Practical Theory - The Origin
The Scholars in CyberEnglish
ToDaY's MeNu - Ted

Monday, April 29, 2013

See Now Then by Jamica Kincaid

See Now Then a novel by Jamaica Kincaid begins with those three words as Mrs Sweet informs us in very long sentences that stretch from the top of a page where they begin to the end where they end. Faulkner type sentences. Mrs Sweet is catching us up on the then, dead folk, funerals, and former homeowners, Then is Now. She stares out the window from the house that Shirley Jackson lived in to the mountains and to the rivers and to the man made lake, to the geography of the place Now, while thinking of Then. Mr Sweet a musician hates her, his son, this life in the country. He is a creature of the city and when he married her, fresh off the banana boat, his mother warned him against it. He regrets what happened Then because it has badly impacted Now.
The writing style is poetic. The long sentences with much punctuation are lines of poetry presented as prose. So much word, phase repetition. In addition this novel is like a silent movie. We are reading thoughts, not hearing dialogue and yet can’t hear Mr Sweet’s music. And then there is the constant back and forth between Then and Now. ‘See’ is a popular verb and an important word in the novel.
This is a tale of Mrs Sweet, whom Mr Sweet hates as we see page after page, though she loves him madly, and madly may be the right word as she has learned early in life to buck up, move on, make Now Then only to have a new Now. But Then is always Now tragically for her. We know they have two children, the older daughter Persephone, whom we never see and rarely hear about, is safely hidden away, while we are constantly reminded of Heracles, the younger son and apple of Mrs Sweet’s eye and hated by Mr Sweet. This hate could wear the reader down if it weren’t for the love Mrs Sweet shows and displays and of course how beautifully Kincaid writes in her poetic prose.
The trick is to See Then Now as things don’t change that way as they do in the Now which Mrs Sweet tries to avoid as she looks out the window at a scene Now was Then and will always be. This is a hard woman to love.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Friday, April 26, 2013

The Black House by Peter May

On this windy Isle of Lewis kind of day here on the eastern shore of Maryland, I spied in our library the Scottish novel, The Black House by Peter May that takes place at the northern tip of The Isle Lewis called the Butt of Lewis. The Butt of Lewis  is a remote part of the world with a well-protected harbor, the strongest winds I have ever experienced, Standing Stones you can walk up to and touch, a beach to die for, and a magnificent lighthouse. In the novel we are introduced to a murder as a pair of young lovers are looking for a place to enjoy each other for their first time only to discover a dead man. Fin MacLeod, a cop, wakes from his usual nightmare across Scotland in Edinburgh. My ancestors are of Clan MacLeod and besides The Isle of Skye, The Isle of Lewis and Harris are the resting place of many MacLeods and sites of many ancestral homes. Here we go. It isn’t a day to ride, so I’ll stay in and read. It’s a wonder why we always return to our roots.
There’s an uncanny connection to Bank’s Stonemouth another Scottish novel. Both characters returning to the place of their birth after years away. They left to get away, to make a life, to move on, and in the end they return. In both cases it is the death of someone they knew.
Fin is finding himself spending more time in his past than in the present and on this case. He is there to solve the copycat murder of a bully, Angus, from his youth. He is crossing paths with people from his past and old wounds are bleeding again. When he left Edinburgh we know he had recently lost a son, we don’t know why. When he returns to his old home he discovers another son. And then there is the murder of Angus he has to get back to.
As Fin reflects on his aunt who raised him after his parents died that he didn’t know a thing about her, except she left Lewis for America, was at Woodstock, lived in San Francisco and New York and returned to Lewis. He comments how he laments this loss and wished to have learned more of her, ‘But, of course, you can’t go back.’ This is a classic theme I’ve seen in so many of the recent books I’ve been reading. We can’t go back and yet we try. I went back to Nantucket after thirty years and wow that was very weird.
Chapter Eleven is a brilliant rites of passage account of the unique custom of the men of Ness who spend a fortnight hunting and harvesting gugas on the treacherous cliffs on the Isle of Sula Sgeir.
Getting even, allowing anger to cause angry words, and just plain revenge is an awful force. Second chances come only from truth and when truth is revealed. A bloody good tale.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Some Kind of Fairy Tale

If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales. ALBERT EINSTEIN.

When I saw this title, Some Kind of Fairy Tale by Graham Joyce I had to grab it. One of my favorite places to visit is the Fairy Glen in Uig, on the Isle of Skye, Scotland. In the middle of rolling hills is a little space that resembles a bad case of tooth decay when seen from afar. Upon close examination via a curvy single lane farm road is a magical place of beauty and magic. I’ve spent hours at this fantastic place just reflecting. Another fairy place is Dunvegan Castle, also on Isle of Skye. It is the official home of my ancestors, the Clan Macleod. One of our myths is the Fairy Flag. So Joyce’s book called me.

