30 January 2012

Overheard at Home, After School

Asa's friend, Fred:   Dude, do we 
have to bring our computers to class?

Asa:   Fred. . . it's computer class.

26 January 2012

{[(5 - 3) + 6 - 2 = 6 - 1] = 5 - 1 = 4} - 1 = 3 - 1 other nonfiction book, reviewed here, with remainder of 2.

7.  Shot in the Heart 

"I have a story to tell. It is a story of murder told from inside the house where murder is born. It is the house where I grew up, a house that, in some ways, I have never been able to leave."                  -- Mikal Gilmore  

Mikal Gilmore's brother was Gary Gilmore. In 1977 Gary Gilmore became the first prisoner in America to be executed after a decade-long span that many thought would lead to abolishment of the death penalty. 

Gilmore had been sentenced to death by a Utah state court for two cold-blooded murders. After all appeals failed, the state of Utah tacitly assumed that he would live out his life on death row. But Gary Gilmore knew his rights. He was entitled to an execution if he so wanted, and he was asking for death. Death by firing squad.

Gary Gilmore was undeniably intelligent;
and by all reports, so were the other boys.
Mikal is a reporter for Rolling Stone.
He is the only brother who broke
out of the family mold.
The country and beyond kept vigil on site and at the TV as days and hours and minutes passed, to see if Gary Gilmore would be executed. Yet when the Utah firing squad shot him in the heart, there was widespread shock and sorrow—not so much for Gary as for the change wrought in the history of capital punishment.

The family on the book cover are the Gilmores; the boys, Frank, Gary, and Galen. (Galen also died a horrible, violent death—over time.) The brother who wrote this book, Mikal, hadn't been born when this photo was taken. 

Gary looked pretty hardened already. 

This is a multi-generational story of a ruined American family living a low-rent life in the American West. There's a familial connection, at least according to family lore, to Harry Houdini. There are sweet but painful stories of the extended family's past, where the ultimate tragedies told of in the book seem foreshadowed. 

In the boys' time growing up, there's alcohol, and domestic abuse, and both random and predictable violence. These are children routinely terrified, and terrified of what comes next. Then they are adult men, who model their lives on family history and who carry the outcome of that to the highest imaginable extreme.

Norman Mailer wrote a book about these same events, The Executioner's Song. Won a Pulitzer Prize, it did. It's 1000+ pages, with trivialities like a hotel room described in exhaustive detail over multiple pages. Whatever. Shot in the Heart is much more worth our time.

Photo from date of execution, 1977

Caption states: Sandbags reinforced the chair in which Gary Gilmore died today. Arrow points to blood-stained bullet hole. Hood rests on top.

20 January 2012

Therapy Comes to Juvie, #5 in a series

I understand, Rocky, that you've picked up a skill here to take forward into your future:  Small appliance repair?

Earl, we can work on the behaviors that keep you
 from enjoying meals with the others on your cellblock.

Thelma, when you were already on lock-down, why did you disrespect the warden so directly?

It is made clear in orientation, Melvin,
that throwing gang signs is forbidden.

Sadie Mae, please put aside
the coloring so we can talk
about your adjustment here.

18 January 2012

{[(5 - 3) + 6 - 2 = 6 - 1] = 5 - 1 = 4} - 1 = 3 nonfiction books left to review—so here's this one.

 6. Elephant's Graveyard
This play is nonfictional. It's based on a 1916 historical event and the legend that has grown out of that. 

Elephant's Graveyard is one of the most upsetting pieces of literature I have ever enjoyed. I was fascinated and horrified by it. For the entire second half of the play I wept openly. It was the same for pretty much everyone around me. 

The story's about a traveling circus and a muddy Tennessee town that come together to effect an unspeakable tragedy.

Oh, boy, let's read that! But seriously, you must read it, and if you ever get a chance, see the play. I lived through the performance (barely) and went right home and ordered the play. Its sadness is redeemed by the depth of its portrayal of humans as animals.

The star of the traveling circus is Mary, a giant Asian elephant. The circus advertises her as “The Largest Living Land Animal on Earth,” weighing “over 5 tons” and standing “3 inches taller than Jumbo,” the star elephant of the Barnum and Bailey Circus.

That's all you need to know for now. If you go to read Elephant's Graveyard, I suggest you shield yourself from the blurbs on Amazon, and the copy on the back of the book. Avoid anyone who says, I've seen that! You want to encounter this story unprepared.

