Tuesday, July 31, 2007

This Is Me, This Is Grandma

This is me.
This is Grandma.

Julia Katherine (Raska) Dill

This Is Mom, This Is Me

This is mom.

This is me.

Monday, July 30, 2007


OK, so I've got an open Saturday evening, and I'm hoping for some time around the fire with friends and a good bottle of wine. Now I can call send one phone message and invite everyone at once, and recipients can respond immediately from their own phones using single keys for "yes," "no," or "maybe" answers or leave a voice message of their own. The new service is Phonevite (free, of course), and it lets me add "voice" to invite functions like those already available through Facebook or Evite. Like these services, I can track responses by logging in at Phonevite.

...don't know where this will take me, but I thought it was worth having a "go" and passing along to you.


...found a new "must try" application. Jott is a quick sign up that lets you PHONE your email account with a reminder - an on-the-go update for to-do list from your cellphone. Jott converts your voice message to text that will show up in your email a few minutes later, and it works with txt msgs, too! Of course, it's FREE!... and like Abe says, "I like free."
From the site:
Try Jott.com, a cool new web service that helps you get more done. It's been hailed as "insanely clever" and a "godsend". Very simply, Jott let's you use any ordinary cell phone to dictate an idea or memo to your to-do list via email and text messages - all by converting your voice to text. Best of all, it's FREE.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

A "Fix" for Democracy

“What has gone wrong in our democracy, and how can we fix it?” These are the questions that Al Gore boldly and passionately addresses in his book, The Assault on Reason.

Gore frames the conversation with a focus on literacy – the capacity to receive, assimilate, and articulate response to information. He outlines the nature of literacy common to the print-based society out of which democracy first sprung in our country and contrasts that with today’s society where one-way, television-based information dominates the scene. Gore convincingly argues that subsequent shifts in patterns of literacy and access to information distribution have put our democracy at risk, disenfranchised the vast majority of Americans, and created the vulnerabilities that have made it possible for the Bush administration to pillage our nation for personal gain.

eight chapters of brutal awakening. Call Bush the Wizard of Oz, and I have been one of too many willing to “pay no attention to the little man behind the curtain,” while he goes on making plans to protect his own interests. Gore walks the reader through a behind-the-curtain view of democracy’s dismantling under the Bush administration. He demonstrates the use made of mass media – particularly television – to loll the electorate into complacency and put democracy up for sale to the highest bidder. Where Brzezinski’s Second Chance leans into analytical and often an elevated discussion of national and international political overview, Gore remains approachable and respectfully conversant on similar topics throughout but does so while disclosing an insider’s view of American policy enacted in our names that could only leave us repeatedly aghast and ashamed if complacent and complicit in our knowing. The dissolution of constitutional authority, the disregard for checks and balance between branches of government, the wholesale betrayal of American trust and confidence as regards the war, the environment, the economy, and citizen rights, and the cankerous promotion of glutinous self-service are all illustrated in point after supported point of Bush-led initiatives. I was reading somewhere in chapter seven when IThe relatively comfortable read through introductory comments gives way to finally said aloud to myself, “I need some light at the end of this tunnel, Mr. Gore, and I need it soon.”

That light comes in chapter eight, “A Well-Connected Citizenry,” and as you might expect from the language, Gore looks largely, but not exclusively, to the Internet for hope in the fight to save democracy. He notes the two-way nature of the Internet, the open access, and the means available for assembly of the electorate. Interestingly, he pointedly contrasts “education” with the act of being “well-informed,” defining them in starkly different terms and noting that while being institutionally educated can underwrite the ability to be informed, it is no guarantee and certainly no prerequisite. The “marketplace of ideas,” he states is 1) open to every individual able to receive information and in turn contribute information directly into the flow of ideas, 2) is governed by the “meritocracy of ideas,” and 3) is guided by “an unspoken duty to search for general agreement” (13).