So where was Tara for the past twenty years? Who was that man on the most beautiful white horse she met in the Outwoods in the middle of the magical bluebells? Why doesn’t she look like she hasn’t aged? Where is her baby? Are we dealing with a changeling?  All these questions suddenly emerge as Tara shares her story with her brother who she tells him, he will hate her when she is done. Their twenty years were only six months to her. Lots happened while she was gone to her parents, her brother, and her former boyfriend, Richie. To help Richie, she asks for just a minute to prove her story. Will the psychiatrist solve this one?  
There is something unsettling about the fairy world. Tara spends her return figuring it all out for everyone else with the help of some unlikely people. So if a man happens along and asks to snip some blossoms from your tree, say no. What a whimsical, magical, fantastic story.
A great quote from the text: 'Youth fears nothing because it knows nothing.'
Now I should return to some of my more favorite fantasies: A Midsummer Night's Dream and The Tempest 

Tuesday, April 23, 2013


Today is a day we celebrate both the birth and death of William Shakespeare.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Truth in Advertising

‘Because it seemed true’ is how Truth in Advertising by John Kenney starts. We are in trouble. That is the wrong linking verb. It should be ‘Because it is true.’ Fin, the narrator of this novel learned early in school that he could make stuff up and get an A. He figured it was true somewhere, just not where he was. You can see how easily he slipped into advertising. “The irony of advertising – a communications business – is that we treat words with little respect, often devaluing their meaning.”
My dad was in advertising from 1955 to 1972 in all the good firms on Madison Ave. We had a good life. I can’t watch Mad Men because of my early life. I remember so much horrendous stuff that the show dredges it all up. One of my dad’s very good friends is a consultant on the show and my younger sister, who watches it, swears she recognizes many things from our life in the show.  I told her I agreed after watching the first few shows and couldn’t sleep, so I stopped watching it. This book is different it is more about family than advertising. It is about truth. The interchange between characters is hilarious and nothing my dad would have experienced. Draper is more like my dad than is Fin.
Language is a funny thing and Kenney takes advantage of this fact.  In a typical day, Fin must deal with all the complications of language and the growing political correctness and sensitivity people have to words and context. The classic nursery song of ‘Old MacDonald’ has to be censored because of the roster refrain and the use of ‘cock.’ In focus groups the pigs and cows drew a condemnation because it was suggested they were calling fat mothers ‘pigs’ or ‘cows.’ No wonder commercials are so stupid; they have to be simple and stupid so people don’t take them seriously.
We learn about Fin slowly. We know he has a tough time with his dad who hasn’t been a great dad, didn’t help with early projects, humiliated Fin, often drunk on holidays, berates his wife, and on and on. Fin aborted his wedding a month before it was t happen. He doesn’t get on the plane for a vacation. He lets another pair of first class tickets expire. Instead he goes to see his sick dad in a hospital on Cape Cod. Fin is in a good business, advertising where you whore yourself out, tell lies, live lies, and generally you are a hollow man. Even the pleasure of good puns and irony elude him.
‘Here’s what I don’t understand. I’m going to buy mayonnaise anyway. Why does someone need to go to all that trouble to advertise it? I’ve bought the same brand for forty years and not once do I remember an ad for it.’
All the clich├ęs in advertising and the misuse of language have always bothered me. During my first year of teaching, I remember getting agitated by the ad, “Winston takes good like a cigarette should.” I used it to explain a grammar rule and moved on. On parent’s weekend, I met the guy who created that slogan; his son was in my class. I was worried, but he assured me he didn’t write it that way, he told me he wrote it grammatically correctly. The client changed it, because they wanted to appeal to the middle class. It was at that point I really recognized why we needed advertising and not the BBC.
We see brainstorming in the office and in the family. I recognized that brainstorming was not successful early in my career. The big mouth laid down the gauntlet in too many cases or teacher would because of time quickly support and move on without letting other ideas emerge as quickly nix an idea because it wasn’t the direction sought for in this class. In short, class discussion involved too few students and usually the same ones all the time allowing the many to simply sit, take notes, let the few do all the work and then regurgitate on essays and tests. When I first developed CyberEnglish, the result was that each student developed an idea in an essay on a webpage and then shared it with the class. Each student has invested in the essay and each came to the discussion with an investment. Their best work was done in isolation, not in group work. Years later I read an essay that confirmed my belief in The New Yorker about the brainstorming myth.
This book isn’t about advertising; it is about family.  Truth. ‘What narrative do we choose to live by?’

