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Monday, March 29, 2004

CONTINUING THE STORY...

I'm not quite sure when we left Kanopolis on Thursday morning, but it wasn't early - that gave me an opportunity to get a good night's sleep. I suppose it was about a half hour after 10:00am when we left, since we took Old 40 to Hays and were definitely there by 11:45am. We had lunch with Michael, and then continued on to Oakley. After we picked up the kids' luggage downtown, we stopped to see my grandparents who had just gotten back from Arizona where they were for the winter. They seemed to be doing well, and Grandma had a project all lined up for me already: fixing her computer which had been hibernating for several months.

Shortly after 3:00pm, Mom went to the babysitter's house to pick up Mackenzie and then waited on Reilly to get out of school. The kids seemed to be doing well and were both ready to get on the road. They both wanted me to sit in the back seat with them, so it was the three of us in the back and Mom driving till we got to Hays. We ate dinner with Michael and got back home pretty late (for the kids), at around 10:00pm. They both had books they wanted to look through before going to bed, and it was almost midnight before I tucked them in.

They were both up before me on Friday morning, but we watched parts of The Hulk after I got up and they snacked on some breakfast. It was a pretty nice day out, so the kids and I went to Faris Caves and hiked around for a while. Someone cleared a lot of brush and trees away from the entrance to the caves, so they're pretty easily accessible now. Right away, the kids spotted a black snake trying to sun himself at the entrance to one of the caves, and we ended up startling him away into the water. We walked to the river and followed a trail around to the back of the caves. Someone had built four little structures - what looked like one-person tents - out of sticks and leaves. They looked really well built, and I'm not sure why they were there. The kids seemed to think that some kind of animal built them...it was two against one, in that situation, so I guess that's the theory we'll have to stick with.

After some lunch, both of them seemed a little sleepy. They just played around the house for the afternoon. After a trip to Alco, Reilly had gotten a new football with a counter on it that displayed the distance it had been thrown. We tossed that around for quite a while and enjoyed the nice weather. After dinner at Orozco's, I had to be thinking about getting back to Manhattan. I didn't leave until 8:30pm and got back here around 10:00pm, so I spent all the time that I could with the kids. It was really great to see them.

We had a big thunderstorm Friday night and Saturday morning, but I slept right through it. I had to work at 8:00am on Saturday morning, and I had some more reading to do the rest of the weekend. I have to lecture today on ancient engineering techniques - I'm trying to break the class away from the traditional chronological history of Rome, which, while the backbone of the historical study of Rome, leaves the students without a sense of the prevailing culture of the time. In the future, we're discussing art and architecture, but for now, we'll start with some of the basics of innovation in the Roman world...interesting stuff.

Saturday, March 27, 2004

INSERT INTERESTING TITLE HERE

For as many things that I've been doing for the past several days, I just can't think of an eye-catching title to this entry. The same thing happens with e-mail, and it's gotten so I leave the subject blank more often than not. Maybe I'll attribute the lack of a decent heading to my being tired.

Peg had wanted me to come by for coffee on Wednesday morning when I got home, so I had all intentions of leaving Manhattan at around 8:00 or 8:30am, but I knew that if I slept well, that I'd never be able to get out of bed until noon. So I was up late Tuesday night on into Wednesday morning reading John Landels' book Engineering in the Ancient World (about which I have to lecture in class on Monday). I did doze of for a while, but I woke up around 5:30am and decided that I could go ahead and get on the road: there wouldn't be near as much traffic that early in the morning, and I'd have all day at home to visit with people.

And visit I did - I drove into Kanopolis around 7:30am and stopped in to Orozco's for breakfast. I had a feeling that my uncle would be there with the rest of the coffee shop crew, like he is nearly every morning that they're in Kanopolis. But Aunt Jeridee and Uncle Dennie (from now on referred to as AJ and UD) had been in Texas for several months for the winter, and I hadn't seen either of them for quite some time. So I said a quick "hello" to UD and the rest of the coffee crew, ate a bit of breakfast and headed home. I got there just in time to see Dad, who was on his way to Sharon Springs for the night.

Mom and I visited for a while and a little after 10:00am I headed into Peg's. If you gave the two of us enough time, we might be able to not only discuss, but solve all the world's problems. We hashed over a variety of topics and I filled up with coffee, juice, fruit, and a bagel. Peg said that I should be a doctor because of the hours I'm able to keep...unfortunately, I love to sleep and it's easy for me to slip into the bad habit of sleeping too much. But our conversation kept me wide awake, and I was happy to be able to help set up a table and some chairs for the dinner party Peg was having that evening.

