Notes from Stonesthrow

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Intelligent Smattering August 23, 2010

Filed under: Education — Greg @ 9:39 am

The new year at Ursinus coincides with the passing last week of literary critic, Frank Kermode. I remember Kermode mostly for his work on D.H. Lawrence, which helped me to better understand this ridiculous and brilliant author as an undergraduate reading one of his novels a week in Oxford — and which helped me to better understand what being a “literary critic” might be like.

In the Guardian obit linked above, there’s a quote from Kermode that suits this occasion of students starting a week from today — something that hits on the importance of reading, of the discipline of English, and of a liberal education:

One of the great benefits of seriously reading English is you’re forced to read a lot of other things,” he said. “You may not have a very deep acquaintance with Hegel but you need to know something about Hegel. Or Hobbes, or Aristotle, or Roland Barthes. We’re all smatterers in a way, I suppose. But a certain amount of civilisation depends on intelligent smattering.

Happy smattering.


Books and Films June 5, 2010

Filed under: Books,Entertainment — Greg @ 12:18 am

There was an interesting argument posted at The Atlantic about how, by and large, great books cannot become great films because great books are great because they are books, not films. As the author notes, this is something of a truism, but not one looked at more closely: tons of great movies have been made out of books, and likely surpass the quality of the books on which they are based (see: The Godfather). As the author puts it, what often makes a book great — psychologizing, rich description, interior monologues — don’t translate to film well.

I always get excited when films are made of my favorite books, but I’m often disappointed. Mrs. Dalloway is fine for what it is, but it doesn’t reach the despair and sad beauty of the novel. The treatment of Tristram Shandy is clever, and likely the only direction a film could take, but it can’t be the novel at all. I’m a sucker for the Austen adaptations, and they are often entertaining (probably my favorite being Persuasion), but they always have to cut something, and the wry narrative observations most often must be lost (Can “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife” be rendered in film?).

Perhaps my most intriguing adaptation favorite is the film Orlando, based on Woolf’s novel. The novel is a mess of time, space, and gender, and it should be impossible to film. However, the director does something smart: she doesn’t so much attempt for adherence to the novel’s plot, as she adheres to the spirit of the novel. It seems to me, that’s what films should try to do when tackling a great book: get the spirit and the love of the book as much as possible and you might just have a great film.

Am I missing exceptions? And, no, I’m not counting plays here because it’s much easier to do.


Baseball Notes June 4, 2010

Filed under: Baseball — Greg @ 12:16 am

First, Junior. To say he saved baseball in Seattle is stretching things a bit, for it minimizes the role the entire team played in doing so, including the contributions of the greatest DH in the history of the game and Randy Johnson. However, he was a wonderful player who demonstrated a real love for the game and will be the first Mariner to enter the Hall of Fame for great play on both sides of the plate. Certainly it stung when he went to the Reds, but it was understandable and even laudable (unlike the greedy turncoat evil incarnate A-Rod). His return was manifest nostalgia, and he pretty honorably bowed out when he realized he was no longer junior but senior.

Second, an ump ruined a perfect game yesterday, and the M’s won a game on a more than questionable call. Inserting instant replay into baseball will prove problematic given just how many calls could be challenged, and an already long game time could be extended so that I’ll get even less sleep watching the M’s. I know I’m talking crazy, but couldn’t technology be the answer here? Why couldn’t sensors be placed in bags so we’d know who got there first — or even in shoes or gloves? I understand the desire not to automatically call balls and strikes, but it seems to me that baseball is more appropriate for the insertion of technological solutions than sports like basketball, football, and hockey, which all have physical contact and thus require subjective decisions on appropriate play. Tennis seems to have done instant replay perfectly: close calls are no longer mysterious (though I can’t believe the French Open antics of showing marks on the clay). Can’t we at least institute this system for foul balls?

Third, any and all hate that Atlanta receives from baseball fans is deserved, not just because they have that stupid tomahawk. Last night, they were playing the always entertaining Phillies who are division rivals. The Braves are doing extremely well, riding an impressive winning streak that has vaulted them into the division lead and almost the best record in the NL. And yet, they can only muster 6000 more fans than the Mariners who are plainly sucking and were playing in chilly conditions against a non-divison rival (unless its a battle of cities with very pleasant residents). Support your damn team already. Ugh.

Oh, and Felix just struck out four batters in one inning. Oh Mariners, how you play with my emotions.


Get off my porch, podium, and iPhone May 20, 2010

Filed under: Education,Technology — Greg @ 11:56 pm

For explanations for radio silence, I have none; I concur with Second Americano.

Anywho, Two thoughts, with more to follow perhaps tomorrow.

I sat in a most ridiculous webinar today sponsored by the Chronicle and Blackboard. It was purportedly about how to reach students with mobile technologies. It functioned largely as a commercial for Blackboard services, which I guess I should have expected. As I was half-listening to the blather, I kept getting more and more annoyed, not just because I wasn’t getting what I wanted (substantive discussion), but also because I found myself hating the premise: that educational institutions should adapt to the addictions to technology of our students. Yes, I am crotchety.

College to me should represent four years of learning how to think and learning how to think best. Thinking through one’s iPhone is not the best way. So, this afternoon, I was getting mad and crotchety and started shooing kids off my front lawn.

