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Reflecting on my blogs at the Times Union

I have just read through my blogs, which began in 2009; this is when Michael Huber, a graduate student at UAlbany, asked me if I would like to write blogs for the Albany Times Union.  I told Michael that I didn’t know what blogs were; he replied that that didn’t make any difference; if I was interested I could write them and email them to him; he would post them.  I don’t know how many I have written; perhaps it was 150 or 200. 

Michael left his position at the Times Union a few months ago; I retired from UAlbany in 2013 and now live in retirement in Florida, but I continued to write blogs  until Michael retired.  He spent a few days’ vacation here when he retired; he stayed with his sister, her husband, and their children. I regret to say that I have lost contact with him since I saw him here. I have just read through  all of my blogs several times; doing so has driven home to me how much they have meant to me.

The woman who took Michael’s position with the Times Union notified me that she didn’t want to continue running my blogs, so I got a new blog email address, which I am using now. The purpose of this blog is to reflect on my blogs; having gone through my blogs I realize how important they were to me; they gave me the opportunity to put down my ideas on many subjects. Many elicited responses; some didn’t. It was when I read through my blogs and responses to them that I tried to understand better the exchanges and something about the students and others who wrote them and posted them  I was surprised sometimes by the number of responses to some of my blogs and the absence of responses to others.

The blog that drew the largest number of responses was one of my first: “One solution for the problem of semi-literate students,” which I posted on 9-29-09.  It drew 40 responses. I commented on the large number of students who took classes from me that were, in effect, semi-literate.  I had been teaching 47 years when I wrote this blog; while I always had some superb  students in every class I taught, I felt that many students, too many, were unserious and unable to write college-level papers. The  responses to this blog were encouraging; they were written crisply and thoughtfully.     

The blog that elicited the next largest number of responses was one that I wrote on July 22, 2015, “If Charleston flies the Confederate flag, should Berlin fly the Swastika?”  This blog drew 34 responses; several persons exchanged comments with one another several times; the comments were sometimes acerbic and sometimes defamatory.  I came in for direct attack from some of the commentators; I explained that the Confederate flag was not the flag of South Carolina and that it was hoisted much later than the Civil War, in response to conditions that followed its aftermath. I saw raising the Confederate flag in front of the South Carolina State Capitol as a clear racist statement and argued that it was such. The exchanges became heated, so much so that Michel Huber had to intervene and issue a call for restraint.  As much as any blog that I wrote, this one became contentious and vented hostile feelings.    

A blog from 2009, “No jail for Bruno,” drew 19 responses; all were critical; some were hostile.   I did not know Joe Bruno when I wrote this blog (I never met him); I did not like his politics or his political style; I felt that he abused his office; I felt that he was a political embarrassment.  But I said in my blog that I didn’t think he should go to jail. Looking back on this episode now, I’m not entirely certain that I agree with the argument I advanced in the blog, but I feel that a case could be made not to send a politician to jail for misdeeds committed while holding office.  Bruno did not conceal his abuse of power; I knew about it and so too did those who kept voting him to office. Among those who held high office in New York, Joe Bruno was among the most abusive; perhaps he should have gone to jail; I don’t know what happened to him, but I believe that he manipulated the system to his advantage and did not go to jail.

Two blogs on Obama elicited 17 responses: “What to make of the Obama mess”? (November 19, 2013) and “Obama’s Crusade Comment” (February 15, 2014).  I should say that I voted for Obama  both times and feel that his presidency was successful. I might add that I feel that the presidency of George Bush was a tragedy.  I feel that the American invasion of Afghanistan was misdirected and that the invasion of Iraq was carried out under bogus charges and that it initiated the longest war that America has ever waged; one wonders when it will ever end.  It has destroyed much of the Middle East and brought  untold havoc to people who live in this  part of the world.  As far as I can tell there is no way to see an end of the conflict; I feel that Donald Trump’s presidency has seen the crisis worsen.  My two blogs on the Obama  presidency expressed my opinions on Obama’s efforts to  bring some measure of stability to the Middle East; I feel that his effort to come to some terms with Iran was well-advised.    Needless to say, many commentators disagreed with me.

A blog from 2009, “Why college students sometimes don’t learn,” drew 13 responses.  The responses were well-written, thoughtful, and intelligent; they were written by students who cared about their university education; they showed that however seriously I complained about students who were indifferent to my efforts to reach them as a teacher my negative feelings could be misdirected.  I always had fine students in every class I taught; some students took several of my courses and became different students before they graduated.  Two such students were black; they were best friends; neither could write college-level papers initially but they wrote papers that I read to the rest of the class by the time they graduated.  They have continued to keep in touch with one another; one became a teacher and the other took a position with a bank in Philadelphia.  They were unable to write coherent, well-informed papers initially, even though they did the required reading and put effort into their papers.  I gave them C- grades because they had tried; I was surprised when they continued to take my classes.  They came to see me to discuss their papers in the last class they took from me; I said to one of them as they sat in my office that I would like him to read the first several sentences in his paper out loud, which he did; he laughed when he heard his own sentences. I then did the same with the other student; he also laughed when he heard his own sentences.  I read the papers of these students in class by the time the semester ended; they had learned to write, and to think; the two went together.  I kept in touch with these students; both were from New York City; they met at the University at Albany; I can’t say how much they have meant to me; they showed that students who wanted to achieve something could; my exchanges with these two students are among the finest I have had in my fifty years of teaching.   

