Archive for November, 2006


Tuesday, November 28th, 2006

I’m home having a glass of wine, having made it through this semester’s choral union concert.  We did Rutter’s What Sweeter Music.  Followed by an arrangement of “Christmas Song” (i.e. “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire”).  Followed by the third suite of “The Many Moods of Christmas”.   It went pretty well, actually, if you overlook a couple of weak entrances.  “‘Ark, the herald angels sing…”  I like the Rutter a lot; the Many Moods is a bit soppy, but suite 3 contains BOTH Hark the Herald Angels AND Angels We Have Heard on High, which are my two favorite carols.  Chestnuts roasting turns out to be Robin’s absolute most hated Christmas song.  (Mine’s The Little Drummer Boy).  Anyway,  there was a good crowd, and they seemed to like it.

Next semester we’ll be in the new River Campus Performing Arts Center, and we’re doing Handel’s Messiah.  I’ve done Messiah a few times before.  Should be fun.


Sunday, November 26th, 2006

So, despite delays, Cabell finally did get in to St. Louis on Tuesday morning, and I leapt out of bed bright and early to go up and get her. Then we came home, met Robin, and headed south to New Orleans. Actually, Pearl River, LA, home of my sister Gerry and her husband Ralph. We got there about 8 pm, and it was clear that Ralph and Gerry had a major head start on us. My nephew Scott and his wife Katy were also there, but their kids Carnes and Libby had to go to bed before we arrived. We had a wonderful dinner of grilled redfish, drank a bunch of wine, and went to bed.

The next day, Thanksgiving day, we got up and started cooking. We had two turkeys, so I roasted one and we fried another. Libby and I made chocolate cream pie. Gerry and Libby made stuffing. There was some basketball playing in there somewhere. A good time was had by all.

The next day Scott and Katy and the kids went back to Mobile. Gerry, Cabell, and I went for a bike ride on the St. Tammany trace, then had lunch at the Abita Springs brewpub. One of the neighbors gave us a giant bag of fresh oysters, so Ralph and I opened about 7 dozen and he grilled them on the half-shell with butter and garlic. This was followed by gumbo and more wine, and general debauchery.

As usual, another great time with Gerry and Ralphie. I wish we lived closer.

Cloud Atlas

Monday, November 20th, 2006

I haven’t been writing about books I’m reading for a while; a while back I actually kept a running commentary for over a year on all the books I’d read, but I got tired of that.  So I’m just writing about this one because it’s so striking.  I was at Barnes and Noble looking for something to read, and this book just jumped out at me.  It’s Cloud Atlas, by David Mitchell.

It’s structurally interesting, to start with.  I’m a sucker for books within books; one of my all-time favorites is Freddy’s Book, by John Gardner, in which an English Lit professor giving a talk at a small liberal arts college spends the night at the department chair’s house.  The chair’s son, Freddy, is a giant, huge and painfully shy.  Never comes out of his room.  Somehow the visiting prof makes contact with him, and the giant shoves his manuscript out the bedroom door.  The rest of the book is Freddy’s manuscript, about King Gustav I of Sweden and the devil.

So Cloud Atlas takes this structure to the extreme.  It starts with the “Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing,” a nineteenth-century traveler’s tale.  This is interrupted in the middle, and the next section is in the 1930s in England, where a young composer finds that diary in a private library.  This section stops suddenly, and we have a later character reading the composer’s letters, and so on.  Six narratives in all, the latest one taking place in a sort of cyberbunk future in the center of the book, after which we go back picking up the endings of the others in reverse order.

As Robin pointed out, author has tremendous skill with narrative voice, which changes dramatically in each of the segments.  The relationship among them is somewhat cryptic to me, but I plan to re-read it — we’re going to do it for book group next time.  I’m looking forward to reading it again more carefully, as the first time it was kind of a page-turner — I wanted to see what the ending of each story would be.  Next time I’ll be able to parse the relationships among them better.

Damn, I’m tired

Sunday, November 19th, 2006

Okay, I spent Tuesday through Friday in Lisle, Illinois, outside Chicago.  It was an AQIP forum (Academic Quality Improvement Program), and we worked from 8 AM to 8 PM every day.  Got home Friday night, and started grading stuff.  When you’re out of town for four days, student work piles up.  I’ve still got some papers from Science and Religion to grade, but I finished all the stuff from BI 151 and the exam from BI 381, in addition to paying all the bills, etc.  I’m beat.

I did go out for a couple of hours yesterday for a bike ride.  It was gray and pretty cold, but I’ve got new winter bike tights, so I was warm enough.  Today I never even got out of my pajamas; just sat on the couch and graded stuff.

Now I have two days of finishing grading, and then we’re off to New Orleans for Thanksgiving with Gerry and Ralph.  Hurray!

What weekend?

Sunday, November 12th, 2006

Tuesday I leave for Chicago with the AQIP committee*, so I’ve spent the whole weekend trying to get things done in advance for my classes.  Yesterday I went to work and wrote a test, graded some assignments, edited the handouts for one class for the week and printed them, and put together “before” and “after” data for a workshop I was in last January.  Today I graded an exam all day.  I still have 11 1500-word papers to grade, but that may happen while I’m traveling.  I’ve got them on my laptop.

