Wednesday, May 31, 2006

The Rise of Christianity

SOC 3200 - Sociology of Religion - Here comes another book recommendation: The Rise of Christianity, by Rodney Stark. You might assume this book talks about the very beginnings of Christianity and how the faith spread, or did not spread through empires of the world, and also how it eventually came to be one of the Earth's major religions. Well, you assume correctly. It was a provocative read.

The professor of this course was a nice fellow. He had all these crazy stories about students at the Air Force Academy--he used to teach there. Unfortunately, I can't remember one of these stories right now, but I do remember having a recurring thought during the time he would share about his experience at the Academy. It would totally suck to be a student there, but I am glad there are people that do well in that setting and enjoy the strict rules, schedule, lack of freedom, and whatnot. It is just not for me.

Five courses left.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Chinese Society

SOC 3100 - Chinese Society - The Eastern trend continues. Biggest lesson learned in this class: I would consider living in China to be an unfortunate existence. Nothing in China is easy. Go ahead, assume I am spoiled, I am, but there are no excuses as to why people should be living the way they do in China. However, I did just say nothing in China is easy, that includes eradicating poverty and bringing some form of equality to this country. I am excited to read about so much growth in China, but I have some doubts about it because it seems that the elitists are simply getting richer and the percentage of people living at, or below the poverty level, is growing--this is no growth to be happy about.

An article in The New York Times a few months ago addressed the skyscraper sprawl in Shanghai. Apparently Shanghai will soon have more skyscrapers than Ney York City, but you won't be able to see that many of them through the smog. Industrial and commercial zoning is a disease in the new China that might one day suffocate all that makes China unique. They are already flying the flag of globalization. It is all good though, they are learning from the best.

Monday, May 29, 2006

The East

SOC 3050 - Japanese Society - I would say I am intrigued by the East, but one of the meanings of intrigue is having a clandestine love affair. Love is just too strong of a word, and I am not conducting this interest of mine in secrecy.

For my general education classes I needed to take some non-Western cultural courses. I alloted most of that coursework to the Eastern Hemisphere. Unfortunately, this coursework was not accompanied by a trip to the East. I haven't directly used this knowledge in my life too many times, but on occasion I am able to suprise myself with some material I have retained from lectures. This is doubly surprising. First, I remembered something that I learned in college. Second, I understood my professor's heavily Japanese-accented English. Awesome.

Silly that when I think of this course one specific memory comes to mind. When I saw The Last Samurai I recalled the story of Japan's creation that the narrator was telling. The islands of Japan are said to have sprung up when drops from a sword fell upon the Earth. I also knew on occasion when the movie got Japanese history right and wrong.

The Samurai's Garden is a book I chose to read for this class. I read it after a semester of Japanese studies, which is a drop in the bucket, but it still offered a perspective on Japanese culture and history that had not been provided through the curriculum of the class. Good stuff. Check it out sometime.*

*I feel so stuck up when I suggest movies to watch, or books to read to people for some reason. I guess I just have a hard time believing someone is going to come to this site, actually finish reading one of these blogs, and consider my recommendation at the bottom. I wouldn't be surprised if you wrote the title down on your stack of post-it notes by the side of the keyboard, but there is no effort involved in that compared to the effort involved in seeking this book out upon a friend, or stranger's recommendation, and reading it. I believe in that really small percentage of the population. That is why I say things like this.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

The Random Religion Course

RELI 1000 - Religious Studies - This course is a little out of place. It is a freshman level course that I took in London this last Spring. The course was great though. We briefly studied Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and Hinduism. Being in London provided us with the opportunity to visit a place of worship for each one of these religions. I enjoyed that aspect of the course the most.

I don't believe I am going to cover the other three courses I took in London. From the beginning, this series has been focused on my courses at UW and I am going to keep it that way, with this one exception. I only have eight more courses to cover. That is not too many, considering at this point I have blogged on 32 of them.

The entry on this course is short, pathetic, and uninteresting, but I had to write something about it. This is enough to jog my memory when years down the road I will want to write more about this course. Who knows?

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Philosophy of Science

PHIL 3140 - Philosophy of Science - I got in way over my head in this course. This was my first philosophy course and I evaded the prerequisites somehow, which was at least one other philosophy course, preferably two. Was I the only English Major in the seats? No, but I was the only English Major that finished the course that semester. The other guy dropped it after a couple of weeks. I would have done the same if I wouldn't have dropped under 12 credits for the semester.

The first in-class exam was one of the ugliest in my college career. I had no clue what was going on. I think I left a third of the paper blank, and on the other two thirds I wrote some high class bullshit. I mean, this stuff could have won me the gold medal in the bullshit olympics. No problem. Piece of cake.