After some lunch and a quick half-hour nap, I went to Kanopolis to visit with AJ and UD. We talked for a couple of hours until Mom called, saying there were more people looking for me. I now had two 5:30pm dates: one was a birthday party at the Orozco's farm, the other was wine and a get-together at Peg's. I made it to Peg's again, where a whole slew of people had gathered for dinner: Linda Denning, Mark and Josie Roehrman, Scott Moore, Linda McCowan, Peg and Brit, and Peg's guest Michael White, who was visiting Ellsworth County and the surrounding area to observe our methods of rural economic development and enterprise facilitation. He talked about the methods and laws concerning development in his home area near Manchester, England. It seems he lives in an area called the greenbelt, where no new construction is allowed, but restoration is, whether that restoration is on a current structure or the crumbled foundation of an old building. Good for him, too - his house dates back to 1650 and he has been doing reconstruction in various parts of it. But like the laws in Kansas and the United States (all the way down to local levels, too) there is a considerable amount of quirkiness and legalities that have to be gone through in England as well - there's a fine print on everything.

I enjoyed seeing everybody at Peg's, and a bit after 6:30pm, they were ready to start dinner and I was late to the party in Kanopolis. I headed over, and Joe and Rosy Orozco were the only ones left - meetings and other obligations had sent everybody else on their way. I stayed and visited with Joe and Rosy for around an hour-and-a-half, and then went to Pete and Bonnie's house to meet up with everyone else. Tomasa and Lipa Cisneros had a Christmas present for me waiting there - a can opener, a pair of socks, and a cook book...all practical things that I definitely could use. I looked through the cook book last night, and it looks like it'll work great for next year when I'm in my apartment - lots of good recipes using beer, too, in which you marinate with half of the can, and the author encourages you to "drink the other half" while you're waiting for the food to finish cooking! Speaking of beer, Lipa had gotten me a 6-pack as a thank you gift for giving her a ride from Ellsworth last summer. Thanks, Tomasa and Lipa! And Tomasa just had heart surgery, as well, so I'm keeping her in my thoughts, too.

It was close to midnight when I got back home - I didn't come close to visiting everyone that I would have liked to, but it was great to see as many people as I did. I kept dozing off while I was trying to read before bed that night, so I called it quits and got a good 8 hours of sleep or so - Thursday we were headed out to pick up Reilly and Mackenzie in Oakley, and I needed to be well rested up to ride shotgun. But, that'll be a topic for the next entry...

Wednesday, March 24, 2004

FRANK POPPER HAS GOT ME FIRED UP

When Frank and Deborah Popper came to Kansas State last month plugging their Buffalo Commons idea, I got the sense that, although he was from an urban area, he understood at least a bit about (and sympathized with) the plight of rural communities. I thought then that the Poppers' plan was a bit cumbersome, and work on rural revitalization and tourism was needed more than land reclamation. But the important thing, at the time, was that the Poppers had brought some needed attention to the decline of rural Kansas.

Well, my opinion of Mr. Popper has just been lowered significantly. Click here to read the full story about Marquette and the land being given away to lure in new residents. In declining communities, this sort of incentive is needed to find new residents. The things that I've stressed - tourism and historical preservation - plus land giveaways can lead to an increase in interest (and hopefully, population) in these towns. More population means more services, money, etc. Revitalization is a possibility.

Here's Frank Popper's view of Marquette's solution:

If the town doesn't have much to offer in the first place - pretty much the definition of a declining town - this approach is unlikely to make any difference. It sounds like a desperation move: `Please, pretty please come live in our town.'

It's a disparaging statement like that that makes me realize that all the rural population decline studies in the world can't make an urbanite sympathize with those of us who're seeing our people move away, our schools consolidate, and our main streets dry up. The Poppers apparently have only an far-out idea; a brain-child whose playground would be rural Kansas, and nothing more - the people of Marquette, Kanopolis, and dying rural towns everywhere and their efforts to save themselves be damned.

Monday, March 22, 2004

FINDING PLENTY TO DO

In spite of the almost total lack of people within Moore Hall, or campus, or (it seems like) the city of Manhattan, I've managed to keep myself busy. I was on the phone with my mom yesterday when my other phone (land line) rang. It was Leif, the doctoral student that I assist in teaching Roman History, and he was finished grading the essays that the students had turned in with their tests. I had started on the objective parts (multiple choice, fill-in-the-blank, and matching), but I wasn't close to being finished looking at them. We had originally set the deadline for having everything graded for Tuesday. But he was ready to start grading the short-answer/definition part of the test that I had a hold of also. He came by and picked up the stack that I had graded already and I started grading the ones that were left.

