Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Gin Blossoming

Sunday night, Jordy and I went with April to see the Gin Blossoms. We missed the opening bands, but arrived well before the Blossoms hit the stage.

Robin Wilson is the lead vocalist. He's a thin little guy with long hair who wore large sunglasses the entire show. We laughed at his on-stage antics, as he obviously thinks the mellow, melodic Blossoms ROCK!

I recognized and especially enjoyed "Til I Hear It From You", "Hey Jealousy", and "Found Out About You". I heard "Super Girl" , a song about loving an airline employee, for the first time. Wilson left the stage, and Jesse Valenzuela, Scotty Johnson, and Bill Leen continued playing a long, bluesy guitar masterpiece while Scott Kusmirek accompanied on drums. This song alone was worth the price of admission.

The crowd probably averaged about thirty, ranging from late teens there alone, to active, youngish grandparents, often with younger family. The weather was perfect, and the crowd well behaved. After a few songs, Jordy and I went to stand near the stage. We'd been there for a couple songs, when I noticed with my peripheral vision a blond and a brunette talking about me. The cute blond leaned over and touched me to get my attention, and motioning towards my ears, asked what those (my ear plugs) were for?

"Hearing damage," I replied loudly. "It's about the only thing that won't grow back."

For an encore, Wilson (who only sang vocals and banged the tambourine during the show) began playing a beautiful acoustic version of "Rocket Man" until the rest of the band joined in for the chorus. "Follow You Down", my favorite Blossoms song, was the next to the last song played. We could hear Wilson enthusiastically yelling about the "Power of Rock!" as we fled during the last song in an attempt to avoid some of the traffic.

I rate the Blossoms at this event musically an 8.5. On-stage presence I rate an 8, with Wilson's friendliness (singing into cell phones for fans and brining one little girl up on state to bang a tambourine with him) offsetting his cheesiness. Value I rate a 9, with two tickets going for less than $50. Venue I rate an 8. This gives a very solid 8.5/10 rating for this concert.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Flying Penises

Former chess champion and would-be politician Gary Kasparov is buzzed by a helicockter, in this video I found from Stingray at Atomic Nerds.

Things Change?

People don't really change, just the times we live in. It seems there will be more enlightened and idiotically foolish people in every generation, as there have always been.

Here is an 1844 description of a horrible disease. Unfortunately, no-one told Joycelin Edwards. Don't know what she was thinking, trying to prevent STDs and unwanted pregnancy.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Summerhill, Teaching Theory, and Accepted

Summerhill is a school founded in the UK in 1921. It could be said to have begun the "child centered" education movement. Children at Summerhill were not required to attend lessons, and could choose to take only the classes that interested them.

Almost simultaneously with reading about Summerhill, I happened to watch the 2006 Justin Long flick Accepted. Long plays world-wise but grade-average Bartleby Gaines, who strives to find parental and societal acceptance by forging documents showing him to have been accepted into a local college. In the process of convincing his WASPish parental units of the legitimacy of the school, he and societally challenged brainy friend Sherman Schrader (Jonah Hill) accidentally create physical facilities and accept hundreds of students.

Accepted has uneven writing, varying from bad, b-movie-ish to excellent, and acting shows a similar range. The big innovation of the movie is a Summerhill-style student-led focus, only with fewer teachers. The second biggest innovation is Maria Thayer. I'm sure we'll be seeing much more of her in the near future. Two of five stars.

Lonely Hearts

Last night, Jordy and I watched Lonely Hearts. This 2006 flick stars John Travolta and James Gandolfini (in a good guy role, for once) as cops tracking the real life "Lonely Hearts Killers". This is a sordid but engrossing movie about sad people that ultimately uplifts. Jared Leto and Salma Hayek skillfully play badly damaged people, though Hayek is thankfully considerably more attractive than real-life Martha Beck.

Strong violence, nudity, language and sex, though I will argue they are not gratuitous. Three of five stars.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008


...and the livin's easy.

So they say. But, so far, it hasn't been bad.

Saturday night, we had a birthday shindig for Jordy. It was delayed, since her family was down the prior week for her birthday and graduation ceremony.

While we were waiting for folks to show up, I invited my landlord to join us for a beer. He came over just before Davis and another guy in his PA program, David, showed up. Mr. Jackson actually stayed long enough to drink two PBRs with us, and we enjoyed his company. When I offered Bud Light or Michelob Ultra Amber, he said "After the second swallow, it doesn't matter anyway."