Friday, April 19, 2013

The Uncommon Reader

When I spied The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett as I was wandering in the library, I couldn’t resist. I knew the author and discovered this novella was about the reading habits of the Queen. After seeing the opening sequence to the 2012 Olympics in London, England with Daniel Craig as James Bond and the Queen, I have gained such high esteem for her and her sense of humor.
After a brief encounter at a state dinner and a clumsy discussion with a French ambassador about a French writer, the Queen realizes her attempts to discuss books with politicians are fruitless. Her weekly meetings with the Prime Minister, which are usually from PM to Queen, have changed from Queen to PM on books. PM is not pleased. Even as she meets her subjects the usual questions are about their trip to see her etc etc are replaced with questions of what books are they reading which at first stumps them until soon they bring her books to read, mostly those they have written.
She discovers a mobile library visits the palace every Wednesday from which she gets books. She happens upon a book by Nancy Mitford, who the Queen knew in earlier days. She knew the whole family and yet the book added more. To this woman of the world, the Wednesday visits became very important as she discovered things about the world she knew, had visited, and ruled to discover that she didn’t know. Reading took on a whole new meaning for her. She became addicted. And then the mobile library stopped visiting. Budget cuts.
Once when encountered about her appetite to read, the Queen responded, ‘Books are not about passing the time. They’re about other lives. Other worlds. Far from wanting time to pass, Sir Kevin, one just wishes one had more of it.’ (p29) I concur.
Her constant book reading has agitated her husband, her staff, and her dogs. On one occasion she is told the secret service took one of her books left in the carriage because they thought it was a explosive device. When she heard this and demanded it be replaced by the next day, she added, ‘A book is a device to ignite the imagination.’ Her dogs would retrieve a felled book to a far corner of the palace for slow destruction. Before she took trips, she would read the authors of the destination, before leaving and on route to the added annoyance of her husband.  
Like the Queen, I’m an opsimath, too, and darn proud of it. With this new love of reading, she remembers having sat with Lord David Cecil of Oxford, a Jane Austen scholar and was silent. Now she wishes she could sit with him again and have a lively conversation, but alas, he is dead. But went on, determined as ever to catch up. Me, too.
I was bowled over when I read this sentence: ‘And she remembered Helen Schlegel in Howard’s End putting pictures to Beethoven at the concert in the Queen’s Hall that Forster describes.’ In college I wrote a paper for my symphony class linking Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony and Howard’s End. I was an English major taking a music course to fulfill a humanities requirement and always tried to find ways to link other courses to my English studies. Yes, we do feel a closer kinship to Her Majesty.
She learns as one reads and is tenderized the question of writing must always surface. She has been approached by a few to curb her reading habits, to no effect. She has always been writing privately in her notebooks. Suddenly she decides to write and during her eightieth birthday announces this plan to a timid audience. The ending of this novella is brilliant.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

The Digital Public Library of America

Today is a historic day, the launching of the Digital Public Library of America. The DPLA is a utopian dream, similar to Jefferson's of making all information public, "the common property of mankind."

In the 80's, I was enthralled with my reach into the catacombs of University libraries, like Harvard, MIT, Carnegie Mellon, and others via Gopher, the Internets early Linux based version of the WWW. I was accessing primary and secondary and occasionally tertiary resources for my scholars. We all know school libraries, suck, most community libraries are limited, and college libraries are not really accessible to our students. Then of course the web came along, more Internet access in schools and slowly our scholars began to have access to information they needed.  Restrictions still existed and forced hacking by me and many many others. Aaron Swartz is a sad reminder of this and of our limits. I'd hack and put the booty on my web server so my scholars had access. I scanned things, too. Fair Use was my argument. I was operating on the Jeffersonian edict about information for the masses. But now, those hacking days are over and the DPLA is making the first very crucial steps to link up with all the libraries in our colleges, communities, and homes to provide digital versions of our collected information. Over time, the Library of Congress and the digital library of Europe will be linked in. Copyright issues are solved, publishers and authors see the value of this, so that within a generation we will see the greatest collection of man's works available to man since the library of Alexandria.

Today is an important date. It is as important as the date the Gutenberg press started and the digital collections of Gutenberg, Bartelby, LiberVox, and so many others that have limited collections and are subject to copyright. Information will indeed be more accessible to more people and that is what makes a true and pure democracy. The most important aspect of DPLA is that we will finally have access to primary sources like never before and without subscriptions and passwords. Scholars will not be subject to textbook editors or teachers who select because of politics, religion, culture or any other reason what is read by our scholars, the people. They will have access to the primary sources and they will make up their own minds, generate their own opinions, and create their own scholarship that will truly move America and the world forward.

