Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Betsy Vardaman: Still More on the Professor


Here is Betsy listing only a few of Professor Vardaman's early morning informal, if impassioned lecture topics
[Jim] and I of course held rich exchanges upon wildly diverse topics, but all with intensity and detail -- and often before I had had my first cup of tea. I list here just a few of his sunrise lecture topics: the Magna Carta, Dunkirk; the HMS Calliope; the 100th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution; Martin Luther; William Tyndale; Martin Luther King; the Huguenots; Vaclav Havel; the Netherlands' history of religious toleration; Palestinian and Jewish relations; Bosnia; William Faulkner; Kemal Ataturk; Czeslaw Milosz; Stalin; Hitler; the difference in Pilgrims and Puritans; Scotland's role in shaping US democracy; Quanah Parker; his admiration for Winston Churchill, William Gladstone and Oliver Cromwell; and every other aspect of the British Empire throughout history as well as the roots and derivations of just about every word in the OED.
This might look to you like a mere list of disorganized topics, but for those who knew him, an entire lecture on each of these and thousands more was instantly available to him if called for, and not because he had prepared in advance by memorizing lectures he had given before but because he knew history in such detail that he didn't need to prepare at all.

Everything was there in his mind, ready at a moment's notice to be crafted spontaneously into a lecture inscribed upon the air . . .

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Tuesday, September 25, 2018

More from Betsy Vardaman on the Professor

Betsy Vardaman

More from Betsy on her late husband, Professor Vardaman, in his very active retirement years:
Our home and library, in truth, became hallowed ground for us as a couple. The library became the soul of our home. It was filled with silence often, and I was privileged to study Jim's face then as he communed outside of time with the authors, ideas, and ages he held in his mind and in his hands. He was the perfect reader . . .
What more can one say about a man like that? Well, there is more . . . tomorrow.

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Monday, September 24, 2018

Betsy Vardaman relates more about the last years of her very intellectually engaged husband


Baylor University, alma mater to the student James Vardaman, called him to a professorship in its history department in 1967 for the next 33 years, and his wife, Betsy, tells us of his busy retirement years after that:
Then retirement began and he filled his days with even more volumes and topics, ranging more freely from Africa, to South America, to the American West, to the cosmos, to the history of salt, to the novels of Cormac McCarthy.

He had great friends and immediately began to organize lunch groups . . . . On occasion, they came to our home and, sitting in the library, enjoyed homemade apple or pecan pie . . . . Jim was, of course, a dynamic presence in those and many other conversations that took place in "the room." He was a master at orchestrating discussions, choosing when to remain quiet and listen; when to posit a complex, follow-up question; when to challenge or complicate a historical point or provide context; when to contribute an anecdote or correct a date about a leader, scoundrel, war, world issue; or if encouraged slightly, when to explain the riveting history of the potato.
More tomorrow from Betsy, the person who knew him best. The quotes are from her Remembrances of Dr. James W. Vardaman and his Library.

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Sunday, September 23, 2018

Another Note on Professor Vardaman

Betsy Vardaman

Readers of this blog will recall that one of my great teachers, Dr. James Vardaman, died this year. I've just received from his wife, Betsy, a copy of her "Remembrances of Dr. James W. Vardaman and His Library." Here is an initial quote from the small booklet:
[We spent many a happy day in what had been the garage, now Jim's office, holding his thousands of books, by which,] the power and weight of the air in his office at Baylor was replicated, floor to ceiling, here. Year in and year out, each book has stood tall in its assigned place, meeting the terms of its multifaceted, ongoing relationship to its overseer. The room . . . was and is now a palpable testimony to the passions of one mind to encounter, comprehend, wrestle with, and harness vast fields of knowledge.
I'll quote more of these remembrances over the next few days. This one is to establish that the man was not only a seeker after knowledge, but also a thinker.

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Saturday, September 22, 2018

My Favorite Paradox


In the wastrel days of my misbegotten adolescence, I enjoyed abusing the putative luck promised by the all-powerful chicken wishbone, for I each time wished to lose.

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Friday, September 21, 2018

New Review of The Soil

Note My Name
Click Book Image

I was surprised to stumble across a new review of The Soil, which says:
[A]ctually, it's a very easy read. First serialized in a Korean newspaper in 1932-3, the narrative is deftly paced, designed to get a general reader hooked, with a large cast of characters from the city and country, glamorous lifestyles, beautiful women, love affairs, heroes, villains . . . and a message . . . . So, having now finished the book, I'm sorry I left it on the shelf so long. It's a thoroughly enjoyable read, with plenty of insights about life and society in colonial Korea, and plenty of moral lessons too.
Unfortunately, the reviewer -- Philip Gowman -- gets my name wrong: "Horace Jeffrey Hodges." This still happens so often. Nevertheless, the review is positive (also quite long), and I have notified the site's owner, i.e., Gowman, about my middle name (Jeffery), which he has since corrected.

