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Results 26 - 50 of 13,183
26. POSTER BOOK - woodland friends

Today sees the publication of a new Print & Pattern Poster book. Called Woodland Friends it is a portfolio of 20 art prints that can be easily pulled out for framing (or sticking to the wall with washi tape). I was lucky enough to be able to commission artists to design the prints especially for the book who all created pieces with a woodland theme in their own style. The five designers who

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27. PRINT & PATTERN - geometric

Today is also publication day for the new Print & Pattern Geometric book. This is the fourth title in series and focuses on designs made from geometric shapes such as circles, triangles, hexagons, etc, as well as dots, dashes, stripes etc. Styles featured include Native American, Scandinavian and Mid Century Modern. 101 Designers are showcased with 460 images all curated by P&P. Available now

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28. Seeing things the way they are

A few really disastrous mistakes have dominated Western philosophy for the past several centuries. The worst mistake of all is the idea that the universe divides into two kinds of entities, the mental and the physical (mind and body, soul and matter). A related mistake, almost as bad, is in our philosophy of perception. All of the great philosophers of the present era, beginning with Descartes, made the same mistake, and it colored their account of knowledge and indeed their account of pretty much everything. By ‘great philosophers’, I mean Locke, Berkeley, Hume, Descartes, Leibniz, Spinoza, and Kant. I am prepared to throw in Hegel and Mill if people think they are great philosophers too. I called this mistake the “Bad Argument”. Here it is: We never directly perceive objects and states of affairs in the world. All we ever perceive are the perceptual contents of our own mind. These are variously called ‘ideas’ by Descartes, Locke, and Berkeley, ‘impressions’ by Hume, ‘representations’ by Kant, and ‘sense data’ by twentieth century theorists. Most contemporary philosophers think they have avoided the mistake, but I do not think they have. It is just repeated in different versions, especially by a currently fashionable view called ‘Disjunctivism’.

But that leaves us with a more interesting problem: What is the correct account of the relation of perceptual experience and the real world? The key to understanding this relation is to understand the intentionality of perception. ‘Intentionality’ is an ugly word, but we can pretty much make clear what it means; a mental state is intentional if it represents, or is about, objects and states of affairs in the world. So beliefs, hopes, fears, desires are all intentional in this sense. ‘Intending’ in the ordinary sense just names one kind of intentionality, along with beliefs, desires, etc. Such intentional states are representations of how things are in the world or how we would like them to be, etc., and we might say therefore that they have “conditions of satisfaction” — truth conditions in the case of belief, fulfillment conditions in the case of intentions, etc.

The biologically most basic and gutsiest forms of intentionality are those where we don’t have mere representations but direct presentations of objects and states of affairs in the world, and part of intentionality is that these must be causally related to the conditions in the world that they present. Perception and intentional action are direct presentations of their conditions of satisfaction. In the case of perception, the conditions of satisfaction have to cause the perceptual experience. In the case of action, the intention in action has to cause the bodily movement. So the key to understanding perception is to see the special features of the causal presentational intentionality of perception. The tough philosophical question is to state how exactly the character of the visual experience, its phenomenology, determines the conditions of satisfaction.

How then does the intentional content fix the conditions of satisfaction? The first step in the answer is to see that perception is hierarchical. In order to see higher level features, such that an object is my car, I have to see such basic features as color and shape. The key to understanding the intentionality of the basic perceptual experience is to see that the feature itself is defined in part by its ability to cause a certain sort of perceptual experience. Being red, for example, consists in part in the ability to cause this sort of experience. Once the intentionality of the basic perceptual features is explained, we can then ask the question of how the presentation of the higher level features, such as seeing that it is my car or my spouse, can be explained in terms of the intentionality of the basic perceptual experiences together with collateral information.

How do we deal with the traditional problems of perception? How do we deal with skepticism? The traditional problem of skepticism arises because exactly the same type of experience can be common to both the hallucinatory and the veridical cases. How are we supposed to know which is which?

Image Credit: Marmalade Skies. Photo by Tom Raven. CC by NC-ND 2.0 via Flickr

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29. World Religion Day 2015

Today, 18 January 2015 marks World Religion Day across the globe. The day was created by the Baha’i faith in 1950 to foster dialogue and to and improve understanding of religions worldwide and it is now in its 64th year.

The aim of World Religion Day is to unite everyone, whatever their faith, by showing us all that there are common foundations to all religions and that together we can help humanity and live in harmony. The day often includes activities and events calling the attention of the followers of world faiths. In honour of this special day and to increase awareness of religions from around the world, we asked a few of our authors to dispel some of the popular myths from their chosen religions.

*   *   *   *   *

Myth: Quakers are mostly silent worshippers

“If you are from Britain, or certain parts of the United States, you may think of Quakers as a quiet group that meets in silence on Sunday mornings, with only occasional, brief vocal messages to break the silence. Actually, between eighty and ninety per cent of Quakers are “pastoral” or “programmed” Friends, with the majority of these living in Africa (more in Kenya than any other country) and other parts of the global South. The services are conducted by pastors, and include prayers, sermons, much music, and even occasionally (in Burundi, for instance) dancing! Pastoral Quaker services sometimes include a brief period of “unprogrammed” worship, and sometimes not.  Quaker worship can be very lively!”

Stephen W. Angell is Leatherock Professor of Quaker Studies, Earlham School of Religion and editor of The Oxford Handbook of Quaker Studies

*   *   *   *   *

Myanmar, monks and novices, by Dietmar Temps, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 via Flickr

Myth: Zen as the Buddhist meditation school

“Zen is known as the Buddhist school emphasizing intensive practice of meditation, the name’s literal meaning that represents the Japanese pronunciation of an Indian term (dhyana). But hours of daily meditative practice are limited to a small group of monks, who participate in monastic austerities at a handful of training temples. The vast majority of members of Zen only rarely or perhaps never take part in this exercise. Instead, their religious affiliation with temple life primarily involves burials and memorials for deceased ancestors, or devotional rites to Buddhist icons and local spirits. Recent campaigns, however, have initiated weekly one-hour sessions introducing meditation for lay followers.”

— Steven Heine is Professor of Religion and History, Director of the Institute for Asian Studies, at Florida International University, and author of Zen Skin, Zen Marrow: Will the Real Zen Buddhism Please Stand Up?

*   *   *   *   *

Myth: Atheists have no moral standards

“This was a common cry in the nineteenth century – the British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli made it – and it continues in the twenty-first century.  Atheists respond in two ways. First, if you need a god for morality, then what is to stop that god from being entirely arbitrary? It could make the highest moral demand to kill everyone not fluent in English – or Hebrew or whatever. But if this god does not do things in an arbitrary fashion, you have the atheist’s second response. There must be an independent set of values to which even the god is subject, and so why should the non-believer not be subject to and obey them, just like everyone else?”

Michael Ruse is Lucyle T. Werkmeister Professor of Philosophy and Director of the Program in the History and Philosophy of Science, at Florida State University and an editor of The Oxford Handbook of Atheism

*   *   *   *   *

Floating through the temple, by Trey Ratcliff. CC-BY-NC-SA-2.0 via Flickr

Myth: Islam is a coercive communitarian religion

“Claims of an Islamic state to enforce Sharia as the law of the state are alien to historical Islamic traditions and rejected by the actual current political choices of the vast majority of Muslims globally. Belief in Islam must always be a free choice and compliance with Sharia cannot have any religious value unless done voluntarily with the required personal intent of each individual Muslim to comply (nya). Theologically Islam is radically democratic because individual personal responsibility can never be abdicated or delegated to any other human being (see e.g. chapters and verses 6:164; 17:15; 35:18; 39:7; 52:21; 74:38 of the Quran).”

— Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na‘im is Charles Howard Candler Professor of Law at Emory University, and author of What Is an American Muslim? Embracing Faith and Citizenship

*   *   *   *   *

Myth: Are Mormons Christians?

“Are Mormons Christian? Yes, but with greater similarity to the Church before the fourth century creeds gave it its modern shape. Mormons believe in and worship God the Father, but deny the formulas which claim he is without body, parts, or—most critically—passions. Latter-day Saints accept his Son Jesus Christ as Savior and Redeemer, but reject the Trinitarian statements making him of one substance with the Father. Mormons accept the Bible as the word of God, but reject the closed canon dating from the same era, just as they believe that God continues to reveal the truth to prophets and seeking individuals alike.”

Terryl Givens is Professor of Literature and Religion at the University of Richmond, and author of Wrestling the Angel, The Foundations of Mormon Thought: Cosmos, God, Humanity

*   *   *   *   *

Religion in Asia, by Michaël Garrigues, CC-BY-NC-ND-2.0 via Flickr

Myth: Hinduism is tied to Southern Asia

“One myth about Hinduism is that it is an ethnic religion. The assumption is that Hinduism is tied to a particular South Asian ethnicity. This is misleading for at least three reasons. First, South Asia is ethnically diverse. Therefore, it is not logical to speak of a single, unified ethnicity. Second, Hinduism has long been established in Southeast Asia, where practitioners consider themselves Hindu but not South Asian. Third, although the appearance of ‘White Hindus’ is a phenomenon rather recent and somewhat controversial, the global outreach of Hindu missionary groups has prompted scores of modern converts to Hinduism throughout Europe and the Americas. In other words, not all Hindus are South Asian.”

— Kiyokazu Okita is Assistant Professor at The Hakubi Center for Advanced Research and Department of Indological Studies, Kyoto University, and author of Hindu Theology in Early Modern South Asia

*   *   *   *   *

Headline image credit: Candles, photo by Loren Kerns, CC-by-2.0 via Flickr

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30. Why causality now?

Head hits cause brain damage, but not always. Should we ban sport to protect athletes? Exposure to electromagnetic fields is strongly associated with cancer development. Should we ban mobile phones and encourage old-fashioned wired communication? The sciences are getting more and more specialized and it is difficult to judge whether, say, we should trust homeopathy, fund a mission to Mars, or install solar panels on our roofs. We are confronted with questions about causality on an everyday basis, as well as in science and in policy.

Causality has been a headache for scholars since ancient times. The oldest extensive writings may have been Aristotle, who made causality a central part of his worldview. Then we jump 2,000 years until causality again became a prominent topic with Hume, who was a skeptic, in the sense that he believed we cannot think of causal relationships as logically necessary, nor can we establish them with certainty.

The next major philosophical figure after Hume was probably David Lewis, who proposed quite a controversial account saying roughly that something was a cause of an effect in this world if, in other nearby possible worlds where that cause didn’t happen, the effect didn’t happen either. Currently, we come to work in computer science originated by Judea Pearl and by Spirtes, Glymour and Scheines and collaborators.

All of this is highly theoretical and formal. Can we reconstruct philosophical theorizing about causality in the sciences in simpler terms than this? Sure we can!

One way is to start from scientific practice. Even though scientists often don’t talk explicitly about causality, it is there. Causality is an integral part of the scientific enterprise. Scientists don’t worry too much about what causality is­ – a chiefly metaphysical question – but are instead concerned with a number of activities that, one way or another, bear on causal notions. These are what we call the five scientific problems of causality:

Phrenology: causality, mirthfulness, and time. Photo by Stuart, CC-BY-NC-ND-2.0 via Flickr.
  • Inference: Does C cause E? To what extent?
  • Explanation: How does C cause or prevent E?
  • Prediction: What can we expect if C does (or does not) occur?
  • Control: What factors should we hold fixed to understand better the relation between C and E? More generally, how do we control the world or an experimental setting?
  • Reasoning: What considerations enter into establishing whether/how/to what extent C causes E?

This does not mean that metaphysical questions cease to be interesting. Quite the contrary! But by engaging with scientific practice, we can work towards a timely and solid philosophy of causality.

