Saturday, February 26, 2011

Lettered ladies

Always the gentleman

The other day I found myself in the unaccustomed position of defending Sarah Palin. It was, I admit, a very mild defense, but a defense nonetheless. A member of the Friday lunch bunch was castigating the former half-term governor of Alaska for having attended five colleges (University of Hawaii at Hilo, Hawaii Pacific University, North Idaho College, University of Idaho, and Matanuska-Susitna College) on her way to a bachelor's degree in communications. Having attended and earned units at five different colleges myself, I did not consider persistence at a single institution to be a virtue in and of itself. (I did, however, complete degree requirements at four of them.)

The habitués of the Friday lunch bunch are mostly former journalists these days, the ink-stained wretches having supplanted the coterie of old legislative hands that used to frequent the TGIF observances. And “ink” is the right word, too. All of them served in the trenches when hot lead and metal plates and barrels of black goo were standard tools of the newspaper business. I don't go back quite that far, but I am accepted into this journalistic fraternity because I, too, have worked for a major metropolitan newspaper (but not for very long). Besides, I have seniority in the lunch bunch, being one of the last survivors of the original gang with state capitol experience.

We are a largely left-of-center group, naturally concerned that the president is not even close to being the extreme liberal of right-wing accusations, and cheerfully derogatory in our references to the various nut-case conservative cabals running Republican legislative caucuses throughout the nation and in entirely too many governors' mansions. Palin gets extra contempt from the Friday gang because of her journalistic pretensions and her slender résumé as a reporter (but not as slim as mine). It doesn't help her cause, of course, that even her prepared remarks come out as tossed word salads of right-wing talking points: blah, blah, blah ... American greatness ... blah, blah, blah ... Reagan ... blah, blah, blah ... God bless America ... blah, blah, blah ... war on terror ... blah, blah, blah. Jealousy is probably involved a little. Imagine pocketing $50,000 a pop for that kind of disjointed drivel, as Palin did at Stanislaus State University.

Despite her degree in communications (with an emphasis in journalism), Palin opted to hire a ghostwriter for her autobiography. She's apparently been too busy doing other things.

Like serving as a role model.

California has spawned a Palin camp follower who boasts that she is a “blogger extraordinaire” (that may be premature) with a master's degree in English on top of a bachelor's degree that included journalism coursework. This phenomenon was brought to my attention by a regular visitor to my blog (hi, Kathie!). She was puzzled by the prospect of an English major with a graduate degree who spews out this kind of breathless prose (spacing, spelling, and punctuation preserved from the original):
I'm a San Diego girl& patriotic American at heart!I graduated from San Diego State University in 2005 where I studied English & Journalism.I also have a Masters' Degree in English.I never thought I'd be setting up a blog,but feel I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to share with readers topics that are important to me & I hope to you as well.I will use this blog as a platform of sorts to promote not only conservative values,but strong,conservative female candidates.Sarah Palin is the epitome of this female.Strong,sincere,classy,intelligent & graceful.I have heard individuals describe her as a modern-day Margaret Thatcher or Ronald Reagan.It is she who has inspired me to get involved politically.The mere mention of her name sends the main-stream media into a tizzy.It is also my hope this blog will become a platform for conservative females everywhere.(God knows we could use more representing us).And yes,I also hope to prove that,contrary to popular opinion,it CAN be cool to be a young conservative.You can also catch me from time to time as a guest on #1 AK Talk Radio Host Eddie Burke's show where I discuss Sarah and national issues.
Odd stuff. While the political sentiments are obviously contrary to mine, I am struck by what an admitted English major does to the language. That can't help but catch my attention, if only for the moment. Does San Diego State University offer a master's degree in English as a third language? Was writing part of the curriculum? Optional, perhaps?

At least we can rest assured that she does not suffer from a narcissistic obsession with her own prose.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

What's in a name?

The quest for catchy

Earlier this month I received a very welcome e-mail message from the general editor of a university press:
We are very interested in publishing your novel
I stared at the screen for a while. Time was frozen and it took several seconds to thaw and allow me to catch my breath.

