A beautifully told story with colorful characters out of epic tradition, a tight and complex plot, and solid pacing. -- Booklist, starred review of On the Razor's Edge

Great writing, vivid scenarios, and thoughtful commentary ... the stories will linger after the last page is turned. -- Publisher's Weekly, on Captive Dreams

Monday, October 23, 2017

Science in Danger!

A bunch of fringe elements are attacking the very roots of science using dubious "facts" taken from sacred texts.

No, not those fringe elements. The other ones, the ones that are taken seriously within the academy, by which we mean feminists.

One day professors of gender theory and critical studies will critically study discourses for implicit and explicit values and elitist norms and determine quantitatively that the stance and interdiscursivity of the syllabus descriptions do not privilege masculinist values; but that day is not this day.

Evidence presented by the prosecution:

1. Ståhl, Marie and Anita Hussénius. "Chemistry inside an epistemological community box! Discursive exclusions and inclusions in Swedish National tests in Chemistry." Cultural Studies of Science Education (2016) pp. 1-29.

Abstract: This study examined the Swedish national tests in chemistry for implicit and explicit values. The chemistry subject is understudied compared to biology and physics and students view chemistry as their least interesting science subject. The Swedish national science assessments aim to support equitable and fair evaluation of students, to concretize the goals in the chemistry syllabus and to increase student achievement. Discourse and multimodal analyses, based on feminist and critical didactic theories, were used to examine the test’s norms and values. The results revealed that the chemistry discourse presented in the tests showed a traditional view of science from the topics discussed (for example, oil and metal), in the way women, men and youth are portrayed, and how their science interests are highlighted or neglected. An elitist view of science emerges from the test, with distinct gender and age biases. Students could interpret these biases as a message that only “the right type” of person may come into the chemistry epistemological community, that is, into this special sociocultural group that harbours a common view about this knowledge. This perspective may have an impact on students’ achievement and thereby prevent support for an equitable and fair evaluation. Understanding the underlying evaluative meanings that come with science teaching is a question of democracy since it may affect students’ feelings of inclusion or exclusion. The norms and values harboured in the tests will also affect teaching since the teachers are given examples of how the goals in the syllabus can be concretized.

2. Parson, Laura. (2016). "Are STEM Syllabi Gendered? A Feminist Critical Discourse Analysis." The Qualitative Report, 21 (1), 102-116.

Abstract: This study explored the gendered nature of STEM higher education institution through a feminist critical discourse analysis of STEM course syllabi from a Midwest research university. I explored STEM syllabi to understand how linguistic features such as stance and interdiscursivity are used in the syllabus and how language and discourses used in the syllabus replicate the masculine nature of STEM education. Findings suggest that the discourses identified in the syllabi reinforce traditional STEM academic roles, and that power and gender in the STEM syllabi are revealed through exploration of the themes of knowledge, learning, and the teaching and learning environment created by the language used in the syllabus. These findings inform and extend understanding of the STEM syllabus and the STEM higher education institution and lead to recommendations about how to make the STEM syllabus more inclusive for women.

TOF is astonished to learn that in Sweden chemistry tests -- excuse me -- "the chemistry discourse presented in the tests" showed "a traditional view of science" by discussing topics like oil and metal. Who knew these were chemicals? If one wonders at the shortage of women among metallurgical and petrochemical engineers, look no further than feminist professors.

Fortunately, discourse analysis and multimodal analysis "based on feminist and critical didactic theories" were used. Presumably, these were calibrated to the relevant ISO standards prior to the analyses.

Parson in the second reference also used "discourse analysis," which appears to mean counting whether and how often certain words were used in the course syllabus descriptions. Apparently, some people pay attention to these things. Technical-sounding terms like "stance" and "interdiscursivity" are used to give it all a patina of objectivity, due to the curse of scientism infecting all of post-modernity. TOF is not sure what "findings" means when one always finds what one sets out to find a priori. In technical fields one sometimes discovers surprises, and this may form a sort of disconnect for those who regard such things as a form of false consciousness or even oppression.
Example of discourse analysis

Notes for the perplexed. The paper defines the term: "interdiscursivity is the use of elements in a text that carry institutional and social meaning from other discourses (Afros & Schryer, 2009). Syllabi reflect the conventions, values and practices of neighboring discourses and communities that are identifiable, in part, through content-specific terminology (Afros & Schryer, 2009). Specifically, the discourses that syllabi refer to are college teaching (e.g., learning objectives) and discipline-specific languages/terminology (Afros & Schryer, 2009). Connecting to larger discourses about STEM education and teaching is often accomplished through interdiscursivity." Now you know all that TOF knows about interdiscursivity, which seems to be a fancy, pseudotechnical term for using common words like "learning objectives."  TOF also does not know why the same reference text was mentioned three times in the same definition, but without page references. 