I am overwhelming ecstatic about the DPLA. Thomas Jefferson would be very happy with us today. I can't wait to share this with my grandchildren. My life's work, CyberEnglish, will be enhanced by the DPLA.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

I, Hogarth

I, Hogarth by Michael Dean is about William Hogarth, the English painter. The cover and title certainly made me think of I, Claudius. It is Hogarth, himself, we hear in this first person narrative that is bawdy and randy as any good English novel should be from this age of Fielding and others. This novel is such a period piece, such a Fielding piece, a rag to riches tale with great lusty and inventive adventures along the way.  Hogarth changed art in England and exposed the underbelly with humanity, humor, and truth. He exposed it, so that foundling hospitals could happen. He starts what Dickens cleans up.
Young William and his pater get along famously. His mother is the taskmaster. At an early age, seven, he is caught in a freak storm in London and receives a gash on his forehead. Houses and chimneys are toppled and he is lucky to be alive. His pater gets him involved with a painter from monies his father has finally made from selling his manuscript. But soon life changes as they end up in debtor’s prison. Publishers, or engravers then, are the problem. They are thieves. Tell me something we don’t know.
Much of his first sixteen years were spent in debtor’s prison. He had access to the outside and his mother and sisters made and sold a griper’s cream, a cream to stop babies from griping. He secured the tools for the endeavor and sold the product. They did well, considering. The moneylender benefactor sponsored him and his sisters in trades for the future just as their pater died in the middle of writing his play and a letter to the Exchequer.
William’s life progresses quickly through petticoats and paint as he is moved along the painter’s path of good patronage and his own sexual cunning. Both men and women love him for his appropriate talents, in the drawing room and in the drawing room. He elopes with Jane, the daughter of his patron, James Thornhill, who eventually accepts the union and the rise of William, in this brave new world. Jane completes William. But William destroys it.
Reading and using the Internet to view the work being talked about adds so much. I’m able to go further on the net than illustrations could have provided and an accompanying website would have its limits. I forgot how good Hogarth was. His prose was equal to his paintings. He proposed copyright laws for artists. His passions for the people was so clear in his paintings, he understood so much, perhaps because he had risen from these depths.
His powers crash down quickly as the French Pox takes over as do a couple of villains out to get the poor old man. It is amazing the cutthroatness. It is the classic tale of rise from nothing to something and done in by those on the rise. Hogarth was a good man, did good deeds, and was done in by these attempts. Ironically his work is what we remember not the duo that buried him.
Watch a Slideshow of Hogarth's Work.

Monday, April 15, 2013


Stewart is standing on the bridge at the place where Callum jumped to his death in Stonemouth by Iain Banks. Stewart has returned, with permission, after five years. Permission? Stewart is back for a funeral. Banks intrigues and mystifies us with each encounter Stewart has as we learn more of the past and why Stewart left and needs permission to return for Joe Murston’s funeral. There is also woman, Ellie, involved.  
Friday evening, Stewart, revisits the pubs with Ferg and flashes back to the old days. Saturday morning he wakes and reminds himself about Ellie and his time with her and the warning from her four brothers, Callum, being one of them. He meets up with Grier, Ellie’s younger sister while they are both walking the beach from different directions. Stewart is remembering how he met Grandpa Joe before the rest of the Murstons. Grier catches him up on much of what he missed these past five years. It’s a small town for sure. Present and past are interwoven beautifully as we learn more about why and how Stewart left Stonemouth and we know he has been allowed back for the funeral. Some folks have grown over the past five years, others have not, and some are dead.
Stewart has screwed up his marriage to Ellie by having a last fling and is caught on film. His trip to the funeral is for Joe, but also to see Ellie and maybe reconcile. Ellie’s three remaining brothers and her father have it in for Stewart and give him every step of the way. The ending is a maelstrom of action and excitement. A thriller romance if I’ve ever read one.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Eagles above me

I went to the beach and did some yard work last week. The bike was in the shop. The temperature has been in the 80's Monday through Thursday. I spent the day at the beach on Tuesday, the water was a bit to cool to go in. I saw an eagle soaring above and doing those majestic loops.

On Thursday, I was cleaning the yard and mowing the lawn when I heard some birds making a heck of a lot of noise. Frantic noise. I looked up to find them. Instead I saw an eagle soaring above me and blinding me once in awhile as it flew in front of the sun. I waved.

