Sarah Vowell 2

Just finished Assassination Vacation last night. Excellent. Aside from her usual wit, Vowell included several awesome quotes from other places. One of my favorites is from James Garfield’s address at some commencement:

It has occurred to me that the thing you have, that all men have enough of, is perhaps the thing that you care for the least, and that is your leisure—the leisure you have to think; the leisure you have to be let alone; the leisure you have to throw the plummet into your mind, and sound the depth and dive for things below. (134)

New Design

In case you hadn’t noticed, I’m implementing a new design this week (everybody‘s doing it). I’ll be adding bits and pieces over the next week or two, but any errors/advice you have is greatly appreciated.

What the best college teachers do

I finished reading Ken Bain’s What the Best College Teachers Do a couple weeks ago, and its had me re-examining my pedagogy (as good books about teaching always do). I’ve posted a couple choice bits in the extended entry. The main page gets this one, though:

When introducing the class, one instructor “asks his students for a show of hands that they are willing to be on time for every class and participate intellectually in the deliberation of each day. “The decision to take the course is yours,” we heard more than one person say, “but once you make that decision, you have responsibilities to everyone else in this community of learners.” (113)

I like this idea—the making explicit that the first day is a choice. IF you decide to take my class, great. BUT, you make certain commitments when you do.

Continue reading What the best college teachers do

The Mysteries of… weather?

Bizarre day. I was visiting the in-laws in Lansing yesterday, and woke up to this out their front door:


A four-hour drive home to Chicago gives us this out our front door:



Good mix this week.

  • Modest Mouse, Good News for People Who Like Bad News

  • Koerner, Ray, and Glover, Blues, Rags, and Hollers

  • Blink 182, Blink-182

Obligatory Pet Photos

So I just got a new digital camera and have been going photo crazy the last couple days. Of course, the most interesting subjects around the house are the pets. Here are my favorite pet photos so far. Other than cropping and re-sizing, I haven’t altered these at all.

Loki on his morning squirrel hunt
Loki on his morning squirrel hunt

Jawa Kitty!
Jawa kitty!

The Mysteries of Mailing lists

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m hooked on The Current, which I listen to over the internet. It’s a Minnesota Public Radio operation that plays a very wide range of music from a variety of genres and eras. I knew it would be the right station for me during my first listening session. Within two hours, I heard a deep track from They Might Be Giants’ Apollo 18 and a bit of Soul Coughing.

Because I support the idea of public radio and my listening costs the station real resources (I’m pulling bandwidth, rather than grabbing already-distributed airwaves), I pitched in a little bit during the last pledge drive. Apparently, MPR sells its member lists to organizations like the Walker Art Center—I expect this package I got is the first of many Minnesota-centered publicity I will receive in Illinois:


What I don’t get is how they got my name wrong. I paid by Credit Card online, so it must have been right (the CC company wouldn’t have processed the charge if I had mistyped my name). So how did my name get mis-typed on the Walker mailing list? I would assume they could just transfer the names digitally.

An anecdote from my days as a temp: I had a two-week stint working for Microsoft (this would have been in, say, the summer of 1996 or 97) in which my job was to take data from one spreadsheet (all typed) and enter it into another database. I spent the whole two weeks of data entry pondering why Microsoft hadn’t worked out a way to transfer the data without a bunch of keyboard monkeys like myself as intermediaries.


I got to see Sarah Vowell give a reading from her new book Assassination Vacation on Friday. Very fun. There were moments where I could hear Violet (from The Incredibles) on stage instead of the NPR commentator. In waiting for the talk, I flipped through her last collection of essays, Partly-Cloudy Patriot and found a passage that I had starred:

The more history I learn, the more the world fills up with stories. Just
the other day, I was in my neighborhood Starbucks, waiting for the post
office to open. I was enjoying a chocolatey caffe mocha when it occurred
to me that to drink a mocha is to gulp down the entire history of the New
World. From the Spanish exportation of Aztec cacao, and the Dutch
invention of the chemical process for making cocoa, on down to the
capitalist empire of Hershey, PA, and the lifestyle marketing of Seattle’s
Starbucks, the modern mocha is a bitter-sweet concoction of imperialism,
genocide, invention and consumerism served with whipped cream on top. No
wonder it costs so much. And, thanks to Sophie and Michael Coe’s book
The True History of Chocolate, I remembered that cacao beans were used as
currency at the moment of European contact. When Christopher Columbus’s
son Ferdinand captured a Mayan canoe in 1503, he noticed that whenever one
of the natives dropped a cacao bean, “they all stooped to pick it up, as
if an eye had fallen.” When you know such trivia, an act as mundane as
having an overpriced breakfast drink becomes imbued with meaning, even
poetry. Plus, I read a women’s magazine article called “5 Fabulous
Morning Rituals,” and it said that after you “bask in bed” and “walk in
nature” you’re supposed to “ponder the sins of the conquistadors.” (42)

I like many things about this passage, but the reason I noted it, in particular, is that it demonstrates, in a few short words, the method of Ulmer’s “MEmorial.” It ties personal experience to daily activity to cultural relationships to history and back again.

This kind of move is exactly why I like Sarah Vowell’s essays—she reflects on American culture with both humor and insight; she draws these ties between light-hearted moments and serious ones.

Mid-April tunes

Two CDs I enjoy very much; one I’ve never listened to before.

  • Various, Soundtrack to Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?

  • They Might Be Giants, John Henry

  • Van Morrison, Paying Dues, disc 1

Do you know which is the “new” one? Bonus points if you can figure out why I’ve not listened to it before…



Like Jenny, I’m seeing the start of a spamstorm, so I’m disabling comments for a while. I’ll post a note here when I’ve re-enabled them.

Update: Comments are back up.