The traditional philosophical treatment of causality is to give a single conceptualization, an account of the concept of causality, which may also tell us what causality in the world is, and may then help us understand causal methods and scientific questions.

Our aim, instead, is to focus on the scientific questions, bearing in mind that there are five of them, and build a more pluralist view of causality, enriched by attention to the diversity of scientific practices. We think that many existing approaches to causality, such as mechanism, manipulationism, inferentialism, capacities and processes can be used together, as tiles in a causal mosaic that can be created to help you assess, develop, and criticize a scientific endeavour.

In this spirit we are attempting to develop, in collaboration, complementary ideas of causality as information (Illari) and variation (Russo). The idea is that we can conceptualize in general terms the causal linking or production of effect by the cause as the transmission of information between cause and effect (following Salmon); while variation is the most general conceptualization of the patterns of difference-making we can detect in populations where a cause is acting (following Mill). The thought is that we can use these complementary ideas to address the scientific problems.

For example, we can think about how we use complementary evidence in causal inference, tracking information transmission, and combining that with studies of variation in populations. Alternatively, we can think about how measuring variation may help us formulate policy decisions, as might seeking to block possible avenues of information transmission. Having both concepts available assists in describing this, and reasoning well – and they will also be combined with other concepts that have been made more precise in the philosophical literature, such as capacities and mechanisms.

Ultimately, the hope is that sharpening up the reasoning will assist in the conceptual enterprise that lies at the intersection of philosophy and science. And help decide whether to encourage sport, mobile phones, homeopathy and solar panels aboard the mission to Mars!

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31. What is it like to be depressed?

How are we to understand experiences of depression? First of all, it is important to be clear about what the problem consists of. If we don’t know what depression is like, why can’t we just ask someone who’s depressed? And, if we want others to know what our own experience of depression is like, why can’t we just tell them? In fact, most autobiographical accounts of depression state that the experience or some central aspect of it is difficult or even impossible to describe. Depression is not simply a matter of the intensification of certain familiar aspects of experience and the diminution of others, such as feeling more sad and less happy, or more tired and less energetic. First-person accounts of depression indicate that it involves something quite alien to what — for most people — is mundane, everyday experience. The depressed person finds herself in a ‘different world’, an isolated, alien realm, adrift from social reality. There is a radical departure from ‘everyday experience’, and this is not a localized experience that the person has within a pre-given world; it encompasses every aspect of her experience and thought – it is the shape of her world. It is the ‘world’ of depression that people so often struggle to convey.

My approach involves extracting insights from the phenomenological tradition of philosophy and applying them to the task of understanding depression experiences. That tradition includes philosophers such as Edmund Husserl, Edith Stein, Martin Heidegger, Maurice Merleau-Ponty and Jean-Paul Sartre, all of whom engage in ‘phenomenological’ reflection – that is, reflection upon the structure of human experience. Why turn to phenomenology? Well, these philosophers all claim that human experience incorporates something that is overlooked by most of those who have tried to describe it — what we might call a sense of ‘belonging to’ or ‘finding oneself in’ a world. This is something so deeply engrained, so fundamental to our lives, that it is generally overlooked. Whenever I reflect upon my experience of a chair, a table, a sound, an itch or a taste, and whenever I contrast my experience with yours, I continue to presuppose a world in which we are both situated, a shared realm in which it is possible to encounter things like chairs and to experience things like itches. This sense of being rooted in an interpersonal world does not involve perceiving a (very big) object or believing that some object exists. It’s something that is already in place when we do that, and therefore something that we seldom reflect upon.

The Concern by Alex Proimos. CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Depression, I suggest, involves a shift in one’s sense of belonging to the world. We can further understand the nature of this once we acknowledge the role that possibilities play in our experience. When I get up in the morning, feel very tired, stop at a café on the way to work, and then look at a cup of coffee sitting in front of me, what do I ‘experience’? On one account, what I ‘see’ is just what is ‘present’, an object of a certain type. But it’s important to recognize that my experience of the cup is also permeated by possibilities of various kinds. I see it as something that I could drink from, as something that is practically accessible and practically significant. Indeed, it appears more than just significant – it is immediately enticing. Rather than, ‘you could drink me’, it says ‘drink me now’. Many aspects of our situation appear significant to us in some way or other, meaning that they harbor the potentiality for change of a kind that matters. We can better appreciate what experiences of depression consist of once we construe them in terms of shifts in the kinds of possibility that the person has access to. Whereas the non-depressed person might find one thing practically significant and another thing not significant, the depressed person might be unable to find anything practically significant. It is not that she doesn’t find anything significant, but that she cannot. And the absence is very much there, part of the experience – something is missing, painfully lacking, and nothing appears quite as it should do. In fact, many first-person accounts of depression explicitly refer to a loss of possibility. Here are some representative responses to a questionnaire study that I conducted with colleagues two years ago, with help from the mental health charity SANE:

“I remember a time when I was very young – 6 or less years old. The world seemed so large and full of possibilities. It seemed brighter and prettier. Now I feel that the world is small. That I could go anywhere and do anything and nothing for me would change.”

“It is impossible to feel that things will ever be different (even though I know I have been depressed before and come out of it). This feeling means I don’t care about anything. I feel like nothing is worth anything.”

“The world holds no possibilities for me when I’m depressed. Every avenue I consider exploring seems shut off.”

“When I’m not depressed, other possibilities exist. Maybe I won’t fail, maybe life isn’t completely pointless, maybe they do care about me, maybe I do have some good qualities. When depressed, these possibilities simply do not exist.”

By emphasizing the experience of possibility, we can understand a great deal. Suppose the depressed person inhabits an experiential world from which the possibility of anything ever changing for the better is absent; nothing offers the potential for positive change and nothing draws the person in, solicits action. This lack permeates every aspect of her experience. Her situation seems strangely timeless, as no future could differ from the present in any consequential way. Action seems difficult, impossible or futile, because there is no sense of any possibility for significant change. Her body feels somehow heavy and inert, as it is not drawn in by situations, solicited to act. She is cut off from other people, who no longer offer the possibility of significant kinds of interpersonal connection. Others might seem somehow elsewhere, far away, given that they are immersed in shared goal-directed activities that no longer appear as intelligible possibilities for the depressed person. We can thus see how the kind of ‘hopelessness’ or ‘despair’ that is central to so many experiences of depression differs in important respects from more mundane feelings that might be described in similar ways. I might lose hope in a certain project, but I retain the capacity for hope — I can still hope for other things. Some depression experiences, in contrast, involve erosion of the capacity for hope. There is no sense that anything of worth could be achieved or that anything good could ever happen — the attitude of hope has ceased to be intelligible; the person cannot hope.

Of course, it should also be conceded that depression is a heterogeneous, complicated, multi-faceted phenomenon; no single approach or perspective will yield a comprehensive understanding. Even so, I think phenomenological research has an important role to play in solving a major part of the puzzle, thus feeding into a broader understanding of depression and informing our response to it.

Heading image: Depression. Public Domain via Pixabay.

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32. Fear vs terror: signal crimes, counter-terrorism, and the Charlie Hebdo killings

Signal crimes change how we think, feel, and act — altering perceptions of the distribution of risks and threats in the world. Sometimes, as with the recent assassinations and mass shootings in France, sending a message is the intention of the criminal act. The attackers’ target selection of the staff of Charlie Hebdo magazine, and that of taking and killing Jewish hostages, was deliberately designed to send messages to individuals and institutions.

Researchers examine social reactions to different kinds of crime events and the signals they send to a range of audiences. The aim is to determine how and why certain kinds of incidents and situations generate fear and anxiety responses that travel widely and, by extension, how processes of social reaction to such events are managed and influenced by the authorities.

The murder of Lee Rigby in London in 2013 can be understood as a signal crime as it triggered concern amongst the general public and across security institutions, owing to the macabre innovation of the killers in undertaking a brutally simple form of assault. Analysis of the crime has identified a number of key components to the overarching process of social reaction. Observing how events have unfolded in France, the collective reactions have followed a similar trajectory to what happened in London.

In the wake of both incidents there was ‘spontaneous community mobilisation’ as ordinary people sought to engage in collective sense-making of what had actually happened, coupled with collective action ‘to do something’ to evidence their opposition. Widespread use of social media platforms helped spread rumours as attempts were made to follow updates in the story; rapid moves were made to secondary conflicts as acts of criminal retaliation were committed against symbolic Muslim targets.

One prominent type of intervention evident in both cases has been a call from senior figures within security institutions and governments to urgently provide the authorities with enhanced legal powers, especially for digital and online surveillance. This is part of a wider reaction pattern that we might label ‘the legislative reflex’. This term seeks to capture how – following a terrorist atrocity and the public concern it induces – politicians who need to be seen to be ‘doing something’ almost automatically reach for new laws as their principal response. The presence of this reflex is evidenced by the fact that since 9/11, in the United Kingdom we have seen the introduction of a significant number of new laws including:

  • The Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001, allowing for detention without trial (later overturned by the courts)
  • The Terrorism Act 2006, which extended the detention of suspects without charge from 14 to 28 days
  • The Counter-Terrorism Act 2008, under which police were permitted to continue questioning suspects after charge
  • The Terrorist Asset-Freezing Act 2010
  • The Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill, which is currently being debated by peers in the House of Lords

What we can detect here is how fear of not being able to protect against potential attacks is being mobilised to justify new preventative anti-terror legislation. In effect, public and political fear is being deployed to shape the reaction to terrorism, where reaching for new legislation has become part of the societal response to terrorist attacks.

However, it increasingly appears that this approach is inadequate and that we are dealing with a social problem that we cannot solve by legal means alone. Indeed, a more nuanced and sophisticated approach to counter-terrorism policy development would probably look elsewhere for solutions. After all, in both the French cases and that of Drummer Rigby, it transpired that the perpetrators were well known to the authorities as presenting a risk. Rather than creating legislative fixes to collect more intelligence, research suggests the focus must be on finding effective policy solutions to three inter-linked ‘wicked problems’ that have been identified in issues of radicalization and home-grown extremism.

The first of these, mentioned earlier, concerns the ability of the politics of counter-terrorism to resist the allure of introducing new security measures that might corrode levels of integration and cohesion. Over the long-term, over-reaction to terrorist provocations can be as harmful as the initial act itself.

This connects to the second ‘wicked problem’: tension between the tactical and strategic response to countering violent extremists. The police and security services focus upon stopping violent acts, often engaging with individuals whose ideas are not coherent with liberal democratic traditions. Preventing or stopping these acts does not reduce the longer term influence of these radical ideas.

Thirdly, all plausible theories of radicalisation into violent extremism identify a pivotal role played by ‘non-violent extremists': those who do not engage in violence directly, but whose ideas and rhetoric influence others to do so. These create a ‘mood music’ of ideas, values, and beliefs that presents violence as a permissible means to an end. In the wake of the killings in France, there has been a widespread call across Europe to protect the right to freedom of speech. However, this freedom will also be used by those motivated to undertake mass killings. Current counter-terrorism policy struggles with what to do with individuals who steer and propagate the radicalisation of others by engaging in activity that is troublesome and unpleasant, but not necessarily illegal.

One of the principal institutional effects of high profile signal crimes is to implant a political imperative to consider what can be done to predict, pre-empt, and prevent similar atrocities in the future. However, it is increasingly clear that it is not going to be possible to prevent all such attacks. Developing a conceptually robust evidenced understanding of how and why our collective processes of reaction occur in the ways they do, and the institutional effects that such assaults induce, seems vitally important if we are to collectively manage our reactions better when the next attack comes.

Headline image credit: Paris rally in support of the victims of the 2015 Charlie Hebdo shooting, 11 January 2015. Photo by “sébastien amiet;l”. CC BY 2.0 via Flickr.