Then this morning I was outside and admiring the sky before my bike ride and there it was the eagle. Soon, I'm hoping to see a young one, perhaps in June as this parent has to teach the eaglet how to fly, fish, and soar.

All this is going to happen above me.

Last year, I saw three eagles from the beach and two others perched on limbs on two different rides. They are such glorious looking birds when they ride the thermals or just watch us from a limb.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Middle C

“…her beloved husband’s virtues, once admitted to be many, were written in lemon juice.” We have entered Middle C by William H Gass. In 1939, a Catholic husband and wife leave Austria with their son and daughter as Jews. Why? So they can get out of what is about to happen. They immigrate to England and become English, so they can get to The New World. We never hear from father again. Fear of is a common theme herein. Fear of what is coming. Fear of not getting out. Fear of mankind. Fear of.
The key word in this novel is ‘ear.’ ‘Ear’ as the part of the body with which we ‘hear.’ Prof Skizzen is in the music department so ‘ear’ and ‘hear’ are crucial. Add to that his great ‘fear’ of so much. ‘Ear’ is the resounding sound throughout the novel and resonates in the theme. Time is measured in ‘years.’ What is between the ‘ears’ is crucial in the children’s development and in appreciating this novel. “Mother, perhaps my father was a ‘fraidycat.” (p105). The habits of listening.
The writing is studied and consciously select, yet flows and entertains. How can you not love a chapter on the rewriting and analysis of a sentence? How can you not love the deconstruction of a sentence through word use? How can you not love the pursuit of the perfect sentence? And they call this fiction. The writing is a temptress, a joy, and mental euphoria. Personifying the sentence, using it as a metaphor is poetry. Orchestrating the words, changing the point of view, waltzing with adjectives and activating the right verb is art.
The son has become a professor of music still living with mom or is it mom living with him. That is the point actually as the professor keeps rewriting a sentence about the fate of man, is it better to have it survive or to disappear. He has a room that is like a scrapbook collecting articles about the cruelty of man to man. Gass presents verbal images in words, phrases, clauses, sentences, paragraphs of the horror man has done to man. You see as Earth Day approaches, I have never been concerned about the fact that we need to save the earth as much as we need to save man fro himself. The earth will survive, we know that. The misdirected concern is that we should really be concerned with man as is he good professor, in his seven hundredth version, “Professor Joseph Skizzen’s concern that the human race might not endure has been succeeded by his fear that it will quite comfortably continue.” (p63) The waterfalls will continue to fall, the glaciers will continue to melt and reform, the volcanoes will continue to erupt and make new lands, with or without man. Now that is more comforting to me than the professor’s vision. Not only a professor, a fake professor, but also a librarian.
“What’s in a name?” Plenty. The members of the family go from Austrian names to Jewish names, to English names and variations on the theme. The mother even surprises me as she is eager to replace her birth name with her husband’s name which is then changed so often she does not know who she is. Joey, Joseph, Professor Skizzen are interchangeable even in the same paragraph. Just as names are mutable, so to is their religious affiliation. They begin as Catholics in Austria, and then become Jews to get to England, and then Lutherans once settled in Ohio.  “All religions are not equal. All but ours are sordid.” (p124) Identity is evasive or is it?
Because of all the name changes and moving from country to country, Joey or Joseph doesn’t know who he is. When it becomes time to get a job or a drivers’ license, proper paperwork is lacking like a birth certificate with a current name. Everything becomes fake, his professorship is just a title, his driver’s license is forged, he himself is a fake.
This is a slow read simply because of the delicious language banquet with metaphor sides that requires proper mastication. And when I got to the end and closed the book, what do you think I heard?

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Talk Talk

Talk, talk, that is what happened when the deaf got together, a direct translation into English – they talked a lot, talked all the time, talked the way Bridger was talking now, only with their hands. When deaf get together talk talk all the time. Communication, the universal need. Information. Access. Escape from the prison of silence. Talk, talk, talk. (p 195-6)
Dana is deaf, an educator, and she is in the middle of everyone’s nightmare in TC Boyle’s Talk Talk.  She is rushing to a dentist appointment and rolls through a STOP sign. She is arrested and is either the victim of Identity theft or mistaken identity. It is Friday and she might get out by Monday. Her boyfriend, Bridger, is helpless. What a way to start April, the Humor Month.  
The nightmare is what’s his name. He has been so many people, has a couple of families with a couple of daughters and can use the system so well he can acquire any one’s identity in a week. This is scary and makes me think real hard about my own credit and identity.  Dana and Bridger are taking a week to find what’s his name while what’s his name is taking a week to move on.
Dana and Bridger head out to recover their identities from this thief, this sociopath. He passes all the tests Ron Silver set out in his The Psychopath Test. He is running from them and they are chasing him. He is indignant that Dana and Bridger are pursuing him, have found him, and are bothering him. He is acting as if he were the victim.  He is arrogant, too. Perhaps he wants to get caught, to be stopped.
Don’t forget your toothbrush.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Monday, April 8, 2013