We fired up the grill about the time Mr. Jackson left. I had bought sausage, chicken thighs, Angus burgers, Nathan's hot dogs, and Red Hots. I brought out jalapenos, mushrooms, onions, and the kielbasa, and bamboo skewers that had been soaking in water with a little whiskey and dash of sesame oil, and we made kabobs. Mmm. Those went over quite well.

I took some KC Masterpiece barbecue sauce, and mixed in a little freshly ground black pepper, whiskey, lemon juice, and Dave's Ultimate Insanity Sauce. The chicken was delicious.

Hell, everything was delicious. And the company was good, almost all of it, with perhaps a single exception. Eh.

I made Nuts and Berries, Hunch Punch, and a shooter I called a Fruit Cocktail to cool everyone after all the spice. Good times.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Prepare to Blast Off

New Mexico continues with plans to open the world's first commercial spaceport in 2010, according to a 10 May 2008 Washington Post story. Virgin Atlantic already says it has 375 customers willing to fork over some serious change to fly to the edge of space on Burt Rutan's White Knight Two and SpaceShipTwo.

If you'd like Virgin to keep you informed/spam your email, contact them here.

The U.S. Lumbers On

Saturday I sat in the James Brown Arena at the Augusta Civil Center, and watched as Jordy and several hundred other students walked in their graduation ceremony.

And I thought, as many of them rolled across the stage: God, we've got a lot of fat people in this country!

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Iron Man

Every now and then, there is a role and an actor that meet in perfect harmony. Usually the actors are so perfect for the role, that when you hear they've been chosen for the part, one thinks, of course! Patrick Stewart as Professor Xavier was one of these serendipitous pairings. Tobey Maguire was a perfect match for the overly earnest Peter Parker, and when I heard Christian Bale would play Batman, I said, cool! These examples are all portrayals of super heroes.

Robert Downey, Jr. is the perfect character to play billionaire inventor and playboy Tony Stark. Unrelentingly honest and blunt yet charming despite his faults, Downey is Tony Stark. This is a fun one, and probably my favorite super hero movie yet.

There is a lot of humor, some intrigue, and a good bit of action in Iron Man. I did find a couple of noticeable flaws. Stark's heart problem is either badly imagined, or badly explained. The other problem is a paradox: it seems that there is a low-level message that weapons are bad (mmmkay?), so Stark will stop making them, except for the Iron Man exoskeleton, which is one of the most effective weapons ever created. But good. I subtract half a star for these issues, but that still leaves a solid 3.5 of 5 stars.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Blue Blazes and the "Science" of Astrology

(AKA, if you can understand this, you're doing better than me.)

Short version: my chart contradicts itself, making me an average person.

Long version(oh, boy!):
Sun in Capricorn

He is honest, reserved, circumspect, honorable and strong-willed. Quietly ambitious within the realms of the possible, he likes and takes on responsibility. He can work in the social domain.

Weaknesses: a bitter, hostile, disagreeable and mistrustful mind.

Moon in Aries

He is autonomous, emancipated, courageous. Self-assured, with energetic activities. He is ambitious and enthusiastic.

Weaknesses: impulsiveness, domination, aggressiveness, great impetuousness. Constant changing of job.

Mercury in Sagittarius

Democrat, philosopher, tolerant, respectful of laws. Likes foreign travel. Believes that everything teaches you something.

Weaknesses: free spirit, that likes adventure and will leap into hazardous and risky affairs.

Venus in Aquarius

He likes flowery language: he is very sensitive and detests anything vulgar. He appreciates independence in love, but idealizes and embellishes it. He likes to please and will do whatever is necessary for this. While always being frank, he is not always faithful.

Weaknesses: he is unfaithful, because he likes above all to please and will follow through to the end of any adventure that arises. Does not like barriers, likes liberty of action and does not like to account to anyone.

Mars in Pisces

He is choleric, boils over, and easily gets exasperated. He has difficulty in controlling himself.

Weaknesses: The constraints of society can provoke him to great anger. Religious extremists in particular can drive him insane. These rages can put him in very unpleasant situations.

Jupiter in Sagittarius

He is agreeable, seductive, engaging and generous.

Weaknesses: immoderate taste for sport and games.

Saturn in Gemini

He is systematic, ordered, meticulous. He is discerning and lucid. A scientific mind.