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33. Recently Read or Watched with Various Kids

little bear by sendak

With the boys:

Little Bear.
The original—Huck’s first time, though he’s seen the show of course. He loved the book so much. Although the text is less sophisticated—a bit more Dick-and-Jane—than contemporary early readers, it absolutely holds up. Beautiful pacing; wonderful humor; sweet, cozy tone; warm relationships; and fresh storylines. What a marvel it is. So glad we have more to enjoy together.)

Okay Andy and My New Friend Is So Fun.
Two of my fellow Cybils Early Reader finalists. Huck loved them both. Of course the Elephant and Piggie is a delight. Great plot in this one: Piggie has a new friend and naturally Gerald begins to worry he’s been replaced. Mo Willems is my hero.

With Rilla:

Understood Betsy.
It’s time, it’s time! Color me ecstatic. One of the best readalouds ever, and here’s my last little girl to read it to. Hmm, make that color me wistful. ;) A bit of both, I guess. She’s going to love it so much. I waited and waited until the time was right.

(Meanwhile, Scott is reading her Watership Down. One of his best readalouds. Rose and Beanie are listening in—they wouldn’t have it any other way. This book is a very big deal in our family culture.)

With Beanie:

Short stories: “The Gift of the Magi,” “The Most Dangerous Game.”
Billy Collins poem: “Marginalia.” (Delicious.)

With Rose and Bean:

Big History Project, Unit 1. This week had us reading origin stories from several cultures, watching some really breathtaking videos about space, scale, and various scientific disciplines, and reading a BBC article on Easter Island. Good stuff.

With Rose:

Paradise Lost. 
The whole shebang for her, selections for me. I listened to a number of these Yale Open Courses lectures last fall to prep for this study. Rose is finding it slow going but she enjoys the discussions and agrees that somehow Satan is the most likable character.

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34. A Literary Appreciation of Dragons 2015 – Part 2 of 4

Here we are, with the second of four posts for the Third Annual Bugs and Bunnies Literary Appreciation of Dragons!

Drawing courtesy of Chez Wheedleton's resident Dragon Expert: Lovely Girl

Regular readers – or at least those who follow this particular series here on Bugs and Bunnies – already know what's what. For those who are new: click on the link up there in the very first sentence of this post, and you'll find all kinds of information that will catch you up quite nicely. Then come on back here to continue the dragon-y fun.

Last week, our theme was Dragon Fact, Dragon Fable. This week's theme is:

Chinese Dragon Tales

It's a little round-up of four picture books focused on stories rooted in Chinese culture, with Chinese dragons:

The Paper Dragon, by Marguerite W. Davol
Illustrated by Robert Sabuda
Ages 5 - 8
* Summary courtesy of Chez Wheedleton's own Lovely Girl

Humble artist Mi Fei spends most of his time painting scenes of the glorious past on paper scrolls. The people of his village love to admire his epic portraits of gods, festivals, heroes, and great deeds. When news arrives one day that Sui Jen, the great dragon of Lung Mountain, has woken from his hundred years' sleep and is rampaging through the country, the villagers are sure that Mi Fei has enough knowledge of ancient heroes to save the day. But Mi Fei is just a simple artist! Can he live up to his village's expectations and convince the mighty dragon to sleep once more?

The Boy Who Painted Dragons
Written and Illustrated by Demi
Ages 7 - 10
* Summary courtesy of Chez Wheedleton's own Lovely Girl

 Ping paints dragons everywhere - on the walls, columns, doors, windows, tables, and chairs, and all over the ceiling and floors. All of the other children are in awe of his skill, but none of them know Ping's secret: he is terrified of dragons. No matter how many he paints, he still is unable to get over his fear. When the mighty Heavenly Dragon catches a glimpse of his art and decides to pay Ping a visit, the boy artist is in for a big shock... 

Written and Illustrated by Jon Berkeley
Ages 4 - 8

Chopsticks is a small gray mouse, living on a floating restaurant in a busy harbor on the island of Hong Kong. The restaurant's entrance is flanked by two huge pillars, each of which has coiled around it a magnificent carved wooden dragon. One night – New Year's night, Chopsticks is going about his usual business of foraging for crumbs, when one of the dragons of the pillars speaks to him, and asks him for help with something very important. But how can one small mouse help a dragon made of wood and lacquer to realize his most cherished dream: to be free, so he can fly?

Dragon Dancing
Written by Carole Lexa Schaefer
Illustrated by Pierr Morgan
Ages 3 and up

A class of students listen to their teacher read a book about dragons. And then, during art class, when it's time to decorate for Mei Lin's birthday, the sparkly paper and ribbons give the kids a great idea. And very soon, a sparkle-headed Birthday Dragon is off exploring imaginary lands, far, far away...at least until they hear their teacher calling.

* * *

And so we've come to the end of Part 2 of 4 of the Third Annual Bugs and Bunnies Literary Appreciation of Dragons. Be sure to come back next Friday, for Part 3 of 4, when we'll explore some more dragon tales...



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35. Is yoga Hindu?

Given that we see yoga practically everywhere we turn, from strip-mall yoga studios to advertisements for the Gap, one might assume a blanket acceptance of yoga as an acceptable consumer choice.

Yet, a growing movement courts fear of the popularization of yoga, warning that yoga is essentially Hindu. Some Christians, including Albert Mohler (President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary), Pat Robertson (television evangelist and founder of the Christian Coalition of America), and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith of the Roman Catholic Church, warn about the dangers of yoga given the perceived incompatibility between what they believe is its Hindu essence and Christianity. Some well-known Americans, such as Mohler, add that yoga’s popularization threatens the Christian essence of American culture. Hindu protesters, most notably represented by the Hindu American Foundation (HAF), criticize yoga insiders for failing to recognize yoga’s so-called Hindu origins and illegitimately co-opting yoga for the sake of profit.

Protesters rely on revisionist histories that essentialize yoga as Hindu, ignoring its historical and lived heterogeneity. By the end of the first millennium C.E., however, a variety of yoga systems were widespread in South Asia as Hindu, Buddhist, Jains, and others prescribed them. Following the twelfth-century Muslim incursions into South Asia and the establishment of Islam as a South Asian religion, even Muslim Sufis appropri­ated elements of yoga. Therefore, throughout its premodern history, yoga was culturally South Asian but did not belong to any single religious tradition. Rather than essentializing premodern yoga by reifying its content and aims, it is more accurate to identify it as heterogeneous in practice and characteristic of the doctrin­ally diverse culture of South Asia.

Antoinettes Yoga Garden. Photo by Robert Begil. CC by 2.0 via Flickr.
Antoinettes Yoga Garden. Photo by Robert Begil. CC by 2.0 via Flickr.

The history of modern postural yoga, a fitness reg­imen made up of sequences of often-onerous bodily postures, the movement through which is synchronized with the breath, also problematizes the identification of yoga as Hindu. That history is a paragon of cultural encounters in the process of constructing something new in response to transnational ideas and movements, including military calisthenics, modern medicine, and the Western European and North American physical culture of gymnasts, bodybuilders, martial experts, and contortionists. Yoga proponents constructed new postural yoga systems in the twentieth century, and nothing like them appeared in the historical record up to that time. In other words, the methods of postural yoga were specific to the twentieth century and would not have been considered yoga prior.

In short, recent scholarship has shown that the type of yoga that dominates the yoga industry today—modern postural yoga—does not have its so-called “origins” in some static, “classical,” Hindu yoga system; rather, it is a twentieth-century transnational product, the aims of which include modern conceptions of physical fitness, stress reduction, beauty, and overall well-being. Hence recent scholarship on yoga, both historical and lived, attends to the particularities of different yoga traditions, which vary based largely on social context.

Nevertheless, protesters against the popularization of yoga, in strikingly similar ways, are polemical, prescriptive, and share misguiding orientalist and reformist strategies that essentialize yoga as Hindu. Interestingly though, the two protesting positions emerge as much from the cultural context—that is, consumer culture—that they share with popularized yoga as from a desire to erect boundaries between themselves and yoga insiders. For example, protesters participate in the same consumer dialect, assuming the importance of “choosing” a fitness regimen that fits one’s personal lifestyle and serves the goal of self-perfection. The protesters positions, in other words, are as much the products of the social context they share with postural yoga advocates as popularized yoga itself.

Image Credit: Yoga. Photo by Matt Madd. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 via Flickr.

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36. “Sorry mate, I didn’t see you”: perceptual errors and inattentional blindness

“Sorry mate, I didn’t see you.” It’s a common refrain heard after many a road-traffic collision. So common, in fact, that if you say “SMIDSY” to a UK motorcyclist, they’ll most likely wince and offer a story of how they or a colleague came to grief. Perhaps you’ve had SMIDSY said to you, or even had to utter those words yourself?

SMIDSY describes the all-too-common type of motorbike accident when a car pulls out at an intersection. The driver’s sure that the road is clear, but discovers too late that something is coming. Even if you haven’t been involved in such an incident, you can probably recall some occasion on which you were driving and had a near miss with a car or bike you’d swear wasn’t there a moment ago.

It turns out that these sorts of events might be more complicated than first appear. It’s quite possible for you to look right at the other vehicle, but for your brain to fail to process the information associated with it. These sorts of situational awareness failures may in fact result from a well-described, but not well-known, psychological phenomenon called “inattentional blindness”.

Most people believe their senses work a bit like a video camera. You direct attention towards an object and your brain automatically and reliably records. Although this is our day-to-day experience, perception is in reality a much more active process, with a number of filters operating between information arriving, and you becoming consciously aware of it.

A potentially limitless amount of information exists in the environment around you, but little of it is relevant from moment to moment. Rather than ‘clutter up’ consciousness with a surfeit of useless information, the subconscious monitors these unnecessary items and only ‘alerts’ the consciousness when something relevant occurs.

Under normal circumstances your brain is fairly efficient at subconsciously monitoring events around you. Imagine holding a conversation in a noisy restaurant: you are probably only consciously aware of the conversation you are directly involved in (your primary task), but if your name is mentioned elsewhere, you will turn around to find out why. Your brain has been subconsciously monitoring that stream of conversation, and when something personally relevant occurs (your name is a very powerful trigger, carrying a high degree of ‘cognitive saliency’) you can devote your attention to it.

Problems occur when you have to concentrate harder on a primary task. The more cognitive demands placed on you, the narrower your focus becomes. It’s surprising how big an event you might miss: the classic demonstration of this effect is known as the “Invisible Gorilla” and was devised by Harvard psychologists Dan Simons and Christopher Chabris in 1999. Observers were asked to follow two teams of basketball players, counting the passes made by one of the teams. Caught up in the counting task, 50% of the participants failed to notice as a collaborator, dressed in a gorilla costume, marched between the players and stopped to beat her chest before marching out again. Making the primary task more difficult, by asking the observers to count bounce- and aerial-passes separately, caused the noticing rate to fall to 33%. Most observers were inattentionally blind to the gorilla and many expressed shock when shown their error, some even accusing the experimenters of showing two different videos. Although these perceptual errors are an innate and universal feature of human cognitive architecture, it’s a common finding that insight into their effects is very poor. Almost everyone significantly overestimates their ability to notice the unexpected.

Increasing workload has been well described as a risk for this form of perceptual error. Interestingly, people with professional basketball experience are much more likely to notice the gorilla in the Simons video, but athletes from other disciplines perform much as the general public does. Whilst expertise is certainly protective to a degree (although does not eliminate the risk altogether), it does seem to be very task-specific.

