Read A Book

From a long cancelled cartoon show:

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The Grammar Nazi Disagrees

I am… sadly… the victim of public school. Most (nearly all) of what I learned in my youth was despite their best attempts. Given sufficient resources, a public school can and will turn everything it touches into a shambling mound of stupidity.

However, a few good teachers got through the system. That minuscule tortured minority actually taught. One, while dragging my teenage brain through Sophocles when I was more attuned to REO Speedwagon, said something I’ll never forget. This not my Curmudgeonly Gem of insight; it is hers. Even now it rings as true as it is cruel:

“You will find that there are people who can write and there are ones who can’t. In general the ones who can’t write don’t matter.”

Ouch! It was enough to motivate me to finish Oedipus and write a bang up report to redeem myself. (It wasn’t so bad, there was sex and violence and what more does a story need?) Incidentally you can read Oedipus for free.

The End Of Writing (Hat tip to Maggie’s Farm) pointed me to Why Kim Kardashian Can’t Write Good. You can read the whole thing but the main point (using Ms. Kardashian as an example) is as follows:

“Writing is language in its Sunday best, and in a world where writing was is as central to communication as it used to be, as even a modestly educated person you could barely escape high language.

Those days are over for good. What Kardashian’s tweet reveals is not someone strangely neglectful. She didn’t go to college, and her high school education, as a modern one in today’s increasingly oral society (see below) unsurprisingly did not teach her the finer points of how to write a sentence.”

So, Ms. Kardashian can’t write. So what? I suspect she can’t change a tire or fit a non-linear model either. On the other hand, I look like a sack of shit and she has ta ta’s that pay the rent. To each his or her own.

The author can’t stop there. One doesn’t sell ad space by writing “the hot chick is semi literate and I’m cool with that”. Instead he posits that we, the human race writ large, should shift into a post literate world. Where have I heard this before? Oh yeah, everywhere all the time. It was wrong then and it’s wrong now.

To bolster his argument he refers to some fellow named Cornel West:

“a revered public intellectual who has not written academic books in a quarter-century now, does not write published refereed academic articles, and overall does not like writing and does as little of it as possible.”

I’d never heard of Cornel West. I checked everyone’s favorite unverified (but written) information source (Wikipedia). Apparently he’s a public intellectual and also a Democratic Socialist. (The photo on wikipedia also indicates the guy can rock an afro. It seems a shame to leave that out because it’s epic.)

Frankly I have my doubts about “public intellectual” being synonymous with “wicked smart”. In my personal experience many of the smartest people out there are “privately intellectual”. Is it not smart (or perhaps wise) to display sufficient mental acuity to get through the day while keeping plenty in reserve for cleaning me out at the poker table? I’m convinced there are a lot more brain cells at work quietly doing mental jobs (brain surgeon, transmission repair, etc…) than are loudly and publicly churning out “journalism”.

I’m nothing if not charitable. If he couldn’t find an example of a turbocharged mind that doesn’t like to write but yet still impresses me, I’m going to assume one exists. Again, so what? There’s a genius out there that doesn’t spin verbiage like Mark Twain. Who cares.

“the reception of West is also a symptom of an increasingly oral society.”

Really? Again? This is where it always goes. Premise, example, then a conclusion which always comes out as “toss many years of historical precedent and go with the hip new thing”.

“I submit that a public intellectual’s main work could, with all dignity, consist of a series of 15-minute podcasts released every month or so—kind of like Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Fireside Chats…”

No. No they can’t. Podcasts are ephemeral. Once they’re done, nobody cares. I looked up Roosevelt’s Fireside Chats (they are on the internet) but I had no desire to actually listen to them. Why would I? In another hundred years nobody but academics and dweebs will even consider listening to someone mouthing words into a microphone from the distant past.

