CATEGORY: WordsMatter

The Venereal Game: or, you don’t have a dirty mind, do you…?

James Lipton’s book on venery is about as much fun as one can have with words.

An Exaltation of Larks or, The Venereal Game by James Lipton

I’m back to the 2014 reading list with a book I picked up at my favorite used book shop – this one about as much fun as one can have with words. The book is called An Exaltation of Larks, or The Venereal Game and it’s written by James Lipton – yep, the same James Lipton who was the longtime dean of the Actors Studio Drama School at Pace University and host of Bravo’s fascinating Inside the Actors Studio.

While this book is indeed about venery, it’s the second definition at the link that fits Lipton’s work, not the first. Certainly there’s indulgence bordering on the decadent, but it’s overwhelmingly of the mental rather than physical sort – though for those of you whose minds drift in those directions, there’s enough titillation to make even the flashing of wit that pervades this work – an excitement of thinkers.

Venery, for those who have refused to hypertext, in that second definition means “animals that are hunted; game.” The derivation of the word is given as follows:

Middle English venerie, from Anglo-French, from Old French vener to hunt, from Latin venari — more at venison.  First Known Use: 14th century

Continue reading

Glenn Beck might be available for your call. Don’t delay. Dial now.*

Is there a word for espousing the practice of fine points of faith while breaking with the key themes?

888-727-BECK

I realize my views on the following topic may well be considered heretical. I’m okay with that. The folks most likely to believe that about what I think and say hold views I’m likely to find heretical. I do hope you’ll pardon me for chiming in. I’m willing to bet I’m at least as qualified to weigh in on matters of faith as Glenn Beck is, so I see this as entirely fair game.

Recently, Raw Story posted the following:

MA mayor: City to donate $5 for every angry, anti-LGBT caller Glenn Beck sends after us

If one had to guess, in a general way, the religion of the people who hate LGBT people, or at the very least, express anger to and about them, what would it be in the good ol’ US of A? In other countries, other religions might fit the bill just as easily, but I’m talking about here. Continue reading

The Arts

Pat McCrory, Art Pope, and the short unhappy career of a Poet Laureate…

The North Carolina Poet Laureate controversy isn’t about poetry, it’s about power – and probably about money, too…

Erato, Muse of Poetry (image courtesy Wikimedia)

North Carolina has been in the news a lot lately – and not for the right reasons. A Tea Party-dominated legislature doing the bidding of a billionaire ally of the Koch Brothers, a guy named Art Pope who, while having inherited a vast fortune made by his father by selling crappy stuff to the poor, has wholeheartedly embraced  the somewhat warped version of Randian philosophy of “more for me and none for you if there’s any way I can make that happen.” As is typical in such cases, Pope sees himself as a self-made man who “won life’s race.”  Well, as my colleague Sam Smith notes, winning the 100-yard dash of life is not so tough when you start at the 90-yard line and your competitors start somewhere in the Gobi Desert. Call it the Dubya Effect: congratulating yourself for being the scion of wealth and scoffing at those who didn’t wind the biological lottery.

The words you’re looking for are selfish, self-satisfied asshole. Continue reading

Right-wing Christian group tried to convert this city’s kids — but they’re fighting back @ AlterNet

Right-wing Christian group tried to convert this city’s kids — but they’re fighting back

“The Good News Club curriculum is filled with over 5,000 references to sin and thousands more to obedience, punishment, and hell. It stresses Old Testament narratives of a retributive God who must punish sin, warns children that they will suffer an eternity in hell if they refuse to believe, and stresses complete obedience as the supreme value. Good News Club tells children as young as preschoolers that they have “dark” and “sinful” hearts, were born that way, and “deserve to die” and “go to hell.””

