a stupid thoughtless Somewhat
(a.k.a. Erika's Bloglet)

snowed in
snowed in
How our mailbox looked when I first went out after the last big storm. _
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08:47:22 PM, Sunday 20 February 2011

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A good thing to do with Trader Joe's filled pasta:

Slice up a package of mushrooms. Cook them down in a bit of oil with some dried oregano. When the mushrooms are nice and brown add a dash of balsamic vinegar, then some chicken stock. Put the pasta in with the chicken stock. The pasta cooks as the sauce boils down. Add half and half, salt, and pepper, and boil down to finish the sauce. Toss in some cilantro. That's it. Yum. _
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08:06:48 PM, Sunday 20 February 2011

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Hummingbird robot. _
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10:08:57 AM, Sunday 20 February 2011

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Like, yeah, dude, whatever. Seriously. _
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09:36:17 PM, Saturday 19 February 2011

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Neither plenitude nor vacancy. Only a flicker
Over the strained time-ridden faces
Distracted from distraction by distraction
Filled with fancies and empty of meaning
Tumid apathy with no concentration
Men and bits of paper, whirled by the cold wind
That blows before and after time,
Wind in and out of unwholesome lungs
Time before and time after.
From T.S. Eliot's Burnt Norton. This is how I feel about the internet. It's not the internet's fault. _
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11:23:37 AM, Tuesday 15 February 2011

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Captain Beefheart and Meat Loaf are not the same person. Captain Beefheart inspires weird obessions, and Meat Loaf shows up in Rocky Horror. All well and good. But they both share a predilection for deserts, younger women, and being wacky. Within those parameters they are about as different as possible.

In other news, I now get Frank Zappa. I still do not like Frank Zappa. But I see what manner of beast he is and where he fits in with inspiring a lot of things I do like. Easier for me with video, somehow. The mustache explains a lot. _
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10:04:49 PM, Saturday 5 February 2011

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I can hardly walk down the stairs because my legs won't do what I tell them. Putting the dishes away is a pain because my hands shake and won't grab them. Yet I kick ass at Dance Dance Revolution. AA full combos for the first time ever. I hadn't tried for a week because I assumed... but no, it's like with the speech thing and singing. I feel like a walking Oliver Sacks book. Medical attention is slated for tomorrow. _
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07:24:54 PM, Sunday 30 January 2011

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Annals of movies with questionable reputations
Vol. 1, Issue 1

The Tempest was a completely watchable, entertaining movie, which was surprising not because it was a production of The Tempest or involved Helen Mirren, but because the reviews were terrible and it tanked at the box office. It never ceased to hold my attention, the jokes made the audience laugh, it was one of those adventure/comedy/romance/something-for-everyone type films. Only apparently not everyone found something. Critics! You've failed to warn me away from boring blockbusters. You've sold me on dreadful French films. Why did you pan this harmless Shakespeare production almost out of existence?

There are definitely things to critique about the movie. Ariel is represented as a naked young man (well, usually man) with white body paint whose image repeats all over the screen to represent him doing magic. It's silly. It is not dignified. There's a more general sense that the director had heard of taste and decided it cramped her style. It's a bit campy, but at the same time it really is Shakespeare, and to some degree it brings out campiness that was already there. Some critics complained about the jokes, which I can't figure out. They're Shakespeare's. He's a little coarse sometimes. That's part of the fun.

So yeah I think the willingness to be a little tacky and non-traditional (with a female Prospero) shuts off people's "art film" detectors and might piss off some actual Shakespeare geeks. But it can't be a mass audience film either, because it uses actors who aren't movie stars and don't even look like movie stars (Mirren excepted, of course), and because it is Shakespeare after all and some people are going to find that intimidating even if it is incredibly easy to follow for a Shakespeare movie (I kept thinking "hey wait that sounds like totally natural English, is this still Shakespeare?"). It can't even be camp, because it's sincere and does what it does pretty well. It's not that it's unwatchable, it's that it doesn't quite fit into any given slot, and it's not outstanding enough to create its own category, so critics focus on the negative. That is my diagnosis.

