Thursday, December 31, 2009

And As 2009 Draws To A Merciful Close...

Some appropriate music: Auld Lang Syne

I could go Old English on everyone and wait until January 16th (or even March 25th) to declare the New Year begun, but I'll go with the flow and declare January 1st the start of 2010.

2009: I have a bad way with odd years. Yes, this was the year that saw my long sojourn through Adjunct Hell come to an end. Even so, this was not a very good year. The summer drought pretty much ruined most of my tomato and vegetable harvest, to say nothing of my lawn. There was almost no time for fishing after early June, and water levels were so low as to render most local venues near-unusable. Financially, summer was as close as I've ever come to going completely broke (zero liquidity) --and in fact, I had to admit that I had a problem with playing too much poker when I had no business doing so. (Not very proud to say it in public, but there it is...)

And did I mention the country is now officially careening toward a complete and utter repeat of the Seventies combined with the Thirties?

Thusly I rank this year right up with 2003 (my true anno horribilis) as a year to whom I will gladly and proudly and eagerly show my Hairy Backside come Thursday night. I will smoke a clay pipe, as is the traditional English custom, and smash it in the fireplace before midnight. I will go outside my house (in my totally unincorporated subdivision) and chase away the evil spirits with large amounts of pyrotechnology. I will kiss my wife at midnight and play a copy of "The Blue Danube" to celebrate 2010's arrival. Friday morning I'll prepare black-eyed peas and cabbage and jerk pork (the Mrs. hates ham) and get ready to watch the Neujahrskonzert from Vienna.

And on your behalf, anno horribilis 2009, I invoke Cromwell:

You have sat too long for any good you have been doing lately...

Depart, I say; and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go!

Now therefore let us welcome 2010.

Pro├čit Neujahr!!

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Thursday, December 24, 2009

In Hoc Anno Domini -

In Hoc Anno Domini

So the light came into the world

When Saul of Tarsus set out on his journey to Damascus the whole of the known world lay in bondage. There was one state, and it was Rome. There was one master for it all, and he was Tiberius Caesar.

Everywhere there was civil order, for the arm of the Roman law was long. Everywhere there was stability, in government and in society, for the centurions saw that it was so.

But everywhere there was something else, too. There was oppression—for those who were not the friends of Tiberius Caesar. There was the tax gatherer to take the grain from the fields and the flax from the spindle to feed the legions or to fill the hungry treasury from which divine Caesar gave largess to the people. There was the impressor to find recruits for the circuses. There were executioners to quiet those whom the Emperor proscribed. What was a man for but to serve Caesar?

There was the persecution of men who dared think differently, who heard strange voices or read strange manuscripts. There was enslavement of men whose tribes came not from Rome, disdain for those who did not have the familiar visage. And most of all, there was everywhere a contempt for human life. What, to the strong, was one man more or less in a crowded world?

Then, of a sudden, there was a light in the world, and a man from Galilee saying, Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's and unto God the things that are God's.

And the voice from Galilee, which would defy Caesar, offered a new Kingdom in which each man could walk upright and bow to none but his God. Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. And he sent this gospel of the Kingdom of Man into the uttermost ends of the earth.

So the light came into the world and the men who lived in darkness were afraid, and they tried to lower a curtain so that man would still believe salvation lay with the leaders.

But it came to pass for a while in divers places that the truth did set man free, although the men of darkness were offended and they tried to put out the light. The voice said, Haste ye. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness come upon you, for he that walketh in darkness knoweth not whither he goeth.

Along the road to Damascus the light shone brightly. But afterward Paul of Tarsus, too, was sore afraid. He feared that other Caesars, other prophets, might one day persuade men that man was nothing save a servant unto them, that men might yield up their birthright from God for pottage and walk no more in freedom.

Then might it come to pass that darkness would settle again over the lands and there would be a burning of books and men would think only of what they should eat and what they should wear, and would give heed only to new Caesars and to false prophets. Then might it come to pass that men would not look upward to see even a winter's star in the East, and once more, there would be no light at all in the darkness.

And so Paul, the apostle of the Son of Man, spoke to his brethren, the Galatians, the words he would have us remember afterward in each of the years of his Lord:

Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ has made us free and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.

This editorial was written in 1949 by the late Vermont Royster and has been published annually since.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

In my class, this would be academic dishonesty...

Climategate goes SERIAL: now the Russians confirm that UK climate scientists manipulated data to exaggerate global warming – Telegraph Blogs: "On Tuesday, the Moscow-based Institute of Economic Analysis (IEA) issued a report claiming that the Hadley Center for Climate Change based at the headquarters of the British Meteorological Office in Exeter (Devon, England) had probably tampered with Russian-climate data."

Read all of it. I'm all for reducing pollution and cleaner energy. But the people who are supposed to be at the forefront for making the case are really looking like con artists trying to hustle governments into huge research grants, allied with enviro-nuts who want us all to return to a Luddite paradise. And if any of my students pulled this crap, I'd throw them out of my class so fast their heads would spin like tops.

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Monday, December 14, 2009

Oh Brave New World! (or, Then And Now)

CARPE DIEM: Christmas Shopping for a TV: 1958 vs. 2009:

In 1958, American holiday shoppers paid $269.95 for Sears’ “best 24-inch console TV” (Update: black and white) in its Christmas catalog.... [I]t would have taken 136.34 hours of work at the average manufacturing hourly wage then of $1.98 to earn enough income (ignoring taxes) to purchase the TV.

Today you can purchase a Sansui 26-inch widescreen LCD high-definition TV on the Sears website for about $350 (or chose from the several hundred other TVs available), which would be a “time cost” today of only 19.03 hours of work at today's average hourly wage of $18.39, and this represents an 86 percent reduction in the cost compared to the 1958 TV. 

Monday, December 7, 2009

Lessons Learned

I have been winding down the semester, putting out fires of various kinds. This term has led me to re-evaluate some of my practices, and there will be some changes next time out.

For starters, I am going to be far less charitable in my attendance policy: hey, the college's handbook says X absences and you cannot pass the course. If that much else is going on, then you need to focus on that. Your grades will improve when you're not distracted, and we'll all be happier with that.

Next, I am revising my bonus policy for very good attendance. The current system can be streamlined very quickly into one-size-fits-all. I want my students to come to class, but I'm going to cut out the penalties for excessive absences below the college limit, relying instead on the system policy of "X misses and you're done."

Third, I am going to really take more advantage of the "hybrid" category and give more online work, especially for materials that I don't like to emphasize in lecture. The students are supposed to be picking up some of the slack, anyway.

I will not be taking a full break over Christmas. I will be teaching a mini-term --the money is good and it will get me out of the house and out from underneath the Mrs.'s feet.

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