Tuesday, February 20, 2007
Following in the vein of the liberal arts as a tool for critical thinking, another tale for the reader.
Barriers are built for the purpose of keeping people/things from gaining access to something, whether it be a village, an economic opportunity, or University. Self-defense, self-interest, or self-improvement, all require effort to achieve. The return to school was no different. Given my documented history (recorded for posterity in the Office of the Registrar), I had to overcome institutional resistance to the notion of my return. Having overcome this obstacle.....
Redemption is the price one must pay for overcoming the Barrier of Re-Admission. As noted in Wikipedia's discussion on Christian redemption: "After one's sins are forgiven, the individual's suffering can reduce the penalty due for sin." I am re-admitted, but I must pay for my past sins. Here, the penalty is not the absence of educational opportunity, but acknowledgement, during the present, that my previous acts were worthy of punishment. Having re-gained the opportunity for education, I must pay for my omissive acts of earlier decades. This penance comes, in part, through my mandatory enrollment in a class designed to help students who are currently adrift in the Bermudic Triangle of academic confusion, lost motivation, and social distractions.....
Karma is the Buddhist/Hindu concept which says, if I may be brief, that our past acts have future consequences. As I sit in my "penance" class, I am forced to listen to excuses, snores, the chatter of text-messaging, insolence, and the pearls of wisdom that drop from the professor's mouth. That she speaks the Truth is lost on the class. That I know she speaks the Truth, and that I am the manifestation of that Truth, is also lost on the class. That I am forced to observe, closely, the kind of behavior that was a hallmark of my earlier college experience, is perfect Karmic justice.
It may be that I have been put on Earth to teach someone else this valuable lesson, only they're not listening.
Posted by Agricola at 1:43 PM
Friday, February 16, 2007
To steal a phrase from Academe, "The value of a liberal arts education, and the purpose of college, is to teach students to think, to link, and to create". Already, in this first semester, two professors have made reference to Bloom's Taxonomy, a subject that this student had never before encountered.
In a nutshell, or "precis" as Professor P******* says, Bloom developed his hierarchy of thinking in the 1950s "as a means of expressing qualitatively different kinds of thinking". The levels are:
Recently, our English class has been reading poetry (did you notice, dear reader?); one of our readings was T.S. Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock". Among other elements, the poem contains references to earlier works of literature and art. In doing the "google" part of my homework, I learned that The Allman Brothers album "Eat A Peach" had been inspired by a line in the Eliot poem: "Do I dare eat a peach?". Fair enough, the world of music shares the universe with the world of literature and art, and it's nice to know that my favorite Georgia cracker had some book learning.
Last night, in reading "The Legend of Miao-Shen" for my Religion class, I came across a passage where the Buddha tells Miao-Shen that he will provide her with a "magic peach" for a journey, and that
"When you have eaten it, you shall henceforth experience neither hunger nor thirst; old age and infirmity will never assail you, and you shall live for endless ages".
Well, the light bulb went on for this student. Of course Eliot would have been familiar with Daoism, of course he would have read this famous tale, and of course the theme of eternity found in the "magic peach" would resonate in his poem about time.
So, Duane got it from Eliot, and Eliot got it from Daoism. And now, I get it. I get an example of the linkage of art, literature, and religion across 2,000 years; I get that a famous piece of music (at least for my generation) is inspired by a famous piece of literature, which is inspired by an ancient symbol in Chinese religious thought.
I wonder what else is out there?
Posted by Agricola at 1:08 PM
Wednesday, February 14, 2007
I expected things to be a little different around the campus on this journey. After all, it's another generation's turn to make the rules, establish the standards, and call the shots. But expecting something does not make the experiencing of that thing any less interesting.
Valentine's Day is a case in point. According to Wikipedia,
The day is most closely associated with the mutual exchange of love notes in the form of "valentines." Modern Valentine symbols include the heart-shaped outline and the figure of the winged Cupid......which tracks pretty closely with my understanding of the event. Of course, mere love notes are not considered a sufficient expression of eternal love and adoration in my marriage, so, to the cocktail of cash flow must be added flowers and outside entertainment. But my understanding is no different from other men...until I encountered the modern orthodoxy of a politicized ritual in the Halls of Academe.
