Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Web Writing

I am currently rewriting my web site for Writing Assessment Services, and though it is not a good time in the school year to be doing this, it is necessitated by AOL's wrongheaded determination to evaporate all member web sites by the end of this week. The only notice I got was a banner on the top of my site that I saw when I happened to go there a couple of weeks ago! Boo, AOL!

Anyway, I first created my site back in 1995-96, using a bit of html code from Fritz Hinrichs, bless his heart, after he encouraged me to take my services on to the infant Internet. I was at that time expert at signing on and off of AOL quickly so as not to use up my precious monthly minutes, but soon came unlimited time online and a whole new world was born--cyberspace! I laboriously typed in all that "href" and the letter "A" within pointy brackets and so forth (and learned how to use copy/paste efficiently), and my web site was born. Thanks, Fritz!

Over the years since, I have incorporated tables and a few graphics and shopping cart buttons and several things like that, but usually kept everything streamlined, using old pages as templates for new ones. But suddenly I've been dumped from AOL and it's time to start fresh with some new technology. I spent hours and hours investigating hosting and templates and software and found myself at the bottom of one decision tree with a few scattered apples, including a free limited subscription to Soholaunch. When people have asked the last couple of weeks how I'm doing, I mostly just give a big exasperated sigh.

But I want to try to explain.

Writing is hard, especially when you have a Purpose for it, and an Audience, and Money is involved . . . so many expectations!

Html is interesting but dizzying, and it has come far, including through translations like Java and php and things like that, and I can't do it from the keyboard anymore. But templates are limited, and Soholaunch's templates are not as flexible as I want to be, and my aspirations for flexibility go beyond my capacity to make use of the flexibility. I can override the templates, but I haven't figured out quite where and how to do so.

So here is what this kind of writing is like:

You know how to play chess? Not the basic way I play it, one move at a time, but with foresight into the possibility of each move, the potential future moves of the other guy? Each move I make with this new writing task has many future implications--will a site viewer be frustrated at the lack of information, overwhelmed with the plethora of it? Do I have too many choices, or too few? Can a visitor find his way to what he wants? Have I made the connections as clean and clear and intuitive as possible? How can I win? How can I keep from losing in a shameful way?

Well, now, imagine playing chess on the Enterprise, with that multi-level chess board, three-dimensionally? That's what this kind of writing is like. Not only do I have to do all that strategizing and organizing, but I have to do it within the limited compatibility of Word and the Soholaunch template, the "dynamic" but still constraining three cells across the page that Soho allows me, and the mystery of what it will look like once I hit the "preview page" button. If you go visit my site, stand in awe and wonder at the arrangement of icons near the bottom of the home page. No, they're not quite ideally spaced, and you've seen better, but it took me the better part of two hours to make them look that good.

Even something as simple as menu items, and sub-menu items, is dizzying. Soholaunch does not allow for more than one instance of any menu item. So even though a visitor to the "Schools" page might want to know the same things about "Evaluations" as a visitor to the "Home Schools" page wants to know, only one of them can get the sub-menu item "Evaluations" if my main menu has "Schools," "Home Schools," etc. on it. So that's why the main menu that appears on each page has "Evaluations," "Courses," and so forth on it. Then the sub-menu for the home page takes you to special pages for Schools, Home Schools, etc. Trouble is, where do I put a sub-menu for, say, "Client Comments?" Is that a Credentials matter, or a Link, or what?

So I spend a lot of time thinking, and I put links within the text on each page so you can still get to the pages the menu and sub-menu won't reveal while you're on that page.

So I'm playing chess, which I'm not any good at except against pre-pubescent normal kids; and three-dimensionally, with strategies needed both for each level and for the interactions of the levels; and look again at my opponent--the extremely logical Mr. Spock! I am Dr. McCoy, in the background, with the wild look in my eye.

I do it all for you, dear readers. Please feel my pain.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Summer Reading Challenge Update

I just updated my progress on the Summer Reading Challenge. Eight out of sixteen isn't too bad, I think! It was an ambitious list. And guess what--I've read other things, too, in the meantime.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Scholastic Argument

In my course Apprenticeship Writing Workshop , Part Two, students are to create a

Scholastic Argument Modeled on Thomas Aquinas's “Just War.”

This is my attempt:

Pro-Life Voting

Question: Whether it is necessary to vote for the most pro-life candidate in an election.

Objection 1: It would seem that it is always necessary for the godly to vote for the most pro-life candidate on a ticket, because God calls us to “defend the fatherless” and our vote is the best way to do that in our government.

Objection 2: Further, whatever endangers “the least of these my brethren,” from the fertilization of an egg on, is contrary to the value of human life, so any candidate who admits of legitimacy of abortifacient drugs, embryonic stem-cell research, or abortion in the case of rape, incest, or danger to the mental or physical health of the mother is transgressing that value of life.

Objection 3: Further, any softening of the pro-life stand for an otherwise-acceptable candidate is a betrayal of the value of life. Even if the result of abstaining from voting or voting for a hopeless candidate is that the godly voter sees worse candidates elected, by his drawing away votes from a partially pro-life candidate, that godly voter must content himself with having done the right thing in a symbolic action.

Objection 4: Further, because the pro-life cause is of fundamental importance, it is incumbent upon the godly voter to choose the most pro-life candidate no matter what other positions the candidate holds.

On the contrary, the Lord calls His people to pray for government that allows them to live peaceably, that we should “do good to all men.”

I answer that the godly voter has an amazing privilege in our government, one with scope unheard of in Bible times. Each vote is fairly small in its own impact but nevertheless significant. As rulers in Scripture are called to be wise, and their trials in ruling are there evidenced and cautioned against, so voters must be wise, considering the whole of a “kingdom” or nation or even town in their voting.

