• About Farm School

    "There are obviously two educations. One should teach us how to make a living and the other how to live."
    James Adams, from his essay "To 'Be' or to 'Do': A Note on American Education", 1929

    We're a Canadian family of five, farming, home schooling, and building our own house. I'm nowhere near as regular a blogger as I used to be.

    The kids are 18/Grade 12, 16/Grade 11, and 14/Grade 10.

    Contact me at becky(dot)farmschool(at)gmail(dot)com

  • Notable Quotables

    "If you want a golden rule that will fit everybody, this is it: Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful."
    William Morris, from his lecture "The Beauty of Life"

    "‘Never look at an ugly thing twice. It is fatally easy to get accustomed to corrupting influences."
    English architect CFA Voysey (1857-1941)

    "The world of books is the most remarkable creation of man. Nothing else that he builds ever lasts. Monuments fall, nations perish, civilizations grow old and die out; and, after an era of darkness, new races build others. But in the world of books are volumes that have seen this happen again and again, and yet live on, still young, still as fresh as the day they were written, still telling men’s hearts of the hearts of men centuries dead."
    Clarence Day

    "Anyone who has a library and a garden wants for nothing."
    Cicero

    "Histories make men wise; poets, witty; the mathematics, subtile; natural philosophy, deep; moral, grave; logic and rhetoric, able to contend."
    Sir Francis Bacon, "Essays"

    "The chief aim of education is to show you, after you make a livelihood, how to enjoy living; and you can live longest and best and most rewardingly by attaining and preserving the happiness of learning."
    Gilbert Highet, "The Immortal Profession: The Joys of Teaching and Learning"

    "Good judgment comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgment."
    Walter Wriston

    "I'd like to give you a piece of my mind."
    "Oh, I couldn't take the last piece."
    Ginger Rogers to Frances Mercer in "Vivacious Lady" (1938)

    "No race can prosper till it learns that there is as much dignity in tilling a field as in writing a poem."
    Booker T. Washington

    "Please accept my resignation. I don’t care to belong to any club that will have me as a member."
    Attributed to Groucho Marx in "The Groucho Letters" by Arthur Sheekman

    "If you can't say something good about someone, sit right here by me."
    Alice Roosevelt Longworth

    "If we bring a little joy into your humdrum lives, we feel all our hard work ain't been in vain for nothin'."
    Jean Hagen as "Lina Lamont" in "Singin' in the Rain" (1952)
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  • Copyright © 2005-2016 Please do not use any of my words or my personal photographs without my express permission.

A rare home schooling post: AP Government & Citizenship

As parents, we make choices for our kids when they are very young with — we hope, we believe — their best interests at heart. I made a decision for Laura shortly after her birth that she recently came to realize was not the right choice for her, and we’ve spent a good deal of time and money, along with a recent “field trip” to the nearest U.S. consulate to renounce U.S citizenship, so that Laura could correct that situation and bring her citizenship in line with her reality.

Laura, who is 18-1/2 and just graduated from high school, was born in Canada and is a Canadian by birth. She has never lived in the U.S. and never had a U.S. passport. But she was also — by accident of birth to a (then) U.S. citizen, who then (sigh) applied for a consular Report of a Birth Abroad — a dual citizen. Laura realized over the past year, after much study (her “curriculum” selections and recommended reading list are below) and reflection, that she is not a dual citizen but a Canadian, and a Canadian only, who has only ever lived in Canada, and who does not believe in divided national loyalties. And she wanted to begin adult life with as few impediments as possible. She had read that renouncing is easiest between the ages of 18 and 18-1/2, because the paperwork requirements are much simpler, so she started the process last year around the time of her birthday, and after submitting all of the required paperwork last November, was given an appointment for last week; that’s a wait of more than six months for the appointment and some locations, like Toronto, have even longer waits. At last week’s appointment, she was told the wait time to receive her official Certificate of Loss of Nationality, which will be dated with last week’s appointment date, will be four to six months. For 2013, there was a 221 percent increase, a record number, of dual American citizens renouncing or relinquishing their American citizenship. In 2015, there were approximately 4,300 expatriations.

The past several years have been basically an Advanced Placement course on U.S. government, politics and law, and citizenship, covering early American history (“no taxation without representation” is apparently a variable concept depending on time and place), constitutional law, patriotism, homeland vs. Homeland, just vs. unjust laws, citizenship-based taxation (U.S. and Eritrea) vs. residence-based taxation (the rest of the world), national sovereignty, personal vs. national privacy and security considerations, and what — or what should — determine citizenship (for example, jus sanguinis, “the right of blood”, or the acquisition of citizenship through parentage; or jus soli, “the right of soil”, or citizenship by virtue of being born in a particular territory. There were also discussions about being Canadian and living in Canada, but having U.S. officials consider everything about you, from your Canadian passport to your Canadian address to your Canadian father, “foreign” or “alien”, when to a Canadian they all mean “home”. It was probably as good a way as any for Laura to figure out what, and where, home is.

This is a very complex issue. I’ll try to write about this as simply as I can, because

  1. there’s a lot of information involved, which can be overwhelming and the temptation to avoid it all can be great;
  2. there’s a lot of misinformation (accidentally as well as on purpose) which, if you follow it, can make make your/your family’s situation worse rather than better, including those who would equate Americans abroad with tax cheats who need to brought into “compliance“;
  3. that misinformation and misunderstanding of the situation confuses many Americans living in the U.S. — including extended family and friends — who don’t understand that there might be very real disadvantages to living overseas with U.S. citizenship; who think Americans abroad concerned about this issue are a bunch of whining complainers and/or tax cheats who don’t want to pay our fair share.

Here’s some background about the situation in general, from the very, very good Isaac Brock Society blog (named for the British major general in the War of 1812 who was responsible for defending Upper Canada against the United States):

The United States is one of two countries in the world that taxes its people no matter where in the world they may reside. The other is Eritrea, which the USA has condemened for terrorism and for its diaspora tax. The majority of US persons who live abroad are not aware of their filing requirements. But recently, the US government has decided to crack down on those who are not in compliance.

But what is more, the US government has begun, since about 2004, to apply with great pressure a long-neglected requirement of 35-year old law called the Bank Secrecy Act. That requirement is FBAR, the foreign bank account report, which the United States government expects annually from those who have accounts outside of the United States which exceed $10,000 in aggregate. The fines for failure to file this form are extortionate, and virtually no US person who lives abroad even knew about FBAR, while most of them, over a certain age, own bank accounts with retirement savings exceeding that amount. The threats of fines and imprisonment has frightened many people who as a result have consulted expensive accountants and tax lawyers to get this mess sorted out, only to face high accounting or legal fees on top of potential fines and back taxes. In 2009 and 2011, the IRS offered voluntary disclosure programs (OVDI). Some who entered into the 2009 OVDI, because of fear of the penatlies, were shocked when the IRS assessed them fines in the tens of thousands, essentially treating them as tax evaders instead of a law abiding citizens in their countries of residence.

For many US expats, renunciation now seems like a really good idea. Why not? Many haven’t lived in the US for years and now they have few ties there except perhaps some family members. So they want to renounce their citizenship only to find that the laws regarding expatriation are confusing and that the exit tax requirements are at best complicated and invasive, and at worst, extortionate and utterly in violation of their right to expatriate.

The media coverage of this issue has been uneven. There have a been a few balanced stories, but most of the time, the media has merely publicized the purposes of the US government; this is especially true of US media sources. The Canadian media has generally done a much better job of grabbing the attention of the world about the abuses of the US government. That being said, even the Canadian media sometimes falls into the IRS trap of projecting fear in order to force compliance. Overall, we regret when the media offers only condemnation and fear without telling the story from the side of the victims or informing them of their rights and alternatives.

US persons abroad also face US border guards who are starting to put pressure on all those who have a US place of birth to travel only on a US passport, even if the person has not been a US person for decades–an arbitrary change of policy making those who relinquished citizenship into would-be loyal taxpayers to a profligate government that has to borrow 40 cents on every dollar its spends.

As with a number of bureaucratic decisions, there is a lot of noise about the intent to target “big fish” and tax cheats, and much of the recent legislation including FATCA seems intended as retribution for the decision by Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin but the reality is that it’s mostly little fish, with bank accounts and mortgages, and “foreign” spouses and children, who are getting caught in the net.

From Nancy L. Greene’s 2009 article, “Expatriation, Expatriates, and Expats: The American Transformation of a Concept”,

Expatriation was initially a form of nation-building. For the United States to justify its break from Britain, it had, among other things, to legitimate the notion of leaving one’s country of birth. Expatriation was thus seen as a form of inclusion in America, with former British subjects in mind. Like citizenship itself, expatriation was both a theoretical/rhetorical and a practical/legal issue for the early state. The Declaration of Independence, which complained that King George III had impeded the peopling of the colonies (“He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither”), was a declaration of the right of emigration. In the ensuing decades, in order to consolidate American independence and citizenship, expatriation from Britain had to be deemed a legal, indeed natural, right for both the state and the individual. The United States had to counter both politically and philosophically the competing British claim that birth- right or perpetual allegiance bound those born under the crown everlastingly to it. This essentially feudal notion, most forcefully expounded by the famous jurist Sir Edward Coke in 1608, regarded expatriation as a moral travesty and a legal im- possibility. It would take several decades for the new nation to impose its view that expatriation was in turn a natural right. The right of exit was the necessary corollary to a right of entry, and a Lockean notion of free will underwrote the definition of the new American citizen. …

The United States may have been founded on a notion of the right to leave, leading Albert O. Hirschman [the German-born economist and author of Exit, Voice, and Loyalty] to speak of a “national love affair with exit,” but attitudes about leave-takers depend on who is doing the exiting, from where, to where, and when.