Weaknesses: problems with nearest and dearest, worries in moving or travelling.

Uranus in Libra

Well-developed artistic leanings. His balance can be upset by too great an independence.

Neptune in Sagittarius

Likes long voyages, things foreign, water.

Pluto in Libra

Brings changes.

Sign and ascendant

Capricorn ascendant Cancer

The planets in the houses

The planetary positions in the houses express the facts relative to destiny.

Sun in VI

Not much social ambition, he wants to work in the medical environment and progress step by step.

Moon in X

Changes of situation. He is frightened of getting old and tends to hark back to the past. Influenced by the father. Success due to help from women.

Mercury in V

Taste for intellectual games, sports that require skill and finesse. He is very curious about everything, even in love. He likes children.

Venus in VII

His fate depends a lot on marriage. Marries for love, children, happy emotional life.

Mars in IX

Deeply rooted opinions, which he knows how to defend energetically. At a certain moment of life, he can fight for a particular ideal but might abandon it along the way, being less convinced than at the beginning of its virtue or because he realizes that it is a losing battle. Conflict abroad or with foreigners.

Jupiter in VI

He has a responsible job in an organization. Dislikes working for himself. He helps the sick and under-privileged with kindness. Probably overdoes the good life, he likes animals, the country.

Saturn in XI

He appreciates the company of older people of intelligence and good counsel. These will help success in professional life. He has few friends and has difficulty in finding a partner. He is very reserved.

Uranus in IV

He is very independent. His independence begins vis-...-vis the family circle. He does not like bureaucracy, administration, and has problems as a result. He has avant-garde ideas, he is original and does not tolerate constraints on his freedom.

Neptune in V

Extravagant love affairs, great passions.

The houses in the signs

Ascendant in Cancer

He will certainly have a large family. Indeed, family life, the home, the children will be very important for him.

House II in Leo

Financial success will be very easy thanks to the support of influential people.

Tendency to spend more than what is earned.

House III in Virgo

He pulls everything to pieces, analyzes, critizes. Doesn't take on anything without examining the pro's and the con's. He is very careful, sometimes to a manic extent, taking everything into account even to the slightest detail.

House IV in Libra

The simple life, the small home isn't for him. If the job doesn't pay well or he doesn't marry well financially speaking, he will probably be unhappy. Likes luxury goods to make life comfortable, going out, cocktail parties. Goes round only with refined people, perhaps sometimes a little too affected, and with good jobs.

House V in Scorpio

Gets blinded by and drunk with love: everything revolves around his love. His passions are angry, exclusive and domestic quarrels are in prospect as a result. Fertile love life.

House VI in Sagittarius

Likes jobs that involve travel, moving about a lot. Weak point: the circulation of the blood.

House VII in Capricorn

A love-and-friendship marriage. Unproblematic, quiet relationship. A few hiccups, but nothing really serious. Faithfulness.

House VIII in Aquarius

An unexpected inheritance.

House IX in Pisces

Likes sea cruises. Sometimes has brilliant ideas that come from nowhere.

House X in Aries

All the leadership qualities are there: authority, energy, initiative, leadership, lots of gung-ho and of course intelligence.

House XI in Taurus

Likes to be surrounded by frank and good-hearted friends. These friendships don't stand on ceremony. Carries out everything he undertakes surely, composedly, calmly until successful.

House XII in Gemini

Anxiety, preoccupation concerning a dear one.

Interplanetary aspects

The interplanetary aspects have a strong influence on the character and disposition of the individual and, consequently, on his destiny.

The conjunction aspect is variable and depends above all on the nature of the conjoint planets.

-183 Opposition Moon - Uranus

He has a feverish, non-constructive restlessness. He is too susceptible. While his life is full of change, he is full of hot air. He is eccentric, irritable and stubborn. He has difficulty concentrating on a job. Nervous strain. His friendships are like his professional and love life - unstable.

156 Sextile Venus - Neptune

His professional life is unstable. He has a taste for the Arts, is a dreamer, is easily influenced and romantic. He is emotional and very sensitive.

138 Sextile Mars - Saturn

He is energetic and determined. He has strength and resistance, ability and patience: he is tough, and sometimes insensitive, and puts all his energy and talents into overcoming all the obstacles to his success. He is obstinate, calculating, does not take on anything without having thought of all the possible consequences, he can take all the time in the world and never loses patience to achieve his objectives. He is not particularly popular in his circle, but is feared and respected.

