Friday, December 31, 2004

Sobriety on the Eve of New Year 2005

I've been thinking quite a bit about the incredible suffering caused by the recent tsunami in Asia. Numbers like 140,000 dead don't mean much to me, as I don't understand what that means. But when I hear tragic individual stories about parents clutching their kids only to have the force of the water strip the kids away, that's something that completely terrifies me. I just donated some some money to the Red Cross/Red Crescent, and I hope it can help someone and do a bit of good.

Happy New Year to all. I'm hoping next year will be more peaceful.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Walmart Gift Cards and Relatives

As a family we decided about a year ago to boycott Walmart and Sam's Club because we feel it represents the worst parts of our capitalist society. The employees are underpaid, it dictates prices, and its predatory and ruthless business practices remind me of the Borg from Star Trek. Anyway, Kalypso and Gilgamesh each received a $25 dollar Walmart gift card from my father this year for Christmas. First, it represents how little our family knows about us. I feel so marginalized and misunderstood when I'm visiting family. By the way, several in-laws really disturbed me this Christmas season in Omaha with their horribly racist statements. One example will suffice: "(N word)s in don't pay taxes." It was easy to say goodbye to these sorts of relatives in Omaha. Second, back to Walmart. Today Kalypso and I went to Walmart to try to exchange the cards for cash. I explained my personal views about Walmart and why we felt it was necessary to boycott the store, and while the employee agreed that Walmart employees were not treated well, she said that company policy was that you had to purchase something there. So, what to do? If we don't use the cards Walmart wins bigtime. So we can either use them as gifts, or give them to people who shop there. I'm desperate on what to do with these cards and would appreciate any advice. I would very much like to exhange the two cards for 50 dollars worth of aid to go to Asia after the tsunami.

Saturday, December 25, 2004

Better to Give than to Receive

For the official record of Xmas 04:

Gifts given: Godzilla action figures (including Mothra larva), batman superman track race cars, tons of Harry Potter stuff for Barkus (a Mardi Gras parade for dogs), Cajun alligator ornament, Poe Book, 9/11 report book, John Stewart's America book, christmas pin made out of fish scales, Cajun in your pocket, Poe action figure, fleur de lis tile, digital camera, Incredibles video game, Rudolph stickers, and flower vase, plus some other crap I can't remember.

Gifts received: a bag of pistachios and a metal cross blessed by a priest in Columbus named Father Joe.

I shouldn't forget about the 16 hour car ride from New Orleans to Omaha with two kids and two dogs, and the gift of staying at relatives' houses. Plus, in just under three hours we get to spend the rest of the day at Therese's fundamentalist cousin's house. Next year I am totally boycotting Christmas and will celebrate Festivus instead. I'll go shopping for an aluminum pole tomorrow.


Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Pedablogy-How My Students Changed the World This Semester

This semester I had my students pick a problem in the world and implement a project to fix it. Then on top of that, they had to blog 2000 words per week about specific issues related to the class and their project. I am very happy with the results, and I honestly feel that the world really is a better place because of this project. Many students did a great job on this, and I thought about posting links to the entries of all those who received an A. Some students educated the public about HIV/AIDS, others worked with battered women, or tried to lower college tuition, some sought to increase political awareness. One student even tried and succeeded to increase critical thinking in the area. Part of this project involved writing letters. Several students wrote to Dr Francis, the president of our university, and I know that he was impressed with several of these letters and even met with a couple of students about their plan to fix a problem. In the end the students became better writers, and learned that changing the world is difficult, but with determination it is possible. I also think they saw the connection between biblical authors trying to change their own worlds in antiquity and the student projects. But in the end I thought it best if I only post one link to the project of one remarkable student. This student recognized the problem of poor education in New Orleans, and in association with the Chemistry Club here at Xavier, implemented a Saturday program with local Junior Highs to teach science to 8th graders in an effort to improve their test scores on a standardized text known as LEAP. It was one of many great projects, and it was such a treat to read their reflections. It gives me hope for the future of this country and the world, something I desperately needed.

Letter to my Theology 1120 Students

It’s over, and Hallelujah! I am just about to turn in my grades. Yes, even some professors celebrate the end of the semester. I wanted to take a few minutes and reflect on the past semester.