* * * * * * * * *

A recommended reading list for dual citizens of all ages:

“The Negative Implications of U.S. Citizenship on Those Starting Out in Life”

“My Thoughts on U.S. Citizenship for Young People”

“Letter of a Canadian Businessman to his Dual U.S./Canada Citizen Son on the Occasion of his High School Graduation” (and all comments at the Isaac Brock Society blog are always well worth reading)

Isaac Brock Society blog, and particularly helpful posts from the Isaac Brock Society blog (don’t miss the conversations going on in the comments, which are always helpful):

“Introduction to FATCA for Canadians”

“How to Renounce/Relinquish” (FYI children born dual must renounce, not relinquish)

Introductory Material on: Citizenship-Based Taxation (vs. Residence-Based Taxation), FATCA; A Synopsis of John Richardson’s Info Session (see below for more); A History of Isaac Brock Society

IBS’s consulate report directory and CLN delivery time chart (aka “What to Expect, at the Consulate, When You’re Expatriating”); “currently 240 pages of first-hand accounts of renunciation/relinquishment appointments, arranged by consulate location, along with further information and links to the required Dept of State forms and the Dept of State manuals used by the consulates in processing CLN applications, with an appendix containing a chart of CLN delivery time as reported by consulate location.”

John Richardson’s Citizenship Solutions blog; Mr. Richardson, an American, is a Toronto lawyer who gives frequent, very good information sessions entitled “Information sessions: Solving the problems of U.S. citizenship”. And John himself is incredibly knowledgeable and helpful. He also writes for the Isaac Brock Society blog.

A new blog, The Dualist, an early 20-something born in the U.S. who left there at the age of 13 to live permanently in the UK, now dealing with

the options facing me – a UK citizen living, working and paying taxes in the United Kingdom – when I had just discovered that I am subject to US tax rules which say that no matter where I live, I should be annually filing federal income tax returns to the USA’s Internal Revenue Service (IRS), and reporting detailed information about all of my UK bank accounts to the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network. These rules apply to me because I am an American as well as a British citizen. The US government considers me to be a US taxpayer not unlike an American living within the States, even if I haven’t lived in the US since I was a child, rarely visit, make no income in the US and have no assets there. The fact that I hadn’t been filing meant I was considered as a delinquent non-filer under US tax policy.

In outlining the different options I had for addressing this newly-discovered ‘delinquent non-filer’ status, I showed that even though I was a young person from a normal background just starting out in adult life, there were no easy solutions or certain outcomes. Briefly, the main options were to stay outside the system, enter the system and try to live compliantly, or enter the system with the intention of renouncing my US citizenship in the future.

American international tax lawyer Phil Hodgen’s blog posts about expatriation, including a recent 10-part series by an Irish-American 17-year-old who renounced as a minor, aka “The Expatriation Chronicles of an Accidental American”

San Francisco tax lawyer Robert Wood’s articles at Forbes, such as this one, this one, and this one

The difference between renouncing and relinquishing explained, at IBS and at Citizenship Solutions blog; children born dual can only renounce, not relinquish

One needs to be be very, very careful about the “help” one seeks with this issue because there are many predatory and ignorant accountants and lawyers whose help will net you only large bills and more rather than fewer headaches. There are good, knowledgeable, helpful people and resources available, often free or inexpensive, and this list includes a number of them. Read widely and ask questions before you make any decisions.

And, on the lighter side:

Michael Moore’s latest documentary, Where to Invade Next (2015)

Canadian Bacon, Michael Moore’s fictional precursor to his latest, starring the late, great, Canadian John Candy

Rick Mercer’s Talking to Americans, available on YouTube

 

* The fee for renouncing or for relinquishing is currently US $2,350, payable in cash or by credit card (which must be in the renunciant’s name). In September 2014, the U.S. State Department hiked the renunciation fee by 422 percent, from U.S. $450 to U.S. $2,350. The fee to relinquish in recent years went from 0 to $450 to, last year, $2,350. The current fee is more than 20 times the average of other high-income countries, and the U.S. government has collected about U.S. $12.6 million in fees since the Autumn 2014 fee hike.

Happy New Year

Belated greetings of the seasons, and wishes for a happy and healthy new year, from our house to yours.

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Perversely, Christmas vacation has meant even more time to work on the house. The photo above, taken by the 15-year-old with his drone and the fish-eye lens, was taken a few weeks ago before the trusses went up. There are also fewer piles laying about the yard — all the piles of trusses are gone now, and the last of the pile of plywood is gone since they started sheathing the roof (shingling to begin shortly, hurray). I asked for some overhead shots to help me start think about landscaping, because I need to plan for “rooms” and winter interest (aka evergreens and interesting branches), and that means trees and shrubs, what varieties and where to put them.

Wishing you a happy and healthy 2016!

Walls

The late June weekend before Tom’s operation was a mad rush to raise the exterior and interior walls on the first floor.

This is a long post, more for us than for anyone else, so click away now if you’re not keen on lumber. I wanted something to remember this special time, especially because a few days later Tom had such a difficult time having to set down his tool belt and hammer for several months.

Here you can see some of the stamped concrete from the porch (done a week or so prior), and some of the completed walls to be erected; Davy rolled out the foam that went underneath the walls,

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Putting up/pulling up the very first wall, Friday after supper, June 27th,

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The view through the very first wall, with Daniel running the telehandler,

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Up, up, and away,

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The front of the house, with the entryway, adjacent to the “tower room” off the living room,

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Joining the two walls,

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Part of the front of the house — from left, the front door, entry hall window, tower sitting area off the living room,

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The entire front, with, from left, bathroom (full barrier-free bathroom with shower, not a powder room), office/home school room, front door, entry hall window, tower sitting area,

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From left, tower sitting room (off the living room), entry hall window, front door, office/home school room, bathroom,

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Readying one of the interior walls (the wall between the office/home school room and the entry hall),

 

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Standing up the second interior wall, between the entry hall and the living room,

 

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Bracing the interior walls,

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The windowed dining room, to the left of the kitchen,

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The dining room again, with the windows and French door to the porch,

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The kitchen and, beyond that (if you look carefully you can see a post marking where the wall goes), the pantry; the door in the centre is to the garage; the window at far right is in the bathroom,

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Dining room at far left (beyond the orange ladder), kitchen window (to the  left of the yellow ladder), and pantry window; we decided to make a smaller kitchen, easier to navigate, with a good size pantry nearby,

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Tom taking measurements in the pantry,

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Kitchen, pantry, and garage entry,

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Dining room from the outside,

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Insulating the garage and basement foundation and backfilling,

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A visitor to the work site,

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Now that we’re done with the second cut of hay and our greenfeed, Tom and crew are back at work on the house, floors and the second story before the snow flies. Onward and upward…

Floor joists

“a heavy burden lifted from my soul”
~ Leonard Cohen, “Paper Thin Hotel”

A very good week. The kids and a friend won the finals of the junior super league curling; they’ve been curling together Monday nights since November, and were undefeated heading into the final.

It’s starting to warm up from the -40s, the wind has died down, the sun is shining, the sky is blue, and by Sunday it will be +2. I’m also a fan of Daylight Savings Time.

With the better weather, Tom and crew got the floor joists knocked out pretty quickly.

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Silver bells, infidels

One of the finest examples of grudging respect, emphasis on the grudging, in a long time came last week in a video of holiday greetings from Manitoba’s Progressive Conservative leader, Brian Pallister:

I wanted to wish everyone a really, really Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah … all you infidel atheists out there, I want to wish you the very best also. I don’t know what you celebrate during the holiday season. I myself, celebrate the birth of Christ, but it’s your choice, and I respect your choice. If you want to celebrate nothing, and just get together with friends, that’s good, too. All the best.

All the best, indeed. It rather makes you wonder if somebody triple-dog dared Mr. Pallister, and if his comments are the adult version of the classic flagpole licking.

At the risk of being redundant, I should mention, for any non-Canadians reading, 1. Progressive Conservative doesn’t actually mean that a conservative is progressive, and 2. PC is the abbreviation for Progressive Conservative and not politically correct.

So you probably won’t be surprised to learn that Mr. Pallister was surprised to learn that a number of people were dismayed with his choice of words. He says he understood “infidel” to mean someone without religion; however, it tends to be more commonly defined, by the Oxford English Dictionary and others, as “a person who does not believe in a religion that someone regards as the true religion”. A critical distinction.

In light of the general dismay, Mr. Pallister said he didn’t mean to offend anyone, but didn’t actually apologize for giving offense:

I just ask that people in Manitoba … forgive me at this time of year if they think that I have stepped on their toes, but I sincerely just meant to include everyone in my best wishes. That’s all.

He also said he believes his comment was “torqued” by political opponents. The good news, however, evident to anyone who watches the video, is that the only torquing was done by Mr. Pallister himself. The PC leader also said he doesn’t regret using the term “infidel atheists”, but rather “regret(s) any time there is a reaction like this.” It goes without saying that the way to avoid such regret, and reactions, in the future is to keep one’s mouth closed whenever one’s wayward foot starts to wander.