In summary: I enjoyed it. You might too.

Forthcoming: why everyone is right to say you shouldn't think of Exit Through the Gift Shop as "the Bansky movie". _
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10:23:37 PM, Wednesday 26 January 2011

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As I've probably mentioned here before, I have an undiagnosed neurological problem that causes occasional hiccups in my brain function. In the past couple of weeks it's been flaring up, and one of the symptoms is speech disturbance. A couple of times a day I start talking like a stutterer or a stroke victim. I'm still perfectly alert and able to find words, I just can't get them out easily. It lasts ten or fifteen minutes and then it goes away. At one point while this was happening Tim asked whether I could sing. It turned out that yes, I could sing. I could even sing words that I chose, clearly and without hesitation. Weird! Later I discovered that talking in a funny voice or doing an imitation was also an effective technique for getting around my speech roadblocks. It's not my voice that's affected, it's my voice. It probably shouldn't surprise me that the brain works that way, but it's very striking. Yes I am geeked out at my own neurological dysfunction, that's totally normal, right? Don't worry, doctors are on the case, or will be soon. _
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02:00:45 PM, Tuesday 25 January 2011

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I just realized what would make the computer science department at Tufts, and probably many other places, more friendly to women and many men. Have an actual introductory programming course, and don't let people who already know how to program take it. The course I TA'd was not really intended for people who had never touched code in their lives before. Someone in that category who is smart and works hard can get through it, but they are sitting next to people who are breezing through because they know most of this already. Unfairly, those people will get a reputation for being naturally brilliant with computers, when really it's as if someone who spent summers at a French immersion camp in Quebec and then took French 101 got credit for being a master of languages. For various cultural reasons these people with prior programming experience are much more likely to be men. Perhaps a lot of colleges already have this kind of true intro class, I think it's the more elite engineering schools that use CS101 to weed kids out.

This was brought on by reading a post (not linking because I don't want to actually be part of the conversation there) on gender bias in computer science and wondering how I could tell right from the get go that the poster was not more than two years out of school, which turned out to be true. Was it something about the expectation of fairness? The sense of raw hurt, rather than well-honed anger? The lack of resignation? I'm not sure what it was, but it made me sad, because many years ago I saw things that way, and now I'm more in the resigned category.

The other thing one could do, if one wanted to be helpful, is teach girls how to program at the same time the boys are learning. That might be helpful even to girls who don't end up programming for a living. I doubt I would have been a programmer if I hadn't learned to put up drywall. Irrelevant? Hardly. Crossing the gender line is not what it's about, but it's something you have to do, over and over, to get there.

There's bit in Kim Stanley Robinson's Red Mars series where engineers arriving on Mars are described as having been carefully educated to think of politics as boring, and how political operators can cynically use their ignorance. I was educated with watered down history textbooks that made fascinating things boring by taking out the controversial stuff, but more than that, I think I've been isolated from politics. I just read the book Gang Leader for a Day by Sudhir Venkatesh, about life in the Chicago projects, and realized that the complex interactions he described between tenants and gangs and housing authorities and police were more like episodes of Yes Minister than anything I've ever experienced. When society breaks down each individual becomes a political entity, making his own deals with different groups, figuring out who's on his side at any moment, who's lying and who's telling the truth, and the stakes are high. One of the many things I am insulated from as a life-long middle-class citizen is dealing directly with politics.

