‘ . . . always light behind the clouds.’ Quote of the moment

November 29, 2020

Google Doodle in 2016 for Louisa May Alcott's birthday on November 29.

Google Doodle in 2016 for Louisa May Alcott’s birthday on November 29. The Doodle pays homage to the characters of Alcott’s novel, Beth, Jo, Amy and Meg. Designed by doodler Sophie Diao.Via SearchEngineLand.

“Be comforted, dear soul! There is always light behind the clouds.”

♦ Louisa May Alcott, Little Women, chapter 15, “A Telegram”

Louisa May Alcott was born on November 29, 1832. Her ending this chapter with a note of encouragement perhaps makes up for the opening slam at the month of November.

November is the most disagreeable month in the whole year, said Margaret, standing at the window one dull afternoon, looking out at the frostbitten garden.

That’s the reason I was born in it, observed Jo pensively, quite unconscious of the blot on her nose.


Twain’s novel Huck Finn, published in the U.S., February 18, 1885; “Every fool in town”

February 18, 2020

Today is the 135th anniversary of the U.S. publication of Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, another installment in the novelization with great embellishment of the childhood of Samuel Clemens in Hannibal, Missouri, before the Civil War. Earlier installments included The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.  

Cover and binding of the first edition of Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Wikipedia image

Cover and binding of the first edition of Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Mark Twain was the pen name of Samuel L. Clemens. Wikipedia image

It is THE great American novel. It is the novel in which America faces its coming-of-age, in the metaphysical ramblings of a 13-year-old boy in the dark, on a raft in the Mississippi River, with an escaped slave who is a good friend, and has saved his life. Huck Finn confronts reality: Should he do what the preachers say to do, or should he do the moral thing instead?

America, most of it, grew up with that realization, coming even as it did, a generation after the Emancipation Proclamation.

In a good school, one probably unaffected by the damage done to learning by George Bush’s “No Child Left Behind Act,” nor more recent purges of quality in the classroom such as “value-added teaching,” “Racing to the Top,” or Common Core State Standards or the folderol conservative backlash against education in general, Tom Sawyer is often a child’s introduction to Twain, and to book-length literature.

In my youth, Tom Sawyer was so popular with teachers, and reading aloud by teachers was considered such a great idea, I think I heard the book three times. I know Mrs. Eva Hedberg, in my third grade class in Burley, Idaho, read parts of it. My recollection is that Mrs. Elizabeth Driggs and Mr. Herbert Gilbert both read it to us, in fourth and fifth grade, in Pleasant Grove, Utah.  (There were other books; I think I heard five of the Laura Ingalls Wilder books between those three teachers.  Reading was golden to them. Mrs. Hedberg even gave me credit for reading encyclopedia, cover to cover, with each letter of the alphabet counted as a book. Our World Book volume for the letter S had disappeared; I’ve never been good at snakes.)

Twain once remarked that he didn’t think a youth could read the Bible and ever draw a clean, fresh breath of air again. Tom Sawyer can similarly haunt the life of a person, though generally to higher moral standards.

I had hoped they’d continue to The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. When they didn’t, I borrowed it from the Pleasant Grove Junior High Library and read it through. I read it in the middle of the modern civil rights struggle, between 1963’s horrors and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, just as our Vietnam tragedy was really ramping up.

Wait. I remember Mr. Gilbert being stopped by a question on Huck’s father, Pap. This was in Deep Mormonia, in Utah County. Pap drank a bit. Well, that’s not accurate. Pap drank to excess, often. Most of my fellow students had no knowledge of the drinking of alcohol. Their parents didn’t drink, not in front of the children if they did, since imbibing alcohol was a violation of the LDS Church’s Word of Wisdom, a commandment that they treat their bodies as temples, not as amusement parks. That bodily purity rule put alcohol, tobacco and caffeine off-limits. Most of the parents simply didn’t drink. It would have put sugar off-limits, too, had there been enough sugar to abuse as late-20th century America did. Also, there was the issue of the LDS Church having significant holdings in the U & I Sugar Company (Utah and Idaho), which made sugar from beets, and blessed the church with a significant stream of income, from the Coca-Cola bottlers alone. But I digress.

Maybe we did hear some of Huck Finn. I didn’t hear all of it — mumps, or something. And I checked it out on my own later.

In any case, there is that point where Huck Finn grows up and becomes an American who recognizes the possible misfortune awaiting his decision to do something contrary to the advice of the moral poobahs of the moment. But there, on a raft in the middle of the muddy Mississippi, at midnight or near it, Huck decides to do the right thing instead of what the preachers tell him he should do. It’s a nation-turning decision.

   . . .  I went to the raft, and set down in the wigwam to think.  But I couldn’t come to nothing.  I thought till I wore my head sore, but I couldn’t see no way out of the trouble.

After all this long journey, and after all we’d done for them scoundrels, here it was all come to nothing, everything all busted up and ruined, because they could have the heart to serve Jim such a trick as that, and make him a slave again all his life, and amongst strangers, too, for forty dirty dollars.

Once I said to myself it would be a thousand times better for Jim to be a slave at home where his family was, as long as he’d got to be a slave, and so I’d better write a letter to Tom Sawyer and tell him to tell Miss Watson where he was.  But I soon give up that notion for two things: she’d be mad and disgusted at his rascality and ungratefulness for leaving her, and so she’d sell him straight down the river again; and if she didn’t, everybody naturally despises an ungrateful nigger, and they’d make Jim feel it all the time, and so he’d feel ornery and disgraced. And then think of me!  It would get all around that Huck Finn helped a nigger to get his freedom; and if I was ever to see anybody from that town again I’d be ready to get down and lick his boots for shame.  That’s just the way:  a person does a low-down thing, and then he don’t want to take no consequences of it. Thinks as long as he can hide it, it ain’t no disgrace.  That was my fix exactly. The more I studied about this the more my conscience went to grinding me, and the more wicked and low-down and ornery I got to feeling. And at last, when it hit me all of a sudden that here was the plain hand of Providence slapping me in the face and letting me know my wickedness was being watched all the time from up there in heaven, whilst I was stealing a poor old woman’s nigger that hadn’t ever done me no harm, and now was showing me there’s One that’s always on the lookout, and ain’t a-going to allow no such miserable doings to go only just so fur and no further, I most dropped in my tracks I was so scared.  Well, I tried the best I could to kinder soften it up somehow for myself by saying I was brung up wicked, and so I warn’t so much to blame; but something inside of me kept saying, “There was the Sunday-school, you could a gone to it; and if you’d a done it they’d a learnt you there that people that acts as I’d been acting about that nigger goes to everlasting fire.”

It made me shiver.  And I about made up my mind to pray, and see if I couldn’t try to quit being the kind of a boy I was and be better.  So I kneeled down.  But the words wouldn’t come.  Why wouldn’t they?  It warn’t no use to try and hide it from Him.  Nor from me, neither.  I knowed very well why they wouldn’t come.  It was because my heart warn’t right; it was because I warn’t square; it was because I was playing double.  I was letting on to give up sin, but away inside of me I was holding on to the biggest one of all.  I was trying to make my mouth say I would do the right thing and the clean thing, and go and write to that nigger’s owner and tell where he was; but deep down in me I knowed it was a lie, and He knowed it.  You can’t pray a lie—I found that out.

