Road trips and thoughts on audiobooks

The light blogging here of late can be attributed to the fact that I'm relaxing here at home. A couple of days ago I took off to southern Mississippi to see a friend I hadn't seen in about five years. It was a six-hour drive each way, but the weather was perfect, and I was able to do a good part of the drive on the beautiful Natchez Trace. I pulled over at some of the landmarks and trails including the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway (pictures under the fold).

I love listening to books on tape on car trips, especially when I'm by myself. This trip I listened to Nella Larsen's Passing on the way there and Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye on the way back. I check these out from the library, whose selection is pretty paltry when considered with my criteria. I'm picky when it comes to audiobooks. First of all, I want great literature, not pulpy, formulaic ephemera, absolutely no abridgments, and the books must fit into the drive time. And the narrator has to be good. Lynne Thigpen was breathtaking, the very best, though Robin Miles did a fine job of narrating Passing. I wonder how much narrators of audiobooks get paid?

For my upcoming drive to Atlanta, I have Candide (which I've read, but it's been a while), Toni Morrison's Jazz (another Thigpen recording), and Jeremy Irons' recording of The Alchemist (which I'm not too excited about, but I might give it a try. Like I said, paltry selection).

Any other audiobook lovers?

Racial and Ethnic Categories in Biomedical Research

I recently attended a conference titled Proposals for the Responsible Use of Racial & Ethnic Categories in Biomedical Research: Where Do We Go From Here? and have been meaning to post a little something about it ever since. Basically the conference's discussion centered on a specific dilemma: Race is, many scientists argue, a biologically meaningless category (though some, including those who have a stake in BiDil, would disagree); therefore, it shouldn't be used as a category in biomedical research. Using it brings associations with biological determinism and perhaps eugenics-tinged value judgments based on racist ideologies. Plus, attributing medical conditions to race ignores a host of other factors, including location; as Morris Foster argued in his talk, participants in studies are often aggregated by race in order to make statistically significant claims, but location plays a critical role in one's health. Isn't it possible, Foster asked, that the people living in one's same town -- whether they're the same race or not -- the people one interacts with on a daily basis, have more of an effect on one's health than people of the same race who live 1000 miles away? (Especially given environmental toxins, epidemics of infectious disease, etc.) Foster supports his arguments with data from a study he's doing on three rural African American communities in Oklahoma and three local tribal communities in Oklahoma.

However, in a racist society with clear disparities in wealth that are closely correlated with race, race can't be dismissed entirely. African Americans and whites do not have equal access to health care (this includes referrals to specialists, health insurance, expensive prescription drugs, etc.), and if you do look at health problems by race, the social context of health and disease is revealed, and as common sense would tell us, there's far more to health than genetics. As Dorothy Roberts argued, reducing health to genetics and looking for a solution in a pill (which not everyone could afford) lets the state off the hook. There are good reasons, from a social responsibility/public policy standpoint, to keep racial and ethnic categories in biomedical research.

Also, Jay Cohn, the patent holder of BiDil, points out that using race as a category (in the biological-genetic sense) can save lives, as doctors can use that knowledge to tailor treatments more specifically to patients, increasing the efficacy of those treatments. Roberts countered (rightfully) by saying that she didn't want a doctor prescribing a drug to her based on what race the doctor thinks she is. Cohn replied that in the clinical trials of BiDil, participants self-identified as African American. This use of self-identification as a sort of rhetorical loophole came up several times, finally spurring me to pass a note to my advisor, who was sitting next to me, that said, "Aaargh! It kills me how they're using "self-identification" as though that were a completely unproblematic concept!"

The role of the market, which was the subject of Gregg Bloche's talk, must also get attention here. All these studies and clinical trials take place in the complex, overlapping, sometimes contradictory institutional contexts of academia, pharmaceutical companies, and government. I might say more about this later, but I'm about ready to wind up this post. The conference organizers put up an annotated bibliography (PDF) of literature on this topic, and I've listed the open-access ones here, if you'd like to do more reading:

The Racial Genetics Paradox in Biomedical Research and Public Health (PDF)

Medically, Race Means Nothing

Categorization of humans in biomedical research: genes, race and disease

Authors warn of inaccuracies concerning use of race in health & social science research

The Meanings of "Race" in the new Genomics: Implications for Health Disparities Research (PDF)

Is research into ethnicity and health racist, unsound, or important science?

Computers and Writing Online 2005: Respond to Abstracts!

I'm on the organizing committee for the Computers and Writing Online 2005 Conference, and this year we're doing something that has never been done in our field, or I believe any other: We're having the whole conference on a weblog, including the review process. Actually, we're calling it a "public feedback process," and if you read the guidelines below you'll see that we're less interested in a thumbs-up/thumbs-down accept/reject model and more interested in an abstract-as-conversation-starter, knowledge-making-social model. Anyone with a username at Kairosnews can respond to an abstract (registration is free*), so please provide feedback by May 13.

In keeping with this year's CW Online 2005 conference theme--"When
Content Is No Longer King: Social Networking, Community, and
Collaboration"--conference organizers invite you and other interested
parties to read and respond to the proposals submitted for this year's
conference. These proposals can be found at

Should you choose to participate in this process, we ask that you
consider the following suggested guidelines:

--Before jumping into the response process, look at some proposals that
already have comments posted and get a feel for what's being done.

--Read the proposal carefully and consider what you think might be
improved, extended, re-focused, clarified or otherwise revised.

