Thursday, August 11, 2011

My Bookshelf's New System

Reorganized my main bookshelf today. The current order is mostly as follows:

Broad histories of knowledge/philosophy
Eastern Civilizations
General books on myths
General books on classical world
General books on Greeks
Greek histories
Greek philosophy
Greek drama and poetry
General books on Romans
Roman histories
Roman poetry/prose/philosophy
Later Roman histories
Books debating fall or metamorphosis
Byzantine and Arab history
Christianity and Roman empire
Church Fathers
Latin Christendom
Cult of Saints and Relics
Medieval Religion and hagiography
General histories of the crusades
First Crusade primary sources, secondary sources
Second and Third crusade histories
Fourth Crusade primary sources, secondary sources
Albigensian Crusade and books on the Cathars
Crusading warfare books
Other topics and the crusades
Crusades journal
Later medieval history

then a shift to

Science and Practice of History
General Reference
Language Grammars, Dictionaries, and Lexicons

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Intimacy of Research

Recently, I have been reflecting on my MTSU graduate class on the Third Reich in preparation for teaching my World Civilizations class about World War II, and I just realized something intensely interesting. For research projects in my class, we were to select Nuremberg Trial defendants, and use trial documents, cases and evidence, to write lengthy papers. I chose Alfred Jodl, cheif of staff of the German Armed Forces High Command (Oberkommando der Wermacht). The tribunal ruled him guilty and hanged him after the trial. His case was unique in that, until then, no military chief of staff had been held accountable for war crimes.

As I began delving into the case records, including prosecution and defense. Some of the trial defendants, notably Rudolph Hess, became (arguably) mentally unstable through the course of the trial, but Jodl remained dutiful, proud, and kept his cell organized and clean. As I researched him, I gained more and more respect for the man. Though there was no firm evidence to confirm or deny his knowledge of war crimes or crimes against humanity, I began to convince myself of his ignorance, so as to see him in a positive way. His mournful testimony upon being presented with evidence of the Holocaust or other crimes convinced me of his ignorance. In retrospect, though, I wonder if I had merely developed a relationship with Jodl by researching him so intensely.

Could interest in a research subject tamper historical objectivity? I supposed it could, sure, but perhaps it was merely Jodl's personality and station that I respected. Soon, however, I recalled my research project for my capstone undergraduate history class. That project stemmed from researching the Watergate scandal. In that project, I studied H. R. Haldeman, President Nixon's chief of staff. I read Presidential memoirs, as well as conflicting evidence from different members of Nixon's staff and CREEP. The core of my research, though, was in Haldeman's diaries, which he kept rigorously throughout his White House career.

Over the course of each project, I developed a respect for my subject as I learned more about their past and personalities. Many considered "Bob" Haldeman a bully, and Jodl was convicted of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Arguably, both men were almost unanimously disliked and had reputations for their alleged crimes.

Both research papers argued for the, somewhat, innocence of the subject. I argued that Haldeman had no prior knowledge of the Watergate incident in the first, while in the second I argued that Jodl should have had a lesser sentence, perhaps life in prison, rather than execution for his part in the Nazi crimes of WWII.

I can now see that as I researched the men, I became more and more intimately connected with the subjects of my studies. Does it render my research invalid? Probably not, but it does bear some consideration. Perhaps review of my papers' arguments would allow me to see holes in my reasoning, but I'd like to hope that my training as a historian allowed me to remain somewhat objective. Hopefully, the threat of intimacy in research was tamed by historical need for truth, evidence, and objectivity.

What, then, are we to do with such threats to historical impartiality? I know that there is much to be gained from stepping back from research projects so as to bring (somewhat) new eyes to the documents, but perhaps even more care must be taken to acknowledge potential for growing respect and fondness for the subjects of historical research. I can assure you that I will be telling my students about such dangers whenever I someday teach students about the research and writing of history. Like most potential threats to objectivity, or perhaps even accuracy, historians must acknowledge this connection and take care to limit its interference with historical value and validity.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Blog of Lazy Failure +3

So it's been a while since I actually posted anything here, and this isn't going to be a real update. I hope to get back to it, and I have several blog posts planned in my head about current goings-on in my life.

To serve as filler you get an essay I wrote for one of my worthless education classes about legal issues in our high school experiences. I did not proofread it, and it may be terrible, but maybe it's still of some interest...

High school students are not always aware of their rights. One might suppose that growing up in this information age would increase student awareness about their rights, but is this really the case? Similarly, today's society is full of law suits and legal battles about the infringement of individual rights, but are high school students really even aware of laws or jurisdictions? One could easily argue that teens are largely unaware of their specific rights as they pertain to freedoms within school. In my high school, the administrators made several decisions that could have had legal repercussions. On one such occasion, a friend of mine was forced to remove a necklace with a pagan symbol on it, which infringed on her freedom of religion. The "reason" for the restriction was that the points of the pentagram might stab someone. My tussle with the school administration was much more tame.

