Romanesque and Gothic Styles in Ecclesiastical Architecture: A Visual Comparison

Romanesque and Gothic Styles in Ecclesiastical Architecture: A Visual Comparison.
A presentation by Richard X. Thripp.
2008-07-17 —
PDF version (700 KB).


^ The flying buttress, attached to the wall with a half-arch, supports the ceiling of a Gothic church, for the first time allowing large stained-glass windows to decorate the structures, in contrast with the thick walls required in their Romanesque counterparts. Instead of being dark and gloomy, Gothic churches could be warmly lit by bright sunshine.


^ With the sun behind them, stained-glass windows are quite impressive. They illustrated biblical passages to the illiterate populace and provided light, such as in the Canterbury Cathedral’s windows, pictured above. The great height, helped by the pointed arches, ribbed vaults, and flying buttresses, is intended to make the church seem closer to God.

churches-03 churches-04

^ The rounded arches of Winchester Cathedral (first) are a staple of the Romanesque era. It is not until the Gothic era that the advantaged pointed arches (second) become widespread. Being more true to the forces of compression, they are stronger and can be build higher, as an increase in height does not require so much distance between the endpoints.


^ A Romanesque cathedral started in 1067, Saint-Etienne exhibits the rounded arches, grandiose presence, and dedication to geometric symmetry that is common among the churches of its time.


^ The Seville Cathedral, the largest of the Gothic era, with its lone tower, features less symmetry. The rounded arches on the tower and dome vault show that elements of the Romanesque period persist.

churches-07 churches-08

^ On top, we see the classic barrel vaulting of a Romanesque ceiling,
with the more modern ribbed vaulting of the Gothic period below.
The difference is similar to that of rounded arches and pointed arches:
barrel vaults must be large and have thick walls on their sides so as not to
collapse, whereas ribbed vaulting distributes the weight on the pillars more evenly.


^ A diagram of ribbed valuting.


^ With its construction beginning in 1136, the Saint-Denis Basilica, pictured above, is the first of the Gothic cathedrals. Pointed arches and ribbed vaulting, once again, set it apart from its Romanesque contemporaries.


^ Many churches, such as Binsted’s Church of the Holy Cross above, combine elements from both eras, such as with the mixture of pointed and rounded arches. It is not always clear whether a church should be considered “Gothic” or “Romanesque.”

Oleanna Role-Playing

Oleanna Role-Playing.
Essay by Richard X. Thripp.
2008-07-17 —
PDF version (70 KB).

This is a hypothetical letter, written for John from Oleanna by Richard X. Thripp, a professor in an adjacent office who eavesdropped on the play. This may serve well for character analysis, or to inspire you to write some mandatory essay. I don’t know what edition I got the line numbers from, unfortunately.

To my esteemed colleagues in the tenurial committee,

In the eleven years I have known Professor John, he has been a truly compassionate teacher. Though cynical with his claims of college being no more than a “virtual warehousing of the young” (1375), I and many others have respected his views as healthy skepticism to the educational system. Being that our offices are adjacent, I overheard him counsel his student, Carol, on educational theory: “I’m talking to you as I’d talk to my son . . . I don’t know how to do it, other than to be personal” (1377). This seems reasonable, but the way he goes on to “teach” her the class is not right; he tells her “your grade for the whole term is an A,” but only “if you will come back and meet with me,” and to “forget about the paper” that all his other students must write (1380). He says “we’ll break [the rules]” and that “we won’t tell anybody” because “I like you” (1380). Even if he does have her best interests at heart, he should not play favorites or support such deviance, and he is doing a disservice to the students that legitimately pass the course, while setting a bad example for Carol.

I became concerned on Carol’s second visit, when she shouted “LET ME GO. LET ME GO. WOULD SOMEBODY HELP ME?” (1390). I tried to chase John down to question him, but he was too busy on his phone, talking of some important meeting. While this may seem illogical, my fears of his misconduct were diminished when on Carol’s third visit to John’s office, she announced to him: “you tried to rape me . . . you ‘pressed’ your body into me” (1397). What I can only see in both cases are vengeful taunts on her part. If he indeed attempted rape, she would have been too fearful to return to his office. Provoking him with such an accusation while in his office, alone with him, is ridiculous. Her very actions disqualify her claims. What was mere detainment in the hope of completing a discussion, she claims to be “battery . . . and attempted rape” (1397). John was not right to restrain Carol. But to claim it an assault is worse. It is not merely slander against John, but an injustice to all the women who must go through the emotional trauma of a real sexual assault. Carol is bringing them down with her hyped accusations.

We have high standards for our students; we have even higher standards for our faculty. John is at fault for over-stepping his bounds as a professor and acting in ways that can be construed as sexual advances. “The rich copulate less often than the poor” (1382) is no comment to make to a young student in a clustered office. Carol is guilty for accusing John of rape, which is nowhere as far as he went; the case will be thrown out by any fair-minded jury, merely for the reason that she has shown no fear of the man whom she claims assaulted her.

My recommendation is to deny John’s tenure and ask him to write a letter of apology for his behavior—namely, for ignoring his “responsibility to the young” (1394) by flirting with and making distasteful remarks to his student, and offering to give a high grade on a basis other than academic merit. We cannot promise a lifetime position to someone who is contrary to the ideals of higher education. Should he recognize his mistake, I am in favor of tenurial re-evaluation after a probationary period of one year.

There is another important subject I must address: Carol complains of the unbalanced power in the college, saying, “the thing which you find so cruel is the selfsame process of selection I, and my group, go through every day of our lives. In admittance to school. In our tests, in our class rankings” (1394). Though it may be unfortunate, that is life. As an institution of learning, we can only measure what we can test you on. Now, where this goes too far is when instructors help or hurt students on their own biases, such as her example of “one capricious or inventive answer on our parts, which, perhaps, you don’t find amusing” (1394) being the reason to be given a bad grade. That, none of us condone, and it is the very reason we have academic mediation and conflict resolution departments, anonymous reporting of instructors’ misconduct, and even procedures as basic as our mid-term instructor evaluations, where the students give direct and risk-free feedback, even if for something as small as unenthusiastic teaching or unfocused course material. While John writes that education is “prolonged and systematic hazing” (1383), we must remember that as a young man, he went through the same hazing himself, as did our other faculty, many slaving years to obtain a doctorate or Master’s degree. Would we tell a mother that it is unfair that she orders her children to time-outs, but does not subject herself to them? It is just as unreasonable to say that our professors should be subject to a the same grading process as our students—they have already proven themselves through decades of learning and experience. All our students attend here by choice, and if they can only see our system as unfair and dispossessing, they are free to go without a college education or attend elsewhere, though they will find that we are as fair as any other institution.

Richard X. Thripp
Associate Professor of Information Studies

A Feminist Perspective for “Ind Aff” and Oleanna

A Feminist Perspective for “Ind Aff” and Oleanna.
Essay by Richard X. Thripp.
2008-07-17 —
PDF version (70 KB).

Though I have page and line numbers, I don’t know the editions I got them from. Sorry for that. I’ve developed an interesting angle on “Ind Aff” and Oleanna nonetheless.

The protagonists in “Ind Aff” and Oleanna struggle against men with power who wish to control them, in both pieces the archetype being the mid-forties college professor who offers academic favoritism. After the narratator of “Ind Aff” leaves her teacher, he “[does] his best to have [her] thesis refused” out of spite (Weldon 158), and in the same way, John of Oleanna offers an A grade “if you come back and meet with me,” saying “I like you” and that “we won’t tell anybody” (Manet 1380). Both abuse their power to manipulate women, and seeing that these are contemporary writings (1988 and 1992), they address the remaining, insidious counter to women’s rights, which is bias and coercion by people in positions of authority.