Port Mortuary

Lots of things have changed since last I saw Kay Scarpetta. In Patricia Cornwell’s Port Mortuary, Kay is married to Benton, an FBI agent, Marino is still his offish self, and Lucy owns a helicopter and seems to being black ops for the FBI. She is  now living in Cambridge, Massachusetts and is at the Cambridge Forensic Center (CFC). Kay is in the middle of things as always. As she is whisked away from Dover AFB to Cambridge the intrigue begins with a bizarre murder near her home, a child’s death, and incompetence at all levels. Just another day in the life of Kay Scarpetta. We are introduced to interesting weapons, UGV’s (Unmanned ground vehicles) nail guns, other interesting vehicles, and coincidences. The six degrees of separation are common in this sleep deprived story.
Speaking of the six degrees, when Lucy says to her aunt about Marino: “It’s not about trust. It’s about acknowledging limitations.” (page 77) That struck as I had just been reading about that was mentioned in The Visioneers and how the technology of this story reminds me of the technology in that story. As Kay is contemplating her round building and thinking of Buckminster Fuller she is thinking about he would like her building but “I don’t agree with his belief that technology can save us. Certainly, it isn’t making us more civilized, and I actually think the opposite is true.” (page 181). This is interesting after seeing how the technology actually did help us as we learned in Across Atlantic Ice and again in The Visioneers. And of course how she and Lucy work the technology in this story and reminisce about that trip they took to London to see a da Vinci exhibit at the Courtauld, an exhibit a dead man found in Norton’s Woods may have been to as well. At a previous CNN appearance the interviewer said, “Autobotsies.” To which Kay responded, “I beg your pardon.” “Robotic autopsies. Someday they’ll take your place.” Perhaps being clairvoyant  in 2010 because in the March Atlantic Monthly read all about it in “The Robot will see you now, Is your doctor becoming obsolete?” We learn that tinkering, the hot topic of The Tinkerers and The Visioneers, can also get you killed. Lots of nanotechnology yak yak too. Not coincidences, but the six degrees of separation seem to engulf us all.
Cornwell did commit one of the most egregious sins in this story(page 428). She used the oft misquote of Emerson to try to make a point and blew it. The mistake is to omit the word “foolish.” Emerson said, "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds." Oftentimes people forget to use the word “foolish” when they want to use this excellent quote but for the wrong reason. By simply forgetting “foolish” it makes consistency a bad thing, whereas consistency isn’t bad, it is “foolish” consistency that is bad and there is a huge difference. 

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Tartan Day

Tartan Day is an important Scottish historical date. I'm a proud member of Clan Macleod.

Friday, April 5, 2013

The John Lennon Letters, Part III

I am concluding the The John Lennon Letters edited by Hunter Davies from where I left off as John and Yoko take up residency in NYC.

John and Yoko are settling right in. A month at the St Regis, a rental on Bank St, and finally to the Dakota. They are being political, in spite of deportation problems. They host the Mike Douglas show for a week and have very Leftist guests. His correspondence includes Huey Newton. They go to a day at the Watergate hearings. They promote their music and even books John read as a youth that became a popular show in England. NYC is definitely getting into his blood and he into NYC’s fabric.
1973-4 are considered the “lost Weekend” when he and May Pang leave NYC for LA. This time is spent creating what will be two great albums and lots of letters and notes of apology for his bad behavior all over LA. He is also back in touch with Cynthia about getting Julian over. Cyn joins Julian in LA for a vacation. “Whatever gets you through the Night” a collaboration with Elton John reaches number one. There’s more of his notes, lists, and whatever he puts to paper since collectors are collecting Lennon memorabilia. His legal woes haven’t gone away, but he is concentrating on music and being lost.
Once he has settled into 1 West 72nd St, Apt 72 and his court case about extradition is looking like it will end in his favor, John is reconnecting to his UK family, which consists of half sisters, cousins, and aunties. His connection to Julian has waned because John has reunited with Yoko and this action angers Cynthia. Sharing of pictures and his joy with the birth of Sean rejuvenate John’s need to reconnect with his family. During this time, John and Yoko have also tried to reconnect Yoko with her daughter, Kyoto, from former husband Tony Cox. Of course much of the family reunification involves money and other matters since John owns the houses his family live in.
A very haunting letter he wrote to Howard Cosell, declining an invitation to be on a Cosell show stopped me cold. It was while watching Monday Night Football one cold night in December 1980 that Howard broke from the game to announce that John had been shot.
Once John wins his court case and can travel, he becomes a more independent and footloose and care free person. His letters are jovial, more Lennonesque. He is traveling and sending postcards to everyone. He is being a father to Sean in NYC and trying to reconnect with Julian, with little luck.
Becoming a family man, a father, a sailor were the things that occupied John in the end. His relationship with Derek Taylor was new stuff for me. Perhaps the coolest part was his near death sailing trip of five days from Newport to Bermuda. It got him back to music. Much of what remains from John are to do lists, shopping lists, and reminders. Stuff from the bin. Always those eerily last day letters autographs and notes are haunting and just plain strange. But of course they would be.
This is not a literary masterpiece; it is simply a good retrospect of a man with lots of excellent surprises.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The Visioneers

