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

Friday, November 29, 2013

The Massive by Richard House

The Massive by Richard House is the second book of four in The Kills begins with seven funerals of men who served at Camp Liberty. We are looking back on the lives of these men and how they intersected in life and followed one another in death. I was curious as to why students in the first school in which I taught, a private New England boarding school grades five to nine were there. I mean who sends a kid away to boarding school in fifth grade? To my surprise the reasons are many. One was very intriguing. A group of ten kids some related but all were friends and the children of five pair of parents who went to do contract work in Saudi Arabia. They didn’t want to take their children for the two-year gig. Each pair was to earn a million dollars. That’s the story of this book. Men are contracted to work in Iraq or that area for a fixed time and fixed amount of money. No guarantees. Money was good and would solve financial problems at home. Off to Camp Liberty with a hand picked group of seven men to man the burn pits. “’What happened to the last guy? The one for the Middle East?’ Santo asked in a voice that was not so quiet. ‘You think they ate him?’ The Men looked back and considered the possibility.” We are traveling back in time to where it all started, Camp Liberty. A story, there’s always a story, stolen dogs, Sparts, putting the f in freedom, secrets, a baby, Nut, deceit, lies, the whole lot.
Burning pits leave quite the stink.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Sutler by Richard House

Sutler by Richard House is the first book of four in The Kills.  Sutler is a temporary name so Ford, if that is his name can get away. The story takes place in worn torn Mideast and the crossing of borders. Turkey is where Ford eventually falls. Everyone is chasing him. They think he has the money. Ford becomes Michael and Tom and gets entangled with a trio of filmmakers in Turkey. No one trusts anyone. Sutlers were army followers, the civilian quartermaster. Who is Sutler? Misdirection at every new chapter. Follow Eric. Who is who and what is what? This is a saga to be continued into The Massive.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Fifty Years Ago

I was running around the football field on a very grey, wet fall day at Williston Academy. I was fourteen and in my first year as an eighth grader at this New England Prep School. News came that the president had been shot. I went back to my dorm to watch the coverage on the television in my dorm master's room. It was the first time I saw a man cry when it was announced that the president was dead. That was the beginning of the chaos that would be followed by more assassinations, burning cities, and a war that changed America. Five years later I graduated from Williston on June 6, 1968. The night before we were watching RFK speak about his recent victories in California and North Dakota. Then he was shot. The assassinations of JFK & RFK book ended my years at Williston. These two days compete for importance with the two days the World Trade Towers were attacked. My two children were in a school two blocks north of these bold attacks and were personal.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Curiosity by Philip Ball

Curiosity, How Science Became Interested in Everything by Philip Ball is a great follow-up to The Curiosity, the novel by Kiernan. In the novel Jeremiah Rice, a man was the curiosity. And a good chaser for The Swerve. In this non-fiction, curiosity is the quality in man that makes him interesting. More than interesting, but that is a good place to start. I always used curiosity as a tool in my classroom. Encouraging curiosity was one of my traits and when the web came along for us to make our own webpages and help make Alexander Pope’s nightmare become real, “the printing press will foster more authors.” All of my scholars became authors and it was their curiosity that inspired their web designs and constructions as well as inform the content of those pages. Ball is preaching to the choir about curiosity as the source of knowledge and power. In the end it was power I was generating in my classrooms, acquiring power is what education is all about, IMHO. It all starts with the curious. I would be remiss if I didn’t go to the obvious two allusions, I always associate with being curious and they are Alice’s constant use of it in her rabbit hole adventures and the two movies of my youth, I am Curious Yellow and I am Curious Blue.
Curiosity has a strange and curious history. Curiosity killed the cat, which had nine lives. The Romans weren’t curious since they accepted that the Greeks discovered everything and there were no new things, hence no curiosity, only wonder. This held true through the Dark Ages until the late sixteenth century and early seventeenth century.  To be curious was to be sinful and proud, not Christians traits. Curiosity was yet another bad trait the church needed to squelch to maintain its power. Curiosity was a way to gain power and in the seventeenth century power and knowledge become more universal with the printing press, humanism, and Protestantism flourishing. Learning by doing is becoming the mantra after having information pumped in.
Curiosity is a derivative of the Greek meaning to care. Curiosity began its place through the magic arts and then to the curios box filled with curious items that helped people explore their curiosity. That was the beginning of satiating one’s curiosity, collect stuff and store them in boxes, then books, then digits. Pan comes to mind. Humanism. Running into a lot of old friends and titles. Curiosity was running amok throughout Europe and germinating its seeds throughout Europe. That it was breaking out so rampantly, the old controlling way just disappeared in a generation. Wonder becomes curiosity and we are off to the modern world. Collecting data, storing it, math and science, math and science, then the telescope and they go to the moon and beyond. There are explosions of genius all over the map. Then comes the microscope and we go in a whole new direction. The cell reemerges as the key to it all.
We take curiosity for granted, but in the seventeenth century curiosity was new and separating it from God was very difficult and still is sometimes in some circles.  Oh and always be a keeper of secrets.

