Monday, March 31, 2008
To facilitate letter writing, we used aerograms—I don’t even know if this letter form is still available for purchase, but they were single blue sheets that you wrote on the inside, then folded up into a self-contained envelope. These letters were sent via airmail, and were the quickest means of getting news back and forth across the Atlantic Ocean.
I would write a letter to my parents, mail it, and in a week they would get it. Then they would respond with a return aerogram. In all, it took two weeks for questions and answers or news to go back and forth. Long distances advice with a significant time lag!
This asynchronous means of communication came flooding back to me this week, following a somewhat humorous exchange between my daughter and me. She had sent me an email, indicating her plans to do something; whereupon I replied “make sure you [blah blah blah].” She responded cautioning me not to be a transatlantic nag.
I thought that was such a funny response, but it also got me to thinking. What a world of difference in communication in some 40 years.
Throughout the five years my parents and I were separated, we must have written hundreds of letters back and forth. Usually my mother wrote to me, but one time my dad took up the weekly writing. I don’t remember this, but he does—apparently, getting a letter from my dad was so singular, that I went running through the halls of my college dorm yelling that I got a letter from my dad. And, of course, I must have told him that I did that because he remembered the report of the event.
Sometimes the asynchronous timing meant that stale news was going back and forth. Not long before my parents returned to the U.S., I had written asking my dad to round up a coin series of Rhodesian coins for my then boyfriend, who was a collector. My dad dutifully complied, bringing the coins along back. However, by then, that was stale news as the boy in question was no longer my boyfriend. I had no instant way of saying—never mind. My dad gave me the coins, and I gave them to the ex-boyfriend, to my dad’s regret (I think).
If I had an especially pressing personal problem that I wanted to talk out with my parents, the time lag was excruciating. True, I had my uncle and aunt who were my legal guardians but they had moved from Pennsylvania to Illinois, exacerbating the distance from adults to give advice. One of the impacts on my personality, not surprisingly, is the high degree of self-sufficiency that I possess. But still, it would have been nice to talk some issues out with my parents.
Times change. Not only do we have the advantage of daily emails, if we wish, with our daughter and of instant messaging, but we also can talk to her as often as we want. The advances in telephone communication are almost as breathtaking as those in letter writing. Phone technology such as communicating through computers has completely revolutionized this means of contact.
During the 5 years that my parents and I were apart, I talked with them on the phone ONCE. That’s right—once. There were no satellites to relay phone calls, only the transatlantic cable. So, if you wanted to talk with someone by phone, you had to call the international operator and RESERVE time. And then the cost was very steep. My college friends took up a collection gathering $25 for a 3 minute phone call. So once in our 5 year separation, I heard my mother’s voice, my father’s and my brother’s and sister’s voices once.
We compensated for this lack of voice communication by sending audio tapes back and forth. I recounted one of the amusing outcomes of these tape messages in my post on Sibling Stories II. My mother, trying to get my sister to talk, told her to “talk to Donna” while pointing at the tape recorder. My sister hesitated, then said in her little girl voice—is Donna inside that machine? The result was so much more authentic than anything a little girl of 3 or 4 might have said.
Contrast to this long distance oh so slow voice communication the near weekly telephone conversations with our daughter. I marvel at the changes, and cherish all the news sharing we can do. And, deep down, I think of my mother and just know how much she would have liked to hear her elder daughter’s voice.
So, we have gained and we have lost with the changes in communication. The gains are obvious—fast, easy contact with loved ones. The losses—all those letters that will no longer be written. Several years ago, when I wrote a biography of my grandparents, I relied on letters they had written to each other during their courtship years. Letters from the early 1900s provided me a wonderful insight into their young lives. With email today, who will save these “letters”? Who will print them off, lovingly fold them, place them in a box, and store them in an attic?
Mail call—letter for Donna! Or “you’ve got mail”—either way, I love staying in touch with my family.
Friday, March 28, 2008
I know, I know--I am not running for office. And I have no power base from which to mount any campaign to save green space.
But I just recently read about a potential way to help preserve green space. Why can't we urge local and state legislators to establish green spaces?
Now, where in the world, you might ask, does such an idea exist in reality? In the UK. Here's a description. Here's the paragraph that captures the basic description:
In United Kingdom town planning, the green belt is a policy for controlling urban growth. The idea is for a ring of countryside where urbanisation will be resisted for the foreseeable future, maintaining an area where agriculture, forestry and outdoor leisure can be expected to prevail. The fundamental aim of green belt policy is to prevent urban sprawl by keeping land permanently open, and consequently the most important attribute of green belts is their openness.
Actually, this concept explains why when we have visited the UK, I do not see the constant gobbling up of land. Towns and villages have a discernable beginning (and end).
