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Computer Says B-Plus

The mouth-filling abuse of Kathleen Anderson’s post on automatic grading (“Betray Our Students for Publisher’s Profit?”) is such a delight to read that I’m almost sorry to confess that I disagree with her.

Anderson was approached by an educational publisher’s representative about a plan to (i) gather a corpus of several thousand student essays, (ii) hire experienced instructors to grade them, and then (iii) apply machine-learning techniques to train a computer program that will grade further ess…

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The Great Dog Robber

Among the celebrated actors who have died recently, James Garner deserves particular celebration for his charm, good humor, and versatility. If you’re nostalgic for what Southern California was really like in the 1970s, when real estate wasn’t yet sky high and there still were open spaces, look no further than the six seasons of The Rockford Files made back then. My excuse for celebrating him in Lingua Franca, however, is his use of an odd military term: dog robber.

Garner was cast as a dog robb…

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Grammatical Icing on the Political Cake

Elliott Abrams, former State Department official and adviser to three presidents, has a B.A. from Harvard (1969), an M.S. in international relations from the London School of Economics and Political Science (1970), and a J.D. from Harvard Law School (1973). You might expect someone with such a fine education to have a fair command of the most fundamental subject of the classical tripartite road to truth known as the trivium. Not so, however.

The Cease Fire That Broke Itself,” a recent post on h…

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All Done Copyediting/Copy Editing/Copy-Editing

copyeditingHallelujah. The copy edits have gone back. Hallelujah.

I’m referring here to the 350-page manuscript for my new novel, A Sister to Honor, forthcoming in January 2015, which I received in copy-edited form 18 days before my wedding date, with a two-week deadline. Between negotiations with the caterer, travel arrangements for various relatives, and the borrowing of baby stuff for my fiancé’s grandkids (the complications of senior nuptials), I cranked on the edits.

These now come, as anyone who has …

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Hard Facts

How long will the meeting last? I asked the caller. We had a visiting group coming to campus. They had a busy schedule. The meeting would end by noon, I was told, because the group had a hard out.

For a moment, the line went dead.  Seriously? A hard out?  Was a hard out  the equivalent of a really good excuse, like a sick aunt who needed to be driven to the clinic?  (“So sorry I can’t make the company rolfing workshop, but Aunt Tilda couldn’t do a thing without me.”)

But no, a hard out is an imm…

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All Set With That

I recently returned from a vacation to southeastern Massachusetts, where my wife grew up and I know of as the home of the greatest restaurant in the world (apologies to Calvin Trillin, longtime advocate of Arthur Bryant’s barbecue joint in Kansas City). I refer to The Bayside, in Westport, Mass., which claims the honor via not only its chowder, fried clams, lobster roll, strawberry-rhubarb pie, and Indian pudding with vanilla ice cream, but also view from its dining deck of the Allens Pond Wildl…

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Humanizing Academic Citation

Quote bubble copyThere was an “aha!” moment in my class this week that reminded me just how important it is to talk with students about the human conversation represented by academic citation.

This idea of an academic conversation on the page is far from new. More than 70 years ago, Kenneth Burke used the metaphor of the parlor filled with a heated ongoing discussion that we are choosing to enter and participate in as academic writers. Gerald Graff and Cathy Birkenstein have structured their valuable book They S…

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Little Help, Please?

John Updike once commented in a letter to his editor William Maxwell, “It occurs to me that the world would not be significantly poorer if I stopped writing altogether. Only a bottomless capacity for envy keeps me going. That, and the pleasure of reading proofs and designing book jackets.”

I know what he meant, though I would never presume to design a book jacket, or, indeed, anything. One exercise I do get pleasure from is fussing with what to call a book. My forthcoming history of American …

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The Ultimate Dude: TR?

theodore_roosevelt_genealogyDude, there seems to be no end to curiosity about the word that began as a label for a sissified dandy in New York City but developed into almost the coolest label for a young man nowadays, as well as a cool form of address to persons of any gender. Dude was unknown in 1882 but swept the nation in 1883, thanks to the equivalent of the Internet in those days: newapapers.

And yet—did the meme really begin on January 14, 1883, with an 84-line poem in the New York World by Robert Sale Hill? Or was d…

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Speaking Out Against Hate Speech (or Not)

usain_boltThe dinner-table conversation touched for a few moments on Usain Bolt, earth’s fastest featherless biped, who’s in Scotland to ensure a win for Jamaica in the men’s sprint relay at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow (mission accomplished!). Apropos of nothing more than this brief mention, a 70-year-old guest at my table suddenly remarked with a scowl: “I don’t like Jamaicans.”

The conversation froze. Was this hate speech? The woman seemed serious: Somehow an entire nation of about 2.9 millio…