Monday, April 27, 2015

Tech scamming

“It was an educational exchange, to say the least”: Lenny Zeltser recorded a conversation with a tech-support scammer. Forewarned is forearmed.

[Via Daring Fireball.]

Lear // semiotics / Casablanca

If you’ve had the experience of happening upon old notes whose reason for being is beyond recovery, you will understand my interest in what follows. It’s in my hand, all caps, fountain pen on a strip of unruled paper, 4″ × 8½″:


semiotics / Casablanca

imagination / reality

    cockadoodledoo    mkgnao: Ulysses cat
    cocorico = French
    kykeliky = Norwegian “kee ka lee kee”

    vovvov = Norwegian “vahv vahv”
    гав гав= Russian “gahv gahv”

    mouse says “ruff ruff” to cat who
    says “meow” — shows her kids the
    benefit of learning a foreign language

Didion: The White Album
This page is, of course, related to teaching. But why these items appear together is beyond me. I’ve taught Umberto Eco’s essay on Casablanca and Roland Barthes’s Mythologies . I think I once taught Joan Didion’s The White Album too. My daughter Rachel has my copy of that book. Mkgnao is what the Blooms’ cat says in James Joyce’s Ulysses. The mouse that scared away the cat is an old joke: I don’t know where I picked it up.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Introducing Seymour

Seymour: An Introduction (dir. Ethan Hawke, 2014) caught my attention by way of its Salinger-inspired title. This documentary introduces the viewer to Seymour Bernstein (b. 1927), who gave up an anxiety-making life as a performing pianist for a better life as a teacher of pianists. Bernstein emerges as a man of consummate wisdom and monastic simplicity, having renounced aspirations to a big career, as it’s called, for his own version of happiness. And who can argue with that?

Scenes of Bernstein teaching are, well, instructive: he is clear, demanding, and patient, taking the student from one note to the next. It’s teaching with a microscopic attention to the musical text. A scene of Bernstein practicing confirms that he equally demanding and patient with himself. I found in this film, as in Jiro Dreams of Sushi, strong inspiration for the work of writing: getting things right as a matter of endless, ongoing attention, identifying and solving difficulties, one by one.

The least rewarding scenes of the film, alas, are those with Bernstein and Hawke. (It was their chance meeting as dinner guests that led Hawke to make the film.) Bernstein’s tranquility makes Hawke look like a tightly wound mess. Then again, that might be the point.

Here is more about Seymour Bernstein and the film. And here is a page with a trailer and a clip.

Seymour Bernstein on the work of teaching music: “The most important thing is to inspire an emotional response for all aspects of life.”

[I’ve quoted from the trailer. In the film it’s said a little differently: “The most important thing music teachers can do is to encourage an emotional response not just to music but all aspects of life.” Or something like that: I was scribbling in the dark.]

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Ain’t nothing like the real thing

Some college administrators met recently to ponder their schools’ fortunes. A news item about the meeting reported a general sense of celebration about talking together in person. Telephone calls? Okay. But nothing like face-to-face conversation.

I agree. But then why do these same administrators push for more and more coursework to be offered online?

There is no substitute for the real thing, which I’ve (irreverently) taken to calling real-presence education.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Lois Lilienstein (1936–2015)

Sad news in The New York Times:

Lois Lilienstein, whose sunny personality and tuneful, bell-clear voice were central to the live and televised performances of Sharon, Lois & Bram, the Canadian singing group popular among young children and their families, died on Wednesday at her home in Toronto.
Sharon, Lois & Bram cassettes were a main staple of our children’s childhoods. A happy memory from a summer at the University of Chicago (NEH seminar): Sharon, Lois & Bram cassettes playing on a boom box in our Hyde Park apartment. Jumping monkeys, stolen cookies, and all that.