How does inattentional blindness affect medical practice? The short answer is that no-one really knows. High-profile disasters such as the case of Elaine Bromiley make vivid reminders of the devastating consequences of medical errors, however, it is well recognized that daily errors occur in every institution around the world. In the UK, errors account for 2.5% of the national health budget annually.

Loss of situational awareness is thought to be the leading cause of error in time-critical situations, and there can be no doubt that clinicians labor under mentally taxing circumstances. Of course, doctors are well trained. Training brings expertise, and surely expertise protects against perceptual error? Possibly, but perhaps not to the extent that you might expect.

A few studies have looked into inattentional blindness in medical personnel, mainly by showing people items such as radiographs with a gorilla superimposed. These experiments showed large numbers of even experienced staff miss the anomaly. Our group in Oxford took this a little further, creating a recording of an adult resuscitation scenario into which we inserted a series of events, designed to test for the presence of different types of perceptual error. We showed this video to a more than 140 people and demonstrated that overall, more than seven people in ten missed events that would contribute to poor patient outcome (were they to be missed in ‘real life’). As one might expect, experts in the group (all experienced, accredited instructors of adult resuscitation) did perform better. In their case around six in ten missed it…

So does this prove that inattentional blindess is a problem for us, as experienced clinicians? Not yet, but it does raise some questions about how reliably individuals can maintain situational awareness, and offers some insight into the mechanisms by which even highly trained personnel might make mistakes. By research, using tools such as high-fidelity simulation, we can start to investigate how frequently perceptual errors actually do contribute to loss of situational awareness, who is most vulnerable to these effects, and most importantly, how can we mitigate them.

Heading image: Optics: page to a partwork on science, with pictures of optical phenomena. Coloured lithograph by J. Emslie, 1850. CC BY 4.0 via Wellcome Images.

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37. ‘Persia’ and the western imagination

Iran has long had a difficult relationship with the West. Ever since the Islamic Revolution of 1979 overthrew the monarchy and established an Islamic Republic, Iran has been associated in the popular consciousness with militant Islam and radical anti-Westernism. ‘Persia’ by contrast has long been a source of fascination in the Western imagination eliciting both awe and contempt that only familiarity can bring. Indeed if ‘Iran’ seems altogether alien to us, ‘Persia’ seems strangely familiar. There are few cultural icons or aspirations that we would associate with Iran; there are by contrast quite a few we would relate to Persia, most obviously carpets, the occasional cat and for the truly affluent, caviar. That these two words would elicit such dramatically different associations is all the more striking because they are describing the same place. Persia is simply the name inherited from the Greeks and the Romans for the great empire to the East that its inhabitants came to know as ‘Iran’. Persia, from the province of Pars, was not unknown to the Iranians but they would not have used it to apply to the entirety of their state.

Yet Persia reminds us that Iran is not as unfamiliar to us as we might imagine. Quite the contrary. The Persians serve an almost unique function in the Western narrative, being present at the birth and some might argue, the creation of a distinctly Western civilisation. If the Greeks under the influence of Herodotus, first defined history as a conflict between ‘East’ and ‘West’, identified as the Persian and the Greeks, it was a model reinforced with some vigour by the Romans whose own political expediency ensured that many nuances in the relationship were smoothed out to provide a reassuring narrative of confrontation between an increasingly civilised West and barbaric East. Yet if the Romans held up the Persians as a mirror upon which to reflect their own glories, the mirror was never quite as untarnished as its proponents would have liked to believe: the Persians were never quite the antithesis of the West that some sought to portray. The relationship, as the Greeks might have protested, was a good deal more subtle and a great deal more intimate.

This is perhaps best exemplified by the attitude towards the Persian king Cyrus the Great, widely admired in the Greek world as the ideal king whose political wisdom was fictionalised for posterity by Xenophon in his Cyropaedia, or ‘Education of Cyrus’. Cyrus, real or imagined was to have a profound influence on the political elites of the Western world from the renaissance through to the Enlightenment, while his role as a ‘messiah’ in the Old Testament has ensured an enduring affection among Christians, intriguingly among the Protestant variety that populated North America where the name remains popular.

Charles Montesquieu, by After Jacques-Antoine Dassier (1715–1759). Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Indeed the ancient Persians, for all their antagonism retained nobility that made them attractive to their Western protagonists. So much so, that when Montesquieu sought ‘discussants’ to critique the condition of Western – in this case French – state and society, he produced his ‘Persian Letters’. The Persians in the Western imagination were sufficiently ‘civilised’ to perform this role. They were educated and had good ‘manners’; were proficient in poetry to the highest standard and, as Cyrus himself exemplified, were masters of the art of landscape gardening, indicative of man’s power over and connection with nature. Indeed the Old Persian word for walled garden has given us our word for ‘paradise’.

It is striking how many Renaissance princes sought to emulate these characteristics and achievements. Yet by the end of the Enlightenment, as Western power grew to surpass that of the Persians, and travellers became reacquainted with the country and its people, old prejudices were redefined for the modern era. The Iranians were not quite like the Persians of their imagination but there was a convenient explanation to hand. The Persians of old were undoubtedly civilised but they had succumbed to decadence and hence decay. They had in sum become excessively civilised and indulgent; exotic yet effete. This explained their predicament and reconciled the apparent contradiction of being both civilised and barbarous at the same time.

Gibbon, perhaps like Herodotus before him, had found a means of reconciling contradictory tendencies, not only in defining the Persians but in explaining the Western relationship with them. A relationship that has been far from confrontational and much more symbiotic than some might suspect. Persia represents at once an ideal and the dangers ever-present in the corruption of that ideal. Persia – and by extension Iran – has been part of the grand narrative of the ‘West’ since its inception: it is neither as alien, nor indeed as foreign, as we may like to think.

Featured image credit: Apadana of Persepolis, by F. Ameli A Persian. CC BY-SA-2.5 via Wikimedia Commons

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38. Canons and Classics and Henry James

It’s one of those posts filled with a variety of goodness — or badness depending on how you look at it. Maybe not filled, maybe only partially filled. And maybe not a lot of variety but only some. And — oh heck, you’ll see.

Under the heading of blame it on postmodernists, the internet and book bloggers, comes an essay at the Chronicle of Higher Education What We Lose if We Lose the Canon. Yes, apparently the cannons are still firing on the canon war. There is still a canon to lose according to Arthur Krystal who worries that without it our poets and novelists will have no one to test themselves against, no one to supplant, no inspiration to work out new “aesthetic or philosophical precepts.” And somehow the “dismantling of hierarchies is tantamount to an erasure of history.” I’m not quite sure how that is the case since I’m pretty sure history of any kind isn’t bound exclusively to hierarchies unless of course you mean the history of literature as written by white western men.

Everything was hunky-dory until the postmodernists committed murder:

A few decades ago the modernists themselves became precursors when a loose confederation of critics and philosophers decided that modernism consisted of work that was too oblique and too self-consciously “high art” while remaining at the same time innocent of its own socio-semiotic implications. But what made the postmodern charter different was its willingness to discard the very idea of standards. Starting from the premise that aesthetics were just another social construct rather than a product of universal principles, postmodernist thinkers succeeded in toppling hierarchies and nullifying the literary canon. Indeed, they were so good at unearthing the socioeconomic considerations behind canon formation that even unapologetic highbrows had to wonder if they hadn’t been bamboozled by Arnoldian acolytes and eloquent ideologues.

That heretofore inviolable ideal of art, as expostulated by Walter Pater and John Ruskin, by T.S. Eliot and Lionel Trilling, by the New Criticism, was shunted aside.

I dunno, I’m not an expert in postmodernist theory, but I suspect that it wasn’t standards that were tossed overboard, but the values behind those standards that were brought into question and revealed to be constructed of the subjective opinions of a few rather than the universal objective truths everyone was pretending they were.

Then — horrors! — without the canon and aesthetic standards “every reader could become a person with unimpeachable taste” as if that’s why people read in the first place. Ok, some people read certain books to prove they have good taste, but I’m pretty sure most people who love reading don’t give a fig about taste. Into this wild devil’s brew add the internet and blogs and Amazon book reviews and suddenly “every autodidact with a bad teacher [is able] to address the world.” General readers have the audacity to express their personal opinions on how they thought Fifty Shades of Grey was the best thing since sliced bread. This causes the world to tilt, the poles to flip-flop, fire to rain down from the sky because literature has become “what anyone wants it to be.”

It’s okay to read authors like P.G. Wodehouse and Raymond Chandler for a little light fun now and then, to call them Literature with a capital “L” just won’t do. And for books like George R.R. Martin’s to even be mentioned in a classroom let alone seriously discussed just reveals how low we have sunk.

As Krystal says, “Some books simply reflect a deeper understanding of the world, of history, of human relationships” than other books. To that I say yes, yes they do. And those books will continue being read even without there being a canon to shove them down a reader’s throat. If he spent any time reading book blogs at all he would know that book bloggers are really into the classics. Our definition of a classic is broader and more inclusive than his, I’m sure, but he will still find plenty of readers eagerly reading Austen, Dickens, Tolstoy, Hugo and a boatful of other superstars. That we dare read them for pleasure and share our opinion, isn’t that what readers are supposed to do?

With so many things we could be doing besides reading, it seems to me that those who are still so tied to there being a canon created by mysterious and unknown literary gatekeepers are doing literature a huge disservice. No, George R.R. Martin is not James Joyce but I can see how there is value in teaching Game of Thrones in a literature class on the genre of fantasy. I can see there is value in teaching a class on the fantasy genre. Genre is an important part of literature and literary history. If you want to talk about erasing history, let’s have a conversation about how hierarchy and the canon of dead white men erased quite a lot of literary history that we are still in the process of rediscovering.

Well okay, sorry about the soapbox rant there. Here are a couple of things to lighten the mood:

  • The American Scholar has a list of Ten Neglected Classics (via A Different Stripe). Angela Carter and Elizabeth Gaskell made the list as did several books I have never heard of before. What fun! Take that literary canon!
  • For something a little silly, at The Toast, How to Tell If You are in a Henry James Novel. I laughed out loud several times while reading the list but I think my two favorites are the first one, “You’ve done something in a piazza that renders you unfit for polite company,” and number 21, “You may be someone else who the narrator is referring to and you may also be yourself; it is impossible to say at this junture just who ‘you’ are.” Though number 18 is pretty awesome too: “If only someone would die, you’d get everything you’ve ever wanted.” Heh, if only.

That’s enough fun for one blog post, I don’t want to over do it.

Filed under: Books, Reading

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39. Downton Season 5, Episode 2 Recap Is Up at GeekMom

my what big gardens you have

Episode 2 recap, at your service! As always, feel free to discuss over at GeekMom, or here in the comments. I will talk about Downton anywhere.

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40. JANUARY- The Stories Never End, Kids, Books, Movies and Dogs


  Töölö 2015 012

     Folklore from Germany, Fairy Tales for the World

It was an era that began with the turmoil of the Napoleonic wars. The years that followed were marked by internal conflict and political disagreement. 

Life was hard. Wealthy land owners and nobility controlled nearly all of the land. Most Jean-FrançoisMillet_Gleaners_people were farmers, living in rural areas. Books were few and few people could read them. Serfdom kept many people poor.

This was the time of the cumbersome German Confederation, created by German princes to retain their control in a time of growing upheaval and conflict.

The shifting sands of power lay in 37 principalities and four cities. Uncertainty reigned.

Folklore and folk tales were an integral part of people's awareness. Forests played a major role in these stories. The forests were deep and often dangerous.

We know that stories -- folk tales --  were often told by country women when several
GrimmTalesWalterCranegathered together in a neighbor's farm home while sewing, weaving and cooking.This was their social life. Perhaps men told these stories in markets, or taverns, or around a campfire.

 The stories that were told were collected by the Brothers Grimm and remain today the foundation of our children's fairy tale literature.

