Friday, February 25, 2005

Dr. Cornel West, Brother

Cornel WestLast night I attended a talk at UNC-Pembroke by Dr. Cornel West, Professor of Religion and African American Studies at Princeton University, author, and "public intellectual." He was wonderful. Late by an hour because of the weather induced travel delays, Dr. West rushed on stage and held forth for over two hours, outlasting some in his audience. I felt like someone had turn back the calendar when, not that long ago, public figures were not afraid to confront the issues of the day, not afraid to explore both the strengths and weaknesses of our society. It was refreshing.

For those of you who do not know Dr. West, I have taken this bio from a recent PBS series website, This Far By Faith.
Cornel West has been described as a man who plays two roles. First, he is a highly regarded scholar of religion, philosophy, and African-American studies. Formerly a university professor (a position held by only 17 of 7,000 faculty) at Harvard, he has now returned to Princeton, where he taught from 1988 to 1994. Second, he is described as an "intellectual provocateur" outside of the academic world, appearing in lecture halls, on television, at protest rallies, on his own rap CD, and, most recently, in the upcoming "Matrix" sequels.

His dual roles as Ivy League academic and high profile public intellectual have brought West great controversy as of late. His defenders see him as an outstanding scholar, electrifying speaker, author of 16 books, and a dedicated and much-loved teacher. His detractors call him arrogant, academically irrelevant, overly preoccupied with politics and his public profile, and a race-baiter. His recent move to Princeton occurred after Harvard's new president, Lawrence Summers, questioned him about missing classes, grade inflation, his recent CD, his politics, and what Summers saw as a lack of serious scholarship.

But for West, remaining sequestered in the academic world has never been a goal. "I've always wanted to use whatever celebrity status I have for the struggle for freedom, the struggle for goodness," West says. "So if all of a sudden I'm very controversial . . . I don't shy from it, because you can use it as a force for good."

In his scholarly work, West focuses on the area where religious thought, social theory, and pragmatic philosophy meet. His most influential book, The American Evasion of Philosophy: A Genealogy of Pragmatism, is a history of pragmatism from Emerson to the present. His book Race Matters sold nearly 400,000 copies and influenced a national dialogue on race. More recently, he has co-authored two books on public policy issues: The Future of American Progressivism and The War Against Parents.

West's influences range from European philosophy to the black church and the Black Panthers. He also sees his parents at the root of his character and his activism. His mother was a teacher, his father a civil servant, and they brought him up in an atmosphere of progress, religion, and love.

West graduated from Harvard University magna cum laude and earned his Ph.D. degree in philosophy at Princeton in 1980. His political and social work includes serving as honorary Chair of the Democratic Socialists of America, participating in President Clinton's National Conversation on Race, and advising on Al Sharpton's Presidential exploratory committee. He is the recipient of the American Book Award, and has received more than 20 honorary degrees.
Another source for more information about Dr. West can be found at and a site devoted to his CD.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Credit Where Credit Is Due

Ever since my daughter constructively criticized this blog for being deficient in the graphics department I have been trying to illustrate each post. Flickr has made the process almost easy. I think the blog is now richer for the visitor, and my limited HTML skills have improved. However, I have been vexed about how to deal with the moral and legal issues involved. You see, most of these graphics - photos mainly - do not belong to me.

The ability to copy the work of others and use it without the owner's permission has never been easier. Once in digital format and served on a website these graphics can not only be seen by millions, they can be copied and reused for almost any purpose. Along the way the name of the copyright owner is easily lost, as well as any artistic intent.

Although I am not an expert in copyright law and the associated philosophical issues, I have given the issue some thought and do not claim complete ignorance. While this post does not intend to explore or justify my graphics decisions, I am advising my readers of a change in how I am doing things.

Each post that has graphics contains HTML that directs your browser to "lookup" and "paste" a graphic from the Flickr site to your screen. That HTML also can contain information about that graphic. Specifically, if you click on a graphic you can be sent to another web site. And if you place your cursor over a graphic - no clicking - you can see a popup text box. In the standard HTML provided by Flickr the click is back to their site and the text says "Photo Sharing."

