For the first time in more than a decade and a half, there is a new page—a new section, even!—on the website: الكتابة (“Writings”), which attempts to collect many of the things I have written over the years in one place. Some were, once-upon-a-time, found at various locations on the Internet but have long since gone missing; others are making their web debut (even though, in some cases, their HTML files were generated years ago!).
It’s also the first (non-testcase) page I’ve written from scratch since CSS became a useable web standard The styles employed aren’t fancy, but they’re there, and they’ve been designed so that one day, if I ever get around to it, I can CSSify the entire al-Qāhira fī Amrīkā website.
I have no delusions, though, that any of my planned “remodeling” work on the site will happen any time soon; for now, al-Qāhira fī Amrīkā remains a living, breathing, decaying example of mid-to-late 1990s web design, of more (dubious) historical value than anything else.
But, for the first time in ages, there is something new there, and I’m happy about it—and especially happy to finally start collecting scattered writings and making them available for reading once again.
You kicked a pebble,
A speck of metamorphic force,
Off the top
Of a mountain.
It hit a stone,
Jarred it loose,
And they fell.
A tiny band
Of pebbles and stones
They hit a rock
And broke it free.
They built up strength.
Now a slab,
Then a boulder,
Then a rock face.
To a crescendo,
An entire mountainside,
You are buried
Underneath an entire mountain,
A cataclysm of stone
Changing the face of the planet,
Your foolish falsehoods,
All because of your flippant kick
Of a tiny
But one of the ways that I believe people express their appreciation to the rest of humanity is to make something wonderful and put it out there.
—Steve Jobs (date unknown, as played at the opening of the Steve Jobs Theater, September 12, 2017)
When I read this1 the other day, my first thought was of Camino.
We were often asked by outsiders why we worked on Camino, and why we persisted in building Camino for so long after Safari, Firefox, and Chrome were launched. In the minds of many of these people, our time and talents would have been better-spent working on anything other than Camino. While we all likely had different reasons, there were many areas of commonality; primarily, and most importantly, we loved or enjoyed working on Camino. Among other reasons, I also liked that I could see that my efforts made a difference; I wasn’t some cog in a giant, faceless machine, but a valued member of a strong, small team and a part of a larger community of our users who relied on Camino for their daily browsing and livelihoods. It was a way to “give back” to the world (and the open-source community) for things that were useful and positive in my life, to show appreciation.
We were making something wonderful, and we put it out there for the world to use.
1 Part of a heretofore publicly-unheard address from Steve Jobs that was played at the opening of the Steve Jobs Theater and the Apple fall 2017 product launches. ↩︎
Dorothy Anna Ardisson, circa 1942
Lieutenant, US Army Nurse Corps, World War II
One hundred years ago today, on August 20, 1917, my great-aunt Dorothy Anna Ardisson was born in her parents’ second-floor apartment in Jeannette, Pennsylvania. She was the first child and only daughter of John Ardisson and his wife, Maria Julia Oswald, and was the oldest grandchild of her Oswald grandparents (Anton and Mary Adamic Oswald, immigrants from Slovenia) and second grandchild1 of her Ardisson grandparents (Stefano/Étienne/Steve and Maria Silva Ardisson, immigrants from Italy). The nations of old Europe were then still locked in the terrible combat of the Great War, which the United States had entered on the side of the Allies2 only a few months prior (April 6th).
Steve Ardisson Family, ca. 1919
This is the first picture of Aunt Dorothy I am aware of; she is the middle child, seated on an aunt’s lap, about two years old.
Aunt Dorothy (about whom I have already written once this year, for Women’s History Month) inherited the determination of her parents. She attended high school, graduating with high honors, even though her father thought girls did not need a high school education. Early in her life, she had decided she wanted to be a nurse when she grew up; she finished nursing school at St. Francis Hospital School of Nursing just in time for the start of what we now call World War II, and she joined the US Army Nurse Corps. After a few stateside postings (including at Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, DC), she and a few fellow nurses decided they wanted to see more action and sought transfers to a unit being shipped overseas. There, she worked in a field hospital near Oran, Algeria, during the invasion of North Africa, helping in the civilized world’s fight against Nazis and Fascists.
