Thursday, January 31, 2013

Garbage In, Culture Out

While the musical proclivities of more affluent youth in developed countries often turn towards trash, in a rubbish dump on the south side of Asunción, underprivileged Paraguayan youngsters have found an innovative means to make music. Using instruments crafted from discarded oil tins and other refuse, their orchestra, known locally as Los Reciclados, and in English as the Landfill Harmonic, has performed in Brazil, Panama, and Colombia, and has journeyed as far as Europe to play Mozart and Beethoven. As the orchestra's founder and director, Favio Chavez, a music teacher and environmentalist, aptly notes, “The world sends us garbage. We send back music.” And the world is richer for it. Landfill Harmonic 

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Revolting Academics

Eleven leading British academic associations have issued an open letter condemning government plans for open access publishing as a “rushed policy” that threatens the “international standing of British Universities and research.” Signed by the Royal Historical Society, the Political Studies Association, and the Council for the Defence of British Universities, among others, the critique calls open access a “fundamental revolution” in academic life and expresses fears about the publication of papers falling to university administrators.         Academics Revolt Over Open Access

Monday, January 28, 2013

A Wealth of Words

There’s a positive correlation between a student’s vocabulary and the likelihood he'll graduate from college and his future income, Prof. E.D Hirsch, Jr. notes in a recent commentary. Vocabulary is a relevant  proxy for a range of educational attainments not just skill in reading, writing, listening, and speaking, but knowledge of science, history, and the arts. “If we want to reduce economic inequality,” he concludes, “a good place to start is the language-arts classroom.” A Wealth of Words

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Secondary Thoughts

Not every adult feels the sustained melancholic presence of their high-school years. Some simply put in their time, graduate, and move on with their lives. But for many others, the adolescent years occupy a privileged place in their memories. Author and satirist Kurt Vonnegut aptly described high school as “closer to the core of the American experience than anything else I can think of.” Perhaps, that's why some never fully abandon its confines even decades later. Why You Truly Never Truly Leave High School

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Idle Worship

“There is no such thing as not worshipping,” the writer David Forster Wallace once advised college graduates. “Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship.” He then delineated a litany of false gods that will fail us in the end: money, beauty, power, and intellect. With appreciation to Brain Pickings' Maria Popova for calling his address to our attention. This Is Water 

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

What We Read Shapes Who We Are

Since broadband began its rapid expanse at the millennium's start, Internet use has skyrocketed. In 2012, users topped 2.4 billion, more than one in three of Earth's inhabitants. Time spent online averaged 16 hours a week globally (double that in high-use countries). “We have changed how we interact,” the New York Times confirms. “Are we also changing what we are?” The question was posed to three knowledgeable observers. Their responses raise others. Are We Becoming Cyborgs?

Monday, January 21, 2013

Parsing Punditry

“A bun is the lowest form of wheat,” my father would say to me as a lad, recalling the general opinion of the status of the pun as a purported form of wit. As an inveterate punster in my college days — I'll spare you the painful proof, I defended the art as a literary form, noting the self-evident fact that puns are crafted to solicit groans, not laughs. But how did the pun acquire such a dubious reputation? the BBC News Magazine asks and answers. It's an intriguing analysis, as one might expect from the source, but, caveat emptor,  cites several puns. The Pun Conundrum

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Tempus Non Fugit

Time waits for no man, they say, but will man wait for time? “If we assume that networks will continue to get faster,” cyber analyst Nicholas Carr writes in response to Edge's 2013 inquiry, “we can also conclude that we'll become more and more impatient, more and more intolerant of even microseconds of delay.” Accordingly, Carr continues “we'll be less likely to experience anything that requires us to wait, that doesn't provide us with instant gratification.” In short, grown men shall act as peevish toddlers throwing temper tantrums when their appetites are not sated immediately.  The Patience Deficit

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Word Inflation Drives Devaluation

“If we have a million photos, we tend to value each one less than if we only had ten,” Yale University computer scientist David Galertner opens his reply to Edge's 2013 question: What should we be worried about? “The Internet forces a general devaluation of the written word: a global deflation in the average word's value,” he continues. As each word attracts less time and money from readers, it garners less time and effort from writers. As investment by writers and readers declines, society's ability to communicate decays, delivering what Galertner aptly describes as a “body blow to science, scholarship, the arts—to nearly everything, in fact, that is distinctively human.”  Worry About Internet Drivel

What, Me Worry?

