Saturday, March 30, 2013

Postman on reading (with annotations)

I’m re-reading Neil Postman’s classic jeremiad Amusing Ourselves to Death, subtitled Print discourse in the age of show business, in which this fantastic writer and philosopher explains why he thinks television, as an entertainment-oriented medium, is unfit for conveying serious thought (like political discourse, for example). In the second chapter he gets into how different cultures’ concepts of truth are influenced by the media that predominates, and through the course of the exploration he makes the following observations on what really is required of a reader:

You are required, first of all, to remain more or less immobile for a fairly long time. [RS: Of which I’m incapable. Thus fidgeting.] If you cannot do this (with this or any other book), our culture may label you as anything from hyperkinetic to undisciplined [i.e. ADHD]; in any case, as suffering from some sort of intellectual deficiency. The printing press makes rather stringent demands on our bodies as well as our minds. Controlling your body is, however, only a minimal requirement. You must also have learned to pay no attention to the shapes of the letters on the page. [Typesetting all mine.] You must see through them, so to speak, so that you can go directly to the meanings of the words they form. If you are preoccupied with the shapes of the letters, you will be an intolerably inefficient reader, likely to be thought stupid. If you have learned how to get to meanings without aesthetic distraction, you are required to assume an attitude of detachment and objectivity. [Here we get into reading comprehension and higher-order thinking skills, some of which high-schoolers are rarely well-versed in.] This includes your bringing to the task what Bertrand Russell called an “immunity to eloquence,” meaning that you are able to distinguish between the sensuous pleasure, or charm, or ingratiating tone (if such there be) of the words, and the logic of their argument. But at the same time, you must be able to tell from the tone of the language what is the author’s attitude toward the subject and toward the reader. You must, in other words, know the difference between a joke and an argument. [Really?] And in judging the quality of an argument, you must be able to do several things at once, including delaying a verdict until the entire argument is finished, holding in mind questions until you have determined where, when or if the text answers them, and bringing to bear on the text all of your relevant experience as a counterargument to what is being proposed. [See also: How to Read a Book.] You must also be able to withhold those parts of your knowledge and experience which, in fact, do not have a bearing on the argument. And inconcrete preparing yourself to do all of this, you must have divested yourself of the belief that words are magical and, above all, have learned to negotiate the world of abstractions, for there are very few phrases and sentences in this book that require you to call forth concrete images. In a print-culture, we are apt to say of people who are not intelligent that we must “draw them pictures” so that they may understand. Intelligence implies that one can dwell comfortably without pictures, in a field of concepts and generalizations.

This kind of capable, engaged reading is what’s going to be expected of elementary-school students under the Common Core standards, methinks – or something quite similar. I sincerely wonder whether I read this way before my mid-teens.

Monday, March 25, 2013

What I learned #7: About chuckholes

I opened my lovely newspaper Friday morning and was immediately perplexed by the op-ed page. On it, an editorial cartoon poked fun at all the egregious potholes drivers get slammed by on Indiana roads.

The cartoon pictured a little fairy tossing potholes onto the roads in front of a driver. The fairy was named – ready?

The “chuckhole” fairy.

I asked around at work for someone who’s grown up in Indiana and upon finding one such coworker, asked her if chuckhole was a normal word for potholes. She looked at me a little funny and said yeah.

I’ve since learned, via Facebook, that the term is strange to some others living around here, yet recognized by a smattering of Ohio friends, too.

My own mother said she recognized the term from her hometown.

Am I the only one left that didn’t know what a chuckhole was?

(And a note: I keep posting these “What I learned” pieces late, so I snipped off the “today” in the series title. Get over it. Open-mouthed smile )

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Snowed in

I'm a good driver. Snow doesn't scare me.

Snow that drifts across the road in depths higher than the front grill of my car, however, causes me to think twice about driving.

I met my cousins and some friends for lunch today after church, then headed over to their place after a couple hours of shopping (during which I found four fun belts at Goodwill, yippee!). A few episodes of Doctor Who and Sherlock later--not to mention a lot of browsing Pinterest for pictures of Michelle Obama's and Kate Middleton's styles--my cousin and I decided it was time for me to head home.

So it was 11 p.m. or so and I stepped outside--still wearing my church shoes (a cute pair of heels)--into several inches of snow.

There was definitely no snow on the ground when we came back from town around 5 p.m.

It can't be that bad, I thought, so I backed my car into a slightly shallower portion of snow so I could walk around the car, brushing the snow off the windshield and headlights without getting (too) much snow into my shoes.

I still ended up with wet socks. And that wasn't the worst.

Creeping down the road at 25 mph, I discovered three circumstances I couldn't tell from the driveway:

  1. The roads aren't plowed. Not in the least.
  2. The snow is deep. I can't see the ditches and I'm not entirely sure where the cornfields start. (It's Indiana, remember. 98% of the state is cornfields. Or something like that.)
  3. The snow is still falling. Visibility is about six inches with the headlights on.

It took me several minutes to get to the first stop sign--the only place I was even remotely positive I could turn around and head back to my cousins' for the night.

Good thing they have extra toothbrushes.

Monday, March 11, 2013

I bought eight books this past weekend.

And here they are:


It was a mix of the library booksale and a Half Price Books store where I met an old college buddy; and it was a mix of books I’ve read and books I haven’t but am curious about. I spent about $16 all told, I think.