So I was full of trouble, full as I could be; and didn’t know what to do. At last I had an idea; and I says, I’ll go and write the letter—and then see if I can pray.  Why, it was astonishing, the way I felt as light as a feather right straight off, and my troubles all gone.  So I got a piece of paper and a pencil, all glad and excited, and set down and wrote:

Miss Watson, your runaway n***** Jim is down here two mile below Pikesville, and Mr. Phelps has got him and he will give him up for the reward if you send.

Huck Finn.

I felt good and all washed clean of sin for the first time I had ever felt so in my life, and I knowed I could pray now.  But I didn’t do it straight off, but laid the paper down and set there thinking—thinking how good it was all this happened so, and how near I come to being lost and going to hell.  And went on thinking.  And got to thinking over our trip down the river; and I see Jim before me all the time:  in the day and in the night-time, sometimes moonlight, sometimes storms, and we a-floating along, talking and singing and laughing.  But somehow I couldn’t seem to strike no places to harden me against him, but only the other kind.  I’d see him standing my watch on top of his’n, ’stead of calling me, so I could go on sleeping; and see him how glad he was when I come back out of the fog; and when I come to him again in the swamp, up there where the feud was; and such-like times; and would always call me honey, and pet me and do everything he could think of for me, and how good he always was; and at last I struck the time I saved him by telling the men we had small-pox aboard, and he was so grateful, and said I was the best friend old Jim ever had in the world, and the only one he’s got now; and then I happened to look around and see that paper.

It was a close place.  I took it up, and held it in my hand.  I was a-trembling, because I’d got to decide, forever, betwixt two things, and I knowed it.  I studied a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then says to myself:

“All right, then, I’ll go to hell”—and tore it up.

Huck’s deciding he’ll stand by his friend, a great human being, and “go to hell” instead of turning his friend in to continue a life in slavery, is the moment America grew up.

Now Americans pretend to have forgotten that growing up and the lesson Huck learned.

Another line jumped out at me from the start. It is a powerful lesson in government and democracy.

In the course of the novel, Huck falls in with a couple of crooks, the Duke and the King.  They make their swindles in land deals on lands to which they don’t have title.

In Chapter XXVI (26), Huck accompanies the two swindlers to an orphanage of sorts. The Duke and the King decide to sell the orphanage, and leave town before their purchasers discover the sales are frauds. Early on in their hustings they collect a bag of gold. Then Huck sits down to dinner with one of the girls at the place, and he meets a few others who all treat him rather kindly, and in the course of an hour or two he begins to have second thoughts, fearing for the fate of the orphans.

Meanwhile with investments coming in so fast, the Duke and the King ponder leaving town earlier than planned, with at least the bag of gold, fearing they might be discovered. In the course of their conversation, overheard by Huck hiding in the room, the King works to convince the duke that most of the town’s people remain bamboozled:

Well, the king he talked him blind; so at last he give in, and said all right, but said he believed it was blamed foolishness to stay, and that doctor hanging over them. But the king says:

“Cuss the doctor!  What do we k’yer for him? Hain’t we got all the fools in town on our side?  And ain’t that a big enough majority in any town?”

Savor that one, and let it sink in for a bit. “Hain’t we got all the fools in town on our side? And ain’t that a big enough majority in any town?”

James Madison and Thomas Jefferson trafficked in democratic institutions at a metaphysical level, understanding men were no angels, as Madison put it, but with a bit of education a people should be able to rule themselves as well as, or better than, a tiny elite, even if that elite were educated. But they understood at the wholesale political level that a check was necessary on the people; in 1822 Madison defended free public education in a letter:

A popular Government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy; or perhaps both.  Knowledge will forever govern ignorance.  And a people who mean to be their own governours, must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.

In Huck Finn, just over a half-century later, Twain was writing about applied politics, the theory, not the hypothesis, on a retail level. Without education for the masses, the group who cynically bamboozles for money or power wins once they’ve got every fool in town on their side.

We have a political system that is more subject to corruption due to lack of education than lack of money.

To an honest politician, this is a huge burden. You won the election? You got the vote of every fool in town?  Then it’s up to you to act wisely, despite their foolishness. Robert Redford’s character in “The Candidate” pulls an upset win in a U.S. Senate race — the film closes with the candidate, rather scared, sitting down with the party-provided campaign advisor, and asking in all earnestness: “What do we do now?”

Happy anniversary, Huck Finn. Perhaps we should fly the flag today in honor of the publication of the book. We would fly it a bit nervously, perhaps.

What do we do now?

Illustration by E. W. Kemble,  from The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

“Asleep on the raft” — Illustration by E. W. Kemble, from The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Twain himself hired E. W. Kemble to illustrate the first edition.

This is an encore post.

Yes, this is an encore post. Defeating ignorance takes patience and perseverance.

Save


Typewriter of the moment: Where John Irving birthed Garp

September 19, 2019

IBM Selectric typewriter upon which John Irving wrote The World According to Garp. Photo courtesy of David Armstrong.

Photo from typewriter repairman and aficionado David Armstrong, from a Facebook group dedicated to IBM typewriters.

Armstrong said his client tells the provenance: The typewriter upon which John Irving wrote The World According to Garp. “It was completely worn out but after a complete rebuild my customer couldn’t be happier.”

This year marks 40 years since Garp was published — difficult to believe the time gone by. This may be the last novel I devoured in a day or so.

Irving marks the 40th anniversary at his website, with some somber notes.

This year I’m celebrating the 40th anniversary of the publication of my novel, The World According to Garp. I remember thinking the title of my fourth novel would change; The World According to Garp was always just a working title until something better came along. I was still looking for “something better” when I delivered the manuscript to Henry Robbins, my editor. Henry, and everyone else at Dutton who read Garp in manuscript form, declared that the title had to be The World According to Garp. I was stuck with it.


More importantly, it is a bittersweet feeling to have only recently written a teleplay of Garp, a miniseries in five episodes, because I always imagined — more than forty years ago — that the sexual hatred in the novel might become dated soon after it was published. Sadly, sexual hatred is still with us — it hasn’t gone away. The suspicion of sexual differences, the discrimination against sexual minorities — including flat-out bigotry and violence — haven’t become the extinct dinosaurs I thought these things would (and should) become.


In part, The World According to Garp depicts the struggles of the writing process — the false starts, the blocks, the disappointments. Yet Garp never loses conviction in his purpose as a writer, “because he knew what every artist should know: as Garp put it, ‘You only grow by coming to the end of something and by beginning something else.’ Even if these so-called endings and beginnings are illusions.”

There are days I sorely miss my old Selectric.


Typewriter of the moment: Nelly Sachs

December 10, 2018

2010_sachs-typewriter2

Typewriter of Nelly Sachs. It’s a Mercedes, if I have identified it correctly.

She fled Nazi Germany for Sweden in 1940. In Sweden, she adapted to a new culture. Then she wrote about the experiences of flight, and adaptation.

