)

More random bits from my research:

A supposedly “Cherokee” woman, in addressing the Cherokee Nation’s Great Council (1886) asked the tribal leaders if they knew that “benighted heathen never sing .... [and] the untutored savage never laughs?”

"It is a fact that no nation of people ever laugh except those who acknowledge the true God as their Lord." Martha G. Tunstall assured them.


Frances Willard was well educated and made a part of her living as a newspaper editor. She generally has good control of language. So what am I to make of her statement, made in the columns of The Union Signal, that a lunch companion (one among a talented group) was “a rarely interesting raconteur”? when I first read it, I assumed she meant “a rare, interesting raconteur” but maybe not. It could have been a typographical mistake (blame the typesetter) or a misreading of her sometimes atrocious handwriting. Or, perhaps she meant the guy was a blowhard.


News item from The Union SIgnal, March 17, 1887:

“The Maxin [sic] Machine gun, made for Stanley, weighs forty pounds, unmounted; its action is automatic, and its rate of firing from 600 to 700 shots a minute.”

That would be Stanley of Livingston fame.



"Mrs. Martha J. [sic] Tunstall, president of the Indian Territory W. C. T. U., and herself a Cherokee, has recently organized fifteen local unions, most of them consisting of both whites and reds."


From the wife of a preacher man (Tunstall again), 1887:

“The Indian women all favor temperance and also woman's suffrage. Perhaps you will be shocked with the idea of woman's suffrage, but it is right. If the Bible had said, ‘Man, you vote, and woman, you sit there and tend to your babies;’ but the Bible doesn't say so—men say so. The Bible only says, ‘Male and female created he them.’”
  • Current Mood
    working working

Random factoids from my research

In 1886, Washington Territory raised the age of consent to 16; only Colorado was higher at 18. In 20 states the age of consent was 10 and in Delaware it was 7. (From The Union SIgnal, 11 November 1886, p. 4.)

Question: Are these the traditional American values conservatives would like us to return to?

In that same year, the W.C.T.U. using figures provided by the Internal Revenue, calculated that the per capita consumption of beer in the United States was 13 gallons and three quarts. It also noted that the beer interests were proud of this fact, boasting in the 19th-century equivalent of a press release that: “Assuming that these liquors were consumed by one-half the population, would give to each individual consumer over twenty seven gallons. It is doubtful any other nation can show a better record than this for the consumption of fermented liquors.” (From The Union SIgnal, 11 November 1886, p. 6.)

At the 1886 WCTU national convention, it featured a Washington Territory exhibit among the items featured were 16-foot tall corn stalks, long grain, and big fruit—including a single 3-pound apple that was 16 1/2 inches around.

It also included a railway car with a banner proclaiming “Our Ballots for Our Homes.”
  • Current Mood
    okay okay
Roman forum

Offending the gods of Facebook

I am currently locked out of my Facebook account. The error message I get reads: Your account is currently unavailable due to a site issue. We expect this to be resolved shortly. Please try again in a few minutes.

I have tried again.

I have failed.

And I was going to say something snarky about my offending the Facebook gods by trying to use an application that blocks my use of Facebook (Anti-Social)—then I realized, by locking me out, Facebook has essentially silenced me. I could go to Google+ where a handful of people might hear me (and I would have to figure out how to use it) or I could post on LIveJournal (here we are), but most of my friends are not watching either spot.

What I’m experiencing is, I think, a technological death. It is a Fatal Error amplified by a digital silence. And, I may even, at this very moment, be undergoing a resurrection, a reboot back into electronic life, and by definition it seems, ephemeral reality.

But, then again, what part about life and reality are not ephemeral? Does that make us mere liminal ephemera?


  • Current Music
    Michael Jackson - Baby Be Mine

Maybe I didn't get the memo....

Due to an odd series of events Saturday I discovered that I was eligible for a 17-percent discount on my monthly AT&T cellphone bill—and there’s a possibility you may be too (if you are affiliated with the University of Washington it is a certainty).

Is this news to anyone? Have I just been clueless all these years? Did I not get the memo about AT&T’s Premier service?