-101 Opposition Mars - Pluto

He is violent, brutal, irascible and succeeds in crushing others, without giving it a thought.

91 Conjunction Mercury - Jupiter

He is intelligent, has big ideas: he is tolerant and has a strong sense of justice. He has good judgement, good sense and has his feet on the ground. He has the "gift of the gab", and likes to speak, he also likes literature. He is erudite and will normally be successful socially.

-82 Square Sun - Pluto

This aspect means fights and setbacks. He is presumptuous.

-78 Opposition Saturn - Neptune

Living conditions are difficult for 77 Conjunction Mars - Midheaven

He has a good sense of organization. He knows how to take the necessary decisions rapidly, is independent and uses all his energy to succeed socially.

74 Trine Venus - Saturn

He has a good grasp of reality and of duty. He is thrifty, reserved and does not show off. He likes truth and justice. In love, his sentiments are sincere and deep, he never plays false. He is, of course, faithful in love and friendship. He can love a much older person and appreciates his intelligence and good sense.

73 Trine Moon - Mercury

He has good judgement, a good memory. He is intelligent, imaginative, vivacious and develops all through life. He speaks easily. He has an aptitude for learning foreign languages.

73 Trine Moon - Jupiter

He is frank, honest, optimistic and generous. He likes good cooking, his comforts. His friendships are sincere. He is a worker and knows how to surround himself with the right people: he is appreciated at work.

67 Trine Venus - Pluto

His emotional and sex life is powerful and rich. He lives out truly passionate love affairs.

56 Sextile Jupiter - Uranus

He knows what's going on at a glance. He thirsts after knowledge, and is a good organizer. He is very independent, likes his freedom of action, is a non-conformist. He is very agreeable company and is always in demand.

-54 Square Sun - Midheaven

He lacks an aim in life. He does not face up to problems and his schemes, if any, are impossible for him to realize.

-53 Square Moon - Ascendant

He is unhappily influenced by the family. He is probably loved insufficiently by his parents, but looks for more love especially from his mother. He is susceptible, has superficial sensitivity and is sometimes irascible.

-52 Square Sun - Mars

He is violent, impulsive. He throws himself headlong into situations without ever thinking of the consequences of his actions. This can cause a lot of problems. He cannot stand still and channels badly the energy which he possesses.

42 Trine Saturn - Pluto

He perseveres, achieves his projects through hard work.

37 Sextile Venus - Midheaven

He has good taste, has an affectionate nature, his love is warm and deep, based on intellectual understanding and common tastes. His friends are useful in furthering his career.

36 Trine Mars - Neptune

His feelings are dominated by wisdom and geared towards the ideal. He likes water, sea voyages. He likes odd people.

34 Conjunction Mercury - Neptune

He can put down in writing everything that his imagination and intuition dictates.

32 Sextile Neptune - Pluto

-28 Square Uranus - Ascendant

He is inconstant, lacks control and is nervous.

19 Conjunction Moon - Midheaven

He has a sense of family, profound feelings and especially likes children. If there are changes in his professional life, they are for the better.

14 Trine Neptune - Midheaven

His plans lack realism and are therefore often unattainable.

11 Trine Mercury - Midheaven

He likes to have his own ideas about things, to form an opinion and think over the problems it poses. He is an intellectual.

-10 Opposition Pluto - Midheaven

He abuses his power, crushing others in order to achieve his objectives. He risks losing everything and having to start from scratch.

9 Sextile Venus - Mars

He is amorous, not a peaceful and calm lover but a passionate one with a strong temperament. He is demonstrative in love, and likes healthy pleasures. He enjoys life to the full.

Action and Lights

Jordy took her last finals today. She walks Saturday, the day after her birthday.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Card vs. Tolkien

I'll probably tweak this one more time before I do other things with it, but here's my final paper from my adolescent literature class.

John R. Shirley
Professor Sutherland
English 6130
28 April 2008
Gaming The Hobbit
J.R.R. Tolkien and Orson Scott Card seem at first glance to be very dissimilar authors. In his novel The Hobbit, Tolkien constructs a fantasy world most technologically consistent with a world sometime after 1200 BCE, and definitely before the perfection of steel in 1859 (Abercrombie, Tolkien 216). Instead of looking backward, Card creates in his novel Ender’s Game a world at least two hundred years in the future, in which most of the action is science fiction. The core of both books is a traditional hero’s quest, and there are interesting contrasts in the language and goals of each author and the construction of childhood that can be assembled from each book.