Both Carol and the unnamed narrator of “Ind Aff” connect themselves to a larger social movement; for Carol, it is for the rights of women and students, and for Peter’s companion, it is the ills of patriotism as applied to their romantic relationship, “inordinate affection” being the very title. The latter compares herself to Gavrilo Princip, assassin of the Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand, an event that may be linked to the start of World War I. She concludes that her relationship with her professor was “as silly and sad as Princip . . . with his feverish mind . . . and his inordinate affection for his country . . . firing — one, two three shots,” as though he would have “come to his senses,” like she did about her love for her professor, if he would have reflected longer (Weldon 158). This is a mental coming-of-age on her part, just as Carol sees that John “[loves] the power” (Manet 1388) and “[believes] in nothing at all” (1393), undermining her fellow students, whom she states “overcame prejudices . . . and endured humiliations I pray that you and those you love will never encounter. (Pause) To gain admittance here” (1394). For this all to be so that John can “play the Patriarch in [his] class. To grant this. To deny that” (1388) is unbearable to her.

The two pieces are uplifting, in that the women have an awakening in which they reject the power of their professors, but at the same time are depressing for the loss that goes with growth. The lady in Sarajevo decides that “in a world . . . full of young men, unslaughtered,” she should not be with “this man with thinning hair,” particularly after noticing that she “had become used to his complaining” and continued to say “I love you” as a reflex rather than her feelings (Weldon 155, 157). In ending the relationship, she loses his good graces in “supervising [her] thesis” for classical history (153). More importantly, just earlier she “adored him” and “loved to be seen with him” (155), so what she loses more is the ideal of a “professor-student romance” (154) to guide and direct her.

Carol visits John’s office with the ideal of being taught something important which she does not know, but is shocked to find that her professor takes no stake in the subject, saying that “it’s just a course, it’s just a book” (Manet 1375), as if he views higher education as mere busywork. He goes on to say that “the tests, you see, which you encounter, in school, in college, in life, were designed, in the most part, for idiots. By idiots,” that they are “nonsense” (1379). When she challenges him later, he brushes it off by saying “I understand. You’re hurt. You’re angry. Yes. I think your anger is betraying you” (1388). Here, he is assuming her complaints have no rational bias, but just stem from blinding emotions and a taste for vengeance. This condescending attitude represents a systemic treatment of women as inferior to men, as though they lack logic and are driven only by instinct. John confirms his chauvinistic leanings: when Carol directly addresses it by asking, “You think I am a frightened, repressed, confused, I don’t know, abandoned young thing of some doubtful sexuality, who wants, power and revenge. (Pause) Don’t you?,” he answers, “Yes, I do” (1394). This same mindset has justified centuries of subjugation by men, in voting, marriage, government, property rights, and the workforce, and the women’s movement is what Carol acts on when she announces, “I speak, yes, not for myself. But for the group; for those who suffer what I suffer” (1393). She comes in thinking that John’s lessons have merit and the problem is “I’m stupid. And I’ll never learn” (1375), but learns that he “[says] that higher education is a joke” and “[treats] it as such” (1388), which unfortunately disillusions her belief in the academic system (1375).

Both Peter and John are patronizing toward women; Peter says that his student has “a good mind but not a first-class mind” (Weldon 153), and John responds to Carol’s questions as though he is consoling a crying child: “Sshhhhh . . . let it go. (Pause) Just let it go. (Pause) Just let it go. It’s all right” (Mamet 1383). In the same vein of disrespect, John uses gender biased language, calling the tenure committee “Good Men and True” despite it being men and women (1388), and philosophizing, “but if he does not learn . . . then why is he in college?” (1383) when referring to the generic student.

Despite John and Peter being older and having more life experience, in the end they both degenerate into emotional responses and immaturity, while their students become more wise and strong. Peter’s student realizes the superficiality in her infatuation, but conversely recalls that her teacher “was spiteful, as it happened, and did his best to have my thesis refused,” yet she appeals and wins (Weldon 158). This appears to be his desperate attempt to regain the father-like authority he had as the object of her affection and supervisor of her thesis. And while Carol realizes that John is “vile” and “exploitative” (Manet 1388), going on to champion the women and students that he oppresses (1393), he resorts to holding her down to keep her from leaving (1390). When she corrects his language and challenges him on the behavior, the best he can do is to beat her, call her a “vicious little bitch,” and prepare to smash a chair over her head (1398). Score one for the women.

Role-Playing as Creon

Role-Playing as Creon.
Essay by Richard X. Thripp.
2008-07-17 —
PDF version (70 KB).

Creon is the king from Antigone who orders the death of his niece, Antigone, for burying a traitor to the state. This is an imaginary question/answer from him, which he answers with an objective mind, after his death and having seen the present time.

Creon is asked, “does the individual really make a difference?”

This question should be rephrased as “is it realistically possible for the individual to make a meaningful difference”? Next, we need to define “meaningful difference.” It is all too easy to impact society negatively—through thievery, waste, or such as in my decision over Antigone’s fate, but the real challenge is to improve the world and those around you, and this is what we think of as “making a difference.” Doubtlessly, this is easier with those you are in close contact with—friends, family, and the citizens of your local community, as those are the ones who you have the most influence on. Making an impact across a continental nation such as the United States, in issues such as the recycling of paper and plastic products, or in helping the millions that are poor or homeless, is a harder task. Still, one finds solace in the fact that he or she is one of many who are helping to solve such issues, one link in the chain, so to speak. Even the largest task is started with a single action, a lowly ant is part of a thriving colony, a single soldier is essential to the great Theban army, one juror is the core of an entire democratic legal system.

In a position of power, such as myself as the king of Thebes, starting societal changes is far more possible. It takes a wise person to do good, however, and I look back with regret for denouncing Teiresias, and the domino effect that my mistaken decision to execute Antigone caused; I ended up following in the footsteps of Oedipus before me, a king blinded by stubbornness. Just as it is easier to lose a patient than to save him or her, it is simpler to do bad rather than good. It is cowardly to never back down; far braver is it to be the objective analyst who can acknowledge missteps. Those with the strength to do the latter are the ones who make a difference and improve the world, be it in their private affairs, or by helping to turn the tide in polluting corporations, unjust governments, or corrupted churches. Common sense and experience must prevail over authority and principle, for no book of laws can replace human reasoning. I recall lecturing Haemon, “Whoever the city shall appoint to rule, that man must be obeyed, in little things and great things, in just things and unjust” (541-543). What a pity it would be if Americans had subscribed to this, as then they would still be paying a premium for tea and sugar as a part of the British Empire! Yes, an individual really can make a difference, but be it by quitting smoking or by helping to reverse global warming, it takes a willingness to recognize faults, a commitment to improving, and the persistence to convince others to do the same.

Work Cited

Sophocles. Antigone. [c. 440 B.C.E.]. As published in The Humanistic Tradition, Vol. 1, Fifth Edition on pages 85-94 by Gloria K. Fiero. London: Laurence King Publishing, Ltd., 2006.

Creon vs. Gilgamesh: Comparing and Contrasting Authority in The Epic of Gilgamesh and Antigone

Creon vs. Gilgamesh: Comparing and Contrasting Authority in The Epic of Gilgamesh and Antigone.
Essay by Richard X. Thripp.
2008-07-17 —
PDF version (80 KB).

Two Kings Are Humbled

In our two stories, The Epic of Gilgamesh and Antigone, the people are ruled by imposing monarchs: Gilgamesh and Creon, respectively, who each use their power in differing ways. While Gilgamesh has “arrogance [having] no bounds by day or night,” (62), Creon, king of Thebes and protagonist in Antigone, admits that his worthiness in leadership will only be proven in action (140-42). Creon wants to be an ideal ruler, stating that as “supreme guardian of the State” he will always put the common welfare above friendship, and consider those who do not help the country prosper to be enemies. Gilgamesh, who “sounds the tocsin [alarm bell] for his amusement” and takes virgins from their lovers (62, 68), is uncaring and reckless in comparison.