The revolutionary departure on which the tide of America was based was the audacious belief that, as Thomas Jefferson said, “An informed citizenry is the only true repository of the public will.” Our Founders knew that people who are armed with knowledge and the ability to communicate it can govern themselves and responsibly exercise the ultimate authority in self-government. They knew that democracy requires the open flow of information both to and, more important, from the citizenry. That means it is past time for us to examine our role as citizens in allowing and not preventing the dangerous imbalance that has emerged with the efforts by the executive branch to dominate our constitutional system and reverse the shocking decay and degradation of our democracy. (259)

Gore defines the Internet as “perhaps the greatest source of hope for reestablishing an open communications environment.” He applauds the use of blogs, wikis, user-generated TV, and social networks as the 21st century equivalent of 18th century pamphleteering and reiterates the importance of the written word as a basis for propagating democracy. “Generally speaking,” he writes, “bloggers are concerned citizens who want to share their ideas and opinions with the rest of the public. Some have genuinely interesting things to say, while other do not, but what is most significant about blogging may be the process itself … reclaiming the tradition of our Founders by making their reflections on the national state of affairs publicly available” (263). … hurrah for us! And Go, Team, Go!

The Assault on Reason is one summer read I’ll be reading again.

In closing this discussion, I’ll leave you with a few questions given in the last chapter (254-56) as a quick test against which to assess the need for becoming a better informed citizen. Take a read and see how you do.

  1. Can you name one of the candidates running for the Democratic nomination? Can you name two?
  2. Can you name one of the candidates running for the Republican nomination? Can you name two?
  3. Can you name a Supreme Court Justice? Can you name two? Can you name the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court?
  4. True or False: The president is required to follow a Supreme Court decision with which he disagrees.
  5. True or False: Only the Supreme Court has the right to declare war?
  6. True or False: The Supreme Court has the power to declare an act of Congress unconstitutional.
  7. The line “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal” comes from what document?
  8. What rights are protected by the First Amendment, and do you believe “they go to far in the rights it guarantees”?
  9. Are you able to locate the countries of Iraq, India, and China on a map?
  10. Who really won the last election?
Ok, so the last question was my own, but hey… we needed a light moment, right!?

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The Smothers Brothers in Concert

The Smothers Brothers are approaching 70 years old by their own report, and this evening I finally saw them perform live! It was a great show... the YoYo Man made a special guest appearance, the famous brotherly dynamic was in full bloom, and the music was wonderful.

Of course, the jokes were entirely Smothers-Brothers fun throughout, so to share the moment, I'm going to take my hand at telling one of the jokes I heard tonight. Be fairly warned, however, I'm told this is one of my least accomplished skills.

So Tommy Smothers was at the airport, and he saw a guy getting on a flight with a dog, but the attendant stopped the guy when he saw him trying to take a dog on the plane. He said, "Hey, whattaya think you're doing taking a dog on the plane?" The guy answered "It's a seeing-eye dog," so the attendant let him pass. Then a second guy was getting ready to get on the plane, and he had a chihuahua dog at the end of a leash. Now the attendant asked this guy, "What do you think you're doing taking that dog onto the plane?" The second guy answers, "It's a seeing-eye dog," but the attendant challenges him, "You have a chihuahua for a seeing-eye dog?" The blind guy says, "Is that what they gave me?!" And then the blind guy starts swinging the chihuahua around in circles above his head, and the attendant, aghast, says, "What are you doing now?!" and the blind guy answers, "...just taking a look around."
Ok, so maybe the joke isn't that funny, and maybe I made it worse in the telling, but I actually had more fun writing it out for you here than I had when I heard it at the show. ...sometimes encores work!

There were a fair share of political comments throughout the show - of course, and the last song of the evening, "To Dream the Impossible Dream," struck a particularly moving note for me by reinforcing the many encouragements given to stay in the fight for saving our country. Tom and Dick Smothers were taken off the air years ago for raising their voices in protest of the Viet Nam War; how fitting that they are still here when we need them again.