The city where we live does have a green belt--a series of interconnected green spaces, but these spaces run through the city and in no way delineate the end of urban growth.
Thank goodness for some good news in our area. We are located in some of the rolling hills of the Appalachians--many of the place names here feature the word "gap" for the places where you can pass between one mountain and the next. One such gap--Waggoner's Gap--is along some of the raptor flyways, and has as many raptors passing through as the famed Hawk Mountain. Several groups, including the PA Audubon Society, have gone together to buy up acreage in this area, to keep it wooded and available for all to enjoy nature.
So, my new mantra--we need green space, we need green space. . .
Tuesday, March 25, 2008
Then, in today’s New York Times, I found two stories that really increased my glumness. The first deals with continuing disappearance of amphibians--specifically glass frogs. Here’s the
Photo of glass frog from http://www.nmnh.si.edu/rtp/students/2002/virtualposterinfo/poster_2002_cisneros_heredia.htm
A second story relates the problem of dying bats. Now, many people are less than enthusiastic about bats. For some reason, I really like them. They are marvelous creatures and help keep us from being knee deep in insect infestation. But, bats are dying under very mysterious circumstances. Not just a dead bat here or there—they are dying in huge numbers. Here’s the Times story.
On the list of things that I worry about, over which I have virtually no control, is the degree to which we continue to act in ways that throw our planet out of balance. Disappearing toads and dying bats are surely evidence of that imbalance.
Thursday, March 20, 2008
The phrase caught my fancy. And it got me to thinking. I have just begun watching the HBO series on John Adams. Based on the book by David McCullough, which I read several years ago, this series covers the life of John Adams, second President of the U.S. and one of the architects of the American Revolution.
The convergence is that the same amount of time—five years—is what it took for the 13 colonies to achieve their independence. They declared their independence from King George III in 1776, and achieved military victory, with the surrender of General Cornwallis in 1781—five years.
As the 5 year anniversary of the war in Iraq was noted, President Bush asserted his absolute personal conviction that the goal of freedom for Iraq is worth whatever the cost. And as I watch the John Adams series, I can’t help but ponder the differences.
The colonial leaders who fought their way toward freedom from King George III anguished over the right course. The Continental Congress debates pitted the fiery New Englanders, who were front line in protesting the unfair tariffs imposed by England, against the pacifist conflict-avoiding Quakers in Pennsylvania. John Adams was thoroughly disgusted with the seeming hesitancy of the Pennsylvania delegation. But he knew, in his bones, that they ALL had to unite to achieve their independence.
When the Declaration of Independence was finally adopted, all 13 colonies had united in their opposition to King George III. Freedom was not an idea that some external entity suggested they try. They had experienced the increasingly unjust governing by the crown, and worked their way toward a new way of governing as 13 different colonies all united in one goal.
Five years on. Freedom is not fairy dust that you can grab a handful of and sprinkle it over a country. Enough said.
Tuesday, March 18, 2008
Sunday, March 16, 2008
I added the map to help make graphic my adventuresome trip--the pink route is what I was supposed to drive--from the X to the main road, upper left. The first yellow route is the one I made the correct choice--i.e. I did not take. The second yellow route, near the left hand side of the map, is the one I mistakenly took, and ended up staring at the creek.
Friday, March 14, 2008
So I am thinking about what I miss. . .
--fast Internet connection
--checking on my blogging friends
The meeting will be over and I will be on my way home tomorrow.
Monday, March 10, 2008
Anyway, the object of this game is to give contestants--however many may be playing; the more the merrier--a series of questions. They each record their answers on a piece of paper without their names. The game master then collects the papers and begins to read out the answers from one of the papers. The rest of the game participants try to guess who wrote the answers, and when they think they know, they yell MULDOON. (No, I don't know why Muldoon.) I think the person who was the least easiest to guess "wins." It is a fun game to play where you are trying to get to know people, an ice-breaker type game.
A sample question would be "Name something that you did within the past year that you have never done before."
Since this is my blog, I can't give you my answer and have you try to guess. Let's be fair--you know it's me writing the blog, so you should know it's my answer.
This is what my answer would be. . .this past Sunday, I preached in the church to which I belong. Several months ago, the pastor had asked if I would want to preach on the subject of disaster assistance, based on the national advisory committee work I do, so I said--sure. Of course, then the prospect was out in the future somewhere. We picked the date, March 9. And while I had some very distinct thoughts about what I might say, the actual preaching was off in the future.
I prepared my sermon--really very much like writing an essay--and then I practiced it reading it aloud to the pets! After the first read-through, I thought--oh my, that sounds so wooden . Not the way someone speaks aloud at all. I discovered that I am so accustomed to writing for the EYE, that I was not writing well for the EAR. So I began heavy duty editing. Writing sentences, reading them, rewording.