Earthrise changed everything.
The title The Visioneers by W. Patrick McCray is a portmanteau of ‘vision’ and ‘engineer’ created by the author. The title intrigued me and so did the word. The idea is basically the technological advancement of someone’s vision. I immediately saw how this notion applies to CyberEnglish. CE was the engineering of an educational vision to make education better and more efficient through good and better use of technology. My Limits to Growth was misguided US educational policy borne from A Nation at Risk and the eventual reliance on tests and not to product and technology.
Suggesting man put limits on his endeavors stopped the world. Considering how technology had gotten us to where we are and where we wanted to go, limits was a real downer, bummer, show stopper. Moderation, compromise and such became catchword ideas. Ecological considerations needed to be addressed in a more serious manner and Rachel Carson provided that. OPEC provided that. The major rivers of the world showed us the errors of our ways. As man’s life expectancy was growing, scarcity of land and food was a serious issue for the future. Man was living longer because of the technological advances I medicine, growing food, and creating livable spaces. Outsourcing helped corporations but not America and now we slowly see a return of those jobs. Spaceship Earth, The Biosphere, and 19th Century Science Fiction became realities in the middle of the 20th Century that foretold disaster for the 21st Century. Disaster on a huge economic level. The science fiction ideas of space colonies have become campaign slogans for 21st Century politicians. Technology is a double-edged sword.
Gerard Kitchen O’Neill was a scientist, a physics teacher, who taught at Princeton. He came up with the idea of a space platform, a space floating earth. While trying to realize his goals, he decided to make his work public in 1972, which coincided with the publication of Limits of Growth. The only way O’Neill could go public was to publish in the existing media of the day, science journals. It took him a few years to finally publish his work for peer review. The process was troubling as the reviewers of his article were unable to truly understand his concepts and after many revisions he got published, not on his terms but on other reviewer’s terms. That just ain’t right. The beauty of CyberEnglish is that each of my scholars can publish their work, engage in peer review, and then pass it n for others to read and use accordingly. CE exists because of the technology and medium and the World Wide Web. The difference between O’Neill’s work and my scholars’ work is my scholars’ work is not compromised so that it can be published. We are seeing it happen right in front of us as technology by the people is overshadowing the older traditional medias, because the old is compromised by owners, publishers, people with a political and economic agenda and are one way media; unlike the Internet which is interactive and democratic. Sure Internet writers have a political agenda, but the conversation between reader and writer is more extensive and possible whereas it is not interactive with old traditional forms of media. We merely need to look at the Arab Spring and compare it to The Berlin Wall, Eastern Europe during the Soviet era, WWII, WWI, the French Revolution, the American Revolution. Consider the differences between the Drudges of today and the one and only Thomas Paine.  
O’Neill ran into the same wall that most innovators and visionaries encounter. He did not propose that his space station would be a panacea for earthly problems merely “an opportunity to ameliorate social, environmental, and economic anxieties.”(p 69) Just as CE is not a panacea for educational woes, it is simply a way to provide another way to evaluate the scholars in our schools. There is always that careful balancing act between the old ways and utopia. The possibility of the future is unfortunately always projected through a lens of what we know as opposed to a lens of what could be. In education we still teach the way we were taught instead of the way we should be taught. O’Neill, too, ran into this problem in his field. His success gets beyond him. As a result of the published article a group called L5 form in Arizona. They distributed newsletters and tried to behave as any Internet based group would, but in a pre-Internet time. The problem for O’Neill was that the conversations about his ideas were out of his hands and he wasn’t part of the conversations being had by Stewart Brand, Timothy Leary, and others. O’Neill inspired others but had no input as to how they behaved or what they said. Were this to have happened in the Internet world, well we al know how much better it would have gone. This is all happening a few years after Brand’s Whole Earth Catalog success and a decade before his much acclaimed creation of The Well, of which I was an early member. On The Well, O’Neill would have enjoyed a very public and spirited discussion on a list or in a conference. We have seen how Internet technology has sparked better communication and more democratic conversations.
I would be remiss if I didn’t also mention the ecological advantages to O’Neill’s space station ideas. It would be pure solar energy. Any pollution generated would be jettisoned to the sun for disposal. There are so many advantages to manufacturing in space. CE also offers ecological advantages as no need for paper, everything is digital. Digits travel better than atoms, take up less space than atoms, and can be shared more quickly and efficiently than atoms. O’Neill ran into his problems because of the atoms. If only he had access to the digits.
When Omni magazine emerged, O’Neill became a regular contributor. His book, The High Frontier and these articles kept the ideas alive, but in 1985, O’Neill was diagnosed with leukemia. In addition, with the election of Reagan, space stations for living became military, weapon dispensers as in the Death Star in Star Wars. It is amazing how many ideas go through the military before reaching the citizens. Heck the Internet was a military idea called ARPANET.
With waning of space programs, nanotechnology emerged. The aspect of passing it on for O’Neill was in the person of Kim Eric Drexler, an MIT student who did some work with O’Neill and embraced O’Neill’s ideas and those of L5 too. Drexler’s Engines of Creation will lead him to Nanotechnology.
Publishing as a visioneer ain’t easy as these two can attest.  The key is that these two made their work public, engaged in critical if not cruel peer review, and most importantly passed it on. They passed on their vision realized to a degree that served as inspiration for others who followed and took it one more step. That is what scholarship is all about and a foundation for CyberEnglish.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Language is Fluid