The concert was arranged through the work of Lakeland Public Television as both a gift to the community and an appeal to support public television everywhere. My recent reading has made me more sensitive to the importance of an informed electorate, so I was particularly glad for the "Be More Empowered" clip that kicked off of the show. I'll share that clip with you here:

Fish Life


Often, as I read along with many of your own writings online, a song will come to mind. You'll have something to say that triggers a memory or some conversations we've shared in a chat, and a song will start playing in my head. Well, now I keep a window open for Seeqpod, an application that searches for playable files from any artist that's come to mind for me so far. I've listened to Mellencamp after a "Cobert Report" story, Tori Amos with thoughts toward Tommi, Streisand for kicks, and Sinatra for mood.

I don't get much music time ... I am too susceptible to its call, and there seems always too much work to be done to afford any drift, but I'm finding Seeqpod to be just the thing I need for a fast "brain break" when the moment is right - a dip in the pool and back out again. Give it a try and see what you think.

From Seeqpod online:

The amount of music on the Internet is much larger than music found in catalogs or physical inventories. It's also a well known fact now that the Internet has a growing inventory filled with mashups, mixes and music of all kinds. SeeqPod crawls the entire multilingual deep web in the vertical space of music for playable search, discovery, recommendation and social experiences. In addition, people submit the music and videos they produce themselves as well as locations for music not yet found in the PodCrawler and search results.

At SeeqPod Music, you can search for music, music videos & podcasts by artists you like, as well as discover other artists and songs you were not familiar with. You can generate countless playlists of songs and videos, save them for future enjoyment and share them with friends by e-mailing or embedding a player and playlist in a web page.

SeeqPod is the home for playable search results.

Warning: "There Won't Be a Third"

I just finished reading Second Chance by Zbigniew Brzezinski, a book I picked up at the recommendation of Jon Stewart and The Daily Show. The read richly contextualizes many of the discussions I expect to be “hot” in the coming elections, and it did this by reviewing the Bush-Clinton-Bush presidencies in light the opportunities (squandered and/or redeemed) to realize global American leadership through international and domestic administration.

The book begins with Bush I, the Gulf War, and the fall of the Soviet Union. As the following administrations under Clinton and then Bush II are reviewed, a comprehensive view of what is at stake for America in the next presidential election takes shape. Brzezinski tracks eight “conversations” of presidential focus as they developed over the last fifteen years, and he “grades” leadership quality measured by how effectively each president addressed the needs and opportunities presented in each of those conversations. His scorecard looks like this for Bush I , Clinton, and Bush II respectively

  • Atlantic Alliance A A D
  • Post-Soviet Space B B B-
  • Far East C+ B- C+
  • Middle East B- D F
  • Proliferation B D D
  • Peacekeeping na B+ C
  • Environment C B- F
  • Global Trade/Poverty B- A- C-

Of course Brzezinski makes his case for each of these claims throughout the 250 pages of his book, and I offer you the “report card” only as an overview. As he moves into his wrap-up, Brzezinski outlines what it will take to get this country out of the mess we’re now in as a culminating seven years under the George Bush administration. He writes

America has a monopoly on gobal military reach, an economy second to none, and peerless technological innovation, all of which give it unique world wide political clout. Moreover, there is widespread, if unspoken, practical recoginiton that the international system needs an effective stabilizer, and that the most likely short-term alternative to a constructive American world role is chaos. An intelligent Global Leader IV should still be able to exploit that feeling to tap what’s left of the reservoir of goodwill toward America … an America aware of its responsibilities, measured in its presidential rhetoric, sensitive to the complexities of the human condition, and consensual rather than abrasive in its external relations (in brief, entirely different from its recent emanation)” (192).

In my view (President) Al Gore can step into the role of “Global Leader IV” better than any other person available for the job right now. If the thought has occurred to you as well, you might consider adding your name to any of the online petitions calling for his candidacy. There seem to be a lot of citizens waiting to hear what he is going to do. Any thoughts on that idea from you?

Back to Brzezinski … His closing remarks call for a focus on three complex issues: 1) the need for an American system equipped to formulate and sustain global policy that protects American interests at the same time it promotes security, 2) the need for “responsible self-restraint,” and 3) a grasp of the “novel condition” in the global political awakening now taking place (194).

