Four Things Meme

October 11, 2007

I was tagged by my wife and a friend both to do this meme, so here goes.

Four Jobs I’ve Held
security guard at Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority house at U. Texas
library desk clerk at Barnard College
18-wheeler trailer floor maker, Cloud Industries
tour guide at Maker’s Mark distillery

Four Films I Could Watch Over & Over
Babette’s Feast
Pump Up the Volume

Four T.V. Shows I Watch
America’s Test Kitchen
Law and Order
Good Eats

Four Places I’ve Lived
Pyatt, Arkansas
Buenos Aires, Argentina
New York, New York
Montezuma, New Mexico

Four Favorite Foods
barbecued pig and cow
French toast
brick oven pizza

Four Websites I Visit Daily
Arizona State University
Google Reader

Four Favorite Colors
I’ll just say it seems unnatural to have more than one favorite color. Mine is green.

Four Places I Would Love To Be Right Now
cabin in Rocky Mountains
the dining room of any fine restaurant
NLCS game–Go Diamondbacks!!
at a movie with my sweetie, no kids

Four Names You Love, But Could/Would Not Use For Your Children

I’m tagging:
Barack Obama
Hilary Clinton
John Edwards
Dennis Kucinich


On Hearing and Ear Hair

October 10, 2007

My wife enjoys my new gray whiskers, and is fascinated with my new ear hair; she leans in to examine these signs of age as if she were taking close-ups of insects–both delighted and repelled by biological fact. I didn’t expect this, I mean, ear hair once was not my most beguiling feature.

My little boy’s ears are smooth and hair-free for now. I listen to him march and count his steps: “Hup, two, quore, cap! Hup, two, quore, cap!” He chants just what he has heard; context provides him with no cues, no corrections. What do I hear in his little man-voice? What tumbles through the ear hair and the other growths and accretions?

I hear other voices sometimes, despite my ears’ conspiracy to keep the noise out. Just today I heard the fall wind, a boy marching, and–believe it or not–I actually heard my wife’s gaze, peering as deep into my ear as the hairs allow.

Maybe it’s true that Marvin Gaye heard it through the grapevine, but I hear it through my ear hair and all the other sounds that have taught me to hear.


If you would like to hear this, click play on the audio player.

Catching Up

September 30, 2007

I haven’t posted in a spell, though I have thought about posting a few times. But, alas, blogging isn’t like sinning or gift giving, and so the thought doesn’t count. Here are three proto-posts that never got off the ground and will likely stall here in short form:

  1. The community college where I work has a mass email list that goes out to all staff and faculty. One office that uses this list more frequently than I would like is the department of student records. Every week or two they send out a message with no body, only a subject line and an attached file. The attachment is always entitled the same way:  “deceasedstudent.doc.” When you download the file, it opens to be the name of a newly dead student. The phrase afterwards is always: “Adjust your records accordingly.”
  2. We went out for brunch last Friday at a local apple-picking farm and cafe. The waitress learned that we recently moved here from out of state and decided to give us some touristy tips for the fall. She said we should drive up the Great River Road, which hugs the Mississippi. Apparently the fall foliage and sights of the river are lovely along this road. Then she said something that was like a square peg in a round hole, at least for me: “You would never think that the Mississippi would be beautiful.”
  3. Did you know that Robert Redford’s film The Legend of Bagger Vance is based on the Bhagavad Gita? The main character is a golf phenom named Rannulph Junuh (R. Junuh aka Arjuna) who was ruined by World War I. He returned from the European battlefields to Savannah, Georgia, a shell of his former self, took up the bottle, and seemed to have forgotten his “one true swing.” A mysterious caddy, Bagger Vance (aka Bhagavan aka Krishna) comes to his aid and restores his dharma as the born-to-golf man he is. Hare hare, Nicklaus Nicklaus, hare hare. Tiger, Tiger, hare hare.


September 19, 2007

The immensely influential humanist Edward Said wrote:

There is nothing mysterious or neutral about authority.  It is formed, irradiated, disseminated; it is instrumental, it is persuasive; it has status, it establishes canons of taste and value; it is virtually indistinguishable from certain ideas it dignifies as true, and from traditions, perceptions, and judgments it forms, transmits, reproduces.  Above all, authority can, indeed must, be analyzed (Orientalism, p. 19-20, 1978).

Something to consider.  I’m currently teaching Sunday School class on the religions of the world; we have begun our study with Hinduism, a “religion” completely constructed by authority.  It is hard and not natural for us, but we are trying to analyze this.  Maybe by the end of the year we *might* be ready to do the same for our own dear Christianity.