Here's a modern, feminist take on The New Meaning of Valentine's Day that pierces my heart...
So this is Valentine's Day on my campus. A week of the "Vagina Monologues", rape prevention and awareness issues, and a sex-toy party for the co-eds, who are invited to "spice up their love life" with some unmentionables. Guess I'll be getting off lightly if all I have to do is buy supper and a few roses.
In Roman mythology, Cupid's arrows pierced the hearts of unsuspecting mortals causing them to fall deeply in love. Today, cherubic Cupid is a common symbol of Valentine's Day, a holiday celebrating romantic love. While most women still welcome Cupid's attack -- or at least a box of chocolates -- some feminist groups seek to transform Valentine's Day into V-Day, an occasion to raise awareness about violence against women.
V-Day originated from Eve Ensler's controversial play, "The Vagina Monologues." The play consists of vignettes describing the experiences of numerous women's vaginas: from heterosexual and lesbian sex to child birth, with a focus on violence and rape. The V-Day website states that "V-Day's mission is simple. It demands that the violence must end. It proclaims Valentine's Day as V-Day until the violence stops."
No matter what you think about the play, raising awareness about violence against women is a worthy goal. Ensler's depiction of the horrors of a Bosnian rape camp highlights the appalling abuse too many women suffer in today's world.
But why the assault on Valentine's Day? The clear implication is that violence and male/female relations are somehow naturally linked. It's part of a disturbing strategy by the women's movement -- and particularly by women's-studies departments on college campuses -- to convince women that traditional institutions like marriage are inherently patriarchal and oppressive.
I wonder if the college will, according to tradition, be holding Sadie Hawkins Day later this Spring?
Posted by Agricola at 2:33 PM
We wear the mask that grins and lies
Through chains of fog and smoke
With you we have no special ties
Vision blurred and speech hindered
Not even you have the courage to approach
We scare you because we're different
We scare you because we're unique.
You want us to be afraid
You want us to be inferior
And even in your game of love vs. hate you wanted us to play
Even then we laughed and shouted
For we knew that we would come a very long way
From dusk til dawn we've triumphed even over you
Still now you stare and you wonder
How could they possibly do the things they do?
For we wear the mask that grins and lies
So who's fooling who?
Because we know you don't know shit
Because we are strong and we are courageous
And we always find our way through
Beautiful and bold with heads held high
We wear the mask that grins and lies.
Posted by Agricola at 2:05 PM
We sat together at one summer's end
And took it to heart that we'd only be friends.
We said all was well and we walked away
To haunting reminders of that summer's day.
What seemed to be fixed now only seems broken
By the words that were then so easily spoken.
What once seemed to be what would set us both free
Now only gives way to a thirst not to be.
For if my old lover is now my friend,
Then why did affection all suddenly end?
If we as lovers no longer must be
Then pray I this cup be taken from me.
We gained not a friend but lost our own souls
Attempting to rid us the smallest of woes!
The chill of the night goes down, down my spine
When lying and mourning him, only to pine.
What have I now but this small pen in my hand?
How will it ever stir change with this man?
We passed on the way and his eyes said it worse--
Our pride will remain our love's only curse.
We sat together at one summer's end
And took it to heart that we'd only be friends.
But realized we not how lovers will burn!
For each other with passion we now only yearn.
Posted by Agricola at 10:40 AM
In the dream, I enter the house.
It is cold and dark inside.
I creep inward as if I were a mouse,
Daring to make the slightest sound
That would give my presence away.
As I continue to make my way inward,
I find that this house in which I dare enter
Is filled with a strange presence.
The air is suffocating me.
I cannot breathe,
I cannot move.
Questions arise in my mind.
Why is this house angry?
What have I done to be treated so?
I find myself breathless and motionless,
Desperately seeking my way out.