Where Creon strives to be just, Gilgamesh is a man of action; he has built great walls to protect Uruk (61), and goes on a grand adventure, risking his life to gain prestige in the battle against Humbaba (70-84), who guards the cedar trees his people need. Creon seems attentive to detail: “Whoever the city shall appoint to rule, that man must be obeyed, in little things and great things, in just things and unjust” (541-43), but does not think that his whole argument may be wrong.

Antigone, Creon’s niece, puts the divine law requiring burial of her traitorous brother, Polynices, above the edict that none shall bury him. Despite Haemon, son of Creon, and the trusted advisor, Teiresias, imploring him not to, Creon goes ahead with the order to execute Antigone for her crime, with the steadfast rationalization that “disobedience is the worst of evils” (548) and “we must not let a woman defy us” (553).

We see much stubbornness in Gilgamesh too. Enkidu, trusted comrade to Gilgamesh, laments, “it is not an equal struggle when one fights with Humbaba,” and “What man would willingly walk into that country and explore its depths?,” (71) yet our hero persists and eventually succeeds in defeating Humbaba with Enkidu by his side. In his quest for immortality, he is chided by Sidura, “you will never find that life for which you are looking,” (102), and Utnapishtim advises, “there is no permanence” (106), yet he remains relentless in his fear, inspired by Enkidu’s death. Failure greets him, but he learns too: “You were given the kingship, such was your destiny, everlasting life was not your destiny,” Enlil decrees (118), showing us that immortality would give Gilgamesh more power, but not happiness.

Clearly, both kings are unwavering, and that can be a great trait or a folly. In the case of Gilgamesh, he is triumphant in his arguably foolhardy struggle against Humbaba, and while failing to gain eternal life, learns a valuable lesson: do not be haughty and unjust, but rather a shepherd to your people, smart, wise, and fair in your dealings with your servants and subjects (62, 118). Creon stays true to his decision too, but it instead results in disaster and tragedy. When protested by his friends and family, he resorts to personal attacks, accusing Teiresias of providing “shameful counsels in fair words to earn a bribe” (707-08), and Haemon of being the “slave of a woman” for supporting Antigone (628), despite his argument being on her cause’s merits alone, and not even mentioning their engagement to be wed. It is only when Teiresias proclaims that the gods will strike him down for his actions (730-52) that Creon turns around, but it is too late as Antigone, Haemon, and Eurydice, Creon’s wife, have all committed suicide over the dreadful matter. Creon is distraught. Depressingly, there is no mercy sang by the chorus: “Too late, too late your eyes are opened!” (872) and “. . . proud men who speak great works come in the end to despair” (927-29) is all we hear. This means he got what he deserved, as immersed in his pride he was blind to the truth. The stories, combined, show us that wisdom is knowing the difference between rightful persistence and foolish obstinacy.

Gilgamesh’s story covers many years; the events in Antigone occur within a single day. On one hand there is a sweeping epic, while on the other, a small, localized, and even trivial series of happenings. But where Gilgamesh awes, Antigone teaches. Surely we learn from Creon’s judgment, as in holding strong to save face in one venue he angers the gods, loses the respect of his people, and must cope with the death of his family resulting from his actions.

Authority shows itself as an overpowering force—a king can make or break a nation. The subjects of the monarch have learned to tolerate injustice, for in Gilgamesh they appeal to the gods, “No son is left with his father, for Gilgamesh takes them all; and is this the king, the shepherd of his people?” (62). In Antigone, Haemon reveals the true feelings of the people: “None was ever doomed to a shameful death for deeds so noble as hers” (567-68), but no one dares announce this in public for fear of being punished as a traitor.

Whereas the tale of Creon and Antigone ends tragically, Gilgamesh is not so gloomy. Yes, we do see the death of our heroes, Enkidu and Gilgamesh, but we are taught that death is not something to be afraid of but rather a natural function that teaches us to value the time we have and to live with respect for others. “When the gods created man they allotted to him death, but life they retained in their own keeping. As for you, Gilgamesh, fill your belly with good things, . . . dance and be merry, feast and rejoice,” Sidura advises (102).

Creon poses a particularly deep dilemma in the latter part of Antigone: “Tell me—am I to rule by my own judgment or the views of others?” (602-03). This sums up the rationalization of a lot of faulty kingship in both stories, as it is the ruler who is the moderator; to balance the views of the people, individual citizens, and his or her own ideas is principle to leadership, not to make decisions without counsel nor purely by democracy. Gilgamesh is guilty of this; a selfish ruler, he takes what he wants (62) and begins work for both men and women at the roll of a drum (68).

A once masterful king, “wise, [seeing] mysteries, and [knowing] secret things” (61), Gilgamesh, following the death of Enkidu, becomes haunted by his own mortality. “Because of my brother I am afraid of death, because of my brother I stray through the wilderness and cannot rest,” he pleads his case to Urshanabi (103). Similarly Creon is a confident and resolute king, but in the face of such hardship yields to being a follower; we read him asking of his subjects: “What shall I do then? Speak, and I will obey” (761). In both of our tales the great become humbled—there is a ruler who is taught a lesson. This was an appealing theme over 2000 years ago, and still is now, as we think of authority, such as police officers, presidents, and even the old-fashioned kings, to be unfaltering. It is nice to see that they have flaws and pay heavy consequences for them, as when much is given, much is expected.

Works Cited

Gilgamesh. Epic of Gilgamesh, The. [c. 2500 B.C.E.]. Penguin Classics edition with introduction by N. K. Sandars. London: Penguin Books Ltd., 1972.
Sophocles. Antigone. [c. 440 B.C.E.]. As published in The Humanistic Tradition, Vol. 1, Fifth Edition on pages 85-94 by Gloria K. Fiero. London: Laurence King Publishing, Ltd., 2006.

Practical Applications of Seven Life Lessons of Chaos

Practical Applications of Seven Life Lessons of Chaos.
Essay by Richard X. Thripp.
2008-07-17 —
PDF version (190 KB).

Herein lies chapter-by-chapter applications of the concepts in Seven Life Lessons of Chaos, a crazy but eye-opening book by John Briggs and F. David Peat. I wrote this for the QUANTA learning community ( in April 2008, and have been using the lessons to be out-of-the-ordinary ever since.

Chapter One
To be creative, you should embrace the random, the “slip with the chisel on marble” (24), the chaos of the vortex which channels your energy. Creativity is not “a special ‘talent’ reserved for a few” (11), but rather a mindset. Forfeiting the “constricted grip of our egos,” our “fear of mistakes,” and our love of staying in “comfort zones” (29), we can approach something as mundane as baking a loaf of bread as “always new” (30). This “sense of newness” (30) lets us reach a higher level, rewarding as with “moments of flow and exhilaration” (27) by our passionate efforts in whatever craft we pursue.

Briggs and Peat relate the chaos-approach for creativity to the way of self-understanding in many religions: you go into the wilderness, be it a real forest or symbolic meditation. This de-clutters your mind; “by letting go of consensual structures, a creative self-reorganization [becomes] possible” (22). The new organization is based on “nature’s creativity” (19), which is like the random yet enticing patterns seen in clouds or galaxies. The authors support this with J. Krishnamurti’s words, among others: “truth is not a fixed point,” not even a concept; it “holds us all together,” yet we must each find a unique version of it (21). Paul Cézanne’s art represents the new truth, which revels in “creative doubt” (22). Each stroke changes “the entire scene,” questioning what he painted just previously (22). Chaos theory is a paradigm shift from objective reality to subjective reality, where we recognize that each person has a unique view of the world (truths), that natural processes are infinitely complex, connected, and indivisible, and that a Zen-like flow (clarity of mind) connects us with ourselves, not intellectual introspection.