Card and Tolkien take polar opposite approaches in these two books. Written fifty years before Ender’s Game, Tolkien writes a fantasy novel using often fairly advanced structure (his second sentence is forty-three words long; his fourth sentence is forty-six words long; his ninth sentence is fifty-eight words long, while his seventeenth sentence is sixty-nine words long!) in which he delivers some basic truths about the nature of childhood, and by extension, humanity. His lessons range from simple ideas about cleanliness, polite conduct, and contentment, to the major lesson of helping your friends, no matter how difficult or frightening giving this help is. Card’s science fiction novel is written in much simpler prose and revolves (as he explains in the 1991 introduction to Ender’s Game) around the much more complicated question of the changeability of human nature, and whether we as humans are doomed to perpetually repeat certain catastrophic actions such as total warfare, or whether we can escape our genetic tendencies to learn a more peaceful (and ultimately more useful and survivable for the species) way (xii).

John Ronald Reuel Tolkien was born in South Africa in 1892, but moved to England three years later. He graduated from Oxford University shortly before accepting a commission as an officer in the British Army and fought in World War I. He became an English professor at Oxford in 1925. The Hobbit was a story told to Tolkien’s children, but existed in manuscript form by 1932. It was published in 1937 (Hastings).

Orson Scott Card was born in Washington State in 1951. He grew up in the West, and was given Bruce Catton's The Army of the Potomac at ten years of age, introducing him to a realistic view of warfare. He finished a bachelor’s degree in theater after spending two years as a Latter Day Saints missionary to Brazil. Ender’s Game began as a short story written in 1975. Card earned a master’s degree in English from the University of Utah in 1981. The novel version of Ender’s Game was published in 1985 (Card, “Introduction” xvii, Card “About”).

Tolkien in The Hobbit tells the story of Bilbo Baggins. Tolkien begins the story with what sounds like the opening to a children’s book: “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit” (15). It is a simple “where/what” statement including an imaginary creature. Tolkien continues with some good standard elements of stories for younger readers, with lots of adjectives and extensive description and a chatty narrative voice:
No going upstairs for the hobbit: bedrooms, bathrooms,
cellars, pantries (lots of these), wardrobes (he had
whole rooms devoted to clothes), kitchens, dining-
rooms, all were on the same floor, and indeed on the
same passage. The best rooms were all on the lefthand
side (going in), for these were the only ones to have
windows, deep-set round windows looking over his garden and meadows beyond, sloping down to the river.

Like almost every other hobbit, Bilbo is content, good natured, and simple in his desires. When the wizard Gandalf approaches him, he is frightened by the very idea of going on an adventure, for as he tells Gandalf, hobbits “are plain quiet folk, and have no need for adventures” (Tolkien 18). After he meets thirteen dwarves, Gandalf persuades the little hobbit to leave with them as a “burglar”, an occupation for which hobbits are well suited, since they are very small, good with their hands, and can “disappear quietly and quickly” when necessary (Tolkien 16).

Little Bilbo, despite his minute stature and natural inclination against taking risks, becomes a very clear hero in The Hobbit. He saves his dwarf companions a number of times, from spiders and elves and even- and perhaps most difficult- from themselves, when they are willing to fight their allies over a fair share of treasure. He saves others, too, when he flatters Smaug the dragon into showing him his under-armor. This information is relayed to the warrior Bard, letting him know of the gap in the dragon’s scales so the warrior can arrow the sole vulnerable spot to kill the dragon.

Ender’s Game is more obviously about children than The Hobbit. The first page of the book is a discussion between two unknown adults about a child. Despite the simple language, it is clear from the first sentence- “I’ve watched through his eyes”- that this will not be the typical story for adolescents (1). Ambiguity is present from the first word in this book: “I” and “he” who? This is even clearer when the protagonist at age six knows of adults speaking to children “Sometimes lies were more dependable than the truth” (2).

The story follows young Andrew Wiggin- called “Ender” because he is the last child allowed to his parents by the government- as he becomes a great military leader. The Hobbit’s foes are, with a sole exception, of other races, but the enemies Ender confronts throughout most of Ender’s Game are all too human. Before he is six, he is rightfully wary of his dangerous and sociopathic older brother Peter. As he grows older, he continually faces bullies he must outwit or physically defeat, and young Ender actually kills two bullies who attack him.