I am now modifying the code so when you click on the photo it will take you either to the site the graphic illustrates or to the source of the graphic, sometimes the same place. The popup will contain the word "Credit:" and then the name of the owner of the graphic, as best I can determine. You can practice here.

Test Pattern

This is not a solution to all of the issues involved. But I trust it will make more clear the source of any graphics contained in this blog and honor their ownership.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Travels with Maureen, Jesse and Abby

Garden at DuskIn my continuing series of Blogs I Like I have tried to mention not only those I like but samples of the kinds of blogs one can visit. This one is a wonderful example of a travel-blog.

If you page back to the beginning you can follow the members of the Pesta family from Indiana as they travel through India. They titled the blog Travels with Maureen, Jesse and Abby. What makes this blog special is that these folks are artists with much better than the usual standing-in-front-of-the-Taj-Mahal photos. In fact they are wonderful. Their stories are entertaining as well. They made me want to go back to India again.

The blog ended somewhat abruptly last December. At this point I had 'traveling' along with them for about a month. After my wait had gotten the better of me I commented on their last post. Within a few hours I received the following:
Hello, and thank you for your note!

Indeed we are safely back home. And admittedly we dropped the ball on closing out our trip on the blog. In fact, we were just lamenting that a few weeks ago when we got together and compared snapshots.

For what it's worth, we had the best intentions. We also have a few more stories we could tell. Like about how we started carbo-loading so massively at breakfast --stuffing our faces with toast, muffins, rolls, pancakes, chapattis, banana bread, danishes, tarts and any other bread products we could get our hands on--that we began referring to the morning meal as "breaDkfast."

Okay, it's not as funny as when we had the pants-fall-down incident. But the upshot is that we had a wonderful trip and we're glad you enjoyed our page.

I don't know how much longer they will keep this blog up. So you had better look quick. I really enjoyed sharing their adventure. I hope the next time they travel they will travel-blog again, and let me know.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Cold Feet, Warm Heart

After a second inspection it has been agreed that our old oil furnace is history. The insurance company has offered a reasonable cash settlement. The way is now clear for negations to begin with heating and AC professionals and our local natural gas company. We are hoping to have a "gas-pack" installed thus replacing our old AC unit as well. While we are at it we want to have gas lines stubbed out for a gas log in the fireplace, a gas range, and maybe a gas waterheater.

We might have heat by spring.

Meanwhile, thanks to my wife's sister Carolyn for lending us the two space heaters that have been able to keep the house a reasonable temperature. Warm socks, though, are a blessing, as has been the recent warm weather.

Friday I went under the house to reroute our cable TV lines. We are dropping our DSL line and are going to use our cable company, Adelphia>???, for our internet connection. More speed, less money. I emerged from under the house - which was not as unpleasant as I had feared - filthy. I can't remember being as dusty. It was great. I felt like a kid again.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

, Ever?

Last week while driving back home after getting my car serviced I was listening to WFAE, "Charlotte's NPR News Source." A young female reporter began a local news story something like this,
"City of Charlotte officials announced today that 25.1 million passengers used the Charlotte/Douglas International Airport facilities in 2004. This was the largest number of passengers using the airport, ever."
Ever? I was aware that NPR has been trying to appeal to a younger demographic. Fair enough, Bob Edwards notwithstanding. But "EVER?"

Dude, I am so totally down with that. Not!

Maybe I was not having my Best Day Ever.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Doc Watson

Doc Watson

Last Saturday night I saw and heard Doc Watson at the Lyric Theatre in Blacksburg. Mr. Watson, shown here a couple of years ago at Merlefest with his grandson Richard, will be 82 years old this March 3rd.

For those of you who might not have heard of Mr. Watson, he invented and perfected the guitar style know as flatpicking in the 1950's. His influence on country, folk, and bluegrass music is wide and deep. He is a Recipient of the National Medal of Arts, a National Heritage Fellowship and seven Grammy Awards, including a recent one for Lifetime Achievement. He is a living legend.

I remember seeing him almost 20 years ago and thinking then I might not get very many chances to hear him play again. I underestimated his longevity, his continued ability to play at a high level, and his willingness to continue to tour.