Welcome to the Future Modern Architecture

I can apply the principles of the vortex to photography as an art form. At times, I have “obsessions with control and power,” spending hours assembling a scene like the photo on the left, my “fear of mistakes” (29) pushing me to put everything in its place under the guise of creating something. At other times, I walk around with my camera, taking pictures of everyday objects at different angles or under odd lighting, and the results, while not “creative” in the sense of building something new, are my most engaging works. I might spend thirty seconds composing the scene, but I am in the flow, which is “intense clarity about the moment,” and, most importantly to me, with “no concern for failure” (27). This is what I did with the photo on the right, which is a of an everyday building in the Daytona Beach College campus, but with a sense of clarity from the clear sky and nonstandard composition, and there I am using chaos theory. I should now do more of the right and less of the left.

Chapter Two
The lesson is that small efforts can have rippling effects across vast oceans. While the conventional wisdom tells us that the world is composed of “linear systems,” where “small influences” produce small results (33), it is often the case that the results are exponential rather than linear. This is the difference between 10*10 (one hundred) and 10^10 (ten billion). In this way, a thing is amplified, as in the metaphor of “the flap of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil” causing “a tornado in Texas” (33). We can deeply better society through positive acts such as chatting the weather or smiling at strangers, because we are improving the social climate which we are all a part of using “subtle influence” (41)—our cordiality produces a feedback loop in others, for which they become more upbeat, positively influencing the people they encounter, and so on.

The authors explicate their concept with the meteorological experiments of Edward Lorenz. He made long-term weather calculations, but took a shortcut while double-checking the results: he rounded to three decimal places instead of six (32). The results were far different; while he anticipated a .1 percent error margin, all the steps in the calculations were dependent on the data computed previously, so the rounding error increased by orders of magnitude through the process. This is the way the actual weather works; small influences are magnified through “iterating feedback,” so an increased temperature or air pressure cycle may be the root of a hurricane. Nature works this way too; by killing off cockroaches, lizards may die, which may deprive snakes of food, which may eventually lead to the destruction of an ecosystem. Briggs and Peat teach us that we can use the butterfly effect to exercise power in our everyday lives, where we may seem powerless. Rosa Parks, who would not be forced to the back of a bus for a white man, created butterfly power, in which thousands of others boycotted the buses, leading to the eventual fall of segregation (28-29). This is chaos theory in action.

The principle I work by in library service is “do good always,” meaning that I look out for the best interests of our patrons, putting in effort to get them the information that seems most relevant and reliable, ranging from questions like “where’s the bathroom” to “how can I build a bathroom?” (I had that question last week, and was thankful to find that The Kitchen & Baths 1-2-3 was in the right place on our shelves.) I have gone to libraries where the librarian is rude or dismissive of inquiries, where I could get no help searching the computer databases, and where asking the librarian to look up the book for me seemed like an imposition. My grandmother, in searching for a book on health remedies, recently told me that she was told it was “not their job” to “train” patrons to use the neo-card catalog (computer terminal). I do not demean patrons for bringing in lists of popular movies they want to put on reserve, or for asking how to use a mouse or set up an email account on our public computers, and it is my hope that through the butterfly effect I am positively influencing the entire community.

Chapter Three
“Going with the Flow” shows us that groups formed from chaotic self-organization are “highly adaptable and resilient” (59); often moreso than their structured counterparts. John Holland argues that most of our laws, such as for “traffic, health and safety, [and] consumer protection” were not “planned in advance,” but came about in response to feedback loops, contributing to their hardiness (59). This shows that good systems evolve from the bottom up. Trying to control the “natural chaos of society” is ineffective, such as the Chinese communists’ attempted command economy, which caused “catastrophic shortages and famines” (60).

Organizations, including governments, corporations, and even our beloved Daytona Beach College, tend to become “increasingly mechanical and impoverished” (69), in that as they increase in size, policies evolve to treat people impersonally, like cogs in a machine, for the purpose of efficiency and formality. Unforgiving, check-box style employee evaluations make it so that “people are not allowed to . . . make mistakes without paying heavily” (70). While such companies champion creativity in name, their hierarchal structure is made for “preventing those creative qualities from ever self-organizing within corporate walls” (70), enigmatically.

Despite rigid structure, all organizations have “subtle influences and chaotic feedback”; they must have “strange attractors” to keep people, and are quite often “open, nonlinear systems” (71-72). When we stop working toward an “ideal” of a inflexible, mechanical bureaucracy, instead embracing fluidity, innovation, and other more human traits, we can harness our creativity as a whole.

I can apply the lesson to group interactions, such as in QUANTA’s activities and projects. David Bohm says that dialogue is deeper than discussion, where “we suspend our opinions and judgments in order to be able to listen to each other” (74). Too often I stick to my own ideas and reasoning while ignoring the input of others, so “suspend[ing] and transform[ing]” such “nonnegotiable convictions” (74-75) can make me a diplomatic mediator and a more reasonable person. I would also like to stop seeing “individuals [as] essentially separate particles” (78), but rather as connected cells in a larger body. If instead of assuming I must “break the ice” with strangers, I assume there is no ice at all, I can build better connections while harnessing chaos’ underlying links.

Chapter Four
Life often appears polarized as either extremely simple or unfathomably complex. Mathematical fractals, which appear infinite and random, are actually simple and repetitive (81). Chaos “bursts, uninvited, into our lives” (86), but can be a cleansing process rather than a feared intruder. Pythagoras is a good example; before him, the only known numbers were integers and ratios of integers, but he made things complex by discovering that a right triangle with a base and height of one has a hypotenuse of the square root of two, an irrational number (87). Such numbers are “bursts of infinite complexity, of total randomness inside an otherwise regular system” (88), because they continue randomly and indefinitely, carving their own space on the number line. The discovery was “scandalous,” at first, “suppresed by the Pythagorean brotherhood” (88), but eventually came to be recognized as a great step forward in our understanding of mathematics. In this way, chaos produces “renewal [and] transformation” (86).

Complexity is inherent in “the way things interact with each other,” but not so much the things themselves (89). This is a shift away from hard science such as molecular biology, which “abstracts and simplifies nature” (90), but we must recognize it to avoid fragmentation. Lewis Thomas argues that if we tried just to understand everything about a protozoan, we would find that we could never know everything about it, because that “would require understanding its connection to the entire history of evolution and the . . . environment” (91). This is complexity theory’s thesis—we cannot continue breaking the world into chunks.

What I see from this chapter is that the world is not black and white, but rather shades of gray, just as nothing is truly simple nor complex. Briggs and Peat write that we try to simplify during a war, seeing the enemy as a mere “evil brute,” while our side is infinitely virtuous (93). The enemy follows suit, but the “real truth” (if we may call it that) is somewhere in between. I am guilty of being overly analytical, which may lead me to a fragmented view of the world. Where I can learn to see nuances and subtleties is in my studies on the piano; I should accept some mistakes, off-tempo playing, and my own improvisations as my creative additions to the classical pieces I play. I will write more letters by hand; I get too caught up in my “digital strategy” (90) for the world that I ignore the feeling that is lost in typed text. “What’s between” is often more interesting than what is at the edges.

Chapter Five
Till the Middle Ages, art was seen as rational, in that it meant “seeing the spiritual connections in things, the rhythms and delicate balance or ‘ratio’ among subjects and objects” (120). Since the industrial age, rationality is viewed in a mechanical way, it being “the capacity to be logical, analytical, coldly objective, and detached” (120). Our “enlightened” view denies the “nuances and resonances” that exist in our world; organic patterns such as snowflakes, river streams, or even the “self organized chaos” found in “towns and villages” are conveniently ignored (123). Unlike widgets from a factory, each person, tree, or cloud formation is “self similar” (103), in that there are others like it, yet it is unique for having variable subtleties. When we accept this, we can appreciate the art that abounds in nature’s creativity.