Speaking of Christmas movies, one of my favorites is “The Bishop’s Wife”, with David Niven as the bishop, Loretta Young as the wife, Cary Grant as the suave and swoony angel, and some top-notch writing. That’s because the original book was written by author and poet Robert Nathan, a Sephardic Jew as it happens, and screenwriters Leonardo Bercovici and Robert Sherwood (a speechwriter for FDR and Pulitzer Prize winner). One of their gems is the Bishop’s sermon at the movie’s conclusion,

Tonight I want to tell you the story of an empty stocking. Once upon a midnight clear, there was a child’s cry. A blazing star hung over a stable and wise men came with birthday gifts. We haven’t forgotten that night down the centuries; we celebrate it with stars on Christmas trees, the sound of bells and with gifts. But especially with gifts. You give me a book; I give you a tie. Aunt Martha has always wanted an orange squeezer and Uncle Henry could do with a new pipe. We forget nobody, adult or child. All the stockings are filled… all that is, except one. And we have even forgotten to hang it up. The stocking for the child born in a manger. It’s his birthday we are celebrating. Don’t ever let us forget that. Let us ask ourselves what he would wish for most… and then let each put in his share. Loving kindness, warm hearts and the stretched out hand of tolerance. All the shining gifts that make peace on earth.

Which is so beautifully and elegantly conveyed that it can move even some infidel atheists. Because what most of us are celebrating at this time of year, no matter what we believe, is loving kindness, warm hands, tolerance, and peace on earth.

It’s all enough to make one hope that Mr. Pallister finds a good speechwriter, rather than a lump of coal, in his stocking on Christmas morning.

June

Harder

Saw the above today at Grain Edit by Muti and I love it. Available from Society6 as prints and as stretched canvases.

April and May zipped by alarmingly quickly. April was winter and May was summer, and spring somehow vanished. We’ve had hail already, and some fairly ominous weather.

The kids had the play (Wizard of Oz) which went very well, we all survived three days of 4H Beef Club achievement days/show/sale combined with a celebration of 4H’s centennial (the kids sold their steers, Laura won a showmanship award, Daniel received his silver award of excellence and Laura her gold, Davy and Laura won awards for their project books), we seeded our crops, planted and watered 985 little trees, planted two gardens and the potato patch, got the greenhouse up and running, are moving cattle to the various pastures, sorting out bulls, fixing fences. And oh, yes, school, along with some college/university planning, estate matters, and a variety of bird-related projects and trips for Laura. Our nest boxes are almost all occupied (Laura kicked some house sparrows out), and we have eggs and hatchlings everywhere.

Speaking of which, Laura was thrilled to that see her favorite birding radio show, Ray Brown’s Talkin’ Birds (which we first discovered as a podcast before wifi let her listen live on Sunday mornings), was the subject of a lovely feature article in The Boston Globe. There might be a quote from a young birder we know…

Also, if you’re in Canada and feeling inclined to support Bird Studies Canada in their national, provincial, and regional conservation and research efforts, Laura is participating in their annual Baillie Birdathon; her 24-hour birdathon was last week (she saw 84 species, four more than her stated goal), but donations will be accepted until the end of July.

This weekend the kids have their 4H Outdoor Club’s achievement day overnight camping trip, which they’re all looking forward to. Much scurrying about, sorting out sleeping bags and making their survival kits. Next week Daniel might be taking his learner’s permit test, which means that between him and his sister, I won’t be driving myself too much.

Some good books we’ve discovered:

Letters to a Young Scientist by E.O. Wilson (April 2013): somehow I stumbled across this in March and ordered it before publication. An inspiring, very personal little book for young scientists and their parents by the celebrated biologist and naturalist. Particularly helpful if the young scientist in your household happens to be especially keen on biology.

Two Laura found for her work with a Young Naturalists group, trying to get younger kids outdoors and interested in nature:

Look Up!: Bird-Watching in Your Own Backyard by Annette LeBlanc Cate (Candlewick, March 2013): brand new and delightful. Perfect for kids who think they might be interested in birds, and also for those who think there isn’t anything particularly exciting in their own backyard.

The Kids’ Outdoor Adventure Book: 448 Great Things to Do in Nature Before You Grow Up by Stacy Tornio and Ken Keffer (Falcon Guides, April 2013). For parents rather than kids, just the ticket if you need specific ideas on how to get started with your kids in the great outdoors.

I’ll leave you with another nifty poster, by Biljana Kroll, also available from Society6. Words to think about as some families’ formal studies come to an end for the summer.

NeverStop

Ruthless rhymes*

British children’s author Terry Deary, of Horrible Histories and Truly Terrible Tales fame, has in recent years made a second career of curmudgeonly, controversial statements. The Guardian once called him “proudly anti-establishment”. A bigger cynic than I might smell a regular effort to drum up publicity to sell more books.

Deary, a one-time teacher, told The Guardian 10 years ago,

I’ve no interest in schools. They have no relevance in the 21st century. They were a Victorian idea to get kids off the street. Who decided that putting 30 kids with only their age in common in a classroom with one teacher was the best way of educating? At my school there were 52 kids in the class and all I learned was how to pass the 11-plus. Testing is the death of education.

Kids should leave school at 11 and go to work. Not down the mines or up chimneys, mind, but working with computers or something relevant. Everything I learned after 11 was a waste of time. Trigonometry, Boyle’s law: it’s never been of any use to me. They should have been teaching me the life skills I was going to need, such as building relationships, parenting and managing money. I didn’t have a clue about any of these things at 18. Schools need to change.

In 2010, the author, who writes children’s history books, took on historians, whom he called “nearly as seedy and devious as politicians”: “They pick on a particular angle and select the facts to prove their case and make a name for themselves… . They don’t write objective history. Eventually you can see through them all. They all come with a twist.”

Then, he spoke out against the use of his history books in schools: “Horrible Histories writer Terry Deary said he does not want teachers to recommend his books, and would prefer children to discover them themselves. … ‘I shudder when I hear my books are used in those pits of misery and ignorance’.”

Latest up on Mr. Deary’s hit list, and also Vilely Victorian, are libraries. In Sunderland, where Deary was born and where libraries now face the threat of closure as councillors get ready to vote on proposed service reforms, last week Deary told the local newspaper, The Sunderland Echo, that the future of reading belongs to ebooks. And a few other choice words, unlike the other Sunderland authors who spoke in favor of saving library services:

Libraries have had their day. They are a Victorian idea and we are in an electronic age. They either have to change and adapt or they have to go.

I know some people like them but fewer and fewer people are using them and these are straightened times. A lot of the gush about libraries is sentimentality.

The book is old technology and we have to move on, so good luck to the council.

Left here, the matter might have raised eyebrows. But The Guardian picked up the story, with Alison Flood speaking further with Deary, whose additional comments have raised a furor,

I’m not attacking libraries, I’m attacking the concept behind libraries, which is no longer relevant. Because it’s been 150 years [since the passage of the UK’s Public Libraries Act in 1850], we’ve got this idea that we’ve got an entitlement to read books for free, at the expense of authors, publishers and council tax payers. This is not the Victorian age, when we wanted to allow the impoverished access to literature. We pay for compulsory schooling to do that.

And of course we know how he feels about that.

People have to make the choice to buy books. People will happily buy a cinema ticket to see Roald Dahl’s Matilda, and expect to get the book for free. It doesn’t make sense. Books aren’t public property, and writers aren’t Enid Blyton, middle-class women indulging in a pleasant little hobby. They’ve got to make a living. Authors, booksellers and publishers need to eat. We don’t expect to go to a food library to be fed.

Enid Blyton seems a curious choice, and possibly one of the worst examples to choose. In fact, it’s hard to come up with an English children’s author in the past century who was more ruthless about her own writing success, willing to throw husbands and daughters under the proverbial bus. Which seems rather apt, under the circumstances.

Getting back to The Guardian article, Alison Flood notes,

As one of the most popular library authors – his books were borrowed more than 500,000 times during 2011/12 – Deary will have received the maximum amount possible for a writer from the Public Lending Right scheme, which gives authors 6.2p every time one of their books is borrowed, up to a cap of £6,600. “If I sold the book I’d get 30p per book. I get six grand, and I should be getting £180,000. But never mind my selfish author perception – what about the bookshops? The libraries are doing nothing for the book industry. They give nothing back, whereas bookshops are selling the book, and the author and the publisher get paid, which is as it should be. What other entertainment do we expect to get for free?” he asked.

This is probably where all the American authors’ heads’ whipped around. Public lending right? What public lending right? Because the concept doesn’t exist in the United States.

(By the way, and because I can never leave well enough alone, I hopped over to Deary’s website, where actually he seems quite pleased to announce,

Stop Press …
The Public Lending Rights figures for 2012 have been released. They list the number of times books are borrowed from British Libraries. Terry Deary is the 12th most borrowed author last year and the 7th most borrowed children’s author. His titles are more borrowed than Roald Dahl or Enid Blyton in childrens’ books or Lee Child and Harlan Coben (Terry’s own favourite writer) in the combined lists.

Take that, Enid Blyton. And now back to The Guardian article,

Bookshops are closing down, he said, “because someone is giving away the product they are trying to sell. What other industry creates a product and allows someone else to give it away, endlessly? The car industry would collapse if we went to car libraries for free use of Porsches … Librarians are lovely people and libraries are lovely places, but they are damaging the book industry. They are putting bookshops out of business, and I’m afraid we have to look at what place they have in the 21st century.”

Deary is calling for a public debate around libraries, and for an end to the “sentimentality” he believes has framed the issue so far. “Why are all the authors coming out in support of libraries when libraries are cutting their throats and slashing their purses?” he asked. “We can’t give everything away under the public purse. Books are part of the entertainment industry. Literature has been something elite, but it is not any more. This is not the Roman empire, where we give away free bread and circuses to the masses. People expect to pay for entertainment. They might object to TV licences, but they understand they have to do it. But because libraries have been around for so long, people have this idea that books should be freely available to all. I’m afraid those days are past. Libraries cost a vast amount … and the council tax payers are paying a lot of money to subsidise them, when they are used by an ever-diminishing amount of people.”

