Els' Rabbit Trails, Links worth a look, style

El’s rabbit trails: On rooms without walls

Throughout this month, I have been reading, and only reading, books related to Florida history. Nothing else. While I find the subject endlessly fascinating and educational, I don’t expect that my readership is interested in endless reviews of books recounting various aspects of the native peoples, discovery and trajectory of all things Florida. There are exceptions of course, such as the story of Joseph Clark, which is well worth sharing regardless of geography.

Rather than allow this little spot to languish for another week or more, by which time I hope to have completed a non-Florida education book, I thought I’d share some thoughts on a recent article from the links worth a look page.

Citylab.com makes the case for rooms. Specifically, they delve into the trend of open floor plans which tend to be designed with the entry, kitchen and living room connected without walls. Because our home has an open floor plan  (and vaulted ceilings which I fell for before I considered having to paint them), this article piqued my curiosity.

If someone asked me five years ago whether or not I thought the open floor plan would still be popular, I would have said no. Domestic architecture seemed to be taking a turn toward the rustic. Today, “Farmhouse” and “Craftsman” modern designs, hearkening back to the American vernacular tradition (complete with shiplap walls), are a tour-de-force.

But I would have been wrong. Although these houses bring all the exterior trappings of beloved vernacular houses of the past, they do not extend that to the interior plans. In fact, the open concepts from the oversized houses of the pre-recession era have only gotten more open.

Much has been written about the open floor plan: how it came to be, why it is bad (or good), whether it should or shouldn’t be applied to existing housing. The open floor plan as we currently understand it—an entry-kitchen-dining-living combination that avoids any kind of structural separation between uses—is only a few decades old. Prior to the last 25 years, an “open floor plan” meant a living configuration without doors; now the term has come to mean a living configuration without walls. I will refer to the latter from now on as an “open concept,” in order to differentiate it from a traditional open floor plan.

There are times when I really enjoy our open floor plan. We entertain four to five times a year (birthday parties, holidays, and the occasional small dinner party). On those occasions, when every part of the house is tidy and spotless, and engaging with several guests and family members in different places from the central hub of the kitchen is easier, I thoroughly enjoy the open concept. It’s utilitarian for the purposes of entertaining.

There are other times, however, when having walls separating one or more of those rooms from another would be convenient. Our home is lived in all day, every day. There are meals prepared in the kitchen three times a day and kids educated at the kitchen table. Books, paper, pencils, experiments, and the paraphernalia of life dots the landscape of our home on a regular basis. No amount of anal obsession with keeping things clean is going to lead me to the nirvana of a perpetually company ready house. There are days when a mess kitchen might come in handy:

In a recent essay in The Atlantic, Ian Bogost described a new luxury concept called the “mess kitchen”—a second kitchen out of sight from the main kitchen and the rest of the open plan. He cited it to demonstrate why the open floor plan and its rhetoric around “entertaining” have reached new levels of absurdity. However, to me, the mess kitchen offers hope for a transitional period where open spaces may become closed again.

On normal days if someone drops by, the open concept feels inconvenient. It also means that I have to embrace the reality that very few people are judging my home as harshly as I am. In fact quite recently someone came over for an appointment I’d forgotten about and while I was having an internal crisis about the state of my house, they said, “You guys have a great house. Your family room looks like a great place to hang out and watch a movie.” Failing homemaker fire extinguished.

Our house is our home, for better or worse, and I do love it. If we ever decide to leave it, perhaps I can revisit the decision to choose an open floor plan. I do wonder however, if this trend will hold or if sometime in the near future, walls will make a comeback. After all, our house was built 25 years ago.

 

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Culture, Els' Rabbit Trails, films, tales from the local library

Movies and Moral Helplessness: Reblog

While ostensibly working hard on a project that must be completed in no less than two weeks, I entertained a brief diversion which I rationalized because it took me to the very deep Circe Institute blog. There I found Joshua Gibbs interviewing his rationalizing alter ego on the subject of indulging in big budget films.

In this particular case, he is dissecting his decision to go to the theater and watch Jurassic World 2, which we also saw. I’ll post a portion of it here, but the whole thing is worth the short period required to read it.

In the lobby of a local cinema, I was approached by a journalist conducting interviews.

INTERVIEWER: Excuse me, sir, would you mind telling me what movie you’re going to see?