Go and read the review.

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Thursday, September 20, 2018

My Uncle Clarence has passed . . .

Clarence Bowling

Another death in the family, as you can read here below in the official obituary:
Clarence Calvin Bowling was born November 12, 1926 in Salem, Arkansas . . . . He departed this life on September 15, 2018 at Salem, Arkansas. Clarence attended Salem schools and graduated from Salem High School in 1946. He graduated from Arkansas Tech in Russellville with an Associate's Degree in Agriculture. Clarence was a veteran of the U.S. Army, stationed in Germany during the Korean War. He taught agriculture to Veterans at Norfork, Arkansas. Clarence received his Bachelor's Degree in Agriculture and Master's Degree in Entomology from the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. Clarence married Ava Jo Perryman of Salem on September 4, 1953 in the Salem First Baptist Church. In 1955, after obtaining his master's degree, he accepted a job as an entomologist with the Texas A and M University System in Beaumont, Texas. He worked to prevent insect crop destruction to rice and soybeans. He and Ava Jo had three children, Mark Brian, Cynthia Gail, and Sara Jo. Clarence and Ava Jo lived in Beaumont for 48 years. They were members of Amelia Baptist and Westgate Memorial Baptist Churches. Clarence served as a deacon for many years in both churches. He was a men's Sunday School teacher during these years. He enjoyed fishing, hunting, and gardening. He was a likable and dependable neighbor and a loving and caring husband and father. His personality and character were pronounced by strong stability. Clarence retired early from the Texas A and M University System. He began a crop consulting business dealing with rice and soybeans. Earlier, he received a patent for insect collection kits of which he made a small business. He acquired other patents relating to his work. He also wrote articles pertaining to entomology in various books and magazines. His career involved traveling to a number of foreign countries to share his knowledge concerning entomology and agriculture. In 2003, Clarence and Ava Jo moved to Horseshoe Bend, Arkansas. They were members of Salem First Baptist Church.
The complete obituary can be read here, but if I were to add enough of my own thoughts to depict the sort of man he was, I would have to write volumes, most of them about his kindness combined with his strong determination to do the right thing when the right time arrived. I attended Baylor University (Waco, Texas) from 1975 - 1979, and my years there overlapped with the years his daughter Cindy attended (1974 - 1978), so I was often in Beaumont celebrating the longer holiday seasons of Christmas and Easter.

My brother Shan spent more time with Uncle Clarence than I did, even working for him in entomology, if I recall, so I hope he'll post a comment here that will fill in the details that I don't know as well, but especially on the man's sense of humor, which I actually did know well, but which Shan knew better.

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Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Whimsical Paradox

A Pair of Dogs

The premise of this piece is "a paradox for a pair of dogs," Or maybe the other way around. Or both.
A Pair
Chili to bed
and
chilly to rise
makes a man
burn with cold,
tempramentliar
wise!
I know "tempramentliar" ain't no word, but who the hell cares?

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Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Imprecations!

Imprecations
On Those
Who Drive
While Cursing

Back to doggerel:
Best Advice
Early to amble
off to sweet
beddie-byes
makes for a huge
devastating surprise!
But I don't know the surprise --
else it would be no surprise.

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Monday, September 17, 2018

Pound it in: Be Penny Wise!


Writer
Early to bed,
but
arise to revise,
makes better profits
and suits penny wise.

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Sunday, September 16, 2018

I know doggerel's great fun, but I feel compelled to bring this report on free will!

Free Will

I've occasionally, if rarely, discussed free will on this blog, but I'm doing so today because I read an intriguing article by Michae1 Egnor titled "More Than Material Minds" (Christianity Today, September 14, 2018), in which  are discussed the significance of recent findings in neuroscience on the possibility of free will:
Some of the most fascinating research on consciousness was done by . . . Benjamin Libet at the University of California, San Francisco. Libet asked: What happens in the brain when we think? How are electrical signals in the brain related to our thoughts? He was particularly interested in the timing of brain waves and thoughts. Did a brain wave happen at the same moment as the thought, or before, or after?

It was a difficult question to answer. It wasn't hard to measure electrical changes in the brain: that could be done routinely by electrodes on the scalp, and Libet enlisted neurosurgeons to allow him to record signals deep in the brain while patients were awake. The challenge Libet faced was to accurately measure the time interval between the signals and the thoughts. But the signals last only a few milliseconds, and how can you time a thought with that kind of accuracy?

