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Showing posts from March, 2010

The Many Faults of Douglas Whaley

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Looking over my blog entries I notice that I seem to come out on top in far too many of the posts. Hmm. I suppose that’s natural enough for someone writing his own history, but it now seems time to confess some (but certainly not all) of my personal flaws.

1. Clumsiness. I’m not good at most physical tasks twelve-year olds can accomplish without thinking. For example, it should be illegal for me to touch tools given that a huge percentage of my past experiences ended with, say, blood and screaming. Consider two recent examples from a long ugly list.

“Doug and the Shelf.” I decided last year to put up a small shelf in my washer/dryer room. How hard could that be? Well, it took two days of steady effort and three trips to Lowe’s hardware store before the shelf was up, fastened firmly to the wall, and painted. Okay, I’d put it too low to operate the dryer without bending down and peering under the shelf to adjust the start dial, but I had no intention of taking it down and starting over…

Bob Whaley: Boy Lawyer

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My father was born in a small town in southern Indiana, but he found major entertainment there by going down to the courthouse and watching trials. At a very early age he decided he would become a lawyer, and decades later he recommended the same career path to his only son. Sitting in those courtrooms he fantasized being one of the lawyers; in high school he staged mock trials.


Alas, along came World War II, and he left Indiana University towards the end of his senior year (1941) to volunteer for the Army Air Corps (which by the end of the war became the U.S. Air Force). A lot of college seniors joined the military, but Indiana and other colleges awarded them their diplomas anyway. But once Dad was in the service, married and with two children, it became too risky resign his commission as an officer and go to law school as originally planned. So he stayed in the Air Force until retirement at age 48. That is not to say he didn’t have quite a legal career up until then. He had almost …

The Aging Gay Rights Activist

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In January of 1976, when I came to Columbus as a Visiting Professor at the Ohio State University Law School, I also moved to the city to explore the gay world for the first time in my life (I was 32). I knew nothing at all about that world. How to find a gay bar, for example, was a puzzlement. I solved that particular problem by looking up “Cocktail Lounges” in the Yellow Pages [remember Yellow Pages? Most students these days don’t], picked out one on Gay Street (yes, there is such a downtown street), and phoned it. I knew it wouldn’t likely be a gay bar, but that didn’t matter. When the bartender answered, I asked him if this was a gay bar, and, surprised, he said darkly that it was not. “What’s the name of the gay bar?” I asked. After a brief pause, he snarled, “The Kismet,” slamming down the phone. That night I went to the Kismet (which I also looked up in the phone directory], but, not knowing that (particularly in those very homophobic days) gay night life didn’t start until aft…

Superstitions

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Human beings are pattern-forming animals, a trait that has served us both well and badly since caveman days. Seeing a pattern in the behavior of an enemy tribe could lead to strategic planning countering a very real threat. Seeing a pattern in the bad behavior of some of our own tribe and a subsequent major damaging storm might lead to false conclusions about the anger of the gods and the consequential banishment of the supposedly offending tribe members.

We are all prey to superstitions, even ludicrous ones. Some have a basis in wisdom (don’t walk under a ladder), while others are just loony (step on a crack and break your mother’s back). Even worse, unless strictly watched and dealt with, a superstition can take on an amazing permanence in future behavior, even if irrational under any analysis. Playing Blackjack at a casino I sometimes notice that my luck seems to vary depending on how I stack my chips. This, of course, is nonsense. There is no possible causal connection between th…

Clickers

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One of the most valuable teaching tools to come along in recent years is something called “clickers.” These are handheld devices about the size of a cell phone, which are distributed to the students. The instructor then devises a program to be shown on a large projector in the room, all of which is tied to the internet. At the Ohio State Law School all large teaching rooms are now such “smart classrooms.” My program is a simple display: 1=YES; 2=NO; 3=ABSTAIN. Thus I ask a question in class, and the students all respond, and then I hit the space bar on the computer keyboard and a large graph appears showing the percentages of each choice and illustrating them by tall (or short) columns.

Why would this be an advantage over the old methods? First of all, students will not always (or even often) raise their hands when a question is asked, but they can all vote with their clickers. The clickers are randomly distributed and are anonymous. When I first have the students come up to the fron…

Catholicism and Me (Part One)

My mother was one of nine children: eight girls, one boy, all devout Catholics. These children had lots of children too, though many could not afford the large families they had anyway. I have something like 41 first cousins (but none at all on Dad’s side; he was nominally a Protestant, but cared little about religion).

As a boy I started out being quite religious: going to mass each day while in the first and second grade and weekly on Sundays thereafter, and attending Catholic schools when available as we moved through an Air Force family’s nomadic life. [Kindergarten in the Mohave Desert in CA; first and second grade in St. Louis; third and fourth in Omaha; fifth in Jasper IN while Dad was in training for the move to Japan; six, seventh and first half of the eighth on Yokota Air Force Base in Japan; last half of the eighth and first three years of high school in a suburb of Nashville, and senior year in Yorktown VA—after which I joined the Navy to see the world, as described in las…

Another Letter to Andrew's Parents

Readers of this blog may have seen the other letters mentioned below that I exchanged with the parents of the donor of my heart [if not see the posts "About That Heart Transplant" and "My Heart Belonged to Andrew"]. Here is the latest installment:

March 10, 2010

Dear Barbara and Byron:

I was so pleased to receive your wonderful letter about Andrew. I gather that my letter, written before yours, has also reached your hands, so they in effect crossed in the mails.

First of all, your letter was very hard to read, being both well written and an evocative recreation of your son Andrew. I am not someone who cries easily, but I didn’t make it through that letter without being a weepy mess. Since then I cannot look at Andrew’s photo (what a handsome and vibrant young man!) without a tremendous conflict of emotions: sadness at his early death, tremendous thanks to all three of you, and a sense of wonder that his heart is beating inside me as I type this. It was one thing to…

My Inadvertent Tattoo

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I’ve never wanted a tattoo nor even thought about the possibility. Other people’s tattoos are their own affair, and don’t bother me one way or another. Some are handsome and some tattoos should have been given a second or third or even fourth thought before being permanently applied. Thus it surprised all of my family and friends when I elected to sport a major tattoo back in the 1990s. Here’s why I did it:

As a result of major medical procedures earlier in life, I have large ugly scars across my chest. This made me self-conscious in places like swimming pools or locker rooms. Mentioning this to a friend in Dallas who is a professional artist, I was startled to hear him suggest an obvious answer: cover the scars with a tattoo. “But of what?” I asked him. We were sitting at a restaurant table, and he whipped out a pen and began drawing on a napkin. “Flames!” he said, passing the drawing to me. It showed huge flames seemingly erupting across my upper chest.

The idea began to a…

Goodbye to St. Paddy’s Day

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According to Whaley family lore my great-great-grandfather Noah Whaley came to this country with his brother from Ireland in the late 1840s during the time of the great Irish potato famine. He originally went to Virginia, but eventually moved to southern Indiana, supposedly leading a horse carrying his pregnant wife while walking the whole distance himself. He established a farm there and eventually went off to fight in the Civil War when the trumpets sounded and Abe asked for volunteers. It is also been passed down that he took his nine year old son Irvin with him on the ride to Evansville, about 30 miles away, and then tied the boy to the horse. With the slightest bit of guidance from the rider the horse knew the way home, so Noah slapped the horse on the rump and sent Irvin back home while he went off to fight with the Union Army. Frankly that sounds like child endangerment to me, but I’m glad it worked out well since Irvin is my great-grandfather, and lived to be a very old man. …