GIBBS: Uh, sure. I’m about to see Jurassic World 2.

INTERVIEWER: Very good. And why are you excited to see this motion picture?

GIBBS: Oh, I saw the trailers for it and I thought they looked pretty good.

INTERVIEWER: Would you say this looks like a life-changing movie?

GIBBS: (chuckling) Well, no. Of course, it’s a dinosaur movie. I’ve seen plenty of them, and they aren’t exactly life-changing.

INTERVIEWER: Perhaps you don’t think movies can be life-changing?

GIBBS: No, that’s not true. I’ve seen a few life-changing movies. Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia changed my life back when I saw it in 1999. But there are scores of classics, too, which have changed me for the better. Ordinary People. Ace in the Hole. Babette’s Feast. I definitely think a good movie can make you more humane, more understanding. To understand all is to forgive all, as the French say, and God will forgive us the way we forgive others, so a good movie can certainly have great spiritual value.

INTERVIEWER: But not Jurassic World 2?

GIBBS: No. I’m only seeing this because—

INTERVIEWER: Well, perhaps Jurassic World 2 is going to be very memorable. It will not change your life, but you will dwell on it, ruminate on it, nonetheless. A film doesn’t have to be great in order to be of value. When you leave the theater this afternoon, how long do you think you will ponder Jurassic World 2?

GIBBS: Ponder it? Um, you know, probably not for very long. There’s really not much to ponder. To be honest, I’ll have probably forgotten I saw it by the time I wake up tomorrow.

INTERVIEWER: I see. Well, perhaps the really great movies that can make you a better person are hard to track down? Great things are rare, after all.

GIBBS: No, actually. There are plenty of really great movies I could check out for free at the library down the street. Great movies are easy to come by.

INTERVIEWER: Yes, well, I am sure you’re not seeing a great movie this afternoon because you’ve already seen them all, correct?

GIBBS: Well… No, that’s not the case. There are scores of great movies, or movies that I’ve heard are great, that I haven’t seen. I haven’t seen many Kurosawa movies. I haven’t seen Ran or Seven Samurai, but people rave about those pictures. I haven’t seen any Tarkovsky movies, though I’ve heard Stalker is amazing. I don’t know Ingmar Bergman’s catalog very well, though people always say Wild Strawberries is very beautiful. They say the same about Yasujirō Ozu’s movies, like Tokyo Story. My mother doesn’t like foreign films, but she says she always cries at the end of Tokyo Story because it’s so profound.

INTERVIEWER: Apologies, sir, did you say you could get these great movies for free at the local library?

GIBBS: Um, yep. Yes, I could.

INTERVIEWER: And how much did you just pay to see Jurassic World 2?

GIBBS: Eleven dollars.

INTERVIEWER: Sir, I don’t want to misrepresent you, so I would like to make sure that I have your story straight: You could easily and cheaply acquire beautiful films which you would remember for a long time, change your life for the better, and grant you a more human and forgiving spirit, but you have instead decided to pay eleven dollars to see a dinosaur movie that will not make you a better person and which you will entirely forget about in just a few hours?

GIBBS: (sense of moral helplessness intensifies)

Sigh. Squirm. Maybe that’s just me.

Like I said, read the whole thing.

And enjoy the rest of your weekend.

Els' Rabbit Trails, Links worth a look, Uncategorized

Rabbit Trail: July’s links worth a look.

There is a page on this blog dedicated to links I’ve found here and there which I think are worth sharing, but are not related to books, reading, and education. They are categorized by month and I update them as I run across them, adding to the list as I go.

As a general rule, I have no desire to use this blog as a discussion point for things that people tend to get overly animated about, but since I made the links a part of the blog, I decided that at the end of every month I’d open a reminder thread so that my readers know the links are there.

So consider this El’s PSA that there are a lot of interesting, informative, and educational items on the Links Worth a Look page.

American history, coming from where I'm from, educational, Florida History, homeschool

The Life & Times of Joseph E. Clark

joseph E Clark book

The Life & Times of Joseph E. Clark: From Slavery to Town Father, by Olga Fenton Mitchell and Gloria Fenton Magbie. Published in 2003, 112 pages.

This is the biography of the man who founded the oldest incorporated black municipality in the United States of America. It is definitely a niche book and topic, one that interests me on a purely personal level. I almost declined to review it because I know there is no universal appeal attached to it. However, it matters to me, so I decided it was worth reviewing.