I know, I could have started grading the papers after finishing the test, but I took a bike ride instead.  Just a short jaunt, about 15 miles.  I found a new paved road within 10 miles of my house, a rarity these days.  It’s only about a mile (Cape County 605, in case you’re interested), but it’s pretty scenic and has no traffic.

That’s it.  Talked to Cabell on the phone, and we more or less mapped out all the travel plans: Cabell flies into St. Louis Tuesday and Robin picks her up.  I drive the three of us to Pearl River, LA on Wednesday for Thanksgiving.  We come back on Saturday.  Then the next weekend I drive Cabell to Madison.  Then the Thursday of finals week I go back up to Madison to get Cabell and her stuff.  Then we have Christmas.  Finally we drive Cabell to Boston during the week after New Years.  I think that gets it.  Somewhere in there we need to get Sophie for Christmas and get her back to St. Paul again.   Eek.

I’m in trouble.

Friday, November 10th, 2006

Okay, I’ll just get to the point.  I threw out the papa-san chair.  Robin is not pleased.

Here’s the deal.  We’ve had this papa-san chair for a long time.  Actually a papasan loveseat — you know, one of these:

Only ours had a green cushion, and being really old, said cushion was pretty disgusting — faded, stained, etc.   Anyway, for the last five years or so, it’s been in Hannah’s room, where it served as a place to pile stuff.  When we cleaned up the room a couple of months ago, Robin decided to put it out in the hallway.  The wicker chair with an ottoman went out there too, so we had sort of a rattan/wicker conversation group in the hall, not that anybody sat there and conversed.  The cats liked it, though.

So much so that one of them pissed on the papasan chair.   So Robin asked me to take the cushion out and hang it on the clothesline.  It had been there for about a week, when yesterday I decided to take trash to the dump (we live in the boonies, and this is as good as paying for garbage collection).

And here’s where I made my mistake.  I had a vision of the future:

The cushion, being too big to launder, hangs on the line all winter, and in the spring, we look at this sodden, moldy thing and go “Yecchhh!”  And I  take it to the dump.

The rattan frame sits in the hallway for another year, until finally we say “Damn, we keep tripping on this worthless thing, and we’re never going to find a new cushion for it.  Let’s pitch it.” And I take it to the dump.
The problem is, I skipped all the intermediate steps and just decided to pitch the entire thing NOW and save the trouble.  Bad idea.  Oh, well.  Of course, I suppose that I might be accused of some bias in this matter since I never sat in the damn thing — I guess it’s good if you want to curl in a fetal position, but that’s not my normal position for repose.

By the way, everybody who wants to tell me how you can pick up papasan loveseat cushions really cheap can just save it, as this doesn’t really do me any good now, does it?  I suppose now I need to find a new papasan loveseat someplace.

Holy shit.

Thursday, November 9th, 2006

George Allen conceded the Senate race in Virginia to Webb, and we now have both houses of Congress.

I’m a detective.

Thursday, November 9th, 2006

I wrote before about this book that Robin inherited from her mother. While it lacks a title page, the title does appear at the start of the first chapter: Elements of Morality. I did some searching and found two books by this name, one of which is a philosophical treatise. The other one is, more completely, “Elements of Morality for the Use of Children: With an Introductory Address for Parents.” The full text is available online via Google, and the bottom of the page I’ve linked to is the bit I quoted in the other post. But this is clearly not the same translation as I have.

The original is by Christian Gotthilf Salzmann (1744-1811), written in German. It was first translated into English by Mary Wollstonecraft (Mary Shelly’s mother), and illustrated by William Blake. That edition came out in 1791 in England, and 1796 in Providence, RI. This is likely the one I have, based on evidence from the kids’ scribblings inside the covers.

Both covers have been written on extensively by children practicing their penmanship with a quill pen and India ink. The largest name is on the inside back cover, and says “Leah Irving”. On the inside front cover it says “Levin Irving” a couple of times. And on the top of the first remaining page (I think it’s xii in the preface), in a more mature handwriting, is “Elizabeth K. Irving”.

Naturally, I went to the Handy Annals, a big book of genealogy of the Handy family; Robin’s mother was born Elizabeth Ker Handy. There are a lot of Irvings in there. The only Elizabeth Irving I can find was born in 1813 and died in 1839 of “consumption”. Her grandmother was Elizabeth Ker, and several siblings had family names as middle names, so I’m betting she was actually Elizabeth Ker Irving.

Leah Irving and Levin Irving were siblings, and their brother Handy Irving was Elizabeth Ker Irving’s father. Levin lived to the age of 7, from 1786-1793; Leah lived to the age of 11, from 1800-1811. So, here’s my best guess. Levin had the book first. “Levin Irving” is written in a very childish hand, conceivably that of a 6 or 7 -year-old. After Levin’s death, the book went to sister Leah, who wrote in it, and after her death in 1811, her niece Elizabeth was born in 1813, and the book went to her. She lived to the age of 26, consistent with the much more adult handwriting.

