Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Nabokov at Cambridge

The first day of school:

Vladimir Nabokov, Speak, Memory (1966).

This passage makes me recall with a laugh my first entry into a classroom as a teacher, of sorts. I was a graduate student, subbing for a professor on a Friday afternoon (gee, thanks). As I made my way into the room with book and notes and coffee, the pneumatic door began to close on me, and my coffee went all over the floor. I went off to get paper towels from a men’s room. And so began a class on Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Related reading
All OCA Nabokov posts (Pinboard)

The mere fact

On NPR’s All Things Considered this morning:

John Bellinger, a former legal advisor to the State Department, says the bombing of the hospital was a terrible tragedy, but he believes it would be a rush to judgment to call it a war crime.

“The mere fact that civilians are killed, that a hospital is damaged, doesn’t automatically mean that there has been a war crime. It only becomes a war crime if it is shown that the target was intentionally attacked.”
The mere fact? From Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate :
1 : having no admixture : PURE

2 obsolete : being nothing less than : ABSOLUTE

3 : being nothing more than <a mere mortal> <a mere hint of spice>
Bellinger could be using mere in its first sense — this fact, and this fact alone. But the word is typically used to minimize importance. As the New Oxford American Dictionary points out, mere may be “used to emphasize how small or insignificant someone or something is.” The deaths of civilians in war ought never to be considered a mere fact.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Bull, of the Woods

[Side-stapled, 5 7/16″ × 2 15/16″. Found in an “antiques” “mall.” Key word: chew , not eat .]

Thinking about bull and euphemisms reminded me that I am in possession of this pocket notebook. Its inside-front cover dates the Bull of the Woods chewing tobacco brand to 1883. I would date the notebook to the 1950s or ’60s or ’70s. The pages (still blank) are ruled for writing, with slogans at the top: “Your Best Tobacco Buy,” “Tobacco at Its Best.” At the center, a four-page spread with adages, thoughts about tobacco, and stale jokes featuring a lady driver, a mule-driver, a beautiful blonde, an Englishman, and assorted others.

There is no bringing those jokes up to date: like chewing tobacco itself, they belong to another time. It might be possible to soften the cover, though perhaps not all that convincingly.

Is Bull of the Woods still around? YouTube has a 2012 review from a young chewer. (Quit, kid, while you’re ahead of the game.) There’s also commercial in black and white. Chewing tobacco on TV! They must have been buying in a regional market.

No bull

The essentially English word bull is refined beyond the mountains, and perhaps elsewhere, into cow-creature, male-cow, and even gentleman-cow . A friend who resided many years in the West has told me of an incident where a gray-headed man of sixty doffed his hat reverently and apologized to clergyman for having used inadvertently in his hearing the plain Saxon term.

John Russell Bartlett, A Glossary of Words and Phrases Usually Regarded as Peculiar to the United States (1848). Quoted in H. L. Mencken, The American Language: An Inquiry into the Development of English in the United States , 4th ed. (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1937).
Also from The American Language
The American v. the Englishman : B.V.D. : “[N]o faculty so weak as the English faculty” : On professor : Playing policy : “There are words enough already” : The -thon , dancing and walking : The verb to contact

[John Russell Bartlett was a historian and linguist. No relation to Quotations.]

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Recently updated

Teaching and texting Sherry Turkle’s essay, now out from behind the paywall.


While I’m thinking about teaching and texting and distraction, here is a statement about decorum that I used (with variations) on syllabi over many years:

I see this statement not as harsh or threatening but as plainly serious. Students, with very few exceptions, saw it that way too. Texting, as you can guess, was a rare occurrence in my classes.

Webster’s Second does a bang-job on decorum. Sense 2:

A standard or code of what is fitting, proper, or established by good usage, in the relation of parts to a whole, or means to an end, or esp. of conduct to principles or circumstances; hence, propriety; the proprieties; “good form”; convention; also, a requirement of propriety; as, a breach of decorum . “So far from the common decorum of a gentleman, as to send a letter so impudently cruel.” J. Austen .
The times, they change: at one point, my decorum statement mentioned knitting. Circa 1990-something, knitting in class was a thing.

[The decorum statement is in my favorite font for syllabi, Jos Buivenga’s Fontin Sans. After reading Edward Tufte, I began making syllabi with three columns running down the page; thus, the little block of text above. I made sure that a syllabus ran no longer than one double-sided page: compact and highly readable. If it doesn’t go without saying: exceptions to the no-phone rule were always possible, as when a student was waiting for a call about an urgent family matter.]

Teaching and texting

In The Chronicle of Higher Education, Sherry Turkle writes about “How to Teach in an Age of Distraction.” She begins with an account of teaching a twenty-student seminar at MIT devoted to reading and writing memoirs:

The students seemed to understand each other, to find a rhythm. I thought the class was working.

Then, halfway through the semester, a group of students asked to see me. They admitted to texting during class, but they felt bad about it because of the personal material being discussed. They said they text in all their classes, but here it seemed wrong. We decided the class should talk about this as a group. In that discussion, more students admitted that they, too, texted in class. They portrayed constant connection as a necessity. For some, three minutes was too long to go without checking their phones.
So “a group” of students are texting, and then it turns out that still “more students” are texting. My question — and it’s a genuine question, not a bit of snark: how is it possible to teach a class of twenty students (a seminar, no less) and not realize that many of those students are texting?

The Chronicle has Turkle’s essay behind its paywall, but you can read an excerpt here.


8:35 p.m.: The essay is online for all, at least for now.

Related reading
More posts about attention and distraction (Pinboard)

Saturday, October 3, 2015

HTTPS here

Google is adding HTTPS support for Blogger blogs. I switched over this morning, fixed a minor problem (the sidebar search URL needed an https ), and all seems well.

A comment appended to Blogger’s announcement says, “Dang. I wake up and it’s like the 2010s out there.” In other words, there’s nothing new about HTTPS. I’ve been using the HTTPS Everywhere extension since 2010, first in Firefox, later in Chrome. There’s no extension for Safari.

If you have any problems reading Orange Crate Art in your browser, please, let me know.


12:10 p.m.: Too many troubles. Back to HTTP for now.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Adieu, Arne Duncan

From The New York Times: “Arne Duncan, Education Secretary, to Step Down in December.”

Duncan will be <sarcasm>warmly</sarcasm> remembered as the man who started us on the Race to the Top. His successor will no doubt stay the course.

A related post
Arne Duncan on Colbert

[Fake HTML made with character codes from this handy page.]

Pomodoro One

Pomodoro One is free for OS X 10.8+ ($1.99 to remove ads), $1.99 for iOS 7.1+. It’s the nicest Pomodoro app I’ve used, though I still claim loyalties to an orange and an owl.

A related post
The Pomodoro Technique Illustrated (my review)