We all know or should know that language is fluid, liquid, subject to the whims of the people. Language evolves, as it should. Because language changes to accommodate new users, the older users resist and complain. Adults always look to the youth and their changes to language with great dismay to make these pronouncements. Recently in Atlantic Monthly, Megan Garber celebrated the death of WHOM in the cute "For Whom the Bell Tolls." Since the demise of the influence of Latin in the classroom, grammar has gone to Hell.

A knock on the door and "Who is it?"
"It is me." is the usual response, not the correct (sic) "it is I."
When I did this, a friend used to say "Come in I."
I guess the more correct response would be, "It is Ted."
But then who else would it be when I was the expected knocker.

The case of agreement with the singular indefinite pronoun has closed long ago.
"Everyone should take their belongings with them."
It was "Everyone should take his belongings with him" when we were a male oriented pronoun society. Then the awkward "Everyone should take his/her belongings with him/her." I went so far as to create 'hir' a portmanteau of his/her and 's/he' a portmanteau of he/she because I didn't like the change from the monosyllabic pronoun to the awkward double syllable cacophonous him/her or he/she and which comes first. So confusing. So in the end we just said to Hel with it use the third person plural and be done with it. We can just recast so many sentences, now, Mr Safire.

It probably isn't worth another diatribe on the demise of the Harvard comma. Or even the ruse of not ending a sentence with a preposition, which is impossible since it would be an adverb, duh. To be a preposition it has to be followed by a noun or pronoun, not a period, exclamation, or question mark.

I can just say I love reading my children and grand-children's email as it is so user friendly in its lingua franca way. As for the other forms of communication, email is my limit in the electronic world. Postcards, my compromise to letters, F2F, and cell work better for this old geezer.

I can't even imagine my grandfather's reaction to language today. This is the man, whom I loved madly, would return my letters to me corrected. Eventually he gave up when I was having fun with apostrophes and the homonyms, as he said, "Don't be a stupid ass, Teddy."  I try to live by this advice, it is hard.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Communion Town

 Now here's a cruel April Fool's Joke.
When are we, where are we, who are we? There seem to be numerous narrators in Communion Town A City in Ten Chapters by Sam Thompson. Allegories can be tough and this one is. We go from being new arrivals, being observed by a narrator who is concerned for our well being, a rickshaw driver, to another narrator a child seeking a goodie toy, to a Sam Spade kind of out of luck private dick who can’t help but get beat up and drunk to a double edged story of a slaughter man.
I gave up on this book after about 70 pages, then came back to it a week later and after another 100 pages and more silly stories, I came to the conclusion this book is a waste of time. Again disappointment with Man Booker and their vision.