Wednesday, October 29, 2008
As the writer of the article says, props to the boy for kluging a solution. Go creativity. "Improvise, adapt and overcome," Steve M, the blogger commenting on the news article writes with approval.
The boy was suspended for two days, may face further suspension and penalties for ... having a weapon in school. Even though the sheriff's department acknowledges no criminal intent. Even though there were no options for the boy - everything he could have done after the pencil sharpener broke, from giving the metal to the teacher, hiding it and having it discovered, throwing it away and having it discovered, would leave him a victim of these asinine Zero Tolerance policies against weapons in school.
Hat tip to Steve M at Conservative247
Monday, October 27, 2008
"You are one."
"Superhero. And this is my power: to not let them take me. Not me."
"Would you like me to lie to you now?"
"Wesley's dead. I'm feeling grief for him. I can't seem to control it. I wish to do more violence."
I just finished season 5 of Angel, for the first time. Ray, Pam, Rose, Kelly, Anna, John: why in the name of Illyria didn't you WARN me?!?!
Strangers to Ourselves deals unconscious decision-making strategies, unconscious judgments as to what is important to us, and unconscious emotions.
Urban Tribes describes how young adults who delay marriage create social circles that are as intimate and provide the same kind of support as the extended family.
They'll discuss amongst themselves.
Thursday, October 23, 2008
- Euclid's Elements
- Charles Darwin's Origin of Species
- Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations
And now, Mirroring People: The New Science of How We Connect with Others, by Marco Iacoboni.
This book is about mirror neurons. And there is no way in hell that I can explain mirror neurons in a blog post. I've read the damn book, I've sat through a class and listened to psychologists debate the existence of these tiny little things, and I understand them but not well enough to explain them well.
I'll try, because this book...changes everything about psychology. When the media picks up on it, when more of psychology picks up on it (not just the neuroscientists) - there will be a revolution. A paradigm shift.
Mirror neurons fire in imitation rather than action. The classic example is a monkey with electrodes in his brain, so we can note individual neurons. Specific neurons fire when that monkey lifts up a potato chip to eat it. This action has several parts, which I will oversimplify by applying each action to a single neuron. So there's a neuron that fires that represents grasping the chip. One represents the movement of the hand toward the mouth. One represents the taste sensation. And another represents the intent: picking up a chip and eating it.
The scientists have mapped these neurons in this monkey. The scientists watch the lights flash as the neurons fire, because the monkey is eating a potato chip.
The monkey is not doing anything. There are no chips in reach. But a scientist walks by, eating a potato chip.
Neurons in the monkey's brain fire - the same neurons as if the monkey himself were eating a chip, tasting the chip, using the muscles to move the chip to his mouth, and (assuming he saw the scientist pick up the chip) the neurons for the *intent* of eating also fire.
Meanwhile, the monkey doesn't move a muscle. Muscle neurons are firing, but no muscles move.
All I can say is - damn. The implications (supported by research, and explained very well in the book) go quite far. We feel sympathy because our neurons fire in the manner of the person we see, so we literally feel their happiness or pain.
Children play with each other often by imitating each other. At first, they mirror each other's actions (by which I mean, if the kids are facing each other and Paul raises his right hand, Jenny raises her left hand). As they grow older, they imitate by matching left to left and right to right, but the cross neurons still fire. What I mean is: Grown-up Paul raises his right hand, and grown-up Jenny raises her right hand intending to mimic him, but the neurons in Jenny's brain responsible for raising her left hand also fire, even though her left hand doesn't move.
Babies imitate their mothers' smiles and thus discover their own smiles. Babies who learn to imitate smiles earlier than other babies also learn to recognize themselves in a mirror earlier. Such studies, demonstrating mirror neurons, suggest we learn through imitation and that imitation (on a neuronal level) happens without conscious thought.
That's where things get scary. Monkey see, monkey do? Hello, media violence studies? Addiction, smoking, rainbow parties? Free will?
The free will question is not settled (it isn't really settled in ANY field, but it Iacoboni makes no phony attempt to settle it here). At what point does our frontal cortex step in? Or in non-neurology terms - at what point do we exercise judgment?
This book is the first ever to pull together all the data on the existence of mirror neurons (or on the theory of mirror neurons, if you want to be a science purist). Decades of curious lab observations, coincidence, happenstance, and miscellaneous footnotes from otherwise unrelated studies was collected by a small group of people, of whom Iacoboni is one, that is devoted to studying mirror neurons.