That morning I had been shrugging on my coat and preparing to pick up my briefcase when my computer beeped to indicate the arrival of new e-mail. It was time to go to school for my first class of the day. I glanced at my watch and decided I could take a few seconds to see what had dropped into my in-box. It ended up, of course, stretching into several minutes. I composed a quick thank-you-thank-you-thank-you note and then dashed off to school.

It was observed that I was unusually high-spirited during the morning's classes.

The general editor sent me a summary review from the manuscript editor he had commissioned to plow through my tome. Key phrases jumped out:
Not only is the story itself generally well told, but it effectively conveys significant aspects of Azorean-American life in California.... [T]he courtroom scenes are especially well managed.... [M]y overall evaluation of the ms remains fully positive, and I look forward to the opportunity of sharing my thoughts with the author directly.
The ellipses, of course, conceal the manuscript editor's tiny little quibbles (“the book is at least 15-20% longer than the central narrative thread warrants,” “though the story of Paul's evolution from child prodigy to mathematician is well-enough told and does present a focal point for an alternative assimilation narrative, I'm not altogether persuaded it fully coheres with the rest of the book,” “something might be done to differentiate the speech of less well-educated from better-educated characters”). Hardly worth mentioning!

He also didn't much care for my working title. Thus my faithful readers get to join in part of the fun. What should my book's title be? For some useful background, here's is a plot summary that I used to pitch the book:
This is the story of the Francisco family, Portuguese immigrants from the Azores who settle on a dairy farm in California’s Central Valley. Their plans to eventually return to the Old Country fall by the wayside as their success grows and their American lives take root. The legacy of one generation becomes a point of contention as the members of the next generation begin to compete to inherit and control their heritage, which includes herds of cattle and tracts of farm land. The death of Teresa Francisco, the family’s matriarch, sets off a string of battles (both personal and legal) between brothers, spouses, in-laws, and cousins.
Yes, Teresa is based on my grandmother, the linchpin of my family and the vital center without whom the family flew to flinders. A wily old lady, she drew her will to force her two sons (my father and my uncle) to cooperate as co-executors of the estate. As the elder son, my uncle was deeply aggrieved that he did not get to call the shots himself, but I'm certain it was no accident that my grandmother chose to clip his wings in the way she did.

Unfortunately, there was also a lawsuit. My father and uncle had an older sister who predeceased her parents. She was my much-loved aunt and godmother (and is the dedicatee of my novel). Her widower, my embittered uncle-godfather, resented receiving nothing from the estate (although his children got quite a lot) and bankrolled a legal challenge to the will. The battle left scars that remain to this day, nearly thirty years later.

That was the raw material I drew upon to write my novel. Since I was not privy to all of the backstage maneuvering and scheming, I had to speculate on motivations and make up events to fill in the gaps in my knowledge. Real-life people provided the models but their fictional representatives were not obligated to conform to the originals that inspired them. It's a novel. It's based on a true story, but I made it up. So far, the readers of the manuscript have been all over the map in guessing what parts are “real” and what parts are purely fanciful creations of my fevered imagination. For future readers, I'll admit that the accidental circumcision episode is quite true to life. Hey, if Laurence Sterne can write about such an event in Tristram Shandy, why can't I? (Mom wishes I would drop that section, but my manuscript editor favors “holding on” to the damaged foreskin—in what I'm sure was a deliberate choice of wry language on his part.)

But let's go back to titles. Here's an alphabetical roster of some of the candidates we have considered thus far. Which, if any, do you favor? If you wish to nominate other possibilities, I'm eager to hear them. I look forward to seeing what pops up in the comments.
  • California Dairy
  • California Gothic
  • Cow
  • Cow Boys
  • Crying Over Spilt Milk
  • Curdled Milk
  • Dairy Family
  • Dear Dairy
  • Don't Have a Cow
  • Have a Cow
  • Land of Milk and Money, The
  • Milk of Human Kindness, The
  • Moo Cows
  • Past Your Eyes
  • Promised Land
  • Raw Milk
  • Sour Cream
  • Spilt Milk
  • Split Milk

In the meantime, I am trimming and editing the manuscript with an eye toward an April 1 deadline. If I can deliver a satisfactory revision by that date (or close to it), the university press will put my novel on its publication calendar and it could see print as early as January 2012.