Aliens have attacked Earth’s space outposts, and Earth has been preparing for about a hundred years for a final battle to remove the alien threat. Children are the leaders of this war, children who are trained from about six years of age with the sole objective of turning them into tactical commanders who can direct fleets of ships to be used against the alien “buggers”. Ender becomes a tool that is ruthlessly used to crush the bugger threat.

Both Card and Tolkien have created some tragic characters who end in places or circumstances that might seem monstrous. Tolkien’s Gollum was once good, or at the very least not evil, as a common hobbit. His choice of murder and theft of the ring, and the years of corrupting influence from the ring, have left him misshapen and thoroughly evil. Card’s Ender Wiggin is a sweet and considerate little boy, who is cruelly forced by manipulative adults into situations where he believes his best options are very drastic ones. Ender becomes first a killer, and then a xenocide (in this usage, one who perpetuates genocide against aliens). Unlike Gollum, who is left without the option of genuine regret from his transgressions, Ender is fully aware after the fact of the killing he has been maneuvered into performing. His anguish and the strain on his body of years of intense training leave him in a catatonic state from which he barely emerges after five days. He then is forced to leave on a colonizing starship for a former bugger world.

The difference between Card and Tolkien in these tragic characters is that Tolkien does not treat his hero this way. Tolkien’s Bilbo Baggins returns to his home very content, much richer, and with the respect of elves and dwarves and with the great Gandalf as a friend. The final paragraphs of The Hobbit seem to indicate a kind providence:
Surely you don’t disbelieve the prophecies, because you had a hand in bringing them about yourself? You don’t really suppose, do you, that all your adventures and escapes were managed by mere luck, just for your sole benefit?…you are only quite a little fellow in a wide world after all. (Tolkien 286-287)
Ender’s Game seems to have no such belief in an ultimately happy fate for good folk of any race. Ender is faced with a chance at redemption from the alien genocide he perpetuated, and as the book ends he has become a wandering preacher of a new religion, always searching for both personal and interspecies peace. Perhaps these endings are the single biggest clues of the very wide divide between these books. The Hobbit is escapist fantasy, and evil will get its due and true heroes will win: Ender’s Game can be seen as lament for how we use our young, and a cry to give peace a chance, not blindly or foolishly, but carefully and wisely. Alternatively, the difference in outcome in these books can be seen as reflective of the difference in religious perspective between the two authors. As a Mormon, Card believes that active repentance is necessary for atonement from (even perhaps accidental) transgressions, and Ender’s pilgrimage may be an unconscious reflection of these beliefs (Card “Orson” #7).

Tolkien throughout The Hobbit uses his narrator’s voice to describe hobbits in a way the reader can easily use to understand he actually is also talking about children. His hobbits/children are “little people…(with) little or no magic about them except the ordinary everyday sort” (Tolkien 16). These happy small folk love the simple pleasures of good food, warm fires, and telling stories and riddles.

Card’s children are not simple in any sense, and can vary from intensely empathetic (Valentine, an obvious and ironic name from a writer who scoffs at symbolism) to stupidly cruel (Stilson) to foolishly prideful (Bonzo) or even possessed of incredible Byzantine cunning like Peter (Card “Stories” 11). The loving Valentine may actually be the most powerful person in this universe, with the ability to sway both the masses through her writing and the other two most dangerous people- Ender and Peter- through her conversation. While both Tolkien and Card are imaginative, Card’s fictional characters are complicated.

Historically, The Hobbit has been viewed as primarily a children’s book. Tolkien does use some devices that make The Hobbit more childlike and accessible to younger readers than his “sequels” in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. The use of multiple adjectives in the second sentence of the book is one of these devices: “a nasty, dirty, wet hole…a dry, bare sandy hole” (15). The simple poems and narrative comments are other clues. On the other hand, the sentence structure of The Hobbit is not going to be easy for those with less developed reading skills. Here is one example on the second page of The Hobbit:
As I was saying, the mother of this hobbit- of Bilbo Baggins, that is- was the fabulous Belladonna Took, one of the three remarkable daughters of the Old Took, head of the hobbits who lived across The Water, the small river that ran at the foot of The Hill (16).