Now let me see if, without giving away anything more, I can express one level of meaning I got out of this.... The events in this play exemplify the worst of human behavior toward those perceived as the lesser, or weaker. It's how animals, children, women, blacks, people with disabilities, immigrants, Jews, Mexicans—I could go on—have been treated by people who come to view the Other as dangerous beyond their differences, and get an opportunity to wield self-righteous power.

As I stumbled out of the auditorium after this play, I felt shock, shame, despair, sorrow, humility, I'll stop there. This is not a work that resolves or redeems in the end. The ending is as far as you can get from happy. And as close as you can get to the Shadow. 

This is the production I saw. 
Interestingly, there is no elephant in the play.

16 January 2012

What's Love Got to Do With It?

Rosalee Timm performs and produces ASL song videos. (Search YouTube: rosaleeshow.). This Tina Turner song is one of my favorites. Here it is for your listening and/or viewing pleasure:

This is a great translation. And in my studied opinion, Rosalee can really sign. In particular, I like how she  translates "got to do, got to do with it" and works it into the choreography. The treatment of "second hand emotion" is captivating, too. It works with the beat.

Still, there are a few things about her performance I don't understand:  She sometimes has facial expressions that seem strange to me given the lyrics. Now it could be that her translation of the lyrics departs from the word order or even from a strict interpretation of the meaning and if I could tease out more of what she's saying then I would get it. (I've studied sign but it can be hard to follow song videos because they're very stylized. Hers in particular.)

The other thing that's a thumbs-down for me is that black dress with the foofy shoulder straps. Good god. She looks better in something like the black and purple number she also wears. Regardless....

I can see there being Chuck Norris-type jokes
about Rosalee:

Rosalee doesn't ask what time it is.
She decides what time it is. 

          That sort of thing.

Two Signs You're Not the One Who's Crazy

The Classic FAIL

I have been complicit in the publishing of many a page like this. But beyond the irony...  it's like we have to "fill" everything. We need to question the intention of leaving something blank? We get anxious:  What could be wrong here?? This doesn't seem good. Fill it with something and maybe no one will get upset. It's like always trying to look busy.

FAIL, But Every Bit Worth It

I took this photo from my seat on a Concord Trailways Coach, on the way to Boston Logan. What, praytell, is that supposed to mean? Maybe I'll know when I need to.

14 January 2012

Appalachia again. Please bear with me.

  mountain dialect
 kick = "die"
That musta been back when Aunt Hattie kicked.
NOTE: This is not considered disrespectful in the dialect. 

 I don't know why I've felt compelled to think about and write about my childhood in Appalachia. It may have something to do with my mother dying earlier this year. Come to think of it, she must have kicked right around the time I started this blog. Yes, I think I've hit upon the origins of my current preoccupation.

Some of the photos below were taken in the 70s when I was growing up there. Some are more current. All of them are gathered from the internet. I have several photos taken by me and my family that I wish I could use instead. I inherited albums and boxes of these photos, but I haven't had the heart yet to look through them.

 mountain dialect
 let on = "to pretend"
He let on 'e was gone to meetin' but 'e wasn't, he was gone fishin'.

This is also used as in Standard English: "to reveal." 
He never did let on 'e was from the county office.

Strangely, the two meanings are opposed.


The photo above shows what the residential areas of Byesville looked like when I was a child. Come to think of it, it shows what Byesville looks like nowadays, too. 

I lived in town until we moved to a more rural area "out in the township." There, you might not have a neighbor closer than a couple of miles down the road. 

Above right is downtown Byesville. It's been boarded up since probably the mid-80s. There on the left, with the green front, was my father's grocery store. On the right is the Dan-Dee Bar that has this sign—I swear to god—handwritten on the side of it:

No Lofeing
Police Pattroled

They let on like Byesville actually has police, but I don't think there have been any since the 70s–80s. There was only ever one policeman anyway. You just called him at home. All the time I can remember, it was Johnny Reid, 685–6620. (Not so impressive that I remember it—you only have to know the last four digits.) Officer Reid was a real nice man. He was at the school crossing for us twice a day and he sure was nice to us kids. He told us jokes and showed us tricks with his gun and stuff.

 mountain dialect
 to give someone the what-for = "to tell someone off"; "to chastise"
I'm aimin' to give that boy the what-for if 'e don't git himse'f in here!

This might as well be me and my family when all us cousins were little. Though I was an only child, my parents had 19 siblings between them and almost all had five or six kids. We once counted that I had 57 first cousins. And I don't think all my aunts and uncles were done procreating.