Darn. Too late for Christmas!

Forrest in Sacramento

Darwin Day 2011

California's state capital observed Darwin Day on Sunday, February 13, 2011, at the La Sierra Community Center in Carmichael. The event was co-sponsored by several Sacramento-area organizations, including Sacramento Area Skeptics (the sponsors of last year's California tour by PZ Myers), the departments of biology and anthropology at Sacramento State University, the departments of astronomy and physics at Sacramento City College, Atheists and other Freethinkers, and local chapters of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and the American Civil Liberties Union.

There were about two to three hundred people in attendance. They were welcomed by Mynga Futrell, co-chair of the organizing committee, who made a special point of emphasizing that the event was in honor of Charles Darwin and not a celebration of atheism. It was apparent that the organizers were at pains to make religious people feel welcome at the event, even at the cost of making them uncomfortable by stressing so earnestly that they were among friends. The Unitarian Universalist Society of Sacramento had a display table in the back of the hall, but no other religious organizations were visible. Perhaps the outreach to theistic evolutionists will succeed in drawing other sects to next year's Darwin Day, but it's not an easy task to construct a big-tent approach to Darwin Day when so many of Darwin's admirers consider him the man who made God an unnecessary hypothesis in biology. I expect that Darwin Day will continue to be dominated by people for whom religion is at best a cultural artifact and at worst the mortal enemy.

The master of ceremonies was Liam McDaid, the astronomy coordinator at Sacramento City College. McDaid made for a high-spirited emcee, lapsing occasionally into an Irish brogue when he deemed that the occasion warranted. He gave a laudatory introduction to the afternoon's featured speaker, Dr. Barbara Forrest of Southeastern Louisiana University, professor of philosophy in the department of history and political science, and co-author (with Paul Gross) of Creationism's Trojan Horse.

Back to the Future: Or, What Can We Learn from Louisiana's 2008 Science Education Act?

Dr. Forrest had a front-row seat in her home state of Louisiana as right-wing forces converged on Baton Rouge to push a creationist agenda through the state legislature and onto the desk of the Bayou State's new creation-friendly governor. Her Darwin Day presentation outlined the events and players that produced the nation's first anything-goes science curriculum for public schools.

The Louisiana Science Education Act is one of those legislative measures that supposedly promotes “critical thinking,” but only in the case of evolution or climate change or some other topic disfavored by the Christian right. It never seems important to fret about the lack of statutory critical-thinking guidelines in matters such as the roundness of the earth or the heliocentric nature of the solar system (but perhaps we just need to wait a little longer). It's evolution that must always be called into question and treated with arch-skepticism.

As Forrest pointed out, creationism has evolved over the decades under the pressure of natural selection. As one ploy after another fails, creationism adapts to the new circumstances and changes in response. The foes of evolution, however, never seem to notice the irony of their adherence to Darwin's model. Forrest chose her “Back to the Future” title because Louisiana had enacted an overtly pro-creationist measure in 1981. The U.S. Supreme Court famously declared the bill unconstitutional in Edwards v. Aguillard as a violation of the separation between church and state. Having learned at least part of the lesson of the Edwards decision, creationists had redirected their efforts in the 2008 bill. Under the banner of “academic freedom,” they abandoned the mandating of creationism and focused on permitting it.

In the case of the Louisiana Science Education Act, the strategic retreat worked. The creationists crafted a permissive approach that empowered public school teachers to supplement state-approved science texts and instructional materials with whatever outside materials the teachers might choose. This opened the door wide for an influx of creationist literature that creation-minded science teachers (an unfortunately large minority among public-school faculty) could distribute to their students and use as the basis of anti-science instruction. As Forrest phrased it, under the Louisiana Science Education Act, a creationist teacher “can use whatever she wants until she gets caught.” To make matters even worse, the anti-evolutionists managed to co-opt the complaint process provided by the new legislation. Under the regulations approved by the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE), parents who complain about inappropriate classroom materials will find themselves dealing with a review process stacked in favor of the creationists.