Problem: I couldn't get a D or an F in this class if I wanted to travel with the swim team, and also if I wanted to compete in the Spring, not to mention, I would have to live with getting an F in a class. Faced with this problem, I went in to talk to the professor. He was really understanding of my dilemma. He gave me some tips on how to complete the next take-home exam and how to study for the next test.

I put in the extra time and almost got a 90 on the next take-home. I don't know what I got on the final, but I was the first one done. I remember studying my arse off for this one exam. Once the test was handed to me I gripped my pencil as tight as ever and rapidly wrote down everything I knew about the philosophy of science. I was petrified of forgetting even the smallest amount of information before the time had arrived to write it down on the paper. I turned the test in with the greatest sense of pride, knowing that whatever I was going to get on that test it was more than enough to bring me from the depths of the grading scale. The great unknown, Philosophy of Science, had loomed over me all semester and I pointed a flashlight in its direction and it cowered before my intelligence. Laugh. Okay, so it didn't happen exactly like that, but my brain successfully rose to the occasion.

Included below is a segment of that second take-home exam. I just read it for the first time in a couple of years and it sounds like complete bs, but it isn't. This was a right answer. Believe it.

3. Why did John lose the tennis match?

“John” – why did John lose the tennis match, rather than Jill, lets say? If you believe Jill was a better tennis player than John, than this could work as being an explanatory term in favor of John losing the match. If it is believed John could have committed more errors than Jill, this is also an explanatory term in favor of John losing the match.

“lose” – why did John lose instead of win? The contrast classes above could also be used as answers to why John lost instead of won. Perhaps, if the game were longer, John would have won, but the length of the game was not long enough for John to prevail.

“tennis” – why did John play tennis, rather than basketball, or football? John could be said to be a better tennis player, so that could explain why tennis was chosen. Someone John could have been playing with, like Jill, could have been a much better tennis player than any other sport. Jill also could have chosen the sport they played, instead of John. This would explain why they might have played tennis.

Phys Ed and Idol

I have to admit that this is getting a little boring for me...this series on courses. When I am away from my computer, or even recently sitting at it I have found myself turned off by the idea of blogging because I know that I promised myself to finish this before I continue on in the direction I was going, whatever that was.

PEAC 1001 - Health - This was a worthless course. I don't see the value in having a P.E. course in gen. ed. at a university--nevertheless, it does exist. Having been an athlete, I was allowed to skip out on the required activity with a notice from the athletic department. If I wasn't allowed to skip out on it I was going to choose lap swimming. That would have been a joke. This course was a series of boring lectures that you had the option of testing out of in the first week. I tried. I performed miserably, as expected, and did very well in the rest of the course. This isn't saying anything at all, given everyone in the university has to take it, and it is freshman level.

PEAC 2010 - Varsity Swimming - Honestly, I don't even know what this is. Somewhere along the way I was given half of a credit for swimming on the UW team. This was not a course, the half-credit just came out of nowhere and appeared on my on-course report. However, there is a problem. If the university is going to award credit for this, why not tack on four credits? To give an athlete that half-credit is a slap in the face. They should award credits equivalent to one course, or nothing at all.

When I signed on to MSN tonight I saw an article on the American Idol winner. I didn't care; too many of us do.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

I Don't Like Math

MATH 1400 - College Algebra - I believe it is important for a person to know a lot of things throughout life, but these are just two and they sort of contradict each other. One, you need to know what you aren't good at. Two, you can be good at anything. Both of these lessons are closely tied to my relationship with Math.

It is clear to me, and especially others at times, that I am no math whiz. I got a poor grade in College Algebra the first time around because the teacher spoke a combination of German and English to us, let us call it Germlish. I can honestly put 99% of the blame on him for my poor grade. I didn't have to take the class again, but I wanted to keep that grade from affecting my GPA. By the way, the second time around I got a B--really still not that impressive, but an improvement upon the first grade. I truly don't enjoy mathematics to a euphoric level like some of my great friends do and this is precisely why I am not the best at it. However, this is where the "Two" factor comes in from the previous paragraph. I believe so strongly that if I put forth maximum effort and time into becoming great at something there is no limit as to what that something could be. You may think I am an arrogant bastard now, but I don't see anything unhealthy about having this level of confidence in myself. If it was mathematics that I wanted to be a stud in, fine, I believe I could do it. If it was Scrabble, and I wanted to play in the world championship, then why the heck should I discount myself?