I wake up.
I am freed from the oppression of an angered house.
I am freed from the oppression of everything,
I am freed from the dream,
Posted by Agricola at 10:36 AM
Saturday, February 10, 2007
With apologies for the language.
And this will be the last poem, for a while......
They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And some extra , just for you.
But they were fucked up in their turn
By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
And half at one anothers' throats.
Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
And don't have any kids yourself.
Posted by Agricola at 4:13 PM
Test time is upon me. Two big tests on Monday. As I somewhat frantically study, write notes, re-read the anticipated important passages in my readings, and try to store the information in my long-term memory, I can't help but think about this situation as it occurred many years ago.
Back then, I did not know what I did not know, but I knew that I did not care.
Today, I know what I do not know, and I care (a lot).
One question is whether or not I learned more easily and better for not caring. Now, so much of me is invested in a process which says "success is a measure of this man". Then, I relied on native intelligence and the power of a young mind to master enough material to do just well enough. Now, although still the proud possessor of native intelligence, my older mind has not yet earned its full measure of my trust. In other words, the belts and pulleys of my brain are moving, but are they powering the engine?
In a conversation with one of my professors yesterday, where she asked how I was doing, I revealed that I thought I would earn a passing grade but I wanted to do well. She noted that my remark was typical of adult students, who want not to learn but to master material.
This, simply, opens another can of worms. Yes, I want to master the material, but I do not want to get bogged down in my review to the extent that I over-prepare and thus miss something more important than the things I have studied. I think you could say that this is an expression of my lack of confidence.
Which leads to another question. Which is the key to success, confidence or fear? Can I relax enough to let my brain do its job, or will my fear cause the mental processes to lock up?
Ah, this is the manifestation of the old mind..............spinning madly and moving nowhere.
In my mind, I can barely hear the other students saying "Just go for it, dude."
Posted by Agricola at 1:27 PM
Thursday, February 8, 2007
We wear the mask that grins and lies
We laugh, we joke, we dare not cry.
For if truth would speak, the misery'd eyes
Would tell a sad, sad tale of futile demise.
The face we wear is nothing but a story
To be told, knowing that in its lie
We seek to hide the truth; we try
But fail our quest for mortal glory.
If the one who knows the best of us,
Given a glimpse, could see the worst in us,
Then what hope would have a friend
To us remain until the bitter end?
To hide, or better, to know,
What can they trust, if not our soul?
Yet who fears most the fatal blow
That reveals not heart but deep black hole?
Will it be me disappointed most, or you?
At the time when much is expected,
Then we see the things most needed
How sad to find the unexpected,
That signals not attack, but retreat.
Posted by Agricola at 10:50 PM
Tuesday, February 6, 2007
Side by side, their faces blurred,
The earl and countess lie in stone,
Their proper habits vaguely shown
As jointed armour, stiffened pleat,
And that faint hint of the absurd -
The little dogs under their feet.
Such plainness of the pre-baroque
Hardly involves the eye, until
It meets his left-handed gauntlet, still
Clasped empty in the other; and
One sees, with a sharp tender shock,
His hand withdrawn, holding her hand.
They would not think to lie so long.
Such faithfulness in effigy
Was just a detail friends would see:
A sculptor's sweet commissioned grace
Thrown off in helping to prolong
The Latin names around the base.
They would not guess how early in
Their supine stationary voyage
The air would change to soundless damage,
Turn the old tenantry away;
How soon succeeding eyes begin
To look, not read. Rigidly they
Persisted, linked, through lengths and breadths
Of time. Snow fell, undated. Light
Each summer thronged the glass. A bright
Litter of birdcalls strewed the same
Bone-riddled ground. And up the paths
The endless altered people came,
Washing at their identity.
Now, helpless in the hollow of
An unarmorial age, a trough
Of smoke in slow suspended skeins
Above their scrap of history,
Only an attitude remains:
Time has transfigured them into
Untruth. The stone fidelity
They hardly meant has come to be
Their final blazon, and to prove
Our almost-instinct almost true:
What will survive of us is love.
