Sunday, September 30, 2018

Professor Vardaman's Influence on a Couple of Students

in England with Friends

Professor Vardaman's most special student, whom he most influenced,was Betsy, as she says in her own words:
As I told him more than once, in all the important ways he made me who I am and without question, he gave me the world . . . . Dr. Vardaman (James, Jim) obviously inspired students far and near to realize learning was the only thing for them, too. He opened minds and motivated students to weigh carefully the trajectories for their lives. He insisted that they become critical thinkers and ponder evidence.
Professor Vardaman also believed in me, and said he was proud of me, in a letter of five or six years ago, written in response to a 2012 article of mine ("Points Toward a Culture of Discussion," Resolution of Conflict in Korea, East Asia and Beyond: Humanistic Approach) that I had sent to him:
I sit here on a Thursday evening approaching 8 p.m. and hearken back over the years, remembering such warm and fine things about you. I take pride in you though perhaps I have no right to do so. I'm sure that all of the things that impel you to greatness took place in Salem, Arkansas, long before you appeared on Baylor's campus and in my life.
He's right to see that I was already set on my scholarly path before I met him (but "greatness"?) He nevertheless had some influence on me in his teaching, which I praised him for in warm words that he in turn thanked me for:
I'll always recall your intelligence, your wry humor, your hard work, and your sensitivity. . . . It is hard to believe that you have indeed become a successful Gypsy [Scholar] with your keen mind still intact. I thank you for your warm words [about my teaching and my character]. I hope I deserve some of them.
I'm sure he deserved the praise. Next, concerning the article of mine that I sent him, he wrote:
I read your article and found it deeply interesting, indeed, in places quite fascinating. It seems to me you have asked the good questions, and you certainly have picked a judicious topic! And it goes without saying that I agree with your basic thesis. What educated person could disagree with your opinion! I trust you will be convincing when you deliver your paper at your conference. It's good that you related Sam Huntington's clash of civilizations - rarely do people talk about his view of culture in a positive way as you do. I appreciate your allowing me to read your work. It is quite stimulating.
That was, in truth, a good article. A few other articles of mine attain its level, I hope. Some general observations were also forthcoming from Professor Vardaman:
You've done it well. You've paid the price. I know it has not been easy. There's the loneliness, sometimes the rejection, sometimes the longing for rich understanding from others that just won't appear when we need it most. It pleases Betsy and me that you have been selected to discourse at this global forum. Hopefully it is more than a stewpot. With you there, I think it will be.
And Betsy wrote an addendum to his letter:
Jim is very proud of you, and your sending him a copy of your paper meant a lot to him. When he put it down, the first thing he said was, "Impressive."
I could ask no higher evaluation from such an elevated source, and I hope I deserved the praise. I know I'll never hear its like again, leastways not in his voice. Now, he belongs to the ages . . .


Saturday, September 29, 2018

A Few More Words from Betsy

Elizabeth Vardaman
and Students

Betsy speaks of Professor Vardaman's good health and abrupt death:
Jim lived to be 89 year of age. He did indeed "rage against the dying of the light" and knew himself fortunate to enjoy a long and mostly healthy life. Certainly he had every synapse firing in his brain until the week when all the clocks stopped. Just over four months ago. In this complex, fragmented world, he was a person we turned to for historical context, for wisdom and perspective, for affirmation that we were okay, even if we did not know everything, and for peeling the layers of issues back to their origins.
This might sound like Betsy's last word on the subject, but she still has four more pages, so I might cite some more.


Friday, September 28, 2018

More from Betsy on Professor Vardaman

At Ten O'Clock

Betsy Vardaman was privileged to be with Professor Vardaman every day, and two of her daily wishes were unchanging:
I wished for a tape recorder every day, and more shelving. Books were stuffed under tables, tipping over from stacks in the corners, and sideways on the tops of volumes lined up neatly in their categories and rows around the room. I've always imagined that one could get smarter, just by breathing deeply the air in there. (And, okay, most of the chats between my husband and me were one-sided. The scholar mused on topics from his childhood and/or across time. I listened and nodded as if fully comprehending all the news "the king" rained down on me.) For example, one morning about a year ago, I brought up Tennyson  because I was going to lead a few sessions at our church on Victorian poetry. Suddenly Jim began to quote "Locksley Hall." (This is a very long poem -- and hauntingly crafted, with lines such as these woven throughout: "Many a night I saw the Pleiades, rising thro' the mellow shade,/ Glitter like a swarm of fire-flies tangled in a silver braid.") He recited pages of it . . . not quite all, but almost. I pulled my college English from the shelf and followed along -- truly aghast that he could just access 200+ lines of Tennyson without a year to prepare. He responded, when I asked him when and why he had memorized it, "Well, [my sister] Ann encouraged me to learn poems when I was young. And I liked Tennyson, so I started there."
Life with Professor Vardaman must have been full of surprises. There was always another level to his knowledge.


Thursday, September 27, 2018

Franklin: Short of Time

Franklinizing Again

Eager to tread
one hopes to devise
a way to get healthy,
wealthy, and wise.

Short of time, now . . .


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 . . .


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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
chilly to rise
makes a man
burn with cold,
I know "tempramentliar" ain't no word, but who the hell cares?


Tuesday, September 18, 2018


On Those
Who Drive
While Cursing

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


Monday, September 17, 2018

Pound it in: Be Penny Wise!

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


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

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


Friday, September 14, 2018

Join the Loco Chapter!


Mere Squalidity

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


Thursday, September 13, 2018

Some Nonsense About Fries

One Untimely Born

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


Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Actuarial Deliberations . . .

Re-Boot Camp?


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


Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Dough, a deer, a female deer . . .


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


Monday, September 10, 2018

Less Grouchy Benjamin



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


Sunday, September 09, 2018

Dr. Franklin's Curative

Betty Boop


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


Saturday, September 08, 2018

Poeticizing Dr. Franklin



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

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 . . .


Friday, September 07, 2018

Franklin causing Richard Saunders grave distress

Not Penny Money


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


Thursday, September 06, 2018

Staying Alive


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


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.


Tuesday, September 04, 2018

Franklin's Frivolities Imagined

Robert Feke's Rendering

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

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


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
bully to rise
makes a man
And Franklin didn't even share any of the price money with his alter ego!


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.