In my junior year of high school, I had study hall for first of our seven periods. The announcements came on, and the principal requested for students to rise for the pledge of allegiance and one of the chorus members singing the national anthem. I remained seated. My teacher asked me to stand, but I refused. Later that day, I was called to the principal's office where he stressed the "good name" of my family and how I should be more respectful. Though he did not threaten me with punishments or other repercussions, he did imply further disciplinary action if I ever again refused to stand up for such daily rituals. A week or two later, a friend of mine acted similarly during a school assembly honoring one of the pilots of Air Force One. The principal did not even bother calling him to the office, but instead he contacted my friend's step-father without first conversing with my friend.

Was I or my friend disrespectful? Not necessarily. I was just sleepy and lazy. My friend just did not want to be bothered further after being trotted up to listen to some boring speaker. The case of Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District (1969) deals more specifically with refusing to acknowledge national symbols for religious reasons (as another friend who was a practicing Jehovah's Witness used for such actions), but I believe the case could be used as the legal precedent for schools being legally unable to compel students to stand, say, or sing anything honoring our country. The ability to make that decision lies within each individual student alone. Without a conscious choice, the decision of whether to honor something or not loses value or gravity, as it becomes more like a meaningless ritual than an actual conscious decision to honor the U.S.

I am not really sure whether I had legal grounds to dispute any sort of punishments I might have faced for further inaction during the pledge of allegiance. Perhaps the school administration would have merely backed down had I threatened legal action in my defense. The principal, though, was responsible for my education, and part of that was trying to instill a respect for, if not duty to, the nation which provides for my education and well-being. Had I been in his shoes, I might have acted similarly but only to stress the seriousness and disrespectfulness of sitting through the pledge or the national anthem. Who knows? Maybe that is how the principal saw his own actions, but I certainly felt threatened and altered my actions in order to avoid punishments or future visits to his office.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

D&D Encounters, Problems and Solutions

So. Since the first week of D&D Encounters, I've been venturing forth to socialize and play a weekly encounter each Wednesday. I've been doing it for the last few months, and I have yet to miss a week. During this long period, I started bringing my wife, and I even had moved to a new home 3-4 hours away. We found a new store running the events (a 30-45 minute drive away), and they allowed us to bring our characters from the games we had been playing previously.

My major beef with Encounters is twofold: adventure kit problems and store problems. First, season 2 is more legalistic and strict about playing the game. Rather than allowing RPGA-legal characters of the player's creation, D&D Encounters: Dark Sun forces players to use their pregenerated characters. I can sort of understand their reasoning since Dark Sun disallows any classes of divine power source, and that campaign setting guidebook has yet to be released. Also, characters in Dark Sun must cope with the fact that metal is rare in the world. Given those issues, Wizards of the Coast decided to only allow six different characters. Another good reason for this change could have been the need to make parties composed of random players (often strangers) to have a variety of roles, which 4th edition has made very, very important to success.

The problem is that player enjoyment often depends on their involvement with their character, and pregen. characters by default create a disconnect between player and character. Also, many of the pregens chose poorly for feats, class specialization, or equipment. For example, Shikirr, the Thri-Kreen Battlemind (Psionic Deffender), uses a reach weapon for most of its attacks. The battlemind tanking class feature, though, is that when marked creatures make an attack which does not target the battlemind any damage they deal is dealt back to them by the mark (called Mind Spike). That mechanic, though, hinges on one other factor--being ADJACENT to the marked target. So, your character is generally at a reach of 2 in order to deal adequate damage, but doing so greatly reduces the efficacy of your class role's main mechanic. This is just one example.

Solutions? Well, the role solution is not really realistically or logistically fixable, but as for the equipment, WotC could have had equipment sets for players to choose from, in order to decrease the amount of metal in-game. Also, they could have a selection of sets that a party must divide between its members. This might encourage role diversity, as well.

Another negative aspect of this season of Encounters is the overall difficulty of each encounter. We get it, the sun is DARK, and the desert is treacherous, but putting (already inadequate) characters up against monsters with higher AC, HP, and damage than any PC is just outrageous. Yes, players like a challenge. Some players, particularly powergamers, LOVE the challenge of survival despite tilted odds, but I had been led to believe that Encounters was to be for players old and new. Of the three groups at our local(ish) store, two barely lived the first session, one TPKed. Last night, all three groups TPKed. The central thesis of the Dungeon Master's Guide is that DMing is supposed to primarily encourage one thing: FUN. Two weeks in a row of this horribly difficult adventure has taught me that fun is no longer a priority for D&D Encounters. They want to focus on challenging players and making them compete for renown and its rewards rather than encouraging new players and facilitating games for players who rarely get to play anymore, as the recent CNN article had suggested.