Next month, on February 24, we will see the publication in English of over 70 tales collected in Bavaria by a contempoary of the Grimm Brothers, Franz Xaver von Schönwerth. The Grimm's admired Schönwerth and his work.

The collection is now entitled The Turnip Princess, The book has been translated by Maria Tatar, author of many books on children's literature, blogger (Breezes from Wonderland), and chair of the Program on Folklore and Mythology at Harvard. 

The painting is by Jean- Francois Millet. The bookcover is by Walter Crane; the translation from German is by Lucy Crane.


The Stories Never End

“It has generally been assumed that fairy tales were first created for children and are largely the domain of children. But nothing could be further from the truth.

Rackham-tree+girlFrom the very beginning, thousands of years ago, when tales were told to create communal bonds in face of the inexplicable forces of nature, to the present, when fairy tales are written and told to provide hope in a world seemingly on the brink of catastrophe, mature men and women have been the creators and cultivators of the fairy tale tradition...."

Inevitably they find  their way into the forest. It is there that they lose and find themselves. It is there that they gain a sense of what is to be done. The forest is always large, immense, great and mysterious. No one ever gains power over the forest, but the forest posses the power to change lives and alter destinies....”

The illustration is by Arthur Rackham

The above quotations are by Jack Zipes,  the author of many books on myths, folklore, and children's literature including The Brothers Grimm, From Enchanted Forests to the Modern World. 

OriginalFolkandFairyTalesBrothersGrimmZipesRecognized as a pioneer in the field of children's literature, Zipes latest publication is a translation of the first edition (1812-1815) of the The Original Folk and Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm (see the Guardian article below). The first edition (Volumes One and Two), of 156 tales, had previously never before been translated into English. By the time of the Grimm's final edition in 1857, "immense changes had taken place".

The original edition of the Grimm's fairy tales incorporated oral tales, legends, myths, fables and pagan beliefs. The book was intended for adult readers. This edition is illustratrd by Andrea Dezso.




TheGuardianWriter for the Guardian create leading edge articles on fairy tales, folklore, and children's literature. 
 Philip Oltermann  recently wrote about von Schoenwerth, The Turnip Princess and Maria Tartar. Alison Flood  wrote about Jack Zipe's translation of the first edition of the Brothers Grimm fairy tales: The Original Folk and Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm. 

Both of these books are major events in the world of folklore, fairy tales, and children's literature..

Illustration by Alexander Zwick

Tatar's Translation

Here is an excerpt from Oltermann's article:Forgotten Fairytales Slay the Cinderella Stereotype...

The stash of stories compiled by the 19th-century folklorist Franz Xaver von Schönwerth – JohnBatten_hanselgrizzle1recently rediscovered in an archive in Regensburg and now to be published in English for the first time this spring – challenges preconceptions about many of the most commonly known fairytales... 

Harvard academic Maria Tatar argues that they reveal the extent to which the most influential collectors of fairytales, the Brothers Grimm, often purged their stories of surreal and risque elements to make them more palatable for children. 

“Here at last is a transformation that promises real change in our understanding of fairytale magic,” says Tatar, who has translated Schönwerth’s stories for a new Penguin edition called The Turnip Princess. “Suddenly we discover that the divide between passive princesses and dragon-slaying heroes may be little more than a figment of the Grimm imagination.” 

Zipes' Translation

Here is the headline from Alison Flood's article: Grimm Brothers’ Fairy Tales Have Blood and Horror Restored in New Translation....

ByCarkOfterdingerTownMusiciansBremenThe original stories, according to the academic (Zipes), are closer to the oral tradition, as well as being “more brusque, dynamic, and scintillating”. In his introduction to The Original Folk and Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm, in which Marina Warner says he has “redrawn the map we thought we knew”, and made the Grimms’ tales “wonderfully strange again”, Zipes writes that the originals “retain the pungent and naive flavour of the oral tradition”, and that they are “stunning narratives precisely because they are so blunt and unpretentious”, with the Grimms yet to add their “sentimental Christianity and puritanical ideology”.


The Frog King or Iron Henry...an Excerpt from the new Jack Zipes translation of the Brothers Grimm... 

Frog king


"The princess became terrified when she heard this, for she was afraid of the cold frog. She didn't dare to touch him, and now he was to lie in her bed next to her. She began to weep and didn't want to comply with his wishes at all. But the king became angry and ordered her to do what she had promised, or she'd be held in disgrace. Nothing helped. She had to do what her father wanted, but she was bitterly angry in her heart. So she picked up the frog with two fingers, carried him upstairs into her room, lay down in her bed, and instead of setting him down next to her, she threw him crash! against the wall. "Now you'll leave me in peace, you nasty frog!" 


"The fairy tale is in a perpetual state of becoming and alteration. To keep to one version or one translation alone is to put a robin redbreast in a cage. A fairy tale is not a text..."- Author Phillip Pullman



 Wonder Tale...An alternative term for “fairytale” is “wonder tale”, from the Germanwundermärchen, which catches a quality of the genre more eloquently than “fairytale” or “folk tale” because it acknowledges the defining activity of magic in the stories. The suspension of natural physical laws produces a heightened and impossible state of reality, which leads to wonder, astonishment, the ’ajaib(astonishing things) sought in Arabic literary ideas of fairytale... An excerpt from How Fairy Tales Grew Up, by Marina Warner, author, critic, in the Guardian




D186df_a1ad551d7b1540eea43367a1daaf45da.png_srz_p_258_108_75_22_0.50_1.20_0A Fair Shake for Youth..uses therapy dogs to help disadvantaged children "build empathy, self-esteem and reduce bullying...

"31% of New York City youth are living in poverty - often facing challenges of inadequate housing, under-performing schools, violence and fractured families.  Many kids see few possibilities for the future...  

A Fair Shake for Youth partners with schools and community organizations to bring therapy dog teams to disadvantaged and vulnerable middle school-aged youth...The kids discover (the) social tools and build a view of themselves that enables them to envision greater possibilities for their lives... 

Hands On and a Curriculum that Resonates 

FairshakeThe Fair Shake program can be integrated into the school day, after school, weekend or summer camp programming.  The ten-week curriculum includes hands-on work with the dogs and dog-related topics covered by speakers, demonstrations"...read more about this excellent, results-oriented program at Fair Shake

Video: See Fair Shake in action 
when Isabella and Samantha, two young girls, tell us, in their own words, of their experiences with the dogs and the Fair Shake for Youth program.

A Fair Shake for Youth has been the recipient of a grant from the Planet Dog Foundation



 The following is by librarian Liz Burns, excerpted from her outstanding blog, A Chair, A Fireplace and a Tea Cozy 

"I read for fun. Not for enlightenment, not to be a better person, not to learn about the universal 20141128_183146_resizedhuman experience. I read to get scared, I read to fall in love, I read to feel less alone, I read for adventure, I read for so many reasons that all fall under.... because I want to.

And if that's why I read, why shouldn't that be OK for teens and kids?

Oh, I get that just like I have things to read with a purpose for work, they have things they have to read with a purpose for school.

But that's not the only way or reason to read. And, especially outside the school environment, reading for fun, rather than reading "because", should be championed.

It shouldn't be a guilty pleasure.

It should just be ... a pleasure."

A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy was founded on April 2, 2005 with a welcome post that set forth a mission statement: to write about "story. Because it's all about story: the stories we tell, the ones we believe, the ones we read, the ones we watch. The ones we want to believe in; the ones we're afraid of. The stories we tell because we're afraid. While the majority of my posts are about children's and young adult books, I also write about television and film, sometimes adult books, as well as publishing and library news." - Liz Burns

In the photo by Susan Purser, Chase reads with his friend, therapy dog Rose


Aesop's Fables Never End

WalterCraneCover"No author has been so intimately and extensively associated with children's literature as Aesop. His fables have been accepted as the core of childhood reading
and instruction since Plato, and they have found their place in political and social satire and moral teaching throughout medieval, Renaissance, and modern cultures...

...Fables have long ago escaped the confines of the nursery and the schoolroom. Their readerships have included parents as well as children, masters as well as slaves. rulers as well as subjects..." 

Seth Lerer writing on Aesop's Fables and Their Afterlives in his book, Children's Literature, A Reader's History From Aesop to Harry Potter



The Loyal Dog and Her Not-So-Loyal Owner

Ann Staub, a former vet tech, caring person, mother, and blogger on Pawsitively Pets (dedicated to all things animal), wrote a touching account of finding a lost dog, and the sad aftermath. Here is an excertpt and link:

My hopes and dreams of a spectacular reunion were destroyed with what I learned next. The family member I was helping didn't want the dog back. He "wanted his friends to adopt her from where ever she was at"...

There would be no reunion between loyal dog and not-so-loyal owner. And I find it both depressing and infuriating.

I'm not an emotional person. I don't get teary-eyed over things that most people do. Perhaps this is one of the "strengths" that allowed me to become a good veterinary technician. This, however, made me cry.

This dog was adopted from the animal shelter about 3 years ago. After about a year, those people no longer wanted her so my family member took her in. Now, he no longer wants her so someone else will take her. How many more times will she face this same situation? Will she be thrown out like trash again when she's old and sick?...This is a good dog and she deserves so much better than this. 

 So I guess it's up to the people who know better to educate those who don't. If you have a friend or family member that wants to get a new pet, tell them that pets are a lifelong commitment. Ask them if they are prepared to care for that animal during the entire duration of their life.

 Here is a link to read the entire article and see photos...Ann Staub   


 Stories Never End --  If You Can Read

WRADSurinameWorld Read Aloud Day is coming this year on March 5, 2015

LitWorld celebrated World Read Aloud Day with disadvantaged children in over 75 countries last year..." motivating children, teens, and adults worldwide to celebrate the power of words and creating communities of readers...showing the world that the right to literacy belongs to all people."

The photo was taken in Suriname.


Kidlit_centralKidLitosphere has helped many readers find their way to these pages. Here is an excerpt from their home page...   


POD-The bear-blog size"Some of the best books being published today are children’s and young adult titles, well-written and engaging books that capture the imagination. Many of us can enjoy them as adults, but more importantly, can pass along our appreciation for books to the next generation by helping parents, teachers, librarians and others to find wonderful books, promote lifelong reading, and present literacy ideas."  Here is a link to Kidlitosphere. 

The illustration from Planet Of The Dogs is by Stella Mustanoja-McCarty 


Our story begins long, long ago, before there were dogs on Planet Earth. 

POD-The map-blog sizeThere was plenty of space in those days for people to settle and grow things. Many of the places where people lived were very beautiful. There were clear lakes and cool streams with lots of fish. There were fields and woods with game to hunt. And there were rolling hills and open plains with plants growing everywhere. Many people settled in these places of abundance and prospered.

And then, invaders came. Where once there had been harmony and friendship, there was now fear, anger, and unhappiness. Something had to be done -- but what could anybody do? No one knew it at that time, but help would come from the Planet of the Dogs. 

                                        Read Sample Chapters of the Planet Of The Dogs Series.

POD-Stone castle-blog sizeOur books are available through your favorite independent bookstore or via Barnes & Noble, Amazon, Powell's and many more...

Librarians, teachers, bookstores...Order Planet Of The Dogs, Castle In The Mist, and Snow Valley Heroes, A Christmas Tale, through Ingram with a full professional discount.

Therapy reading dog owners, librarians and teachers with therapy reading dog programs -- you can write us at planetofthedogs@gmail.com and we will send you free reader copies from the Planet of the Dogs Series...Read Dog Books to Dogs...

The map of Green Vally and the illustration of Stone City are by Stella Mustanoja-McCarty

"Any one of these books would make for a delightful—and one would assume cherished—gift for any child.  All three would be an amazing reading adventure." Darlene Arden, educator, dog expert, and author of Small Dogs Big Hearts. 