After the war, Aunt Dorothy took advantage of the GI Bill and obtained a BS in Nursing Education from the University of Pittsburgh (later on, she also obtained an MA in Education from the University of Michigan). She then took a head nurse position at Mount Carmel Mercy Hospital in Detroit, where she was responsible for training new nurses, and then served as a professor in the nursing department at Mercy College until her retirement. In her early years at Mercy, she shared an office with Kay Wenzel. At one point, both women needed new cars, and Aunt Dorothy had a house but needed living room furniture, while Kay had furniture and needed a new place to live. To save money, the officemates became housemates, and then lifelong best friends, as a two-year arrangement continued for several years, and then off-and-on again until Kay’s death nearly half a century later. During those many years, Aunt Dorothy also welcomed her nieces and nephews to Michigan each summer for a week of fun and family, and she continued travelling the country (visiting all 50 states) and the world—including a trip “back” to Baldissero Canavese, the village north of Turin from which her Italian grandparents had emigrated at the end of the nineteenth century.
Because I lived in Georgia and Aunt Dorothy lived in Michigan for most of the years we shared on this earth, I didn’t see her very often or know her very well. Still, she would send a card at Christmas and on my birthday, and sometimes a small gift or bit of knowledge. Aunt Dorothy was not responsible for my love of genealogy—I had always been curious about the world and where I was “from”—but she was most definitely responsible for much of my success in it. The Christmas I was 12, she sent me a genealogy workbook, into which she had inserted, between the relevant pages, handwritten notes about her parents and grandparents. While I was young, I did not work in earnest on the book, but I did enough to keep filling in blanks and wanting to discover more. Later, Aunt Dorothy organized two Ardisson family reunions, started collecting and labeling various family pictures, and eventually started corresponding with a distant nephew in France, who in turn was in contact with Ardissone and Silva cousins in Italy, and she funneled each new discovery to me. When she moved back home to Pennsylvania after Kay died in 1997, I got to see Aunt Dorothy a bit more often, and we also continued to correspond with genealogy updates. On one particular family trip to Pennsylvania, she and my grandfather took me around to the various cemeteries in Export, Delmont, and Denmark Manor where their parents and grandparents are buried, ensuring someone would know where to find them in the years to come.
Ardisson Family Thanksgiving, Murrysville, PA, November 22, 2007
This is the last picture I have of Aunt Dorothy (seated, middle), when we brought her over to my grandparents’ house for a family Thanksgiving in 2007.
Like all people, eventually age caught up with Aunt Dorothy, and she passed away on August 15, 2009, five days before her 92nd birthday, leaving behind a legacy as a much-loved educator, friend, daughter, sister, aunt, and great-aunt. In those 91 years and 360 days, she lived and worked as a single woman, carving her own path in a world which for many of those years was not quite ready for the idea of an unmarried career woman, and served as a quiet example to those of us who knew and loved her.
She continues giving gifts even now. In the past few days, I came into possession of the trunk Aunt Dorothy’s grandmother Maria Silva Ardisson brought with her when she came over from Italy; among the items found inside was a framed Steve Ardisson family portrait, circa 1919 (above). My parents and I could identify about half of the people in the photo, but the other half were a mystery (we had guesses, but some turned out to be wildly incorrect). As I searched through my files, I found that after one of my visits, Aunt Dorothy had sent me high-quality photocopies of a handful of significant family photos, including that one, and she had sent along a sheet of captions, making it possible to correctly identify everyone from now until the picture ceases to exist. Thank you, Aunt Dorothy, for all you have done for the world and the Ardisson/Silva/Oswald families, and happy 100th birthday! ♥
1 After the tragic death of her older cousin Mary Elizabeth Bertolina at age 6 in June 1919, Aunt Dorothy became the oldest surviving Ardisson grandchild as well. ↩︎
2 In fact, Aunt Dorothy’s great-uncle Tony’s eldest son John Ardison, a French-born Italian citizen who grew up in America, saw service with the American forces in Europe. ↩︎
Twice within the span of a few days, I’ve heard Tennyson’s famous lines from In Memoriam A.H.H. misquoted on TV, both times with the same error, the second infinitive split by “never.” One of the occasions specifically identified the quotation as Tennyson; surely if you know your character is supposed to be quoting Tennyson, you can make sure you put the correct wording of the quote into the script? It seems not. (Or perhaps the actor flubbed the line and the director didn’t catch it?)