In 1966 the Nobel organization awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature to Nelly Sachs. Sachs was born December 10, 1891. Google’s Doodle honored her on December 10, 2018, with a short video and image of her typewriter. The animation shows Sachs’ typewriter in a suitcase, an homage

Google explained at YouTube:

December 10th, 2018: Google honors Nelly Sachs. She was a Jewish German-Swedish poet and playwright.

Nelly Sachs was born on 10 December 1891 in Berlin. In 1940 Nelly fled with her aged mother to Sweden. Nelly Sachs and her mother escaped on the last flight.

Her best-known play is: … “Eli – Ein Mysterienspiel vom Leiden Israels” (1950) 1957 she got the Nobel Prize in Literature. Sachs’ poetry is intensely lyrical and reflects some influence by German Romanticism. Happy birthday Nelly Sachs.

* * * * *

Music: “Trio for Piano Violin and Viola” by Kevin MacLeod

Google shows 3 sketches of the doodle.

More about this doodle: “Nelly Sachs 127th birthday” https://www.google.com/doodles/nelly-…

She was also honored by a stamp by German Bundespost in 1991: https://www.briefmarken-bilder.de/brd… #nellysachs #googledoodle

Nelly Sachs Biography (Wikipedia): Born Leonie Sachs in Berlin-Schöneberg, Germany, in 1891 to the wealthy natural rubber and gutta-percha manufacturer Georg William Sachs (1858–1930) and his wife Margarete, née Karger (1871–1950),[1] she was educated at home because of frail health. She showed early signs of talent as a dancer, but her protective parents did not encourage her to pursue a profession. She grew up as a very sheltered, introverted young woman and never married. She pursued an extensive correspondence with, and was friends with, Selma Lagerlöf and Hilde Domin. As the Nazis took power, she became increasingly terrified, at one point losing the ability to speak, as she would remember in verse: “When the great terror came/I fell dumb.” Sachs fled with her aged mother to Sweden in 1940. It was her friendship with Lagerlöf that saved their lives: shortly before her own death Lagerlöf intervened with the Swedish royal family to secure their release from Germany. Sachs and her mother escaped on the last flight from Nazi Germany to Sweden, a week before Sachs was scheduled to report to a concentration camp. They settled in Sweden and Sachs became a Swedish citizen in 1952.

Living in a tiny two-room apartment in Stockholm, Sachs cared alone for her mother for many years, and supported their existence by translations between Swedish and German. After her mother’s death, Sachs suffered several nervous breakdowns characterized by hallucinations, paranoia, and delusions of persecution by Nazis, and she spent a number of years in a mental institution. She continued to write even while hospitalized. She eventually recovered sufficiently to live on her own, though her mental health would always be fragile. Her worst breakdown was ostensibly precipitated by hearing German speech during a trip to Switzerland to accept a literary prize. However, she maintained a forgiving attitude toward a younger generation of Germans, and corresponded with many German-speaking writers of the postwar period, including Hans Magnus Enzensberger and Ingeborg Bachmann. Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nelly_S…

Apartment of Nelly Sachs, with her typewriter, in Stockholm, Sweden. Gewerk.com image.

Apartment of Nelly Sachs, with her typewriter, in Stockholm, Sweden. Gewerk.com image.

More:

Nelly Sachs, undated photo (probably after 1966). Image from Heavy.com

Nelly Sachs, undated photo (probably after 1966). Image from Heavy.com

 


Nobel Peace Prize winner pledges the award to making peace

October 10, 2018

Nadia Murad, in a photograph for her book, The Last Girl.

Nadia Murad, in a photograph for her book, The Last Girl.

It’s the same thing the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., did with the prize money he got from the Nobel Committee for winning the Nobel Peace Prize.

But when King did it, it was about $50,000.

Bloomberg news noted: “Nadia Murad, co-winner of the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize, says she will commit 100% of her share of the $1.01 million prize money to continue the work of ending sexual violence in war zones.”

In the press release announcing the prize for peace, on October 5, the Nobel Committee said:

The Norwegian Nobel Committee has decided to award the Nobel Peace Prize for 2018 to Denis Mukwege and Nadia Murad for their efforts to end the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war and armed conflict. Both laureates have made a crucial contribution to focusing attention on, and combating, such war crimes. Denis Mukwege is the helper who has devoted his life to defending these victims. Nadia Murad is the witness who tells of the abuses perpetrated against herself and others. Each of them in their own way has helped to give greater visibility to war-time sexual violence, so that the perpetrators can be held accountable for their actions.

*     *     *     *     *

Nadia Murad is herself a victim of war crimes. She refused to accept the social codes that require women to remain silent and ashamed of the abuses to which they have been subjected. She has shown uncommon courage in recounting her own sufferings and speaking up on behalf of other victims.

Nadia Murad is a member of the Yazidi minority in northern Iraq, where she lived with her family in the remote village of Kocho. In August 2014 the Islamic State (IS) launched a brutal, systematic attack on the villages of the Sinjar district, aimed at exterminating the Yazidi population. In Nadia Murad’s village, several hundred people were massacred. The younger women, including underage children, were abducted and held as sex slaves. While a captive of the IS, Nadia Murad was repeatedly subjected to rape and other abuses. Her assaulters threatened to execute her if she did not convert to their hateful, inhuman version of Islam.

Nadia Murad is just one of an estimated 3 000 Yazidi girls and women who were victims of rape and other abuses by the IS army. The abuses were systematic, and part of a military strategy. Thus they served as a weapon in the fight against Yazidis and other religious minorities.

After a three-month nightmare Nadia Murad managed to flee. Following her escape, she chose to speak openly about what she had suffered. In 2016, at the age of just 23, she was named the UN’s first Goodwill Ambassador for the Dignity of Survivors of Human Trafficking.

Below, a Twitter Moment prepared by Bloomberg News on Ms. Murad’s plans to dedicate her prize money to fighting sexual violence.

 

 


Still necessary: Banned Books Week 2018

September 29, 2018

Weren’t we supposed to be more free by now?

And yet, we still need Banned Books Week (#BannedBooksWeek) to push against censorship and suppression of books.

I’m running behind. Banned Books Week 2018 started on September 24. I don’t really have much brilliant to say about it, except we’re still fighting to keep history in Texas history standards, to keep history in Texas school history texts, and the latest outrage is the “deletion” of Helen Keller and Hillary Clinton from the list of historic figures kids ought to rub intellectual elbows with in their studies.

So let me offer a quick and dirty, but often compelling compendium of some of the best Tweets about banned books this week, and the celebration of freedom.

Ray Bradbury had it right:

Ray Bradbury had it right: “You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.”

What’s the best banned book you’ve read lately?

What books have people tried to ban in your town or state this year?

What good, controversial books have you read that you recommend we read, before it gets banned?

Some old banned books offer great wisdom for our present crises. Like Tom Sawyer:

The Mental Floss list of 35 most-banned books over the last five years is instructive. It tells us something about what issues “authorities” want to keep quiet, and what people read enough to annoy other people enough to complain to libraries. The article lists these:

Since most requests to remove books from schools or libraries go unreported, these lists are not definitive; instead, they offer a “snapshot” of book challenges, according to the [American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF)]. In recognition of Banned Books Week, which runs from September 23 through September 29, we’ve compiled a list of the most banned and challenged books of the past five years (2013 to 2017), including the years they were challenged and the reasons why.

1. Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
Year(s): 2017
Reason: Discussion of suicide

2. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
Year(s): 2013, 2014, 2017
Reason: Anti-family, cultural insensitivity, drugs/alcohol/smoking, gambling, offensive language, sex education, sexually explicit, violence, and “depictions of bullying”

3. Drama by Raina Telgemeier
Year(s): 2014, 2016, 2017
Reason: LGBT characters

4. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
Year(s): 2014, 2017
Reason: Sexual violence, unsuited to age group; was thought to “promote Islam”

5. George by Alex Gino
Year(s): 2016, 2017
Reason: Transgender child character

6. Sex is a Funny Word by Cory Silverberg and Fiona Smyth
Year(s): 2017
Reason: Addresses sex education; was thought to lead children to “want to have sex or ask questions about sex”

7. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Year(s): 2017
Reason: Violence and use of the N-word

8. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
Year(s): 2017
Reason: Drug use, profanity, offensive language

9. And Tango Makes Three by Peter Parnell, Justin Richardson, and Henry Cole
Year(s): 2014, 2017
Reason:Anti-family, homosexuality, political and religious viewpoints

10. I Am Jazz by Jessica Herthel, Jazz Jennings, and Shelagh McNicholas
Year(s): 2015, 2016, 2017
Reason: Addresses gender identity, homosexuality, sex education, religious viewpoint, unsuited to age group

11. This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki
Year(s): 2016
Reason: LGBT characters, drug use, profanity, sexually explicit content

12. Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan
Year(s): 2015, 2016
Reason: LGBT and sexually explicit content

13. Looking for Alaska by John Green
Year(s): 2013, 2015, 2016
Reason: Sexually explicit scene, unsuited to age group; was thought to lead students to “sexual experimentation”

14. Big Hard Sex Criminals by Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky
Year(s): 2016
Reason: Sexually explicit content

15. Make Something Up: Stories You Can’t Unread by Chuck Palahniuk
Year(s): 2016
Reason: Profanity and sexually explicit content; was called “disgusting and all around offensive”

16. Little Bill (series) by Bill Cosby and Varnette P. Honeywood
Year(s): 2016
Reason: Criminal sexual allegations against Bill Cosby

17. Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
Year(s): 2016
Reason: Offensive language

18. Fifty Shades of Grey by E. L. James
Year(s): 2013, 2015
Reason: Sexually explicit content, unsuited to age group; was also called “poorly written”

19. Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out by Susan Kuklin
Year(s): 2015
Reason: Offensive language, homosexuality, sex education, political and religious viewpoints, anti-family, unsuited to age group

20. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
Year(s): 2015
Reason: Profanity, religious viewpoint (atheism), unsuited to age group

21. The Holy Bible
Year(s): 2015
Reason: Religious viewpoint

22. Fun Home by Alison Bechdel
Year(s): 2015
Reason: Violence and graphic images

23. Habibi by Craig Thompson
Year(s): 2015
Reason: Nudity, sexually explicit content, unsuited to age group

24. Nasreen’s Secret School: A True Story from Afghanistan by Jeanette Winter
Year(s): 2015
Reason: Religious viewpoint, violence, unsuited to age group

25. Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi
Year(s): 2014
Reason: Gambling, offensive language, political viewpoint, graphic depictions; was called “politically, racially, and socially offensive”

26. The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
Year(s): 2013, 2014
Reason: Sexually explicit, unsuited to age group; was said to “contain controversial issues”

27. It’s Perfectly Normal by Robie Harris and Michael Emberley
Year(s): 2014
Reason: Nudity, sex education, sexually explicit

28. Saga by Brian Vaughan and Fiona Staples
Year(s): 2014
Reason: Anti-family, nudity, offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group

29. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
Year(s): 2013, 2014
Reason: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, homosexuality, offensive language, sexually explicit

30. A Stolen Life by Jaycee Dugard
Year(s): 2014
Reason: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group

31. Captain Underpants (series) by Dav Pilkey
Year(s): 2013
Reason: Offensive language, violence, unsuited to age group

32. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Year(s): 2013
Reason: Religious viewpoint, unsuited to age group

33. A Bad Boy Can Be Good for A Girl by Tanya Lee Stone
Year(s): 2013
Reason: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, nudity, offensive language, sexually explicit content

34. Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya
Year(s): 2013
Reason: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, homosexuality, sexually explicit content, unsuited to age group

35. Bone (series) by Jeff Smith
Year(s): 2013
Reason: Political viewpoint, racism, violence

A good list of reading. Irony that The Holy Bible and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night both appear on the list; one might imagine advocates of one book complaining about the other.

A literature or history teacher can find a whole school year’s worth of graphics from Tweets during Banned Books Week.

This post may be updated. Please comment, and come back to discuss.


May 11 is Feynman Day! How to celebrate? (It’s his centenary!)

May 8, 2018

May 11, 2018, is the 100th anniversary of the birth of Richard Feynman (born 1918, died 1988).

Most Feynman fans are celebrating through the entire year — appropriately, for a man so much larger than life and unable to be constrained after death.

We should mark the actual day, I think. It would be a good thing to celebrate science on May 11 in his honor, I think. And, there are lots of other good ways to commemorate a great guy.

Richard Feynman

Richard Feynman. Borrowed from Luciano’s Tumblr, LikeaPhysicist

Feynman’s birthday falls on Statehood Day for Minnesota.  You can fly your flag for both causes, if you wish, Minnesota’s statehood AND Feynman’s birthday.  No proclamation will issue from the White House, but you can fly your flag any day.

Why Feynman Day?  To celebrate invention, physics, interesting characters, and that essential, American quality of je ne sais quoi.

In addition to his winning the Nobel Prize for Quantum Electrodynamics (QED), Feynman popularized the critique of science and other enterprises with what we now call Cargo Cult science, or education, or whatever, where people follow the dance steps, but without the rhythm and music.

Those two things alone would make him a remarkable man.  But, like a product offered for $19.95 as a good buy in a 2:00 a.m. infomercial, with Feynman, there’s more.  With Feynman, there is always more.

I got alerted to Feynman in the first days of the old Quality Paperback Book Club, when they featured his new memoir, Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!  QPBC was hot on the book, and with a title like that, how could I resist?  When I got the book a week or so later, I read it within two days, while attending law school and working full time.  I remember Feynman.

Norton published the book — and their description, alone, should make you want to read it:

A New York Times bestseller—the outrageous exploits of one of this century’s greatest scientific minds and a legendary American original.

In this phenomenal national bestseller, the Nobel Prize­-winning physicist Richard P. Feynman recounts in his inimitable voice his adventures trading ideas on atomic physics with Einstein and Bohr and ideas on gambling with Nick the Greek, painting a naked female toreador, accompanying a ballet on his bongo drums and much else of an eyebrow-raising and hilarious nature.

All true, and that’s not even the half of the outrageousness, all done with great good humor, about a life lived in great good humor through what should have been a memorable age, but often was just terrifying.