Now for problems with my store. The three DMs at the store are all pleasant enough. They have varying levels of mastery of the rules, but one admits to having little knowledge while demanding that his interpretations of the rules must be correct. None of them are aware of nor care about any errata for the characters or adventures. They are ignorant or dismissive of the twitter buffs to help PCs survive the encounters. They also have the most strict renown system I could imagine. For instance, I took over 70 damage last night before dying (in the gaping maw of a kank), but I did not receive the renown points for it, because of the death. The renown tracker for season 2 doesn't say that you have to live through it, but the store owner was adamant.

Unfortunately, that is not the most grievous policy about renown at the store. If your character dies during the encounter, the player gains ZERO renown for their efforts. I understand that "participation" awards are generally lame, but I'm pretty sure the three renown awarded upon "completion" of the encounter are meant to be such a award for the player's showing up and trying to help fight through the encounter. To be fair, the organizers do award renown for players who met requirements not involving living, such as scoring 15+ damage or invoking the new Reckless Breakage rule. Without such an action, though, none of our 15-20 players have received renown at all for last night's session, and 5 or 6 people didn't gain any last week either. How fun is that?

I poked around on WotC's d&d webpage and browsed through the Encounters forums, but I have been unable to find an explicit list of rules about renown that I might be able to email or tweet to my local store in an attempt to remedy the problem.

Sadly, I don't really have a solution for this combination of problems. I really enjoyed season one of Encounters, and I had really hoped to get one of the really cool Cozies, but I'm just not sure if the frustration of weekly TPKs, and having absolutely nothing to show for it, not even renown, will make driving 45 minutes to the store worthwhile. Last night, I left in a foul mood and remained in it for an hour or two. I can waste time getting frustrated by playing Halo with eight-year-olds at home if I wanted that sort of annoyance.

Sunday, June 6, 2010


So to pick up where that last left post dropped off, my gaming life has improved in the past few months. I picked up Fable 2 again, and have begun obsessively purchasing every property in the game. The last major quest I did was the hero of will, I think. I own all of Bowerstone so far. In Lego Batman, I finally got everything to 100% and got all of the achievements. It took a while, but it was quite satisfying. Sort of working on Castlevania: Symphony of the Night on the 360 right now, but that's mixed in with Fable 2, WoW, and Mario Galaxies (1), in which I've gotten about halfway.

Most of my video/computer gaming continues to be World of Warcraft. I'm raiding full-time with the Spartans on Dalaran server. We do MTR raids from 6:45-10 CDT, and we're currently struggling with the summer and pre-expansioncombined slumps. On 25 man, the lowest we've seen Lich King is ~50%, but on 10 man I haven't gotten any complete wings down other than the first--then again that's because our 10 man group sort of dissolved in the last month or so. The guild's main group (officers only, sort of) are kingslayers and have been working on the hardmodes. I'm really jealous when I think about it, so I try not to do so. Also, I seduced James into starting a new account so I can get the Recruit-A-Friend touring rocket (read: flying mount that can carry a passenger) on Xellos (my rogue).

The first season of Dungeons and Dragons: Encounters just ended, and Allison and I have enjoyed it. In Murfreesboro, our group was amazing and had great synergy and DMing, but the store we go to in Jackson isn't as cool. My character from the beginning, a Goliath Warden, died in a TPK in our first game here, but I came back as a Githzerai Avenger and the games got better (read: I dominated. 2 d20s>1 d20 Avengers FTW). Next season starts Wednesday, and though the characters must be the pregenerated ones, I'm still excited about the setting in Dark Sun. [side note, the Penny Arcade (and PvP and Starslip Crisis) podcast has been great]

I've also started running a game at our house loosely based in Eberron. Our group is full of familiar faces from my gaming past:
  • Allen, brother, githzerai druid
  • Spike, old friend, bullywug assassin
  • Tim, computer magician, dwarf battlemind
  • Allison, hot wife, kalashtar ardent
and starting this past week
  • Leah, sister-in-law, human wizard
I'm also hoping to get Keith, ogre-sized awesomeness, to play--maybe then the party will have someone with a strength higher than 10. They played through the mini adventure in the DMG, but next time they'll start the adventure with some RPing in Sharn, the city of towers.

Also, on Memorial Day, we started playing the board game Power Grid, but it got late and we didn't get the chance to get very far before people had to leave. Still, it looked pretty near, and I'm sure I'll play it sometime soon.