Teachers and administrators must ask: will this book stretch and strengthen the mental muscle of weak readers, or will Tolkien’s wordy style merely frustrate them?
Ender’s Game uses very simple language that is easily understood. It has a few words (“asshole”, for instance) that might be offensive to some readers or parents or teachers, and the Bernard and Shen episode, with its emphasis on “butt-watching” and “butt wriggling” seems to have some low-key homophobia. It has more realistic-seeming conflict and death, so the question for authority figures is this: is it more appropriate to show children conflicts that are unrealistic struggles between magical creatures, or conflicts that are a difficult choice between more concrete characters? Would children finding “less violent” death scenes be positive and appropriate?

Each teacher and administration will have to make specific choices, but with the students, the important thing will be to draw as many questions as possible from the books. There will be some clear right or wrong answers about plot and action, but more usefully, these stories can be used to force students to use critical thinking skills to ponder why someone fought, if fighting was a morally correct choice, and if the decision to fight has been made, when the correct (both logically and morally) time to cease fighting will come.

Questions about peers- to what extent are we or should we be shaped by those around us- are good questions for both these books. Bilbo sometimes makes decisions that put him at odds with the rest of his group. These decisions are often wise, such as when he acts generously and with a peaceful spirit, to prevent war between humans and dwarves. Ender Wiggins, on the other hand, makes choices that are not always foreseen by the adults who observe and maneuver his life, but he is forced into those actions. Students, depending on age level and maturity, can be asked about the role of peaceful resistance, of nonviolence, and introduced to Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., as well as other historical heroic or controversial figures like Nathan Hale and Abraham Lincoln.

Ultimately, the most positive use of both of these books in the classroom is in having students react to and think why people do what they do, and think about their own future choices. If the students find these books engaging, and are thereby encouraged to read other books, this is also an appropriate goal. Card believes that stories for their own sake- “escapist literature”- are ultimately more valuable than what he derogatively describes as “serious literature”:
“Serious” literature is so simple that it can be
decoded, its meanings laid out in essay form, while
“escapist” literature is so complex and deep that it
cannot be mediated, but must be experienced; and no
two readers experience it the same. (Card, “How” 158)

Card wrote that he “deliberately avoided all the little games and gimmicks that make ‘fine’ writing so impenetrable to the general audience” (Card, “Introduction” xviii). Whether Ender’s Game is a complex allegory, or like The Hobbit “just” a wonderfully engaging and readable book is for the reader to decide.

Works Cited
Abercrombie, John R. “Iron Age.” 24 Sept. 1999. Boston University. 13 Apr. 2008
Card, Orson S. “About Orson Scott Card.” 2008. 13 Apr. 2008. <>
Card, Orson S. Ender’s Game. New York: Tor Books, 1994.
Card, Orson S. “How Tolkien Means.” Meditations on Middle-
Earth. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2001.
Card, Orson S. “Orson Scott Card Interview February 2005.” 26 Apr. 2008.

Card, Orson S. “Stories filled with Truth: How to Read Fiction,
Scripture, and History.” 27 Nov. 2001. Brigham Young
University. 2 Apr. 2008 f>
Hastings, A. W. “J.R.R. Tolkien.” 20 Aug. 2005. Northern State
University. 12 Apr. 2008.

Tolkien, J.R.R. The Hobbit. New York: Ballantine Books, 1985.

Works Consulted
Bratman, David. “This Year’s Work in Tolkien Studies 2001-
2002.” Project Muse. 2002. West Virginia University
Bratman, David. “This Year’s Work in Tolkien Studies 2003.”
Project Muse. 2003. West Virginia University Press.
Card, Orson S. "OSC Replies: August 2, 2000." 2 Aug.
2000. 12 Apr. 2008

Lawrence, Elizabeth T. “Glory Road: Epic Romance As An Allegory
of 20th Century History; The World Through The Eyes Of
J.R.R. Tolkien.” 1987. Yale-New Haven Teacher’s Institute.
10 Apr. 2008.

Past Blast

I made the mistake of posting a funny picture of my two older brothers a couple of days ago. Did I mention that it was a mistake? I suppose it must always be a bad idea to post funny pictures of people who've known you for a very long time...because they surely have such pictures of you.

So, this is me, many years ago, and wonderfully, at about 133 lbs.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Demo 3

Okay, okay. Last one, and then, I'll finish this paper. Really.


With apologies to really great geeks everywhere...

Demotivation 1