Saturday, March 29, 2008

Clinton releases NCAA picks.

CHARLOTTE, NC (AP)--Sporting a Jordan Brand t-shirt reading “There are no Cinderellas,” Hillary Clinton today released her NCAA tournament bracket in a press conference held on the Davidson College campus in Charlotte, NC. Her bracket reveals some predictions that even her strongest supporters had not expected.

“Senator Obama claims to be a big basketball fan,” she said, referring to the release of Obama’s NCAA picks just as the tournament began. “But even he,” she said amidst cheers from her supporters, “could not see that Davidson would beat Wisconsin!”

Some commentators have suggested that Sen. Clinton’s prediction that West Virginia would beat Duke in the second round might cost her supporters in North Carolina, whose Democratic primary is May 6. “An endorsement of Duke is not an endorsement of the great state of North Carolina,” she said. New Jersey’s primary was held on February 5.

Sen. Clinton’s bracket beats out Barack Obama’s in the early rounds, too, where she predicted the first-round upsets in Tampa. “I champion the underdog,” she said. “I know how hard it is to make a living in these economic times.”

Asked about her mistaken prediction that St. Joseph’s would upset higher ranked Oklahoma, Sen. Clinton said, “I was given false information about the point guard by the [St. Joe’s] administration.”

Sen. Obama has received some criticism for his picks, with sports talk radio hosts claiming that his choice of Pitt to beat Stanford to go to the Final Four was politically motivated. Asked whether her own decision to take Pitt all the way to the championship game was similarly driven by politics, Mrs. Clinton responded, “I understand the drive and determination of the people of Pennsylvania.”

In her speech, Sen. Clinton also argued for a new moniker for regional semi-finals. “The Elite Eight is not a viable name in these political times,” she said. “Republicans love to joke about the liberal elite,” she said. “When I am president, that round will be renamed The Superdeleg Eight.”

Friday, March 28, 2008

Errors from the touch of God.

If you do not read the comments section here at "The Secrets of Isis," then you have missed one of the most exciting discussions ever, on the topic of error.

In short, Mateen noticed that I had left a verb out of a sentence. I inserted the verb, making the correction visible to all. Then Scott asked how I decide whether to flag an error or not. I tried to determine some kind of principled position from a somewhat unthought-through decision.

Meanwhile, Mateen noticed that he, too, had made an error, this time of spelling. He wished it had been deliberate, but could not so claim it. Scott, based on Mateen's error, had devised his own reading of Mateen's message, only to have Mateen's correction make him realize that he too had been making a long-standing error of spelling, and the whole brilliant image he had constructed based on this small misspelling came crashing down in a torrent of disillusion. Then Mateen, a poet as well as an important Spartan, mentioned a poem by Aaron Fogel, about which more shortly.

Do you see how exciting this is?

Of course, we are hardly the first to have something to say on the topic of Error. To wit, in Spenser's The Faerie Queene, Redcrosse Knight encounters Errour herself, in her very den:

This is the wandring wood, this Errours den,
A monster vile, whom God and man does hate:
Therefore I read beware. Fly fly (quoth then
The fearefull Dwarfe:) this is no place for liuing men.

But full of fire and greedy hardiment,
The youthfull knight could not for ought be staide,
But forth vnto the darksome hole he went,
And looked in: his glistring armor made
A litle glooming light, much like a shade,
By which he saw the vgly monster plaine,
Halfe like a serpent horribly displaide,
But th'other halfe did womans shape retaine,
Most lothsom, filthie, foule, and full of vile disdaine.

And as she lay vpon the durtie ground,
Her huge long taile her den all ouerspred,
Yet was in knots and many boughtes vpwound,
Pointed with mortall sting. Of her there bred
A thousand yong ones, which she dayly fed,
Sucking vpon her poisonous dugs, each one
Of sundry shapes, yet all ill fauored:
Soone as that vncouth light vpon them shone,
Into her mouth they crept, and suddain all were gone.

(By the by, do you notice how reptilian Errour is? How snake like? Could this--"Snakes in The Faerie Queene"--have been a predecessor to--oh never mind.)

The point is, Error occupies an unfavored place in so many minds. In Latin, the word suggests a wandering or a straying, a deviation from the truth--and Spenser seems to share this feeling. Errors are mistakes, misunderstandings, and no one wants to be the last man to die for a mistake. A person who makes an error is at fault. Computer errors lead to the blue screen of death.

Errors count against players in baseball. Grammatical errors lead to points off on a paper. Newspapers do what they can to correct errors quickly. Errors in judgment, mistakes, accidents--they all can have their cost.

But what messages from elsewhere do we shut down in our urge to correct? The book I have just published (woo-hoo!) is a scholarly edition of a crazy book--one riddled with errors. As editors, we were faced with the questions: Can we make the reading of this book easier without losing the wackiness of the real thing? At what point do our corrections change the text irremediably? If the decision were mine to make alone--if our edition were not part of a series with established principles--I would have said, let's keep it as it is. It is, after all, a book where errors of spelling, numbering, italicization, attribution, etc. are part of the experience. Why lose that? But, the world being the world, I compromised: we made many small emendations (all noted in my extensive table at the back, of course!) and left some errors extant.