By the time I had to go to work at 6:00pm, I was done with what I had to grade, and he came back and finished grading the definitions on the remaining exams. Then we set to work adding scores, assigning letter grades, and figuring grades for the entire course up to this point. By the time we were finished, it was 9:30pm, and I was almost done working. Afterwards, we went out to have a smoke (he's a chain smoker; I just smell like I am by default of being in close proximity to cigarette after cigarette being smoked) and talked about a wide range of things. By the time his pack of cigarettes was gone, we were out of things to talk about and it was after midnight. It's great that we got those tests out of the way, though. Not that we were in any rush to get them done, since the students won't have the class again until next Monday, but it's just nice to have all the grading finished. It's kind of tedious, and it's given me a greater respect for teachers and professors in general. Grading would be just one more thing to put up with, although it's interesting to track certain students and their progress.

Leif and I naturally talked about history - without a lot of day-to-day busy work and traditional homework, history majors don't naturally run in packs. The only way you would be able to study with a fellow history major is possibly reviewing for a test, but otherwise, it's read, read, read...which (for me, anyway) is always an individual thing, done at my own pace and on my own time. So when two history majors do get together, we've got a great opportunity to talk about what we've read and how we apply it. One of the subjects that came up was one that has come up time and time again in my few years here at K-State - "what do you do with a history major?" I've never asked myself that question - I know the value of history, and I also have a political science major to rely on as well, which offers a wealth of career opportunities. But it seems like no one is interested or enthused when you tell them that you're a history major. Nobody ever says, "That's interesting," or, "What kind of history do you focus on?" Nope - it's always, "History? You can't do anything with that! It's impractical unless you want to teach - and you don't want to teach, so it's useless!"

I attribute that kind of reaction to a modern preoccupation with making money. The "traditional" majors will make you money with work in a specialized field - business, medicine, engineering, journalism, etc. It's usually people specializing in those areas that just "don't understand why you'd want to major in history." Here's my reason - a year from now when I graduate, I will have a significantly more evolved world view than I did when I came here in 2001. I can't imagine coming to a 4-year university and graduating holding the same practical knowledge as you did when you graduated high school. There are people here that'll never touch a history course - they don't know about other cultures, societies, and peoples, and they don't want to know about them. As long as they get out and make loads of money, they don't need a world view.

And no, a history major may never make me rich - that's alright, because I'm doing what I want. History isn't about a cushy job or a penthouse view - it's about being able to relate to others. I know a fellow student who comes by the front desk every morning and grabs a copy of the New York Times and promptly follows that with some snide comment about how barbaric some third world country is - the country changes day to day, depending on what's featured on the front of the paper. I jokingly respond that I hope in his next life, he's born in one of those third world countries. Being a history (or other liberal arts) major is about making a shift from ignorant, sheltered, pre-modern viewpoints to a modern sense of the world. That doesn't mean giving up your beliefs, but it means expanding them, accepting that others' may have a different view on things, and challenging all sides of an issue. It, for me, means realizing that we all aren't white, middle-class, Americans who have infinite opportunities laying before us.

Of course, this explanation would be way over the heads of a lot of 20 and 21 year olds, so I stick with the more basic explanation: History is a practical major. Believe it or not, a lot of companies don't want someone who was trained in strictly business or engineering heading certain tasks - they'll look for someone who has a different aspect on things, someone who's familiar with methods of problem solving. My Political Science major makes an excellent backup to history, here; being able to understand and work with people is important. Writing is important. Research is important. Doing math problems or adding money all day doesn't give you those practical abilities (and yes, I'm deliberately demeaning other majors for the sake of illustration - this is the only time you'll see me making light of someone's chosen career path, unless they're actors in Hollywood).

Some of you will know Chris Berman, a well-known ESPN sportscaster. Here's a quote from him about "impractical" majors:

I majored in history. It's a great background for what I do. I advise youngsters that they don't have to study communications. They must be able to communicate. Study political science or English or history, subjects in which you need to express yourself verbally and in writing.

Being able to express himself certainly did him a lot of good for him, I think. He's one of the most recognized and well liked sportscasters around. Other history majors include Woodrow Wilson, George W. Bush, George McGovern, Newt Gingrich, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Conan O'Brian, Lauryn Hill, Wolf Blitzer, Lee Iacocca, and (sadly enough) Martha Stewart. This website gives an overview of all the career opportunities that are available with history degrees. So my argument is: I'm getting a good education, I'm learning things, I'm studying what I like and what I'm interested in, and there are plenty of opportunities available when I'm done.