I can only hope when I am his age I will be doing anything as well as the playing and singing he shared with us Saturday night.

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Now You Tell Me, Pussy Cat

PipesSeveral weeks back we discovered that the drain running from our kitchen sink was no longer living up to its name. After exhausting the normal homeowner remedies we called a plumber. He had no more luck with the drain than had we until he crawled underneath the house. He found the stoppage was the least of our problems. The cast iron pipe was also lying on the ground, completely rusted through and broken. Until it plugged, water from the sink and dishwasher had been leaking underneath the house “for many years” creating a small lake.

A few hundred dollars later (ouch) the drain was repaired and things are better now.

About that same time I noticed my car wanting to drift left while going down the road. "An alignment problem," I thought. With a trip this weekend to Blacksburg to hear Doc Watson at the Lyric, I wanted to get that fixed. While I was at it my car needed her regularly scheduled maintenance. As it had been a couple of years and many miles since she had seen a dealer's service rack, I scheduled a trip to Charlotte on Thursday. After I added a few other items that needed attention, the mechanic and service manager added a few others, a broken motor mount for example. What started out as a simple wheel alignment took two days of labor and about 2K$. Ouch!

Still, I have no complaints. Olympia has carried us safely almost 180,000 miles, with few unpleasant surprises. The service staff at the two dealers I have used have been very professional. And I mean that in a nice way. Driving back from Charlotte Olympia ran smoothly and straight down the highway. Things are better now.

A couple of days ago I noticed the smell of fuel oil inside our house when the furnace was running. As it seemed to be getting worse we called a heating and AC mechanic. Yesterday after crawling back from underneath the house his first words were, “ Do you have a backup source of heat?” After I told him we had none he suggested we would need something for a while because he had just disabled the furnace. It was not safe to operate, he said. Besides the flue being stopped up, “collapsed” was his description, the heat exchanger seemed to be leaking. These conditions would account for the smell – and probably carbon monoxide – inside the house. Given the age of the furnace – about 30 years old he estimated – and the location – sitting on the ground all that time – he suggested we probably would need a new furnace even after the flue is repaired. OUCH!

It is 59 degrees inside the house as I write this, and dropping. My fingers are cold. It will probably be a few weeks until we have resolved all the associated issues and we have a functioning heating system again. Things are not better now.

While driving back last night from a failed attempt to locate any space heaters at Lowe’s or Wal-Mart (?#@**^%!?!!!!), a black cat ran across the road in front of my car. I started to laugh. “Too late,” I snorted, “Too fucking late.”

Friday, February 04, 2005

Baghdad Burning

riverbend_bookFrom the feminist press of the City University of New York, an announcement of a forthcoming book, and the source of my next recommendation:
In her riveting weblog, a remarkable young Iraqi woman gives a human face to war and occupation.

In August 2003, the world gained access to a remarkable new voice: a blog written by a 25-year-old Iraqi woman living in Baghdad, whose identity remained concealed for her own protection. Calling herself Riverbend, she offered searing eyewitness accounts of the everyday realities on the ground, punctuated by astute analysis on the politics behind these events.

Riverbend recounts stories of life in an occupied city - of neighbors whose home are raided by U.S. troops, whose relatives disappear into prisons, and whose children are kidnapped by money-hungry militias. The only Iraqi blogger writing from a woman's perspective, she also describes a once-secular city where women are now afraid to leave their homes without head covering and a male escort.

Interspersed with these vivid snapshots from daily life are Riverbend's analyses of everything from the elusive workings of the Iraqi Governing Council to the torture in Abu Gharib, from the coverage provided by American media and by Al-Jazeera to Bush's State of the Union Speech. Here again, she focuses especially on the fate of women, whose rights and freedoms have fallen victim to rising fundamentalisms in a chaotic post-war society.

With thousands of loyal readers worldwide, the Riverbend blog is recognized around the world as a crucial source of information not available through the mainstream media.
While her Baghdad Burning posts may be infrequent due to continuing power outages, and photos nonexistent, Riverbend reminds us again of the human costs of war and the power of a brave writer and her weblog.