Friday, November 15, 2013

The Curiosity by Stephen P. Kiernan

The Curiosity by Stephen P. Kiernan
What if man from past walks around a city and goes to baseball games and moves in with a woman?
Hello Jeremiah Rice. He’s the frozen man and he is alive again. Now it gets dicey, ethics and all that. The judge, that was what Jeremiah was before, commented on his new surroundings with great clarity. Everyone is curious.
Four person narrative: Kate Philo, Daniel Dixon, Erastus Carthage, and Jeremiah Rice. Ownership, access, freedom are played with in this novel. It is an ethical nightmare. Frankenstein is an obvious reference, but so is Flowers for Algernon. Crowd mentality is a strong force. Let’s just say The Curiosity is a curious novel.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Curiosity by Stephen P. Kiernan

The Curiosity by Stephen P. Kiernan is a delightful romp told from three points of view. It is fast paced, verbally acute, and wonderfully humorous, if not darn right eccentric. Our narrators are Kate Philo, Daniel Dixon, and Erastus Carthage. Kate is a mindful, dedicated distraction, a scientist, to the men around her. Of course she is more competent then many of them. Daniel is a reporter and is distracted by Kate. Erastus is the project manager, the boss, the money. It is all about the project. The project is about reviving frozen specimens found in arctic ice. These life forms have been frozen for many many years. The idea is about cryogenics. Then they find a man, Frank, short for Frankenstein, and the Lazarus Project begins. Here is where it gets curious. There is a curiosity about actually reanimating a human, “dead” for how long, and to revive him for how long? There is a curiosity about the ethics of doing this. “But aren’t you curious to see if it works,” asks the boss.
Hello Jeremiah Rice.


Friday, November 8, 2013

Crime Fraîche by Alexander Campion

Crime Fraîche by Alexander Campion is the second Capucine Culinary Mystery. I’ve read them all out of order. I couldn’t help myself and wait, they are so delicious. Capucine and her food critic husband, Alexandre, have been invited to her uncle’s chateau in Normandy country. The town was supported by one of the country’s best Charolais beef ranches. In addition to eating great beef, Alexandre was able to forage for mushrooms, and they enjoyed the country hunts of partridge and deer. Problems began, as men were “accidently” shot at a partridge hunt, a protest, and at a deer hunt. All suspicious since all the men killed were associated with the Charolais beef company. Capucine gets involved at her uncle’s request.
Things get very murky indeed as ambiguity rules. What is real and what is fake? Deception on so many levels and in more than one place keep us confused and wanting throughout. Pureness of food, a marriage, and love get confounded and finally untangled as justice prevails or does it? This is the most complex of the Campion books.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Big Brother by Lionel Shriver