I think sometimes that Feynman’s calm alone, borne of that great good humor and insatiable curiosity, may have gotten us through the birth of the Atomic Age and the Cold War.

Feynman was a giant, and we don’t revere him enough.  Consider:

  • Feynman’s high school sweetheart, Arlene, came down with tuberculosis.  He married her, and took her with him to New Mexico to make atom bombs.  The stories of her confinement to a hospital, and the laborious trekking he had to make between Los Alamos and her bedside in Santa Fe, are touching, and heartbreaking.  It is one of the great love stories of the 20th century, certainly, and perhaps for all time.  It also provided the title for his second memoir, What Do You Care What Other People Think?
  • Every single, college-age man should read Feynman’s stories of how to date, and how to seduce women. Women should read it, too, to know what’s happening. Consent is necessary. His approach was unique, and endeared him to women — in legend, to many women.  Feynman’s dating must have been part of the inspiration for the comedy series, “Big Bang Theory.”  Feynman’s stories are better.  (Heck, it’s even the subject of a popular, classic XKCD comic — probably only Feynman and Einstein among Nobel-winning physicists have made so much money for so many cartoonists.)

US postage stamp featuring Richard Feynman

US postage stamp featuring Richard Feynman

  • Yeah, he’s already been featured on a postage stamp, see at right.  That’s not good enough for Feynman, though — the U.S. Postal Service created a special cancellation stamp for Feynman, featuring a version of his Feynman Diagrams.

    USPS authorized a special postal cancel (United States Postal Service) to honor the 80th birthday of Richard Feynman. This cancel was used in Lake Worth, Florida. For this special day the post office was renamed “Feynman Station.”
    Feynman Commemorative Cancel Feynman Diagram

    The Feynman Diagram used for the postal cancel on this envelope depicts what is known as a “bubble process.” It shows a high energy particle, for example, a cosmic ray (a) from a distant supernova, which emits a high energy photon, for example, a gamma ray (b). The photon, in turn, creates a particle (c) and an anti-particle (d) that exists for a brief moment and then recombines.

    As Feynman liked to point out, an anti-particle is the same thing as a particle with negative energy traveling backward in time (which is why the arrow at (d) points backwards, i.e. to the left). So you could say the photon created only one particle that, at first, traveled forward in time (the bottom semi-circle) and then reversed and went back in time (the top semi-circle) and annihilated itself! By inventing diagrams like this, Richard Feynman made it much easier to understand what is going on in the interactions between sub-atomic particles without getting lost in tremendous amounts of tedious math

  • Working at Los Alamos on the Manhattan Project, Feynman developed a keen appreciation for bureaucracy and all its follies.  His vexations for the security managers are also legendary.  Here’s a quick version of one story — he asked friends and family to write to him in code, but to not include a key to the code, so he’d have to crack the code to read the letter.  Feynman could do it, but the security people couldn’t.  Hilarity ensued.
  • Feynman developed a love for the still-relatively unknown, landlocked Asian nation of Tannu Tuva.  It’s just the sort of place to appeal to a character like Feynman — so obscure most atlases didn’t, and don’t, show it at all — seemingly consumed by the Soviet Union, but held in a special status.  Home of throat singing — and almost impossible to get to.  During the Cold War, Feynman struck up correspondence with people in Tuva, to the concern of Soviet and American intelligence agencies, who seemed not to understand someone might do such thing out of curiosity.  Feynman hoped to travel there to visit new friends, but his final bouts of cancer took him before it was possible.  Tuva, famous among philatelists only, perhaps, honored Feynman with postage stamps and postcards.
  • Just try to find a photo of Feynman not smiling. The man was a joy to be around, for most people, most of the time.
  • Quantum electrodynamics?  No, I can’t explain it, either — but his work had a lot to do with how particles wobble.  I remember that because, according to Feynman, he got the inspiration for the work for which he won the Nobel while spinning plates, like a Chinese acrobat on the Ed Sullivan Show, to the delight of students in the Cornell University cafeteria, and the shock and horror of the food service people.  Who else has yet confessed to such an inspiration for a Nobel?

There’s more — a lot more.  Feynman outlined our current generation of computer memory devices — in 1959.  No, he didn’t patent the idea.  He did patent an idea for a nuclear-powered spacecraft.  Another delightful story.

Feynman in an Apple ad

Feynman was featured in print and broadcast ads for Apple — not one, but two (did anyone else get that honor from Apple?). “Think Different.” This is one of Apple Computer’s most successful advertising campaigns. The theme of the campaign is one that celebrates figures in history who changed the world by thinking differently. Richard Feynman was among the chosen figures. Image from the Feynman Group.

Feynman served on the board that approved science books for the California school system –– his stories of that work will shock some, but it will make others shake their heads as they recognize the current crop of cargo-cultists and political bullies who dominate textbook approval processes, knowing nothing at all about what they are doing, or why.

No, I didn’t forget his brilliant work on the commission that studied the Challenger disaster, for NASA. There’s so much stuff to glorify!

In history, Feynman should be remembered much as we remember Thomas Jefferson, as a renaissance man in his time, a man who put great intellect to great work for his nation and all humanity.

Feynman's second Apple ad

The second Apple ad featuring Richard Feynman. An excerpt from Apple Computer’s campaign commercial: “Here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes, the ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules and they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them… about the only thing you can’t do is ignore them, because they change things, they push the human race forward; and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.”

The sages say we shouldn’t have regrets, but I do have one. When the Challenger Commission was meeting in Washington, D.C., I was working on another commission up the street. I knew Feynman was ill, but our work was important, and we’d heard his disease was in remission. I didn’t goof off a day and go to any of the hearings to see him, to get an autograph, to meet the man. I thought I’d have other opportunities to do that. Now I regret not having met him in person.

In print, and in film, I know him well. In our family, reading Feynman is something everybody does. Feynman’s memoir was one of the last books I read to our son, Kenny, as he was growing up, and growing into reading on his own. Even reading about Feynman, together, was an adventure. Our son, James, took us into the real physics of Feynman, and though I struggle with it more than James, we still read Feynman, for humor, and physics.

What would be appropriate ways to mark Feynman’s birth? At some future date, I hope we’ll have public readings of his books, showings of the documentaries about him, recreations of his lectures, perhaps. And then everyone can get in a circle, beating drums and singing about getting some orange juice, before sending postcards to our friends in Tuva.

Richard Feynman, we still need you, and miss you dearly.

Tannu Tuva

Tuva’s capital is the delightfully-named Kyzyl. From this map, can you figure out where Tuva is, or how to get there — without Google, or Bing?

Tuva postcard honoring Richard Feynman

Tuva postcard, in honor of Richard Feynman — who loved to drum.

There will always be “More” about Richard Feynman, if we’re lucky:

Richard Feynman, unlikely leader, from Open University

Have a great Feynman Day, May 11!

This is an encore post.

Yes, this is an encore post. Defeating ignorance takes patience and perseverance.

 


Perils of self-publishing, a book lovers’ event!

April 19, 2018

Poster on the event!

Poster on the event! “Joys and Perils of Self-Publishing,” April 26, 6:00 p.m., Half-Price Books at Northwest Highway in Dallas (the Mother Ship). Bob Reitz and Gardner Smith.

