Friday, February 22, 2008

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

I Have Become Comfortably Dumb

  • Dumbness, to paraphrase the late senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, has been steadily defined downward for several decades, by a combination of heretofore irresistible forces. These include the triumph of video culture over print culture (and by video, I mean every form of digital media, as well as older electronic ones); a disjunction between Americans' rising level of formal education and their shaky grasp of basic geography, science and history; and the fusion of anti-rationalism with anti-intellectualism.

  • First and foremost among the vectors of the new anti-intellectualism is video. The decline of book, newspaper and magazine reading is by now an old story.

  • According to a report last year by the National Endowment for the Arts: In 1982, 82 percent of college graduates read novels or poems for pleasure; two decades later, only 67 percent did. And more than 40 percent of Americans under 44 did not read a single book -- fiction or nonfiction -- over the course of a year. The proportion of 17-year-olds who read nothing (unless required to do so for school) more than doubled between 1984 and 2004. This time period, of course, encompasses the rise of personal computers, Web surfing and video games.

  • In his book "Everything Bad Is Good for You: How Today's Popular Culture Is Actually Making Us Smarter," the science writer Steven Johnson assures us that we have nothing to worry about. Sure, parents may see their "vibrant and active children gazing silently, mouths agape, at the screen." But these zombie-like characteristics "are not signs of mental atrophy. They're signs of focus."

  • In a study released last August, University of Washington researchers found that babies between 8 and 16 months recognized an average of six to eight fewer words for every hour spent watching videos.

  • I cannot prove that reading for hours in a treehouse (which is what I was doing when I was 13) creates more informed citizens than hammering away at a Microsoft Xbox or obsessing about Facebook profiles. But the inability to concentrate for long periods of time -- as distinct from brief reading hits for information on the Web -- seems to me intimately related to the inability of the public to remember even recent news events.

  • The shrinking public attention span fostered by video is closely tied to the second important anti-intellectual force in American culture: the erosion of general knowledge.

  • According to a 2006 survey by National Geographic-Roper, nearly half of Americans between ages 18 and 24 do not think it necessary to know the location of other countries in which important news is being made. More than a third consider it "not at all important" to know a foreign language, and only 14 percent consider it "very important."

  • That leads us to the third and final factor behind the new American dumbness: not lack of knowledge per se but arrogance about that lack of knowledge.

  • The problem is not just the things we do not know (consider the one in five American adults who, according to the National Science Foundation, thinks the sun revolves around the Earth); it's the alarming number of Americans who have smugly concluded that they do not need to know such things in the first place. Call this anti-rationalism -- a syndrome that is particularly dangerous to our public institutions and discourse. Not knowing a foreign language or the location of an important country is a manifestation of ignorance; denying that such knowledge matters is pure anti-rationalism. The toxic brew of anti-rationalism and ignorance hurts discussions of U.S. public policy on topics from health care to taxation.

  • There is no quick cure for this epidemic of arrogant anti-rationalism and anti-intellectualism; rote efforts to raise standardized test scores by stuffing students with specific answers to specific questions on specific tests will not do the job. Moreover, the people who exemplify the problem are usually oblivious to it. ("Hardly anyone believes himself to be against thought and culture," Hofstadter noted.) It is past time for a serious national discussion about whether, as a nation, we truly value intellect and rationality. If this indeed turns out to be a "change election," the low level of discourse in a country with a mind taught to aim at low objects ought to be the first item on the change agenda.

*source: The Dumbing Of America - Call Me a Snob, but Really, We're a Nation of Dunces

By Susan Jacoby - The Washington Post - Sunday, February 17, 2008 -

Monday, February 18, 2008

Monday, February 11, 2008

Robert E. Howard

As a young lad (like most other adolescent boys & girls) I enjoyed science-fiction and science-fantasy and a genre which is often called sword & sorcery. I reveled in reading Asimov, Heinlein, LeGuin, Blish, Strugatski, Bester, Brunner, Burroughs, Lovecraft, Tolkein etcetera.... I also read about Conan of Cimmeria's exploits well before Schwarzenegger donned a scabbard & sword.

