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Showing posts from April, 2015

‘Readers will like this book’: Highlight the book, not yourself, in a review

Like the blurb on a book's dust-jacket or a plot summary, a book review indicates the subject matter of the book being reviewed and the approach that the book takes, but it goes further by inserting the reviewer's personal opinion about whether the book was any good. Academic reviews demand a brief analysis and critique of a book's main arguments, while popular reviews might instead focus on the entertainment value of a sports anthology, the believability of a novel's plot line or the utility of a particular recipe collection as a holiday gift. Just because the reviewer should provide her opinion, however, doesn't mean she should use the first-person voice when writing the review.First-, second- and third-person voiceFirst-person language includes pronouns like "I," "me," and "my." It also includes the plural forms "we," "us," and "our," especially where this is not intended to refer to humanity as a unive…

Novelists on the mysteries of the passing of time

These novelists have questioned how we understand the passing of time.Ismail Kadare:Events had so stunned the city that it was hard to believe that this was still the same day. The very word ‘afternoon’ seemed not to fit any more. Should it be called the second part of the day? The last part? Perhaps the most treacherous part, harbouring a centuries-old grudge against the day as a whole, or rather its first part, which you might call fore-noon; forget the idea of morning. Its malice had rankled, to erupt suddenly that mid-September.

There was also a sense of gratitude to destiny for at least having preserved the city from other long-forgotten calamities such as the Double Night, a sort of calendrical monster that beggared the imagination, a stretch of time that was unlike anything else and came from no one knew where, from the bowels of the universe perhaps, a union of two nights in one, smothering the day between them as dishonored women once were smothered in the old houses of Gjir…

Human dignity: Finding a secular justification

Tom Beaudoin:...’human dignity’ and ‘mystery’ can easily ossify into buzzwords. We continually have to find evocative ways of describing dignity and mystery. I propose that we ask ourselves what is that undomesticatable region of ourselves that cannot be bought, cannot be branded? What about us cannot be traded away, drugged up, or dieted off? What about ourselves cannot be sold, sweated away, or co-opted by an advertiser? How would you describe that dimension of yourself, and what might it mean to live from that ‘place’ in your economic life?A passage in the Brown Alumni Magazine:Speaking at the Joan and Frank Rothmans Forum on Saturday, Leo M. Cooney, chief of geriatrics and a professor at Yale’s medical school, explained that autonomy and dignity are particularly important to people in their eighties and nineties. ... Partly this is a matter of listening, Cooney said: “The worst thing to do is to get a patient in the room and then start talking to their daughter or son.” ... Above …

Literary references to low sexual libido

Some people (and fictional characters) admit to lack of sexual interest.Andrei Platonov's fictional character Zakhar Pavlovich said, and the character Alexander reacted:"every man has an entire imperialism down there, in the lower place...."

Alexander could not feel the imperialism within his own body, even though he deliberately imagined himself naked.The mathematician Paul Erdos said:Actually, I have an abnormality. I can't stand sexual pleasure. It's a curious abnormality. It's almost unique.Nina FitzPatrick wrote a fictional character of a priest who initially does not feel sexual but then finds himself attracted to a woman:Father Francis had never got an erection while listening to a beautiful woman. Or a man for that matter. It dawned on him, not for the first time, that he was born to indifference the way cuckoos are born to neglect their young.

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It was odd to hear her addressing him as Francis rather than Father Francis. He felt it defrocked…

SpeakEasy Stage Company's powerful and emotional delivery of 'The Whale'

Samuel D. Hunter's play "The Whale" is a drama that was presented to stunning emotional effect by the SpeakEasy Stage Company in 2014. The themes of art, religion and the dysfunctional family come together in "The Whale." Playwright Samuel D. Hunter unflinchingly stares into many big issues, including the effect of one's self-destructive behavior on others; disrespect and cruelty toward those who do not conform; the influence of religious opinions that work to repress sexuality between men; the inspiration of literature and writing as self-expression; and the importance of optimism and kindness.The story centers on Charlie, a kind-hearted, articulate soul with a masters degree in English, who has continued to teach essay writing online while ballooning to 600 pounds. Charlie betrays a potential character flaw in that, years ago, he left his wife and toddler daughter to pursue a relationship with another man. This man turned out to be the love of Charlie'…