Bob Reitz is the curator of the Jack Harbin Museum at Camp Wisdom, one of the finest museums of Scout materials in the country, focused on Scouting in the Circle 10 Council BSA (Dallas and surrounding counties). He and Gardner Smith trek and travel about Texas and the West, and for a time published a series of exquisite books, string bound, fancy paper, and extraordinary content. Great reads.

This presentation is probably a good one for authors, publishers, book lovers, poetry lovers and travelers.

I wonder if there is CPE credit available — and for which professions?

Bob Reitz at an earlier presentation

Bob Reitz at an earlier presentation, on Dallas history.


Reckless Daughter: Yaffe’s book on Joni Mitchell

December 9, 2017

Reckless Daughter, a biography and analysis of Joni Mitchell, by David Yaffe. (Photo: Farrar, Straus & Giroux)

Reckless Daughter, a biography and analysis of Joni Mitchell, by David Yaffe. (Photo: Farrar, Straus & Giroux)

David Yaffe’s biography of Joni Mitchell is out. Reckless Daughter: A Portrait of Joni Mitchell (Sarah Crichton Books/Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 376 pp.) gives solid analysis from a good writer to a favorite artists whose music classed in folk, rock or jazz, always transcended categorization.

Yaffe spoke with PBS NewsHour:

Another interview with Yaffe, from Global News (CBC?):

And a 2014 interview with Joni Mitchell, by Tavis Smiley:


May 11, Feynman Day! How to celebrate?

May 11, 2017

May 11 is the anniversary of the birth of Richard Feynman (born 1918, died 1988).

Richard Feynman

Richard Feynman. Borrowed from Luciano’s Tumblr, LikeaPhysicist

Feynman’s birthday falls on Statehood Day for Minnesota.  You can fly your flag for both causes, if you wish, Minnesota’s statehood AND Feynman’s birthday.  No proclamation will issue from the White House, but you can fly your flag any day.

Why Feynman Day?  To celebrate invention, physics, interesting characters, and that essential, American quality of je ne sais quoi.

In addition to his winning the Nobel Prize for Quantum Electrodynamics (QED), Feynman popularized the critique of science and other enterprises with what we now call Cargo Cult science, or education, or whatever, where people follow the dance steps, but without the rhythm and music.

Those two things alone would make him a remarkable man.  But, like a product offered for $19.95 as a good buy in a 2:00 a.m. infomercial, with Feynman, there’s more.  With Feynman, there is always more.

I got alerted to Feynman in the first days of the old Quality Paperback Book Club, when they featured his new memoir, Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!  QPBC was hot on the book, and with a title like that, how could I resist?  When I got the book a week or so later, I read it within two days, while attending law school and working full time.  I remember Feynman.

Norton published the book — and their description, alone, should make you want to read it:

A New York Times bestseller—the outrageous exploits of one of this century’s greatest scientific minds and a legendary American original.

In this phenomenal national bestseller, the Nobel Prize­-winning physicist Richard P. Feynman recounts in his inimitable voice his adventures trading ideas on atomic physics with Einstein and Bohr and ideas on gambling with Nick the Greek, painting a naked female toreador, accompanying a ballet on his bongo drums and much else of an eyebrow-raising and hilarious nature.

All true, and that’s not even the half of the outrageousness, all done with great good humor, about a life lived in great good humor through what should have been a memorable age, but often was just terrifying.

I think sometimes that Feynman’s calm, alone, borne of that great good humor and insatiable curiosity,  may have gotten us through the birth of the atomic age and the Cold War.

Feynman was a giant, and we don’t revere him enough.  Consider:

  • Feynman’s high school sweetheart, Arlene, came down with tuberculosis.  He married her, and took her with him to New Mexico to make the atom bombs.  The stories of her confinement to a hospital, and the laborious trekking he had to make between Los Alamos and her bedside in Santa Fe, are touching, and heartbreaking.  It is one of the great love stories of the 20th century, certainly, and perhaps for all time.  It also provided the title for his second memoir, What Do You Care What Other People Think?
  • Every single, college-age man should read Feynman’s stories of how to date, and how to seduce women.  His approach was unique, and endeared him to women — in legend, to many women.  Feynman’s dating must have been part of the inspiration for the comedy series, “Big Bang Theory.”  Feynman’s stories are better.  (Heck, it’s even the subject of a popular, classic XKCD comic — probably only Feynman and Einstein among Nobel-winning physicists have made so much money for so many cartoonists.)

US postage stamp featuring Richard Feynman

US postage stamp featuring Richard Feynman

  • Yeah, he’s already been featured on a postage stamp, see at right.  That’s not good enough for Feynman, though — the U.S. Postal Service created a special cancellation stamp for Feynman, featuring a version of his Feynman Diagrams.

    USPS authorized a special postal cancel (United States Postal Service) to honor the 80th birthday of Richard Feynman. This cancel was used in Lake Worth, Florida. For this special day the post office was renamed “Feynman Station.”
    Feynman Commemorative Cancel Feynman Diagram

    The Feynman Diagram used for the postal cancel on this envelope depicts what is known as a “bubble process.” It shows a high energy particle, for example, a cosmic ray (a) from a distant supernova, which emits a high energy photon, for example, a gamma ray (b). The photon, in turn, creates a particle (c) and an anti-particle (d) that exists for a brief moment and then recombines.

    As Feynman liked to point out, an anti-particle is the same thing as a particle with negative energy traveling backward in time (which is why the arrow at (d) points backwards, i.e. to the left). So you could say the photon created only one particle that, at first, traveled forward in time (the bottom semi-circle) and then reversed and went back in time (the top semi-circle) and annihilated itself! By inventing diagrams like this, Richard Feynman made it much easier to understand what is going on in the interactions between sub-atomic particles without getting lost in tremendous amounts of tedious math

  • Working at Los Alamos on the Manhattan Project, Feynman developed a keen appreciation for bureaucracy and all its follies.  His vexations for the security managers are also legendary.  Here’s a quick version of one story — he asked friends and family to write to him in code, but to not include a key to the code, so he’d have to crack the code to read the letter.  Feynman could do it, but the security people couldn’t.  Hilarity ensued.
  • Feynman developed a love for the still-relatively unknown, landlocked Asian nation of Tannu Tuva.  It’s just the sort of place to appeal to a character like Feynman — so obscure most atlases didn’t, and don’t, show it at all — seemingly consumed by the Soviet Union, but held in a special status.  Home of throat singing — and almost impossible to get to.  During the Cold War, Feynman struck up correspondence with people in Tuva, to the concern of Soviet and American intelligence agencies, who seemed not to understand someone might do such thing out of curiosity.  Feynman hoped to travel there to visit new friends, but his final bouts of cancer took him before it was possible.  Tuva, famous among philatelists only, perhaps, honored Feynman with postage stamps and postcards.
  • Just try to find a photo of Feynman not smiling. The man was a joy to be around, for most people, most of the time.
  • Quantum electrodynamics?  No, I can’t explain it, either — but his work had a lot to do with how particles wobble.  I remember that because, according to Feynman, he got the inspiration for the work for which he won the Nobel while spinning plates, like a Chinese acrobat on the Ed Sullivan Show, to the delight of students in the Cornell University cafeteria, and the shock and horror of the food service people.  Who else has yet confessed to such an inspiration for a Nobel?