If only there was some sort of written versus podcast comparison. Maybe another Roosevelt that, unlike FDR, wrote. What’s this? Theodore Roosevelt, who left office in 1909 (some 106 years ago and 36 years before FDR) has an Author’s Page On Amazon? Color me shocked! He’s got 19 titles. I’ve purchased and subsequently read a few of them myself. Meanwhile the semi-literate Roosevelt has a smattering of books of what other people thought of him.

So there you have it. The Roosevelt who could write is selling books right friggin now and the Roosevelt who couldn’t left behind some “podcasts” that nobody cares about. This, mind you, is the example I’m supposed to emulate in our “increasingly oral society”. Nope!

Words last; at least the very good and very lucky ones. As a literate person I’ve read about slaying beasts 1,040 years ago, creepy Greek sex 2,456 years ago, and an elk hunt 130 years ago. How long do you think a podcast will maintain an audience? Just to tie what’s hanging around right now on my bookshelves (or Kindle) you’d have to expect a podcast will still be relevant in the year 3,056 (Beowulf), or 4,471 (Sophocles), or even merely last to 2,145 (Roosevelt).

I’ll stick to the little scribbled code we call letters. Of course the author isn’t done yet:

“might we stop pretending that ordinary people need to be able to write on a level higher than functional?”

Why? Because it’s a good and noble thing to be a dumbass? Perhaps folks don’t need to be able to write on a high level, but we might aspire to it (excepting of course Social Democrats, Fireside Chatters, and the chick with the ta tas). It is wrong to set the bar low because jumping over is hard.

“What I wonder is whether everyone needs to be taught how to write an essay.”

Yes. Yes they do. You can stop wondering now.

“It may be time to understand that the writing culture of an earlier era was a matter of fashion…”

Indeed. A fashion that started around the time of the Greeks (or if you wish pick your favored precursor civilization) and continues to this day.

“Nor is it true that one can only make a serious point with big words and long sentences, a view that implies that most humans on earth are incapable of higher reasoning.”

The shit is getting deep now. Who among us thinks serious points require big words and long sentences? Mark Twain wrote “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.” Clever eh? If verbosity meant excellent writing, people wouldn’t make fun of Dilbert’s boss and his bureaucratic gibberish.

Want an example that hits harder? Hemingway wrote “[t]he world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places”. Serious point, words so small I can worm them into a Scrabble game.

Nor am I convinced that most humans on earth are capable of higher reasoning. Have you been to a WalMart lately? Or perhaps they’re capable but they’re busy reading Ms. Kardashian’s Tweets?

“Note that an oral approach to composition lends itself to precisely the qualities so fashionable in today’s education schools.”

I’m not sure it’s wise to appeal to me by referring to what’s fashionable in today’s education schools. As far as I can tell, “what’s fashionable” involves churning out great herds of drooling Marxists wingnuts (and an occasional good teacher that somehow slips through the mesh). They, in turn create another generation of people who can barely think but have impressive student loans. Some of them go on to suggest that I should lower myself to Ms. Kardashian’s level.

“Meanwhile, what are the chances that teaching of composition is going to improve?”

Based on what is fashionable in education schools? None!

“One approach to that is to gnash one’s teeth. Another, however, is to accept that the prevalence of high-level writing in the old days was a temporary condition. Humans have existed for 150,000 years while writing only came along about 6,500 years ago.”

Well there’s that. There’s no doubt that civilization is very hard. Then again civilization is a pretty excellent idea. Humans lived in mud huts and shit in the weeds for 150,000 years too. Shall we advocate for that as well? “Due to Ms. Kardashian’s literacy levels I think it only natural we all bash a rabbit with a stick for dinner and then crap on the lawn”.

“Kim Kardashian and Cornel West, of all people, are symptoms of the same thing—and not necessarily a bad one.”

Wrong! They’re merely people. One who is said to be a brainiac who dislikes writing and the other who… Well I’m not really sure what Ms. Kardashian does (other than sport a decent rack).