I realize I’m trolling on the religion front here, and that’s deeply sensitive territory for some, but this goes right back to what I’ve brought up before about Christians vs. Christians. Were I to live in a different culture, I’m sure I’d have the same attitude about Muslims vs. Muslims or Buddhists vs. Buddhists. Thing is, there are widely different beliefs from one denomination, even one congregation, to another. This is, for many, their “valid” (note: subjective) set of beliefs. For a great many other believers, and especially for a great many who have either left “the church,” non-believers, and other believers, the kind of theology taught in these groups (brace for being offended if this describes your faith, my bad) is utterly reprehensible. Foisting it on impressionable forming child minds (as young as pre-school) would be, in my opinion, as bad as showing kids that age rated R horror movies. Continue reading

Journalism

Journalists’ use of anonymous sources now an epidemic of deceit

Too many news organizations, despite their own policies, grant anonymity far too often, allowing sources with agendas to escape responsibility for what they say.

Two words in a news story should forewarn you that what you read is unlikely to be The Truth.

… anonymity because …

Those two words appear in sentences like these:

From Al Jazeera: The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the investigation publicly.

From an AP story: … who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the investigation publicly.

And, just this morning, from an AP story about captured Benghazi suspect Ahmed Abu Khattala: The officials spoke only on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to discuss the Libyan’s whereabouts publicly by name.

Anonymice — what I call sources who will not speak unless journalists allow them to remain nameless (and therefore blameless) — do not and should not inspire trust. The careless use of anonymous sources presents consequences and challenges for journalists and readers and viewers alike. Gratuitous, careless, and amateurish use of anonymice frustrates journalism educators like me, too: It’s a bad habit students often try to imitate.
Continue reading

WordsDay: Literature

Gatsby IS Great…

Despite occasional detractors, The Great Gatsby remains a gold standard for American fiction…

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (image courtesy Goodreads)

Having read John Edward Williams’ magnificent novel Stoner a couple of weeks ago, I noticed that one reviewer referred to the novel as the “anti Gatsby.” That got me to do a little looking around – and I found some interesting things being said about F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel (most in some way or another trying to tie in to the recent release of yet another attempt to make a film of what is damned near prose poetry). A couple of the more interesting essays I’ll mention here in the course of my own comments about the novel. And yes, I’ve gone off the reading list again to zip through Gatsby for the 20-something-th time. I wanted to read Fitzgerald while Williams was still relatively fresh in my mind.

Anyway, the talk about Gatsby – and the need reviewers and essayists felt to compare Stoner to The Great Gatsbywould lead one to conclude that there is some consensus that The Great Gatsby is the Great American Novel®.  This is, I admit, something of a surprise to me. I’d always assumed (and remember, friends, this is an English professor writing to you – oh, that’s right, credentials mean nothing on the Internet – never mind) that this book was the #1 contender for that amorphous (and perhaps dubious) distinction.

But it would seem I may be wrong and that West Egg’s gaudiest, gauchest gangster has supplanted the Mississippi’s most roguish and reflective rafter as the sweetheart of American literature. I don’t think that this is a good or bad thing. But I believe it may be of interest to consider why The Great Gatsby  now seems to hold a higher place in the American reader’s psyche than The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Continue reading

CATEGORY: WordsDay

John Edward Williams’ Stoner and the Glory of Realism…

John Edward William’s Stoner is proof that there’s life in tradition and the individual talent yet…

Stoner by John Williams (image courtesy Goodreads)

Modernism was a funny period. It fostered experimentation in every genre of the arts (about which I have written before) and brought us numerous “isms” – Dadaism, Abstract Expressionism, Minimalism. It also brought, as I have also noted, the “academicization” of the arts, particularly after World War II. Modernist works in every branch of art – music, visual art, literature – are most clearly characterized by difficulty posed to the listener/viewer/reader. Whether the dissonant 12 tone compositions of Schoenberg, the seemingly chaotic drip paintings of Pollock, or the stream-of consciousness narrative experiments of Joyce/Woolf/Faulkner, Modernist artists sought to force readers to be aware of their engagement with art – whether they appreciated that engagement or not.

The successor to Modernism’s rigorous challenge to the audience was, of course, PoMo, post-modernism, perhaps best exemplified in the attempted elevation of the popular and commercial as art. The problem with post-modernism is that its “anything can be art” ethos can be (and has been) easily abused. The expression of this in literature has been the elevation of popular genre fiction (science fiction, fantasy, detective works for example  – sometimes justifiably, sometimes unjustifiably) to the level of serious literature.