There’s more — a lot more.  Feynman outlined our current generation of computer memory devices — in 1959.  No, he didn’t patent the idea.  He did patent an idea for a nuclear-powered spacecraft.  Another delightful story.

Feynman in an Apple ad

Feynman was featured in print and broadcast ads for Apple — not one, but two (did anyone else get that honor from Apple?). “Think Different.” This is one of Apple Computer’s most successful advertising campaigns. The theme of the campaign is one that celebrates figures in history who changed the world by thinking differently. Richard Feynman was among the chosen figures. Image from the Feynman Group.

Feynman served on the board that approved science books for the California school system –– his stories of that work will shock some, but it will make others shake their heads as they recognize the current crop of cargo-cultists and political bullies who dominate textbook approval processes, knowing nothing at all about what they are doing, or why.

No, I didn’t forget his brilliant work on the commission that studied the Challenger disaster, for NASA. There’s so much stuff to glorify!

In history, Feynman should be remembered much as we remember Thomas Jefferson, as a renaissance man in his time, a man who put great intellect to great work for his nation and all humanity.

Feynman's second Apple ad

The second Apple ad featuring Richard Feynman. An excerpt from Apple Computer’s campaign commercial: “Here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes, the ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules and they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them… about the only thing you can’t do is ignore them, because they change things, they push the human race forward; and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.”

The sages say we shouldn’t have regrets, but I do have one. When the Challenger Commission was meeting in Washington, D.C., I was working on another commission up the street. I knew Feynman was ill, but our work was important, and we’d heard his disease was in remission. I didn’t goof off a day and go to any of the hearings to see him, to get an autograph, to meet the man. I though I’d have other opportunities to do that. Now I regret not having met him in person.

In print, and in film, I know him well. In our family, reading Feynman is something everybody does. Feynman’s memoir was one of the last books I read to our son, Kenny, as he was growing up, and growing into reading on his own. Even reading about Feynman, together, was an adventure. Our son, James, took us into the real physics of Feynman, and though I struggle with it more than James, we still read Feynman, for humor, and physics.

What would be appropriate ways to mark Feynman’s birth? At some future date, I hope we’ll have public readings of his books, showings of the documentaries about him, recreations of his lectures, perhaps. And then everyone can get in a circle, beating drums and singing about getting some orange juice, before sending postcards to our friends in Tuva.

Richard Feynman, we still need you, and miss you dearly.

Tannu Tuva

Tuva’s capital is the delightfully-named Kyzyl. From this map, can you figure out where Tuva is, or how to get there — without Google, or Bing?

Tuva postcard honoring Richard Feynman

Tuva postcard, in honor of Richard Feynman — who loved to drum.

There will always be “More” about Richard Feynman, if we’re lucky:

Richard Feynman, unlikely leader, from Open University

Have a great Feynman Day!

Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience.

Yes, this is much an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience.

 


A toast on Whiskey and Cigar Day 2016: Excelsior! to Mark Twain’s and Winston Churchill’s births (November 30)

November 30, 2016

Mark Twain, afloat

Mark Twain aboard a ship, on his way to Hawaii. Young Samuel Clemens apprenticed to be a Mississippi river boat pilot, and held a fascination for water-going vessels his entire life. His pilot years are documented, and analyzed, in Life on the Mississippi.
This photo of Twain remains one of my favorites.

November 30 is the birthday of Mark Twain (1835), and Winston Churchill (1874).

This is the traditional Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub post to remind you. Both Twain and Churchill were lovers of good whiskey, and good cigars. Surely they would have toasted themselves with a drink and a smoke.

Even if we don’t, we can pretend we did.

In 2016, we have the benefit of having had time to digest Twain’s Autobiography, and Volume II; and we have the benefit of scholarship from a great book on Churchill, William Manchester’s and Paul Reid’s The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill: Defender of the Realm, 1940-1965.

We have special need for the wisdom, and wit of each man in a year marked by terrorism and unholy war on educators.

Twain had a comment on the Texas Education Agency and State Board of Education:

In the first place God made idiots. This was for practice. Then He made School Boards.

Following the Equator; Pudd’nhead Wilson‘s New Calendar

The Nobel literature committees were slow. Twain never got a Nobel in Literature; he died in 1910. Churchill did win a Nobel in Literature, in 1953.

The Nobel Prize in Literature 1953 was awarded to Winston Churchill “for his mastery of historical and biographical description as well as for brilliant oratory in defending exalted human values.”

Both men were aficionados of good whiskey and good cigars. Both men suffered from depression in old age.

Both men made a living writing, early in their careers as newspaper correspondents. One waged wars of a kind the other campaigned against. Both were sustained by their hope for the human race, against overwhelming evidence that such hope was sadly misplaced.

churchill-time-cover-man-of-the-year-1941.jpg

Winston S. Churchill, Time Magazine’s Man of the Year for 1941, copyright 1941 by Time Magazine. Churchill’s career was built much on his work as First Lord of the Admiralty, a position he took in 1911.  While he was the goat of the Battle of the Dardanelles (and had to resign as a result), his earlier work to switch Britain’s Navy to oil power from coal, and to use airplanes in combat, kept the British Navy as an important and modern military organization through World War II.

Both endured fantastic failures that would have killed other people, and both rebounded.

Each possessed a great facility with words, and wit, and frequently said or wrote things that people like to remember and repeat again.

Both Churchill and Twain rank near the top of the list of people to whom almost any quote will be attributed, if the quote is witty and the speaker can’t remember or doesn’t know who actually said it.

Surely they said something like any piece of wisdom, at some point in their lives, right?

Both men are worth study. And wouldn’t you really love to have had them over to dinner?

Twain, on prisons versus education:

Every time you stop a school, you will have to build a jail. What you gain at one end you lose at the other. It’s like feeding a dog on his own tail. It won’t fatten the dog.” – Speech, November 23, 1900

Churchill on the evil men and nations do:

“No One Would Do Such Things”

“So now the Admiralty wireless whispers through the ether to the tall masts of ships, and captains pace their decks absorbed in thought. It is nothing. It is less than nothing. It is too foolish, too fantastic to be thought of in the twentieth century. Or is it fire and murder leaping out of the darkness at our throats, torpedoes ripping the bellies of half-awakened ships, a sunrise on a vanished naval supremacy, and an island well-guarded hitherto, at last defenceless? No, it is nothing. No one would do such things. Civilization has climbed above such perils. The interdependence of nations in trade and traffic, the sense of public law, the Hague Convention, Liberal principles, the Labour Party, high finance, Christian charity, common sense have rendered such nightmares impossible. Are you quite sure? It would be a pity to be wrong. Such a mistake could only be made once—once for all.”

—1923, recalling the possibility of war between France and Germany after the Agadir Crisis of 1911, inThe World Crisis,vol. 1, 1911-1914, pp. 48-49. (Obviously, and sadly, Churchill was wrong — twice wrong.)