Leif told me a story about a time that he worked for an investment corporation. He was (from the sound of it) a lower-level manager of some sort, but got asked to come along to a business meeting in which a big deal was on the line. Their proposed business partners were German. At the meeting, they bantered back and forth, and when it came time to take a break, the Germans admitted that they weren't really sold on the deal. They agreed to go out for lunch, and Leif pulled the other members (higher-ups) of his corporation's delegation aside and said, "ya know, maybe we ought to ask them a few things during lunch about Germany, about their lives and their culture." His suggestion was met with a fair amount of disdain.

Nevertheless, sitting down to lunch, Leif asked the Germans what was the current German opinion about Martin Luther (the German delegation was from Wittenburg). His fellow American businessmen rolled their eyes, but the Germans lit up and started talking about German culture and society. By the end of the day, the $1.3 million deal was sealed, and the Germans admitted to them that it was because of Leif's inquisitions about them...imagine that! A businessman forgetting the transaction for a minute to ask some personal things!

Talking until after midnight reinforced a few things for me - I know why I'm studying what I am, but I just wasn't sure if anyone else did. Well there are people who know, and there are those in the world who appreciate the contribution that a continual perpetuation of knowledge can make. And THAT, is why I'm a History Major...and proud to be one, too.

Saturday, March 20, 2004

SHOOTING HIMSELF IN THE FOOT

So far, John Kerry has really managed to publicize his blunders and get the focus away from the issues he's concerned about. There's this whole issue about the "foreign leaders" that support Kerry, but Kerry won't name names. Good grief, it's like grade school all over again...

Johnny Kerry: "All the cool kids in the other homerooms really like me!"
Georgie Bush: "Oh yeah, Johnny? Who are these kids...do I know 'em?"
Rest of the class: "Yeah, Johnny, tell us! Who are they? Do they like us, too?"
Johhny Kerry: "It's none of you guys' business who they are."
Rest of the class: "Tell us Johnny - you're one of us...we should know!"
Johnny Kerry: "Well, I can't tell you guys who they are...just 'cause."
Georgie Bush: "Maybe you're just makin' all these cool kids up, huh, Johnny?"
Johnny Kerry: "AM NOT!" (runs sobbing into the corner)

Not only is the whole US Presidential race going to break all barriers concerning money - analysts are predicting that the whole race will cost over half-a-billion dollars. Not only is it breaking barriers concerning length of time run - how long have these Democratic putzes been campaigning now? Since this time, last year? Now John Kerry's taken this race over the top - he's involving foreign leaders, although they're nameless, shadowy, ambiguous figures. Who does this guy think he is? Obviously he thinks he's pretty damn important - when questioned about who these leaders were at a town meeting last weekend, Kerry told a voter (a US citizen, a presidential constituent!) that it was none of his business who they were.

All anger aside for just a minute, I'm sure there are foreign leaders out there who would rather see Kerry in office than Bush: Kim Jong Il is one of them. And perhaps some of the international moves that Bush has made have been irrational and have lowered our standing in the world. But for Kerry to go beyond US borders seeking pre-election approval is absolutely ridiculous. It's not surprising that some world leaders would weigh in with their opinions about who they think would better suit the US as president - it is surprising that a candidate would play into this as well, choosing those leaders' "votes" over those of citizens that will actually be casting ballots for him.

....and, ok. Time to get angry again. This just further proves my assumptions about Kerry: he's a shifty, blue-blooded patrician, Massachusetts know-it-all that apparently doesn't trust the American people with even the scantiest of knowledge about foreign affairs: who likes you and who doesn't. The Spanish people proved that they collectively don't have a backbone when they elected a socialist government a couple of weeks ago, scared that their populist pro-US government would only reign down more and more terror attacks on their heads. See, al Qaeda took out a weak link. They aimed for Spain and got what they wanted. I'd imagine they'll do it to Britain, and they'll do it to us as well. The real test will be this: if another terrorist attack were to happen, would we buck up and fight again, or would we cower down and elect a John Kerry to sooth the world over and put a big smile on Osama's face?

We do need to re-evaluate our military objectives. We need to look at fixing some of the broken diplomatic relations that the wars of the Bush Adminstration have caused. But what we don't need is a John Kerry. If he thinks that he's too good to share with me who these non-voting foreign leaders are that support him, then just maybe he's too good to get my vote.