A Master of Childhood Dreams...His Stories never End   Miyazaki Wins Again, After 11 Animated Features

By  in the New York Times.

Hayao Miyazaki was given an honorary Oscar on Nov. 8 at the Governors Awards ceremony,
one that he can put on the shelf next to the statuette he won in 2003 when his masterpiece, “Spirited Away,” was named best animated feature... 

Spirited-away GirlStoneIdol-2What makes his films so memorable — from the great ones, like “Spirited Away,” which is a coming-of-age tale, and the ecological fables “Princess Mononoke” and “Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind,” to less profound but still captivating works like“Kiki’s Delivery Service” and the mesmerizing “My Neighbor Totoro” — is something that’s harder to label. You know it when you feel it: the mastery of tone and emotion, embodied in every gesture, expression, movement and setting, that give the films a watchfulness, a thoughtfulness, an unaffected gravity. To watch a Miyazaki movie is to remember what it was like to be a smart and curious child..." 


 The Hunger Games-Mockingjay Part One

This third episode of Hunger Games is relevant to disturbing real world events. Like like the to
earlier films it is entertaining . However, this episode has more substance as Andrew Lapin writes in his excellent and thoughtful review for NPR, "all of these images have resonance in real events of this year." The film has grossed over $700 million worldwide thus far and still drawing audiences. 
Here is an excerpt from his Andrew Lapin's review:

Mockingjay2"When producers were laying track for the Hunger Games series years ago, they couldn't have foreseen how discomforting author Suzanne Collins' descriptions of a war-torn authoritarian state would look on the big screen in 2014. In The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part One, Jennifer Lawrence witnesses and/or learns of: towns reduced to rubble, refugee camps next to mass graves, public executions of innocents with burlap sacks over their heads, law enforcement gunning down protesters in the street, and a military bombing a hospital filled with civilians. All of these images have resonance in real events of this year, generations before Collins predicted civilization would devolve into a regime that maintains control over its citizens with televised death matches..

Here is a link to this insightful review:Andrew Lapin's review for NPR 


Into The Woods:

Fairy tales are combined in this Walt Disney adaptation of Stephen Sondheim's broadway musical hit...71% of the critics (Rotten Tomatoes) wrote favorable reviews. However, there were often reservations in the reviewer's responses.

Here is an insightful excerpt from Jerry Griswold's article on Maria Tartar's Breezes from Wonderland blog:

IntoWoodsLRRHood"It is rated PG. But kids watching the film in my local theater seemed dampened by the mopey second half. They laughed at the cleverness of the first act, as well known storybook characters crossed into each other’s stories and interacted; still, it should be said that when it comes to clever fairy-tale mash-ups, “Shrek” does it better. But as for the second act’s dreary sharing of existential facts (regarding mortality, adultery, etc.), all in the name of growing-up and becoming undeceived, well, kids aren’t big on Weltschmerz. And that’s because, as James Barrie complained in “Peter Pan,” the young are gay and heartless."

Here is a link to the trailer:Into The Woods 


The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies

Peter Jackson has had enormous box office success with films inspired by Tolkien's Middle Earth books. It seems, however, that Tolkien's ideas have again been overcome by Jackson's computer generated violence. Here is the opening of Andrew O'Hehir's review in Salon...

The-Battle-of-Five-Armies-Comic-Con-Poster-570x846"Presumably everyone now understands that Peter Jackson’s bloated “Hobbit” trilogy has only an arm’s-length, tangential relationship with the classic children’s novel that J.R.R. Tolkien first published in 1937, essentially launching the epic fantasy genre that now dominates so much of popular culture...

And here is an excerpt from Nicolas Rapold's review in the New York Times....

"What this adaptation of “The Hobbit” can’t avoid by its final installment is its predictability and hollow foundations. It’s been said before, but Mr. Jackson himself is still haunted by the past: For all the craft, there’s nothing here like the unity and force of “The Lord of the Rings,” which is positively steeped in mythology and features (wonder of wonders) rounder characterization than the scheduled revelations on display here..."

Here is a link to the trailer: Five Armies




Nancy Houser, has several posts on her Way Cool Dogs blog about puppies, from "Taming Puppy Aggresion" to "Wonderful Small Puppies for Children". Here is an excerpt and link from : 6 Incredible Reasons to Get a Rescue Puppy 

"When you save a rescue puppy, you are saving its life. Many shelters have to put dogs to sleep because they can’t afford to keep them. When you decide to take a rescue animal home with you, you are giving it a second chance in life. Many rescue dogs used to have owners, but their owners treated them poorly or abandoned them. Pets deserve better than that. You have a chance to make a real difference to an animal’s life, and so you should take it..."

Read more: http://www.waycooldogs.com#ixzz3OW6latfA



The Giver


I haven't seen The Giver (released in theaters last year) nor read Lois Lowry's YA book, The Giver (1993). However, it was favorably cited by Jerry Griswold, Director of the National Center for the Study of Children's Literature, and author of Feeling Like a Kid, Childhood and Children's Literature. Therefore, I did some research...

GiverSkyI found enough information on the internet to be intrigued. The Giver is a different take on a dystopian future; relying more on concept than violence. The trailer and descriptions/synopsis provide a provocative look at a different approach to dystopia, quite at variance from the strife ridden simplicity of YA films like Divergent and the Labyrinth.  

The book of The Giver was well received as a young adult book, winning a Newberry Award in 1994 as well as awards from the ALA, the NEA, and the School Library Journal. It has sold over 10,000 copies. The film, however, didn't fare well at the box office and has already been released as a DVD. Here is the Film Critics Consensus according to Rotten Tomatoes: "Phillip Noyce directs The Giver with visual grace, but the movie doesn't dig deep enough into the classic source material's thought-provoking ideas."

 Here is the trailer forThe Giver...


Empowerment for Animal Advocates in C.A. Wulff's Book 

How to Change the World in Thirty Seconds, is empowering...it's  the internet
made easy, the internet as a tool, the internet as a dog's best friend... a book  and a way to make a difference...  for dog lovers, animal advocates and anyone who wants to make the world a better place.

Arielrocket-boyHere is an unedited Amazon review excerpt by Johanna:"This is probably the best "how-to" book I have ever seen. It is written in a very conversational manner while being extremely educational. Along with giving step-by-step instructions on how to use each advocacy tool, Cayr gives some background on each website, organization, and group, and explains how each is set up and how the different helping processes work. She walks you through the necessary steps and gives tips... 

Rocket Boy, the dog in the photo by C.A. Wulff, one of her pack of rescued dogs.


YA Book Preview of The Motherless Child Project by Janie McQeen  and Robin Karr.


MotherlessChildProjectI don't often discuss YA books. However, I have long admired Janie McQueen's previous Magic Bookshelf books and I am currently reading (report coming in my next blog) her poignant new book The Motherless Child Project. 

Meanwhile, I am posting an excerpt from Midwest Book Review:

"To say that The Motherless Child Project is a book about change and self-discovery would be doing it an injustice: it's so much more... Any teen reader looking for a powerful, compelling story--especially those who are motherless themselves, whatever the reason--will find The Motherless Child Project a powerful saga worthy of attention and acclaim."--
D. Donovan, eBook Reviewer, Midwest Book Review


Jingles...a book, a toy, and dog rescue

The Story of Jingles is the first book in the newly launched Operation ResCUTE series. Each Book comes with a Stuffed Animal Set. And each purchase helps to rescue a dog!

Here's the review by C.A. Wulff in the Examiner...

Jinglesdog-box"The book, authored by Jingles, is 24 pages long, with full color illustrations. It comes adorably packaged in a window box with a stuffed animal of Jingles and an “I am a ResCuter!” Operation ResCute sticker for the child. The second book in the series will feature a rescue dog named Tanner. Operation ResCute has a contest underway to find a third dog and his/her story.

Kids will love the book and the toy, and parents will love the message. Giving this as a gift will make you feel great, too, because 100% of the proceeds go directly to animal rescues."

The ResCUTE books and stuffed animals are not available in retail stores, but can be purchased on amazon and through the organization’s website." 


The Hugging Bears  (from the Guardian)

HuggingBears"Inspired by the delightful statue of two bears on display in Kensington Gardens in London, "The Hugging Bears" is the story of two bear cubs, Ruggley and Teddi, who live with their mother in the wintry wilderness. A sudden and violent encounter with humankind changes the cubs' lives forever.

Told with great simplicity and much heart by Carol Butcher, and featuring charming colour illustrations by Sue Turner, "The Hugging Bears" will be enjoyed by young children everywhere. The book also has a useful message about human's often unkind treatment of wild animals."

The profits from this book will go to the charity Happy Child International, which supports the street children of Brazil.




FFF "Fences for Fido is a group of volunteers who get together to build fences for dogs in Oregon who are currently living out their lives on a chain. They do fundraisers and accept donations in order to make this work possible. On their facebook page, Fences for Fido share many inspirational photos and videos of the building process, and especially the happy dogs taking their first off-chain run in their brand new yard- always great! I love how this organization focuses on the positive aspects of what they are doing, and come from a non-judgmental approach. I believe these two things are the key to their success so far..."

The above information is from She Speaks Bark, Kaitlin Jenkins dog-loving blog. Kaitlin wrote about this being National Unchain a Dog month; as part of the article, she wrote about Fences for Fido. I, too,  much admire the work they do, having previously written about them in this blog. Here is the link to read more of her excellent post about the wonderful work of Fences For Fido: KaitlinJenkins


When Library Time Means Screen Time

EbooksBy ...The Stories Do End and the Games Begin: this is the experience of Lisa Colon as reported in Motherlode in the New York Times.  
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41. 2015 Winter TBR List

I still have tons of books on my “To Be Read” (TBR) list but I can’t seem to stop myself from adding even more books to my leaning pile. There are lots of new lovelies coming out.

Here are just a few books that I plan to read this Winter:


The Boy in the Black Suit by Jason Reynolds
Fairest by Marissa Meyer
Please Remain Calm by Courtney Summers
Vivan Apple at the End of the World by Katie Coyle
Hold Tight Don’t Let Go by Laura Rose Wagner
The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma
When by Victoria Laurie
When My Heart was Wicked by Tricia Sterling

How about you? What have you read lately? What do you plan to cozy up and read before the Spring thaw?

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42. Newbery Visionaries

September of this year saw the re-introduction of a popular program at my library: Newbery Visionaries!

The Newbery Visionaries logo, designed by Lisa Nowlain, Harold W. McGraw Jr. fellow.

The last, incredibly successful Newbery Visionaries program at our library was in 2010. With the lessons of the Bill Morris Seminar fresh in my mind, I thought 2014 would be a perfect time to reinstate this fun, enlightening book group.

Our mock-Newbery group was a registered program consisting of 12 4th-6th graders. Interest in the program went through the roof when we sent an eblast to our parent list enumerating the ways book discussions (and the critical thinking they encourage) enhanced Common Core skills. We met once a month for four months, and will have our final voting meeting next week. I selected the discussion books myself, mostly through reading Newbery prediction posts and stalking the pages of Heavy Medal. All told, the Visionaries read 16 potential Newbery contenders and logged 10 after-school hours of discussion, debates, and book evaluations. We ate a lot of pizzas, too!

Which book will win our Mock award? For that matter, which book will win the real one?

We began our first meeting by translating the Newbery Medal Terms and Criteria into “plain English.” Participants took turns reading the criteria our loud, and then interpreted what they read for the group. I was surprised at the passion and debate that sprung up around the terms. Our kids were were very into the details: how and why a book was eligible, what was residency, publication dates, “distinguished,” etc. We had a long conversation about popularity vs quality that was especially impassioned. I left the library that evening on a cloud of love for books and the kids who read them.