The Louisiana Science Education Act of 2008 was not made out of whole cloth. It had its origins in model legislation promoted by the Discovery Institute. The DI's Casey Luskin was much in evidence during the progress of Senate Bill 733 through the enactment process (the vote was unanimous in its favor in the state senate and 94 to 3 in the state house of representatives) and its arrival on the governor's desk. When Gov. Jindal was supposedly pondering the measure, science organizations across the nation sent him messages exhorting him to veto it. Even his former biology professor, Dr. Arthur Landy, issued an earnest request that Jindal not make it more difficult for Louisiana students to become doctors by debasing their science education (Jindal once planned to go to medical school). The governor ignored them all and did not bother to respond to their arguments.

Although Gov. Jindal signed the bill without any publicity on June 25, 2008, someone apparently tipped off the Discovery Institute that he was about to approve SB 733. The DI posted a victory declaration on its website within minutes of the announcement from the governor's office that SB 733 was now state law. (It now resides on the Louisiana books as Act 473.)

In an appearance on Face the Nation shortly before signing SB 733, Jindal offered TV viewers a word-salad mash-up of nouveau-creationist talking points:
I don’t think students learn by us withholding information from them.… I want them to see the best data. I personally think human life and the world we live in wasn’t created accidentally. I do think that there’s a creator.… Now the way that he did it, I’d certainly want my kids to be exposed to the very best science. I don’t want any facts or theories or explanations to be withheld from them because of political correctness.
“Withholding information”? “Political correctness”? These phrases are mere screens for smuggling creationism into the public school classroom under the guise of promoting “the very best science.” Jindal was flying the combined banners of “teach the controversy” and “academic freedom.” Scientists told him very clearly that these framing devices were a distortion, but he chose not to listen to them. Jindal is, after all, the anointed one. Literally. As Dr. Forrest pointed out, Jindal went through a formal laying-on-of-hands ceremony in 2007 at a Christmas gathering of the Louisiana Family Forum, a group that vigorously lobbied for SB 733 the following year.

Despite the enactment of the Louisiana Science Education Act, creationism has suffered a few recent setbacks. First of all, and perhaps most significantly, BESE approved mainstream scientific textbooks for use in public school classrooms, beating back an attempt by creationists to forestall the adoption of evolution-based biology texts. In addition, creationists posing as science experts have been unmasked as frauds and exponents of discredited and outlandish theories. (Of course, this has seldom discouraged them in the past.)

Forrest stated that she and her colleagues at the Louisiana Coalition for Science will be alert to future attempts by creationists to exploit Act 473 and in particular will assist parents who complain about anti-scientific materials being used in science classes. The deck has been stacked against science in Louisiana, but pro-science forces are vigilant and fighting back. Forrest cited the example of Zachary Kopplin, a high school senior in Baton Rouge who has taken on the ambitious project of repealing the Louisiana Science Education Act. Zachary has his work cut out for him, but he is working in earnest to restore science education's credibility in his home state. Forrest referred interested parties to Zachary's website.

Dr. Forrest's talk was followed by a Q&A session and a birthday party for Charles Darwin, complete with birthday cake. Longtime participants in Sacramento's Darwin Day observations seemed to agree that the fourteenth annual event in the state capital was one of the most successful. It was Dr. Forrest's first visit to Sacramento and her reception was both friendly and enthusiastic. At least one fan was seen getting her autograph on his hardback copy of Creationism's Trojan Horse.


The National Center for Science Education has posted a video of Barbara Forrest's talk as she delivered it on April 24, 2010. The video is marginal and the audio is poor, but the content closely parallels Forrest's presentation at Sacramento's Darwin Day.

Update: Dr. Forrest's presentation in Sacramento is now posted on the NCSE's YouTube account: Darwin Day 2011.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

What's a deadline?