SPRING CLEANING

With the dorms clearing out once again, I'm left here nearly all alone and with a lot of time to do things that otherwise don't get done - cleaning was on the menu today. Of course I slept in, but after I woke up, I had this strange nagging feeling that I should do something. That something was cleaning, and the room needed cleaning very badly. Over the course of a couple of months, I have books strung out all over the place, random papers littering every inch of what used to be empty space, and clothes lying in heaps. And that's just my half of the mess - remember, there's another person living in the same 10' x 14' space. During the normal course of the semester, I just get too busy to clean and organize. As long as it's not overwhelmingly bad, we usually don't worry about straightening up.

Well, I had time to do it today, and no excuses not to. So I did that for about three hours. I still need to pick up all the dust bunnies floating around, and I'd really like to use a steam cleaner on the carpet within the next week, but other than that, the room looks pretty organized. I put all my books on the one shelf that I have for them...which is much too small. I ended up having over 20 books this semester alone, and I don't sell back the majority of my books from other semesters, so I've definitely got a good sized collection from just the last several months. But they're in place for now, and the DVDs are organized again. When I was home on Tuesday for my dentist appointment, Mom let me borrow two of their DVDs - Misery and Radio, plus I still have their Road to Perdition. I suppose I'll get them watched sometime this week, as well.

Today is Mackenzie's fourth birthday. She's sure growing up, and Reilly will be eight in May. I think a lot about them and what they're doing, and I wish that I got to see them more often. I got out to Super Wal-Mart today to buy a present for Mackie. What a fiasco that place is - and what's more, the horrible intersection that leads out that direction (3rd and Bluemont) is even worse since a third stoplight has been added within a few yards of the other two. Of course they don't work in tandem with each other, so traffic really gets backed up. From now on, though, I can use a back way to get to Wal-Mart that is quicker and much easier - Manhattan north to Kimball, Kimball east to Tuttle, Tuttle south to McCall, and McCall leads right into the backside of the new Wal-Mart.

I used the self-checkout at Wal-Mart...have you ever seen one of these? They have them at a lot of newer Dillons stores, but this is the first one that I'd seen in Wal-Mart. The concept is pretty simple: you scan your own items, bag them yourself, insert your payment (cash or credit) and continue on your way. The idea of it is to save time, and if people used it right, it would. When I finally got up to the counter, I was scanned and out of there in less than a minute. But, since it's a relatively new thing, people like to play with it - at one of the counters, a guy was letting his daughter scan items (which was hardly successful), and at another, this young couple seemed totally befuddled with the whole operation. I wasn't in a hurry, so I got a little bit of amusement out of the whole situation.

By the time I finished cleaning and shopping, it was time to come to work. Writing makes the time go a lot faster while I'm here, and if I happen to get bored with blogging, I do have a stack of midterms that I need to grade before Tuesday!

Friday, March 19, 2004

THE TESTS ARE OVER

I had an essay test last night in International Conflict, and that was my last test before break. There were two essay questions on the test, and since the class is normally three hours (5:30-8:30 on Thursday nights), we had the full amount of time to finish it. I didn't think I'd need much over an hour, but I ended up writing for nearly two. That's ok - that ensures it'll be a good test and get me a better grade. There were a few people that were up and out of there within a little over a half hour...I don't know how that was possible, given the detail of the questions.

So I've got a couple of classes this afternoon, but then Spring Break officially starts. I'll be here working most of the time. I've got Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday of next week off, though, so I hope I can either make it home or out to Oakley - one way or another I want to see my nephew and niece - Reilly and Mackenzie. Mackenzie's birthday is tomorrow - she'll be four years old. I haven't seen either of them since Christmas, so I've got to try to either meet them in Kanopolis or go to Oakley to see them...I'm not sure which it will be yet. They were in Montana on a trip with their dad last week, so Reilly's already missed a few days of school, so I will probably have to go to Oakley to see them (even though I'm sure he'd gladly miss a couple more days).

Other than that, I'll just be reading, I think. I'll get the Iliad finished and maybe a couple of other books that I've been needing to get to. Manhattan just opened their new Super Wal-Mart a few days ago, so I'd like to go there - just for the heck of it...I know it'll look like all the others, though.

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

CENTRAL KANSAS SUNSETS

I was home for a bit yesterday - from about 11:30am to 6:30pm. I had a dentist appointment at 2:00 and had to get my braces tightened up. That's always painful for a few days till my teeth get moved around and readjusted. But I got some good news, too. Carmen didn't think that I'd have to have them on too much past 12 months, which will be in mid-September, and I don't have to wear rubber bands anymore either. I might have to in the future, but for now, they're gone. I can tell my teeth have straightened out a lot in just seven months of having braces. They weren't bad before, but there was some crowding due to my bite that had left one of my front teeth crooked and sticking out farther than the rest. It's back in place, now.