On the one hand, Deary is asking for a public debate about libraries. And yet. And yet…

On the other, he seems to want an end to “giving away” “free” books, which sounds more like an edict than debate. As he told The Sunderland Echo after The Guardian article appeared,

 I never attacked libraries, I said we need to think about people’s access to literature. I don’t see poor people in libraries, I see middle class people with their arms stuffed like looters.

It rather sounds as if he wants that £173,400 back, doesn’t it? Well, that and, erm, maybe the renewed health of the British bookselling industry? Yes! That!

Not surprisingly, the article had 364 comments last I checked. Not nearly as much fun, though, as the comments over at Mumsnet, which are veddy, veddy British and veddy, veddy funny.

Then there’s this, a sort of agreement cum apology cum explanation, from British illustrator Shoo Rayner who once worked with Terry Deary,

Terry is a Card-carrying, old-school renegade. He’ll make a stand against anything that looks like authority just to make a bit of noise. I’m afraid that Terry, is just “being Terry.” You have to remember that Terry is an actor first and foremost and he loves a bit of drama.

Terry is more a manufacturer of commodities than what one imagines an author to be. At the height of the Horrible Histories fame, he set his researchers going at a new subject on the first of each month. Then, together they cobbled up a new book with a snappy title and added it to the production line. Librarians loved them, bought them in droves and promoted them like nothing else. Now they don’t have the funds to buy more of Terry’s books, Terry rails at them for lending out his books. He claims to have lost £180,000 a year in lost book sales because Libraries lend them out! Well, of course that’s not true. People who borrow books for free wouldn’t go out and buy them. And it’s a little ungracious of him, he would have to spend that much every year in marketing and publicity just to buy the promotion that Libraries have given him for free all these years.

But all the same Terry is expressing the little voice of doubt that nags away at all authors and librarians. Authors, publishers and librarians don’t know what to do. The Tsunami of the internet, for so long a problem that would have to be dealt with one day, is building a giant wave in front of our eyes and it is starting to crash all around us. Libraries let the computers in a long time ago. Appeasement hasn’t worked – it never does!

Ah, so it’s just Terry being Terry, the manufacturer of commodities, making a bit of noise. But there are consequences when one is a best-selling author, and when councillors, cabinet meetings, and consultation periods are seeking informed advice. Do they really need to be distracted by “noise” at this important time, with some of the city’s 20 libraries on the line?

And perhaps another round of Blitzed Brits is in order as a refresher course, since libraries accommodating to the internet in the 21st century are in no way akin to Neville Chamberlain on the road to Munich. Sometimes, an umbrella is just an umbrella. (Does a reflex appeal to horrors of appeasement still work with Britons, 75 years on?) Yes, the world, and libraries, are changing. Budgets are smaller. But the answer isn’t to do away with libraries entirely. Moreover, in another bit of news, many keen readers check out books at the library and then do buy them, having ensured they’re something we’d like to spend money on. We just don’t like buying a pig in a poke.

No, I’m not going to use any more space and time here to explain how I feel about libraries, other than to say, we are not amused. But I will mention something else interesting I found on his website, under “Latest News”, which does indeed make me smell a publicity ploy: the tidbit that at the beginning of this month, as of February 1, “Terry start[ed] a new career — as a writer of adult books. He has been contracted to publish an entertaining new series of history books for adults. Over the next two years he will be writing the first four books in the series, starting with The Roman Empire to be published this November.”

Is this the part where we congratulate Mr. Deary and wish him every success on his latest endeavour? Or just wish him well with the gladitorial combat…

* with apologies to Harry Graham (1874-1936), author of the “cheerfully cruel” Ruthless Rhymes

Surviving the amphitheater

On the CBC radio show Q this morning (podcast here), host Jian Ghomeshi spoke with New York Magazine author Jennifer Senior on her recent article, “Why You Never Truly Leave High School”, which had been languishing on my list of things to read but jumped up immediately. I was intrigued to find a mention of home schooling in the article. Here’s an excerpt from the article (emphases mine):

Until the Great Depression, the majority of American adolescents didn’t even graduate from high school. Once kids hit their teen years, they did a variety of things: farmed, helped run the home, earned a regular wage. Before the banning of child labor, they worked in factories and textile mills and mines. All were different roads to adulthood; many were undesirable, if not outright Dickensian. But these disparate paths did arguably have one virtue in common: They placed adolescent children alongside adults. They were not sequestered as they matured. Now teens live in a biosphere of their own. In their recent book Escaping the Endless Adolescence, psychologists Joseph and Claudia Worrell Allen note that teenagers today spend just 16 hours per week interacting with adults and 60 with their cohort. One century ago, it was almost exactly the reverse.

Something happens when children spend so much time apart from adult company. They start to generate a culture with independent values and priorities. James Coleman, a renowned mid-century sociologist, was among the first to analyze that culture in his seminal 1961 work, The Adolescent Society, and he wasn’t very impressed. “Our society has within its midst a set of small teen-age societies,” he wrote, “which focus teen-age interests and attitudes on things far removed from adult responsibilities.” Yes, his words were prudish, but many parents have had some version of these misgivings ever since, especially those who’ve consciously opted not to send their kids into the Roman amphi­theater. (From the website of the National Home Education Network: “Ironically, one of the reasons many of us have chosen to educate our own is precisely this very issue of socialization! Children spending time with individuals of all ages more closely resembles real life than does a same-age school setting.”)

In fact, one of the reasons that high schools may produce such peculiar value systems is precisely because the people there have little in common, except their ages. “These are people in a large box without any clear, predetermined way of sorting out status,” says Robert Faris, a sociologist at UC Davis who’s spent a lot of time studying high-school aggression. “There’s no natural connection between them.” Such a situation, in his view, is likely to reward aggression. Absent established hierarchies and power structures (apart from the privileges that naturally accrue from being an upperclassman), kids create them on their own, and what determines those hierarchies is often the crudest common-­denominator stuff—looks, nice clothes, prowess in sports—­rather than the subtleties of personality. “Remember,” says Crosnoe, who spent a year doing research in a 2,200-student high school in Austin, “high schools are big. There has to be some way of sorting people socially. It’d be nice if kids could be captured by all their characteristics. But that’s not realistic.”

I’ve been intrigued by this subject since the kids reached school age and we started home schooling. I’ve read, digested, agreed with, and often recommended Hold On to Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter More than Peers by Doctors Neufeld and Mate. I also read and reviewed (briefly) The Case Against Adolescence: Rediscovering the Adult in Every Teen by Robert Epstein, a psychologist and former editor-in-chief of Pyschology Today magazine. Coleman’s The Adolescent Society (subtitled The Social Life of the Teenager and its Impact on Education sounds interesting, especially coming only six years after “Rebel without a Cause” and “Blackboard Jungle”.

Most of us who home school have heard from non-home schooling parents that it’s the everyday school interactions that “prepare” kids for real life. Senior writes,

Maybe, perversely, we should be grateful that high school prepares us for this life. The isolation, the shame, the aggression from those years—all of it readies us to cope. But one also has to wonder whether high school is to blame; whether the worst of adult America looks like high school because it’s populated by people who went to high school in America. We’re recapitulating the ugly folkways of this institution, and reacting with the same reflexes, because that’s where we were trapped, and shaped, and misshaped, during some of our most vulnerable years.

The most poignant part of the NYM article? “It’s also abundantly, poignantly clear that during puberty, kids have absolutely no clue how to assess character or read the behavior of others. … So much of what they think they know about others’ opinions of them is plain wrong.”

The article is well worth a read, if you have teens in the house, if you will have teens, or even if you were once one yourself. And, as the article points out, if there’s any chance you may be headed to a nursing home in the future. As sociologist Robert Faris points out, “It’s not adolescence that’s the problem. It’s the giant box of strangers.”

Campaigns, stickers, and a happy belated birthday

I missed Charles Darwin’s birthday last week, so I thought I’d tell you, in case you hadn’t already heard, about 19-year-old Zack Kopplin, who’s been an anti-creationist campaigner for five years now. Zack just won the Troublemaker of the Year for 2012 award. From the Troublemaker website:

The TroubleMaker Award Committee has named 19 year old activist, Zack Kopplin, the TroubleMaker of 2012 for his leadership and advocacy efforts to prevent the spread of creationism in publicly funded education. Zack has been selected among many exceptional applicants who demonstrated creativity, spirit and dedication in working on a broad range of issues, including women’s rights, poverty, bullying, environment and nuclear energy.

Zack’s bold campaign to repeal the 2008 Louisiana Science Education Act (LSEA) has made waves in state politics and in public education. Kopplin has gathered the support of 78 Nobel Laureate scientists, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the New Orleans City Council, and other major organizations. His petition to repeal the law has 74,000 supporters across the US. Working with Louisiana State Senator Karen Carter Peterson, Zack has fought for two bills to repeal the LSEA. He has spoken out before the Louisiana legislature and State Board of Education, debated creationist politicians, held rallies, and had been covered in hundreds of interviews in national and international media. Kopplin is preparing to fight for a third repeal bill.

Zack plans to use the $10,000 awarded to him to increase the impact and reach of his campaign. The funds will greatly aid Zack’s most recent venture to call for accountability on the issue of millions of dollars in school vouchers being spent to fund schools across the US that teach creationist ideas. He also plans to use this money to help build the Second Giant Leap movement, which calls for a permanent end to science denial legislation and for a trillion dollars of new science funding in the next decade.

Kopplin said, “We need a Second Giant Leap for Mankind and we need a student movement of troublemakers and truth-tellers who are willing to stand up and speak out to make this a reality.”