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Her Earliest Bow Upon the World's Stage

THE WELL-LADEN SHIP by Egbert of Liege was written between 1010 and 1026, as a classroom text in Latin for his young students at the cathedral school at Liege, where he taught the trivium. TOF is sore tempted to say that he was a trivial teacher, save that he had a brilliant notion. Observing that it was difficult to teach his young charges the intricacies of Latin -- though Latin was notably less intricate in the 11th c. than it had been in Cicero's more convoluted day -- Egbert decided that he could better teach the little terrors darlings by creating a reader with proverbs and folk tales with which they were already familiar in the vernacular. He wrote it, as he explained, "not for those who are already perfected to manly strength by careful attentive reading, but for those timid little boys still subject to discipline in school; so that, when their teachers are absent, while that band of youths is babbling to one to one another certain ditties (though none of them to any purpose) in order to sharpen somewhat their meager talent by practicing and frequently chanting those little verses, at such times they might rather use these."

Thus, instead of chanting in the absence of magisterial authority,
"I see Paris. I see France. I see Childeric's underpants."
They could instead recite
"Dum deerit cattus, dicurrens conspicitur mus."

That way, already knowing what the Latin meant, they could more easily grasp its forms. He divided the text into two parts: the Bow and the Poop. The Bow apparently consisted of pithy quotations and proverbs and the Poop of stories and fables. Since these texts were all hand-written, there could not have been very many of them, but an original copy survives and was translated fairly recently.

 Among the proverbs are some with a familiar ring:
  • While the cat’s away, the mouse is seen scurrying about.
Dum deerit cattus, dicurrens conspicitur mus.
  • When a horse is offered for free, you should not open its mouth.
Gratis equo oblato non debes pandere buccas.
  • I’ve never see a wagon go when placed in front of the oxen.
Ante boves versum non vidi currere plaustrum.
  • One ought to strike iron while it’s hot.
Dum calidum fuerit, debetur cudere ferrum.
 The currency of these proverbs -- Don't put the cart before the horse! When the cat's away, they mice will play! Don't look a gift horse in the mouth! -- indicate how deeply rooted in the medieval our culture is.

BUT ONE OF THE MOST INTERESTING TIDBITS in the Well-Laden Ship, indicating how well-laden indeed she is, is the following fable, set in unrhymed dactylic hexameters. Egbert says that it is a rendering of a tale he had heard told among the peasants -- though one doubts he heard them tell it in dactylic hexameters. Remember, Latin poetry traditionally based itself on the length of syllables, not on stress, although in Late Latin, stress was coming into use.

This tale marks the first appearance in literature of one of our enduring heroines: 

First, in Latin:
De puella a lupellis seruata
Quod refero, mecum pagenses dicere norunt,
Et non tam mirum quam ualde est credere uerum:
Quidam suscepit sacro de fonte puellam,
Cui dedit et tunicam rubicundo uellere textam;
Quinquagesima sancta fuit babtismatis huius.
Sole sub exorto quinquennis facta puella
Progreditur, uagabunda sui inmemor atque pericli,
Quam lupus inuadens siluestria lustra petiuit
Et catulis predam tulit atque reliquit edendam.
Qui simul aggressi, cum iam lacerare nequirent,
Ceperunt mulcere caput feritate remota.
"Hanc tunicam, mures, nolite", infantula dixit,
"Scindere, quam dedit excipiens de fonte patrinus!"
Mitigat inmites animos deus, auctor eorum.
In English:

Concerning the Girl Saved from the Wolf Cubs
The story I tell, the country folk know how to tell me,
and it is not so much marvelous to believe as it is very true.
A certain man raised a girl from the sacred font,
and he gave her a tunic woven from red wool.
Shrove Sunday was the holy day of this baptism.
When the sun had rise, the girl now five years old
set out wandering, heedless of herself and of danger.
A wolf attacked her and headed for his woodland haunts;
and he took her as prey to his cubs and left her to be eaten.
They approached her, and gnawed at her cap; but unable to tear it,
they began to caress her head, their fierceness having been allayed.
The little infant said, “Oh mice, don’t rip this tunic
which my godfather gave me, taking me from the font!”
God, their creator, softens savage souls.
That's right, sports fans, it's Little Tunicam Rubicundo, Little Red Cape, making her first appearance in recorded history! And wearing her red Pentecostal baptismal cloak, too, which protects her from the devil-wolves of the dangerous woods. So much for Michel Foucault and the red hood representing menstrual blood and her sexual awakening. (Why are Moderns and Postmoderns so obsessed with their pelvises! An Early Modern French version has Red stripping naked and hopping in bed with the Wolf and ends with a warning not to do that.)
In early medieval Europe, baptisms were performed twice a year: at Easter and Pentecost, but the trend was toward more frequent baptism dates to protect the children as early as possible. 

The story was elaborated as time went on. In an episode from a Norse saga, in which Freyja has been betrothed to a giant named Thrym, Thor disguise himself as Freyja and goes with Loki (disguised as a serving maid) to a banquet thrown by Thrym. The giant grows suspicious and asks many questions about his bride-to-be.
“Why are Freyja’s eyes so sharp?” Thrym calls to [Loki]. “They burn me like fire.”
“Oh” said the cunning serving-maid [Loki], “she has not slept for a week, so anxious has she been to come here, and that is why her eyes are so fiery.”
How Old is Little Red Riding Hood?: Tales Over Time, by Gwen Thurston Joy

Interestingly, some of the earliest versions present a more resourceful Red (or Granny, when she makes an appearance) than the more modern ones. She doesn't have to be rescued by woodcutters or hunters. But all of them, including Granny (who came from a separate story-tradition) were later additions. The original story of Red was simple and unadorned tale of an innocent beset by evils and protected by God's providence.

The Earliest Little Red Riding Hood Tale
November 10, 2013 by 

A Fairy Tale from before Fairy Tales: Egbert of Liège's "De puella a lupellis seruata" and the Medieval Background of "Little Red Riding Hood" Jan Ziolkowski
Source: Speculum, Vol. 67, No. 3 (Jul., 1992), pp. 549-575

Published by: Medieval Academy of America
Stable URL:

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

The Herstory of Hypatia

At Medium, "The Herstory of Hypatia" -- Herstory, get it? -- written by one Joshua Hehe, who bills himself as:
Theorist, Pantheist, Ontologist, Syncretist, Glocalist, Anthropologist, Populist, Cosmologist, Futurist, Ethicist, Alarmist, Epistemologist, Occultist, Artist,…
Clearly this impressive list of accomplishments qualifies him to write about Late Antiquity. Or something. My old buddy Mohsen is a cosmologist, and I am familiar with the range of mathematics and physics he had to master. (TOF himself took only Astrophysics and Galactic Structure and the usual range of Differential Manifolds, Tensor Calculus, etc. Although that was many eons ago and, use it or lose it, TOF would hesitate to bill himself as a Tensorist, or even a Manifoldist, since he specialized in General Topology instead.) Glocalist stumped him for a time, but he figures it is a combination of Globalist and Localist, which is sort of like what Hegel and Marx called an internal contradiction. Not only is Mr Hehe a Syncretist, but also a Pantheist. Plus, he is a Theorist and they don't come any more impressive than that.

TOF's Faithful Follower recalls that Hypatia has made appearances heretofore, but knew there would be a hereafter, as well. It's the gift that keeps on giving, being one of the foundational myths of the Modern Age. The story has been told so often it is easy to forget that these accounts are many times longer than the only surviving near-contemporary source, meaning that new facts have been created to flesh out these longer narratives.

Naturally, as is often the case with writers from that quarter, Mr Hehe cites no sources, and one suspects he leans heavily on Draper/White, on Sagan, and/or Gibbons. At least an account TOF once saw on something called rationalwiki cited sources, even if they were mostly irrelevant.

TOF will pause here and allow you to read Mr Hehe's account and make your own notes. Remember the TOFian battle cry: "How do you know that? What is your source!" Ready? Go!


Whoa, What's This?

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