'Uvatiarru': Past and future all around us

Authors on the past, present and future.Charles Rowan Beye:One wants to sort out the details of the past, but often it is like going through yesterday’s wardrobe, surprised by the irremediable damage and wastage of so much lying in those drawers next to undeniable treasures. It is not what one had expected.Douwe Draaisma:Thinking back about an event that has made a great impression on us, we tend to underestimate the time interval separating us from that event. Such illusions have their counterparts in psychiatry. Traumatic events are repeated in flashbacks, memories that penetrate the psychological present and that cannot be removed from it at will.Rainer Maria Rilke:The future enters into us, in order to transform itself in us, long before it happens.Carl Honoré:In some philosophical traditions – Chinese, Hindu and Buddhist, to name three – time is cyclical. On Canada's Baffin Island, the Inuit use the same word – uvatiarru – to mean both "in the distant past" and &quo…

Monotony and excitement: Perceptions of time

Elizabeth Gilbert mused on the monotony of a long marriage, specifically on how the monotony builds intimacy and might be essential to the marriage. She wrote:The poet Jack Gilbert (no relation, sadly for me) wrote that marriage is what happens "between the memorable." He said that we often look back on our marriages years later, perhaps after one spouse has died, and all we can recall are "the vacations, and emergencies" – the high points and low points. The rest of it blends into a blurry sort of daily sameness. But it is that very blurred sameness, the poet argues, that comprises marriage. Marriage is those two thousand indistinguishable conversations, chatted over two thousand indistinguishable breakfasts, where intimacy turns like a slow wheel. How do you measure the worth of becoming that familiar to somebody – so utterly well known and so thoroughly ever-present that you become an almost invisible necessity, like air?Yet another Gilbert, on the difficulty of…

When 'nature' symbolizes life itself and human existence

"Nature is the common, universal language, understood by all," said Kathleen Raine.Rene Dubos:Sophisticated and civilized as we may be, we have retained from our distant ancestors the ability to derive profound satisfactions from the small happenings of daily life – when we eat, drink, and love; sing, dance, and laugh; dream, tell stories, or illustrate them in pictures, participate in events where we can be at the same time author, actor, and spectator. ... I also long for these simple but fundamental satisfactions which reflect what was best in the biological and social past of humankind.

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The present world-wide effort to save the quality of the environment transcends the problems posed by pollution and by the depletion of natural resources. It constitutes rather the beginning of a crusade to recapture certain sensory and emotional values, the need for which is universal and immutable because it is inscribed in the genetic code of the human species.The writer Edward …

The specious claim that human calamities are caused by an angry God

Many people blame God for terrorism, natural disasters and other calamities. If they are religious, they may interpret a disaster as God's collective punishment – usually acknowledged as eminently reasonable, since it is God's will – visited upon a large group of people for the offense of a subgroup. In the cases where such thoughts are not just held privately but are expressed out loud, they may appear on the surface to provide an explanatory cause for the disaster, but they actually exploit and redirect the public's negative emotions surrounding the disaster, often with the intent of maligning an unpopular group."God works in mysterious ways... but he gets really fucking weird when it comes to poor people and dangerous places." @Gabino_Iglesias, Coyote Songs, p. 27, @broken_river. pic.twitter.com/jg2O02v67Q— Kristen 📖 (@kristenwerefox) December 17, 2018Jerry Falwell's comments about Sept. 11Two days after the terrorist attack of Sept. 11, 2011 in which mil…

Are we making progress?