Joseph Clark was born into slavery in the year 1859. He was the son of slaves, but his father William was a man of keen sense and a deep desire to see his children be as successful as life would allow. So after the Civil War ended and his family was freed, he moved them to East Tennessee (a Union friendly southern area) and began working in earnest to see to it that his children were educated. Always a man of hard work and frugality, the authors of the book recount that 1870 census records list William Clark as a drayman with a net worth of $400, a financial feat rarely accomplished by the newly freed African descended slaves!

With this as his legacy, Joe Clark grew up and stepped into the part of his story that I was mostly already familiar with. The founding of Eatonville was a momentous and ground breaking event in the South. Joe Clark’s dream of a town founded, inhabited and most importantly governed by freed black men became a reality in 1887:

 

eatonville-founded.jpg
Joseph Clark 4th from left. Photo Credit.

Covering every aspect of Joseph Clark’s life including the tragedies and hardships as well as his victories, The Life & Times of Joseph E. Clark filled in some of the blanks of his history that I was unaware of. Knowing much of the information beforehand didn’t make the book any less enjoyable to me.

This was a good little book. It covered a lot of ground in a very succinct and matter of fact way. It eschewed political commentary and stuck to the facts, and was well done overall. I am glad I stumbled on it while doing some research in our local library branch.

5 out of 5 stars.

joys of reading, the business of books, writing

Why Can’t We Be Friends? the non-review

to read or not to read

While researching reviews of Aimee Byrd’s book, Why Can’t We Be Friends? I was struck with the realization that this is a good opportunity to discuss the things that I consider when deciding whether or not to read and review certain books. Since I have decided not to read this one, it is the perfect conversational springboard.

Most of the books I read and review, I find one of three ways. I stumble upon them in the library, read a riveting analysis of said book, or as is often the case, am reminded that it was one I’d always intended to read but never got around to it. Classics most often fall into the last category.

When a book is generating a lot of buzz and I can’t find it at my local library, I embark on a research expedition. The regrettable experience of spending my beloved’s hard earned money on a book that is best fit for the trash heap is a hard learned lesson. As a result, I do my homework and often find that the homework provides plenty about what I am going to find in the book. This either saves both my time and money from being wasted, or heightens my anticipation of curling up with that book.

The former is what happened when I started poking around for some insight on Why Can’t We Be Friends? Most of the reviews were positive, but in ways that only served to solidify my initial skepticism. They were long, wieldy and confusing, explored the book in multiple parts, or otherwise worked to further entrench me into my position. Thankfully, I ran across an article at The Federalist which directed me toward the author’s previously published and readily available words on the subject.

In essence, Mrs. Byrd has written so many articles and blog posts laying out her case for why Christian men and women -regardless of marital status- should be able to have close, personal, even intimate friendships (“sacred siblings” she calls it), that reading her book would have been an exercise in redundancy. The book was an expansion of and explanation of ideas presented in those articles. As a result, I felt no need to purchase, read, or review the book.

This was a good reminder to me that while it is important and vital for any aspiring writer to write, write often, and generate exposure for her writing, it isn’t a good idea to base any potentially publishable work on a conglomeration of ideas that have already been shared and disseminated far and wide. Why should people buy a book that includes ideas and information that I have already shared repeatedly?

Another way I decide which books to read or not is on the basis of a recommendation or down vote from a trusted source.  By that I mean a source that I trust. There have been books I was considering then decided not to read because someone who knows me well gave me a full and complete idea of what it is, and why it’s not worth my time or attention.

Lastly, there are books I read but don’t review for myriad reasons. One of those reasons is because I didn’t finish it.  When a book is taking me an eternity to complete and I constantly find myself picking up other books to give me a break from that book, I conclude that it’s probably not a book for me. That could mean it’s a bad book worthy of a negative review, but if I didn’t finish it I never know if it finally came together in a satisfying way.  This potential for recovery and success is more likely in fiction than nonfiction of course, and is another reminder to me to keep thoughts and ideas cohesive when I write.

Another reason I may not review it is because the ideas are either so personal or so big that I feel it is best not to open a blog discussion about it. Rather, my time with that book is best spent by pondering its ideas privately or with those in my inner circle. That doesn’t happen often, but it does happen.