The authors show us fractals in flames, ice, rocks, and clouds (101-107). Even our brains are fractal folds of neuronal tissues, each different from the rest (107). Like with Dionysus, rationality is creativity (121). One idea that comes from the mechanistic view is that we can “spray 50,000 tons of propane or ethane into the South polar sky” to heal the ozone layer (122-123), but if we step back to see that nature is complex and intertwined, we will know that “piling one technology upon the problems created by other technologies will only perpetuate the mind-set that is destroying our natural world” (123). The fading ozone layer cannot be fixed by kludges, but rather by going to the source of the problem (our pollution).

I can use this lesson in my photography. I have always looked at everyday scenes as being artistic, but have shot less still life and scenery at the coaxing of my photography professor. After the end of the semester, I will be getting back to my roots of “seeing the art of the world,” such as in the fractal patterns of roses, sunlight, cloud formations, and other elements of nature. My best creations come when I am not rigidly analyzing the frame, but instead composing for whatever looks good to my eye, and by doing more of this will be harnessing chaos theory.

Chapter Six
We think of time as constant and unchanging, a force that is “mechanical, impersonal, external, and disconnected” from ourselves (125). Our real perception of time, however, may be “composed of clusters of tiny discontinuities” (126), such as how “events happen in slow motion” when we are about to crash a car (127). The authors argue that this may not be the mere rush of adrenaline hormones, but really a “clear vision of just how things really are in the dimensions of time”; we abandon the clock and take on “fractal time,” with it’s “temporal nuance” (127). By using time “as a shopping basket,” we “lose the flavor of life” (139). Sadly, the modern corporation tells us “you’re supposed to be working all the time you’re here” (141), which leaves no time for reflection and creativity which would otherwise boost our productivity and spirit.

An example of elastic time is the psychiatric discovery that “a dream unfolds in the brain in only seconds,” though it may seem to encompass hours (232). “Our brains never remember an event in exactly the same way twice,” because each recollection “connects to the whole structure of our consciousness” (232), including our own awareness of time. The Polynesian islanders recognize this, with their afternoon fiestas being an “hour” that is “more than 100 of our minutes.” But when they are working fiercely in the morning, an hour may be “only a few tens of our minutes” (136), which demonstrates a truer definition of time—one connected to how much work we do and our internal rhythms.

While I live in a world of QUANTA assignments based on mechanical time, I can still disconnect in hobbies like photography, music, and shelving books at the library. I made a step toward fractal time in mid-2007, when I vowed never to wear a watch again. It served to keep me obsessed with the clock, even in lieu of pressing appointments, and so dropping it lets me focus on “the rich time of nature” (137). If I need to know the time, there are plenty of clocks on the walls.

Chapter Seven
With our long-standing “mechanical perspective,” we see ourselves as “no more than a collection of externally related parts” (162). This is like learning to drive a car from an owner’s manual and technical diagrams. We, just like the Earth, are more complex than the sum of our parts. Traditional Cartesian science avoids subtleties and intuition, but that is in fact where the most truth lies. To find unity, Briggs and Peat say that we should develop “an ability to reason aesthetically,” switching from “obsessive focus on control” to recognition of “emergence and change,” so that we may become participants rather than masters of our world (165).

The authors use the Native Americans as an example of inter-connectedness, with the story of a young man who would “travel across the United States and Canada attending powwows.” Despite not having money, “there was always someone to give him a lift to the next reserve”; he “trusted the system” of “all my relations” to support him (163). As a middle-aged worker, he does the same for other youths, keeping the tradition alive. In our psyches, there is a “sense of solidarity with the entire human race,” yet since the Renaissance, the prevailing ideology pins us as “isolated individuals” (162-163). The very definition of “consciousness” has changed from “what we are knowing together” to what we know as fragments (149). To rejoin the whole, we must tear down these imaginary walls between us by embracing the community as an extension of ourselves.

I am going to be applying this over my remaining year at Daytona Beach College, as I will be involved with my peers in Phi Theta Kappa, and more open to connections with others through the group skills from QUANTA. I am living compassionately instead of competitively, which involves diverting focus from myself, and instead helping others and valuing our community.

Work Cited

Briggs and Peat. Seven Life Lessons of Chaos. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1999.

Richard X. Thripp in QUANTA

Richard X. Thripp in QUANTA.
Essays by Richard X. Thripp.
2008-07-17 —
PDF version (100 KB).

Two introspective essays I wrote in December of 2007 and May of 2008, for completing the Fall and Spring semesters in the QUANTA learning community ( at Daytona Beach College. I can’t look at these and say they speak for me now, because they speak for the Richard X. Thripp of 2007-12 and 2008-05, from which I’m constantly changing. They’re a good representation of QUANTA and elaborate on some of my beliefs, though.

The Learning Community: Reflections on Sixteen Weeks in QUANTA [2007-12-10]

For the sixteen weeks of the fall 2007 semester, the QUANTA learning community at Daytona Beach College has been my second home. Meeting for three hours, three times a week, we tackle issues ranging from the smallest details of MLA formatting, to questions perpetual to the human condition, such as in my group’s most recent presentation, “does the individual really make a difference?” (we say yes, but to a fault). Being a large class, we are broken up into nine groups at the start of the semester, in which each of us is forced to either work together with our colleagues, or perish. It is this collectivism that makes QUANTA special—in no other class would we get to do exams on our own and then as a group, and it is in the latter that concepts in my mind are solidified, for it is David, Heather, Katie, and Lillie’s succinct explanations of sociological terms such as alienation and assimilation that are most memorable. We are also quite good friends now, unlike in normal courses which you can be in for months without knowing anyone. It is collaboration and the community spirit that defines QUANTA, and combined with unique assignments such as our scavenger hunt around the campus, field trip to DeLeon Springs, and playing amateur psychologist to analyze our classmates sleeping dreams, I learn more effectively and am always looking forward to our next class. Before QUANTA I preferred to not work with others, but I have found that by combining my knowledge with that of the other members of my group, we leave no topic ignored, no question unanswered, and no challenge undefeated. At the book seminars, we all pitch in with our analysis of the stories, in our planning for the Celebration of the Creative Spirit presentation, we all worked on the script and brought props and beverages, and in our group exams for sociology and humanities, we reached consensus on the questions and exceeded our individual aptitude.

In the essays and informal writing assignments alike, there is no mercy for the faint of heart. Regurgitated summaries of works such as The Epic of Gilgamesh and The Canterbury Tales will not suffice: what is expected is thorough and thoughtful analysis of the intentions of the authors and characters, substantiated with quotes and examples. When I first flipped through my copy of the QUANTA handbook, I thought the workload was moderate, but it is actually far higher, as Blanton, Gunshanan, and Flota value quality writing over quantity of output. We are encouraged to read critically, by first responding, then understanding and evaluating. This is no small task: for Antigone, for example, I produced enough notes and highlighting to fill four pages, before even finishing the reading process, and soon enough I was re-reading the work twice to understand and holistically evaluate the message and characters. All this is needed to write a polished and persuasive essay, and through my professors’ challenging assignments my writing and comprehension have markedly improved, preparing me for the years of college and professional world ahead.

I often found myself applying sociological concepts to my humanities studies—such as social stratification and anomie contributing to the Roman Empire’s demise. In a normal set of firewalled courses, I would not connect concepts together as such, but with the topics weaved together as in QUANTA, the lessons are interesting and clear. Michael Flota’s lectures are energetic and engaging. The topic of sociology has been enjoyable because I am looking at society and how others behave much more closely now, and it has given me the big picture of why crime, wars, hatred, and inequity persists. I also learned that we Americans are the most unequal country of all, with the one percent at the top claiming more of the wealth than our poorest forty percent; perhaps we are not such a fair society as we think? Such curiosity is encouraged in QUANTA.

Casey Blanton’s lessons in history and the humanities are interesting and informative; the histories of Christianity, Islam, and Judaism were most interesting to me, as the trio seems completely separate, but in fact each originated similarly and involves many of the same characters, such as Abraham, considered the father of the peoples of all three. I am looking forward to learning of the Renaissance and later periods in the next semester, and enjoyed our creative assignments this term, particularly the third exam, in which I made a small illuminated manuscript of a biblical scripture enumerating the virtues of love, and the humanities observation project, in which I saw and wrote about nearby Daytona Beach College Theater Center’s play, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.