For the record, the correct quotation of the lines from stanza 4 of Canto XXVII (infinitives not split) is:
’Tis better to have loved and lost
Than never to have loved at all.
For almost as long as I can remember, I’ve started my day with a glass of apricot nectar. I have no idea how or when this started; it’s always been with me, just as the sun rises every day. Originally, back in the day, it was Libby’s in a glass bottle, and every time we visited my grandparents, or they visited us, they would have the 64 oz. cans (larger and less expensive, but for some reason not available near us) for me. Later, there were even 12 oz. (and 6 oz.) cans I could bring with me camping and on trips—I was the weirdo who came to breakfast with a juice can and didn’t drink the watered-down hotel orange juice). Wherever in the country I was, I had my Libby’s apricot nectar, and breakfast was good (even in Syria, two decades ago this summer, one of my favorite breakfast treats was when we had some sort of apricot jam or preserves in which to dip our bread…not Libby’s, or nectar, but still apricot, and delicious!).
At some point in the last decade-plus, Libby’s rebranded its juices as Kern’s (by then both brands were owned by Nestlé), but the bottles (by now plastic and smaller) continued, and all was well…until about January, when bottles and cans began disappearing from store shelves and were not being restocked. In fact, all Kern’s nectars, except the 12 oz. mango and guava cans, disappeared from the groceries, even though the company claimed still to be producing them. I tried Jumex apricot nectar, which was available in 12 oz. cans in certain stores, but it tasted too much liked spiked punch for me to drink, much less enjoy. So early in 2017, my long run of a glass of apricot nectar with breakfast sadly came to an end Yes, it was only juice, but when it has been a part of your life, daily, for so many decades, it is still a loss that you mourn.
That didn’t stop my mother and I from eyeing the spots where the Kern’s apricot nectar had been, hoping beyond hope it might return. And, suddenly, early this month it did reappear at the local Publix, in a new and larger 64 oz. bottle, with a slightly different (I would argue better, slightly more apricot-y) taste. I have no idea what caused the sudden return (perhaps a series of complaints by other weirdos like me? I can’t imagine there are that many of us), but I am thrilled—and all is well with breakfast, once again
Apparently, the children of noted Lebanese-British international law and human rights barrister Amal Clooney (née Alamuddin) and her world-famous American actor and activist husband George arrived earlier this month. According to the Internet (aka a statement provided by the family to various media outlets), the twins, a girl and a boy, are named Ella and Alexander. (These are, I think, lovely names—in particular, my cousin and his wife named their daughter Ella earlier this year—and I never expected anything “strange”, like “Moonbeam” or “Apple”, from George Clooney.)
I learned of these things via a poignant and thought-provoking article from Duana, one of the writers at the Canadian celebrity gossip website LaineyGossip. The article is a great exploration of the naming (please, read the entire thing—it’s relatively short, and excellent), but the main point really resonated with me:
When all is said and done, this is what breaks my heart a little bit. The babies are half-Lebanese-British by birth and will be citizens of the world. Their names could have been anything, and people would have accepted them because George Clooney said so. […]
But the reason they’re worthy of comment, to me, is because I can’t shake the feeling that choosing such well-trodden ‘normal’ names sends an implicit message that Middle Eastern or Arabic names are not as desirable. That the name their mother has is not something to be emulated. […]
But in a time when we have such a massive lack of understanding of Middle Eastern and Arabic culture, I can’t help but wish there’d been a greater attempt to find the beauty in names from another culture.
It’s because representation matters. It’s because choosing Anglo names when one parent has a name that is “other” can be interpreted as feeling like there’s something to hide or be ashamed of. Names matter. And they continue to send a message long after the birth certificates have been signed.
(We do not know what, if any, middle names these children have; it’s certainly possible that they’re named “Ella Fairuz” and “Alexander Adil” or something along those lines, names that do mix their parents’ heritages. All we know at the moment is that the children have “normal”/“classic” English first names. Still, Duana’s point stands; the middle names, even if present and known, will not have the same prominence as the children’s first names.)