And then Iacoboni did the near impossible - he wrote a book that is fascinating to me (I have an MA Psych degree) BUT is also accessible and fascinating to any reader. He rarely use big, science-y words, and when he has to, he explains them extremely well or makes it clear that "that sentence is intended for psychologists, I feel obligated to talk to them, but let's get past that quickly and back to the interesting stuff" (not a quote, just me imagining him talking to his reader).
I read this book very slowly, because every sentence either was mind-boggling or reminded me of some previous research I had read, and I had to go look that up to be sure that Iacoboni knew what he was talking about. Near as I can tell, he does.
I intend to read it at least twice more. I know there is so much I didn't get out of it. Not because the writing is dense. The book is very readable, the tone is cafe conversational. But the implications of mirror neurons -
Have you read Flatland? Do you remember when the flat shape is taken from his two dimensional world and is suddenly able to see three dimensions?
That's how this book made me feel.
Monday, October 20, 2008
Although the copy I just stumbled across while exploring a used bookstore I rarely visit is about twice as long as the copy I had in college. I think kids today have more advantages than I did.
I can't remember if I've praised this book here. It's about writing a college paper. It's not just a grammar book (though there's some grammar review in it). The focus is on how college papers differ from high school papers. The main difference is that, in high school (at least in American high schools), you don't need to prove anything with your paper. Or if you do, the topic has already been selected. You can write papers where the "thesis" sentence is "There are three key symbols in To Kill a Mockingbird," write a paragraph on each symbol (Begin: "X is a symbol." Then write one sentence on what it symbolizes. Then write one or two sentences with quotes from the novel supporting that interpretation of the symbol. Then a concluding sentence.), and finally a concluding paragraph that adds nothing of substance. Intro and final paragraphs are built like triangles, the first starting broad and getting narrow ("Symbolism is important in literature. ... This book uses symbols to help with the story and to get across the author's view of the world. There are three key symbols"), and the final the reverse.
College papers don't work like that. If you turn in a paper like that, even if your grammar is perfect, will not get you far.
College papers demand that you take a stand, and thaat you support you position. It doesn't matter you position, so long a you support it.
That's a scary thought for high schoolers, even (or especially) bright high schoolers who are used to getting good grades by playing it safe and doing everything by the book.
Hence the title: Sin Boldly! You need to take a stand, not to play it safe. And since you're taking a stand, why not be bold? The paper the author works through in the book has as its thesis that Robert Frost's poem "Stopping in the Woods on a Snowy Night" reveals that the poet (or the narrator) is a Satanist. That's a bit bold.
The author takes this extreme statement and argues it well. And since the thesis is so out-there, so absurd, the student feels a little more confident about any or his own ideas for arguments for his own classes.
I read this books as a freshman. I gave a copy to my brother when he went off to college. I just found this copy in time to give it to my cousin who'll be starting college next fall. I'm so glad it's still around, in print, and recently updated.
Friday, October 17, 2008
It was beautiful. The piece of paper beside it, describing what all the symbols meant, had to be 50 years old. No telling how old the wood itself was.
Then the sweetest thing happened - as I was gushing over this, asking the owners questions as they were closing up shop (I could FEEL my enthusiasm dripping from my pores, I was so delighted) - Natalie mentioned that when they close up shop they should leave it to me.
I was dumbstruck. Part of my mind, the bad, greedy part, suddenly realized "This could be mine!" and started figuring out where I could hang it in my library so I could see it all the time. The rest of me, though, had control, and I said, "No! You need to give this to one of your children!" It felt like an heirloom. It felt like a treasure, to be given to someone treasured. She scoffed and said, "They aren't interested in that stuff."
I guess, maybe, she thought treasures should be given to people who will treasure them.
I'll bring my camera next time I go and take pictures to share.
Thursday, October 16, 2008
I love the pristine feel and smell of new books.
I "get more" from the book when I write in it. It's like I'm talking back to the author. The author answers, in a Socratic way, forcing me to examine my questions and answer them myself. Writing a running commentary makes me engage the book so the words don't just drift by.
Some books I've done this too bear a trend of light penciling and question marks, then deeper, furious impressions about the author's wrongness.
Some books I just leave touches of color in the margins to guide me back to passages that resonate. Those books don't need talking to. I just need to listen to them more and again.
I like to see things I used to think, so I can see my changes in thought. I like reading the marginalia of family members or friends.
At the same time - it feels like desecrating the sacred, writing in books.
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
I also have a couple pictures of Molly comfortably nesting on a bookshelf. Those will be posted soon.