Robert Ervin Howard (January 22, 1906 – June 11, 1936) was an American pulp writer of fantasy, horror, historical adventure, boxing, western, and detective fiction. Howard wrote "over three-hundred stories and seven-hundred poems of raw power and unbridled emotion" and is especially noted for his memorable depictions of "a sombre universe of swashbuckling adventure and darkling horror."

He is well known for having created — in the pages of the legendary Depression-era pulp magazine Weird Tales — the character Conan the Cimmerian, a.k.a. Conan the Barbarian, a literary icon whose pop-culture imprint can only be compared to such icons as Tarzan of the Apes, Count Dracula, Sherlock Holmes, and James Bond.

Between Conan and his other heroes Howard created the genre now known as sword-and-sorcery in the late 1920s and early 1930s, spawning a wide swath of imitators and giving him an influence in the fantasy field rivaled only by J.R.R. Tolkien and Tolkien's similarly inspired creation of the modern genre of High Fantasy.

As a seminal figure in the history of modern fantasy, Howard remains a highly read author, with his best work endlessly reprinted. He has been compared to other American masters of the weird, gloomy, and spectral, such as Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, and Jack London.
*source: Wikipedia

Of course I bought and read all the Conan books which were illustrated by Frank Frazetta. Two covers in particular caught my eye. And so as a 12 year old would-be illustrator I copied as best I could in pastels the Frazetta cover art. The reproductions pale in comparison but I think clearly show my love (at an early age) for this genre:


Sunday, February 10, 2008

Friday, February 08, 2008

Thursday, February 07, 2008

The Poet's Phrase Book

The struggling poet needs some help deciphering all the rejection letters that they will be receiving in the course of their career. To this end I have started to compile a Phrase Book to clarify some of the editorial jargon that they will be puzzling over. Here are a few choice editorial responses and their true significance:

Unfortunately we have chosen other work for this issue.

Translation: Unfortunately for you, but fortunately for us.

Since we run a small publication only a tiny portion of work sent to us is accepted, and many fine pieces end up returned merely because of our sizable submissions.

Translation: Your sub has been moving from slush pile to slush pile until we could get enough undergraduate assistants to return to sender.

I want you to know that your work has been taken under careful consideration…

Translation: We didn’t even open the envelope.

Sorry to say that after much discussion and close reading we have decided against the work.

Translation: The editorial staff crumpled up your submission and played waste-paper basket one-on-one with it.

We get a lot of high quality submissions & can only take the few that really hit us right.

Translation: We get a lot of high quality submissions but yours isn’t one of them.

We apologize, both for the tardiness of this response and the fact that we will be unable to use your submission at this time.

Translation: We’ve been using your submission as a coaster for the past ten months. Actually, the coffee stains have improved your poetry.

While we did enjoy reading your work, none of the poems seemed a good fit for the journal.

Translation: We laughed until our sides hurt when we read your poetry.

I think they're accomplished poems, but they don't quite fit the aesthetic I'm going for with the journal.

Translation: I wouldn’t publish these poems if they were the last poems on earth & you were the last poet alive.

Thanks for your interest, but I'm all booked up and am not taking any unsolicited manuscripts.

Translation: I don’t publish on the basis of talent; I only publish poets that are family members, friends and people that I’ve slept with.

Many thanks for sharing your talents with us, and very best wishes for placing this work elsewhere.

Translation: Please don’t submit your crap here again. The editorial staff has an ongoing bet that it’ll never see the light of day.

We're sorry to say that it does not suit our current editorial needs, but we wish you luck with it elsewhere.

Translation: You’re joking…right?

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901)

Marcelle Lender Dancing the Bolero in “Chilpéric"
1895 - 1896
oil on canvas,
145 x 149 cm
(57 1/8 x 59 in.)

At the Moulin Rouge,
oil on canvas,
123 x 141 cm
(48 7/16 x 55 1/2 in.)

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Monday, February 04, 2008

Richard Wilbur

A Measuring Worm

This yellow striped green
Caterpillar, climbing up
The steep window screen,

Constantly (for lack
Of a full set of legs) keeps
Humping up his back.

It’s as if he sent
By a sort of semaphore
Dark omegas meant

To warn of Last Things.
Although he doesn’t know it,
He will soon have wings,

And I, too, don’t know
Toward what undreamt condition
Inch by inch I go.

source - The New Yorker - 04/02/2008