So people like me go into the world with a tacit assumption that things work and are reasonable, that we will be protected. We try to avoid office politics, not understanding that there's no avoiding it. We get shocked again and again by things that are perfectly obvious to someone with any understanding of human nature: that people are not normally or even often judged on their merits (even when those judging are consciously trying to judge fairly, and usually they aren't); that gender is constantly in play one way or another; that group thinking is the rule and not the exception; that tribe-oriented morality is the rule and not the exception; that corruption is as natural and common as tile scum; etc, etc. There's no ideal that's been abandoned. A protected space has been taken for the world, and now we meet the world. The world is more interesting and complicated and in a way makes more sense. But it requires some adjusting to. _
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07:22:57 PM, Friday 21 January 2011

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Kitties, hissing is not going to intimidate me. You should know that by now. Biting might-- forget I said that. Thank you for not biting. _
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11:30:58 AM, Thursday 20 January 2011

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2 new kittens, 10 weeks old, from a stray cat, in need of taming. Taming means a few days of holding them and not letting go until they relax. And this works. Psychology is weird weird stuff. _
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03:00:57 PM, Sunday 16 January 2011

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Human echolocation. Wow. _
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10:54:27 AM, Wednesday 5 January 2011

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Discovery (by Tim): bucky balls make excellent refrigerator magnets. Four bucky balls at the corners make a cute and effective frame for a card or a picture. Too bad I didn't find this out until after telling Tim I'd ordered magnets (pushpin shaped ones with a bucky ball-like magnet in). Oh well. The time of refrigerator magnet shortage is certainly over. _
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04:15:44 PM, Wednesday 29 December 2010

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Parkour sounds like it should be a very sedate board game, like Parcheesi. Nope. Not at all. _
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10:19:06 AM, Wednesday 29 December 2010

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New York City People, what's up with signs saying "Don't Honk"? Do people really get fined $350 for honking? Are you not supposed to honk at all? Is it citywide or just in certain locations? _
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07:29:16 PM, Wednesday 22 December 2010

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Origin of the phrase pushing the envelope (this question came up after talking about whether art should stop pushing the envelope at some point, poor envelope, give it a break). _
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10:18:03 AM, Wednesday 22 December 2010

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While waiting for nine packages to be processed at UPS today, I had time to listen to plenty of chit-chat. The manager would not accept any argument that the new rule to check ID when sending packages made any sense whatsoever in any possible security scenario. This amused me. _
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04:15:51 PM, Friday 17 December 2010

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The will to survive is much less robust than I thought it was, at least in the nutritive habits of kittens. Last spring we had one named Doyle who was wasting away, weak, developing infections. Turned out he was shy of the food bowl due to fighting, and when he started getting special meals on a table he gained weight and recovered. This time around, we have one named Fenton who was getting dangerously skinny and not eating much. After a few days of a different sort of food (which he devours ravenously), he is gaining weight nicely.

I guess you know there's the idea told to children that if you were poor and starving you'd be happy to eat anything, and this definitely was not true for this kitten. Science Diet liver kitten food was like no food at all to him. Probably the liver food wasn't meeting his nutritional needs somehow, but really, not to eat when you're starving and there's food in front of you? Maybe some starving kids don't eat their lima beans after all.

Or the case with Doyle, I mean, ok, I understand being shy of the food bowl if you get knocked around a bit, but getting knocked around wasn't going to kill him, and not eating might have done. In kittens, as in people I suppose, the problem with not getting enough food is getting weak and getting sick, well before literally starving. He must have been able to be more persistent about going over to the food bowl, if that had been the priority, and that should have been the priority according to all the nature films in the world, because that's survival. It's like a kid missing lunch every day because some bullies stole his lunch money once and he doesn't want to brave them again. I suppose that happens. I guess it's just that I had this idea that when survival is at stake, it would be different. _
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10:01:08 PM, Tuesday 14 December 2010

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If you need an effective dawn alarm clock, try kittens. They start squeaking just before it gets light, and they come with genuine needs and no snooze button. Effective, but tiring, for one not used to getting up anywhere near dawn. _
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05:09:50 PM, Tuesday 7 December 2010

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"Kittens need excitement. If their lives don't provide them this, they incite violence. Common sense, simple common sense" was a common refrain with our first batch of kittens this spring. They were basically in a constant rough and tumble, stalking each other, pouncing on each other, and getting into little balls of kitten violence. Sometimes there was a serious squeak of pain, which at first their mother would deal with (by picking up the offender by the scruff of the neck and holding it down for a minute), and then when she was gone we would. We wondered whether different litters have different personalities.