The mission of Edge is succinctly, if self-servingly, stated: "To arrive at the edge of the world's knowledge, seek out the most complex and sophisticated minds, put them in a room together, and have them ask each other the questions they are asking themselves." Each year, Edge poses a question to its hand-picked clique of scientists, scholars, writers, artists, and sundry thinkers. This year, the question is: "What should we be worried about?" The essays culled for publication merit our attention, if only for the insights they provide into what the self-proclaimed "Brights" may have in mind for the 99%. Verbum Sapientis will spotlight a few of our selections here. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

From Culture to Kitsch

"High culture is the self-consciousness of a society," social critic Roger Scruton notes in Aeon. Its works of art, literature, scholarship, and philosophy establish a shared frame of reference among educated people. A precarious achievement, high culture "endures only if  it is underpinned by a sense of tradition, and by a broad endorsement of the surrounding social norms." When these "evaporate," to use Scruton's understated euphemism, "high culture is superseded by a culture of fakes."         The Great Swindle  [audio]

Monday, January 14, 2013

Of Friends

"The mind's impromptu likes or dislikes, its ecentric detours, are the quirks that cement friendship," contributing editor Edward Hoagland opens his essay "On Friendship" in the latest American Scholar. Love for parents, spouse, children seems "as natural as leaves sprouting," he affirms. Yet, the luxuriance of love continues  where no self-replication is involved, no guardianship of clan, and "survival defers to whimsey, grace, and elan, where civilization takes hold." Deo gratias, for even if friendship were unnecesary, like philosophy and art, as C.S. Lewis posits, "it is one of those things that gives value to survival." On Friendship

Sunday, January 13, 2013

A Page Turner

"Lovers of ink and paper, take heart," the astute cyber critic Nicholas Carr writes in the Wall Street Journal. "Reports of the death of the printed book may be exaggerated." In proof of his premise, he notes that 9 out of 10 regular book readers report reading a printed book during the past year, while 70% did not read a single e-book. "There's something about a crisply printed, tightly bound book that we don't seem eager to let go of," Carr concludes.
Don't Burn Your Books - Print Is Here To Stay

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Worth Noting

Notes have been aptly described by historian Lizabeth Cohen as "the tracks we leave in the sand, as we head on our trail of discovery." As an ESL teacher, I am reminded they also bear on whether students reach their destination. Moreover, what, at first, may be deemed linguistic deficiency, on closer review, is revealed as inadequate academic skills. As note-taking is a prerequisite of study, in and out of the classroom, I trust you will find this report by Geoffrey Nunberg, a University of California linguist, of interest.   Noted

Friday, January 11, 2013

Editors: An Endangered Species?

At first blush, it may seem somewhat self-serving for my first reference to be to a commentary ― however cogent ― on the decline and fall of the professional editor. If the editor's loss of livelihood concerns me, however, the loss of quality editing concerns me far more, for it is a death in the family, the familia literatorum of editors, writers, and readers. As such, it should be mourned.  
The Decline and Fall of the American Editor

Thursday, January 10, 2013

A Word of Welcome

Welcome to Verbum Sapienti. This cybernook has been created to serve as a window to a world of words and information for my ESL students and others who share our love for words as germinators and carriers of ideas. 

I hope it will stimulate your thoughts on matters worthy of your time and consideration, while enhancing your linguistic skills in sharing them with others. Of course, your ideas and comments are always welcome here or offline.