I will echo Duana from LaineyGossip in saying that it’s none of my business what the Clooneys choose to name their children, that these are lovely names, and that we have no idea what their thought-process might have been. But to someone who spent the bulk of his academic career focused on the Middle East, who is living in 2017, it does feel like a missed opportunity for two extremely high-profile, politically-aware and -active parents to make a quiet but lasting, positive statement about issues close to them.
Moving on, I have two additional thoughts to add to what Duana has already presented. The first is that when Amal Alamuddin married George Clooney, she took his surname. (In addition, she did not keep her birth surname as a post-marriage middle name, as is sometimes done in the Anglophone world.) Again, her choice and none of my business. But (not knowing her, or anything about her beyond what appears in standard short-form biographies of her), it still surprised me when it happened—I had, for no real reason, expected her to emulate 1990s-era Hillary Rodham Clinton and become “Amal Alamuddin Clooney” (as she was very briefly called in the media once her marriage became known but before it became known she was going by “Amal Clooney” instead). She had a reasonably high-profile and established career under her birth surname. Further, on occasion in the Middle East I’d been told that traditionally women did not take their husbands’ surnames on marriage, since the name represented his ancestry and one could not suddenly inherit that ancestry (how common this practice really is/was, I have no idea). It has been interesting—I’m not sure that is the right word—though definitely fruitless to wonder why she made that choice. It certainly was one of the things that popped into my mind, though, when I read the piece about the children’s names.
The second item is a story that my great-aunt Dorothy told during one of our family reunions years ago, about the thought and behavior patterns of immigrants (at least of her grandparents’ era). She said that the immigrants insisted that their children (her parents, in this case) were/be Americans; the immigrants did not teach their children (nor let them speak) Italian, and many things from the “old country” disappeared in favor of assimilation. Indeed, in our family, Stefano Serafino became “Steve S.” upon arrival in the United States, and his and Maria’s children were Katherine, Jennie, John, Clement, James, Marie, Adam, and Steve, “abandoning” family names like Domenica, Theresa, Giovanni, and Stefano. (Then, Aunt Dorothy continued, in the next generation, there was a reaction against that suppression of ancestry and culture; she and her siblings and cousins sought to learn about their heritage, where they were from, and so on, though by this time some things—including the ability to speak Italian [Piedmontese]—were lost altogether.)
The Alamuddin family were immigrants to the United Kingdom, fleeing the Lebanese Civil War when Amal was very young. I wonder if her immigrant experiences—whether like my great-great-grandparents’ or something unique to her time and place—came into play when thinking about naming the children? At the end of the day, all we can do is speculate—and waste our time writing about our thoughts and speculations—until one of the Clooneys one day (if ever) addresses the subject directly. Still, though, in today’s world, representation matters, and for billions of non-Anglo-European or part-Anglo-European adults and children (and the hundreds of millions of them living in traditionally-Anglo-European societies), the Shireens and Hishams and Laylas and Iskanders, it may feel like still “there’s no one on TV like me” when this month there easily could have been.
The Franklin Township High School Class of 1937 recently held their 80th class reunion; both of its surviving graduates were in attendance.
For those like me who are mathematically challenged, that means two 98-year-olds—presumably both women, though I don’t know; I heard about it via my mother, who’d heard it from my father, who’d heard it from one of his old friends/classmates, who’d read it in the paper. It boggles my mind to think that 80 years after graduation, there are still graduates alive and able to get together for a reunion. I don’t know how many graduates were in the Class of 1937 (which would have been my grandfather’s class had he not been so stubborn), but my grandmother (Class of 1938) had 72 in hers, which was more than any of us here had expected, although still quite small by what we had experienced. And still two remain; amazing.
It’s nice to hear that they continued having reunions as the years progressed and the number of surviving members dwindled, and I hope those two remaining members of the Class of 1937 had a wonderful time. I hope my grandmother’s class has an 80th reunion next year, too—I’ll volunteer to scan her copy of the graduation program for them, in case none of the surviving graduates have theirs handy.