Zack’s website, Repealing the Louisiana Science Education Act, is here. His open letter to President Obama, calling for a Second Giant Leap for Mankind, is here. He argues that “Denying and misteaching evidence-based science like evolution and climate science will confuse our students about the nature of science and stifle future American scientists and scientific innovation.” More (all links are Zack’s, from his letter):

The politics surrounding science also must change. A member of the U.S. House of Representatives Science Committee recently called evolution, embryology and the Big Bang theory “lies straight from the pit of hell.” The former Chairman of this same committee believes that climate change is a massive conspiracy that scientists created to get more funding. He then tried to cut science funding. Another member of this committee suggested cutting down more trees as a measure to reduce global warming. Former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) attempted to sneak a creationism law into President Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) and others hosted a Congressional briefing called “Scientific Evidence of Intelligent Design and its Implications for Public Policy and Education.” Campaigns are being led against vaccines. The current cuts to federal funding for basic scientific research could prevent our country from launching the next Hubble Telescope or the next Human Genome Project. We would never have created the Internet or launched the Manhattan Project if we had cut science funding.

Zack was a National Center for Science Education’s 2012 Friend of Darwin award winner, too, and his campaign even inspired a Doonesbury strip in 2011.

You can support Zack’s efforts by going to his website, and, if you do such things, by following him on Twitter and Facebook. I recently found another nifty way to help support Zack’s campaign, on Colin Purrington’s website. (I first discovered Colin back in 2005, with his Charles Darwin Has a Posse stickers. You can find the stickers here.)

While I was trying to fix the Darwin Posse button below left (it went wonky), I learned that Colin now also offers textbook disclaimers you can print out as stickers; there’s a series of 15 distinct stickers:

If you live in the United States, you probably live in a school district that is dominated by people who don’t publicly accept evolution.  Over the years, teachers and School Boards have found ways to undermine the teaching of evolution to appease the parents that have pitchforks and charmingly Neolithic views of reality.  Some districts have even placed evolution disclaimer stickers in biology textbooks… . Please consider downloading the PDF to make actual stickers with inkjet sticker paper, then give to your kids to use at school.

Some of my favorites,

TxtbkStickers3

TxtbkStickers2

TxtbkStickers1

 

Go get yours and start stickering. Oh, and Colin now has a Charles Darwin/Posse store at Cafe Press.

By the way, if you have science students at home, you should know that Colin has a new, very helpful section on his blog with Academic Tips. These include

Maintaining a laboratory notebook

Designing conference posters

Writing science papers

Giving science talks and presentations

Requesting letters of recommendation

Laptops in class? (tips for students AND teachers)

Great stuff. Thanks very much for all of it, Colin!

*  *  *

Since we’re on the subject, here’s Farm School oldie but goodie (I haven’t gone through all of the links, so I’m sure there are some that are now broken. If you find any, please let me know in the comments below):

Darwin 200: Charles Darwin’s Day, from February 12, 2009: “”To celebrate this year, Farm School offers a highly subjective, not at all comprehensive Charles Darwin bibliography and list of resources for the entire family, with serious and lighthearted offerings; remember, I’m not a trained scientist or a biologist, just a very amateur naturalist who likes to read.”

(Previously posted, in 2008, as “Funny, you don’t look a day over 198″)

Happy belated birthday, big guy. Love always from Farm School.

*  *  *

By the way, the Troublemaker Award was founded by Semyon Dukach, a self-styled “angel investor” and a protagonist of Busting Vegas, who immigrated to the US from Russia with his family in 1979 when he was 10. Semyon is also a judge for the Lemelson / MIT student inventiveness prize, as well as for Mass Challenge.

Shhh…

One of the more interesting conversation topics among home schoolers isn’t socialization (though it is a favorite of non-home schoolers) but introverts vs. extroverts, especially since it seems that many introverted parents are teaching extroverted kids, as I am. The subject comes up fairly often in the Charlotte Mason and Well-Trained Mind yahoo groups I frequent, so it’s a situation a number of parents find themselves dealing with. I imagine an extrovert with three introverted kids would also have her challenges…

I’ve known since I was very young that I’m an introvert. In elementary school, I generally preferred books to people. In high school, I had much more fun getting ready for parties than at the parties themselves (I couldn’t wait to get home). The challenge for me hasn’t been figuring out what I am, or what the kids are. It’s been trying to meet my kids’ needs as extroverts without making myself crazy, and, considerably more difficult, to fit, as an intovert, into a mostly extroverted world. Figuring out this latter part is the focus of Susan Cain’s new book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking (just published by Crown, January 24, 2012). Our library system has about a dozen copies on order, and I’ve reserved one through interlibrary loan when they arrive.

If you haven’t yet figured out whether you’re an extrovert or introvert, Ms. Cain has a quick quiz on her website.  Some of the quiz statements (answer yes or no):

I prefer one-on-one conversations to group activities

I often prefer to express myself in writing

I enjoy solitude

I seem to care less than my peers about wealth, fame and status

I’m not a big risk taker

I enjoy work that allows me to dive in with few interruptions

I like to celebrate birthdays on a small scale with only one or two close friends or family members

I do my best work alone

I tend to think before I speak

I feel drained after being out and about, even if I’ve enjoyed myself

If I had to choose, I’d prefer a weekend with absolutely nothing to do to one with too many things scheduled

I don’t enjoy multitasking

If you can answer Yes to most of these, according to Cain, “you are likely to be an introvert”. I do and am.

This is one reason why the last two years, which have been remarkable for their lack of quiet, have been so difficult for me. The more I’ve explained that I needed to get back to my own usual uninterrupted home- and farm-centered life, the more resistance, and outright dismissiveness, I’ve met. It reminded me of growing up as an introvert in an extroverted family, with parents who laughingly told others, “She’s shy” (though, as Cain notes, there is a difference between shyness and introversion). It’s one of the reasons why I was determined when the kids were young that I would rather help and prepare them than tease them, however good naturedly, and why we started with reciting poetry at the local music festival. Interestingly, last year, as part of her “Quiet Revolution”, Cain championed public speaking and Toastmasters to help some introverts overcome their fears. For kids, I can’t say enough about the benefits of music festivals, and also the 4H public speaking program.

From a Scientific American interview with Susan Cain by Gareth Cook [emphasis mine]:

Cook: How does this cultural inclination [toward extroverts] affect introverts?

Cain: Many introverts feel there’s something wrong with them, and try to pass as extroverts. But whenever you try to pass as something you’re not, you lose a part of yourself along the way. You especially lose a sense of how to spend your time. Introverts are constantly going to parties and such when they’d really prefer to be home reading, studying, inventing, meditating, designing, thinking, cooking… or any number of other quiet and worthwhile activities.

According to the latest research, one third to one half of us are introverts – that’s one out of every two or three people you know. But you’d never guess that, right? That’s because introverts learn from an early age to act like pretend-extroverts.

I was able to stop pretending once I began living on my on, in college and was able to act on my preferences. Which have included, as Cain notes, staying home to read, study, meditate, design, think, cook, “or any number of other quiet and worthwhile activities.” Not to mention gardening and tending chickens and cattle.

“Worthwhile”  to me is the most important word in that sentence, because the majority extroverts are very quick to assume that activities and preferences not worthwhile to them aren’t worthwhile at all, to anyone. This requires the introvert to do some fighting, or at least to stand her ground. Or, if you’re an extrovert parent of an introverted child, to accept your child’s differences and to teach your child to stand up for those differences.

More from the SciAm interview [emphasis mine],

Cook: Is this just a problem for introverts, or do you feel it hurts the country as a whole?

Cain: It’s never a good idea to organize society in a way that depletes the energy of half the population. We discovered this with women decades ago, and now it’s time to realize it with introverts.

This also leads to a lot of wrongheaded notions that affect introverts and extroverts alike. Here’s just one example: Most schools and workplaces now organize workers and students into groups, believing that creativity and productivity comes from a gregarious place. This is nonsense, of course. From Darwin to Picasso to Dr. Seuss, our greatest thinkers have often worked in solitude, and in my book I examine lots of research on the pitfalls of groupwork.

And from Cain’s Toronto Globe & Mail interview:

At work you mention extroverts are showy and efficient; they’re often driven by status. Introverts, meanwhile, are slow and deliberate. Is that methodical process mistaken for lack of ambition or, worse, laziness?

Absolutely. The way you display your work or your ambition can often be misperceived. I interviewed [three-time Olympic gold medalist] Marnie McBean recently, this very dynamic, firecracker extrovert. She said that when she was first paired with Kathleen Heddle, a quietly steely, determined introvert, she was very upset and actually asked her coach to give her a different partner. She thought Kathleen was not up to snuff. Her coach said, ‘You do realize that Kathleen is the best rower on the team, and she’s even better than you, Marnie.’ She hadn’t realized that because she was so attuned to outside displays of ambition, competitiveness and fieriness, and Kathleen wasn’t displaying any of those. I’d advise [introverts] that they might take some of their hard work and think about ways of drawing attention to themselves, ways that are comfortable for them.

One of the items in Ms. Cain’s Quiet Manifesto, “16 Things I Believe”, is the following, which has a direct application to home schooling:

We teach kids in group classrooms not because this is the best way to learn but because it’s cost-efficient, and what else would we do with the children while all the grown-ups are at work? If your child prefers to work autonomously and socialize one-on-one, there’s nothing wrong with her; she just happens not to fit the model.

And finally, also from the Manifesto,

If the task of the first half of life is to put yourself out there, the task of the second half is to make sense of where you’ve been.

Yes. I’d just add, and to continue going where you want to go. Here’s to reclaiming quiet for those of us who need it, and to a growing appreciation for the intrinsic worth of quiet.

*  *  *  *

Since home schoolers as a group seem to be quite keen about Ted Talks, I thought I should mention that Susan Cain will be a speaker at Ted2012 in late February

An article from a 2009 issue of Secular Homeschooling magazine, “Guided by their Needs: Homeschooling Works for Introverts and Extroverts!”