Monday, October 13, 2008
These book haiku things are inspired by Nina Katchadourian, whose work, "Sorted Books," I blogged here. I know you can't copyright ideas, but I also know she's frustrated by people posting copies of her works without her permission, so I want to give her explicit credit as the inspiration for this concept of using book titles as word tiles to move around.
While I should have been working, and having forgotten to take my ADD medication, I got caught up in sorting books. It's a lot like those refrigerator magnets, but it feels like the stories told are more real, since the titles have actual meaning and books behind them.
I don't remember where I actually got the book. Some used book store. The introduction is dated 1905.
I read it while eating curly fries at the edge of a balcony looking over the mall. I remember thinking then about my cousin in Germany who was then wanting to become a US Marine. He'd become a Marine and would kill Osama bin Laden, who'd tried to kill our infant cousin, our aunt, and her husband by dropping two buildings on them and kill our uncles hoping they happened to be at meetings in the Pentagon that day. I'd become a psychiatrist and an expert on killology, and I'd cure him of whatever traumatic stress the acts of combat and killing left his mind injured. We'd be an avenging pair, we'd avenge the attempted murder of our infant cousin (and the grown-ups, but the 9-month-old choking on ash and smoke made us feel more indignant than the adults did).
I brought that book out to Oregon with me when I went to a writers' conference. I read it in the college cafeteria, trying to eat disgusting college cafeteria food and wondering how to make conversation or even friends with the other people here, the "real" writers. I was a fake, and I knew they could see that. I dreamed of being an ubermensche, but I knew I wasn't.
Sometimes dramatic events interrupt my reading for years. I was reading Sanctuary by William Faulkner years ago, on a plane from Australia to the US. Mid-flight and mid-book, the mild cold I had been fighting turned into an ear infection. Days after I landed, when I saw a doctor, I learned I had strep in my throat, sinuses, and one ear. He was amazed my ear drum hadn't burst from the pressure. I remember the pain was too strong to read. The slight changes in cabin pressure were excruciating. I literally cried for seven hours, until we landed. By then, I was in so much pain and so delirious from lack of sleep, I could stagger through customs and to the car with my parents' help, without tears or emotion. I never picked up Sanctuary again.
I never picked up Thus Spake Zarathustra again.
Neither book is tainted. I have Nietzsche here next to me. I still love the cover, the worn, sun-bleached spine, the dry pages. It has too much history for any single event to change how I feel about the book. I've lost my copy of Sanctuary, but I'll pick it up again at some point. I found the Nietzsche first, though. He came up in a conversation yesterday with my husband, and I realized I never finished Thus Spake Zarathustra. There is nothing stopping me. I just forgot it.
Sunday, October 12, 2008
More interesting to me are vending machines that print books on demand, any book you want, bind them, and make them look like "real" published books from bookstores.
In an earlier post, I linked to a site that describes such a machine. I am thinking of the business model of the company that would place these vending machines. Standard bookstores may not want the competition from them. Office supply stores may want them; they do binding and copying and such already, printing a book would not be a dramatically new service to offer.
I hope to see them soon in airports. A friend of mine who flew recently lamented of the lack of books that appealed to her in airport stores. The airport would be a prime market.
I give it two years.
After a dramatic court room scene that sets the personality for one of the characters, we cut to a messy scene of a family separating, on the brink of divorce, as the father (the lawyer in the first scene) leaves with his mistress. He promises his son that despite leaving his mother, he will always be there for his son. The book goes right into a graphic depiction of the brutal rape of a nine-year-old boy. The desperate boy reaches out to find his father - who has just died in a car crash. His promise is broken at the time his son needs him most. And with everyone coping with a death in the family, no one notices that the boy is twice-traumatized. He never breathes a word. His pain turns to hate and a feeling of betrayal. But not until he's in college does he have to face these demons, though he runs as far as he can.
"Nothing Broken, Nothing Missing," is the book's message. Reclaim yourself. You're only as sick as your secrets. The 12-step messages are nicely hidden, only someone with knowledge of 12-step programs would even notice them. References to God are minimal, and I left with a feeling that one could heal without God, as long as one could find honesty in the self.
Again, this book is graphic. The drug use is graphic. The violence is graphic, the sex is graphic, and the violent sex is graphic. But I'm glad I read it. I will be selective about who I recommend it too specifically. But I'm glad I read it.
Not bad for $20 books published by Barnes and Noble ($18 with my club discount). A trade paperback can cost more.