Frank Gunshanan is a thoroughly tough English teacher, but the most fair of all—he finds the time to read everything I write most carefully, producing no shortage of criticisms and praise in the margins. “Show—don’t tell” is the concept that helped me the most. I find myself framing my essays with quotes, facts, and examples out of habit, such as mentioning the 1960s civil rights movement as a tipping point against inequality, and quoting twelve sources in my research paper, which I use to argue that it is unethical to use implicit-association testing in employment screening. I liked that paper the most, as I got a chance to pick a topic that interests me, and then scour the library and Internet for scholarly articles and opinions to base my essay on.

I have been very happy to start my collegiate education in this course, as it has been a great introduction to the rigors of post-secondary education. Working in a classroom environment, after a decade of being taught at home by my father, I find that studying and communicating in groups is my most lacking skill, but fortunately, there is no better place than QUANTA to become a fledgling diplomat. The professors are the most dedicated around—I could easily tell that Casey knows how learning communities best work with her twenty years leading the group, and Frank and Michael are finally putting their brilliant knowledge of grammar and exchange mobility to use as part of the family. The fun is only half over; I am excited to continue the subjects in the spring semester, taking advantage of all the opportunities QUANTA offers.

A Lifetime of QUANTA [2008-05-05]

In the twenty-first century, what will be most important is the access to information—it should be organized, honed, and easily searched. This is especially evident in the CPP globalization group’s video, where we learned that the publication of books and web pages is growing at an exponential rate. This rate of growth, driven by consumer-generated content, is far ahead of our ability to digest such information; it must be culled to the core, most relevant bits. While search engines like Google may attempt to catalog everything we need to know, it will always be admist a sea of noise and clutter, and they miss much of the best and most thoroughly researched information, which will continue to be found in print. This is why public libraries, staffed by knowledgeable and resourceful scholars, serve an essential place in our communities. Their purpose is not only to offer a catalog of knowledge, but the help to find it, be it a popular video release that the patron only recalls fuzzy details of, or details on the habitat of the great white sharks. I once had a person come into my library wanting that, but he started out asking for a book on sea creatures. Disappointed by the lack of specificity in the books I offered him, and after some prodding on my part, we found a book on just great white sharks. It is this sort of social interaction, supporting the lifelong education of our people, that makes library service special to me. A computer database alone does not find information.

My journey involves a lengthy college education, where I am studying computer science for my Associate of Arts and Bachelor’s degrees, and library science for my Master’s. The combination is good—computerization is entrenched in our lives, work, and learning, so knowing the roots of it will be invaluable in my job. For three years now I have been developing my photography in parallel, as a hobby next to my chosen field. The response to my choice of librarianship has been negative, from my friends and even family. What I see is that they do not view library service as the respectable profession it has become, nor do they understand its importance.

Looking far into the future, I do not cringe at seeing myself married with children, but I am noticing a shift in social norms, so that people favor putting a family off till their thirties. Regardless, I refuse to schedule my life like I schedule my cat’s meals, and I am only looking for a woman who lives courageously, without dwelling in fear or doubt, without being entangled in a particular religious or personal orthodoxy so thoroughly as to obscure any skeptical inquiry, without contempt nor anger toward her oppressors, but only forgiveness and empathy—the very values I ascribe to. These are my goals for sharing my life with friends and family alike, and if I am following them, not to the truth of the page, but to the truth of the heart, I can do no wrong.

On the “good life.” Whatever I do, it has to be for the good of all, not just myself. I do this with my photography, by inspiring others with my captures of still life and nature, and promoting photography as an art form by my online journaling and print giveaways. In library service, I do this by helping others find information, teaching on computer use, and even small stuff like keeping the shelves in order. This will only expand as I go further into my career. I see our libraries and their ideals are in need of care and attention, but I do not commit myself to a specific field so that I see no value elsewhere. We learned the downfalls of such fragmented thinking in January’s Art Meets Science and Spirituality in a Changing Economy video; specialism narrows your focus and understanding, while branching out lets you see the panorama that is the world.

Admittedly, this essay is a series of sweeping conjectures. For my best life, there are practical concerns as well. I am glad to have the continued support of my Dad and Mom, so I can continue to leech off them until my wonderful career in library science starts paying the bills. I am going to avoid the trap of years of renting by opening a mortgage on a house then, because owning private property is just that important. I do not need to become excessively wealthy, but I want enough for health insurance and a year’s wages, and to live comfortable and afford some photography and computer-related gadgets. That sounds reasonable enough. My problem will be sticking to whatever I do, as I tend to lose focus and stagnate in reflection rather than action, such as in getting caught up reading articles about chaos theory on Wikipedia rather than writing the required essay. Then I put it off till the last minute, which is a shame. While my love of reading and learning is a strength, balancing it against avoidance and inaction will be an ongoing struggle. This is why I have to change my mindset and do what I love to stay focused, such as photography, librarianship, or studying in QUANTA. The mindset I need to adopt is “do things now,” which seems a good idea to work on. I see many of my classmates skipping assignments or turning them in late, but I aim to always put in the effort so that I can reap the rewards of a college education.

I have learned a lot in my two semesters of QUANTA, but while MLA formatting only takes days to be forgotten, working with others takes a lifetime. While before, I preferred working against others and shunning my peers in a life of hermitage, finally I see that there are many things I do not know nor care to know, and by working and sharing with others, we can all broaden our understanding. The class is also quite challenging. Frank Gunshanan only accepts top-of-the-line work; mere summaries and quotes will not due, unlike in some high school English classes. Casey Blanton’s tests and assignments require a thorough understanding of history and our reading selections; mere skimming will not due. Michael Flota dares us to think outside the box with his dialogs on the workings of society, currencies, and politicking; the mere “conventional wisdom” of conservatives and capitalist plutocrats does not make the cut. I would not have gone as far in these subjects on my own or in any other classes, so I know QUANTA has made me grow as a person.

I used to be inclined to see in black and white, such as in the wars of the United States (we are always on the side of justice, right?), history (Native Americans as savages), the homeless (are they not just lazy bums?) and even in choosing one post-it note from another (which one sticks better?). I was gradually unraveling this predilection, but the material in the interdisciplinary learning community solidified the process. I now see there are nuances and shades of gray in any dilemma; I think “both” and “and” rather than “either” or “or,” as we have been encouraged to do over two semesters. Nothing is perfectly simple, as we learned from Seven Life Lessons of Chaos. This realization will keep me open-minded and unprejudiced toward others throughout my life, help me to analyze rather than just read, and push me to understand viewpoints contrary to my own, rather than just denouncing them. Thanks to my wonderful professors and friends.

Proposal for “Implicit-Association Testing in Practice”

Proposal for “Implicit-Association Testing: Does it Have a Place at Your Next Job Interview?”
Essay by Richard X. Thripp.
2008-07-17 —
PDF version (90 KB).

This was the proposal for my essay, “Implicit-Association Testing: Does it Have a Place at Your Next Job Interview?” ( It was required for school, and simply outlines what I planned to write, before I wrote it.

Implicit Association Tests: More than Informative?

In my essay, I will evaluate the accuracy of implicit-association tests designed to measure subconscious racial bias, and decide whether they deserve to be used for critical purposes such as employment screening and juror selection.

Implicit-association testing is an experimental method, with the purpose of revealing biases that are not shown in traditional questionnaires. An example is Project Implicit of Harvard University, the tests of which “has attracted an enormous amount of research interest and debate” (Klauer et al. 353). In one section of the website’s race IAT, the phrases “African American or good” and “European American or bad” appear on two sides of a computer screen. Pictures of black faces, white faces, and words such as “glorious” and “horrible” appear one-after-another, with the test-taker instructions being to match up the items to either side. In all instances, correct answers are not as important as “the difference in reaction times . . . [which] is taken as an indicator of the degree of association between concepts” (Steffens 166); a “moderate automatic preference for White people compared to Black people” is a common result.