The second of these ideas seems to play into the potential problem arising with the third if Americans fail to wake up to the reality of their own global citizenship. I often find myself sounding an alarm, particular with young people, about the changed world in which we live. I put myself in check by wondering whether or not I am voicing that “middle-aged” motto bemoaning the loss of better days, but I don’t think that’s the case. This age of new digital literacy is pulling people beyond regional boundaries to measures of awareness that open a view of possibility in such a way as will demand shared global resources. Are we ready for that? Brzezinski asks us to imagine a world where 2.5 billion Chinese and Indians consume as much energy per capita as Americans do. He writes, “Americans must recognize that their patterns of consumption will soon collide head-on with increasingly impatient egalitarian [global] aspirations. Whether through the exploitation of natural resources, excessive energy consumption, indifference to global ecology, or the exorbitant size of houses for the well-to-do, indulgent self-gratification at home conveys indifference to the persisting deprivations of much of the world.” The growing awareness of inequality (global and domestic) is fueled by continuing advances in communication technology; we can see, hear, and know more about each other now than ever before. Do we really believe we won’t ever have to share?

Brzezinski ultimately makes the point that it will go easier on Americans if we come to the table with a good idea for “sharing” the wealth before we are excluded from the conversation all together while others decide which part of our possessions we’ll be allowed to keep. He sees the upcoming election as a "second chance," and he means to soberly warn us that there won't be a third.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Necessary Arrangements

KD Florals, Bemidji, Minnesota
July 2007

Gulliver Encounters the Learning Machine of Balnibarbi

Having been permitted to visit The Grand Academy of Lagado,

“We crossed a walk to the other part of the academy, where … the Projectors in speculative learning resided. The first Professor … said, perhaps I might wonder to see him employed in a project for improving speculative knowledge by practical and mechanical operations.” Here Gulliver describes a device large enough to fill a room, built something like a spinning cube, each side a twenty-foot square frame laced full with tiny placards of woods able to rotate and spin when the apparatus was set in motion. Can you see it? Each placard had a different and randomly selected word. The “practical and mechanical operation” of learning was to spin the entire device and then collect and transcribe the knowledge that would randomly appear across the several lines of text. “The Professor shewed me several volumes in large folio already collected,” Gulliver goes on to say, “which he intended to piece together; and out of those rich materials to give the world a compleat body of all arts and sciences…” (175).

As I read this passage from Gulliver’s Travels, I thought of student “research” I’d seen done by “googling” the first terms coming to mind and transcribing the returned information as a collection arranged to fill the assigned number of pages. “Works cited” were typically appended as numbered lists of URLs – no thought at all given to title, author, or date of publication.

I don’t want to say I was baffled by the practice; a number of plausible explanations account for the various reasons why students “shortcut” intellectual work – athletics, social activities, competing coursework, or family activities. Swift’s Professor argued his case for a learning machine in way many of my students would have appreciated: “Every one knows how laborious the usual method is of attaining to arts and sciences; whereas by [this] contrivance, the most ignorant person at a reasonable charge, and with a little bodily labour, may write books in philosophy, poetry, politicks, law, mathematicks and theology, without the least assistance from genius or study” (173). The key selling point here would be the little bit of labor required to learn. In their academic work, my students regularly reduced Google search to a version of the Professor’s machine – random returns, copy/paste, and print.

Students I worked with throughout the past year seemed to understand learning in encyclopedic terms: information to be collected, arranged, and filed “A” to “Z” – assembly line learning where, under teacher guidance, textbook knowledge transferred from one “storage” site to another. When the truck (or compact car, as the case may be) was full, class was over. They seemed to realize a responsibility for “picking up” information, but they would distance themselves from any expectation that they use information in a productive practice of critical thinking. For most, the test of learning was only a demonstration of whether or not the “pick up” had been made, and computer resources easily became the “practical and mechanical” means for reducing demonstration to a copy/paste and transcription exercise.