The Visionaries will vote one week from today on their Newbery winner, which we will announce on our library website. I cannot wait to see what they will choose! Going into our final vote, the three highest rated books are The Night Gardener, Brown Girl Dreaming, and The Family Romanov. 

The entire experience has been a joy to participate in, and I can’t wait to start it again next year. Do you have mock-award groups at your library? How do they work?

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43. Our habitat: dwelling

A dwelling is, obviously, a place in which someone dwells. Although the word is transparent , the verb dwell is not. Only its derivation poses no problems. Some verbs belong to the so-called causative group. They mean “to make do or to cause to do.” Thus, fell is the causative of fall (“to cause something or somebody to fall”). Similar relations connect sit and set and (for those who still differentiate them) lie and lay. With time, the senses and the phonetic shape of the primary and the causative verb may drift apart. For example, today no one will guess that drench is the causative of drink; yet once we know their history, we understand how drench can be understood as “cause to drink.” Such pairs of verbs exist in all the Indo-European languages: compare German fallen ~ fällen, sitzen ~ setzen, liegen ~ legen (they correspond to the English verbs given above), and trinken “drink” ~ tränken “soak, imbue, saturate.”

There once existed the Germanic verb dwelan with short l “to err” (only prefixed forms have been recorded) whose causative partner was dwaljan. By regular phonetic change it became dwellan (with e from a and long l). It should have meant “to make one err,” but it meant much more. In Old English, as in the other West Germanic languages, the only recorded senses of dwellan and its cognates were “tarry, linger, delay” and especially “lead astray,” and those senses are compatible with “err,” but “abide, stay, reside,” known to us from Modern English, is not. It was borrowed from Scandinavian. However, the Scandinavian sense also goes back to early times, and the natural question is how “stay put” and “lead astray” could coexist in one and the same word. In addition to dwellan, Old English had dwolian “wander,” gedwolen “perverse” (ge- is a prefix), and dwola “error; heretic.” The OED lists dwale “error; fraud; a soporific drink,” dwalm “confusion,” and dwelling “delay,” all hopelessly obsolete, though the verb dwalm ~ dwam “to swoon” still exists in Scots and in northern English dialects (see the brief discussion of dwalm in the recent post on qualm); only dwale “deadly nightshade” is a bona fides plant name.

Attempts to explain the puzzling semantic history of dwell have not been numerous. The regular readers of this blog know that I often praise the etymology in The Century Dictionary and in Henry Cecil Wyld’s The Universal Dictionary of the English Language. In the entry dwell, the first of them lists multiple forms but stops at explaining their complexity. By contrast, Wyld offered an ingenious hypothesis. I’ll discuss it below, even though, in my opinion, there is a better one. Before turning to it, I should only say that shortcuts are of little help in this case. For example, Ernest Weekley, despite his excellent feel for semantics, made do with the following statement: “…dwellan, originally transitive, to lead astray, hinder, make ‘dull’; then linger, tarry (cf. dwell upon a subject), hence, to live.” This is fine, except for the main trouble: how exactly do we get from “lead astray” to “hinder” and further to “linger” and “live”? Semantic bridges are easy to construct but dangerous to cross. In the history of meaning, we have guidelines rather than formulas, which are so helpful in the history of sounds. By trotting gingerly one can get from any point to almost any other, for instance: “white”—“shining “—“dazzling”—“blinding”—“black.”

Running around and getting nowhere
Running around and getting nowhere

Dull, mentioned by Weekley, is indeed related to dwell (w was lost before u), and its modern sense “tedious, boring” goes back to “stupid.” This is not surprising, for in some contexts dull is the opposite of “bright” and “sharp”(as in dull light, dull sound). Bright and sharp people are smart, while those who are dull are not. English also has dullard “stupid person,” possibly a borrowing from Middle Dutch (Merriam-Webster online give a delightful example: “The company is run by a bunch of dullards”; apparently, such was the first context that occurred to the editors—that it should come to this!). The situation in other Old Germanic languages is similar: Gothic had dwals “foolish” and German has toll “mad.” According to Wyld, along the way from “go astray” to “tarry” the sense “wander” can be reconstructed. The connecting link between that of “wandering” and “dwelling,” is allegedly “hinder, delay”: “…’to wander, having lost one’s way; to linger, delay, in doubt which way to go’, and finally, ‘to remain where one is’.”

Wyld realized that simply moving from one sense to another by imperceptible steps is a risky procedure and referred to the Classical Greek tholos “sepia” (it has been attested with stress on either syllable) and a related Greek adjective meaning “muddy, troubled.” On the strength of those words, he assigned to the root dwal- ~ dwel- the meaning “go in the dark.” The sense “obscure, dark, lacking clearness,” Wyld said, could develop into both “delay” and “folly.” I have nothing but admiration for this reconstruction, especially because most other sources don’t bother to discuss the semantic history of the verb dwell, but Wyld’s reference to Greek is, to use the polite jargon of scholarship, less than fully persuasive. A somewhat questionable cognate from a non-Germanic language carries little conviction, the more so as the Sanskrit cognate points to “bend,” rather than “dark.”

A dwelling of sorts
A dwelling of sorts

In my opinion, the famous German dialectologist and lexicographer August Lübben had a more realistic idea. He developed it in an 1871 article devoted to the enigmatic Middle Low (= northern) German legal term altvile (plural; much more probably, al-tvile than alt-vile), and it would have been short of a miracle if Wyld had known that article. I ran into it while investigating the etymology of the noun dwarf, so more or less by chance. Lübben showed that some of the words clustered round Middle High German twellen (West Germanic d became t in German: compare Engl. do and German tun) once seem to have meant “move in a circle.” To be sure, a person moving in a circle gets nowhere (is delayed) and labors under the illusion of making progress (is led astray). Lübben was interested in showing that altvile meant feeble-minded people, “totally deranged” (al- is a reinforcing prefix), but our concern is with the verb dwell. If its protoform referred to running stupidly in a circle and thus both moving and staying in the same place, it follows that Old Scandinavian used one interpretation of the verb (“tarry, linger”), while West Germanic used the other (“be led astray, be stupefied”).

As noted, English dwell took over its present day meaning from Scandinavian; the borrowing goes back to the Middle period. The root of dwel- ~ dwal- meant “dimwitted, dumb,” as also explained above.

Quite naturally (in light of the history of the verb dwell in English), the noun dwelling does not antedate Middle English either. We observe that this noun has never become a true synonym of home or even house. It is still a formal word signifying a place of residence. When a borrowed synonym begins to compete with native words, the intruder usually carves a “niche” (do you pronounce it as nitch?) for itself unless it succeeds in destroying and ousting old-timers. Such things happen, but we won’t dwell on this depressing subject. There are enough sad things happening in the world without our contributing to the global freeze.

Image credits: (1) Blind-Man’s Buff, published by Paul Jarrard & Sons (London, England). Public domain via Wikimedia Commons. (2) Beehive hut, Dingle Peninsula, Co. Kerry, Southern Ireland. Photo by Dirk Huth. CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

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44. The Magicians

With all the excitement that buzzed around the internet over the publication of the final installment in Lev Grossman’s Magicians trilogy I decided that it might be worth giving the books a go. I borrowed the first book, The Magicians from the library and eagerly began to read.

The book had an interesting start, high school senior Quentin Coldwater and his two friends, all three extremely smart and planning on being admitted to top universities, are dressed up to attend interviews for said universities. Quentin and James each have an appointment with the same interviewer but when they arrive at the house in Brooklyn they find the man dead. But something doesn’t add up. They call the police and one of the paramedics hands the pair large envelopes as she leaves. James refuses his, too freaked out by the day’s events. Quentin takes his and so begins the first step of his new life.

Besides being smart, Quentin is also gifted in slight of hand magic tricks and obsessed with Fillory, a series of books he has read over and over again since childhood. Fillory is very much a Chronicles of Narnia sort of series of books. But the children are named Chatwin and instead of Aslan there are two rams, Ember and Umber who oversee Fillory. It all felt very silly to me and I kept wishing every time Fillory was brought up that Aslan would come bounding in and liven things up with a few swipes of his big lion paw.

But I get ahead of myself. In the envelope Quentin receives is in invitation to sit for exams at a wizard school, Brakebills. Quentin passes and instead of attending Harvard or Yale, he is now going to college to learn how to be a real magician. There were some interesting bits but as with Fillory, I couldn’t stop thinking Harry Potter does this better. While Hogwarts is a grade school thing, Brakebills is college. Instead of Quidditch there is Welters. Instead of houses there are specialized areas of study which are their own kind of “house.” Quentin is a “Physical kid.” Physical magic being one of the more difficult areas, the group is very small. With the addition of Quentin and the smart and talented and pretty but introverted Alice, the group numbers seven.

And so we follow Quentin and Alice through their four years at Brakebills which would normally be five but they are so smart and talented they get jumped ahead a year. There are minor adventures and some interesting things that happen but it kind of all drags on a bit.

At this point I was debating whether I should even bother finishing the book. I decided to keep going. I thought there must be some kind of payoff since the series is so popular. And the last third of the book did pick up and get pretty good. I can’t say that it redeemed the first two-thirds of the book, but I ended up feeling okay about it instead of wondering why I had bothered. Besides the story in the first part of the book feeling unoriginal, the writing itself is frequently clunky. It manages to get better by the end, or maybe the plot just got better so I wasn’t paying as much attention to the writing itself?

I am far from loving the book and being excited enough about it to tell everyone I know to read it. However, I liked it enough to be willing to give the next book, The Magician King, a go. I won’t be doing this any time soon, I need to get a little distance from The Magicians in order to make a fresh approach at book two. Perhaps over the summer.

Filed under: Books, Reviews, SciFi/Fantasy Tagged: Lev Grossman

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45. In memoriam: Lawrence Gushee

Oxford University Press is saddened to report the passing of noted jazz scholar Lawrence Gushee on 6 January 2015. A Professor of Music at the University of Illinois for over 20 years, he held the title of Emeritus Professor of Music at Illinois since 1997. Originally specializing in medieval music, Dr. Gushee turned much of his attention to jazz during his time at Illinois, writing frequently on the history of black American jazz musicians. A prodigious researcher and eloquent writer, his contributions to research on the origins of jazz and its early period simply cannot be overstated. In particular, his 2005 book Pioneers of Jazz, which Oxford is incredibly proud to have published, was a landmark work in jazz history. Bringing to light the hitherto untold story of the early New Orleans jazz band the Creole Band, Gushee revealed how this almost entirely overlooked group played a pioneering role in introducing jazz to America, and bringing about the jazz phenomenon that swept the nation during the 1920s. While he will surely be missed by the jazz community, his contributions to the telling of its history will continue to be of immeasurable value to scholars, students, and fans of the music for generations to come. On behalf of OUP, I offer our deepest sympathies to his family during this difficult time.

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46. Review: Gun Street Girl by Adrian McKinty

Sometimes a recurring crime character is brought back and the story feels forced or the attempt feels lame. But then there are those rare times when, despite the series being over, the character comes back and exceeds what has been done before. And that is exactly what Adrian McKinty has done with Sean Duffy. In […]

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47. Rat Queens, Sass and Sorcery

And now for something a little different, a graphic story/comic featuring a group of four female mercenaries who are tough, sassy, smart, funny, like to drink and eat and carouse, and know how to handle weaponry and magic. Rat Queens, Volume One: Sass and Sorcery by Kurtis Wiebe is a hoot and a half.