The symptom is the idea that they are somehow beacons in the darkness and we, like trusting sub-literate sheep, should follow and that is a very bad thing. There’s no cure for this particular stupid idea. Every generation comes up with it and they always think it’s a great and original concept: “Some 6,500 years of literacy led from planting wheat with a stick to a 78 year life expectancy. However literacy is hard and cool people get by without it. We should all be  like the cool people.”

My old teacher (one of the few who taught) once said; “read the damn book and for God’s sake try to think.” I read the damn books and tried to think. It worked. You won’t find me doing podcasts about Ms. Kardashian and how we should all emulate her.

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Odin Coffee

Mrs. Curmudgeon is the greatest person ever! She gave me a present:odin01

That’s Odinforce and Death Wish coffee by the delightfully named Death Wish Coffee Company. Plus a patch and a bitchin coffee mug:
odin02I added a present to myself. 1792 is my favorite brand of bourbon:
odin03I haven’t tried the coffee yet but when I do it’ll be the most metal cup of coffee ever. The 1792 scarcely made it home before I popped the top and poured some in my new mug.

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Another Dog Quote

“A dog reflects the family life. Whoever saw a frisky dog in a gloomy family, or a sad dog in a happy one? Snarling people have snarling dogs, dangerous people have dangerous ones.” Arthur Conan Doyle, The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes

So what does this mean? Hard to say. My dog is huge, noble, and terrifies the UPS guy. (I’m no help with that. “My dog doesn’t bite, probably, but then again I’m sure everyone says that. Why don’t you hand me the box and just stay in your truck?”)

If the shit hit the fan I’m pretty sure my dog would kill and eat a dragon to protect the house. Cool! Other times it acts more like a draft animal than a dog. WTF? Also it’s baffled by the whole concept of “fetch”. (“Dude, if you wanted that thing why the hell did you throw it? SQUIRREL!”) Also it sheds all over the house, might as well have a herd of sheep in the living room.

This weekend it indulged in a maddening habit. It won’t crap during the rain. Bigger and tougher than a wolf but it doesn’t like to get it’s feet wet? Happy to frolic in a snow drift but you’ve got to drag it out of the house if it’s raining. Really? It spent all weekend “holding it” and ripping farts that should be banned by Geneva Convention. We’re safe during the zombie apocalypse but only if it doesn’t coincide with a rain shower.

Dangerous but friendly, noble but goofy? Maybe Sherlock was on to something.

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Dog Quote

Wise words from Jonah Goldberg (read it all):

“Here is wisdom: Have a kid? Get a dog. Want a kid? Get a dog. Don’t want a dog? Get a cat, which is like training wheels for dog ownership. Have a cat already? It’s probably time to get a dog. Don’t like dogs? You’re wrong.”

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Enchanted Forest

I saw this on a rural coffee shop’s bulletin board. What a deal! Who wouldn’t want land that is “quite” and has life which happens to be wild?

Grammar Nazi complaints notwithstanding I’m willing to be impressed by whimsy. If someone sells land at a premium because it’s enchanted then all I can say is; way to be awesome! (Enchantment is surely worth a few percent more than land which is non-enchanted and I deny assertions to the contrary.)

You know you want it!

You know you want it!

P.S. Being a simple man, could someone explain to me who’s walking around with a $20,000 CD and a hankering for enchantment? Is that specific financial instrument so common that it merits special attention?

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I’m Still Here

Just about every blog has periodic “I’ve been meaning to write” posts. This is mine.

I was not merely distracted, I was more of less “off grid”. For three weeks I (mostly) ditched wifi and news. It’s not like I was in a mud hut in Bangladesh, I was just busy, mobile, and rural. (Which is a great way to be.)

As I’ve said before, it’s good to drop off line once in a while. It’s even better to avoid the news for an occasional breather. It’s good for the soul; wise for the mind. Too much stupid is bad for you. Also 2016 will be a season of unparalleled jackass… better stock up on the sane while there’s still time.