There are other blogs from Iraq, with widely varying viewpoints and agendas reflecting the various religious, ethnic, and secular points of view. For example, try A Family in Baghdad, Kurdo's World, A Star from Mosul, or Raed in the Middle. Separating the heat from the light may be difficult sometimes. War does that to people. Voices from Iraq gives a good overview of sites. Or you can just google.

There are also a number of blogs by U.S. service personnel. They vary also. Some passionately focus on their struggle to bring democracy to the Iraqi people while others question their mission or share the hell-on-earth experiences of war. Like Stuart Hughes, some "real" reporters have personal sites, Christopher Allbritton's or Kevin Sites' for example.

Because of the highly political nature of the U.S. liberation/occupation of Iraq, you may wish to shop around until you find one that you are comfortable with. Or maybe you will find yourself returning again and again to one that challenges your assumptions. That is the beauty and the power of blogs.

These eyewitnesses, who are often in harm's way, are willing to share what they are seeing with us; the least we can do is pay some attention.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005


Remember when I posted on January 24th:
Many bloggers revealed quite personal details of their lives while protecting their identity. Others revealed little about themselves while posting about every subject I could think of, and a few beyond my imagination.
DooceAnd now for something completely different. Allow me to introduce Heather B. Armstrong, a.k.a. dooce. A good southern girl raised in Tennessee, dooce not only does not follow most of the rules, she has made up her own. A web designer and early blogger, in 2002 she was fired from her job in in L.A. for her (she thought) harmless observations on her (she thought) anonymous blog. In doing so she added a word to the language of the internet: dooced "Losing your job for something you wrote in your online blog, journal, website, etc." She may have been the first, but she has not been the last.

Since then she has married, moved, and had a daughter, Leta. Her continued blogging, with its cautionary employment backstory, has evolved to include her pregnancy, severe postpartum depression and recovery, living as a no longer practicing Mormon in - of all places - Salt Lake City, and motherhood.

Her site is now very not anonymous, yet it contains personal information usually shared, if at all, with the closest of friends. She takes wonderful photographs from around the house and neighborhood, posting one each day. Not surprisingly her web site is a model of clear and effective design. She also writes well. It is a very unusual blog.

Her site has gained quite a following, making it and her rather famous. NPR interviewed her several weeks back and last Sunday she and her daughter were featured - among others - in a NY Times article (registration required), including a photo of Leta in mother's lap. About 40,000 people visit her site daily, about 39,992 more than mine. She is up for four (??) Bloggies this year.

There are those who are put off by the perceived self-absorption and self-importance of bloggers, and the subject matter and language used on many personal sites (dooce could make a sailor blanch before turning red-in-the-face). Dooce would be an easy target for those so inclined. And Heather may be a little tightly wound for some. But there is something refreshing about this blog that keeps me one of her 40,000. For better or worse, dooce is real. Heather, husband Jon, Leta, and dog Chuck are like that typical young couple down the street who are always up to something. I wonder if they would like to come over one evening, sit on the porch and have a beer?

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Uncle Pickett

PickettLast week I traveled to Virginia to visit with my mother and stepfather, do some research at the Library of Virginia, and spend some time with my aunt and uncle.

My uncle Pickett is 94, the last of my Edwards grandparent's four children. His wife Jean is 92 tomorrow. While she is still very active - driving, swimming at the Y, and shopping - Pickett is not. A variety of ailments keeps him at home most of the time. His vision is about gone and is deaf in one ear and can't hear out of the other. He needs oxygen frequently and has developed a spinal condition commonly known as a hunchback.

However his mind is clear, his memory intact and his mood inevitably cheerful. Even though the photo above was taken when he was only 91, I saw that same smile last week. While I am sure he is not entirely pleased with his current situation, he is dealing with it with dignity and grace. Besides being one of my few remaining windows into the world of my father's childhood and the lives of my grandparents, he is my hero. I hope I am still able to smile as he does when I'm 94.

Maybe you have an uncle Pickett in your family. If you do, take advantage of your good fortune. Visit with them. They may not know squat about the world wide web but there is still much you can learn from them. They might enjoy your company too.