Smallpox vaccinations

September 14, 2007

A couple of days ago, I had to go to the doctor for a routine check-up. The nurse and I determined that I had not had a tetanus shot since 1991, so she rolled up her sleeves, I lowered my pants, and I got it right in the behind. It’s good for ten years, which is to say, I am basically immune from lockjaw for a decade. The little things she injected me with are starting off their ten-year plan of defense against rusty nails and other mishaps.

While I was in the waiting room before the vaccination, I had been studying for my comps. I’m reading a book of essays by various anthropologists and ethnographers about the Huichol people of northwestern Mexico. Unlike many of their indigenous neighbors, the Huichol are famous for maintaining their cultural lifeways in the face of colonialism and the steamrolling external forces of assimilation. They are also famous for the peyote they eat as part of their ritual life. The so-called “Huichol trinity” is peyote, corn, and the deer.

Smallpox, known as etsá in Huichol, was a terrible assassin throughout the Americas in the years after the arrival of the Spaniard colonizers. One of the reasons for the Huichols’ amazing cultural resilience is that they were less affected than some by smallpox because their native medicine discovered vaccination. Allow me to quote at length an essay by Armando Casillas Romo, MD, who did a study of the various diseases and remedies known to the Huichol:

…the dreaded smallpox. The people of San Andrés Cohamiata say that no one in this area has had this disease for a long time, as long as fifty years.

The extraordinary thing is that to ward off this scourge in the absence of medical help from the outside, Huichol shamans developed their own technique of immunization. We were told that the mara’akáte (pl. of mara’akáme) would use the thorns of the plant known as huizache, a thorny shrub found over much of Mexico, to pierce the skin eruptions of people already suffering from smallpox and extract the liquid from them. With the permission of the parents, they would then inoculate the arms of healthy children with this liquid. The cure also involved the same “confessions” rite as that prescribed for rubella.

Several Huichols told us that etsá disappeared from their community thanks to a famous mara’akáme named Carrillo, who died several decades ago. It is said that to “cover up”–that is, calm–the disease he made a pilgrimage to Haixáripá, a sacred place on the slopes of Popocatépetl, the great snow-covered dormant volcano near Mexico City, where Huichol mythology says smallpox made its first appearance. His efforts were successful and small pox never again bothered the people of San Andrés.

All this has left me a little interested in the history of tetanus in our own world. I got a shot without clear understanding of what tetanus even is, why the shot lasts only ten years, and who discovered the inoculation. I also am clear that I have confidence in the shot without any confession or pilgrimage narrative as supplemental community participation in my wellness. So, my vaccination was effective but also socially impoverished.

Since moving to the greater St. Louis area, we have been doing our best to feel at home, starting with the unique foods and drink that the region has to offer.

Number one on my list of good St. Louis food is an appetizer called “toasted ravioli.” You take a beef ravioli, bread it, fry it, sprinkle parmesan cheese on it, dip it in marinara sauce, and eat. I like ravioli anyway, but this is really good.

Next on my list is a cheap cut of meat called the “pork steak.” It’s like a big, yummy pork chop, but always prepared on the barbecue with lots of sweet, tomato-based, barbecue sauce. There’s a place about a mile from our house called “Big Mama’s BBQ” where the pork steak is so big, you absolutely must take at least half of it home for lunch the next day. I’ve made it very successfully at home on a low fire grill with lots of basting. I normally grill very hot on a fast grill and only baste at the end, if at all. But low heat and lots of sauce is the way to go with pork steak.

Finally, a Belleville, Illinois, original. We live in Belleville, the birthplace of a special beverage called “Stag” beer. It’s an American lager, light and full of rice, but also a little sweeter and fuller than those other American brews. With virtually no finish, it is a great beer for drinking when you are hot and thirsty. No longer brewed in its hometown, Stag is now owned by Pabst up in Wisconsin.

Not a bad way to get acquainted with a new place!

One or Many

September 4, 2007

In the Intro. to Philosophy class I’m teaching, we’ve been covering the pre-Socratics.  Starting with Thales and moving on up to Democritus, these ancient people were fascinated by the fabric of being.  Many of them were quite clear that all things were made of some specific substance or other:  for Thales all things could be reduced to water, for Anaximenes it was air, Pythagoras saw numbers in everything, and for Heraclitus, perhaps fire was the base of all.

Others doubted this oneness.  Empedocles, Anaxagoras, Leucippus, and Democritus thought the universe to be far more fractured in essence, and more process-oriented.

Last Thursday I polled the class to find out how many of them were modern-day monists and how many accepted the other side of the debate, that being is in no sense unified in one reductive substance.  30% monists, 70% pluralists.  The pluralists cited mythic “science” as the reason for their notion that our being is made of discrete and differentiated motes.  The few monists foresaw Aristotle (he’s next week) and named the necessity of some sort of unifying first cause that was also the stuff of existence.

How about you?  Do you think the universe is made up of one thing or many?  Why?