With the current litter, it seems definitively "yes". I haven't seen a single kitten tumble fight. Except for one (who chews straws to a pulp and climbs my arm to get to a chair which has more straws on) the interest in toys is often limited to watching, not chasing. These kittens don't need excitement. What these kittens need, and mew for, through the door, in the room, even in your lap when you're not actively petting, is cuddles. They are needy little moggies. It's true their mother was removed a few days ago, and they have been moved twice since, so they may be more insecure than usual. Still, I can't imagine the spirit of the spring batch could be suppressed to that degree. They barely blinked when their mother (who had become very irritable) was taken away. I suspect these have more snuggly and less violent spirits. "Kittens need snuggles, if their lives don't provide them this they mew pitifully" just doesn't have the same ring to it. But snuggles can be provided. _
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07:54:12 AM, Tuesday 7 December 2010

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At some beaches on Cape Cod, there are signs that say something like "If you find a sea turtle, don't put it back in the ocean! Put it above the high tide line, hide it with brush, and call the Audubon Society". It did not explain why the Audubon Society needed turtles, but I was always delighted by those signs. Having a sign say instead of "Please do not disturb the wildlife", "Please capture the wildlife: here's how" is awesome. Recently the mystery of what the Audubon Society wants with sea turtles was revealed: sea turtles don't tend to hang out in Cape Cod Bay, unless they get lost swimming south for the winter. In that case, they often wash up on shore exhausted and cold, and in need of rescue. They probably wouldn't think to swim north again, even if they had the strength to. The New England Aquarium has a special facility where the turtles can be safely warmed by 1 degree a day, treated for illness, and kept until they can be released in warm weather. The Boston Globe has been keeping up with this year's rescue effort. They had a great video showing the turtles and the facility, but I can't find it again. Ah well. The point is, sea turtles are awesome, and people who rescue sea turtles are awesome, and a little strange. _
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03:12:41 PM, Saturday 4 December 2010

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Note to self: pearled barley != bulgur wheat. Even if I do use both in mushroom dishes, and both start with B. Barley can't be substituted in my bulgur pilaf recipe, it takes much too long to cook. I guess I'll use rice. Or make porcini omelets. Or something. _
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05:21:16 PM, Wednesday 1 December 2010

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Trolling as a business strategy. _
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11:57:10 AM, Monday 29 November 2010

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O.o.C.Q.o.t.D. "The outer Bono reflects the inner Bono." _
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11:50:50 AM, Sunday 28 November 2010

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O.o.C.Q.o.t.D. "I just realized something, Unitarian churches are just like warcraft guilds." _
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11:00:33 AM, Sunday 21 November 2010

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A seed catalog I used once keeps advertising "internet-only plants you'll love!" Internet gardeners need their seeds so they can plant internet plants, clearly. _
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10:59:31 AM, Sunday 21 November 2010

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We are taking care of Wasabi, a 6-month-old kitten, for a few days while she recovers from a cold (she's here to be quarantined from cats in another foster home). She's had a rough time, apparently at one point almost dying from an infection. She is now 3 pounds when she should be about 5. The skinniness makes her look strangely old, even though she's still only half grown, but having recovered from yesterday's rabies shot and possibly fever (she felt very warm) she's playful and likes being petted, though she isn't sure about laps. I'm giving her all the medicine (she's getting antibiotics and also eye medicine) so that at least one of us doesn't have to be the bad guy. _
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06:42:27 PM, Friday 19 November 2010