Dr. Anthony Greenwald, one of the test’s creators, argues against common criticisms of the test, stating that “findings reveal that it is difficult to fake IAT performances” and speaking of “the numerous successful uses of the IAT to measure individual differences” in response to the concern of the test reporting cultural bias as personal bias. Created by researchers from Harvard University, The University of Virginia, and University of Washington, Project Implicit has been lauded in Slate Magazine, and The Galveston County Daily News, in which Howard Brody surmises, “It’s a lesson, I suggest, for all of us in America.”

Shankar Vedantam of writes, “some proponents [say] it would be unethical not to use the test to screen officials who make life-and-death decisions about others.” While calling it unethical is notably extreme, if I was a black man I surely would not want to be assumed guilty when accused of murder, or some other grave crime, due merely to my skin color. “Might employers use such tests to weed out potential racists?,” Vedantam asks. The test could be used so that people who may discriminate as such would not have the chance to do so, as those shown to be unbiased would be favored in positions of power, such as those of judges and jurors.

Jay Dixit, an author for Slate Magazine, raises a significant dilemma: “On the other hand, if a test shows an applicant is biased, but you have no evidence that he has actually discriminated against anyone, would it really be fair not to hire him?” Mahzarin Banaji, one of the test’s creators, too fears its mainstream usage, as it will be assumed “that people who have high implicit bias scores will always behave in a biased way—which is not the case, since the tests don’t predict behavior with 100 percent accuracy.” While the subject is no doubt ethically murky, I believe that in Dixit’s question, it is indeed wrong to withhold a job on the basis of mere discriminatory thoughts, as the person that “fails” an implicit-association test has not done anything wrong. Interestingly, Dixit notes, “just taking [the test] may sometimes be enough to convince people they are prejudiced and should try to change.” I think it would be a good idea to require prospective jurors, job applicants, and anyone in a company’s human resources department to take the test, and then write an essay about how they will not let their implicit thoughts translate into discriminatory treatment towards ethnic minorities, as long as this assignment is not a determining factor for their job. Racism can only be stopped through education, not fear, and this is the thesis of my final paper.

Works Cited

Brody, Howard. “The racial prejudice that besets medicine.” The Galveston County Daily News. 17 July 2008 <>.
Dixit, Jay. “Screen Test: Why we should start measuring bias.” Slate Magazine. 17 July 2008
Greenwald, Anthony. “Implicit Association Test: Validity Debates.” 17 July 2008
Klauer, Karl Christoph, et al. “Process Components of the Implicit Association Test: A Diffusion-Model Analysis.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 93.3 (2007): 353-68. Academic Search Premier. 17 July 2008 <>.
Steffans, Melanie. “Is the Implicit Association Test Immune to Faking?” Experimental Psychology 51.3 (2004): 165-79. Friedrich-Schiller-Universität Jena. 17 July 2008
Vedantam, Shankar. “See No Bias.” 17 July 2008

The Sacrificial Pepper

The Sacrificial Pepper: An Analysis of Jimmy Santiago Baca’s “Green Chile.”
Essay by Richard X. Thripp.
2008-03-25 —
PDF version (70 KB).

Jimmy Santiago Baca’s “Green Chile” is a poem of love and sacrifice, symbolized through two types of chile peppers. The author blandly states that his preference is for “red chile over my eggs / and potatoes for breakfast” (1-2), but his grandmother “loves green chile” (11), chopping one up with “mysterious passion on her face” (31). Baca says that “red chile ristras decorate my door, / dry on my roof, and hang from my eaves” (3-4), showing that the red-colored versions are used frequently as decorations, giving an “air of festive welcome” (7), yet they often go uneaten. His grandmother offers him the green variety “with beans and rice,” (34), which he calls “her sacrifice / to her little prince” (34-35). This makes green chile sound different, more sacred and mysterious, while red chile is not as special. The author shows us “a well-dressed gentleman at the door” (19), and then writes of his grandmother “rubbing its firmly glossed sides” (21), which is more like the description of a chile pepper than a man. Referring to “her little prince” (35) may be an allusion to the author, her grandson. The peppers take on a life of their own, in the grandmother and the author’s minds. They are “her sacrifice,” (34), perhaps meaning that she has given up her youth and ambitions to raise and protect her grandson and the rest of her family.

The green chiles are not Baca’s favorite, as when eating them, he says “my mouth burns / and I hiss and drink a tall glass of cold water” (37-38). However, he does not refuse them, evidently out of respect for his grandmother and the heritage that the peppers represent. He waxes philosophical of “sunburned men and women,” driving “rickety trucks stuffed with gunny sacks / of green chile,” selling them “for a dollar a bag,” it being a “beautiful ritual” (39-45). Despite his liking for the less spicy red peppers, he accepts green chiles because they are a traditional staple which his grandmother loves. This shows reciprocal sacrifice on his part; he eats the food of his forefathers to please his grandmother, despite the uncomfortable burning in his mouth.

To the author, red chiles represent strength and history, while his grandmother prefers green chiles for their youth and passion. Baca talks of the red pepper’s “historical grandeur” (6), being like “haggard, yellowing, crisp, rasping tongues of old men, licking the breeze” (9-10). Here, he is likening the red chiles to wise elders, who recount riveting tales of their livid past. Conversely, the green chile is “voluptuous, masculine” (15), having “authority and youth” (16). We know that the color red is often associated with love and passion (as with red roses), so it is counter-intuitive that the colors are flipped with the chiles. However, green chiles are unripe like green bananas; they ripen and change colors, turning red, after which they are normally dried and preserved. They must be cooked or frozen quickly, so they are a regional specialty. This goes along with the grandmother’s fascination with them; their “air of authority and youth” (16) comes from them literally being younger than red chiles.

The elderly grandmother prefers produce representing sensuality and passion, while the youthful grandson prefers the pepper of tradition and formality; however, it is more usual to associate tradition with the aged. We see that the green chile is like a fiery young lover to the grandmother, as she compares it to “a well-dressed gentleman at the door,” whom she “takes sensuously in her hand,” “caressing the oily rubber serpent, / with mouth-watering fulfillment, / fondling its curves with gentle fingers” (19-24). Descriptors like “caressing” and “fondling” are apt for romantic love, not a common vegetable. However, here the green chile is a metaphor for the grandmother’s passionate love, though it may be unfulfilled. If the pepper is a person then he is soon killed, as “she thrusts her blade into [the green chile] / and cuts it open, with lust / on her hot mouth” (27-29). This shows that her lover must be sacrificed for the benefit of her grandson, and it becomes the part of a glorious meal, as Baca illustrates: “she serves me green chile con carne / between soft warm leaves of corn tortillas / with beans and rice—her sacrifice” (32-34), going along with her forfeiting her passions for familial obligations.

The chiles are an “old, beautiful ritual,” to be relived “again and again.” What does this mean? We can clearly see that the vegetables are an important part of New Mexican tradition, and so this is why they are deserving of a poem. It also represents the untiring effort that the New Mexican workers and farmers put into their chiles, as “you see them roasting green chile / in screen-sided homemade barrels” (43-44). The barrels are made carefully by hand, yet the chiles fetch a paltry “dollar a bag” (44). However, this keeps them accessible to even the poor, and shows sacrifice on the part of the workers. It is curious that Baca shows little emotion in the last stanza, despite his vivid depiction of his grandmother’s preparation of the green chile, but I take it as a sweeping demonstration of recognition and respect for the ritual of the chile peppers. In forty-five eloquent lines, we are shown that food is love and love is sacrifice. Baca makes these connections beautifully; while the subject is common, the message is unique.