And then I practiced reading aloud several more times. To tell the truth, I was beginning to get bored with my words! So I stopped practicing. But I wasn't calm and assured that I was entirely prepared. Even with all the public speaking that I do--after all what is teaching in front of a class other than public speaking--I was really getting nervous. My stomach offered residence to hosts of passing butterflies!
Then Sunday morning, with my sermon in hand, I went to church. When I met up with our pastor, he said--I am so sick. So can you also read the Old Testament lesson as well. Sure. So I ended up with a full time in the pulpit.
Our pulpit (absent me!)
All the practice paid off--no stumbles, the words sounded normal, the way a person would talk.
But, am I ever glad that is over.
So, should I play Muldoon sometime in the next year, to the question--what have you done new in the past year--I will write down "I preached in my church."
So, what have you done new in the past year?
Friday, March 07, 2008
Several of the comments on the first airing of the plagiarism topic , all thoughtful, hinted at the possibility of a continuing discussion on the topic--so, here goes.
There are several themes on plagiarism:
Among students, the theme sometimes is "what's the big deal." When I have discovered plagiarism in student papers, almost always the response has been one of surprise. I had one student who had used large portions of a text, copying word for word, but using no quotation marks. She was genuinely surprised that that was plagiarism. You see, she had cited the source at one point, as if that were enough. I have occasionally had students who were amazed that I found their plagiarized sources, as if using the Internet were some trade secret. I have, however, never had a student who was chagrined. They almost always act as though--what's the big deal.
Climenheise (aka Daryl) commented that some great authors have plagiarized (e.g. Shakespeare). Of course, our concept of what constitutes unlawful appropriation of text is evolving. In an era where print was scarce, using another's idea might seem like inspiration--not plagiarism. My defense of Shakespeare would be that while he used plot ideas, the words were his own. Some of the modern day examples are not so charitably dismissed--the recent example of Harvard student Kaavya Viswanathan who used a previously published book to write her successful published novel comes to mind. When such stories are uncovered, the perpetrators are rightly castigated for their actions.
Daryl also raised the question of where to draw the line between scrupulously avoiding infringement on intellectual property, for example through paying royalties, and common sense. It's absurd to have to pay royalties for things like singing Happy Birthday. Yet failure to pay royalties is a close cousin to plagiarism. It's all about giving credit, either for having published the words or ideas, or for the use of copyrighted material.
Obviously plagiarism is a topic that frustrates and bothers conscientious professors. I have done a fair bit of research on the subject, mostly to come up with convincing ways to dissuade my students from the practice. Here is one good article on plagiarism.
Not all the fault of plagiarism lies on students. Oh, to be sure, anytime a student plagiarizes, that student should bear the blame. BUT there is another facet to this problem: the laziness of professors. The article referenced above suggests various interventions that professors can employ: change exams frequently, monitor students taking exams, discuss academic integrity, policy on syllabus, use Internet to check. I am happy to report that I employ ALL of these.
Some of these tactics, I take to an extreme, perhaps. For example, the monitoring students while taking exams. Before the final exam, I inform students of the usual classroom policy on no use of cell phones. Since cell phones have extensive text capability, I now tell students--after the exam begins, if you TOUCH your cell phone, your exam is over and you are out of here.
Of course, it is important for me to be consistent. So when I do research and write, I try to observe as scrupulously as possible the standard I am requiring for students. Even in writing my blog, I try to be intellectually honest, and give credit for any text or photos that I use that I did not create.
One unanswered question for me is whether there is a cultural element at work--a colleague of mine once suggested that some countries may not have same standard of acknowledging source use. Among my students, ESL students have disproportionately committed plagiarism. Does Western education have a different standard for plagiarism? I am not sure. I guess this question will have to remain open for me.
Wednesday, March 05, 2008
Truth be told, I don't intend any series--just this second blog on the subject. I keep notes for blog ideas--after all, if I am sitting in a meeting, and get an idea, I am not going to whip out my computer and start blogging! When I first began taking notes on this subject, I had titled it "The Problem of Evil"--well, you can see I refocused my thoughts. The problem of evil merits its own entire blog, and it is one that I am not going to tackle.
Some of the comments on my first blog on suffering lead me directly to the main issue I have not addressed--our response to suffering. We can ponder the causes of suffering, we can puzzle over why a good God would allow suffering, but neither of those aspects is within our control. What is within our control is how we respond. There is the response we have to our own suffering, and there is the response we can have to others' suffering.
We know there is a huge range of response of how individuals handle suffering. There are people who suffer great loss, pain, or devastating circumstances, and yet in the face of the suffering show the incredible resilience of the human spirit. There are others who fall apart in the face of far lesser suffering. I have not been able to discern what accounts for the difference. Some years ago, I had two co-workers who were going through hard times.