Talking to the wall

She was on my waiting list, but she didn't have proof of prerequisite. In its ebb and flow of procedural enforcement, my college is currently at a high-water mark of insisting that students demonstrate that they have passed their prerequisites. I informed my potential student that she could enroll in my class if two conditions were met: (a) she provided proof of prerequisite and (b) I made it down the waiting list as far as her name.

Like most students who are eager (or pretend to be eager) to get into a class, my potential student dutifully attended each initial class session as I took roll, checked off prerequisites for students who presented their transcripts or verification slips from counselors, and gradually worked my way down the waiting list. It usually takes only a few days for things to shake out. Some students slip quietly away, blocked in their attempt to take a class for which they were not prepared, and others are too impatient to wait more than one day to get admitted. The attrition benefits those who stick it out.

Each time I called roll, I reminded students who had yet to present their qualifications. Each time the number dwindled. The student in question was particularly slow in clearing up her paperwork, but at last the glorious day arrived. When I called her name, she handed in a verification slip to which a counselor had affixed a signature. Since the class had thinned out to a manageable level (in other words, everyone had a desk to sit at), I grandly presented her with a permission slip to add the class.

“Use it right away,” I informed her. “We've come up close to the end of the enrollment period and you need to add before it closes.”

She made some kind of noise, which I hoped was intended as an affirmative acknowledgment, but I wasn't sure. She was the last of the students in attendance who had yet to enroll. My roster was all but complete and I was happily contemplating the end of this particular flurry of paper-pushing.

On the morning of our next class meeting, I checked my on-line class roster. My student's name was still on the waiting list. She was not on the roster of enrolled students. I went to class and observed that she was present, so I asked her to come up to talk to me at the end of the period. This she did (perhaps because I called out to her by name before she slipped out the door with her classmates).

“You know, I hope, that this is the last day to enroll in classes using the permission slips,” I reminded her. I gave her additional detail: “If you don't use it today, you'll need a late admission that requires the signature of an academic dean. The deans do not like doing this and aren't obligated to sign, so let's not go there, okay? Go directly to enrollment services now and get added to the class. Do it today. Tomorrow will be too late.”

She made that odd noise again and headed toward the door. I fancied that she had nodded her head ever so slightly. In any case, I had explained things with a particular lack of ambiguity.

Two days later our class met again. That morning I discovered that her name was still missing from the roster. Surely she had decided against taking the class. A pity, but these things happen.

My surmise was incorrect. She showed up for class, strolled up to the front of the room, and presented me with a late-add form.

“You need to sign this for me,” she announced.

I admit that I was displeased.

“My signature isn't enough,” I replied, rather tight-lipped. “This will have to go to a dean.”

“Oh. Okay.”

I pressed her a little: “Why didn't you use the permission slip?”

She shrugged. She kept her gaze carefully averted.

“I tried, but they gave me this. They said you have to sign it.”

Yeah. Exasperated, I took the form. The date on it showed that she had waited till after the deadline to try to add via regular permission slip.

“I'll see what I can do,” I said.

After class I took the late-add form to my dean and explained the situation. The dean rolled her eyes.

“There's one in every crowd,” she said. “Has she been attending class? Do you have room to accommodate her?”

When I answered both questions in the affirmative, the dean picked up a pen and scrawled her signature on the form.

“All right,” she said. “Give this back to her and tell her to return to enrollment services with it.”

On the morning of the next class session, I was surprised when the student showed up in my office. She had discovered that her financial aid check would not be released until she was properly enrolled. She earnestly asked me if her late enrollment had been approved. I handed her the form.

“Yes, the dean signed off on it. Take this to enrollment services and they will let you in this time.”

“Okay. I'll go now.”

“Actually, it's nearly time for class. You should wait till after class.”

She hesitated.

“I better go now,” she said. “I have a family emergency and I can't go to class today.”

I considered expressing the hope that no one was bleeding to death at home while she came on campus to visit my office, but I waited too long. She was already gone. Her regular attendance became a thing of the past.

Not long after this incident, I gave the class their first exam. My late-enrolling student didn't pass. She lost several points because she couldn't seem to follow instructions.