Higher-ed monopoly

One more bit from a New York Times article about Arizona State’s plan to offer a year’s worth of freshman courses online:

“The monopoly that used to exist in terms of how higher ed is done is over, and this is part of a continuum of things that are welcome new approaches,” said Jamie P. Merisotis, the president of the Lumina Foundation, an Indiana-based nonprofit group concerned with educational attainment. “It has big potential in giving students a jump start on completing their degree. And because of the A.S.U. imprimatur, the likelihood that the credits will be transferable is pretty high.”
Characterizing higher education as a monopoly is a curious move: a little like characterizing the practice of surgery as a monopoly because it is limited to surgeons. Mr. Merisotis presents MOOCs as a monopoly-busting alternative, but the alternative still trades upon the reputations of name brands: Arizona State, and behind that name, Harvard, M.I.T., Stanford.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Step right up

My son Ben asked if had this seen this article. It really feels like the beginning of the end:

Arizona State University, one of the nation’s largest universities, is joining with edX, a nonprofit online venture founded by M.I.T. and Harvard, to offer an online freshman year that will be available worldwide with no admissions process and full university credit. . . .

“Leave your G.P.A., your SATs, your recommendations at home,” said Anant Agarwal, the chief executive of edX. “If you have the will to learn, just bring your Internet connection and yourself, and you can get a year of college credit.”
Yes, step right up.

I am forever loyal to the idea of college — that is, real college, what college can be and still, often, is. But we seem to be moving toward a future in which that possibility becomes, once again, reserved for a privileged few. For everyone else, an Internet connection will suffice. No classmates, no office hours, no libraries. It’s telling that even Mr. Agarwal’s hucksterism acknowledges reality: this scheme offers not a year of college but “a year of college credit.” They’re not the same thing.

[Title courtesy of Tom Waits.]

M. H. Abrams (1912–2015)

That diagram, from The Mirror and the Lamp: Romantic Theory and the Critical Tradition (1953), has been the starting point for who knows how many expeditions into the world of criticism.

The New York Times has an obituary: “M. H. Abrams, 102, Dies; Shaped Romantic Criticism and Literary ‘Bible.’”

[The “Bible” is the The Norton Anthology of English Literature.]

Some like it hot

[Life, April 29, 1940. Click either image for a much, much larger view.]

Liverwurst, it’s your turn to shine.

I like the density of this advertisement, which helps me to understand that it might indeed have been possible to leave the Pennsylvania Station at a quarter to four and arrive in Baltimore just one magazine later. One poem, two faucets (hot and cold), three “everyday Americans” (as we are now known), three smartly dressed sophisticates, five recipes. Plus serving suggestions, plus reminders that liverwurst is also known as Braunschweiger. The Institute of American Meat Packers knew how to pack a page.

The poem is by Emily Dickinson:

What does Liver Sausage have
    That always hits the spot?
One thing is Tasty Flavor
    That all folks like a lot.
Restored from the fascicle text:
What does Liver Sausage — have
That always hits — the spot?
One thing is — Tasty Flavor —
That all folks — like — a lot
Other liverwurst posts
Henry buys liverwurst : Liverwurst: “For health, for strength — for eating fun” : “THIS IS FUN”

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

How to improve writing (no. 57)

[Mark Trail, April 22, 2015, and revised.]

Abbey Powell’s April 20 polysyllabic spree (“Parasitoids are a biocontrol agent”) left Mark’s pal Wallace Wood bewildered and exasperated: “Abbey, can you explain it all to me in plain English, please?” What a know-nothing: no wonder his forest is falling to pieces. What (ahem) bugs me though is Mark’s prolixity in today’s strip. It’s not necessary to say that something would (or could) potentially save the trees. And “before they get too damaged”? Thus these revisions: from sixteen words to thirteen, from twenty-three syllables to thirteen. Or, finally, to three words, five syllables.

Mark, you’re speaking in speech balloons. Save some helium.

Related reading
All OCA How to improve writing posts (Pinboard)
All OCA Mark Trail posts (Pinboard)

[More drastic: “Wiping out the eggs and larvae could save the trees!” But I wanted to keep the idea that the trees have already been damaged. This post is no. 57 in a series, “How to improve writing,” dedicated to improving stray bits of public prose.]