It's always good to be back home, even if it is just for a few hours. I ate at Orozco's twice and filled up both times. It's a pretty convenient place to eat since I'm not eating meat - tostadas, cheese enchiladas, beans, and rice never get old. Grilled cheese sandwiches day after day are starting to get a little tiresome, so it was nice to change things up a bit.

I thought a lot about Kanopolis and Ellsworth County as I was driving into the area yesterday morning and back to Manhattan last night, especially along the stretch of K-111 and K-156 before interstate. We really do have some of the most beautiful country in the world, I think. Gently rolling hills, flat plains, river valleys: all in one county. Ellsworth County represents a shift from the east to the west - eastern Kansas is full of hills, and western Kansas is flat enough to see for 50 miles. Both areas themselves are beautiful, too, but only in the Kanopolis area do they come together in such a perfect way. Yesterday morning's blue sky accented our land in a great way, but if anyone still has any doubts about how truly unique the Kanopolis area is, I'd challenge them to view just one Central Kansas sunset.

Yesterday's sunset was one of the most amazing things that I've ever seen. The colors are really indescribable and had to have been seen to be believed and understood, but the sun was blazing a bright yellow-orange, peeking out from behind the clouds that had rolled in that afternoon. The reflection off the back of those clouds lit the horizon up a bright, blinding pink, and the clouds that surrounded the sunset were a misty purple. No picture could have captured the way that sunset looked over the Smoky Hills. I don't know of anywhere else on earth where those impossible colors can mix so perfectly. It was a great sight to see on the way out of town.

With Spring Break approaching, I may have some time to begin working on my history of Kanopolis again. Peg has the introduction posted on her website, and I'll post a link to it later on. The introduction that I wrote many months ago outlined the stark forecast for Kanopolis and similar towns across rural Kansas. It wasn't really an uplifting story, but it was meant to demand attention be paid to our dying rural landscape. Through historical preservation, these towns can, I think, be revitalized.

My history would start with a bit of pre-history of the Kanopolis area. American history started long before Columbus discovered the New World, and likewise, the history of Kanopolis includes the Indian peoples that traversed the land before any settlers appeared in the 1800s. It's a lot of work that deals with an ambiguous period of history, but I think it's important to discuss the types of peoples that lived in the area before Fort Ellsworth moved in.

I had a test this morning in Political Inquiry and Analysis - I felt like it went pretty well. I've got another one tomorrow evening and then my tests are finished. My students in Roman History have their midterm on Friday. I'll be grading the multiple choice, true/false, matching, and fill-in-the-blank parts of the tests, while our graduate teacher will be grading essays. That divides our work up quite a bit, so it's easier on everyone involved. In anticipation of the May release of the movie Troy, I started reading Homer's The Iliad on Sunday. It's hands-down the best poetry I've ever read - it dips into a bit of mythological minutiae at times, but its held my attention unlike any prose or poetry I've read before. Ilium is the Greek name for Troy, and Iliad means (more or less) "a poem about Troy".

My favorite line in the whole story: "The day shall come in which our sacred Troy and Priam, and all the people over whom spear-bearing Priam rules, shall perish all." That's a critique of empires - no matter how powerful they are, they'll always fall eventually. Scipio Aemilianus recited those words upon seeing Carthage destroyed completely in 146 BC - he told Polybius that he worried that one day his sacred Rome, despite all of its power, would fall, just as Carthage fell and just as Troy had fallen. Rome fell too, eventually, the western empire crumbling in 476 AD. All powers since have been unable to maintain their glory: Spain, Portugal, the Dutch, Britain, France, Germany, and the Soviet Union - they've all had their time in the spotlight and they've all met their declines. Like Scipio Amelianus worrying about Rome's fate, I worry about our United States...once you're on the top, the only way to go is down.

Oh...Happy St. Patrick's Day, by the way!

Monday, March 15, 2004

ST JOHN TOOK 3RD IN 2-A STATE

Uncle Dave, Aunt Kathy, and Aimee and Zach were back a couple more times this weekend to see St. John play basketball. It was really great getting to see them so regularly for a couple of days. I met my aunt, uncle, and Zach about 6:00pm on Friday and we went to eat at the Little Apple Brewery. Afterwards, I had to work until 9:00pm, but I was able to make it up for the last quarter of the game. Then on Saturday, St. John was playing for third, and Aimee had come for that game as well. I got there just in time to see the last couple of minutes of that one, which St. John won 58-49. It was really nice to have an opportunity to see so much family in the last few days - that doesn't happen often. It seems like there needs to be something else going on before anyone gets together anymore.