It was not exactly a surprise.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Christ on a stick

Bouncy bouncy

The February 10, 2011, installment of “Catholic Answers” featured a pre-recorded interview with Cardinal Francis Arinze. Once considered among the papabili, Arinze is the African prelate whose puckish sense of humor prompted him to cleverly declare that he was “personally opposed” to gunning down all the members of the U.S. Senate, including those Catholic members who “personally oppose” abortion but decline to enact legislation to outlaw it for everyone. (Arinze's audience chuckled appreciatively as the cardinal equated the slaughter of a legislative body with a “pro-choice” decision to terminate a pregnancy. Never doubt that the cardinal and his admirers really see no difference between abortion and murder.)

Arinze was momentarily flummoxed during his “Catholic Answers” interview when host Patrick Coffin quizzed him about permissible practices during the celebration of mass. After a brief discussion of the unsanctioned (but not forbidden) custom of holding hands during the Lord's Prayer, Coffin indulged in a bit of hyperbole:
People say that receiving holy communion on a pogo stick or letting monkeys into the sanctuary is also not forbidden. I guess it's a matter of balance.
Balance? Yes, I would say that's pretty important in the instance of the pogo-stick eucharist. Catholic traditionalists should also be pleased that both hands are usually needed to maintain stability while bouncing about, so that pretty much settles the question of receiving the host in the hand or on the tongue. It puts a premium, though, on the priest's hand-eye coordination as he thrusts the wafer at the communicant's oscillating tongue.

I haven't quite wrapped my head around the monkeys-in-the-sacristy scenario (unicycles, perhaps?), but I have to admit that Coffin is a veritable font of ideas for resuscitating the entertainment value of the Catholic mass. I'd consider going back!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Trim to fit

The power of truncated quotes

I was browsing through Orac's Respectful Insolence when I stumbled across his post on the latest inanity by Mike Adams. The purchase by AOL of the Huffington Post had inspired Adams to celebrate a wonderful new opportunity for “alternative health authors.” (Why do they use so many syllables when “cranks” is so much more economical an expression?) Since HuffPo is “headed in the direction of conventional media,” its wackier writers might be pleased to hear that Mike Adams is ready to welcome them at his NaturalNews site:
Many of the site's best writers are wondering where they can go to get their alternative medicine stories published. It certainly isn't WebMD, which even the New York Times just called out as being a mouthpiece for the pharmaceutical industry, saying “WebMD is synonymous with Big Pharma Shilling”. (
Are you as impressed as I am? Imagine! Even the stodgy old New York Times recognizes that WebMD is merely a front for rapacious drug companies. Naturally I was inspired to click on the link to learn more. Just how thoroughly did the Times trash WebMD? Inquiring minds want to know!

It was really a bit of a let-down. Writer Virginia Heffernan did not exactly make the statement quoted by Adams. What she really wrote is this:
In more whistle-blowing quarters, WebMD is synonymous with Big Pharma Shilling.
Oh. That's just a little bit different.

True to tell, Heffernan does not actually like WebMD. Equipped with her pertinent experience as a television critic and degrees in English literature, Heffernan goes on to complain about WebMD's product placement, advertisements, and connection to various pharmaceutical companies. She even cites an investigation by Sen. Charles Grassley, as if he's a reliable source (she calls him “Chuck,” for some reason). She adds that “WebMD has become permeated with pseudomedicine.”

Sounds like Mike Adams would feel right at home.

Friday, February 04, 2011

The invisible student

Lack of proof

It started innocuously enough, as these things often do. Therefore it wasn't immediately apparent that a thing was even starting.
To: Zeno_Ferox
Subject: verification of attendance

Hello Professor Z,

This is ML from your MW math class. I need verification that I was in attendance at class yesterday. An email is fine. It is really important.

Thank you
Color me puzzled. I checked my gradebook. I wrote back.
To: ML
Subject: verification of attendance

M, I have no evidence that you were in class yesterday.

My elusive student was quick to respond.
To: Zeno_Ferox
Subject: verification of attendance

I was a few minutes late. I have the homework.