I’m sure there are as many times that I’ve skipped books I may have enjoyed as there are times I read books that felt like a waste of time. In either case, I try to be deliberate and informed before I read any book that I intend to review in this space. This process of mine is obviously far from scientific, but there is some level of method to the madness here.

How do you decide which books you will read?

 

Culture, tales from the local library

Forbes pulls stupid article which suggested that Amazon could replace public libraries.

I never actually read the article in question, only learning of it as a result of the ever informed and prolific book blogging of Krysta @ Pages Unbound. She goes into detail why an Amazon bookstore could never replace a public library.

When the original Forbes link failed, I went looking for it and found out via Quartz that Forbes pulled it as a result of the outpouring of dissent from local libraries and the communities they serve.

On Saturday morning Forbes published an opinion piece by LIU Post economist Panos Mourdoukoutas with the headline “Amazon Should Replace Local Libraries to Save Taxpayers Money.” It quickly received enthusiastic backlash from actual American libraries and their communities.

As of around 10am US eastern time this morning, the story had nearly 200,000 views, according to a counter on the page. As of 11am, though, the story’s URL has been down.

“Forbes advocates spirited dialogue on a range of topics, including those that often take a contrarian view,” a Forbes spokesperson says in a statement. “Libraries play an important role in our society. This article was outside of this contributor’s specific area of expertise, and has since been removed.”

Spirited dissent is no reason for a respected media outlet to pull its article, but in this case I think Forbes did the right thing. I was also slightly amused by the fact that, on the heels of the preceding post here on public shaming via Twitter, the misinformed economist in question got a mild dose of Twitter induced shaming. I do not have a Twitter account and thus was spared the temptation to pile on. Y’all know I love me a public library. That was a joke.  I was never, ever tempted to pile on.

Better informed -and apparently better educated- economists have already done an excellent job of teasing out how much the original economist, Panos Mourdoukoutas, overstated the financial impact libraries have on individual homeowners who pay taxes to keep libraries funded. Moreover, the idea that local residents could ever pry “unused” dollars away from the coffers of local municipalities is a joke worthy of a good belly laugh.

Most of the dissent was offered on behalf of the indigent who are largely dependent on public libraries for access to everything from books and summer lunch programs, to foreign language classes, to Internet service. These are indeed worthy programs, the loss of which would further devastate residents of communities which are already struggling.

However, for those not indigent nor particularly moved by whether or not the less fortunate have access to services and amenities the middle and wealthier classes take for granted, it is worth noting that far more than indigent, urban dwellers would miss out if libraries suddenly closed. We live in a middle class community of well-kept, appreciating homes, a well stocked pantry and decent enough schools. Nevertheless, we too, would miss out on a great deal if Mr. Mourdoukoutas’ ideas were taken to heart. Here are just a few (off the top of my head) programs and/or services our family has utilized courtesy of our public library:

  • Book clubs and summer reading programs
  • Story times (all five of our kids have participated in these programs from age 18 months -5 years old.
  • Science classes including everything from learning circuitry to seeing reptiles up close
  • Art classes
  • Typing class
  • Graphic cartooning class
  • Kid concerts and shows

Those are just the few I can think of for the few minutes I have to currently devote the mental energy. Our library also offers classes in arts and skilled crafts such as sewing, knitting, and crochet. Libraries are one of the few areas besides roads and first response services which I am proud and happy to have my tax dollars funding.

That the author of the original Forbes article was either unaware or discounted the value of the myriad services and programs offered by libraries illuminates yet another area of American life where values are diverging more and more. Mothers at home with young children, suburban families in general, and those without the means to simply whip out their laptop as I am currently doing could never make up the gap a loss of libraries would create at a mega bookstore.

And you don’t have to buy a cup of coffee to study at a public library.

 

Culture, Uncategorized

So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed

So You've Been Publicly Shamed

So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, by Jon Ronson. Published in 2015. 304 pages.

Before I get into the meat of this book, I decided to share one of my pet peeves to set the tone (consider yourselves warned):

I have an intense aversion to reading a news story on a “reputable” news site (NYT, FOX, NBC, etc.) and seeing random tweets from various Twitter users interspersed throughout the story. I’m perpetually confused as to why a “reputable” news outlet would lend gravitas to the rantings of random Internet commentators -fame does not impute authority, for the record-  as if their opinions have any bearing on the validity of the story being reported. This peeve is the context from which I began reading and begin reviewing So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed.