Yet we continue to make those mistakes, and then to seek out the wisdom of Churchill or Twain to get out of the mess, and to tell us we won’t be in such a mess ever again.

Image of Twain aboard ship, on the Pacific – origin unknown. Image of Winston S. Churchill, Time Magazine’s Man of the Year for 1941, copyright 1941 by Time Magazine.

More on Mark Twain

More on Winston Churchill

Orson Welles, with Dick Cavett, on Churchill, his wit, humor and grace (tip of the old scrub brush to the Churchill Centre):

More, contemporary reports from 2012:

And in 2013:

2014:

Should you fly your flag today?  Congress doesn’t list this dual birthday as an event for flying the U.S. flag.  But you’re welcome to fly the flag any day.  Go ahead, if you want to.

If I get one, it will be the only cigar I’ve had this year. Or this decade.

I will break out the Scotch.

At a very minimum, click on some of the links and read the works of these two great writers. Nothing else today will be so profitable.

Churchill gets attention, even in Texas:

Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience.

Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience.

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New Yorker on gripping, good books

October 17, 2016

So, you saw the cover to the October 17, 2016 New Yorker?

Poignant commentary on good books.

Cover of New Yorker, October 17, 2016. “The Finish Line,” by R. Kikuo Johnson.

Cover of New Yorker, October 17, 2016. “The Finish Line,” by R. Kikuo Johnson.

It was the fall book edition, after all.

I miss the good old days, when I subscribed to The New Yorker at full price for $6.00 a year. Helped me enormously in college and graduate school, and introduced me to John McPhee’s writing.

Good books are really that good. Haven’t read one like that lately? Pick up another, keep trying until you get one that good.

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Typewriter of the moment, and cold: Antarctic explorer Apsley Cherry-Garrard

September 25, 2016

Wikipedia caption: Polar explorer Apsley Cherry-Garrard in front of his typewriter in the Terra Nova hut at Cape Evans (Ross Island, Antarctica). August 30, 1911. British Antarctic Expedition 1910-13 (Ponting Collection)

Wikipedia caption: Polar explorer Apsley Cherry-Garrard in front of his typewriter in the Terra Nova hut at Cape Evans (Ross Island, Antarctica). August 30, 1911. British Antarctic Expedition 1910-13 (Ponting Collection)

Even in the Antarctic, scientists and explorers need to write their findings down. A typewriter was the state-of-the-art tool in 1911. Here we see Apsley Cherry-Garrard with his typewriter, on expedition.

Cherry-Garrard probably used that machine to write the notes, if not the actual text, for his account of the expeditionThe Worst Journey in the World:

The Worst Journey in the World is a memoir of the 1910–1913 British Antarctic Expedition led by Robert Falcon Scott. It was written and published in 1922 by a member of the expedition, Apsley Cherry-Garrard, and has earned wide praise for its frank treatment of the difficulties of the expedition, the causes of its disastrous outcome, and the meaning (if any) of human suffering under extreme conditions.

More:

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2016 International Literacy Day, September 8

September 8, 2016

International Literacy Day in Mongolia:

International Literacy Day in Mongolia: “A young girl studies during class break. With rapid growth, the Government of Mongolia introduced a number of programs to improve the country’s education system, especially rural primary education. Photo: Khasar Sandag/World Bank”

I almost never remember on time:  September 8 is International Literacy Day, a day designated by the United Nations to celebrate literacy.

From the Dag Hammerskjöld Library:

Literacy is a cause for celebration since there are now close to four billion literate people in the world. However, literacy for all – children, youth and adults – is still an unaccomplished goal and an ever moving target. A combination of ambitious goals, insufficient and parallel efforts, inadequate resources and strategies, and continued underestimation of the magnitude and complexity of the task accounts for this unmet goal. Lessons learnt over recent decades show that meeting the goal of universal literacy calls not only for more effective efforts but also for renewed political will and for doing things differently at all levels – locally, nationally and internationally.

In its resolution A/RES/56/116, the General Assembly proclaimed the ten year period beginning 1 January 2003 the United Nations Literacy Decade. In resolution A/RES/57/166, the Assembly welcomed the International Plan of Action for the Decade and decided that Unesco should take a coordinating role in activities undertaken at the international level within the framework of the Decade.

Sources listed by the Dag Hammerskjöld Library:

Links to UN and UN System sites:

Unesco

United Nations

UNICEF

United Nations Development Programme

World Bank Group

Additional resources:

The additional resources links on this page are provided for information purposes only and do not necessarily represent an endorsement by the United Nations.

Asia-Pacific Literacy Database

Center for Literacy Studies

Commonwealth of Learning

Education International

International Reading Association
—   International Literacy Day

Literacy Online

Proliteracy Worldwide

SIL International – Literacy

StoryPlus Foundation

Even more resources:

It’s fascinating to me that activities on International Literacy Day seem to be noted in out-of-the-way U.S. newspapers, and even there not much.  Do Americans care about literacy, really?

I half expect the Texas State Board of Education to pass a resolution condeming literacy, since the UN worries about it.

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#NationalLibrariesDay in Britain: Honor your local font of knowledge and civilization

February 6, 2016

British National Library. Image from All My Dreams Lead to London

British National Library. Image from All My Dreams Lead to London

What will we do when libraries are gone?

Way back in the Eisenhower administration, some Thinkers of Great Thoughts pondered what life would be like in America after a nuclear “exchange” with the Soviet Union. In other words, how would Americans carry on, get on with life, and, it was hoped, re-create civilization?

Realizing most major cities could be wiped out, the Thinkers determined it would be a good idea if information to make civilization were decentralized. They proposed the Eisenhower Library Program, legislation that provided money and assistance to be certain every county, borough and parish in America had at least one library, and a well stocked one. When New York, Washington, Boston, Chicago, San Francisco and Los Angeles were snuffed out, any local citizen could go to her local library and get access to all the information necessary to rebuild, technical information, and human information (humanities).

In the first year of the Eisenhower Libraries (1957 if I recall correctly), $100 million was appropriated to build and stock libraries.

Designers thought it would be a one-time appropriation, but it worked so well, by the Reagan administration, it was $100 million a year, to aid at least 3,143 county/borough/parish libraries. In 2016, there are more than 119,000 libraries of all kinds across the U.S.

The Reagan administration was a turning point. Books for civilization were deemed superfluous, and the program was killed to “save money,” letting civilization save itself if it needed to.

Once a year in America, we celebrate National Library Week, April 10 through 16 in 2016.

In Britain, it’s National Libraries Day. That day is today, February 6, 2016.

Twitter is all atwitter about it. See how they celebrate in Britain? Steal some of these ideas, librarians, and hold them for U.S. National Library Week. I especially like the cake idea.

All you Boy Scouts working on the Citizenship in the Community merit badge, nota bene:

This one is a great thought:

Is the trend equally bad in the U.S.?

Did Einstein actually say this? Good on him, if he did.

Well, hee haw! and Buffalo Gals Won’t You Come Out Tonight!

Good heavens. At #NationalLibrariesDay, there are a thousand of ’em!

What was Andrew Carnegie thinking?


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