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On the radio today they had college students who had grown up reading Harry Potter. I started reading Harry Potter as it was coming out, when I was in college. I feel oddly jealous. Harry Potter should totally be favorite books from your childhood. I agree with them that Harry Potter will last generations. Children's literature is very canon-y, and J.K. Rowling has thoroughly earned a place in the canon. All the same, I have little interest in watching the movie. Maybe after the crowds have thinned out. Dunno. Don't know why the Lord of the Rings movies were compelling to me, and these aren't. _
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05:31:33 PM, Thursday 18 November 2010

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Dear Facebook and shadowy internet advertising people,

I am impressed by your market research. Yes, I have a mental illness. No, I do not want to be reminded of it every damn time I look at the internet. No, I have no interest in participating in studies, or reading half-assed articles mass-produced by people who know a lot less than I do about my illness. I don't even want to see the word bipolar most days. Don't you get that? Where's the option for you getting that?

Not that crazily,

Erika. _
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11:05:06 PM, Wednesday 17 November 2010

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Second cold of the season already. It's a mild one, but it still offends me that a virus would dare to intrude when I've just finished fighting one off. Sniff sniff. _
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08:14:13 PM, Friday 5 November 2010

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Yesterday NPR news kicked off with a commentator talking about a "bloodbath". I waited to find out what war they were talking about, and it turned out it was today's elections. Andrew Sullivan is using the same hyperbole. People are entitled to their poetic license I suppose, but there is such a thing as a bloodbath in an election, and that thank god is not an issue in this country. _
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08:43:25 PM, Tuesday 2 November 2010

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"Children are innocent and love justice," wrote Lucas. "While most of us are wicked and naturally prefer mercy. ... Need symbolic images which reassure them that there is a happy ending, solution to the Oedipal problems."
Star Wars is explicitly and intentionally Freudian? Weird! It does make sense, but still, I guess I didn't think that that sort of thinking would work to create a series that would inspire enduring obsession in its fans. Or maybe that's not what the Star Wars obsession is about, I never really understood it myself. _
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02:23:46 PM, Sunday 24 October 2010

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"A giraffe is a fucking miracle. It has a dinosaur-like neck. It's yellow. Yeah, technically an elephant is not a miracle. Technically. They've been here for hundreds of years…"

"Thousands," murmurs Shaggy.

"Have you ever stood next to an elephant, my friend?" asks Violent J. "A fucking elephant is a miracle. If people can't see a fucking miracle in a fucking elephant, then life must suck for them, because an elephant is a fucking miracle. So is a giraffe."

Awww. Insane Clown Posse would like you to know that they appreciate the zoo and the clouds and the trees as much as the next horrorshow gangsta rapper in clown makeup. _
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01:33:48 PM, Thursday 14 October 2010

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Oops, double post. _
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01:33:08 PM, Thursday 14 October 2010

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I have always had trouble believing in the high-minded case for a core curriculum — that it preserves and transmits the best that has been thought and said — but I believe fully in the core curriculum as a device of employment for me and my fellow humanists.
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What, then, can be done? Well, it won’t do to invoke the pieties informing Charlie from Binghamton’s question — the humanities enhance our culture; the humanities make our society better — because those pieties have a 19th century air about them and are not even believed in by some who rehearse them.
This is very Stanley Fish, and very silly. Humanities departments have no redeeming value, but Stanley Fish needs a job. I wonder if his fellow academics ever want him to take something seriously for just one minute. Personally, I pretty much believe in the 19th century pieties (I assume all the St. John's promotional jabbering about the value of Great Books falls into this category), and departments unwilling to make even that kind of argument for their worth may deserve to be inspected for closed-loop meta-textual irrelevance syndrome and shut down if infected. Really it's kinder to everyone, especially students. _
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11:04:33 AM, Wednesday 13 October 2010

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explanation
75. It is a very extraordinary instance of the force of prejudice, and much to be lamented, that the mind of man retains so great a fondness, against all the evidence of reason, for a stupid thoughtless Somewhat, by the interposition whereof it would as it were screen itself from the Providence of God, and remove Him farther off from the affairs of the world.
-George Berkeley