I believe you can be good at anything, but it is important not to forget that you can't be good at everything simultaneously. You have to find a few things that you really want to be great at and then fine tune those for the rest of your life.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Get This Lady A Walker

LANG 3115 - Trails of 3 Cities - I paid attention in this class. I received good marks on the tests and papers. However, I never figured out why this course had such a dumb name. We studied Japanese and Chinese culture over the fifteen week semester, but never once did we talk about three specific cities.

The professor was an old French lady. She despised the U.S. I expected her to fall over and croak everyday. She never did. Actually, she is still teaching. She can't see above her steering wheel but she drives a yellow Suzuki Sidekick anyway. I remember a few times I saw her walking across Prexy's Pasture and I had to stop. It was an amazing feat, how long she took to cross that grass. The time seemed to amount to a whole class period. So, for each class period she had to have devoted three hours of her time. One to get there, one to teach, and one to get back to where she started. Where she started was only the parking lot so I would tack on another twenty minutes both directions for driving--which in Laramie is an eternity. Plus, you have to factor in the stops she might have made in her office. Pretty soon the whole day is all gone, simply to teach a one hour class on how great the East is, and how the West has got it all wrong. You can't expect much different from a crabby, old French lady.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

My One History Class

HIST 1251 - Wyoming History - I needed some sort of government class, so why not brush up on the Wyoming Constitution. I could never stay awake for the entire hour of this class. I was a freshman, it was in the morning, and I swam every morning before this class. When class began on Tuesday mornings at 8:15 I had already been up two hours and forty-five minutes. For an hour and a half of that time I was swimming. I can't blame myself for falling asleep, I blame swimming and the boring material. The professor knows way too much about Wyoming and he has the most wicked comb-over. He enlightened all of us when he told us that two of the dorms at UW used to be the tallest buildings in the state at 12 stories. And one hall, White Hall, is something like two feet taller than McIntyre Hall. Currently, the tallest building in Wyoming, according to the comb-over, is at the Jim Bridger power plant. I think he said it was fourteen stories tall.

Monday, May 15, 2006


Geology 1100 - Physical Geology - There could be nothing more boring for me to do with the rest of my life than to study rocks. For me there is no explanation necessary. I don't think I could form one if I tried. Equating rocks with boredom is a very simple comparison.

I got a B in this class. I wasn't too happy about that. My final grade was something like 89.5% The class was huge, something like 300 people. The professor has a nasty pony tail and sometimes I saw him at half acre gym. I just knew by looking at him that he didn't work out that much. The workout clothes he was sporting were the same ones he bought in the 70s--bright colored, layered sweat pants.

There is nothing exciting here. Who was I kidding? It is geology.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

SS Part Deux

I thought I was going to devote more time to Senior Seminar, but I just don't know how to narrow that class down. Let me share this.

One of the final activities for the class was a meeting at the professor's house. Actually, it was a movie night with a pretty good meal. At the end of the meal we were all talking about what we want to do next with our lives. Shoot, I am not going to sit there and lie and say something like, "I want to work for a publishing company the rest of my life", or, "I am going to teach English to middle schoolers." I listed the three things that I want to do with my life, or at least try. They are dreams, but I really wanted to let the people sitting at the table know what I like and want to do. I told them, "I want to be an author, learn how to act and do that, or play basketball and get paid for it." Haha. It was great. The ladies pretty much all laughed, but I was being dead serious. I don't assume I am going to be all those things. In reality, you could really only be one I suppose, but hey, if I said anything otherwise I truly felt then that I would have been lying, and I still feel the same way.

Friday, May 12, 2006

SS Part One

Only one more English course left. I can't believe it. It seems like I have been writing about English courses since I started this series. Exciting it will be to be done with these courses and delve even deeper into my collegiate course history.

English 4990 - Senior Seminar - This class is designed to be the final and last hurdle for the English Major. It is very scary to encounter a class like this because just to get into it you have to be within a semester of graduation, but at the same time it still weeds people out. You just have to love that power. It weeded the one other guy that was in the class out. He left me with roughly 12 girl students with the same professor that I had for Middle English Literature--really smart, nerdy Stanford woman.

Just like in Middle English Literature, Senior Seminar had an intimidation factor to it. I had not only heard it was challenging because of the reading material, but also because of the assignments. On top of that the same professor was back, but this was two years on from Middle English and I had spent every second of those two years honing my literary analysis and writing skills. Ha, yeah right. No really, I had improved quite a bit though and I was happy to be put to work. To be cliche, I was happy to rise to the occasion, or challenge if you will.