How this got to my mother-in-law isn’t entirely clear; Elizabeth K. Irving was unmarried, and was the first cousin twice removed of Elizabeth Ker Handy. Probably some family member thought it would be nice to pass this on to the latest Elizabeth Ker. I suppose this means it has to go next to Cabell, whose first name is actually Elizabeth.

There you have it. This is how I spend my evenings.

Whip it good.

Monday, November 6th, 2006

Yesterday I thought I’d clean up the living room a bit, and this meant putting away the boxes of books that came from Robin’s mother’s apartment.  She had already gotten rid of lots of them, but she had kept some, particularly older ones.  One in particular caught my eye — a small leatherbound book with nothing on its cover.  The first few pages, including the title page, were missing too.  I turned a few pages and came to this:

Buy a boy a top, fhew him how he may ufe it, and you will fee with what pleafure he will whip it.  But command him to do it, tell him he muft whip it an hour every day, and he will find a hundred pretences to avoid the employment.

I leave the commentary to the reader.

How you should vote

Thursday, November 2nd, 2006

Missourians! Looking for someone to tell you how to vote, what to think, and possibly what to wear while doing it? You’ve come to the right place!

Oh, fine, think for yourself if you insist, but here’s my take on the ballot for Tuesday’s election anyway.

US Senate: McCaskill (vote several times if possible)

Well, duh. Talent backs the Iraq war, still. He’s been against virtually everything I’ve been for, and vice versa, since he got into office. Most important, this is a crucial race to help Democrats take control of the Senate. We have a party system; the party in power chairs all the committees that decide what legislation reaches the floor. The Republican-dominated congress hasn’t done jack, and it’s time to vote the bums out.

Missouri State Auditor: Montee

I really don’t have strong feelings on this one. In the League of Women Voter’s guide, Thomas’s statement uses a bunch of bold face and underlining, which annoys me. Montee is both a CPA and a lawyer, probably good qualifications.

US Representative, 8th district: Hambacker

Veronica Hambacker is a fiscal conservative and a social liberal. She favors abortion rights and gay marriage. Naturally, I’m for her, and naturally, she has a snowball’s chance in hell.

Constitutional Amendments:

Amendment 2: Yes

There have been repeated attempts in the legislature to ban stem cell research in Missouri. This is an opportunity for Missourians to go on record as supporting research, which will help attract funding to scientists in the state. The language of the bill is clear, despite various false claims made by opponents; it prohibits paying for eggs, it allows somatic cell nuclear transfer to make cloned blastocysts for research, but it prohibits implanting such blastocysts for development into cloned babies. If you think that a ball of two dozen cells is a person with all the legal rights of a person, then you should vote against this amendment. Otherwise, you should vote for it.

Amendment 3: Yes

Raises the tobacco tax. As of January 1, Missouri had the 2nd lowest cigarette tax in the country, beaten only by South Carolina, at 17 cents a pack. In Illinois it’s 98 cents, in Iowa 36, in Kansas 79. In Michigan it’s $2 a pack. This amendment would raise the tax by 4 cents a cigarette, to 97 cents a pack. We would then be the 22nd highest in the country, just above the middle. So it’s not exorbitant, and the tax goes to health care in a separate fund, not in the general revenue. It also discourages smoking, which kills people. What’s not to like?

Amendment 6: Yes

Exempts property of non-profit veterans’ organizations from state tax. Why not?

Amendment 7: Yes

This one is pretty misleading, the way it’s shown on the ballot. The real impact is in the “additional information” section. If you read the whole text, you’ll see that the main impact is not the part about state legislators who are convicted felons forfeiting state pensions, but a change in the operation of the Missouri Citizens’ Commission.

Turns out that back in 1996, the Missouri Citizens’ Commission was established to recommend salaries for state judges and legislators. Its recommendations can be overruled by a simple majority in the State Legislature, and they have been, every damn time. State judges haven’t had a raise since the Commission was formed, and it’s getting hard to attract people to the job, since good lawyers make pretty good money outside of government. This amendment would change the rules so that it takes a 2/3 majority in the State Legislature to overturn the Commission’s recommendations. Since legislators are reluctant to vote for a pay raise for anybody, this will make it a lot more likely that some raises will actually be awarded.

While it would be nice if the amendment made this a bit more obvious in the text on the ballot, I’m inclined to think that failing to pay legislators and judges reasonably is an invitation to graft and influence peddling.

Proposition B: Yes

Raises the state minimum wage to $6.50 an hour and adjusts for inflation annually. The current $5.15 an hour federal minimum wage, is the lowest it has ever been in buying power. In 1968, the minimum wage was $1.60, worth $7.92 in 1996 dollars; today, at $5.15, it’s worth $4.04 in 1996 dollars. Studies repeatedly show that raising the minimum wage does not reduce employment in minimum-wage jobs, and actually correlates with increased economic activity. People who work 40 hours a week ought to make enough money to live on. Paying them a little more may cut into profits at the very top, but they’ll spend that money locally and boost the economy.

Then you have your local races, and you’re on your own there.