An article from a 1998 issue of Home Education Magazine, “The Valedictorian Who Failed Socialization”

From “my very own book” to “my very own app”

Last month, Imogen Russell Williams, who always writes winningly about children’s literature*, wrote a post for The Guardian Book Blog, “Ladybird Books flies away to a new age”, from which,

News that Ladybird Books has been undertaking a “re-branding” exercise, equipping itself for the digital age with a plethora of apps and ebooks, has reminded me how central they were to my own early reading. I remember the Ladybirds of my 1980s childhood as hand-friendly, welcoming little volumes, their matt covers distinguished by a unique desiccated, papery feel (except the Puddle Lanes, which were shiny). Ladybirds were some of the first books to “belong” to me, rather than to parents or teachers – although they represented educational rather than frivolous reading, they didn’t feel borrowed, or handed down from on high. All of them had a crinkled, enticing gully running parallel to the spine, and they were all – non-fiction, learn-to-read or stories pure and simple – full of mysterious promise. They dramatised stark fact in simple language, gripped, even when deploying the much-vaunted “key words” – and most importantly, they paired images with words in a harmonious, punch-packing symbiosis between writer and illustrator that seems to have worked throughout every series and in every decade.

Williams has an interesting take on Ladybird’s abridged books, many of which are on the Farm School shelves,

While I generally felt short-changed by abridgement as a child, taking an all-or-nothing approach to grown-up literature and blithely tuning out stuff like the risqué bits of The Three Musketeers en route, Ladybird Classics remained honourable exceptions to the rule. To this day I retain a weakness for the red-beetle potted versions of Gulliver’s Travels and A Tale of Two Cities, over and above their full-length counterparts (Gulliver in particular is greatly improved by the presence of illustrations.) And my (limited) grasp of English history pretty much owes its existence at all to Kings and Queens of England, vols 1 and 2.

Our all-time favorites are the Ladybird Nature Books illustrated by Charles Tunnicliffe.  Good stuff, and just the right size for little pockets on long walks.

I’m old, and curmudgeonly, enough to be relieved that my children are by now too old for Ladybird apps and online worlds, and in fact the idea of an app for babies makes me squirm. As does the name alone of Ladybird’s newish online world for children, The Land of Me. Interesting blog post, by the way, at Wired’s GeekDad on “The Land of Me” by Daniel Donahoo last year.

It will be interesting to see if in 30 or 50 years, today’s children will feel at all nostalgic about the new Ladybird efforts. While Googling for the Ladybird website, I came across many sites where yesterday’s nostalgic children, also known as “The Ladybird Generation”, can find out about old favorites (herehere, here, here) and even buy prints, and also original artwork, from older Ladybird books.  The books are so familiar and readily identifiable (some would say “iconic”) that several years ago the National Health Service hoped to use the style and format for new sex ed books for modern adolescents; Ladybird, not surprisingly, lodged a complaint.

: : : :

* More recent good children’s book columns by Imogen Russell Williams:

Small print: who are your favourite miniature heroes?; May 13, 2011

The Eagle of the Ninth: a children’s classic that stands the test of time; March 21, 2011

Old stories for young readers; February 24, 2011 (“Critics may scorn grown-up historical fiction, but children’s writers from Rosemary Sutcliff to Kevin Crossley-Holland have brought the past magically alive”)

All of IRW’s columns for The Guardian are here.

The full impact

Pulitzer and Griffin prize-winning poet and essayist Charles Simic has a moving and thought-provoking blog post at the New York Review Blog this week, “A Country without Libraries”, from which:

All across the United States, large and small cities are closing public libraries or curtailing their hours of operations. Detroit, I read a few days ago, may close all of its branches and Denver half of its own: decisions that will undoubtedly put hundreds of its employees out of work. When you count the families all over this country who don’t have computers or can’t afford Internet connections and rely on the ones in libraries to look for jobs, the consequences will be even more dire. People everywhere are unhappy about these closings, and so are mayors making the hard decisions. But with roads and streets left in disrepair, teachers, policemen and firemen being laid off, and politicians in both parties pledging never to raise taxes, no matter what happens to our quality of life, the outlook is bleak. “The greatest nation on earth,” as we still call ourselves, no longer has the political will to arrest its visible and precipitous decline and save the institutions on which the workings of our democracy depend.

I don’t know of anything more disheartening than the sight of a shut down library. No matter how modest its building or its holdings, in many parts of this country a municipal library is often the only place where books in large number on every imaginable subject can be found, where both grownups and children are welcome to sit and read in peace, free of whatever distractions and aggravations await them outside. Like many other Americans of my generation, I owe much of my knowledge to thousands of books I withdrew from public libraries over a lifetime. I remember the sense of awe I felt as a teenager when I realized I could roam among the shelves, take down any book I wanted, examine it at my leisure at one of the library tables, and if it struck my fancy, bring it home. Not just some thriller or serious novel, but also big art books and recordings of everything from jazz to operas and symphonies.

How Simic’s library made him a more interesting, and interested, person:

In Oak Park, Illinois, when I was in high school, I went to the library two or three times a week, though in my classes I was a middling student. Even in wintertime, I’d walk the dozen blocks to the library, often in rain or snow, carrying a load of books and records to return, trembling with excitement and anticipation at all the tantalizing books that awaited me there. The kindness of the librarians, who, of course, all knew me well, was also an inducement. They were happy to see me read so many books, though I’m sure they must have wondered in private about my vast and mystifying range of interests.

I’d check out at the same time, for instance, a learned book about North American insects and bugs, a Louis-Ferdinand Céline novel, the poems of Hart Crane, an anthology of American short stories, a book about astronomy and recordings by Bix Beiderbecke and Sidney Bechet. I still can’t get over the generosity of the taxpayers of Oak Park. It’s not that I started out life being interested in everything; it was spending time in my local, extraordinarily well-stacked public library that made me so.

Simic on those who downplay the importance of libraries in our communities, our society:

I heard some politician say recently that closing libraries is no big deal, since the kids now have the Internet to do their reading and school work. It’s not the same thing. As any teacher who recalls the time when students still went to libraries and read books could tell him, study and reflection come more naturally to someone bent over a book. Seeing others, too, absorbed in their reading, holding up or pressing down on different-looking books, some intimidating in their appearance, others inviting, makes one a participant in one of the oldest and most noble human activities. Yes, reading books is a slow, time-consuming, and often tedious process. In comparison, surfing the Internet is a quick, distracting activity in which one searches for a specific subject, finds it, and then reads about it—often by skipping a great deal of material and absorbing only pertinent fragments. Books require patience, sustained attention to what is on the page, and frequent rest periods for reverie, so that the meaning of what we are reading settles in and makes its full impact.

How many book lovers among the young has the Internet produced? Far fewer, I suspect, than the millions libraries have turned out over the last hundred years. Their slow disappearance is a tragedy, not just for those impoverished towns and cities, but for everyone everywhere terrified at the thought of a country without libraries.

Read the entire post here. Read the NYRblog here, where you can find posts by everyone from Margaret Atwood, Diane Ravitch, and  Mary Beard to Harold Bloom, Michael Chabon, and Joseph Lelyveld.

Support your local library.  Visit often, with your children. Get library cards for the whole family, and use them. Join your Friends of the Library group to help with much-needed fundraising. Take boxes of chocolates and plates of homemade cookies to your librarian and the staff. Join your local library board.  Become volunteer or library page at your branch. Read deeply and widely. Imagine your town, city, or neighborhood without a library.

*  *  *

Earlier Farm School handwringings about libraries:

Those pesky outdated and inaccurate books

Ray Bradbury on libraries

The latest book buzz, or, For whom the bell tolls

A hub for home schoolers

Those pesky outdated and inaccurate books

Oh, Canada.

From today’s Globe and Mail,

Today, many Canadian children have never even seen a school librarian and never will. Nova Scotia has none, and the full-time equivalent of just three are left in all of New Brunswick. At least one school board in Ontario hasn’t had a teacher-librarian in 15 years, and numbers have declined in Alberta and British Columbia as well [certainly in our part of Alberta].

Spring is a hard season for bibliophiles, as school boards across the country set their budgets for next school year. In recent weeks at least two Ontario boards have decided to cut library staff.

Teacher-librarians have been among the first to be sacrificed when boards make cuts, and the digital innovations they help students navigate are now being used as the justification for eliminating their jobs, and Canada is bucking an international trend of investing in school libraries.

People for Education, an Ontario advocacy group, will release a special report on the decline of school libraries on Monday.

The study shows that less [erm, fewer…] than 12 per cent of Ontario elementary schools have a full-time librarian, and small communities, particularly in the north, are most likely to go without. Today, barely half have even a part-time librarian, down from 80 per cent in 1997/98.

The group’s concerns are about more than nostalgia: School libraries and librarians have been linked to several measures of student achievement, including standardized test scores and a love of reading. Most studies have come out of the United States and Australia, but Canadian researchers confirmed in 2006 that these benefits transcend borders and remain strong in a post-internet world.

“It’s not surprising that when you’ve got engaged teacher-librarians, they’re going to engage the students more and the more they engage our children the better they learn,” said Donald Klinger, the Queen’s University professor who led the new study.

What did surprise Prof. Klinger was the strength of the association between students’ performance on standardized tests and the presence of school librarians: His study showed scores were boosted by as much as 8 per cent.

If reading all of that makes you sad, this will make you even sadder [boldface mine]:

In April, declining enrolment forced the Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board in southern Ontario to make up a projected $8-million to $10-million reduction in provincial funding. Trustees voted to lay off 16 secretaries, several teachers, and nearly all 39 library technicians. At the same time, Peterborough’s Catholic school board, east of Toronto, also said it is cutting library staff.