First let me thank all of you for a really great Fall 04 semester, at least as far as I am concerned. In retrospect I really feel good about the work we all accomplished. I know that many of you think that the course was ridiculously difficult, and that the blog project to improve the world was a waste of time. Most students did a very good and impressive job, and there were about 15 students who blew me away with the scope of their project. I honestly feel that the world really is a better place because of all of your work. Some students did great projects but had a hard time keeping up with the writing, while a few did a great job with the writing but really didn’t do too much to improve the world. In any event, the expectations for that assignment were awesome, and hopefully the rest of your academic endeavors here at Xavier will seem easy because of this. If you kept up with the blog assignments, you wrote 2000 words per week for 15 weeks. That in itself is amazing. I hope you also learned that it is difficult to change the world. I still feel that by and large the world is a pretty bad place and I see injustice and suffering all around. But I hope in your lives you will work hard to create change for the better whenever you get a chance. I’m a big fan of Gandhi’s quotation “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” Remember when we read in Amos 3 that Israel, because of divine election, had greater responsibility than the nations around it. Similarly, I believe that you as future Xavier University graduates have a greater responsibility to improve the world. I expect great things from you.

A few students commented that the final exam was too difficult. I want to point out that one student scored 100 on the exam, and many scored in the 90s. Unfortunately for me, there were several scores in the 50s, and I don’t feel like I was able to motivate those students into doing the work necessary for a higher grade.

The movies turned out excellent. I’ll work on editing these over the break, and will post them in early January. Check back then to my homepage and there will be a link to them.

In closing, I think the students here are what makes Xavier so special. Thanks for your hard work, perseverance, maturity, and friendship. Have a nice holiday, remember there is more to life than money, and feel free to stop by or drop me an email now and then. Just don’t send me those stupid chain letters about Jesus.

Friday, December 10, 2004

Thanks Louis

I'm working on this website called Bibledudes. In it we have a section about Alexander the Greak and Hellenism, where a donkey asks why they didn't call Hellenism Greekenism instead. Some brilliant and helpful person named Louis emailed me the following about the BibleDudes website:

Regarding your stupid comment why didn't they call it Greekenism: THATS BECAUSE THE GREEKS CALL THEMSELVES HELLENES YOU IGNORANT BASTARD!

I emailed Louis back saying:

Gee thanks for clearing that up Louis. Great knowing you're such an erudite resource. We'll be sure to run future drafts by you to avoid such stupidity. Thanks again, and keep sharing your vast knowledge with the world wide web.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

On a Chalkboard in the Administration Building

I saw this when I was walking to my office. Sort of sums of modern university education in many ways, and shows that personal responsibility is dead.

Burn Out

I just got back from a walk across campus, and everyone looks very burnt out. With finals starting tomorrow, and grades due soon after that, it has been rough and the heavy work load will continue. But it seems everyone is extra depressed. I spoke briefly about this with a colleague, who thought it might be due to our new schedule, which only gives us three weeks off for Christmas break. It will go by very fast. One of those weeks for me will be in Omaha visiting relatives. That leaves very little time to get all the other things finished, such as publishing, preparing the new syllabi, and finishing up various loose ends. I think I need a cheap boat, so that once every few months I could just go hang out in the water with my dogs and kids and just relax a bit. Maybe I'd bring along some beer too.

Choppers and Catholicism

Yesterday was the last day of class for my TTh sections of Theology 1120: Intro to Biblical Studies. We were reviewing the semester, and I should say that the classroom is a really cool room, perhaps too cool. It's on the fifth floor of the library building with huge window offering a great view of the New Orleans downtown area. Tough competition for my lectures. But all through class yesterday these giant military helicopters kept flying over, and it made teaching nearly impossible due to the noise and the visual distraction. My students said there is a military base nearby New Orleans, and that they were probably Marine helicopters training pilots and crews. I told the students how every Palestinian and Israeli could distinguish between the sounds of news helicopters and military helicopters. It reminded me of times I spent in the Middle East, and how unsettling it is to see signs of warfare and be so immune and apathetic to it. It also made me think about how I work at a Catholic institution, and how many would like to see the Theology dept. represent this Catholicity. But I also feel that the university as a whole should think about these things, and do some reflection. Perhaps in the end being Catholic might mean that we shouldn't let military recruiters come onto campus to recruit our students, or accept large grants from the military to work on weapons. Anyway, just some thoughts as I get ready for final exams on Thursday and Friday.