Tag Archives: literature

Alice In Wonderland and the Twins

Read till you come to the end: then stop

Has your highschooler read Alice in Wonderland or Through the Looking Glass? Not Walt Disney’s or other abridged versions, but the original Lewis Carroll, illustrated with the fantastical drawings of John Tenniel. The original Through the Looking Glass delights with the quirky poem Jabberwocky. Here is a sample,

Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!

… and the equally zany The Walrus and the Carpenter — one of the best verses for sample,

The sun was shining on the sea,
Shining with all his might:
He did his very best to make
The billows smooth and bright —
And this was odd, because it was
The middle of the night.

Cautionary tales

Good heavens, you might say, read such nonsense when there is so much strife and challenges in the world?

Well, yes. If your kid can read Through the Looking Glass cover to cover at his own pace and find it fascinating, then he is playing chess while others are playing checkers.

Also, if the reader uses her imagination to turn the “nonsense” into cautionary tales, then she is ready for life’s challenges! Let’s consider tricky folks one of life’s difficulties – like Mr. Walrus and Mr. Carpenter. These snippets from the poem summarize the situation well,

O Oysters, come and walk with us!’
The Walrus did beseech.
A pleasant walk, a pleasant talk,
Along the briny beach:
We cannot do with more than four,
To give a hand to each.’

The eldest Oyster looked at him,
But never a word he said:
The eldest Oyster winked his eye,
And shook his heavy head —
Meaning to say he did not choose
To leave the oyster-bed.

But four young Oysters hurried up,
All eager for the treat:
Their coats were brushed, their faces washed,
Their shoes were clean and neat —
And this was odd, because, you know,
They hadn’t any feet.

Guess what happened to the gullible little oysters.

O Oysters,’ said the Carpenter,
You’ve had a pleasant run!
Shall we be trotting home again?’
But answer came there none —
And this was scarcely odd, because
They’d eaten every one.”

Alas, innocents that believe in wondrous promises from the powerful.

The mathematician who wrote children’s books

Lewis Carroll was the pen name of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, born in Daresbury, Cheshire, England, in 1832. He died in 1898. He is known for Alice in Wonderland (1865) and Through the Looking Glass (1871), although he wrote other books, short stories, and poems. His other most-often mentioned works are Bruno’s Revenge (1867), The Hunting of the Snark (1876), and A Tangled Tale (1885).

Carroll was not only a prolific writer, but also a mathematician, logician, photographer, and Anglican deacon. He taught mathematics and logic at Christ Church, Oxford, and wrote several mathematical books under his birth name. His mathematical puzzles are sometimes included in puzzle books. His most-often mentioned mathematical book is An Elementary Treatise on Determinants with their Application to Simultaneous Linear Equations and Algebraic Geometry (1867).

A whole lot of Carroll’s writings and puzzles were intended to teach children math and logic. His work can still do so today. The popular website Teachers Pay Teachers is just one of the several that have materials related to Lewis Carroll’s works for younger children as well as for highschoolers. Lesson Planet has good material on Lewis Carroll as well.

Gee, this book is long!

The last chapter of Alice in Wonderland has useful advice for readers of long books,

“There’s more evidence to come yet, please your Majesty,” said the White Rabbit, jumping up in a great hurry: “this paper has just been picked up …” “it’s a set of verses …” “Read them,” said the King. The White Rabbit put on his spectacles. “Where shall I begin, please your Majesty,” he asked.

Begin at the beginning,” the King said, very gravely, “and go on till you come to the end: then stop.

Alice at the Trial

Does Political Correctness Have Limits?

The Difference

There is a world of difference between civility and political correctness (PC).  Civility is thoughtful behavior towards everyone.  PC is prescribed, agenda-driven speech and action that applies to some but not to others.  Civility comes from the inside, while PC is prompted from the outside.

Increasingly, PC is taking the place of civility.  PC harshly censors our speech, actions, and even thoughts.  Dare to call for discipline in a classroom, and the label of “privileged” soon follows.  Dare to criticize the work of a self-identified-female employee, the label of “sexist” immediately arises.  Oh, and calling anyone female or male without the qualifying “self-identified” borders on the self destructive.