Reducing a workload or finding the most efficient means for completing a project is good by me – no problem there, but I wonder if the students I worked with during the past year were wrestling another kind of problem: connecting the traditional expectations of school and “the basics” they were being asked to learn with the reality of their daily lives. And I wonder if answers to questions like “Why do we need to learn this?” and “When am I ever going to use this?” aren’t becoming as hard for teachers to answer as for students. New technologies certainly facilitate the practice of old models in a first phase of application; Google search, for example, serves information acquisition for writing a paper, but when an explosion of new possibilities for thinking and learning – the very innovation we are all hoping to celebrate – disrupts old patterns, the traditional “paper” assignment must evolve. Of course, this outcome complicates a continued use of old patterns and traditional expectations, and notions “school” necessarily outgrow the nostalgic reminiscences of parents looking back to “when I was there.” …always a tough letting go, but in the end, if the paradigm for structured learning fails to maintain relevance to the fast, digital, and mobile realities of students, then inside the halls of learning, “machines” will facilitate no more than mechanical exercises, and we’ll join Gulliver in putting on a happy face to celebrate the production of nothing.

Swift, Jonathan. Gulliver's Travels (Case Studies in Contemporary Criticism). Ed. Christopher Fox. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's, 1994.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Come With Me Tomorrow?

I walked in a cloud this morning. Past a lake and into the woods. A careful look where early morning sunbeams passed revealed tiny drops of water floating all around me. The air was cool – not above 55 degrees yet, and the ground seemed to fight against the inevitability of another warm day, but for now it was cool – cool enough to keep mosquitoes away, and I was alone. I walked paths that had not been walked in some time and felt the spiders’ webs break across my face, others of them catching bits of light just ahead or to the side of me. Trees had fallen unnoticed – firewood for later maybe, but for now another story of the wind that blew through a couple weeks ago. I left the path, called by wild raspberries and a patch of open grass – lighter greens with the look of soft, quiet, inviting, escape. A handful of adolescent oaks grew nearby the edges and seemed to prove a kind of valor in growth suggesting they’d survived one challenge or another. I stayed there awhile and listened. Then light bounced off raspberries up ahead, and I laughed aloud at how many there were dripping from plants all around. I walked into the middle of them, picked handfuls, and ate them all. Raspberries planted intentionally in my yard are a delicious first breakfast in season at the end of every morning walk, but they never come close to the sweet taste of earth and wild and free and ohmygoodness I ate to my full today. My fingers were numbing from the cold, and I didn’t care. I filled a makeshift pouch in my sweatshirt with pickings and made my way back to the clearing where I stayed for a while. I stopped there. I stopped. Sat. Listened and then just didn’t. Maybe looked and maybe not even that. Just. And then the mist began to lift. Light sliced more and more through cool air, and mosquitoes at last reclaimed their clearing. Cat Stevens sang in my head as I started the walk home, “Morning has broken, like the first morning….”

Sunday, July 08, 2007

The Best Days

“Optima dies … prima fugit” Virgil

Willa Cather’s My Ántonia includes this epigraph on the title page of the book. Two hundred and sixty pages later the words are translated in text: “In the lives of mortals, the best days are the first to flee” (263).

An epigraph is given as a motto or quotation at the beginning of a work of literature that frames a central theme for that work, and certainly Virgil’s words borrowed from the Georgics rightly direct understanding toward greater attention paid and value upheld for those details so easily passing us by each lived day – for the memories we build (or neglect to build) that will comfort us in the closing days of our life.

Three points stood out for me in this reading.

1) The story presents two classes of people making their way together in a small town of Black Hawk, Nebraska: one represented as the “newly moneyed” and the other typified in “the hired girls.” Based on the first, the reader is welcomed to formulate a kind of standard against which to measure the behavior, quality of person, and social value of the latter. By way of contrast, the narrator juxtaposes a discussion of Virgil’s poetic contribution to his hometown with the poetry made possible through the lives and being of the hired girls. “If there were no girls like that,” the speaker comments, “there would be no poetry in the world” (270).

I think of my own life and the moves I make outside the boundaries of standard expectations. Mine is a small town community, and I prize the intimacy of knowing exchanged among members as well as the ready hand wherever help is needed, but I am equally aware that time-tested patterns guide most determinations of reliability and the subsequent reward of inclusion. There is always a trade-off between conformity and the bold colors of adventurous expression (I am here reminded of Tamarika’s recent 100 mile walk), but I am encouraged by Cather’s text to remember the poetry that comes from “girls like that,” and I am glad to be counted among them whenever such judgment tips in my direction.