There is Betty, a Smidgin thief. I’m not sure what a Smidgin is, but she’s little and cute, great at breaking and entering, and enjoys being tossed at goblins, swords blazing. There is Dee, a former acolyte of N’rygoth, a giant flying squid. Dee is black, has some good magic, a great purple and black outfit and awesome thigh-high boots. Violet is a solidly built redhead with great armor and big attitude. Turns out she is a Dwarf who shaved her beard off and left her family. We aren’t sure why she left her family but I suspect in later stories we might find out. And finally, there is the leader of the group, Hannah, who is a magic user and, I believe, an Elf, but don’t quote me on that. She’s tall and curvy and looks a bit like Betty Page.

The Rat Queens and four other mercenary groups have been banned from the town of Palisade after their last pub brawl unless they all perform assigned services to the city. The Rat Queens are tasked with clearing out a goblin cave. Peaches are assigned to empty a camp of bandits. The Four Daves have to go deal with the restless dead at the cemetery. The Brother Ponies (four big, brawny men with long ponytails) are given the job of getting rid of the ogre. And finally, Obsidian Darkness, who look sort of like goth ninja elves, have to clean the toilets at the military barracks.

The jobs turn out to be a setup. The Rat Queens survive, a bit battered and bruised, but all in one piece. The other groups aren’t all so lucky. Who is behind the setup to have them killed? Will the Rat Queens and the remaining mercenaries from the other groups be able to stop brawling long enough to band together and save the city of Palisade? Will Betty and the cute Fay with the nose ring hook up? Will Dee be able to get her nose out a book and get over her social anxiety long enough to realize she has a few admirers? What’s with all the bluebirds in one of the Four Daves’ beards?

Part of the fun of this book is not just the women kicking ass, but that they are friends and care about each other without having to go shopping for new shoes or weep together over a bucket of ice cream. There are also many moments about accepting other people for who they are, getting past being different and seeing the individual instead of the Zombie or the Dwarf. And it’s just plain silly fun. There is currently only one volume. It looks like volume two will be out in May. Yay!

Filed under: Books, Graphic Novels, Reviews, SciFi/Fantasy

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48. Review: The Martini Shot by George Pelecanos

This is George Pelecanos’s first collection of short stories and once again demonstrates his consummate class, not just as a crime writer, but a writer. The title piece is the longest of the collection but Pelecanos saves it for last. The preceding stories are a blend of what makes Pelecanos great. Stories about the street, […]

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49. Career horizons for women

‘The possible’s slow fuse is lit
By the imagination’
– Emily Dickinson (Franklin, 1999: 608)

When back in the 1990s I started doing research into women’s careers I was struck by how many respondents apologized for not having had a ‘career plan’ or indeed for not having a career at all. When I returned to these respondents seventeen years later I was curious about what had happened to their dreams, and wondered if they had been fulfilled, or somehow shattered. However, I soon realised that these were all the wrong questions, based on assumptions about women having long-term, guiding visions that either work out or fail. But it wasn’t like that. Many spoke of luck, of falling into their careers, and of being in the right place at the right time – or the wrong place at the wrong time. Such explanations might have served to highlight diffidence or modesty that is seen as socially desirable or to explain trajectories that respondents felt were more meandering than purposeful. Or it could be that in a society that values goal orientation and strategic decision-making, the lack of a clear end-point is a bit embarrassing. However, without clearly articulated plans and dreams, the achievement of these visions was a moot point.

Instead, the stories I heard were about how the women continuously responded to their changing contexts, making a myriad of incremental adjustments as the structures, cultures, and ideologies that informed their choices evolved. Most did mention moments of success or failure, such as Rachel finally being able to move her law firm out of her front room, or Silvia whose hotel business suddenly ground to a halt as foot and mouth disease swept through the English countryside. But no one spoke of her career as a delineated, bounded entity that could be fixed or judged in its entirety.

Highlighting the idea of organizational strategy as emergent (in contrast to conventional wisdom of the day which saw it as wholly rational), Henry Mintzberg drew on the metaphor of the potter. Without a clear picture of the final product, she uses her accumulated skill, knowledge, and touch to mould her pots, watching them take shape beneath her hands:

At work the potter sits before a lump of clay at the wheel. Her mind is on the clay but she is also aware of sitting between her past experiences and her future prospects. (Mintzberg, 1987: 66)

Portrait of a female executive by International Information Program (IIP). CC BY-ND 2.0 via Flickr

Neither the potter nor the women in my research experiences unfettered choice; their horizons are not limitless and neither pots nor careers can look any way or be anything. Rather they are circumscribed, constrained, and enabled by what is seen to be possible at any given time. Given this moving, emergent picture, better questions would have been: How did respondents understand careers, where did these ideas come from and how did they envisage their own career-making within this broad landscape? To answer these questions I propose a new concept: the career imagination.

The career imagination attends to the idea of career as both a social and an individual process, cast and re-cast in the flow of time and across space. As my respondents narrated their careers, in 1993/4 and again in 2010, they painted rich and detailed pictures not only of what they did or the way they did it (or indeed what they were inclined to do), but also of the understandings that these actions, or propensities for action, were based on. I am calling these pictures the career imagination. It is a cognitive construct, articulated discursively, that defines and delimits what is possible, legitimate and appropriate, prescribing its own (sometimes competing) criteria for success. It is a local accomplishment, a product of a particular time, place and social circumstance, informed by experience and history.

Part of what I like about the term ‘imagination’ is its ordinariness. Situating the concept firmly in daily life gives it salience and purpose. Indeed, I find myself referring to career imagination, not just in academic discourse, but also in everyday conversations – unexceptional talk about, say, my parents’ working lives or what my own children see as their future possibilities. However, while this commonsense appeal is a great strength, it is also raises concerns precisely because in the course of our day we use the term in such diverse, even contradictory ways. On one hand we use imagination to refer to flights of fancy, thoughts that transcend everyday experience and understandings and take us to new places and untrammelled possibilities. My data contained many such examples, like Anthea who said she had always wanted to pan for gold! However, I am not using the term in this sense. The career imagination is a bounded concept, defining the limits of what a person sees as possible in career terms, and in so doing, also what is impossible.

As respondents considered what careers look like and how their own careers might be construed, they spoke of occupations and the trajectories they prescribed, underpinning values, the connection between career and other aspects of life. They reflected on the material rewards and career identities that their working lives might bestow upon them.

Although the concept connotes dynamism, it does not discount the many enduring elements in respondents’ (or indeed in any of our) stories. Thus old ideas don’t simply disappear as new ones come to the fore, but rather the career imagination continuously expands, accommodating, sifting, and sorting possibilities. It can thus be seen as a repository of history and experience, and a product of its particular time and place. Like the potter whose products carry traces of the past as she works in the present and into the future, it is at once steeped in the past, but alive to current contingencies and mindful of the things to come.

Headline image credit: Always standing, always reaching out by Broo_am (Andy B). CC BY-ND 2.0 via Flickr

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50. Time as a representation in physics

A previous blog post, Patterns in Physics, discussed alternative “representations” in physics as akin to languages; an underlying quantum reality described in either a position or a momentum representation. Both are equally capable of a complete description, the underlying reality itself residing in a complex space with the very concepts of position/momentum or wave/particle only relevant in a “classical limit”. The history of physics has progressively separated such incidentals of our description from what is essential to the physics itself. We will consider this for time itself here.

Thus, consider the simple instance of the motion of a ball from being struck by a bat (A) to being caught later at a catcher’s hand (B). The specific values given for the locations of A and B or the associated time instants are immediately seen as dependent on each person in the stadium being free to choose the origin of his or her coordinate system. Even the direction of motion, whether from left to right or vice versa, is of no significance to the physics, merely dependent on which side of the stadium one is sitting.

All spectators sitting in the stands and using their own “frame of reference” will, however, agree on the distance of separation in space and time of A and B. But, after Einstein, we have come to recognize that these are themselves frame dependent. Already in Galilean and Newtonian relativity for mechanical motion, it was recognized that all frames travelling with uniform velocity, called “inertial frames”, are equivalent for physics so that besides the seated spectators, a rider in a blimp moving overhead with uniform velocity in a straight line, say along the horizontal direction of the ball, is an equally valid observer of the physics.

Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity, in extending the equivalence of all inertial frames also to electromagnetic phenomena, recognized that the spatial separation between A and B or, even more surprisingly to classical intuition, the time interval between them are different in different inertial frames. All will agree on the basics of the motion, that ball and bat were coincident at A and ball and catcher’s hand at B. But one seated in the stands and one on the blimp will differ on the time of travel or the distance travelled.

Even on something simpler, and already in Galilean relativity, observers will differ on the shape of the trajectory of the ball between A and B, all seeing parabolas but of varying “tightness”. In particular, for an observer on the blimp travelling with the same horizontal velocity as that of the ball as seen by the seated, the parabola degenerates into a straight up and down motion, the ball moving purely vertically as the stadium itself and bat and catcher slide by underneath so that one or the other is coincident with the ball when at ground level.

Hourglass, photo by Erik Fitzpatrick, CC-BY-2.0 via Flickr

There is no “trajectory of the ball’s motion” without specifying as seen by which observer/inertial frame. There is a motion, but to say that the ball simultaneously executes many parabolic trajectories would be considered as foolishly profligate when that is simply because there are many observers. Every observer does see a trajectory, but asking for “the real trajectory”, “What did the ball really do?”, is seen as an invalid, or incomplete, question without asking “as seen by whom”. Yet what seems so obvious here is the mistake behind posing as quantum mysteries and then proposing as solutions whole worlds and multiple universes(!). What is lost sight of is the distinction between the essential physics of the underlying world and our description of it.

The same simple problem illustrates another feature, that physics works equally well in a local time-dependent or a global, time-independent description. This is already true in classical physics in what is called the Lagrangian formulation. Focusing on the essential aspects of the motion, namely the end points A and B, a single quantity called the action in which time is integrated over (later, in quantum field theory, a Lagrangian density with both space and time integrated over) is considered over all possible paths between A and B. Among all these, the classical motion is the one for which the action takes an extreme (technically, stationary) value. This stationary principle, a global statement over all space and time and paths, turns out to be exactly equivalent to the local Newtonian description from one instant to another at all times in between A and B.

There are many sophisticated aspects and advantages of the Lagrangian picture, including its natural accommodation of   basic conservation laws of energy, momentum and angular momentum. But, for our purpose here, it is enough to note that such stationary formulations are possible elsewhere and throughout physics. Quantum scattering phenomena, where it seems natural to think in terms of elapsed time during the collisional process, can be described instead in a “stationary state” picture (fixed energy and standing waves), with phase shifts (of the wave function) that depend on energy, all experimental observables such as scattering cross-sections expressed in terms of them.

“The concept of time has vexed humans for centuries, whether layman, physicist or philosopher”

No explicit invocation of time is necessary although if desired so-called time delays can be calculated as derivatives of the phase shifts with respect to energy. This is because energy and time are quantum-mechanical conjugates, their product having dimensions of action, and Planck’s quantum constant with these same dimensions exists as a fundamental constant of our Universe. Indeed, had physicists encountered quantum physics first, time and energy need never have been invoked as distinct entities, one regarded as just Planck’s constant times the derivative (“gradient” in physics and mathematics parlance) of the other. Equally, position and momentum would have been regarded as Planck’s constant times the gradient in the other.

The concept of time has vexed humans for centuries, whether layman, physicist or philosopher. But, making a distinction between representations and an underlying essence suggests that space and time are not necessary for physics. Together with all the other concepts and words we perforce have to use, including particle, wave, and position, they are all from a classical limit with which we try to describe and understand what is actually a quantum world. As long as that is kept clearly in mind, many mysteries and paradoxes are dispelled, seen as artifacts of our pushing our models and language too far and “identifying” them with the underlying reality that is in principle out of reach.

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