This photo at left could have been taken in the 70s or now. This is a typical Appalachian home. Drive around the old roads and you'll see scores of families living like this. I knew a family that lived in an old abandoned post office out on County Road 13.

The boy in the foreground here I could swear was Butch Rudd, one of our neighbors. (Given name: Clayton.) That'd be a sister or cousin on the threshold.

When Clayton Rudd was 16, he kissed me, way up on a mountain behind my house where we went at his insistence. I must have been... oh, 11 or 12. I felt sick. Afterwards, I just kept spitting on the ground, over and over. As soon as I come down off that mountain, I ran and told my mother about it and you can bet she gave ol' Clayton the what-for!


mountain dialect
We knew they was a-comin', 'fore they did.

 Mary Belle Littleton Long

I took this picture of my mother just a few
years ago. She's in her early 70s here. 

She was still giving me the what-for.
The last thing she said to me, as she 
lay in the hospital, was:

Don't you come back in here 
a-visitin' tonight.  I gotta get some rest!

In the morning she was already gone when I got there.

12 January 2012

The Valley Girl Lift

I'm trying to train Asa away from Sentence Lifting? But he doesn't even seem aware that he does it? And now he's getting annoyed with me? But not as annoyed as I am with sentence lifting?

You can get anywhere from here.
Just not where you were planning.
The 80s were my college years—the whole decade. (Hey, I went to grad school.) And that effectively makes the 80s my decade. During that time, I lived in Southern California.

When Frank and Moon Zappa hit the radio waves with the song "Valley Girl," well, ha ha ha, we all laughed. Yes, with LA/San Diego our playground, it was the wicked truth that there were plenty of girls we knew who sounded exactly like that.

As you may recall—depending on where you were in the 80s—
Moon Zappa provided the voice of the "Valley Girl."

Lindsay Lohan, the quintessential
Valley Girl,
at Sherman Oaks Galleria.
 (You can't
see Linds because she's inside.)

Like, OH MY GOD!?
Encino is, like, 

There's, like, the Galleria?
And, like, all these, like, 
really great shoe stores?
I love going into, like, 

clothing stores and stuff?
I, like, buy the neatest mini-skirts and stuff?

It's, like, so BITCHIN cuz, 
like, everybody's, like,
super-super nice...?
It's, like, so BITCHIN...

 Hear Moon for yourself, if you must:

She's a valley girl,
She's a valley girl,
She's a valley girl,
  She's a...                

I don't think we'd have been quite so cavalier about valley girl speech if we'd known that more than twenty years later our children would talk like that as a matter of course. God help us all, but especially me.

As a grammarian, I know that lifting the tone at the end of a sentence—interrogative or declarative—is supposed to indicate that you are asking a question for which you expect an answer. The lifting phenomenon in valley girl speech—and the recently emergent valley boy speech (see: Asa)—seems to  ask for confirmation of the listener's attention. If that's true, then it's analogous to Standard English "tag questions."  Fredrick lives on the island, right? You know they'll be hunting, don't you?

Linguistic research indicates that women use tag questions far more than men. And the valley girl lift has been almost exclusively a female speech pattern until recently. It's still far more widely found in the speech of girls and women than men and boys. 

One might suggest that it's because women can never really be sure that men are listening.

He's a good boy.
He fears me.

But Asa WILL listen to me about this sentence lifting...? Or, like, I won't stand for it?  

11 January 2012

See, Cinderella? It's just fine.

Can we fix it? Yes, we can!

I've just been reminiscing about...


Bob the Builder, 

and Pilchard

       Dizzy...    Travis...    Scoop...   Muck...    Rolly...    Lofty

age 5

Asa always grew out of his toys faster than I could.

09 January 2012

{[(5 - 3) + 6] - 2} = 6 - 1 = 5 - 1 = 4 Nonfiction Books After This One Here

First The American Way of Death and now this. People are going to think I'm really into reading about death. Gosh, I hope not. I mean, I am really into it, but I'm hoping people don't think that.

6. Death: The Trip of a Lifetime

It might seem odd that I'd recommend this book for when you're down, but it's perfect for that. Oh, wait, maybe that's just me again.