How do human civilizations change their technologies so quickly? The interpretation of time itself changes along with technology. Richard Wrangham: "If the Waorani someday do become fully Westernized, they will have traded a life marked by the flight of a palmwood spear for one measured by the parabola of a ballistic missile.
"Often a society's infrastructure changes faster than its constituents can adjust to it. John Steinbeck: "Another flight of jets exploded through sound. We had maybe a half-million years to get used to fire and less than fifteen to build thinking about this force so extravagantly more fierce than fire. Would we ever have the chance to make a tool of this? If the laws of thinking are the laws of things, can fission be happening in the soul? Is that what is happening to me, to us?"Alan Watts said that some cultures have a idea of linear change that creates a historical narrative, while others see events as more cyclical and they are more lik…

Why the US scuttled the rainbow-colored terrorism threat chart

In 2011, the U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security replaced the rainbow-colored National Terrorism Advisory System with a new Homeland Security Advisory System. The new National Terrorism Advisory System (NTAS) took effect in the United States on April 26, 2011. It replaced the Homeland Security Advisory System (HSAS) which was introduced on March 12, 2002 by a presidential directive.History of the iconic rainbow-colored chartHSAS was originally developed by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to warn the public of the possibility of imminent terrorist attack. It was represented by the iconic rainbow-colored chart in which red is "Severe," orange is "High," yellow is "Elevated," blue is "Guarded" and green is "Low." With yellow as the default, the threat level was raised to orange five times in the first two years. Each of these so-called "orange alerts" lasted an average of 19 days and did not specify the nature of the threat …

The shooting of child peace activist Malala Yousufzai by the Taliban in Pakistan

An award-winning young Pakistani peace activist was shot in a deliberate attack in October 2012. She underwent surgery, the cost of which the Pakistani government and several hospitals promised to cover, and she was expected to recover from her injuries.The shooting targeted Malala Yousufzai, 14, who for several years has advocated secularism and education opportunities for girls in a blog for BBC Urdu. She reported on life in the Swat Valley where the Taliban was burning girls' schools. Last year, she was nominated for the International Children's Peace Prize and received the National Peace Prize from one of Pakistan's former prime ministers. On Oct. 9, 2012, strange men disguised with scarves approached a school bus in Malala's hometown of Mingora, asked the children to point out Malala to him, and then fired. Two bullets struck her head and neck. Surgeons said her skull was cracked, and although the bullet did not penetrate her brain, her brain swelled and she was u…

How to find your muse

Are you artistically "blocked"? The majority of frustrated artists have simply lost contact with their muse, the sublime inner voice of inspiration. Here is a twelve-step guide on how to find your muse and wrap her around your little finger. GenesisThe creation story begins with separation. So does all philosophical inquiry worth its salt. You can't find anything until you've defined what you're looking for.TechnologyChoose the tools you need to find this wayward lady muse.  Your technology will be specific to the muse in question. For example, if you were searching for any of the following things, you'd need the special search tool indicated.the Loch Ness Monster: sonarthe Yeti: snowshoespennies on the beach: a metal detectoryour lover's secret lover: tracking by the phone companyan old newspaper article: library microfichean answer to a problem: a weeklong vacationa lost cat: posters on utility polesa missing cordless phone: its pagerthe burst Christmas …

Public shamings

Christie Thompson's article for The Marshall Project lists incidences where judges have required offenders to hold signs in public identifying their crimes, ranging from illegal whitewater rafting to killing someone while driving drunk. Sexual crimes have also been punished by public shaming: men have had to wear chicken suits as punishment for soliciting sex, or put their photos in the newspaper identifying them as child molesters.“Only an idiot drives on the sidewalk to avoid a school bus.” She used the same tactic for a man who called 911 and threatened to kill police officers. His sign read: “I apologize to officer Simone & all police officers for being an idiot calling 911 threatening to kill you. I'm sorry and it will never happen again." What Everyone Gets WrongPublic shamings are not just for petty crimes: In 2012, a Texas man on probation for drunk driving was ordered to return to the scene of the crash for four Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. with a sign rea…