I just have to finish the books I’m currently reading now… but I do so want to start some of these today!

(I suppose I should also go through my existing shelves of books and find about eight other books to get rid of. Easier said than done.)

Things you find in a truck bed…

A friend came over to hang out over coffee this morning. (The joys of having Mondays off and friends still in college.) We decided to go out on a walk after finishing the coffee since this weekend is the first really decent weather we’ve had this year.

We started down the sidewalk and noticed that Upstairs Dweller’s truck had its lights on. (This is that ancient, two-tone Ford.) Upstairs Dweller was nowhere in sight, so we checked to see if we could turn the lights off ourselves (or he’d be stuck this afternoon with a dead battery).

As my friend leaned into the truck to check for the headlights switch, she noticed something odd laying in the truck bed and jumped back, hanging onto me for dear life:

A dead coyote.

At least we’re pretty sure that’s what it was.

Why in the world Upstairs Dweller has a dead coyote laying in the back of his truck…. I haven’t a clue.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Compendium of Links #40

Daylight Saving Time went into effect this morning. Thus, I overslept a bit (despite my alarm) and nearly missed praise band practice. I should go sleep soon. But I have several extra tabs open.

38 maps you never knew you needed – including how Google autocomplete describes all 50 U.S. states:

Yes, it’s hilarious. The rest of the maps are worthwhile too. Or, shall I say, entertaining. (Via the roomie.)

Speculative Faith gathers Christian sci-fi and fantasy writers together, supplying writing tips, thoughts and encouragement. (Via a Facebook group.)

Why Facebook might be losing teens. Apparently Tumblr is the next new thing. I so called it years ago. (Well, not the Tumblr thing, but the fact that Facebook’s monopoly wouldn’t last forever.) Via Challies:

Ultimately, the day of the overshare may have passed, and bragging online isn't as fun as it used to be. "I think that kids just don’t care anymore," Bois wrote. "They have gotten over the idea of knowing everybody’s life and everybody knowing their lives!"

The Atlantic (only my favorite magazine) says great teachers can’t save America’s schools – at least not until they’re freed from crippling curriculum standards. As a reporter who covers education, I must say I hear from lots of teachers and administrators who blame state and federal regulations/standards for restricting what they can do to make the classroom better. This article goes on to say that the Common Core standards are a step in the right direction, but I reserve my judgment.

A random preacher-blogger criticizes seven ways to do a bad word study, including the “Webster’s Dictionary” fallacy. (Link via Challies again.) It’s worth a read for the linguistic sticklers out there who rather enjoy their pastors’ Greek word explanations but want to make sure they’re being like the Bereans – checking the info out for themselves.

For your auditory pleasure: The IU orchestra performs Bohemian Rhapsody. (Link courtesy of an old college buddy.)

It’s like Fantasia meets Queen.

What I learned today #6: About space

If you ever watched The Magic School Bus when you were a kid, maybe you remember this bit about Arnold turning to ice:

Don’t worry, he thaws out.

I always kinda believed that that’s essentially what would happen to an astronaut if one really did remove the helmet out in space.

Apparently that’s not the case!

A nuclear physicist and wannabe-astronaut I know informed me today that somebody who takes his helmet off in space is probably going to survive for a minute or so (and would thus have enough time to get back into the safety of a ship – maybe).

No air, you say? People can hold their breath for at least a minute. Nothing about that changes by being out in space.

It’s cold, you say? Yes – around 3 degrees Kelvin apparently (almost as cold as it gets anywhere in the universe) – but it takes quite a lot of time to cool you down when there’s no air hitting you to transfer your body heat to. Not exactly a snap freeze.

No air pressure, you say? So you depressurize fast – on earth, it’s called the bends (like when scuba divers go too deep and come up too fast). It makes you pass out. But there are ways to survive, one of which involves spending two weeks in a pressure chamber that slowly decompresses you. (The physicist assures me they give you books and a little TV to pass the time.)

Who’da thunk?

Monday, March 04, 2013

Movie-fast February in hindsight

It’s March 4, and the last day I saw a movie was Feb. 1.

Not that I’ve noticed much.

The first week or so, I felt like watching a movie almost every night, and had to restrain myself. After that, I kind of forgot that I was purposely abstaining from movies.

I had books to read. (I’m currently working on two, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount by Martyn Lloyd-Jones and The Complete Father Brown collection of G.K. Chesterton short stories. I’m aiming to read Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman as soon as I finish one of those two books.)

I had an apartment to clean. (It’s clean. Even most of the dishes are done. I vacuumed today, thinking the whole time about things that don’t like bowties.)

I had friends to hang out with. (At a friend’s inaugural jewelry party, at a living history fair, at church, at my cousins’ houses, and so on.)

I had a church missions conference to attend.

I had taxes to do. (Done, but not filed. Yet.)

I had a new phone to order, activate and play with.

I even had a Greek play to attend.

Now I’m just trying to decide whether I really want to start watching movies again. By myself, at least. I can see the value of watching movies with friend – it’s a bonding thing – but if I’m watching a movie by myself, in my apartment, it’s probably because I can’t think of anything better to do.

And that’s probably a fault of my own thinking rather than an actual dearth of better ways to fill my time.