What has been lost in these shifting currents of artistic movement is a profound, enduring current that has been represented, especially in the PoMo period, probably best by the work of creative writing programs (a graduate of one myself, I have not been kind to them). That current is  realism. (Not that it hasn’t been represented elsewhere in the arts ever since its emergence as a movement – for every Pollock, there has been a Hopper; for every Schoenberg, a Copland; for every Faulkner, a Farrell.)

As we have recently discovered, and as the always insightful Wufnik has noted, for every Pynchon, there is a John Edward Williams. Williams’ Stoner is as superb an example of American realism as anything by Twain, Howells, or Henry James. Continue reading

ArtSunday: LIterature

Tristan and Isolde: Gottfried von Strassburg is All About the Love…

 Gottfried reminds us that love is complicated – and, we can assume, chemical, too….

Tristan by Gottfried von Strassburg (image courtesy Goodreads)

Back to  the 2014 reading list again. After taking a break from heavier (and, in one case, more depressing) works to read a little about fly fishing in my home state, I’m back to the sort of “serious” literature you’ve come to know and be bored out of your skulls by that I, ever needing to scratch the scholarly itch, adore wading through. And so we return to medieval literature.

If you remember, the last time we visited this area was to discuss Christine de Pizan’s remarkable The Book of the City of Ladies, a tour de force of proto-feminist argumentation against the deplorable depiction of women in the late 4th-early 15th century (Pizan’s work was published in 1405).  For this essay we jump backwards a couple of hundred years to the early 13th century and look at one of the great courtly/chivalric romances, Tristan by Gottfried von Strassburg. Continue reading

WordsDay: Literature

Thomas Dixon’s The Clansman: the South’s stories, demagoguery, history…

“When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.” – The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

The Clansman by Thomas W. Dixon, Jr. (image courtesy Wikimedia)

We leave the 2014 reading list in this essay to consider a classic American novel of dubious repute that I read as a substitute last week when I was traveling and had forgotten my current book from the list.

Sometimes it is easiest – and wisest – to begin with a cliché. So here’s one about the place I am from and love with all my heart:

All Southerners are born storytellers….

This oft repeated claim has, as do all clichés and truisms, its basis in fact. Southerners seem to find in storytelling a needful way to explain the world and how it works. This is not to say that other regions of the United States do not feel this. But Southerners, more than people from any other region of America, are noted for their propensity to offer stories as explanations for “the way things are/were/will be/should be.” Leave it to Southerners, too, to take religion and make that all about storytelling. Continue reading

ArtSunday: LIterature

The Te of Piglet: High Concept Meets Philosophy

In which the Taoist nature of the Three Acre Wood is further explored – or not…

The Te of Piglet by Benjamin Hoff (image courtesy Goodreads)

As I make my way through Anne Bronte’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (which has proven to be a slower read than I’d hoped), I offer here a review of one of the sort of books that proliferated beginning back in the 1980’s once the conglomerates got hold of publishing and began looking for “hits”: books that would find success through a clever writer’s ability to find “buzz.” That elusive quality called “buzz” has nothing to do with a book offering anything of value – it has everything to do with a book being able to capture cultural zeitgeist – and, as a result, generate big sales numbers. Because as we all know, the meaning of life is how much money anyone’s actions are capable of generating. Am I right?

Well, of course, I’m not. Sometimes a book captures the zeitgeist despite the fact that the elevator pitch might make a decision maker either a) shrug the shoulders in indifference or b) dismiss the pitch as “won’t generate revenue” or “already done.” Of course, there might be the rare occasion when response c) “intriguing – let’s run some numbers” occurs. Continue reading

Wired article gets basic probability wrong

It may seem like a small thing, but if you write for one of America’s premier tech magazines, you have a responsibility to understand how probability works.

Earlier today Wired published an article on how a new Quantum theory could explain the flow of time. Great stuff, and really interesting. Definitely give it a read.