Libet began by choosing a very simple thought: the decision to press a button. He modified an oscilloscope so that a dot circled the screen once each second, and when the subject decided to push the button, he or she noted the location of the dot at the time of the decision. Libet measured the timing of the decision and the timing of the brain waves of many volunteers with accuracy in the tens of milliseconds. Consistently he found that the conscious decision to push the button was preceded by about half a second by a brain wave, which he called the readiness potential. Then a half-second later the subject became aware of his decision. It appeared at first that the subjects were not free; their brains made the decision to move and they followed it.

But Libet looked deeper. He asked his subjects to veto their decision immediately after they made it -- to not push the button. Again, the readiness potential appeared a half-second before conscious awareness of the decision to push the button, but Libet found that the veto -- he called it "free won't" -- had no brain wave corresponding to it.

The brain, then, has activity that corresponds to a pre-conscious urge to do something. But we are free to veto or accept this urge. The motives are material. The veto, and implicitly the acceptance, is an immaterial act of the will.

Libet noted the correspondence between his experiments and the traditional religious understanding of human beings. We are, he said, beset by a sea of inclinations, corresponding to material activity in our brains, which we have the free choice to reject or accept.
The veto is interesting, but I wonder if the fact that it was already decided in advance makes a difference to the outcome. Perhaps the brain wave in this case entailed both the decision to press the button and the decision to veto that decision. Comments welcome.

For the entire article, click here. This article originally appeared in Plough Quarterly No. 17: "The Soul of Medicine" (Summer 2018).

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Saturday, September 15, 2018

Just one of the guys


Disguise
Earl-ly to bed
and
earl-ly to rise
maketh man noble -
just one of the guise!

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Friday, September 14, 2018

Join the Loco Chapter!

Crazy

Mere Squalidity

Squirrelly to bed
and
squirrelly to rise
leaves a man's mind
in a squirrelier guise.

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Thursday, September 13, 2018

Some Nonsense About Fries


One Untimely Born

Early to bed
and
early to rise
meant Benny
ne'er tasted
MacDonald's
French Fries.

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Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Actuarial Deliberations . . .

Re-Boot Camp?

Actuarial

Rarely to bed
but
ever to rise
makes a man
likely for
early demise!

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Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Dough, a deer, a female deer . . .


Baker

Early to bread,
to watch the dough rise,
makes a  man stealthy,
perhaps even wealthy,
but of health in no wise!

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Monday, September 10, 2018

Less Grouchy Benjamin

Disguise


Flexible

Lately to bed,
I must improvise,
and take on
a healthy,
and wealthy
disguise!

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Sunday, September 09, 2018

Dr. Franklin's Curative

Betty Boop

Pre-Curative

Of girlie to bed,
or just fantasize,
the latter's more
healthy --
you're wealthy,
and wise!

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Saturday, September 08, 2018

Poeticizing Dr. Franklin

Poeticizing
Franklin

Franklinism

Early to bed,
for push-ups to rise,
makes a man ruddy,
exercise-wise.

If I write enough Franklin doggerel, I'm sure a handful of them will be inspired poems of genius, but bear with me, for this may take a while . . .

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Friday, September 07, 2018

Franklin causing Richard Saunders grave distress

Not Penny Money

Engraven

Early to bed,
and early to lies
made slightly more likely
Poor Richard's demise.

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Thursday, September 06, 2018

Staying Alive


Jamin

Earlier dead
or longer alive,
a lifespan's
too short
for a body
to thrive!

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Wednesday, September 05, 2018

Faster than Light, Slower than Heavy

Critical Theory
Flecting and Re-Flecting

Crit Lit

Early to bed,
still earlier to rise,
would surely make
physical laws
meet demise.

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Tuesday, September 04, 2018

Franklin's Frivolities Imagined

Robert Feke's Rendering
1856

Here, again, lies the image of an imagined Franklin:
Marital Arts

Early to wed
and
early to rise
makes a man
babies:
li'l gals,
li'l guys.
The word "lies" is, as always, ambiguous.

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Monday, September 03, 2018

A sad Franklin gazes down on us with sympathy

A Dollar Bill
(Apologies for
so little value)


Here's another ripoff of Richard Saunders, Franklin's alter ego, whom Franklin treated badly:

Franklin Wrote This Not
Bully to bed
and
bully to rise
makes a man
headstrong,
not
wealthy
nowise.
And Franklin didn't even share any of the price money with his alter ego!