From the author's introduction:

Although some strange rituals are described, this is not Indigenous Peoples Do the Darndest Things!  Although religious persons state their beliefs about the life everlasting, this is not A Day in the Life of Heaven and Hell.  Although some of the methods human beings use to prepare for death are discussed, this is not So! You're Going to Die!  Although much factual information slips in here and there, this is not A Cross-Cultural Analysis of Contemporary Death Attitudes, Belief Systems, Funeral Rituals, and Totemic Manifestation in Pre- and Postindustrial, Urban, and Agrarian Societies. And finally, although this book is certainly associated with the PBS series of the same name, this is not A Companion to the TV Shows, With the Same Stuff Just All Written Out.

All that is what this book is not. It's kind of like atheism—so much easier to say what you don't believe in than what you do believe in. But I'm copping out here. Rather than trying to characterize it further, I'll give a glimpse of some chapter titles: Death Fests of the Mysterious East; Down Under, Down Under; Putting it Off; and Not Dead, Only Sleeping.

Hey, it could be sleeping.

 I am particularly amused by that last one. It's what I used to tell the kids when they spotted roadkill. I'd say, "Oh, no, he's not dead, he's only sleeping!" They'd stare at the flattened, furry, sometime bleeding body in the road and I could see doubt in their eyes....

08 January 2012

[(5 - 3) + 6] -2 = 6, and Now -1 More Nonfiction Book... So There Are 5 Left

I'm trying to post some short fluffy stuff between the posts about these books, but I'm pretty carried away by all I've flushed out of my bookshelves and baskets.

5. Why Things Bite Back: Technology and the Revenge of Unintended Consequences

I would have read this book if only for the intriguing title and the wicked cool photo on the cover. (Another good one to carry around!) I bet Tenner being the author didn't hurt the sales of it either.
I thought this book was going to cover things like how we have this sh-tload of software on the computers in our offices, but no one who knows how to use it to the full capacity programmed
into it. 

But Tenner addresses other "advancements" that have turned around and attacked us:  

• football padding that has made the game much more dangerous 

• ATMs with people lined up to use them while four tellers stand idle

• breakthroughs in antibiotics that create resistant strains of the bacteria we're battling

• military body armor that drastically reduces mortal combat wounds, only to leave soldiers without any limbs, or with severe head wounds they never recover from

• the "paperless office" with recycling bins overflowing and substantial orders of file folders and labels never abating

Ha, that last one reminds me of something I noticed in an office once. We were always going on about turning it into a paperless operation and I thought, Could we start, maybe, by teaching everyone how to suppress the blank page at the end of a document? There must be a million blank pages "printed" and routinely dumped in recycling every day in US businesses. Easily—yet never—addressed.

There is a grave unintended consequence this book can have: It can make one paranoid and even fatalistic.

First, one begins to appreciate the reality and gravity of unintended consequences.
Then one realizes that unintended consequences are a necessary by-product of everything we do.

Then one frets over what good or bad unintended consequences might arise out of our decisions. Or won't arise because we didn't make the decision or made the wrong one or...

Then one curls up on the floor in the dark and wishes it all were over. 

But maybe that's just me.

07 January 2012

More Amusing Myself Again Also de Nuevo

Well,CAN you???

You'll recall my earlier Amusing Myself posts about things I've done where.... Wait a minute. I guess you can't recall them if you haven't read them, now can you?

Fine, here's a new one: Sometimes I'll insert or substitute a related but basically incorrect word in a sentence. Just to make people goggle a bit and feel uncertain about what they heard, or in doubt about my mental balance.(And I'm okay with that.)

For example, for The airline was extremely gracious about the layover, I say instead, The airline was extremely gratuitous about the layover. 

Many are oblivious (not dumb—just... well, who really listens in that context?)If they work for the airline they might even thank me. Others take pause and squint and puzzle silently over whether or not they ever really knew that word. 

Here's another example: Thank you so much for recusing the situation. People are like, ... recusing?? Is that right? Shouldn't it be... something else? (I am of course substituting recuse for rectify.)

To expand this little dido, I'll throw in a few words I've made up. (I "coin" a lot.) My objective is to make people think it's a word they don't know but had better be looking up. Or, a word I made up because I am mentally unbalanced. (Again, fine with that...)

In context then: He frinked over the new dress code. And what I mean for frink to mean:

Mass frinking,or
"public frinking"
as it's called.

How about, We can always take it along in a porsel. Let me illustrate:

Not sure yet...
Porsel = food?


Still food, but food
boxed up?
This guy is, I feel, a bit
 too into his porsel. Mm-hmm!