Frank Steinman would tell me I am a horrible meddler. He is the speaker of Aaron Fogel's poem "The Printer's Error." Experienced printer that he is, Steinman lays out several kinds of error, ranging from errors of chance, to moments of rebellion on the part of type-setters, to
. . . errors
from the touch of God,
divine and often
obscure corrections
of whole books by
nearly unnoticed changes
of single letters
sometimes meaningful but
about which the less said
by preemptive commentary
the better.

In all cases, Steinman warns editors, especially us academic types, to BACK OFF, because all errors "are in practice the / same and indistinguishable." He concludes:
Therefore I,
Frank Steinman,
for thirty-seven years,
and cooperative Master
of the Holliston Guild
eight years,
being of sound mind and body
though near death
urge the abolition
of all editorial work
and manumission
from all textual editing
to leave what was
as it was, and
as it became,
except insofar as editing
is itself an error, and

therefore also divine.

Amen, Frank.

And go Heels.

Sunday, March 23, 2008


It is not every year that the college basketball season aligns so perfectly with my spring break, but wow: when it does, it does. So while last weekend was all about the ACC tournament, this weekend has been the national tournaments. And I have brackets in play for both the men's and women's tournaments, along with another pool, which I will describe in a minute.

My women's bracket is doing OK, and so far none of my mis-picks (Hartford? Florida State? Georgia? Nebraska? Iowa State?) were supposed to win their next game, so there is great hope.

My men's bracket is a mess. I had Georgetown going to the Final Four, Clemson to the Elite Eight, and U Conn to the Sweet Sixteen, among other things. I am most sad about Clemson, of course, but I suppose they used up all they had beating Duke in the ACC tourney, and that was a worthy sacrifice. (Go West Virginia.) I see that Barack Obama and I are in similar boats, at least in terms of our Final Fours, since he has Pitt going that far. I am sure there was nothing political about that choice, just as my faith that Clemson would beat Kansas was reasonable.... Neither of us imagined the magic that West Virginia would do.

Most exciting, though, is the pool I am in with friends where we had to draft teams and then see who gets the most wins (there are also lesser prizes for the person with the second most wins and the person with the winning team). In that pool, I was tied for least wins at the end of round 1, and as of right now, all my teams (UConn, Vandy, Miami, UNLV, Baylor, Oral Roberts [I know], Mt. St. Mary's) [edited to add: are out] except one. And given the team I have left, I do not even care that I have lost all my others. Want to guess who it is? Hint: I got the first pick in the draft.

As the child of a dear friend would say, Happy Zut Alors!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Vacation time.

It has been years since I let go of my thought that I needed to comment on every political development of interest. And since I am on vacation, my attention has not been focused on politics, but rather on trying to identify the strange bulbous creatures that washed up on the beach after Saturday night's crazy storms. (I have not really succeeded, but they might be cannonball jellies.) Beach walks after storms are instructive. I usually tend to think of the fragility of ocean creatures in terms of broken shells, but seeing soft transparent body after soft transparent body broadens my definitions.

But after reading any number of commentaries about Obama's Philadelphia speech about race, I finally sat down this morning and read the whole thing.


I do not have a lot to add about how he seized the moment with aplomb, or about his frank assessment of race in America. But I do have a couple of thoughts about the way this moment has unfolded.

First, he received a bit of criticism for not responding immediately. Instead, he took what was almost starting to look like too long, but time enough to prepare this immensely thoughtful and nuanced response. I suspect that in the long run, the "long time" that he took will be forgotten, and what will be remembered are his words.

Second, I am impressed, yes, by the way he acknowledged the role of Wright in his religious life, but more by the fact that he will hold up some words of the man but not all. Some people have suggested that he should have left Wright's church, and that maybe he only did not because it did not occur to him to rock the boat.

But why are we as a culture so quick to separate ourselves from things with which we do not agree? Why don't we spend more time listening to the ideas of people who come from different perspectives, or who hold different convictions, or who base their thinking on different fundamental beliefs? I am not saying that in so doing we much always change our beliefs based on what we hear. But I do feel like I learn more from reading the columns of thoughtful conservatives than of mouthing-off liberals, whether I finally agree with their conclusions or not. And on a more personal level, I have a number of friends with whom I could not disagree more on issues about which I have strong convictions, but I still tend to think such people intelligent, or moral, or true to themselves.

It is a relief, and frankly it gives me quite a charge, to hear a political leader acknowledge complexity in this way.

Now excuse me: I have some marine biology to study.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008


I know, I know. I should be writing to you about the beach--and I will--but for now I have to show you some things:

Isn't that pretty? I am going to make a springy sweater with that. It will be my first time knitting with a linen blend.

I am less certain about exactly what I will make with this delicious item from Interlacements:

But for now I don't even care: it is just so pretty to admire!

I went to Knit yesterday and blew about one year's pay. I feel slightly guilty, but fundamentally thrilled at all these colors, such as these from Great Adirondack:

And I could not resist a little Noro:

That is tagged for a hat for me, even though I know I will not get to wear it much or at all until next winter. But hey: mostly I cannot wait to knit with it.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Citations I.