The first woman really did have a tough life: she had an abusive first husband who was killed in a car crash. At the time she had a 1 year old daughter. When her husband was killed, he had neglected to make her the beneficiary for his insurance, so his mother got it and denied any funds to his wife and child. Then this woman remarried happily, but she and her second husband suffered these calamities: their house was destroyed by a tornado, her husband was attacked by a customer at his business and nearly lost his leg, and then the woman got breast cancer. Through it all--her spirit was unbroken, her outlook on life sunny.
The second woman bemoaned not being loved enough by her parents, constantly resenting her two younger siblings. She came up with one physical symptom after another, even to the extent of having surgery for what turned out to be non-problems. When she had her first child, she transferred all the physical ailments to her completely healthy son. Her constant outlook on life was gloomy. How to explain these two disparate responses to suffering?
Then there is the issue of how we respond to OTHERS' suffering. From your comments, a couple of common themes emerge: 1) for some of us, contemplating others' suffering is too difficult, so we tune things out; 2) where children or animals are concerned, we can't handle suffering; and 3) when the magnitude of suffering is so great, we simply don't know how to respond.
I understand all these responses. To my personal chagrin, I find myself at times being far more sympathetic for an injured animal than an injured human. I really wrestle with knowing how to balance my response to human and animal suffering. I think the cause of this struggle is that implicitly an animal (or a child for that matter) is helpless and can do nothing to ward off suffering. So my sympathy level sky-rockets for the suffering of the helpless.
The issue of suffering on a large scale is the other place I struggle. I see the images of burned villages in Darfur, of stunned refugees who have lost everything. I see the images of victims of the killing spree in Kenya. And in the face of this mindless needless suffering, I am mute--not because I don't care, but because I feel the overwhelming insignificance of my response.
One of my favorite poets, W.H. Auden wrote a marvelous poem on the response to suffering. The poem references the painting by Pieter Breughel, The Fall of Icarus, that is on display in an art museum in Brussels. Several summers ago, my husband and I visited Brussels and I dearly wanted to see this painting. So we went dashing to the museum, just before closing, paid our admission, then rushed in. A museum guide asked if she could help--and I just shouted BREUGHEL. She pointed out how to get there. Once in the gallery where the painting hung, we stood in front of this quite small painting and pondered Auden's observation on the nature of suffering.
Musee des Beaux Arts
By W. H. Auden
About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old Masters; how well, they understood
Its human position; how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer's horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.In Breughel's Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.1940Copyright © 1976 by Edward Mendelson, William Meredith and Monroe K. Spears, Executors of the Estate of W. H. Auden.
Oil on canvas, mounted on wood
Musees royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique, Brussels
Sunday, March 02, 2008
For all those of us who have pondered from time to time what can come of blogging, here's a wondrous use of blogs. While speaking with our daughter today (yes, we get to have regular phone conversations with her with she is in the UK. . .technology is wonderful), she mentioned that her fiancé is enjoying the blog of the woman who outed the White House plagiarist. The news broke in the NY Times on March 1, 2008 when the blog site Nancynall.com uncovered the story about Tim Goeglein, of late an advisor in the Bush Administration in the White House. The blogger's name is Nancy Nall, and she had been reading Mr. Goeglien's guest columns in her home town newspaper, and. . .oh, it gets complicated. Read the Times story here.
I absolutely loved this story. Here's Nancy's blog entry uncovering the plagiarism. I read through her account with something close to envy. You see, every semester I try and try to impress upon my students the need for absolute academic integrity. I use several examples of famous people who have been accused of plagiarizing--e.g. accusations made against J. K. Rowling (settled in her favor), against Doris Kearns Goodwin (who indicated that the plagiarism had been inadvertent due to a careless assistant), and against Stephen Ambrose (proven). I even used an essay for a while written by Anna Quindlen about Wayne Newton plagiarizing her, until the students said--who's Wayne Newton, so I abandoned that example. The latter instance caused me to write a blog about the generational discovery that people famous to me are not famous to my students, thereby losing any hope of impressing on them the ubiquity of plagiarism.
I had another recent personal experience where someone whom I know plagiarized in his professional capacity. When it was discovered, the plagiarizer lost his job (just as did Tim Goeglein). But, in a larger conversation talking with people who were affected by the person plagiarizing, one young woman said--what's the big deal; people borrow stuff from other people ALL THE TIME. My response--it is a big deal. At the very least, it is intellectually dishonest; at the worst it is stealing.
And now, we have Nancy Nall and her marvelous research uncovering the plagiarism of Tim Goeglein. The best part of this whole story for me is that the news was first published in a blog, and THEN picked up by the New York Times. Oh, there is some small measure of justice in the world.
So, for all those of you who wonder at the rewards of blogging, remember Nancy Nall. And take your hat off to her, and give her an "atta girl." Nancy, you rule!