Monthly Archives: May 2006

Willinsky snippets

Brian Lamb points to a presentation by John Willinsky, noting that “the grand theme is the imperative (and potential) for technology to facilitate genuine learning in service of an education that transcends skills training…” The whole hour is a delight, and here are four extracts to inspire you to make the time to download and listen:

…a whole new relationship to the access to knowledge… 1:33
…why would people construct knowledge on that basis? (re: Wikipedia) 1:45
…learning is nothing unless it’s a contribution to others… 0:52
…pure, unadulterated self interest… (re: open access journals) 2:00

A shove from Solnit

Commencement speakers are expected to be eloquent, though their primary audiences are probably too distracted to recognize it when it happens, or to remember the details of the message. Rebecca Solnit crafted a barn-burner for the Department of English at the University of California at Berkeley. There are lots of yessss! moments, but here are two bits that really got my attention:

The amazing thing about the novel 1984 is that Orwell could invent the Ministry of Truth, Big Brother, thought crimes, and the Memory Hole, but in his book women are still hanging cloth diapers on clotheslines. It’s easier to prophesy global politics than laundry, but our lives are shaped by both…

Books matter. Stories matter. People die of pernicious stories, are reinvented by new stories, and make stories to shelter themselves. Though we learned from postmodernism that a story is only a construct, so is a house, and a story can be more important as shelter: the story that you have certain inalienable rights and immeasurable value, the story that there is an alternative to violence and competition, the story that women are human beings. Sometimes people find the stories that save their lives in books.

Mencken comma where is he now that…

I’m sure that lots of people are getting out their Mencken quotations, umbrellas in stormy weather. Here are some especially trenchant bits, posted as part of a comment to a Washington Post op ed piece:

The one permanent emotion of the inferior man is fear – fear of the unknown, the complex, the inexplicable. What he wants beyond everything else is safety.

Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want and deserve to get it good and hard.

As democracy is perfected, the office of president represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.

And what is a good citizen? Simply one who never says, does or thinks anything that is unusual. Schools are maintained in order to bring this uniformity up to the highest possible point. A school is a hopper into which children are heaved while they are still young and tender; therein they are pressed into certain standard shapes and covered from head to heels with official rubber-stamps.

…and he’s been gone for, what, 50 years…

Madding Gerunds

It’s hard to imagine any lover of words who wouldn’t be susceptible to Far from the Madding Gerund and Other Dispatches from Language Log (by Mark Liberman and Geoffrey K. Pullum), just delivered by USPS today. Flip it open at random and forget about whatever you were doing before… The first chapter is titled “Random monkeys & mendacious pontificating old windbags”, enough right there to justify the purchase. It’s all from the Language Log blog, to which I’ve pointed repeatedly, but there’s definitely value-added in the printed form, not least in the index and the many interesting callouts sprinkled here and there. It’s simply ideal bathroom (or bedtime) reading. Example, from the penultimate entry, one of several on Dan Brown’s ways with words:

The simple fact is that if you are ever mentioned on page 1 of a Dan Brown novel you will be mentioned with an anarthrous occupational nominal premodifier (“Renowned linguist Geoff Pullum staggered across the savage splendor of the forsaken Santa Cruz campus, struggling to remove the knife plunged unnaturally into his back by a barbarous millionaire novelist”), and you will have died a painful and horrible death by page 2, along with several curiously ill-chosen clichés and mangled idioms.
(pg 341, and Nov 7 2004 for the whole thing)

Run right out and buy multiple copies, and place them with those most in need.