Friday, July 29, 2011

The Pains of Originality

Author John Barth writes in The Atlantic about a problem that has, apparently, plagued writers since the rosy-fingered dawn of time. He includes a lovely quote by Gide: “Everything that needs to be said has already been said. But since no one was listening, everything must be said again.”

Words to live--and write--by!

Taxing Unhealthy Foods?

An argument by Mark Bittman to tax unhealthy foods ... and a few responses to his article.

Example of Tu Quoque

People with poor track records in the heterosexual marriage department really shouldn't join the fight against gay marriage.

(I must admit, I get annoyed with evangelical activists myself, but that's another story ...)

"... America has grown a bit less tame."

I'm not sure why I loved this editorial by David Barin, but I did. There's something frightening yet comforting about knowing we're not at the top of the food chain. I feel the same way when I'm backpacking in bear country. Like life is real, for once.

Friday, July 15, 2011

On the Joy of Reading ... and Writing

From Rick Gekoski, a man "pickled in the brine of literature":
"For me, reading needs to be justified not in terms of some notional moral benefit but – that more dangerous and enticing category – pleasure. I read because I love to read, because, in the company of a book, I am happy, engaged, and inexorable. This may well be bad for me, as selfish pursuits often are: taking me out of contact with my nearest and dearest, making me shirk obligations from washing up to keeping up. "I am reading! Leave me alone!" is the mantra of every true reader."

Stephen Fry on Language

A friend sent me this YouTube video. I like it, but I had to close my eyes because the kinetic typography gives me a headache.

An Ode to English Plurals

This one's been floating around the Internet for a while. It's a humorous little poem. Always on the lookout for fun activities for students, I thought this might serve as an "extra-credit" tool for deserving students who want to try for a few more points. The assignment? Read the poem, and then research the reasons why the words mentioned don't "plurally" conform to the words they're compared to.

Some students might see that as drudgery, but I think some would really enjoy the challenge.

An Ode to English Plurals

We’ll begin with a box, and the plural is boxes,
But the plural of ox becomes oxen, not oxes.
One fowl is a goose, but two are called geese,
Yet the plural of moose should never be meese.
You may find a lone mouse or a nest full of mice,
Yet the plural of house is houses, not hice.

If the plural of man is always called men,
Why shouldn’t the plural of pan be called pen?
If I speak of my foot and show you my feet,
And I give you a boot, would a pair be called beet?
If one is a tooth and a whole set are teeth,
Why shouldn’t the plural of booth be called beeth?

Then one may be that, and three would be those,
Yet hat in the plural would never be hose,
And the plural of cat is cats, not cose.
We speak of a brother and also of brethren,
But though we say mother, we never say methren.
Then the masculine pronouns are he, his and him,
But imagine the feminine: she, shis and shim!

Let’s face it – English is a crazy language.
There is no egg in eggplant nor ham in hamburger;
neither apple nor pine in pineapple.
English muffins weren’t invented in England .
We take English for granted, but if we explore its paradoxes,
we find that quicksand can work slowly, boxing rings are square,
and a guinea pig is neither from Guinea nor is it a pig.

And why is it that writers write but fingers don’t fing,
grocers don’t groce and hammers don’t ham?
Doesn’t it seem crazy that you can make amends but not one amend.
If you have a bunch of odds and ends and
get rid of all but one of them, what do you call it?

If teachers taught, why didn’t preachers praught?
If a vegetarian eats vegetables, what does a humanitarian eat?
Sometimes I think all the folks who grew up speaking English
should be committed to an asylum for the verbally insane.

In what other language do people recite at a play and play at a recital?
We ship by truck but send cargo by ship.
We have noses that run and feet that smell.
We park in a driveway and drive in a parkway.
And how can a slim chance and a fat chance be the same,
while a wise man and a wise guy are opposites?

You have to marvel at the unique lunacy of a language
in which your house can burn up as it burns down,
in which you fill in a form by filling it out, and
in which an alarm goes off by going on.

And in closing, if Father is Pop, how come Mother’s not Mop?

Food for Thought

Gregory Rodriguez on the (not always unspoken) demand that everyone have an opinion on everything. It's food for thought for those of us who encourage our students to take a stand, make an argument, write with conviction, etc. From the article:
"We seem to be obsessed with opinions because we take them to be a marker of individual independence, distinctiveness and reasoned intelligence. Expressing opinions is how we also express our freedom of conscience and flex our political rights. But when we're obliged to have an opinion on everything, all the time, our expressions of conscience are less about independent thinking than about making stuff up."

Good "Argument Essay"

In this article from the L.A. Times, Science Writer Deborah Blum seeks to "defend and even praise the fascinating, sometimes beautiful and environmentally essential poison ivy plant." I thought it might be a good article to share with a composition class in preparation for an argument/persuasion unit.

Don't We All Love a Good Story?

Meghan Daum on how the media spins real people's tragedies into stories we love:
"[Jaycee] Dugard and [Elizabeth] Smart seem to have successfully made the transition to survivor, but to turn them into generic symbols of hope or, worse, to saddle them with the job of being publicly loving, forgiving and grateful despite what they endured minimizes their trauma and panders to audiences by creating a false sense of closure."
I've made this observation to myself before. It always makes me feel a little queasy when victims of horrific crimes are paraded in front of us masses for our entertainment and edification ... even though those victims seem perfectly willing themselves to undergo all the exposure.

Facing Death is Not Dull

Dudley Clendinen on how we think about death:

" . . . we don’t talk about how to die. We act as if facing death weren’t one of life’s greatest, most absorbing thrills and challenges. Believe me, it is. This is not dull. But we have to be able to see doctors and machines, medical and insurance systems, family and friends and religions as informative — not governing — in order to be free."

Thursday, July 14, 2011

"You Are What You're Not"

Frank Bruni on opting out of "mass-market crazes":

The fervor with which others latch onto a new enthusiasm makes you triply conscious of your own decision not to, so that even if your choice reflects only the limits of time, budget or energy, you treat it as a declaration of independence. You are what you’re not.

Friday, July 1, 2011

"Both fairy tales and medical charts chronicle the bizarre, the unfair, the tragic. "

From "Practicing Medicine Can Be Grimm Work," an op-ed by Valerie Gribben, an English major and fairy-tale enthusiast who is now a fourth-year medical student:

"Healing, I’m learning, begins with kindness, and most fairy tales teach us to show kindness wherever we can, to the stooped little beggar and the highest nobleman. In another year, I’ll be among the new doctors reporting to residency training. And the Brothers Grimm will be with me."

"It's not enough these days to question authority ... you gotta speak with it, too."

Poet Taylor Mali:

"That's why we need books ..."

Johann Hari in The Independent:

"That's why we need books, and why I believe they will survive. Because most humans have a desire to engage in deep thought and deep concentration. Those muscles are necessary for deep feeling and deep engagement. Most humans don't just want mental snacks forever; they also want meals."