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Sunday, September 02, 2018

Milton: Books are not absolutely dead things . . .

John Milton

I borrowed from at least two different writings by Milton and at least a couple more not by Milton in composing this sonnet below, which is in the series of poems I've called the Writing Block series. In order to make this more fun, let's see which readers can find the sources to the poem below:
Not Books Alone
Also is letter not completely dead,
But in the vial of the living word
Sustained is law that oft soundeth absurd,
Provoking object that, provoking, led

To choiceless choice, for reason is but choice,
And Satan quick did grasp the naked truth,
That Eve and Adam, much to their great ruth,
Grasped naked, that reasonless meant the Voice

To excite voiced obedience: "Now choose
Life" from the Tree of Life and live by faith
Sustained through grace, or so He sayeth,

Yet still I fear can this salvation lose,
Though grace hath promised that she ever stayeth,
For gaze on Lucifer, who ever strayeth.

There it is, a sonnet in process, which might or might not be finished. I generally keep tinkering on my poems forever . . .

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Saturday, September 01, 2018

Utopia, Texas - Town Motto: "There's no place like utopia."



Schroedinger's Utopia:

Utopia is nowhere.

Utopia is now here.

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Friday, August 31, 2018

Rotund, but Franklinesqe?

Deflated Basketball
A Provoking Object

The following isn't doggerel - it's even worse! It's in the pre-doggerel, feline-fine category:
Going to Fat

Burly to bed
and
burly to rise
makes a big belly
that can shimmy
likewise.
And whoever wrote this inglorious, if diffuse, even nebulous screed against adipose tissue is a skinny little anorexic fatophobe!

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Thursday, August 30, 2018

NYT Error? - Neil Simon, 1927-1918

NYT Error?

My wife took this photo of the NYT's lower left-hand quarter section, which gives Neil Simon's birth and death dates as 1927 and 1918, respectively, of which the latter figure would appear to be possibly wrong, but who am I to argue with the NYT?

To argue or not to argue. That is the question . . .

Shouldn't one express some skepticism at a report that a man passed away about nine years before he was born, especially if that same man is shown in fine fettle in an accompanying photo dating to the year 2000, when he would already have been dead for about eighty-two years?

There must be some error here, but I can't quite figure out what it is . . .

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Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Astrology in Gnosticism

Bullsh*t

The friend whom I referred to as a thought-thief also displayed a lack of integrity on the issue of astrology in Gnosticism. She gave a presentation on Gnosticism and was asked if astrology was found in the gnostic system. She said she hadn't noticed it.

I spoke up and said, "I can answer this question. Astrology is pervasive in Gnosticism."

My friend didn't like to hear that, and she said to me later that when one visits another person's seminar for the first time, one should remain courteously silent.

I knew that  was bullsh*t, and that the real reason was that she was embarrassed at being so totally wrong on such a basic point in a field within which she was supposedly an expert.

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Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Those upon whom Allah's wrath rests and those who have gone astray


Last Friday, I noted that a manifesto had been published in France as a call to the Muslim world to 'freeze' verses in the Qur'an that call for violence against Jews, Christians, and unbelievers.

Muslim leaders angrily complained of racism, Islamophobia, ignorance, and other epithetical expletives, and they said that there are no such verses in the Qur'an.

I noted that there are a number of verses that urge violence against those upon whom Allah's wrath rests and upon those who have gone astray, and these unfortunate fellows have often been identified as Jews and Christians, respectively.

I therefore suggest that we search the various writings of those Muslim leaders who have denied any hostility toward Jews and Christians in the Qur'an and see how they interpret such verses.

I'd suspect that we'd find many such readings by these  Muslim leaders.

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Monday, August 27, 2018

Already Educated a Bit

Religion

Once upon a time, nearly two decades ago, I proofread and helped edit a book on "women and religion" for a friend who was working hard to make her mark in religious studies. There were a number of minor corrections that I made, as well as some matters of style that I adjusted, all of which she accepted. She had long realized that I was a better writer, and she didn't try to argue against my alterations.

But I then startled her by pointing to an important passage in her book and saying that she could strengthen her argument considerably by reworking the passage in a certain way.

She looked at me in surprise, dumbfounded for a moment, then said, "Well . . . I guess you learned something from my book."

My turn for surprise. I looked at her in silence, though I could have said, and maybe should have said, "Well, if I learned something from your book, then why did your book have to learn it from me?"

But we were still friends at that time, and I didn't want to embarrass her, though I now realize that I shouldn't have let her get away with that thought-theft.

She needed to know that I was already a fairly well-educated fellow before I met her, for she seemed remarkably oblivious to that fact.

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