Then, I listened to this pretty long talk by Mike Caulfield from what sounds like a really cool faculty conference at U. of Mary Washington. He talks about how we need to own up to the fact that we live in a just-in-time knowledge world: I don’t need to take a class in how to cut an onion; I can just look it up on WikiHow. We are all dolls now. Basically, he is arguing for how well the liberal arts address information literacy and evaluation, and how we should be much more focused on activity-based learning, rather than depending on the “banking” model of education, since basically we all have access to the bank now: nothing is locked in a safe.

So, how are they connected? It seems to me that with no reflection comes no real thinking, and by playing into an “everything: now” philosophy of education, we lose wisdom and nuance. At the same time, it behooves educators to consider how we balance banking and mere skill acquisition. It is becoming increasingly difficult for me to sit idly by while a liberal arts education in the humanities becomes reduced to teaching critical thinking and writing, as a recent explosion at an English department meeting evinced. That being said, we’re pretty good at it.

What is missing in all of this as well is pleasure. I would argue that with speed and instant fact (note, not knowledge) acquisition, we lose the pleasures of education — of discovery, but also of mystery. Not much is mysterious anymore; we sit on our couch, wonder where I saw that guy from Parenthood before, and then confirm it was Bram from The West Wing. I guess I should say, not much that isn’t important. I think I can affirm that my Satire students derived real pleasure (as well as knowledge and skills) from trying to figure out what Vonnegut was trying to do with the Tralfalmadorians — or even what exactly satire is, even though we never came up with definitive answers for either.

We’re getting pretty rambly now, but I think I will remain crotchety on this score and maintain that kowtowing to addictions is not the best course of action, even as we try our best to provide students with the skills to wade cope with them, while providing them with some useful deposits in their safe deposit boxes — and perhaps a laugh or tear.


The Opposite is True February 7, 2010

Filed under: Education,Funny,Soapbox — Greg @ 2:03 pm

This is a great little video that I may even have to show to students, depending on context, to demonstrate — in a politically uncharged way — how cultural assumptions can be different yet true.

It also makes me want to go scour TED for more stuff.

(h/t: Andrew Sullivan)



App Suggestions January 18, 2010

Filed under: Technology — Greg @ 7:14 pm

OK, this is a CFA (call for apps). I am loving my new iPhone and am a little bit addicted to finding the best apps around.

Here is what I have so far:


  • AppBox Pro
  • Evernote
  • Stanza
  • Bump
  • iDisk
  • Google


  • TweetDeck
  • Skype
  • WordPress
  • Facebook

News and Weather

  • NPR News
  • Weather Channel
  • Google
  • ESPN ScoreCenter
  • MLB At Bat


  • Pandora
  • Shazam
  • iMDb
  • Scrabble
  • Fandango

Food and Drink

  • Starbucks
  • UrbanSpoon
  • Open Table
  • Drync Wine
  • Whole Foods Recipes
  • Drinks Pro
  • Hello Vino


    • RedLaser
    • Groceries


    • Septa
    • Southwest
    • Yelp
    • TripIt

    A week into ownership, the apps that are getting the most play besides the pre-installed are iMDb, Scrabble, Google, TweetDeck, Facebook, and Groceries. So, knowing what you know about me, what should I have that I don’t? If something is at a cost, is it really worth it?


    Clean January 12, 2010

    Filed under: Baseball,Soapbox — Greg @ 12:11 am

    OK, I just watched as much of Mark McGwire’s admission as I could stand. Yes, it’s great that he’s admitted what we all already knew. Yes, it’s great he’s apologized to the Maris family, et al. (including those poor families of kids who died from steroids he evaded while testifying in 2005).

    However, this whole little display is patently self-serving, and I hope everyone sees through it. First, he is doing this so he can have this hitting coach job with the Cardinals. I hope the Cardinals get hounded like the Giants did when Bonds was playing with them. Honestly. LaRussa was on ESPN saying how amazing a student of the game McGwire was and what an asset he will be. Oh, and he said he had no idea this steroid stuff was going on. Shut up. Second, McGwire made this weaselly distinction that the steroids help him get back his health but did not enhance his performance. He may actually believe that, but it’s ludicrous (and sad).

    If both ESPN and MLB Network are any example, people aren’t going to buy this. Amid the stupid Harold Reynolds-types applauding him, pundits to a man were calling McGwire on this last point (and good for MLB Network for having some good journalists and some commentators who won’t just roll with the players).

    Finally, they showed the top 10 list of home run hitters from the Steroid Era, and 8 of the 10 were known or believed to have used steroids. One guy without the asterisk? Junior. I hope to God Junior didn’t take. I don’t think he did, but who knows at this point.

    PS: another “God I hope he didn’t take” man is Edgar Martinez, my favorite Mariner. Edgar didn’t get voted into the Hall of Fame on his first attempt. I didn’t really expect him to. However, he finished 7th, which I think is pretty good, and thankfully well above McGwire. I could do a ton of research and explain why Edgar deserves to be enshrined, but the good folks at ALOTT5MA have taken care of that for me, with me only adding, “Edgar esta caliente.”