The Advocates

Advocates of PC say they want to level the playing field, promote equality of outcomes, compensate for privilege.  At first blush, such objectives might even sound laudable.  But the problem is political correctness does not recognize limits.

The Example

Kurt Vonnegut’s short story Harrison Bergeron (1961) paints a world towards which PC advocates might be takings us all, a world in which the new and improved American Constitution prescribes complete equality for all.

In Vonnegut’s dystopian world nobody can be smarter, more talented or prettier than the rest.  Laws force people to wear “handicaps,” such as masks for the beautiful, sound to disrupt thought for the intelligent, and bags filled with lead balls for the strong and/or agile.

Here is Vonnegut’s idea of a domestic dialogue in the age of complete fairness:

“You been so tired lately — kind of wore out,” said Hazel.  “If there were just some way we could make a little hole in the bottom of the bag, and just take out a few of them lead balls.  Just a few.”

“Two years in prison and two thousand dollars fine for every ball I took out,” said George.  “I don’t call that a bargain.”…

“If I tried to get away with it,” said George, “then other people’d get away with it — and pretty soon we’d be right back to the dark ages again, with everybody competing against everybody else…”

The Consequences

And here is a concern related in an article on U.S. News.com about the downward trends of math and English scores as measured by college-readiness tests:

“Much more concerning, however, were readiness levels in math and English, which continued a downward slide dating to 2014.  This year [2018], math scores dropped to a 20-year low.”

“The news reignited concerns over whether there is a mismatch between what students learn in school and what college entrance exams ask of them, whether tests are an accurate barometer of college readiness, and — from an equity standpoint — whether the tests present an advantage to those with more means.”

Rich BoyHopefully colleges will not further waste parents and/or taxpayers’ money carrying out studies on whether “those with more means” have advantages over those without, since we all know that to be the case already.  Such advantages will always exist … that is unless legislators decide to really level the playing field by creating the position of “Handicapper General” as those in Kurt Vonnegut’s story did.


The Rough Beast at Your Ballot Box

W.B. Yeats wrote his often-quoted poem The Second Coming in 1919, in the wake of the devastation of WWI and that war’s chaotic aftermath that foretold the inevitability of WWII.

The poem is short, free verse with iambic pentameter, and somewhat to the point – “somewhat,” since, like all good art, The Second Coming does not spell out, but only hints. Here is the poem,

The Second Coming

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.

The darkness drops again but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

Battle of SommeClick here for a link to a beautiful audio version.

The images on the audio/visual Youtube post are from the World War II Battle of Somme — 141 days July 1 to November 18, 1916, of trench warfare on the Western Front, with a million men wounded or killed by its end.  The war did not end until 1918.

Why is the Just Vote No Blog Recommending Yeats Poem?

So, why would the Just Vote No Blog recommend The Second Coming? The poem makes for beautiful reading or listening, and it raises a favorite question of the Just Vote No Blog: are the forces of destruction and chaos inevitable reality or the result of bad ideas?

The literati in their analysis of The Second Coming often wax eloquent about Yeats’ reference to “the widening gyre” as testimony of his view of humanity and history as cyclical in the Biblical or mystic sense – birth, death and rebirth. Indeed the history of nations bears out such trajectory, with the rise and fall of the Roman Empire standing as prime example.

But here is what the Just Vote No Blog prefers to offer as testimony instead:

The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

When a politician says that there ought to be a chicken in every pot and a car in every garage, he or she makes sure passion and intensity accompanies the message, which “the worst” immediately take up with equal verve and soon turn the message into reality. While “the best” often remain cynically aloof, lacking in conviction.

By the way, defining the difference between “the worst” and “the best” is up to you.  Maybe, though, you could look at results, or promises vs. reality.

The Rough Beast

Yeats ends The Second Coming with possibly the most utilized line in modern western literature:

And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

The Biblical second comer is no sloucher,

For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.  Matthew 24:27 

The vision Yates creates is of someone moving patiently but relentlessly towards a goal. What if we chose to take that beast as the embodiment of bad ideas, the type of bad ideas we vote for at the polls, or bad ideas proselytized by politicians? What if we just say no? Would we stop the beast?

Obviously, a website titled the Just Vote No Blog would have to say “yes.”