But in the course of the article the writer makes a mistake that I see more often than I’d like. Here’s the graf, and I have boldfaced the problem section.

Consequently, a tepid cup of coffee does not spontaneously warm up. In principle, as the pure state of the room evolves, the coffee could suddenly become unmixed from the air and enter a pure state of its own. But there are so many more mixed states than pure states available to the coffee that this practically never happens — one would have to outlive the universe to witness it.

Continue reading

NCAA no longer accepting coursework from several virtual high schools

Academic performance by K12 Inc. somehow fails to measure up to rigorous big-money sports cartel standards.

The NCAA has announced it will no longer accept coursework from two dozen online charter high schools around the country. These schools employ a curriculum from a for-profit company called K12 Inc.

The move is understandable, I suppose. K12 has been heavily criticized for producing abysmal results. Continue reading

Big-Data

Nate Silver: Geek? Yes. Thoughtful journalist? Bigger yes.

FiveThirtyEight post on disputed climate change story signals commitment to transparency

Yesterday, after reading criticisms of Nate Silver’s revamped FiveThirtyEight, I thought: Denny, find out for yourself. After all, I am, at least historically, a geek. And, I thought, years of reading his New York Times blog showed me Nate is King Geek and FiveThirtyEight at ESPN would, no doubt, reflect that.

So I read “The Messy Truth Behind GDP Data.” Not bad. Classic FiveThirtyEight geeky on an important topic. But, even through so many pundits and politicos base analyses on flawed understandings of GDP, reading the post was akin to watching paint dry. I tried Harry Enten’s story about Hillary and polling. Egads: So. Many. Numbers. Unfamiliar terms. Headache ensues.

Continue reading

The Further Updated 2014 Reading List…

Well, as Sir Francis Bacon tells us, reading maketh a full person..

Even more books (image courtesy freedigitalphotos.net)

In spite of my avowal to finish my latest book and against the better judgment of my optometrist, yet again I’ve added to the 2014 reading list and the updated 2014 reading list. Some of these selections have come to me through meeting other writers at book festivals. Others have come through speaking to writers’ groups – and meeting other writers there. And then, of course, there’s my evidently incurable penchant for stopping by bookstores “just to look.”

As always, all of these new additions to the reading list will get their 15 minutes of fame/infamy/nonsense via essay. Sometimes I’ll write about the book; other times I may write about the culture that encourages such a book to exist. Always, I’ll try to offer, like the intro to my hometown radio station WLOE’s broadcast services for the Early Avenue Baptist Church used to say, “enlightenment and edification.” So, on to the additions: Continue reading

War

US war movie military policy: Baby Boomers grew up on films where battle was noble and Americans never died

America’s permanent war policy is a reflection of WWII movies, which offered an unrealistic vision of war’s motivations, consequences

My Depression-born parents raised me in a rural idyll during the Eisenhower years. As a child, I snuck into the Garden Theater to watch war movies. They enthralled me: Battle Cry, To Hell and Back, Away All Boats, D-Day the Sixth of June, The Wings of Eagles, Battle of the Coral Sea, and my favorites, the submarine movies: Run Silent Run Deep, The Enemy Below, and Up Periscope. I revered Steve McQueen in The Great Escape and John Wayne in Operation Pacific and The Flying Leathernecks. Later, I learned mediated definitions of traitorous betrayal in Guns of Navarone and Where Eagles Dare. Continue reading

Education

Should your son join a fraternity? Read this. Right now.

Dear Parents: if your son goes to college, joins a fraternity and screws up, you could lose your home.

Do I have your attention yet?

How many times in my adult life have I heard this?

YOU were in a fraternity?

Doc Sammy, in another life.

Doc Sammy, in another life.

Yes I was. Theta Chi, Gamma Omicron chapter, Wake Forest University. I know, I don’t fit the stereotype. Neither did my chapter. Sure, we had parties. We drank, sometimes more than was strictly healthy. We were appropriately hormonal for a pack of 18-22 year-old guys. We were noisy and obnoxious and occasionally rude, especially when singing a rousing round of “Roll Out Your Mother” during Parents Weekend football games.

