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Showing posts from November, 2010

When the good-parent Dumbledore is artfully being shown the door

How Should the University Evolve?, part 1 of 2 from BLSCI on Vimeo.and the Q&A is here:I’m in the midst of Thanksgiving prep so don’t have time to contribute my own commentary. Basically we were a bit at cross purposes. Siva gave a theatrically impassioned and well-supported defense of the traditional university and I tried to make the point that I don’t care much what happens to the traditional university. I come neither to bury nor to praise it, but to talk about the needs that learners have (whether students or no) and how those needs might best be met (using both technology and traditional forms and new hybrids of the same).This discourse was pronounced both “empowering” and “bullshit” on Twitter, and rightfully so I think. Kyra Gaunt, an anthropology professor at Baruch, a TED fellow, and a hero of mine, gave out more truth at the microphone during the Q&A than I heard coming from the stage all night. She correctly intuited”My sense: @sivavaid who really liked your book w…

Sauron thrived when things grew dark, too

Hillenbrand's second book, seven years in the making, is "Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption" and likely to be as big a hit as "Seabiscuit." The theme is identical -- the triumph of an indomitable underdog in the face of titanic obstacles -- but this time the protagonist is human: Louis Zamperini, an Olympian in his own right (he ran in the 1936 games in Berlin), war hero, POW camp survivor and inspirational speaker.[. . .]Those hopes were, of course, pulverized by the outbreak of war, and Zamperini became a bombardier in the Army Air Corps, stationed in Hawaii. The book's exciting descriptions of foot races give way to even more exciting accounts of bombing raids and airborne battles.[. . .]Zamperini and Phillips' luck ran out when, while on a rescue operation, their plane conked out and crashed at sea. Only the two of them and a third serviceman survived, floating on rafts through shark-infested waters for 47 days, …

Kindness

Conservative commentators have been bemoaning the decline of the American man almost as long as the American man has been in existence. As it turns out, they are right: Men these days are a mere shadow of what we once were. We've become physically weaker than our ancestors. We're slower runners. We can't jump as high as we once did. As Peter McAllister, an archaeologist with the University of Western Australia and the author of the new book "Manthropology: The Science of Why the Modern Male Is Not the Man He Used to Be," puts it, we might be the "sorriest cohort of masculine Homo sapiens to ever walk the planet." I, for one, blame guyliner. (Thomas Rogers, “The dramatic decline of modern man,” Salon, 14 Nov. 2010)
Ice Age aboriginal tribesmen, he discovers, were able to run long distances at approximately the same speed as modern-day Olympic sprinters. Classic Grecian rowers could attain speeds of 7.5 miles an hour, which today's rowers can only att…

Spending time with better people

Welcome to the second session of Salon's Reading Club, everyone. For those just joining us, we're discussing Jonathan Franzen's new novel, "Freedom." Last week, we talked about the first part of the book, "Good Neighbors," through the end of Patty's "autobiography" (pages 1 through 187). This week, we'll consider half of the second part, "2004," reading through the end of the chapter titled "Enough Already" (pages 191 to 382).[. . .]All of this raises a question I've been wanting to ask since we started, concerning an observation people often make about Franzen's (and many other authors') characters, which is that they are "unlikable." I confess, I've grown to hate such remarks. It makes me feel like we're all back in grammar school, talking about which kids are "nice" and which kids are "mean." It's a willfully naive and blinkered way to approach a work of liter…

Frozen Franzenage

What do you think of the phrase "Franzenfreude"?I think in German it literally means "joy in Franzen." But I'm no stranger to literary envy and am in no position to deplore it in others.There's been discussion in the Salon Reading Club about which character in "Freedom" most represents you. Which one is it?All four characters draw equally on my experience of life, though I admit to having a particular fondness for the youngest of them.The characters in "Freedom" appear to make decisions, but they're all rooted in their experience and biology. It's striking, for example, how much like Patty's father Walter turns out to be, and her relationships with both Walter and Richard make all sorts of sense on the basis of her upbringing. Where do you come down, ultimately, on the question of free will?This is exactly the kind of question I want to leave to the reader. The novelist is responsible for creating an experience, not for inter…

Provoking the dread

For me, the end of October is always slightly tinged with dread -- provoked not by Halloween spooks, not even by election season, but by the advent of something called NaNoWriMo. If those syllables are nothing but babble to you, then I salute you. They stand for National Novel Writing Month.[. . .]The purpose of NaNoWriMo seems laudable enough. Above all, it fosters the habit of writing every single day, the closest thing to a universally prescribed strategy for eventually producing a book. NaNoWriMo spurs aspiring authors to conquer their inner critics and blow past blocks. Only by producing really, really bad first drafts can many writers move on to the practice that results in decent work: revision.[. . .]I am not the first person to point out that "writing a lot of crap" doesn't sound like a particularly fruitful way to spend an entire month, even if it is November. And from rumblings in the Twitterverse, it's clear that NaNoWriMo winners frequently ignore offici…