(And maybe by the time it’s time for my 80th high school class reunion, I’ll finally be ready to attend one )
For the first year since 1916 (the year my great-grandparents were married), none of the four Ardissons of Export—all of whom answered the call of their country and served overseas in branches of the United States Army and then were lucky enough to return home safely—are with us any longer.
Eugene, Edward, Gerald, and Dorothy Ardisson
Uncle Clem’s farm, Delmont, 1943
My great-uncle Gene, the youngest and last of the four siblings, passed away in December after falling while playing with his great-grandchildren. Many, many years ago, in March 1943, he was the first married man from Export to be drafted. Trained as an artilleryman, he landed in Normandy shortly after D-Day and later marched down the Champs-Élysées after the liberation of Paris. Sometime in 1944 he was transferred to another unit, which in December was part of the Allied counteroffensive in the Battle of the Bulge; sadly, his original unit was also involved in the Battle of the Bulge, but it was all but wiped out, losing 90% of its men. From there, he moved across Germany, eventually linking up with the Russians on the Elbe before ending the war pointed towards Berlin.
This Memorial Day, not only do we reflect on the life and service of these brave men and women, but especially all of those—like Uncle Gene’s comrades-in-arms in his original unit, decimated in the Battle of the Bulge—who did not make it home to live out their lives, to see children, grandchildren, and even great-grandchildren. We remember, and honor, the fallen.
Dr Peter Augustine Lawler, Dana Professor of Government at Berry College (a small college nestled in the hills of northwest Georgia, and my undergraduate alma mater) passed away quite suddenly earlier this week. When I arrived at Berry some decades ago, Dr Lawler was already a towering figure at the school and its most high-profile scholar. He was a standout in the field of American political philosophy who additionally worked on bioethics and the future of higher education, and he was also an exemplar of a manner of postmodern conservatism.
I did not know Dr Lawler well, although I had many interactions with him during my time at Berry (beginning my freshman year when I went begging to various departments for funds to support Berry’s new-born Model Arab League delegation), but he was, for a large number of my collegiate friends, one of, if not the, most significant professors and intellectual influences in their academic lives. Through them, as well as his presence on campus and in the department, he still managed to permeate my life.
I remember one day in the fall of my junior year, as I was walking through Evans Hall between classes, Dr Lawler flagged me down (“Oh, no, what have I done?” I wondered) to inform me that he wanted to nominate me for the Truman Scholarship. It was shocking to me at the time, though I was to realize it was part and parcel of the kind of professor and person he was, that he was familiar with, and thought highly enough of, someone who had never taken any of his classes and who, by then, had abandoned the department’s majors entirely, to select me to be a Berry nominee for this prestigious scholarship.
In one of the stranger interactions, in the spring of my senior year, my Honors Thesis committee commandeered his office for my thesis defense, it being large enough to accomodate all of us (and, at the time, not terribly far removed from the move from Green Hall, quite tidy by Lawlerian standards). Later that spring I was belatedly inducted into Pi Sigma Alpha, the political science honor society (I began my time at Berry as one of the then-Political Science Department’s international studies majors, was inducted into the “rival” history honor society, Phi Alpha Theta, my sophomore year, and left the international studies major about the same time, although I continued to take government and international studies courses throughout my time at Berry); I remember Dr Lawler’s befuddlement at the fact that I had not been inducted earlier and his apology for my having been missed.
When I think back on Dr Lawler, I remember his quiet, thoughtful voice, his constant conversations with students—in his office, in the halls, wherever they may meet—and the admiration and respect with which my friends always spoke of him and his classes; as my friend and former Berry Model Arab League colleague Dan Alban wrote earlier this week, Dr Lawler’s classes were more intellectually challenging than Dan’s later studies at Harvard Law School. Dr Lawler was a kind of gentle giant, a renowned scholar yet equally at home in the classroom and Rome’s various cafés and porches. There was no ivory tower around Dr Lawler. He was always accessible and committed to our education and success—even those of us who were on the periphery of his field and department.
So the untimely passing of Dr Lawler comes as a great blow, not just to his family, the Berry community, and his former students and those who knew him, but also to humanity, which has lost a great mind, a champion of virtue, and wonderful human being.