I did see Secret Window on Saturday night - it was really good. Just like a Stephen King movie, it kept you thinking all the way till the end. It was another good performance by Johnny Depp, too.

Conner and Sandall, the pair that had lost the election for student body president by three votes last week, are contesting the election. I don't know how much I agree with that - contesting elections at this level always seems like sour grapes to me. Sure, I voted for them and it'd be great if they could pull it off, but I think there would be this black mark on their victory. We had a revote my freshman year because of problems with internet voting, and it looks like we may have a revote this year. The Conner/Sandall campaign is alleging some pretty serious things, like ADPi sorority members (the sorority of Hayley Urkevich, last weeks winner) collecting student IDs from various fraternities and simply using that information to vote for them, and it seems there were some voting tables set up in illegal places. Even more than that, the vote totals from Manhattan and Salina combined don't add up right. I suppose if they have reasons to file complaint, then by all means, do so. If I were in Conner and Sandall's shoes, my thoughts on the subject might be different, but as far as I'm concerned now, I would bow out gracefully. Filing complaints about a close election like that forces the candidates to take up positions (and fight hard for them) that would be reversed had the outcome of the election been different.

Friday, March 12, 2004

SPRING BREAK IS WITHIN REACH

Not that I'm one of the students who "really needs it" to destress and unwind. I space out my homework, projects, and studying enough all the time so I don't get bogged down and burnt out on school. I think overstudying can be the easiest way to leave college with a bad taste in your mouth. I learn the material in class, I read outside of class and write the papers that have been assigned to me, but I never do so much at a time that I feel overburdened when I'm really not. I've been doing a good job of spreading out my activities - my roommate hasn't been quite so lucky as to be able to do that. I hardly see him at all anymore, since he's at class all day and then spends six to seven hours in the library each night. Yeah, study habits like that are admirable, but I wouldn't recommend them. He's literally made himself sick through a combination of overloading/too much stress/lack of sleep. I could spend six hours in the library each night, I just don't - I've always gotten everything done more than adequately by studying for an hour or so, then taking a break and picking the work back up later, all in the comfort of my own room.

My Aunt Kathy and Uncle Dave and two of my cousins, Aimee and Zach, were in Manhattan yesterday for 2-A State Basketball at Bramlage. Uncle Dave coaches the girls from St. John, but they didn't make it to state this year - they were here rooting on the boys. Aimee and her son Zach live in Lawrence, and it was great to be able to see them - I don't know how long it'd been since either of them. Zach is 10 and you can tell. He'd brought a friend of his, and they were sure wild and gave me a hard time about being a K-Stater. Zach had his hair done in cornrows just a few days ago - I'd heard that he had a pretty good sized afro going on, but it was all tamed and braided by last night. My aunt and uncle will be back tonight (St. John won last night), so I'm hoping I get to go up and see them again. After the game last night, they all came up and looked at my mural.

I've got two midterms that I need to start studying for this weekend - one is on Wednesday and the other on Thursday. Wednesday's shouldn't be difficult at all, but Thursday's will be a challenge. I was thinking about seeing Secret Window this weekend. It stars Johnny Depp, who has been one of my favorite actors since Pirates of the Caribbean.

K-State's Student Governing Association elections were held this week; the primaries were last week. The contest came down to two women - Vicki Conner and Hayley Urkevich. I have Vicki in a couple of classes and had heard her speak - she was my pick for President, which in and of itself is a curse...I've never voted for the winning SGA President. I even went down to Kite's Bar & Grill where the Conner-Sandall campaign was having their election party, awaiting the results. Well, it was depressing - Vicki lost by three votes. The turnout was great and the final numbers ended up 3,122 to 3,119, but I'm sure a loss by 300 votes would have been easier to swallow. Now there'll always be questions about "what more could I have done?" I'm happy to say that I induced at least a few people who weren't going to vote to do so - I'm sure people that were supporting Urkevich did the same thing. But if only I could have talked to four more people! Oh well, when it comes right down to it, the SGA Presidential race seems to be which Greek house can get more money and more voters - Alpha Delta Pi beat Alpha Chi Omega this year. I'd really like to see a non-Greek president sometime, but that stems from my own reservations about fraternities and sororities, both of which I have never really cared for.

Monday, March 08, 2004

THE NELSON ART GALLERY

On Saturday, I went to Kansas City with a professor and several other students from my North American Indian History class. We visited the Nelson Art Gallery to view George Catlin's paintings. Catlin was a mid-19th century artist who traveled the Great Plains, documenting his journeys through his paintings. His travels brought him in to contact with dozens of American Indian tribes which he portrayed through scenic and portrait painting. Over 500 of his originals were given to the Smithsonian after his death, and the Nelson had around 120 of them on display.