Big whoop. Everyone has the homework. It's included in the syllabus I handed out on Day One. Not impressed.
To: ML
Subject: verification of attendance

M, I have evidence that you were in class on Monday last week because I still have your quiz from that day. However, you were not in class when I returned it on Wednesday, two days later.

You were not in class when I called roll yesterday, or when I returned Wednesday's quiz. I also gave a quiz yesterday at the end of the period, but you apparently did not take it. I checked, and your name is not on any of them. You therefore missed the roll call at the beginning of the period and the quiz at the end of the period. I have no basis for declaring that you were in class yesterday.

My student finally provided some useful information.
To: Zeno_Ferox
Subject: verification of attendance

I gave you my prerequisite certificate at the end of class on Wednesday last week. I had to go to my pickup to get it, remember?

I was not there apparently when you called roll yesterday but I do have the quiz in my possession from the end of class. I did not turn it in. I had planned to come see you to talk about me not falling behind. I know the material, it just seems to be taking me longer to recall it. I am asking you to work with me here.

Yes, I did remember the snafu with the prerequisite certificate. He did have to run to fetch it from the parking lot because he had forgotten to bring it to class. It could have been Wednesday. But that was last week. It didn't prove that he had been in class yesterday, on Monday.

Still, we were making a modicum of progress. As for his request that I “work with” him—it seemed to me that I was already doing so at length.
To: ML
Subject: verification of attendance

Okay, M. Now we're getting somewhere. I do remember the matter of your prereq cert, which I have checked off in my gradebook.

Why didn't you turn in the quiz yesterday? There's never a good reason not to, since even one point is better than zero points. Please bring it to class with you tomorrow.

If he brought Monday's quiz with him to class on Wednesday, that would be rather good evidence that he had slipped into the classroom some time after the roll call, even if I hadn't noticed him, and been present when I distributed the quiz. This may yet work out well.

A message popped into my in-box on Wednesday morning.
To: Zeno_Ferox
Subject: verification of attendance

Hello Professor Z,

This is ML again. I did not turn in the quiz because I needed some time to go over more slowly. It has been awhile since I have been in school and I am really having a hard time getting all this back. I had all this in high school. If I take my time on it, I remember it. I am really worried about the Exam next week.

May I please make an appointment to see you one-on-one tomorrow, Thursday? I would like to talk about strategy and my concerns about catching on and also, at this point, catching up. I was hoping for an appointment with you tomorrow in the afternoon?

Please let me know.


My best advice for passing a class is to actually attend it. It's a concept.

I didn't write back. Class would meet in a couple of hours and I'd talk to him in person. The time came and I strolled to the classroom. I called roll. (I do this well into the semester until I've learned all the names. It's more difficult with the classes that meet only twice a week.)

No answer from ML. I called his name again.


After class I shot off another e-mail message.
To: ML
Subject: verification of attendance

M, were you in class today? I called your name and there was no response.

Not handing in quizzes is always a bad idea. A few points are better to have than zero points.

My office hours are included in the syllabus. You don't need an appointment to drop in during them. I am routinely there.

I'll give him this: ML is a prompt e-mail correspondent, even if he is a most elusive student in other respects.
To: Zeno_Ferox
Subject: verification of attendance

No, I was not there. A good family friend went home and died last night. We were all up late.

Today, I worked with my roommate on the math and made some progress. He says I'm getting it but it is going really slow. I had this stuff in high school and my high school grades were good. I'm just having a hard time with the speed that things are going.

I will definitely come in tomorrow. I might have something in the morning but I will see if I can move it so I can be there. Afternoon is better so if I don't make it in the morning, I will look for you in the afternoon.


Naturally I was encouraged that he was able to spend part of Wednesday studying math with his roommate despite the trauma of a good friend's death the night before. He wasn't up to coming to class, but he could hang with a study buddy. Sure, it was odd that he hadn't mentioned the Tuesday evening death in his Wednesday morning missive, but it could have slipped his mind. Anyway, he was definitely coming in to see me tomorrow, on Thursday.

He didn't come to see me that Thursday. Or that Friday. In fact, I never saw him again. I'm beginning to doubt that he actually existed.