Mostly taking a break from “news” and media is a needed reminder that “this shit is crazy”. I implore you to try it some time. America (possibly the world) in 2015 (possibly in all times) is batshit insane and seems to be getting dumber by the millisecond. It’s even more obvious when you’ve “unplugged from the matrix” for a few days.

Here’s a sample of my first few minutes back “in the loop” and my immediate reaction:

  1. I randomly bounced into a new Prince song. Prince is as flaky as dandruff and he’s associated with purple… so that’s two strikes against him. Then again when he’s of a mind he can blaze out rare but inspired guitar solos. The last few seconds of “Lets Go Crazy” make up for a lifetime of flake. Imagine if he did that again! Afire with optimism, I tuned in. Here’s how it went:
    • Prince is rambling about Baltimore. Who gives a shit about Baltimore?
    • Long ago I spent a hot summer night sleeping on a wooden floor in Baltimore. All I remember is humidity and polluted air.
    • I think there were cockroaches too? Was that the cockroach place? Ugh!
    • Are Doves Crying in the Purple Rain of Baltimore? C’mon man, pick up the tempo.
    • There had better be a guitar solo or I’m gonna’ be pissed!
    • Wait a minute?!? Did I hear Mr. “Party Like It’s 1999″ say “take all the guns away”? That’s fighting words purple boy! Besides, it’s the East coast… occupied territory if there ever was such a thing… they already took the guns away.
    • This song sucks.
    • Is Prince a million years old now? Get the guy an AARP form and a stretcher.
    • The guy who said “don’t let the elevator break you down, oh no, let’s go crazy” is sounds like a tired accountant. This is sad.
    • Well that song is over and apparently Prince is now a robot.
    • I’d better investigate what he was talking about. [Open a new tab. Click, click, click…]
      • Burning cars? Riots? WTF?
      • Is that someone looting toilet paper? Is that all they have to loot?
      • Stealing ass wipe that can be had at a buck a roll only makes sense in Venezuela.
      • Why do they always burn cars? How, specifically, will injustice be solved by burning a Ford?
      • I’ve owned a few Fords that should have been burned.
      • A few years ago they could have subcontracted these dipshits for “cash for clunkers”? Would looters stop burning cars if it was a job?
      • Police in a single party inner city town may be corrupt. Also the sky is blue.
    • I’ll have to ponder this new information. However, my first thought is Price used to have a sense of humor and what happened to his guitar playing?
  2. Enough of that… what else is going on. Hmm… Islamic nutzos shot up some portion of the 99.998% of planet earth they deem to be heretics?
    • Yawn; Charlie Hebdo or some shit… Where is it? A pot shop in the Netherlands, a discotheque in Taiwan? Wait! This was in Garland, Texas? Those bastards!
      • [Click, click, click…] Oh, well now. Seems it was handled properly. Bad guys dead in less time than it takes to heat a Pop Tart.
      • Good guys mostly OK. Excellent!
      • Hordes of swatted up LEOs showed up afterwards and tore a car apart? Way to handle the deadly threat. Party’s over fellas. Tearing apart a sedan doesn’t make you a hero. Try again next time.
      • A tip of the hat to Texans.
      • Have I mentioned that Texas looks better each day?
      • Quite the difference in cultures. Nutzos attacked Paris, ran around like a bull in a China shop, and Europe responded with a huge parade. Nutzos attacked Texas, wound up dead in 15 seconds, and Texans don’t need a stinkin’ parade!
      • Pravda of America (NPR) invades my truck cab regularly but it seemed to miss the whole “Texans solve a problem” situation. Was that radio silence when the issue is resolved “old school” or was just I out of the truck that day?
      • At the very least John Kerry didn’t show up with James Taylor. Kerry knows better than to mess with Texas!
      • Will James Taylor and Prince form the worlds lamest crime fighting duo?
  3. Hillary Clinton announced her candidacy.
    • Bwa ha ha ha ha ha!
    • Ha ha ha ha ha!
    • Ha ha ha!
    • Ha!
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