2) While away at school, narrator Jim Burden encounters a “brilliant and inspiring young scholar” who introduces him to the “world of ideas” and a time of mental awakening he regarded one of the happiest times in is life. Gaston Cleric was his guide in reading, poetry, athletics, and long walks of talking together. Of this time the narrator reflects, “When one first enters that world [of ideas], everything else fades for a time, and all that went before is as if it had not been” (257).

This thought blankets my anticipation of returning to school this fall. It is a return to the “world of ideas” where “everything else fades for a time.” I love the study, the considerations, and the compelling patterns discovered for their power to direct new decisions, compose convictions, and sculpt a life. I have no idea what the outcome will be, and that both excites and unnerves me. I like the comfort of knowing and the cozy experience of predictable environments; the “everything else [that] fades for a time” as I return to school amounts to the safety of all things home to me, and I know that neither it nor I will be the same when I return – if, indeed, one can be said ever to “return” from adventure. And so I embrace the going-on.

3) A youthful Jim and his Ántonia meet one last time before years of career development will take Jim forever from his Nebraska home. Ántonia consoles herself and Jim in shared moments with reflections of her father. “Of course it means you are going away from us for good,’ she said with a sigh. ‘But that don’t mean I’ll lose you. years, and yet he is more real to me than almostLook at my papa here; he’s been dead all these anybody else. He never goes out of my life. I talk to him and consult him all the time. The older I grow, the better I know him and the more I understand him” (320).

Wayne Francis Miller was born July 3, 1925 and died October 10, 1980. “He never goes out of my life,” and I comfort myself in believing he would be proud of me for the woman I have become, for the bits of being that have come to reflect and bear witness to his having been. Here’s a wink and a wave to you, Dad. I love you still.

Through the characters of Jim Burden and Ántonia Shimerdas, Cather argues the value of memories and the cohesive quality of a shared past – even one selectively composed. “In the course of twenty crowded years one parts with many illusions … Some memories are realities, and are better than anything that can ever happen to one again” (328). As the final chapter unfolds, Cather describes Jim and Ántonia coming together again years later: Jim a successful businessman and Ántonia – still vibrant and fully possessed of “the fire of life” – the wife, mother, and landowner that measures success in her own terms. In closing reflections, Cather writes of “roads of Destiny” and “accidents of fortune which predetermine for us all that we can ever be.” Last words of the novel affirm that whatever is missed as life shared together, we possess still “the precious, the incommunicable past” (372).

I treasure my illusions, personal mythologies, and remembered past: they have been purposefully composed to steel me against confusion and to assure me of my own meaningful existence. Through My Ántonia, Cather encourages me to keep up the good work.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Re(de)fining the URL


If you are following this blog by use of the URL through bookmarking or memory, please make a note that the URL will be changing in the next couple of days. The new URL address for this blog will be ... www.readingbodies.blogspot.com.

Thanks for making any necessary changes to your subscriptions. -mg

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Building Cases: Writing Stories

Brenda Mathiesen is both a good friend and an artist - a lucky combination for me as it turns out. Brenda's latest medium is "found" luggage, particularly small, American Tourister cases that once carried cosmetics and spoke of accomplishment in the world. Brenda writes stories-to-go on cases she hopes will continue to be used. Mine will probably take up permanent residence on blue carpet in the growing collection of stories being told there.

The "story" Brenda writes about me reflects the time we shared together at Battle Lake: puzzle pieces, literature, bold colors, technology, tugs-of-war, lions roaring, chains, pearls, and words ... good words.

Some of the highlights include

  • f8 NO Ctrl
  • Pause Break Home ... Bemidji
  • Energy
  • Possibility
  • Dream
  • Writing
  • Learn
  • Definitely
  • Jane Eyre: "I am sure there is a future state; I can resign my immartal part to God without any misgiving. God is my father. God is my friend: I love Him; I believe He loves me."
  • butterflies
  • hands to touch
  • and, Benjamin Franklin
Thanks, Brenda. I feel the love.