But consider this. Theta Chi, during Spring Rush of 1980, was the first place in my life I ever heard anyone talk about diversity. Today, of course, diversity is a critical concept in corporations, in schools, in government, everywhere. We are becoming a more diverse nation that promotes equal rights and standing for people of all races, for women, and finally for the LGBT community.

I’ve been paid by large corporations to develop diversity training, in fact, and what a wonderful irony that my first introduction to the importance of the concept came in a fraternity. Continue reading

CATEGORY: Journalism

The daily newspaper editorial: Make it weekly, please

Daily editorials, striving to not piss off anyone, have achieved ‘terminal neutrality’

Who — or what — killed the great American editorial? Wasn’t there a time when great newspaper editorials regularly thundered and whispered, sighed and screamed, were outraged or outraged others?

Paul Greenberg, the editorial-page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and a 1969 Pulitzer Prize winner, poses these questions on the website of the Association of Opinion Journalists.

Greenberg calls the forces that murdered the American newspaper editorial “as impersonal and characterless as many of the editorials themselves.” Among them are the goal of not pissing off anyone; “the stultifying editorial conference,” designed to drain life out of editorial positions; and hewing to “the party line or socio-economic fashion.” These forces produced, says Greenberg, “terminal neutrality.”

Although these forces had the daily newspaper editorial on its deathbed by the mid-1980s, Greenberg doesn’t reveal that I — yes, me! (gasp!) — pulled the plug on its life support. Yep, I pounded a few nails into the coffin of the daily newspaper editorial all by myself. Continue reading

CATEGORY: Education

Getting a PhD was the best decision I ever made. And the worst.

American businesses are anti-intellectual. American universities are anti-relevance. The gods help the overeducated schmuck stuck in the middle.

Hi. I’m Sam, and I’m a PhD.

Hi Sam!

CATEGORY: EducationFor those of you who don’t know me, I have a doctorate. Communication, University of Colorado, 1999. Some days it’s the thing I have done in life that I’m most proud of. Other days I think it’s the worst mistake I ever made in my life. There are days where I think both things more or less at the same time.

A couple of recent articles address my frustration and ambivalence. Continue reading

WordsDay: Literature

Chris Bachelder’s Bear v. Shark: the culture of trivial spectacle…

Our culture of spectacle is awful, terrible, no-good, very bad – how’s that for a newsflash…?

Bear v. Shark by Chris Bachelder (image courtesy Goodreads)

 Chris Bachelder’s Bear v. Shark is one of those books that does what one of my teachers used to admonish his students to do: it articulates the obvious. In many cases that is a good thing, not a bad one, and this book is one of those cases. 

The subject of Bear v. Shark is the devolution of American culture, and Bachelder does a decent job of articulating the horror that is our descent into trivialized celebration of the meaningless with his overriding meme – a sensationalized “battle of the ages” between a bear (type never denoted) and a shark (type never denoted). Part of the charm of wading through Bachelder’s book is his constant evasion of answering this question: What kind of bear is going to fight what kind of shark – and why should I care? That he gets us to wonder about this instead of immediately responding “What a load of crap this is” says good things about his talent as a writer. But it doesn’t help this book, published in 2001, from feeling dated. Continue reading

CATEGORY: Education

Patti Adler wins reinstatement at University of Colorado, takes opportunity to stomp the balls off school administrators

Adler calls out her attackers. But winning a battle isn’t the same as winning the war.

I noted last month the latest in the University of Colorado administration’s ongoing campaign to completely destroy the school’s reputation, as it sought to fire Dr. Patti Adler for daring to teach deviance in her class on, well, deviance. There’s good news. The professional idiocrats who run the place backed down. Last week, Dr. Adler published a statement in the Boulder Daily Camera, and if you were expecting a display of mealy-mouthed diplomacy, you’re going to be sorely disappointed.

In short, Dr. Adler stomped the hell out of the administration. She begins by setting a clear tone. Continue reading