Porsel to go.
This porsel indicates that
your server is on coke. 

But seriously, do they really think
someone wants to walk around 
town after dinner with 
this under their arm??

And then the last one, I promise: He was just taking his time, shouping along. Say it in pictures:

Shouping Off to Buffalo!

Jus' shoupin' around in
the snow, thinkin'.

These are your slippers
on shouping.

Man, spell-check had a complete
nervous breakdown over this post.

05 January 2012

Asa, age 12 (Go Giants!!)


We're watching a Giants game. One of those pharmaceutical commercials comes on, where they don't say exactly what the stuff is for.  

ASA: So is that for erectile dysfunction?

Umm. Yes, it must be.

[(5 - 3) + 6] -2 = 6 Nonfiction Books I Now Want to Write About; Anyway, Here Are the Two for This Post

I knew what could happen if I looked around the bookshelves here for the other three nonfiction books I planned to present. I ended up with 6 more books so now we're down for 9 total. Wait, no. Something like that. Perhaps this should just become an endless series so I don't have to hold it to a specific count.

3. Flushed: How the Plumber Saved Civilization

Hodding Carter wrote this. Nice name, Hodding. (Not really.) There's not much more to say about it in relation to the book, but if his name sounds familiar it's because he had a role in the Carter administration.

Now this is not a great piece of reportage, but it's a great topic and a good enough book. It covers plumbing's long and colorful history; for example, the story of the aqueducts, which has always been a crowd-pleaser among even the most indifferent toward plumbing.

I myself have always been into plumbing. At first I didn't notice I was, but then I realized I had—somewhen, somewhere—learned how to replace a ball cock with a float cup. And when once asked what I'd wish for, for everyone, I said, "sanitary plumbing for all." There have been additional incidents that led to this self-discovery.

Something I wish this book went into is what life is like without plumbing, but I suppose that is beyond its intent. Nonetheless, billions of people in the world have "nowhere to go"—no sanitation facilities whatsoever, not even a bucket or a box or a plastic bag. My dog has that. If you're interested in the state of sanitation today, and what can be done to vastly improve the lives and dignity of half the world's population, you might hit up Rotary International online. They once ran a wicked good piece on world sanitation in their magazine, The Rotarian.

Yes, I read The Rotarian. Shaddup.

4. Seeing Voices: A Journey into the World of the Deaf

Omigod, this is hands-down one of the best books I've ever read. I hear a lot of people say they're into Sacks and they mention The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, or Awakenings, and these are fine books. But sometimes an author transcends himself with one book. For Sacks, it's this one.

Want to see into a subculture that is all around you, but you don't usually notice? When you get into this book, you'll be introduced to the Deaf community. Not the deaf community, the Deaf one. Sacks explains the distinction between capital Deaf and lowercase deaf. It's fascinating.

I came at this book from a more informed place than most will. As a grad student in Linguistics at UCSD in the 80s, some of my work was in ASL. The Salk Institute there is the heart of research into sign languages and I had the opportunity to work with Bellugi, Klima (my advisor), and Padden. Hm. These names are unlikely to be familiar unless you have a connection with Deaf people or ASL Linguistics. Anyway, there's a lot about all this in Sack's book.

I'll move onto the exploration of sign languages that Sacks presents. There will (may) come a point in reading this book when you suddenly "get" what signers are doing. It's so much like spoken language in so many ways—for example, propositional length (how long it takes you to get an idea out there) is equal to propositional length in a spoken language. Think about that. We can sign as fast as we talk.

Great shot of a conversation. They're not standing face to face,
looking at each other's hands. This is much more like it is in real life.

Yet, obviously, it's different in that it utilizes another dimension to replace sound: the visio-spatial aspect within our sensory repertoire. In learning about signing, when the break-through comes, you suddenly see how a movement of one finger (already defined as a certain person) toward another finger (already defined as another certain person) can carry all the meaning of "She came toward him"—and can be adjusted to carry different or ameliorated meanings such as "came down to him," "up to him," "ran over to him," "left him," etc., etc., etc. Sign does not rely only on "pictures"; movement and direction are crucial parameters.

Focusing on the subjective experience, this language is beautiful. Like to listen to someone speak Italian? All right, this is like that. No, it really is like that. It is gratifying and enchanting to learn ASL. When you know it to even some level, it is mesmerizing to "listen to."

I can't recommend this book enough. And carry it around with you when you read it. All your Deaf friends will think you're really in-the-know.<wink>