I thought I was going to write all this out in one sitting. Bang, finish the blog on Senior Seminar just like that, but I was mistaken. I feel it deserves more than these four paragraphs so I will return. There is noise in this house that can't be ignored. My parents are entertaining guests and there are chips, guacamole, and drinks to be had downstairs. Well, see ya later.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006


English 4360 - Early American Prose - I don't have any great story from this class. I remember talking to this Russian girl that was taking this course for part of her American Studies program at UW. She told me that UW has one of the best American Studies programs in the nation. I told her that was great and well, I hope she is having fun back in Russia. I hope she wasn't at that convention for pigeon lovers, in that building in Moscow, when the roof collapsed under the weight of snow. That happened sometime between January 12 and April 7 because I was in London when it happened.

Ahh. I remember. I can't recall the guy's name, but that isn't the point. The point is there is this guy at UW who wears kilts all the time. Got it. His name is Robyn. He was in this class for the first few weeks before he dropped it. I saw him a lot more after this course, but that was the first time I came across such an interesting look. He is a large man. His calves are the size of my quads and he wears kilts everyday. Robyn must have a ton of kilts. I have never spoken to him. I remember he wore kilts with cargo style pockets on them. They had UtiliKilts stitched into the side. Kilts are chill, but I just couldn't sport one up at UW. I don't like the idea of a -20 F breeze blowing all up in my kilt.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Bronzed, But Not In Heaven

English 4210 - 18th Century English Literature - I don't really know why I started these course blogs with the course number. The number doesn't mean anything to those that didn't go to UW, but since I started it this way I feel that I need to finish this series in the same manner.

Like most of the English Professors at UW, the professor for this course was no dummy. He knows his stuff. He went to Yale, Columbia, and Cornell for a B.A., M.A., and Ph.D respectively. He also is the head of cultural programs at UW. Apparently this program is one of the best in the country, but I have no arguments to back that up; a number of people have told me this though.

I would like to share two quotes I wrote down in the notebook I used for this class. First quote: "It is quite a relief to have a class where everybody can write, so at the end of the semester I am going to have you all bronzed." I might have shared this before in a blog a while back but it is important, especially when taking into consideration my feelings in Middle English Lit. This was only the semester right after that class and even though I was able to turn it around in that class I wasn't confident that I could write the stuff these upper level courses were looking for. Naturally, it was good to hear this from the professor. I didn't take it too seriously, but this guy is a serious fellow and if he throws "all" in there I knew that I was at least decent, or on the right track, and that was all I needed to keep on going.

The second quote was not as uplifting as the first. "I am not worried about the Rapture. I don't want to be in Heaven anyway. I want to be somewhere else where all the interesting people will be." This was toward the end of the semester and by then I had a tremendous amount of respect for this guy, so what he said was a bit hard to swallow. I actually spit it back up, spit on it some more, and then stomped on it pretty hard--I am pretty sure I killed it, but not before it ate away at me. These out of nowhere jabs at someone's beliefs really hurt. I want to rage when I hear things like this, but then it would be all too easy for these people to appear right. They are not right. A man can't hear much of the world if he spends all his time on it looking for affirmation of himself.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Swamped in Middle English

English 4180 - Middle English Literature - From the first day this class scared me. It was the fall semester of my third year in college, and also my first semester as an English Major. This class also happened to be my first upper division English course. I didn't know what to expect and to tell you the truth I was pretty scared to look at the syllabus the first day of class.

I immediately felt out of me league. The teacher graduated from high school early and went straight to Stanford where she proceeded to get her B.A., M.A., and Ph.D. consecutively from the same university. She was intimidating and so was the reading list, nevermind the fact that Middle English is pretty much a different language.

The Seniors in the class were not intimidating. My impressions of them immediately gave me a bad taste in my mouth. They were way too pretentious for being only months away from their first degree. Now that I think about it, there is no right time in your life to be very pretentious. Anyway, they wouldn't give me the time of day when I would comment during class and disagree with them. Two of them in particular seemed like the biggest suck-ups in the world. One was a girl, and the other a guy, and they simply loved pointing out to everyone that they had already taken Senior Seminar (for English Majors) and that this entitled them to chime in with literary analysis courtesy of Freud, Lacan, and I can't remember who else. And how could I forget their flashy bindings and title pages of essays. Primping a paper like that has only ever said one thing to me, I'm a crappy writer, but look at my red binding, plastic covers, and my 72 font title page. That is great that they wanted to share what they had learned, but all through college if I had taken an advanced course in one department and then gone on to another course in the same department, but at a lower level, I would not use my knowledge from the advanced course to refute the argument of other students. First, that is rude. I am not the teacher. That is not my job. Third, I am not good at math. Fourth, the student who has not taken the advanced course most likely doesn't know what the hell I would be talking about. Fifth, I strongly believe that the student's journey through a swamp of academic fields should be directed by their professors (after five years at the University of Wyoming I feel I can leave this job solely up to the student and his/her professors). Sixth, after this class I never wanted to be like that guy and girl who spewed forth so much crap from their pedestals onto the university younglings that we either sat their quietly the rest of the semester, or even worse, completely ran away from our pursuit of an English Degree because we were afraid of those pretentious Seniors and didn't want to become one.