“We have to get past the old concept, the old tradition of what libraries used to be…” said Cathy Geml, associate director of education for the WECDSB. Books quickly become outdated and inaccurate, and the board is focusing its resources on internet research.

“We have people in various capacities in the secondary schools that are teachers and administrators who could support and teach digital literacy throughout the day.”

It gets worse.  According to The Hamilton Spectator, the decision was made behind closed doors and with no public input:

In a controversial decision — which even some students are protesting — the Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board has laid off all but four of its library technicians and is dismantling all its libraries.

It has started to divvy up the library books in its elementary schools and distribute them to individual classrooms instead.

Among the board’s reasons, according to Ms. Geml:

schoolchildren spend time walking to the library, choosing books and returning to class. “That’s lost instructional time,” she added.

Lost, indeed. I’m not quite sure how much anyone in the Windsor-Essex Catholic school district has been learning over the past few generations if school board members believe that that books are purely for research, reference, and information. Whatever happened to wisdom, knowledge, and a great story?  How disappointing that there are trustees who think it comes down to Stephen Leacock vs. Google, Jane Austen vs. the current edition of the World Almanac, Billy Budd vs. Bing.  Am I really surprised to find that there are school board members who believe this?  No.  It’s one of the reasons we home school, and one of the reasons we’ve made a good home library a priority.

The good news, if there is any, is that not everyone in Windsor agrees:

“We believe students’ physical well-being is important, so we have a gym. As a Catholic school, we believe religion is important, so we have a chapel. If we believe literacy and reading is important, why wouldn’t we have a library?” said Windsor-area parent Donna Tonus, who is banding together with others to fight the board’s decision. A student protest is also planned on Monday.

Interestingly, one of the links provided by The Globe & Mail in a sidebar is for a story last December about Victoria, B.C.’s booming public libraries — because, as reporter Tom Hawthorn wrote, “The Greater Victoria Public Library embraces technology while respecting the time-proven value of that fine medieval invention, the printed book”.

These days

Yesterday was my birthday and when I wasn’t thinking about how for the first time my mother wouldn’t be telephoning, and my father wouldn’t be emailing a Jacquie Lawson card and sending the usual box of books, it wasn’t too bad.  The kids and Tom made a heroic effort to distract me from my orphandom (is that even a word? orphanhood?).  Okay, it was awful and what did help was a quick trip to town to pick up some last-minute things for Daniel’s 12th birthday on Friday.  Much easier to concentrate on someone else’s festivities, especially when I need to figure out how I can co-opt some wedding printables for birthday purposes.

This morning dawned much better and happier, especially with all sorts of new birds back, and the yard positively vibrating from robins’ song. And the swallows are back and swooping around the window frames trying to figure out where to make their nests.  And here I’ve only more or less started the exterior spring cleaning — after just having finished, more or less, the indoor spring cleaning — and have yet to attack the window screens the swallows made such a mess of last summer. Must clean off old mess before they start making a new mess.

But then I checked my email and there was a merchandising come-on for Mother’s Day,

“be a hero to your hero! Great gift idea’s for Mom on eBay”

and, aside from the momentary pause to sigh about the dolts in charge of punctuation at eBay, it occurred to me that these next few weeks are going to be very, very hard.

Fortunately, part of my birthday present from Tom is a greenhouse — similar to this hoop-style greenhouse covered with poly, though Tom wants to make it more A-frame style with 2×4’s for ease of construction — and I am hoping that by May 8th I will be suitably distracted, or at least in a more suitable place to commune with the spirit of my parents, since my mother loved nothing better than filling the house with spring flowers (branches of pussywillows, forsythia, and lilacs) though she wasn’t in the least interested in how anything was grown, and my father was happiest puttering among his plants in his shade house.

Onwards. Upwards.


Question of the week

‘Why, exactly, is a reader who comes to the website via Google or Facebook more desirable than someone who types in “www.nytimes.com”?’

Asks The Economist.

The New York Times has always been my hometown newspaper.  It was one of the few things I was sorry to leave behind when I left New York, even though it was getting smaller and skinnier by the year, even then, realizing as I did that home delivery of the Times would no longer be possible living in the country in western Canada. When we finally got internet, especially wifi the other year, it was wonderful to have daily, or depending on my schedule, weekly access to the Times again.  But now I may be losing it again, or at least if I want to read more than the five articles a day I can access for free via Google.

Lucky Canada is the guinea pig of the experiment.  As Arthur Sulzberger wrote on March 17,

Today, we are rolling out digital subscriptions to our readers in Canada, which will enable us to fine-tune the customer experience before our global launch. On March 28, we will begin offering digital subscriptions in the U.S. and the rest of the world.

The cheapest option, nytimes.com and smartphone app, is $15/month or $180 a year.  I don’t have a smartphone, and it occurs to me a nytimes.com only and/or foreign resident option, for those of us who are unable to buy a print subscription to the Times (which automatically nets you digital access), would be a nice thing.  But it took the Times a year to figure out the newly premiered three-tier plan.

The pop culture perils of being relevant and engaging

From The New York Times the other day,

Every year, the SAT reduces more than a few teenage test-takers to tears.

But few questions on the so-called Big Test appear to have provoked more anxious chatter — at least in this era of texting and online comment streams and discussion threads — than an essay prompt in some versions of the SAT administered last Saturday in which students were asked to opine on reality television.

“This is one of those moments when I wish I actually watched TV,” one test-taker wrote on Saturday on the Web site College Confidential, under the user name “littlepenguin.”

“I ended up talking about Jacob Riis and how any form of media cannot capture reality objectively,” he wrote, invoking the 19th-century social reformer. “I kinda want to cry right now.”

Less than a minute later, a fellow test-taker identified as “krndandaman” responded: “I don’t watch tv at all so it was hard for me. I have no interest in reality tv shows…”

The commenter ended the post with the symbol for a frowning face.

By Wednesday, comments on the now-infamous prompt — which included the question, “How authentic can these shows be when producers design challenges for the participants and then editors alter filmed scenes?” — had stretched across nearly 40 pages on College Confidential. Media coverage added to the scrutiny.

Angela Garcia, executive director of the SAT program, said she did not think it was unfair to ask that question of students who had neither the time nor inclination to watch Mike Sorrentino on “Jersey Shore,” or Kim Kardashian on “Kourtney & Kim Take New York.”

“The primary goal of the essay prompt is to give students an opportunity to demonstrate their writing skills,” she said.

This particular prompt, Ms. Garcia said, was intended to be relevant and to engage students, and had gone through extensive pre-testing with students and teachers. “It’s really about pop culture as a reference point that they would certainly have an opinion on,” she added.

How the other half lives, eh?  Am tempted to think that if Jacob Riis were around today, he’d find his tenements on television.

We have walls

for the kitchen addition.  Well, we’ve had the walls built for a while but just haven’t been able to stand them up until the -30C blustery weather and snow stopped.  For good, we hope, considering the date on the calendar, but who knows this year. Snow we expect through the end of the May, but -30 is usually a thing of the past by now.

Apologies for the pic quality, I took these from inside the house, which gives the best view.

Our telehandler helping out,

The west wall going up,

West wall attached; there will be built-in shelves with the window in the center (it was either that or two very narrow windows on the edges) with the countertop and cabinets underneath, as a sort of dining room/school room hutch.  There will be one “hutch” on each side, east and west,

The east wall going up,

The north wall; Laura was just telling us the other day that it’s time to get rid of the swing set, so we’ll pass it on to some friends with young children,

Next up, literally: trusses.

Oh dear

Dear Reader,

I missed the news back in January about the rapidly vanishing “dear” as salutation, as noted by The Wall Street Journal in its article, “Hey, Folks: Here’s a Digital Requiem For a Dearly Departed Salutation”.  Apparently, according to a surprising number of people, “‘Dear is a bit too intimate and connotes a personal relationship’.”  Oh. It seems for some baffling reason that they are equating “dear” with “darling”.  More, from the story,

Across the Internet the use of dear is going the way of sealing wax. Email has come to be viewed as informal even when used as formal communication, leaving some etiquette experts appalled at the ways professional strangers address one another.

People who don’t start communications with dear, says business-etiquette expert Lydia Ramsey, “lack polish.”

“They come across as being abrupt,” says Ms. Ramsey, who founded a Savannah, Ga., etiquette consultancy called Manners That Sell.

“It sets the tone for that business relationship, and it shows respect,” she says. “Email is so impersonal it needs all the help it can get.”

I learned about this latest nail in the coffin of courtesy in today’s episode of the CBC radio show “Spark”, which continues the old saw that “It’s clear what the tone is in a text or a tweet, but in an email the tone is a bigger problem as we swing back and forth between casual and formal contexts”. Somehow Dr. Johnson, George Bernard Shaw, Abigail Adams, and Groucho Marx didn’t seem to have any problem conveying tone, and without relying on facial expressions or emoticons.  And as Miss Manners has explained, there are those “folks who believe that modern society is annoyingly characterized by generosity, gratitude and consideration for others, and we would all be better off if we behaved like — well, like them. Miss Manners has heard from such people, who believe that daily life is not acrimonious enough. She only hopes that their brow-beatings will not succeed in dumbing down the standards that some of us still meet.”  Several years ago, in a Wired interview, Miss Manners discussed the salutation situation:

Wired: You favor old-fashioned salutations in written correspondence: Dear So and So … Do you use salutations in email?

Miss Manners: Email is very informal, a memo. But I find that not signing off or not having a salutation bothers me. I am waiting to see if this is just a fuddy-duddy vestige I should divest myself of.

I wracked my Sunday brain, and came up with a few letters between correspondents without intimate and personal relationships, in other words, in the no love lost category.