One of my finest students ever was from Oneida, New York.  His father was killed in an automobile accident when he was in the tenth grade; his mother was a shipping clerk at Oneida Ltd.; he had a younger brother and could see no prospects for himself whatever.  He got a job at a local Price Shopper and gave up on school, but he realized that if he continued on his downward path that he would have no future in the material world.  So he decided to pay attention to his studies; he received a scholarship at the University at Albany and took an upper-division course from me in his first semester of study.  He came to see me about his first paper; he showed me his draft for the paper; I made a few suggestions; it was his paper that I read in class.  He came to see ma a few weeks later; he wondered if I would write a letter of recommendation for him; he wanted to transfer to another college or university; I told  him I would be glad to but I added that he could receive a fine education at UAlbany if he paid attention.  I knew nothing about his personal circumstances; to transfer to another college would have  been very expensive for him; he remained at the University at Albany.  He studied at the Sorbonne during his sophomore year; he learned French before going to France; he received A+ grades; he met a German girl, a  nanny; he learned German.  He wrote a superb paper when he was a senior; it won a prize.  He applied to four universities but was admitted to none of them, I assume because of his Albany degree. Undeterred, he applied to Oxford under a special program for American students; he was admitted. He went to Italy in his first semester; the ticket was about 10 pounds ($20).  He said that Ivy League students on the flight, fellow students at Oxford, made him want to throw up; they could talk only of their many achievements.  Daniel did very well at Oxford doing his MA degree; the problem was what to do for the Ph.D.  There was little support for American students but Daniel tried anyway; he received a scholarship.  Anne and I were there when he graduated, having earned the Ph.D.; so too were his mother, his younger brother, Tim, and a grandmother. He reworked his dissertation; it is now a fine book.  He married an Oxford student; she has a fine position with the government; he taught at a school outside London and then took a position with another school, in London. His brother Tim took several of my classes at UAlbany; he was a science major; he was also a superior student.  I have kept in touch with both Daniel and Tim; Tim went to Syracuse to study in his area of  expertise; he is married and his prospects are very bright. 

Having just gone through all of my blogs, written between 2009 and 2017, I was surprised that some that I really liked drew no responses.  I don’t know if any one read these blogs; I only know that no one responded to them. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that some blogs elicited no responses; they were on subjects that were of particular interest to me; I wrote them because I felt they could be of interest to those who read my blogs.  Several were on musical topics, including the Italian composer Rossini, the subject of one of my books and an important figure in one of my courses.  There were no responses to “Don’t miss La Cenerentola [a Rossini opera]on May 10,” (4-28-14) or on “Rossini, revolution, and Albany,” (4-22-14).  Nor was there any response to my blog, ”Thoughts on ‘the Death  of Klinghoffer,’” a John Adams opera that has meant a lot to me (11-24-14).  I am a bit surprised that several other blogs drew no responses, such as:   “Education reform needs bottom-up initiatives,” (10-5-10), and “My strange hours but regular work-habits,” (9-26-10), which I would have expected some bloggers to respond to.  Nor should I be surprised that no one responded to blogs that expressed some of my personal feelings, or observations on my experience as a teacher, such as “No Stendhal for today’s students” (4-13-10) This blog is about a French novelist that I included in my class readings for the first ten years or so of teaching, until I decided to drop it.  The novel is over 400 pages in length; I reached a point where I decided that it was too much for my students (I assigned some five or six novels).  I was surprised that some of my blogs elicited no responses, such as “Tocqueville, Albany, and America,” (4-21-14).  Alexis de Tocqueville came to America from France after the revolution of 1830; his grandfather had been executed during the French Revolution; Tocqueville was a political and ideological conservative when he and a friend travelled to America. They went from New York City to Albany and participated in celebrations; they then travelled to Buffalo.  Tocqueville commented on the first Indian he saw in Buffalo; he was drunk, lying in a street.  Tocqueville and his travelling companion then passed down the Mississippi River; they saw Indians who were trying to cross the Mississippi; they had been driven from their ancestral land.  Tocqueville went to Washington, D.C.; he met Andrew Jackson in the White House; continuing his journey he and his companion saw thinly-settled parts of America; Tocqueville was struck by the people he saw; he saw them as if they were a new people, one with a future.  He began a book  on the Americans, Democracy in America; it is one of the great books on the American experience; he never completed it.  I must say that I was surprised that no one responded to my Tocqueville blog; I discussed Tocqueville’s time in Albany and referred to the Erie Canal.

I have no idea if anyone will have read this blog, since it has a different email address and is no longer a Times Union blog.  I loved writing blogs but was always an outsider who did them because one of my graduate students asked me to.  I should say that I remained outside the system that gave rise to blogs and I have not read the blogs that Michael Huber organized for the Times Union.  I was an outsider who did blogs because one of my graduate students asked me to; no one could have been more of an outsider to blogs than I was, but I enjoyed doing them and am glad that I did.  I hope that if anyone sees this blog that he or she will respond to it; it is the only way that I will know that someone has seen it.  

Comments

  1. Thanks for this overview from your perspective. As for me, I always enjoyed your blog, but I never did comment much. As a blogger, both for the TU, and on my own in one form or another since 2007, I always marvel at the dearth of comments on certain posts; funny, isn't it? Glad you are enjoying a retirement that is no doubt well deserved. Glad to know you have this blog now.

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  2. Warren - I knew you briefly from First Presbyterian Church. I was in the choir since 2000, a member since 2002. I loved how much you knew about the church's history.

    You were right about Bruno - I have a couple stories.

    The TU blogs took a hit after Michael left, but I have no idea why Ms. Fromma would have said you could not participate. She seemed pretty hands-off.

    I too have a TU blog, but I've seldom written there, writing instead at rogerogreen.com, in part as a result of the way the TU bungled the post of Chuck Miller on April Fools Day.

    One minor correction, though. You have a blog, which was at the TU and is now at http://warrenroberts.blogspot.com The articles/pieces are posts, or blog posts.

    I wish you well, sir.

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