--We suggest avoiding a lengthy commentary or review. Instead, introduce
some talking points and engage the author in a conversation about the

--Gradually, as the dialogue unfolds, bring in the points you'd like to
see addressed.

--Treat your responses as part of an ongoing dialogue with the author,
your fellow respondents, and casual commentators. When possible,
consider referring to previous responses.

--Generally speaking, we are not looking for responses that are overly
evaluative or argumentative, but rather those that encourage dialogue
leading to clarification and understanding.**

* If you're registered here, you don't have to register at Kairosnews. You can login using as the username, and the password is whatever your password here is.

** This isn't to say you shouldn't be critical of an abstract or feel like you can't disagree with something an author has said; we're just, as I said before, trying to get out of a terse, accept/reject mode. Also keep in mind that it takes courage to put one's work out there for public feedback, and many of these people aren't bloggers, so we're trying to make it more supportive and not so snakepitty.

Stuff you don't want to lose

I like seeing those "Feminist of the Day" photographs and quotations at Prof. B.'s site, but yesterday's was too funny; I had to open up Grab (I love that program!) and preserve it for posterity.

What an exquisite gaffe! Rob Loftis made the most hilarious comment under this post at B's:

Don't look now, but Ayn Rand is back in the "Feminist of the Day" box. She's pretending to be Alice Walker. (Was that who she pretended to be last time? It's a hard disguise for her to pull off.)

Maybe we should tell her she's not fooling anyone.

I cracked up several times throughout the day thinking about it. So appropriate for the expression on Rand's face in that photograph.

Yee-Haw! Dissertation Fellowship!

OMG! My advisor just informed me that I received one of my university's Doctoral Dissertation Fellowships! I thought I had Absolutely. No. Chance. of getting one, but I did, and I'm still not convinced it isn't a hallucination. I think it's for real, though; I was even forwarded the email from the Graduate School Fellowship Office, which read in part:

The Graduate Fellowship Committee has completed its review of all nominations for the 2005-06 Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship (DDF) program, and I am pleased to inform you that the following nominee from your program is among those selected for the award:

Clancy Ann Ratliff

I really, really needed this. I've been teaching year-round for three years, and I will be grateful for the break and the opportunity to work on my dissertation full-time. I can't go without acknowledging Jonathan's encouragement here. He's the one who insisted that I apply for the departmental nomination in the first place. He's the one who always said so matter-of-factly, as if it were a foregone conclusion, "I know you're going to get it," the one who was so cocksure of me, even when I was amused by it, and thought he was just saying that.

Opt out of ranking!

I don't have time to comment right now, but I do want to make a suggestion that I haven't heard anyone make thus far in the take down the blogroll discussion, to which Lauren, Prof. B., PZ Myers, Krista, and many others have responded. I'm not planning on getting rid of my blogroll; as I said at Prof. B.'s, I'm not really convinced by the arguments to get rid of them. Some people have said my site is a little confusing because it's got a lot going on, and I want it to be reader-friendly, so I might put my blogroll on a separate page one of these days.

Anyway, here's my suggestion: If you don't like the hierarchy and rank of the 'sphere, how about opting out of the ranking systems? I just did: Go to the Truth Laid Bear's Ecosystem, search for your blog, under "Rank" click "request a change to this blog," then check the radio button that says "Remove this blog from the Ecosystem." It will then give you some code to paste into your header tags.

This seems a more appropriate way to protest hierarchy than getting rid of one's blogroll, IMHO.

Ethics and Student Blogging

These are just blinks, really; I want to keep them in mind for next year's Blogging Special Interest Group at CCCC.

Two recent posts by Lilia Efimova on blog research ethics and privacy -- good stuff.

Jill's response, which raises a question I think we as a SIG should talk about more: Should we require students to use pseudonyms when they blog for class?

Another issue I don't think we've talked about enough: what to do once the semester's over, the ethical question of what to do with the blog. On one hand, there's the weblog ethics argument about depublishing (see #4), but on the other, there's the fact that the students are blogging as a requirement, and perhaps a teacher would feel compelled to take the blog down after the learning-in-public experience is over. I've noticed that Mike, for example, chose to depublish his students' weblogs (but I don't know the specific circumstances of that case; maybe the students collectively asked him to take it down, I have no idea). I believe Charlie takes his class blogs down as well; I know he did when he used PostNuke. I myself leave them up, but students know they can go into Blogger or MT anytime they want and delete their own posts. Actually I have the permissions set in such a way as to allow them to edit or delete all the posts if they want, but I ask them to respect others' work by leaving it alone. Judging from Jill's post, she doesn't depublish students' blogs either, if she has administrative privileges on their blogs at all.

On Teaching Writing

Sean McCann at The Valve writes,

Even with these fabulous students, I find teaching writing immensely difficult--like teaching someone to dance. The boxstep is more or less easy. But after that there’s so many, myriad components of craft and talent involved that it seems impossible to systematize. Every case is different, and the only method is to pay attention and do it over and over again. The terrible thing is that for students who love to write and want to be good at it, this is all hugely rewarding. For others, though, I sometimes suspect it’s like being initiated into a weird fraternity whose rules are completely arbitary. There are those great moments when things click, but more often there’s slogging.

In darker moments I think, you can’t really teach writing; you can only aspire to be its Zen master. Am I wrong? I’m curious to know.

I might have to put that in my syllabus.

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