Anyway, if you’d like to find out if your college, university, or employer is part of this program (all you need is an email address AT&T’s system will recognize as being part of the program), you can check it out here:
  • Current Mood
    rushed rushed

Class Action

I just finished filling out the proof of claim form for another class action suit that I am apparently a party to. It’s against Washington Mutual, a company that once held the mortgage on my house in Monterey. According to the suit, WaMu charged borrowers a whole slew of fees that they shouldn’t have. WaMu’s representatives (or actually the FDIC, which apparently is the legal receiver of the now defunct Washington Mutual) have vehemently denied the allegations but have agreed tentatively to a $13 million settlement.

Reading all the fine print, it seems that once the primary plaintiffs and the lawyers get paid, a few dollars will be distributed among the members of the class action (people like me). I suspect my settlement will be small—maybe $20 or $30 at best. Yet, at the same time, I’m not in a position to say “hey, I can afford to leave a Hamilton on the table unclaimed.” No, not at all.

It struck me, however, how frequently I’ve been an unknowing party in a class action suit. Thinking back over the last decade, I have probably been a member of a half dozen of more class action suits. They have been the result of lawsuits against credit card companies that charged me illegal fees and interest; employers who failed to pay me for the overtime hours I worked, electronics manufacturers that sold me defective stuff and then charged me to fix it, and, most recently, an insurance company that somehow forgot to repay their clients’ deductible once they settled the claim with the other party.

With the exception of the employer, most my payouts have been small—at best a couple hundred dollars. Yet, still it is nice to know that our legal system provides a way for the average consumer (like me) to strike back against slippery financial firms, shoddy manufacturers, and dishonest employers.

Well, except, 10 days ago the U.S. Supreme Court, in its decision Wal-Mart v. Dukes made it more difficult for consumers and other little people to find lawyers who might be willing to embark on class-action suits. I’m not sure that’s a good thing.
  • Current Music
    Jackson Browne - Lawless Avenues
monterey bay aquarium jellyfish two

Thoughts on my students

In about 12 hours 10 or 12 of my students from the last two quarters will stride across the stage at the History Department convocation. They are not really my students—I’ve shared them with a lot of professors, instructors and TAs (and librarians!), and my contribution to their education was incremental and quite possibly negligible. But these are students who I taught, not as a TA but as a pre-doctoral instructor.

These are the students who survived the hurriedly assembled improv that I called lectures (grad students are really not paid for prep time) and managed to make sense out of the half-baked ideas turned up as assignments. Sometimes they laughed at my jokes, other times they reminded why I should never give up my day job.

I reduced one or two to tears at various points but there was also that guy who fell asleep in class and who I let snooze away until the end when I asked another student to wake him up so he wouldn’t miss his next class. He emailed me the day after the final, reflecting on an exercise we’d done in class three weeks ago and suggesting ways to make it better.

Yep, they taught me a lot.

I hope the future is kind to them.
  • Current Music
    Waitresses - The Smartest Person I Know

It is probably not wise....

It is probably not wise to claim any kind of victory these days—that’s just asking for a smiting from the gods of [insert your favorite iconography], yet, I have had tiny bits of luck in the last day or two. Tiny, but I’ll take them.

First, I lost the ear cushion for my iPhone headphones. I noticed it as a was scooting to the bus, in the rain, yesterday morning and was pretty bummed. These cushions are virtually impossible to replace and the headphones, with the built in microphone and secret laser planet destroyer, are quite pricey. So much joy was had when I arrived home to find the earpiece had fallen off inside my apartment.

Next, in trying to deal with a bloated email account, I somehow managed to create, not just a second copy of all my folders and contents, but three copies and then couldn’t get them to go away, even after “deleting” them several time (Oh, Microsoft, you do hate do you not? Outlook for the Mac—I am not impressed.). Then, fiddling around in the IMPA configurations I accidentally triggered a cache purge and, voila, all the phantom folders disappeared.

Finally, last quarter I tried in vain to get some media coverage for my students’ seminar work on local historical monuments. One of my students had done a nice job on Seattle’s moving war memorial—it’s moved from downtown almost to Shoreline (not bad for a multi-ton chunk of bronze and granite). After talking to the student yesterday, I thought I would try to tie it to Memorial Day and pitch it to a few media outlets. I got a positive response within 10 minutes and we’ll see if he can get a radio interview.

Tiny wins, but I’m easy to please these days.

Now to do a little grading.
  • Current Music
    The Beach Boys - Help Me, Rhonda