From Mr. Collins to Mr. Bennet:

DEAR SIR,

THE disagreement subsisting between yourself and my late honoured father always gave me much uneasiness, and since I have had the misfortune to lose him I have frequently wished to heal the breach; but for some time I was kept back by my own doubts, fearing lest it might seem disrespectful to his memory for me to be on good terms with any one with whom it had always pleased him to be at variance.”

— “There, Mrs. Bennet.” —

“My mind however is now made up on the subject, for having received ordination at Easter, I have been so fortunate as to be distinguished by the patronage of the Right Honourable Lady Catherine de Bourgh, widow of Sir Lewis de Bourgh, whose bounty and beneficence has preferred me to the valuable rectory of this parish, where it shall be my earnest endeavour to demean myself with grateful respect towards her Ladyship, and be ever ready to perform those rites and ceremonies which are instituted by the Church of England. As a clergyman, moreover, I feel it my duty to promote and establish the blessing of peace in all families within the reach of my influence; and on these grounds I flatter myself that my present overtures of good-will are highly commendable, and that the circumstance of my being next in the entail of Longbourn estate will be kindly overlooked on your side, and not lead you to reject the offered olive branch. I cannot be otherwise than concerned at being the means of injuring your amiable daughters, and beg leave to apologise for it, as well as to assure you of my readiness to make them every possible amends, — but of this hereafter. If you should have no objection to receive me into your house, I propose myself the satisfaction of waiting on you and your family, Monday, November 18th, by four o’clock, and shall probably trespass on your hospitality till the Saturday se’nnight following, which I can do without any inconvenience, as Lady Catherine is far from objecting to my occasional absence on a Sunday, provided that some other clergyman is engaged to do the duty of the day. I remain, dear sir, with respectful compliments to your lady and daughters, your well-wisher and friend,

WILLIAM COLLINS.”

And since I don’t have a copy of the entire letter, including salutation, from Katharine White to Anne Carroll Moore concerning Stuart Little (a letter her husband suspected “set a new world’s record for poisoned courtesy”), here instead is a 1953 letter from E.B. White to a Margaret Halsey,

Dear Miss Halsey,

I had just read your piece in the ALA Bulletin about taking your daughter to the public library, where she liked “the little chairs and the books about fierce things,” when your letter arrived protesting the editorial in the April 18th issue about human rights.  Since I am the author of the offending remarks, it is up to me to answer your complaints.

The New Yorker isn’t against freedom from want and didn’t attack it or minimize it as a goal. But we’re against associating freedom from want (which is an economic goal) with freedom of speech (which is an exact political principle).  There is, I believe, a very real and discernible danger, to a country like ours, in an international covenant that equates human rights with human desires, and that attempts to satisfy, in a single document, governments and philosophies that are essentially irreconcilable.  I do not think it safe or wise to confuse, or combine, the principle of freedom of religion or the principle of freedom of the press with any economic goal whatsoever, because of the likelihood that in guaranteeing the goal, you abandon the principle.  This has happened over and over again.  Eva Peron was a great freedom-from-want girl (specially at Christmas time), but it also happened that La Prensa died and the Argentinians were left with nothing to read but government handouts.

If you were to pack croquet balls and eggs in a single container, and take them travelling, you would probably end your journey with some broken eggs.  I believe that if you put a free press into the same bill with a full belly, you will likely end the journey with a controlled press.

In your letter you doubt whether the man who wrote the editorial had given much thought to the matter.  Well, I’ve been thinking about human rights for about twenty years, and I was even asked, one time during the war, to rewrite the government pamphlet on the Four Freedoms — which is when I began to realize what strange bedfellows they were.  A right is a responsibility in reverse; therefore, a constitutional government of free people should not ward any “rights” that it is not in a position to accept full responsibility for.  The social conscience and the economic technique of the United States are gaining strength, and each year sees us getting closer to freedom from want.  But I’m awfully glad that the “right to work” is not stated in our bill of rights, and I hope the government never signs a covenant in which it appears.

My regards to your daughter, who (human rights or no human rights) is my favorite commentator on the subject of public libraries.

Sincerely,

E.B. White

Just two examples where dear is far from darling.

Sincerely,

Becky (who does in fact have sealing wax in the house, and is not afraid to use it)

The gift of gab

Go into any part of the country, North, East, South or West, and you will find multitudes of his brothers, car conductors in Philadelphia, immigrants of the second generation in the East Side of New York, iron-workers in the Pittsburgh region, corner grocers in St. Louis, holders of petty political jobs in Atlanta and New Orleans, small farmers in Kansas or Kentucky, house carpenters in Ohio, tinners and plumbers in Chicago — genuine Americans all, bawling patriots, hot for the home team, marchers in parades, readers of the yellow newspapers, fathers of families, sheep on election day, undistinguished norms of the Homo Americanus. Such typical Americans, after a fashion, know English. They read it — all save the “hard” words, i. e., all save about 90 per cent of the words of Greek and Latin origin. They can understand perhaps two-thirds of it as it comes from the lips of a political orator or clerygman. They have a feeling that it is, in some recondite sense, superior to the common speech of their kind. They recognize a fluent command of it as the salient mark of a “smart” and “educated” man, one with “the gift of gab.” But they themselves never speak it or try to speak it, nor do they look with approbation on efforts in that direction by their fellows.

In no other way, indeed, is the failure of popular education made more vividly manifest.

H.L. Mencken, “The American Language”, 1921

*  *  *

Are you still here after all that?

I just noticed that the Barnes & Noble Review has a mention of Farnsworth’s Classical English Rhetoric by Ward Farnsworth, a professor at the Boston University School of Law.  And from everything I’ve read, it’s a very good and useful book indeed, especially for classical home schooling types who enjoy their grammar, logic, and rhetoric.

In his Wall Street Journal review, author Henry Hitchings wrote,

The most immediate pleasure of this book is that it heightens one’s appreciation of the craft of great writers and speakers. Mr. Farnsworth includes numerous examples from Shakespeare and Dickens, Thoreau and Emerson, Winston Churchill and Abraham Lincoln. He also seems keen to rehabilitate writers and speakers whose rhetorical artistry is undervalued; besides his liking for Chesterton, he shows deep admiration for the Irish statesman Henry Grattan (1746-1820), whose studied repetition of a word (“No lawyer can say so; because no lawyer could say so without forfeiting his character as a lawyer”) is an instance, we are told, of conduplicatio. But more than anything Mr. Farnsworth wants to restore the reputation of rhetorical artistry per se, and the result is a handsome work of reference.

(Mr. Hitchings should know, since he is author of the new The Language Wars: A History of Proper English, which, as The Guardian‘s Deborah Cameron writes, “takes the reader on a Cook’s tour of complaints about English past and present in a bid to show that the obsessions of the complainers are (a) as old as the hills, (b) based on no linguistic logic, and (c) ultimately futile, since no one can stop language from varying and changing.”  Good stuff.)

Getting back to rhetoric, Carlin Romano, writing in The Chronicle of Higher Education, calls the book “Farnsworth’s feast”:

“Everyone speaks and writes in patterns,” Farnsworth begins, arguing that our choices among patterns still make a powerful difference in whether words work for us or not. Such rhetorical figures “tend to show up often in utterances that are long remembered” he notes—the Rev. Martin Luther King’s eightfold “I have a dream” repetition was pure anaphora, and JFK’s “Ask not… ” a case of pure chiasmus—so it’s worth identifying them.

At the same time, Farnsworth recognizes that rhetorical figures often fail because, in the hands of politicians, they‘re “strained efforts to make dull claims sound snappy,” or they don’t sound “spontaneous,” or a speaker simply overdoes it.

How, he wisely asks, “does one study techniques that succeed only when they seem unstudied?”

His answer: by piling on examples until any idiot can separate the spellbinding from the spectacularly flat.

I’ll need to get a copy of the book if only to determine how much of the snappy Mr. Mencken is included.  More Mencken, from his Creed, a masterpiece of conduplicatio:

I believe that religion, generally speaking, has been a curse to mankind — that its modest and greatly overestimated services on the ethical side have been more than overcome by the damage it has done to clear and honest thinking.

I believe that no discovery of fact, however trivial, can be wholly useless to the race, and that no trumpeting of falsehood, however virtuous in intent, can be anything but vicious.

I believe that all government is evil, in that all government must necessarily make war upon liberty…

I believe that the evidence for immortality is no better than the evidence of witches, and deserves no more respect.

I believe in the complete freedom of thought and speech…

I believe in the capacity of man to conquer his world, and to find out what it is made of, and how it is run.

I believe in the reality of progress.

I — But the whole thing, after all, may be put very simply. I believe that it is better to tell the truth than to lie. I believe that it is better to be free than to be a slave. And I believe that it is better to know than be ignorant.

Quote of the week

Possibly of the month, possibly for 2011, courtesy of our little local weekly newspaper today:

“I am still determined to be cheerful and happy, in whatever situation I may be; for I have also learned from experience that the greater part of our happiness or misery depends upon our dispositions, and not upon our circumstances.”

Martha Custis Washington

The newspaper had the quote abbreviated, and my first thought was that it’s one of those crazy apocryphal misattributed quotes floating around the internet.  But a few minutes on Google turned up a White House page with the quote in its entirety, and it seems as though it may have been from one of Mrs. Washington’s letters to her friend, the writer and playwright Mercy Otis Warren.  Which led my curiosity to Mrs. Warren’s Selected Letters as well as the long overdue biography, The Muse of the Revolution: The Secret Pen of Mercy Otis Warren and the Foundingof a Nation by Nancy Rubin Stuart, both of which I think would be as fascinating as difficult to find in a Canadian library.

All of which is a very roundabout way to say that I think Martha was on to something.