This is not quite knowing what the earth requires:
earthiness, earthliness, or things ethereal;
whether spiritus mundi notices bad faith
or if it cares; defraudings at the source,
the bare usury of the species. In the end
one is as broken as the vows and tatters,
petitions with blood on them, the charred prayers
spiralling godwards on intense thermals.

No decent modicum, agreed. I'd claim
the actual is once cruder and finer,
without fuss carrying its own weight. Still
I think of poetry as it was said
of Alanbrooke's war diary: a work done
to gain, or regain, possession of himself,
as a means of survival and, in that sense,
a mode of moral life.

--Geoffrey Hill, from A Treatise of Civil Power (2007)

Saturday, March 15, 2008


Any of you out there who teach know that there are times when your students knock your socks off, and until today, that has been my favorite thing about teaching at Clemson.

But today? Well.

Pretty amazing to watch those Tigers actually making free throws--and to knock Duke out of the tourney? Priceless.

Clemson is going to the ACC championship final for the first time since 1962. My mother claims that that game will be win-win for me, but she's wrong. Once a Heel, always a Heel.

But can we have another moment to think back on Oliver Purnell telling Mike K. that his team played a good game anyway? Heh.

Friday, March 14, 2008


On Wednesday, I saw my surgeon again, and I got the go-ahead to return to swimming, not just kicking. My physical therapist and I devised a schedule for coming back--starting back at about 500 yards of swimming, with a maximum of three practices per week, and then increasing 10% each week. If I have problems--such as pain--I back away from that increase until the pain goes away. If there are areas in my stroke where I have trouble with mobility, he will give me more exercises. I will continue doing my regular exercises daily for a month, and then gradually back off some of the exercises and I get more of my strengthening from swimming.

I am thrilled to be at this point. I can remember any number of times when I thought this day would not come.

But I also have mixed feelings, in that I have not decided yet how seriously I want to return to the swimming. Of course I am excited to have other options for exercise and fitness (which I have seriously lost over the last six months or so, not to mention the months before that), but I am still wrestling with how I want to pursue this. Starting in the fall of 2004 and culminating in the spring of 2006, I had achieved a very high level of swimming fitness: during that period I achieved several USMS national cuts, trained at a high level (swimming with masters and my team's kids' squad), competed in a lot of meets (including numerous USA Swimming meets where I raced with little kids--humbling), and medaled in the spring USMS SCY national championship. To return to my fitness level of spring 2006 would require a tremendous amount of work, and I would basically be starting from scratch. I do not yet know that I want to make that commitment.

But for now, I am just swimming. On Wednesday, after my appointment with my surgeon, I went to the pool and did a session of 2000 meters, of which 450 meters were swimming. Much of that swimming (300 meters) I did while wearing long fins, and I never swam more than a 50 at a time (for most of the swimming, I alternated 25 swim with 25 kick). I was both not surprised and a little surprise by how hard it was to swim, as I realized how weak my arms are (especially the left, but really both of them). On Thursday and also this morning, I was very stiff in my left arm, but PT exercises and stretching helps loosen that up.

And now for the next week or so, I am at the beach, doing the spring break thing. Note: for me, the "spring break thing" does not include big parties with lots of undergraduates gone wild. Instead, it will be a pretty quiet week, where my biggest decisions are which knitting project to work on, whether to go for a bike ride or watch the ACC tourney, whether to eat here in the condo or go to a restaurant, whether to sit around in my jammies or venture out for a newspaper, and how far to walk on the beach. I'll need to do some work in there too, but still. My condo looks out on the tennis courts, so this morning I am listening to the pock, pock, pock of someone's first game of the day.

I am going to see if by the end of this week, I can get myself back to a point where I can return to swim practice next week. I think that having feedback from my coach now, when I am trying to rebuild my stroke and trying to be very careful about pacing my recovery, could be a very important thing. But first I need to get to a mental place where I feel good about being at practice.

But for now, should I ride my bike on the beach or go pick up a New York Times?

p.s. Go Heels.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Ms. T.

This has been a hard year of losing teachers, first a high-school English teacher who was my yearbook advisor, and now the woman who embodied the Talented and Gifted Program for fourth- and fifth-graders in my city. That program gave me faith--that I have even now--that even if the place I found myself was dreary, somewhere only a shortbus ride away was a place where people did not laugh at me for being smart.

I learned from Tim today that the woman who first embodied that faith for me died a month ago. I suppose that these days the children of Newport News have a different teacher for that program, and who they will come to associate with their own faith. For me, though, there could be no other.

It is funny: I have, in my twenty-two years of formal education, had a lot of teachers, many of them immensely inspiring (let's not talk about the others today). But you never do forget the first teacher who really expected you to stretch, and gave you some idea of how to start, and made the whole thing seem like the most fun a person could ever have. Ms. T., each time I walk into my own classroom, I do it with the hope of bringing you back to life and introducing you to another group of kids hungry for what you gave us all.