Monday, May 31, 2010

A Variety of Things

To make sure I cover the various topics I'm gonna break this down into sections. But you should note that I just had my first wedding anniversary Saturday with my gorgeous wife. Unfortunately, it was also my first day of class, and she had to work. We still had fun just hanging out together, though.

Spring 2010 Semester

So my last class in the History program at Middle Tennessee State University was a European research seminar on the Third Reich. My project studied OKW Chief of Staff Alfred Jodl, particularly his trial at Nuremberg and the justice (or rather, at least partially, injustice) of his sentence of being hanged. I enjoyed the class, and overall I think I learned more than I did in my Road Culture research seminar, but the latter class taught much more about the researching, writing, and editing process. I guess each had its merits, but the former's teacher was cooler, and I got to write about cars in cyberpunk lit. Sounds like the scale tips that way.

During the semester I worked at the Albert Gore, Sr. Research Center on MTSU campus. The project aimed to work toward constructing a historical electronic simulation (read: game) about Gore and his role in the passage of the Civil Rights Bill of 1964 (which he voted against, FYI) using primary sources from the archives. The project was not disastrous; it was merely unfruitful and a wasted effort for various reasons that I won't go into. It was, though, the highest paying hourly job I've ever held, and that was cool.

Moving and School Part III

After graduating the first week of May, the Mrs. and I began to fully shift into panic, pack, and move mode. We moved the 18th to the town I grew up in, which leads to various mixed feelings of happiness, nostalgia, anxiety, and annoyance. We did it for school.

You see, after the obstacle-ridden path that was my experience at MTSU, I was tired of school and ready to just get a job. I spent the spring semester applying to various governmental jobs, but after none of those called back, I decided to get licensed to teach high school. Hence the move. As my parents remain in Freed-Hardeman University's employ, I reap the benefit of cheaper tuition, even for graduate classes. At the moment the plan is to be in and out of this program by December 2011. Then, hopefully, I can get a job teaching history, philosophy, or English in a high school somewhere (anywhere), and we can settle down for a few years. Maybe I'll go back someday and get a Ph.D. in History, but that's sort of in deep-space travel hibernation for now. Heck, if one of the jobs I applied to decided to offer me a position, I'd probably drop all this to go for it, depending on the variables.

TV, Movies, etc.

So most (traditional, American) shows have aired their season finales. Heroes was first, and was meh. Hearing it was canceled phased me even less than I thought it would. 30 Rock was pretty funny, but I'm just not very invested in the story arcs of it. Human Target was really good, and I like all the main characters and am excited to see where next season leads. Flash Forward wasn't spectacular, but it did suck me in with the various characters' story-lines, and I suspect this is how LOST fans feel about their show. Dono, I've only seen like one full episode of it, and have had more experiences with LOST fans than the actual show.

Fortunately this summer I still have Doctor Who with Matt Smith and the fun companion Amy Pond, played by Karen Gillan. I think Burn Notice should be starting a new season, too. I also plan to finish watching a few shows that I've been watching by season (My Name is Earl, Chuck, etc.). [that period, parenthesis, period felt very wrong grammatically. hmm]

Haven't seen many new movies. I did get to see This Film is Not Yet Rated, Choke, Up in the Air, and Where the Wild Things Are. I liked the first and third of those, but the second and fourth were just pretty good. Oh! Iron Man 2 was good, but not as good as its predecessor. Sam Rockwell's and Mickey Rourke's performances were both excellent, but my man-crush on RDJ didn't keep me from thinking he was just doing more of the same with too much of that talk-under-his-breath thing. P.S. Super excited about Thor. D'oh! We also watched Kick Ass! and it was as good as the comics (which were great). Wife and I are excited about both Avatar: The Last Airbender (calling it wrong title purposely) and Scott Pilgrim VS the World.


Bah, I'll save this for the next post. Running late for dinner and games at my brother's house. Needless to say, I've been playing World of Warcraft, Lego Batman, Fable 2, and Dungeons and Dragons.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Last Semester!

So I kept delaying posting in hopes that I'd post all about my holiday trip to Heidelberg, Germany or about the 2000-2009 period or the best of 2009, but any of those topics would take lots of work so it never happened.

That being said, I'm still having a blast being married to the most sweet and beautiful woman in the world. I'm taking my final class for my M.A. in history at Middle Tennessee State University, and it covers the Third Reich. Should be better than my road culture class (of last semester) in interesting-ness, but much worse as far as awesome people and teacher coolness. Oh well! Also, the professor of my Colonial America readings class last semester offered me a job researching for the Albert Gore, Sr. Center at MTSU. So I finally have a part-time job, and it pays pretty well to boot! I'll be researching the Clinton High School desegregation controversy, and traveling to various archives for that, but I'm not gonna go into that at length for the moment.

I hope you all are doing well.