The exhibit was interesting and the lecture that we attended (given by George Horse Capture) was a good supplement. Horse Capture's lecture, I thought, was a bit too unappreciative of Catlin's work. I know, Horse Capture's argument is that some of the details weren't painted correctly and that a non-Indian had no business being in some of the places that he was. Though agreeably not 100% accurate, I think Catlin's paintings are of great historical value - think how many of these people, or these ceremonies, or these villages would never have been documented if not for his paintings. It was also a different sort of art display: we weren't evaluating the paintings artistically, we were looking at them as historians - "what was this painting trying to tell us?"

We had a guided tour of Catlin's gallery, of which I got more value by just looking at each picture individually and reading the plaque next to it. The people that give the tours are given the bare minimum of training - only enough to say a bit about each picture and some biographical info about George Catlin. This, of course, was unnecessary when we were going through the gallery with two professors (our professor's wife met him there) who teach Indian History. I felt bad for the tour guides - they were just doing their jobs, but most of us students could have done a better presentation. That's why I like self-guided tours or audio-tours (taped information about each display).

The main exhibit and lecture were good, but I'll have to take another trip to Kansas City to see the rest of the gallery. Of particular interest to me was the ancient art section, which was surprisingly heavy on Egyptian and ancient near-East art. There were Greek and Roman sculptures as well that I could have spent a long time looking at, but we just didn't have the time - only a half hour before the lecture began, which was followed up by a guided tour. The architecture of the Nelson itself is a work of art, with the simple Ionic columns supporting its basic outer structure - the exterior is really beautifully simplistic architecture. The interior is well designed, also, interrupted only by a strange and ugly inclusion of various black marbled Corinthian columns in the main hall.

We devoted an entire day to the Nelson and barely got to see a thing. Like most museums and art galleries, there's just too much there to take in all at once. You just have to pick one thing that you most want to see and branch off from there. I'll be headed to the ancient section on my next visit to take in every sculpture there.

Thursday, March 04, 2004

HOLLYWOOD AND HISTORY

After seeing how well done and historically accurate The Passion was, I had the idea that Mel Gibson should make a movie about the showdown between two of my favorite historical figures - Hannibal and Scipio. The movie (which would be all in Latin and Phoenician, of course) could start out with Flaminius' confused Roman army desperately searching for Hannibal's forces, only to be ambushed and massacred at Lake Trasimene. Time would pass and we could become aware of Hannibal's march through Italy that lasted for 15 years, and finally the increasingly desperate Roman Senate would turn to the successful Scipio Africanus for help. The bulk of the movie would be the tactical chess game played by Scipio and Hannibal, culminating in the final battle at Zama in Africa. I think it'd make a heck of a movie.

Unfortunately, a movie about Hannibal is already slated for 2005. It's starring none other than Vin Diesel as the Carthaginian general...could this be any worse? Yep - the paragraph long synopses that I've seen put out by the studio are already historically inaccurate. This will be Gladiator all over again (which was a horribly inaccurate movie).

I don't understand why the factual histories of events can't be interesting enough. The conflict that emerges between Scipio and Hannibal is epic, but I will guarantee that Hollywood will sensationalize it - revise the events, downplay some, and play up others, just to sell some tickets. True - this may get some people interested in the Punic Wars, but more likely it will produce a whole swell of people who are suddenly "experts" on the exploits of Hannibal. The experts that Gladiator produced knew that Marcus Aurelius, though an emperor, advocated the return of the republic and was subsequently killed by his son Commodus. No, no, NO! Marcus Aurelius, or any other emperor for that matter, never wanted the republic to come back, and Marcus Aurelius died of the plague. Those were just two big errors to come out of that movie, and way too many people took that as documented history.

Oh well - even if the new Hannibal movie completely botches the history, at least myself and the other nerds in the history department can have a good laugh over it. I just hope that someday, some of the fans of these movies will ask us how it really happened.

BIG 12 CHAMPS

Michael was in Manhattan last night, and we went to the KSU women's basketball game. The girls won, 85 - 73 over Texas Tech (ranked 9th...we're ranked 8th) and became the Big 12 Champions. At one point, they were up by 20, and Nicole Ohlde had her jersey retired at the end of the game. It was her last game in Bramlage, so it was a pretty big event. I hadn't been to any basketball games at all this year, and that was a good one to go to. And I only get to see my brother a few times a year, anyway, so I'm glad he called and had an extra ticket, even though all the purple probably gave him a headache.

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