Work Cited

Baca, Jimmy Santiago. “Green Chile.” Jimmy Santiago Baca: Poetry, Writing, Chicano Literature. 25 Mar. 2008 <>.

Implicit-Association Testing in Practice

Implicit-Association Testing: Does it Have a Place at Your Next Job Interview?
Essay by Richard X. Thripp.
2008-02-20 —
PDF version (80 KB).

We live in a society of increasing equity of race, yet there is still something missing. A student surmises: “The modern-day racism that we face takes the form of subtle attitudes that tear a person’s self-confidence apart if they are not able to transcend that” (qtd. in Weller 69), showing that subconscious bias is the primary form of racism that is still with us. Seeing our legislative efforts, such as the abolishment of the “separate but equal” laws with the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and policies of affirmative action in university admissions promoting equality through the 2000s, one may think that “racism” has been completely eliminated in modern America—the very word conjures up blatant acts of discrimination, such as whites murdering blacks in crimes of hate. Unfortunately, most of us continue to unintentionally associate whites with good and blacks with bad, as shown in implicit-association testing, first introduced by Project Implicit of Harvard University in 1998, where seventy percent of the 700,000-plus test-takers (“Race Attitude”) have shown a bias for whites, contrasted with twelve percent favoring blacks (“Race Breakdown”).

Implicit-association testing is an experimental method that tries to reveal biases that are not shown in traditional questionnaires. Project Implicit “has attracted an enormous amount of research interest and debate” (Klauer et al. 353), with the test for racial bias being the most prominent. In one section of the website’s race IAT, the phrases “African American or good” and “European American or bad” appear on two sides of a computer screen. Pictures of black faces, white faces, and words such as “glorious” and “horrible” appear one-after-another, with the test-taker instructions being to match up the items to either side. In all instances, correct answers are not as important as “the difference in reaction times . . . [which] is taken as an indicator of the degree of association between concepts” (Steffens 166); a “strong automatic preference for White people compared to Black people” is the most common result, accounting for twenty-seven percent of the online respondents (“Race Breakdown”).

While currently, the test enjoys only academic and educational use, there is a growing movement supporting its practical applications. Shankar Vedantam of writes, “some proponents [say] it would be unethical not to use the test to screen officials who make life-and-death decisions about others,” which presumes the test accurately measures prejudiced attitudes, and that such biases empirically correlate to discriminatory behavior. While calling it unethical is notably extreme, if I were a black man, I surely would not want to be assumed guilty when accused of murder, due merely to my skin color, so the proponents’ proposal may be a sound attack against racism. “Might employers use such tests to weed out potential racists?,” Vedantam asks, further alluding to the possibility that people shown to be biased could be excluded, especially from powerful positions, such as those of judges, jurors, and police officers.

In contrast, Jay Dixit, an author for Slate Magazine, raises a significant dilemma: “If a test shows an applicant is biased, but you have no evidence that he has actually discriminated against anyone, would it really be fair not to hire him?” Mahzarin Banaji, one of the test’s creators, too fears its mainstream usage, as it will be assumed “that people who have high implicit bias scores will always behave in a biased way—which is not the case, since the tests don’t predict behavior with 100 percent accuracy” (Dixit). While the subject is both a debate of ethics and of the test’s merit, I believe that in Dixit’s question, it is indeed wrong to withhold a job on the basis of mere discriminatory thoughts, as the person that shows bias in an implicit-association test has not yet done anything wrong. No doubt, if a private or government employee, for example, exhibits prejudiced actions, a black mark is justified, but even if the IAT was perfect, it is undeserving of practical use per se. We would be discriminating against people who harbor underlying (and usually unintentional) biases, which is wrong just as discriminating against minorities is. Furthermore, the researchers “are wary of having the tests used in lawsuits” and “say they want to keep the focus of the tests on public education and research” (Vedantam), showing that even they see the bad side of using the test as a determination of racism.

The test is not perfect, as Klaus Fiedler and Matthias Bluemke of Germany’s University of Heidelberg have found. When they asked 24 volunteers, who had already taken the test, to try to reverse their results, most succeeded, and “for two experienced experts, it was virtually impossible to identify IAT fakers” (19). Melanie Steffans, of the University of Trier, concludes that “the IAT is not immune to faking,” finding that “In our Experiment 2, there were many individuals who were able to fake the IAT,” and that it “cannot easily be detected” (176). If true, such claims undermine the validity of the IAT in practical settings. Dr. Anthony Greenwald, one of the test’s creators, argues against this, stating that “findings reveal that it is difficult to fake IAT performances” such as a study by De-Yeong Kim (University of Washington), which stated that only “participants who were given explicit strategies” succeeded (92), and even then, they could not “speed up responses in the black + pleasant condition” (92), making the cheaters “likely to be identifiable” (93). Fiedler and Bluemke concluded the opposite, finding that “this slowdown was not too obvious against the background of normal performance variation” (19). There is enough conflicting research that the issue is not settled.

However, what the IAT is for sure is an excellent educational tool. Created by researchers from Harvard University, The University of Virginia, and University of Washington, Project Implicit has been praised in Slate Magazine as “an objective measure of bias” (Dixit), though Dixit notes that there “are good reasons to limit the test’s uses.” Howard Brody, a contributer to The Galveston County Daily News, lauds the test as “a lesson, I suggest, for all of us in America,” which it certainly is. As Dixit so interestingly notes, “just taking [the test] may sometimes be enough to convince people they are prejudiced and should try to change.” It would be a good idea to require prospective jurors, job applicants, and anyone in a company’s human resources department to take the test, and then write an essay about how they will not let their implicit thoughts translate into discriminatory treatment towards ethnic minorities, as long as this assignment is not a determining factor for their job. Racist attitudes can only be stopped through education, discussion, and introspection, not fear. Using the IAT to eliminate candidates for jobs makes it into another test that must be “passed,” but the benefit it yields in the fight on racism is slim to nil, as it does not get to the core issue: why does racism persist? Certainly, the perpetuation of ethnic stereotypes in the media contributes, but it is also caused by our refusal to recognize biases in ourselves and talk openly about them. As observed at, “if people are aware of their hidden biases, they can monitor and attempt to ameliorate hidden attitudes before they are expressed through behavior” (“Hidden Bias: A Primer”). We do not need more fear of speaking inappropriately or being labeled a racist, but honest discussion about how to see and overcome discrimination, and this is just what the implicit-association test fosters.

Works Cited

Brody, Howard. “The racial prejudice that besets medicine.” The Galveston County Daily News. 20 Feb. 2008 <>.
Dixit, Jay. “Screen Test: Why we should start measuring bias.” Slate Magazine. 20 Feb. 2008
Fiedler, Klaus, and Matthias Bluemke. “Faking the IAT: Aided and Unaided Response Control on the Implicit Association Tests.” University of Heidelberg. 20 Feb. 2008 <>.
Greenwald, Anthony. “Implicit Association Test: Validity Debates.” 20 Feb. 2008
“Hidden Bias: A Primer.” The Southern Poverty Law Center. 20 Feb. 2008
Kim, De-Yeong. “Voluntary Controllability of the Implicit Association Test (IAT).” Social Psychology Quarterly 66:1 (2003): 83-96. 20 Feb. 2008 <>.
Klauer, Karl Christoph, et al. “Process Components of the Implicit Association Test: A Diffusion-Model Analysis.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 93.3 (2007): 353-68. Academic Search Premier. 20 Feb. 2008 <>.
“Race Attitude.” Project Implicit. Harvard University. 20 Feb. 2008
“Race Breakdown.” Project Implicit. Harvard University. 20 Feb. 2008
Steffans, Melanie. “Is the Implicit Association Test Immune to Faking?” Experimental Psychology 51.3 (2004): 165-79. Friedrich-Schiller-Universität Jena. 20 Feb. 2008
Vedantam, Shankar. “See No Bias.” 20 Feb. 2008 <>.
Weller, James. Prejudice Across America. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2000.