It turns out, I didn't run away. After a rough start in the class I pulled it together and even started getting some As on papers, but those weren't enough to lift me out of a B. A B was great though, it really was, and I knew after that class how I wanted to present myself to underclassmen once I was the graduating Senior.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Another English Film Course

English 4090 - Film and Religion - I had to find the notebook for this class this morning in the basement because I knew I had quoted the professor on something I wanted to share.

The class had just finished watching Saved. The professor was listing the characters off one by one. Some characters prompted debates on their values, intentions, actions, etc. For some reason though when the professor got to Hillary Faye, played by Mandy Moore, the class was silent.

First, a little history on the professor. He is head of the Religious Studies department. He is married. And I think I saw him driving in Laramie once with a bumper sticker on his car that read "George Bush is a Muggle". He is a very straight forward, reserved fellow that you know had his wild times in college, but when you look at him those times are impossible to imagine. Constantly sporting a straight-brimmed cowboy hat, jeans, a button up shirt, and a belt buckle made out of those old nickels with buffalos on them, he has the Wyoming get up down pat. He is a rare breed, the Scholar Cowboy.

Silence. Nothing about Mandy Moore anyone? The professor speaks, "Is she too good looking?"

More silence.

The professor replies to his own question, "I thought she had a nice ass".

This provoked some audible gasps, more silence, and eventually laughter from the whole class. I couldn't believe this guy, the religious studies nerd, the scholar, the Oxford Grad just said that. The class loved it. I loved it. You know why? He exposed his thoughts and reminded us that he was human.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Unfinished Business

Too much of my writing goes unfinished. I start out with an idea, but then something happens. I fall into a writing lapse. I trick myself into thinking that the idea was a poor one from the outset. When it boils down to it though, it is not a matter of good versus bad, it is a matter of getting something done--having a sense of accomplishment.

Having said this I am returning to my series on all the classes I have taken in college, all 40 of them. I don't know exactly how many are left, but I don't think I am even halfway done. I list the course title and with it give a short story or observation from my time in that course.

I pick up with.....

English 4070 - Film: Kubrick and Scorsese - First, don't let the film class under the English heading fool you. English majors did in this class what we have always done in literature classes, analyze the text (in this case film) for themes, arguments, objective or non-objective portraits of a person, event, place, or thing, etc.

For me, Scorsese is easy to like. He writes movies about criminals, NYC, and the Mafia. What is there not to like about this material? Some of his classics I had never seen. Mean Streets and Taxi Driver had never made it as far as my DVD player, let alone my consciousness before this class. However, I had heard Robert De Niro's famous line, "You talking to me?", when I was much younger, but until this fall I never knew that it is from Taxi Driver. Enough with those movies, really, I apologize to the devoted fans of either one of them.

I can't get over Goodfellas. This movie is a classic. To enjoy the movie I think you have to temporarily accept some of the things you are going to hear and see on screen--cheating, crude language, and explicit violence. You can't blame Scorsese. All these things were, and still are, part of the Mafia lifestyle and Scorsese wanted his audience to be confronted with reality. No one could present this life in a more brilliant way than Scorsese did. It is not too far into the movie that we find ourselves thinking, wow, that would be sort of a fun lifestyle, but just at this moment you see Pesci shoot down a teenager just for saying the wrong words, you see friends kill friends, and you see families fall to pieces because of lies. It is at this moment when Scorsese is at his best. He glorified the wiseguy lifestyle in Goodfellas so well that we are left to grapple with our secret desire to live as one of the mobsters--a worry free life with money, friends, connections, and security--but with little concern of the consequences, and when we see them it is far too late.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Busted, But Not Broken

This is where my grandparents came to a stop after an 18-wheeler cut them off the freeway at 80 mph near beautiful Barstow, California. Miraculously, they were not seriously injured. They returned home today and I am spending the night in Fort Collins in order to be here to take them to appointments in the morning. After the appointments I will return home and continue my pursuit of the present, rather than worrying about the future.