Big Brother by Lionel Shriver is about a BIG brother. The conversation at the airport of two passengers forewarns us. A big man has sat in the middle seat and taken half of each on either side of him and he smells. As Pandora, collects her big brother, Edison, from the Cedar Rapids airport after his flight from Detroit, she is shocked to see him in a wheelchair. Last time she saw Edison, four years ago,  he weighed 165 pounds. Now he weighed 368 pounds. He was coming to Iowa, cause he has nowhere else to go. Pandora, childless, is the stepmom to two teenagers, Tanner, seventeen, and Cody. Their father, Fletcher, makes furniture and helps Pandora in the kitchen, which was a selling point for her. Now Edison, the BIG brother is coming to visit. The family goes through denial, loss, pity, anger and other emotions as they spend the next two months under the same roof.
Pandora and Edison’s dad, Travis, was the star of a television program called Joint Custody. It helped as a metaphor for Pandora to explain the relationship of parents to their children and the relationship of siblings. Sibling relationship was the strongest one out there. It was this sibling relationship that allowed her to finally discuss weight with Edison. He got fat because he didn’t give a shit. He didn’t realize this selfishness of his had a negative effect on those around him, like her husband Fletcher and the two kids. Don’t go food shopping with Edison and don’t let him cook breakfast. This slowly becomes a very agonizing story. Edison insults people, breaks furniture by sitting on it, pigs out when everyone is at work or school, and does nothing about his weight or his imposition on others. His sister is an enabler. She restocks the emptied refrigerator, she cleans up after him, and she forsakes her family for her brother. His visit turns into two months before his European Jazz Tour, which actually doesn’t exist and he has no place to return to in NYC. When we discover they are stuck with the “blob” that has no self-respect for him and little for others, we wonder about his sister who is trying to help Edison and save her marriage at the same time. It has to be hard since Fletcher is a health freak and a bike rider while Edison is just a fat slob. During family conversations Edison downplays the ideas of college for Tanner, undermines the parents constantly, and continues to divide the family he has moved in with. His size has thrown life out of balance in this house.
This is powerful story of obesity and its effect on family. Pandora has enraged everyone with her protecting and enabling Edison. She asks what is she to do?  Simple answer is the same thing any family would do who had a family member with a drinking or drug problem. Intervene. Being the protective sister made things worse, not better. The second half of the book is a guide to assisting another in weight loss, tough love. We are torn about the fat man. We understand the prejudice against obesity and we sympathize. However, as we learn more we see a selfish, overindulgent, pain in the ass who only himself to blame, not genes or environment or whatever for his obese state. Edison is not a nice or likeable person thin or fat, that’s a problem and then he gets fat. His best asset is his sister and her best asset is Oliver. The success story of the diet is just to unbelievable as we learn. Edison is detestable, difficult to like. The moral of the story is we are not our brother’s keeper.

Monday, November 4, 2013

The Last Banquet by Jonathan Grimwood

The Last Banquet by Jonathan Grimwood is as we would expect a foodie book, a book about cooking and eating. There’s also a story that begins with Jean-Marie Charles d’Aumont eating black dung beetles and living in a stable when he is found by the Regent and taken to a school where he will meet his best friend Emile Duras. It is 1723. They met and become best friends as all young boys do, by fighting. Emile hits Jean-Marie, Jean-Marie hits back and well that’s how best friends are made. My best friends when I was young, before I shaved were those I fought with. I guess it is a ritual, a savage one where we have to spill blood to be worthy of friendship.
Jean-Marie likes to eat and is a cook. He has recipes for grilled, mice, cat, dog, pickled wolf’s heart and more. He knows his spices. But when he is introduced to the finer foods, he is amazed and inspired. This is another story that takes place in France, albeit the early 1700’s, and food is an integral part of the plot as Jean-Marie always scrutinizes his food, goes into kitchens to ask questions of tastes and ingredients, and provides recipes of his dishes that always include hunted game or roadkill. He is a noble, but his parents were poor and are dead. He is a ward of the state and sent to a school to be refined. He meets a girl, Jeanne-Marie, and a Jew, Duras, and is thoroughly corrupted according to local mores. He listens and that is good for his education.
This is a kind of Tom Jones story. He summer adventures with classmate Charlot, a military school classmate whose father is a powerful Duke and his family, mother and three younger sisters. Jean-Marie falls for the middle sister, Virginie. He saves her life two times and they are allowed to get married. The rest of his life is a recipe for a good story about a noble in aristocratic France who gets involved with Corsica, Ben Franklin and the French Revolution. Also he is the Commissioner of the Menagerie and keeps animals exiled from Versailles. His closet companion, Tigris, a blind tiger.
The fun of this book are the recipes and Jean Marie’s interest in cooking.