Posted by Agricola at 2:43 PM
Strange to know nothing, never to be sure
Of what is true or right or real,
But force to qualify or so I feel,
Or Well, it does seem so:
Someone must know.
Strange to be ignorant of the way things work:
Their skill at finding what they need,
Their sense of shape, and punctual spread of seed,
And willingness to change;
Yes, it is strange,
Even to wear such knowledge - for our flesh
Surrounds us with its own decisions -
And yet spend all our life on imprecisions,
That when we start to die
Have no idea why.
Posted by Agricola at 2:36 PM
Saturday, February 3, 2007
The second surprise of the return to college occurred when I bought my textbooks for the coming semester. As a side note, my very first semester in college, lo those many years ago, got off on the wrong foot when my parents and I arrived on campus at the last minute. By the time I was moved in and ready for the start of class, most of my textbooks were sold out. This was so disturbing that I was too embarrassed to go to some of my classes. I did not understand that I had other options. Thus were set the conditions for my early departure from that lovely bastion of Southern education. If I did not gain much from that first experience, I did learn the importance of buying textbooks as early as possible. Now that I am (I hope) a mostly fully realized adult, my compulsions are merely an extension of my personality. That is to say, I got to the college bookstore well in advance of the start of this semester.
I had, of course, seen the temporary booths spotted around the campus at semester-end. I knew that various bookstores were buying used textbooks from those students happy to be well rid of a particular subject and desperate for beer money. But I did not understand the economic model of the textbook industry.
I have a clearer understanding now. My textbook cost, for 5 low-level courses, was just under $400. That total does not include notebooks, a calculator for Mathematics courses ($140), pens, pencils, and a snappy messenger/book-bag to transport various books to and from different classrooms (okay, the bag was a Christmas present).
The prices are unconscionable. As I type this, sitting on my desk is a thin volume, "Chinese Religious Traditions", which is the size of a 5 x 8 notecard, less than 125 pages in length, bought used, for $10. There are 5 such books for that one course. In algebra, according to the course syllabus, we will cover only about 40% of the book that cost me a cool $83, used. It was strongly suggested that I purchase the accompanying Solutions Manual (@ $33), which I did, only to find that the text has, in the back, the same answers as the solutions manual (only the odd numbers in both) . Could I return the solutions manual? "No, we only buy textbooks. I'm sorry". Well, so am I. An English literature anthology that has been owned by at least three previous students, at least based on the different colored hi-liters, cost more than $100.
Today, as I enjoyed the luxury of a Saturday morning perusing my favorite web-sites, I discovered the root cause of the textbook valuation crisis. As always, an understanding of basic economics provides the answer. To wit:
...one of the major causes of higher priced new textbooks is the used textbook market. For example, if the fixed cost of producing a textbook is $500,000 and 5,000 units of the book are sold each year for 4 years then each textbook would bear $25 of the fixed cost.
However, if, due to the used textbook market, only the first 5,000 units are sold and, in each of the remaining three years these same 5,000 units are sold as used textbooks, then the publisher still has the $500,000 in fixed costs spread out over only 5,000 books. Thus each new textbook bears $100 of fixed costs, resulting in higher retail prices for all textbooks. This example demonstrates what has been happening in the textbook market over the past several years: As the used textbook market has expanded so have the market prices of new and used textbooks.
Now there's a revolutionary idea. Don't buy the textbooks back, keep using the same edition until there is a significant change in the knowledge base, and the unit cost of the books will decrease.
To my admittedly cheap way of thinking, textbooks should have some value to the owner beyond the 3-month semester; after all, it used to be that way "way back when". If the damn books don't cost so much, they won't have as much value in the "used" market. Then, maybe, my English anthology that is full of lovely poems might find a place in my bookcase. Perhaps it would provide a lifetime of enjoyment, providing insight for years beyond the classroom, and serving as a reminder of a joyous time in my life, especially since the three previous owners will not have had their chances to highlight every third line in various shades of pink, yellow, and green.