(Tangent: I know that the low cost is because both works are in the public domain. Those trade paperbacks are under copyright protection, plus they have marketing, etc., to pay for. I know I can get both books for free on Project Gutenberg. I know the cost of these books is for layout and production, plus a healthy profit. I don't care. I got what I want, at a price I was happy to pay.)Anyway. They look really nice next to each other. They are still to guarded of their secrets, too suspicious to do much more than silently acknowledge each other's presence. But I expect they'll talk, at least a bit.
I wish Barnes and Noble published more books in this faux rich, old style. The other authors they had were Jane Austin, Charles Dickens, Homer (which I might have bought if I knew what translations the bplastic wrap contained), Sir Author Conan Doyle, Hans Christian Anderson, and Douglas Adams. Some of those authors I hate, but most I'm just dispassionate about. Either I've read them and don't care to read them again, or I read them and feel my paperback copy is sufficient.
I'm trying to think of authors I WOULD like and would buy. I have a short list:
I'll hope. My fingers are crossed. Actually, let me just go FIND my Crowley books and see if I can't get this ball rolling...
Any other suggestions for books Barnes and Noble should release for cheap in real leather?
Buying this book was a commitment to publishing the book I'm writing. I am committed.
I can do this.
I am often overwhelmed at parties in bars with lots of people, especially people I don't know. And we were at such a party tonight, and we happened to be in a neighborhood I know well, and I took a walk to the bookstore a block away. I found a copy of Dante's The Divine Comedy. Bound in leather. I've been wanting a copy of this for a while, and not just because we recently saw the episode of Angel where Lilah gives Wesley an illuminated copy of the Inferno. I have only read pieces of the Inferno, and I don't even own a copy of the other poems.
Now I do. I bought it, and I told my husband it was an anniversary gift. It's the perfect gift, as Homer Simpson said, a gift for him to give to me.
Look at me, look at me - hands in the air like it's good to be
and I'm a famous rapper, even when the paths are all crookedy
I can show you how to do-si-do, I can show you how to scratch a record
I can take apart the remote control, and I can almost put it back together
I can tie a knot in a cherry stem, I can tell you about Leif Erikson
I know all the words to "De Colores" and "I'm Proud to be an American"
Me and my friend saw a platypus. Me and my friend made a comic book
and guess how long it took. I can do anything that I want cuz, look:
I can keep rhythm with no metronome
And I can see your face on the telephone
Look at me, look at me, Just called to say that it's good to be
in such a small world, I'm all curled up with a book to read
I can make money open up a thrift store, I can make a living off a magazine
I can design an engine sixty four miles to a gallon of gasoline
I can make new antibiotics, I can make computers survive aquatic conditions
I know how to run a business, I can make you wanna buy a product
Movers shakers and producers, me and my friends understand the future
I see the strings that control the systems. I can do anything with no assistance
Cuz I can lead a nation with a microphone, And I can split the atom of a molecule
Look at me, look at me, driving and I won't stop, and it feels so good to be
and on top.
My reach is global. My tower secure.
My cause is noble. My power is pure.
I can hand out a million vaccinations, or let 'em all die in exasperation
Have 'em all healed of their lacerations, have 'em all killed by assassination
I can make anybody go to prison, just because I don't like 'em and
I can do anything with no permission
I have it all under my command, because I can guide a missile by satellite
I can hit a target through a telescope
I can end the planet in a holocaust . . .
I can ride my bike with no handlebars
"Handlebars" by the Flobots
This is my desk. It's in the basement, along one corner of my library. All the books in the picture, over and around my desk, are part of my psychology thesis, now to be part of the research for the book I'm writing. They consist of most of the books I own about combat, the psychology of killing, and the processes by which veterans reintegrate into civilian society. The binders on the desk (middle of the picture) hold most of the paper copies of research studies I've read. On the left side of the desk, on top of a tiny bookshelf, are copies of the American Psychological Association journals Military Psychology, Psychology of Addictive Behavior, and Psychology, Public Policy, and Law. The photographs stuck to the shelves are
Also, there's a small collection of frogs made of ivory, glass, wood, plastic, and rubber.
I've read most of the books. Many made me cry. Many horrified me. Some combined with fatigue or medication to inspire hallucinations. Scanning the spines, I see many words repeated: trauma, military, war, combat, soul, honor, PTSD, stress, psychology, hell, killing, obedience, aggression, hero, violence, death, warrior. I'm trying to discover what a warrior is. I am studying killing. I study killing like a virgin studying sex - through books and imagination and the experiences of others. This corner of my library is devoted to figuring out what killing means. What trauma means. How a human being can act to hurt another. What torture does to the torturer.