Friday, November 1, 2013

The Swerve by Stephen Greenblatt

I first read The Swerve by Stephen Greenblatt when it came out. I must revisit it and reacquaint myself with that old book hunter, Poggio Bracciolini. Greenblatt begins with his own book hunting adventure that happened one summer while he was at Yale. He discovered a copy of Lucretius’ classical two thousand year old poem On the Nature of Things for ten cents. The power of the book was its take on the place of the atom in our lives. The importance of this book on thinkers throughout the ages is the subject of this book. I am reminded of the time when I was eighteen years old and discovered Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida in the USO library in Qui Nhon, Vietnam where I was a soldier. For me that play was to be the subject of many papers in college and eventually further study in Stratford-upon Avon. Lucretius’ point that the atom was the center of the universe was blasphemy in his day and even in the days in which it was rediscovered a thousand years later and then by Greenblatt when its contents make sense. The same can be said of my discovery of Troilus and Cressida while I’m at war far from my home written by Shakespeare who borrowed it from Chaucer who borrowed it from Homer.  How is it that ancient authors still have power two thousand or more years later? We all have a book that changed our lives. What is yours?
Greenblatt contends that this book is a part of what he calls the swerve, that event that shapes the future, a moment when things change so as to cause a major change in thinking, such as a time we call the Renaissance, that time after so many years in darkness, we all at once see so many great minds collaborating at the same time that leads to our modern days? The copying of this book, its distribution, and its place in so many lives and deaths is that swerve of which Greenblatt speaks.
Poggio Bracciolini is a book hunter. He was the former apostolic secretary to Cardinal Baldassare Cossa who called himself pope John XXIII. Cossa became an antipope and was imprisoned in 1415 and Poggio was released from duty. He then spent the rest of his life searching out ancient texts particularly Roman texts scribed in Latin. Book hunters such as Poggio and Plutarch, earlier were in search of the humanities, thus “The Humanists” were born. The place for a fifteenth century book hunter to search for ancient texts was in the old monasteries of Europe. Monks were required to read and in turn acquire books by making copies of other people’s books. This practice was forced on the monks in the sixth and seventh centuries because of the politics and wars and destruction of any educational system. The only literate people were the monks. These old monasteries were Poggio’s hunting grounds.
Who Lucretius, the poet, was isn’t exactly clear. Cicero praised the poet for his insight, genius, and beauty of language. In fact he was held in high regard by contemporary authors. On the Nature of Things is the only reference, which makes him a one hit wonder like our own JD Salinger and John Kennedy Toole. He survives for Poggio to find because of discoveries made in Herculaneum, a city when Mt Vesuvius erupted in 79AD. This was a time between the gods and the savior. Man ruled and his intellect was his tool. Greenblatt weaves history and conjecture together wonderfully, sort of how the gene was replicated in Jurassic Park, the movie. Recovering these ancient scrolls has been nearly a two hundred and fifty year project. I can only imagine with huge regret how much was lost in trial and error methods to recover these papyrus scrolls. We have so little of the ancients in actual artifacts. What we do have is how authors allude to and mention other authors and their work. This was a renaissance praised by the later humanists, Plutarch and Bracciolini. The reason for so little has to do with religion and how religious sects blossomed and destroyed what came before. The great libraries of the world are evidence enough. The great divide comes over pleasure in conflict with pain. Epicurus and Jesus are opposed. The Christians promote pain through whippings and suffering to emulate Jesus. There are no references to Jesus ever being happy, laughing, telling a joke. It is all weeping and sadness. Lucretius is an Epicurean and we are lucky some monk in some monastery made copies of his poem On the Nature of Things for Poggio to find in 1417. 
The education of Poggio is fascinating. A humble beginning outside Florence did not deter him from being part of the establishment of Humanism and of clear handwriting. Handwriting was to be his ticket to Rome and to history. He set off to Rome at the age of twenty-three and had already made his mark as a writer who precedes Montaigne, a secular scholar to rival Petrarch, and a mover and shaker in intellectual curiosity. His drive and curiosity is crucial in later developments for man.
He writes, “Your Poggio is content with little and you shall see this for yourself; sometimes I am free for reading, free from all care of public affairs which I leave to my superiors. I live free as much as I can.” After fifty years of working, Poggio retires with money and devotes himself to his humanist ideals, book hunting and reading, and writing. This secular man, this humanist who moved freely as the Pope’s secretary found himself free again after the deposed Pope XXIII, a name not to be used until 1960’s, was gone. Poggio now set out on his destiny like the atoms spoken about in the Poem he was to find, which help thinkers think. On the Nature of Things might be called an atheists treatise, but it is not. The center of the argument is the atom, how it attaches and repels other atoms, how it is the foundation for everything, the gods, man, the cattle, the fish, the leaf. This is new and compelling thinking from a man from ancient Rome, blasphemous for sure. For Poggio to be discovering it and then copying it for his generation and for others who will follow, the text will rock the church and thinking.
The swerves make such sense and certainly captured my thinking about life, especially as we see it in its age-old battle with religion and the origin of things. I wonder how many other Lucretius like folks we have lost over time.