Firstly, the voter must acknowledge his whole duty, not just his duty to a single aspect of governance. Even if his passion and interest lead him to focus on “life issues,” he must not ignore the rest of the scope of his “rule,” just as a godly king or governor must consider the whole of his realm.

Secondly, the voter must see that if the nation is taken over by a hostile power, or its infrastructure ruined by a disastrous economy, many lives may be lost of those already born and especially of the sick, old, or disabled.

Thirdly, no candidate for office will be ideal, either in himself or in comparison to the other candidates. One may champion “life issues” while callously downplaying the rights and needs of those already born, while another has promising plans to care for the needy, or at least not hinder our care for the needy, while not understanding well the value of unborn life. In fact, this candidate might even have a strong life ethos but apply it only at a later stage of development, say the traditional Jewish concept of “quickening.” In cases like these the godly life-loving voter must apply great wisdom and discernment, knowing that his decision will help put into office a person who will then require wisdom and discernment in exercising that office.

Fourthly, the voter’s responsibility starts before election day, beginning with identifying the best possible pro-life candidates, supporting these candidates’ campaigns, and seeking to help those candidates and office-holders better solidify their regard of life in all its ramifications. Voters can be counselors and advisors to elected officials and perhaps even live out their convictions by running for office themselves.

Reply to Objection 1: Indeed the godly are to “defend the fatherless,” but this appeal to us to use all our powers in the furtherance of preserving life speaks to the whole of our lives. With wisdom and charity we must steward our powers, recognizing that the aim of protecting life, even in the womb, goes beyond the symbolic power of a vote for a “pro-life”-labeled candidate.

Reply to Objection 2: In the aim of defending and protecting life, a lawmaker may recognize that his constituency does not embrace the full scope of a purist pro-life ethos. For the sake of building a “culture of life” in his term of office, a culture that may well one day bring life-affirming consensus even on the “hard cases,” he may find it necessary not to hold a hard line on those “hard cases” in his governance, even if he holds that line in his private convictions. In this way a candidate fully bent in the direction of life may nevertheless not set forth an intent to abolish abortifacient drugs nor to prohibit abortion in the case of rape, incest, or the endangerment of a woman’s health.

In the case of embryonic stem cell research, the lines are drawn, even by purists, only with great difficulty. Even if experimentation on new embryos is prohibited, is it also against the culture of life to make use of stem cell lines derived from embryos destroyed long ago? And if that, too, is prohibited, what of using vaccines derived decades ago from a culture derived from an unborn child? Even if a lawmaker seeks to cleanse our medical research of any reliance whatever on processes and products derived from the sacrifice of human lives, this cleansing may be a long process and require first that the lawmaker hold office, voted in by those who take the long view on life issues.

Reply to Objection 3: Those who stand alone on the moral high ground, calling others, too, to abstain from voting if no candidate fulfills their purist ethos of life, put themselves in a place of powerlessness to actually save some lives. They remove their influence from our representative government. Queen Esther used her charms to appeal to a pagan king to save her people. If she had from the beginning determined to maintain her purity as a Jew, she might have hidden or disfigured herself to become ineligible for the beauty contest, or purposely set about not to please the king. And so she would have lost her opportunity to make a difference.

So Daniel, if he had flatly refused to eat the king’s delicacies, would have been killed or turned out of the elite school. Instead he took stock of the possibilities, appealed to authority, and made his case in a winsome way.

We as voters can use our power, our influence, to find the best candidates in a field of candidates, analyzing their real potential to win office, and cast our votes in a way that will best actually further a culture of life.

Reply to Objection 4: Catholic and Protestant pro-life advocates often call themselves “co-belligerents,” recognizing that they work for the same ends in most areas of life advocacy, however much they may disagree in other areas, or even in minor points in their beliefs about the beginnings of life and the permissibility of man’s interference via contraception, for example. But sometimes it is unsettling to learn that people of a very different world view hold convictions similar to one’s own. So, for example, a racial purist like Hitler might object to abortion for the favored races and perhaps even for the others, with a view to enslaving the offspring of the lesser. Is such a person really a godlier choice than a typical “pro-choice” candidate? Or what of a simply incompetent, na├»ve candidate, one who holds a purist life ethos but is certain to stumble in so many other areas that he endangers the stability of our government?

Our votes in support of life may not be so cleanly and clearly discerned as we might hope. In each vote, we must consider that we have come to this opportunity for influence, with this slate of candidates, “for such a time as this.”

~1300 words

Cindy Marsch



Thanks to "Sir David M." for his comments on my effort and for his own models on his blog!

Monday, October 6, 2008

Lovely Quote

From Geraldine Brooks's Year of Wonders, a novel about plague in 17th-Century central England. Beautifully written but heartbreaking and "difficult." The first two sentences have a lovely image, but the whole of the paragraph is worthy, too, giving us a snapshot description of the village that is the focus of the whole novel:

Our village is a thin thread of dwellings, unspooling east and west of the church. The main road frays here and there into a few narrower paths that lead to the mill, to Bradford Hall, the larger farms, and the lonelier crofts. We have always built here with what we have to hand, so our walls are hewn of the common gray stone and the roofs thatched with heather. Behind the cottages on either side of the road lie tilled fields and grazing commons, but these end abruptly in a sudden rise or fall of ground: the looming Edge to the north of us, its sheer stone face sharply marking the end of settled land and the beginning of the moors, and to the south, the swift, deep dip of the Dale. (p. 11)