There's a little American flag in the pencil holder. There's a silver box a Turkish shopkeeper gave me. There's a red silk box with squirrel bones, a .22 casing, and a flawless one inch sphere of quartz. There's a stuffed bunny I sewed.
The chair is more comfortable than it looks.
I'm sitting there now with a Pottery Barn catalog, a Lisa Frank notebook (with a fairy and butterfly and lizard in neon pink, green, blue, and yellow), and my two cats. Dr. Phil is telling me "Monsters and Ghosts work in the dark." A half-finished poem and a notebook with doodles of the flow of a website I'm designing are among the mosaic of paper to my right.
I suddenly realize I'm blogging to avoid a writing task that involves a couple of books on the minds of Adolf Eichmann and Franz Stangl. Damn it. Okay, back into the darkness I must go)
Friday, October 10, 2008
Francesca and James are getting along nicely. Yes, I put How to (un)Cage a Girl next to Deliverance on purpose.
They are getting along quite nicely. Looking at them, though makes me wish I had a first, or at least a nicer, copy of Deliverance. I did spring for a first of Ecstasia, when it was out of print and thus expensive, but my copy of Primavera is the newer reprint. Since they're a pair, I do want to get the same format. I should buy the newer Ecstasia - that will be much cheaper than going the other way.
Sometimes neatness does matter to me. My socks may not match the rest of my outfit, but I do like certain books to match their companions.
So I have been told, and so I have been doing. I have trouble with place, though. I can't find a single place that seems mine, my workspace, my writing area. I just write wherever I am.
It's a good exercise. I recommend it.
Thursday, October 09, 2008
They're next to each other on the shelf that stands alone to welcome people into my library. They're talking to quietly for me to hear.
I've moved my books by Fletcher Pratt and my books about Stephen Decatur to the shelf immediately above. Decatur's fascinated by how Pratt has portrayed him and all of his peers in Pratt's historical non-fiction. Pratt is glorying in finally meeting the man he's devoted so much ink to, find out if he was accurate in his imaginings. Once they get comfortable, I'll probably move my collection of John Paul Jones (which is significantly smaller than my collection of Decatur books and ephemera. Yes, I've bought ephemera related to Decatur. I've become an official collector. The madness has set in).
Wednesday, October 08, 2008
The October, 2008, issue of Wired has a picture profile of Jay Walker's library. He has treasures and a beautiful space to house them in. He designed the room and of course collected his own amazing, eclectic, and extensive array of books.
I'd like a space like that. If I had the money for it, I'd probably start designing a library like that. In the meantime, my own library serves me quite well.
(wistfully looks at the picture, and returns to my home)
Tuesday, October 07, 2008
I found I own a copy of William Germano's From Dissertation to Book. It's lovely.
Maybe this is one of the benefits of mania Jamieson mentions in An Unquiet Mind when she talks of buying sprees. I don't remember when I bought this books. Maybe finding it is a benefit of ADD and compulsive reordering, as I've been shuffling and reshuffling sections of shelves (though I haadn't gone near this one).
Maybe, like so many things in my life right now, it's just serendipity.
Monday, October 06, 2008
Martin wrote her books, including the Babysitters Club series, for kids. I read them compulsively through elementary school. Often she wrote in characters (always children) who had autism, and it was in her books that I first learned of the disease. I also learned about diabetes from her books, because one of her main characters was diabetic. Martin wrote about her autistic characters during the 1980's.
Haddon wrote his book (and its sequel, which I haven't read) in 2004, almost 2 decades after Martin introduced her first stories involving autism. Haddon's main character is an autistic teenage boy, older than any of Martin's.
Both had to get into the head of autistic characters. I believe neither has autism or Asberger's personally. So they had to rely on watching and talking to whatever friends or relatives they had who did have autism, and they had to read the scientific literature of the day.
I don't need to say much on the science of autism, other than that the clinical undertanding of the disease has changed greatly in the past twenty years.
I'd like Martin and Haddon to talk to each other about how each tried to write realistic, autistic characters. I'd like them to discuss the significance of the disease in how children learn to function in society. I'd like to hear how well they thought they identified with the disease and why they each chose that particular mental disability. I'd like them to share their understanding of the cause of, treatment of, and society's reaction to the disease.
And I'd like to listen.