When planning for the return to academe, the first issue addressed was the expense of the adventure. To my unpracticed eye, that meant tuition and fees. As an adult, there wouldn't be the additional expense of lodging and meals, since the campus is a very short drive from my home, where my wife generally provides an optimal dining experience as long as I go to the grocery store.
It did not take long to understand the tuition is just the beginning. A few exploratory trips to the campus indicated that parking would be a major issue. My school is located in the middle of a medium sized city, surrounded by neighborhoods and narrow streets. As is true with other schools in similar settings, the surrounding neighborhoods are a mix of private residences and homes "ghettoized" into student housing. That is to say, homes built to house a family now provide residence for many more students than the architect intended. The consequence is that too many cars are forced to fight for parking on those beautiful narrow streets. To the city, this is a golden opportunity to enhance revenue through parking violations. An opportunity that the city does not ever pass up, to the consternation of the students and their parents. Indeed, students cannot register for classes, or even graduate, if parking tickets remain unpaid.
The school does provide access to parking facilities, doled out each semester by seniority, which means it is limited and expensive and not available to underclassmen such as myself. But, it is not as expensive as the rates charged by private landowners, for whom the laws of supply and demand provide validation of their economic beliefs every three months.
Having learned the hard way that the student approach to parking, i.e., park anywhere and let an adult worry about the tickets, is not the optimal approach, I have reluctantly arrived at the conclusion that I will have to pay the city for the right to park in one of its garages. This will, I calculate, add approximately $800 to the cost of education, per semester.
Friday, February 2, 2007
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand;
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight; somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
William Butler Yeats, 1921
Posted by Agricola at 2:47 PM
Thursday, February 1, 2007
The journey of rediscovery has, so far, taken us to a few very interesting places. One place is the Land of Algebra. It has a reputation as a fierce land, foreboding and harsh, unforgiving and unrelenting, a country that many must traverse on their journey to enlightenment. Few choose to live in Algebra, with good reason.
I have been to Algebra, but not in many years. The mists of time have erased many of my memories. What remains is of no use to me on my return visit.
For several weeks now, we have been navigating along the coastline of Algebra, searching for a safe place to land. From our vantage point, the rough coastline has hindered our view of the hinterland. Today, however, we landed at a place called Logarithm. Once ashore, we proceeded inland for a bit. What could not previously be seen is now clear. The inland areas of Algebra are even more terrifying than we thought when seen from the safety of our vessel. It is a land of confusion, of irrational numbers, full of inverse relationships to things that do not make sense even in other lands. It is rooted in functions that we cannot comprehend. It is at once both Real and Imaginary. The future is incalculable, graphic, and indeterminate.
We are very afraid.
Posted by Agricola at 3:44 PM
A great thing about learning is that one has the opportunity to be surprised at any moment. Today's surprise came in our history class. In discussing the development of agriculture, we learned that building and maintaining irrigation systems in Mesopotamia called for the development of societal structures. That is, a system has to be in place to organize the whole infrastructure of water and crops; from this development sprang the many predecessors to modern society. Laws, division of labor, trade, and writing are all the byproducts of a system of agriculture. Fair enough.
The surprise came in the form of this photograph. It seems that ancient bedrock formations are rock over which oceans once existed. Salt was, and is, a component of all oceans on earth. As the ancient Mesopotamians learned to control water, they learned to irrigate. Once they could grow crops, they noticed dramatic increases in yields. To increase yields, they began to excessively water their crop land. This excess water soaked the earth down to the bedrock, which began to release the salt that resided in the rock. The salt worked its way to the surface and, over time, altered the chemical composition of the soil to the extent that the land could no longer grow anything. Thus, today, the formerly fertile Mesopotamian River Valley is an arid wasteland, incapable of supporting any agricultural production.
Has Man been altering his environment literally since the beginning of recorded history?
Note: The photo is the property of the John & Peggy Sanders Collection found here.
Posted by Agricola at 3:25 PM