I consider Twitter a cesspool and enemy of critical thought, so it came as no surprise to me that Jon Ronson was able to compose a 300-page book comprised in large part of interviews with people whose lives have been tortured or careers torpedoed solely because a Twitter mob -or other Internet denizens- decided that one ill-advised stroke of their keyboards was worthy of public, worldwide, electronic excoriation.

Although Ronson begins with public shaming instigated online, he doesn’t stay parked there. There is a chapter on the history of public shaming during our colonial period which was quite informative. He also interviewed former judge turned Texas Congressman Ted Poe, known as the King of Shame for incorporating public shaming in his sentencing of young or first time offenders.

After interviewing both Poe and one of the men he had sentence to public shaming, Ronson came away with a different perspective than he started with regarding Congressman Poe’s use of public shaming in sentencing. Not only did Poe not regret his tactics, but the young man interviewed deeply appreciated the sentence he received. It was apparent that situations where a judge in a courtroom is looking into the eye of a guilty perpetrator who had his day in court is vastly different from an anonymous Twitter mob condemning and causing irreparable harm to a stranger based on personal offense without due process.

The book also delved into industries and areas of life which depend largely on the ability of those in it to turn off that mechanism: the ability to feel ashamed in the first place. He interviewed people in the porn industry or who were involved with various alternative sexual lifestyles. Within the latter group were stories of people who had taken their own lives when news of their deviant proclivities were made public and diverged greatly from their public personas of trust.

Whether it was classes devoted to helping patients overcome secret shame or figuring out how a fortunate few weathered their public shamings relatively unscathed, there are few stones if any that Ronson left unturned. The most potent parts of the book for me however, were those specifically related to public shaming via the Internet, because this particular mechanism of public shaming is more sinister, shameful, and shameless than most. The author points out that:

“A life had been ruined. What was it for: just some social media drama? I think our natural disposition as humans is to plod along until we get old and stop. But with social media, we’ve created a stage for constant artificial high drama. Every day a new person emerges as a magnificent hero or a sickening villain. It’s all very sweeping, and not the way we actually are as people.”

Social media as community is an unnatural way of living, and so its denizens behave in  unnatural ways and react to things unnaturally. How many of us would publicly crucify a long term friend or even a loosely held acquaintance on the strength of one tactless joke or political opinion we find disagreeable? We wouldn’t, but:

“…when shamings are delivered like remotely administered drone strikes nobody needs to think about how ferocious our collective power might be.”

Feeling shame as a result of a guilty finding in a court of law or having violated the trust of an actual community of people with whom you interact day to day may be painful, but it’s born of real expectations of behavior based on reasonable measures of real accountability. Shame induced via an anonymous or semi-anonymous individual or group of individuals to whom the “shamee” has no direct connection and therefore no reasonable expectation of accountability is able to occur when the one being shamed is effectively stripped of their humanity by those feeding their emptiness through seeking to destroy another’s livelihoods and relationships.

When based on one moment of bad virtual judgment, divorced from any knowledge of the shamee’s character, it’s tantamount to doing the one thing most people in our culture would view as the cardinal sin if such action were taken against them: passing sweeping judgement and heaping condemnation on someone as a result of one mistake. Those who are able to do this and sleep at night are able to do so by engaging in an astonishing exercise in cognitive dissonance, in Ronson’s opinion:

“I suppose it’s no surprise that we feel the need to dehumanize the people we hurt—before, during, or after the hurting occurs. But it always comes as a surprise. In psychology it’s known as cognitive dissonance. It’s the idea that it feels stressful and painful for us to hold two contradictory ideas at the same time (like the idea that we’re kind people and the idea that we’ve just destroyed someone). And so to ease the pain we create illusory ways to justify our contradictory behavior.”

This is a book worth reading for anyone who spends any significant amount of time on social media. I don’t, but because I have online interaction with people I both agree and disagree with, it was good for me as well. It’s a good reminder to beware of attempts to shame anonymous individuals who are not accountable to me, my family or my church, even the most peripheral areas of my life.  That’s not what we are called to do. Live and let live is one of my life’s credos.

A few of the cases Ronson recounts are those you will easily recognize, but some aren’t. Reading about the horror and collateral damage others have suffered based on nothing more than a moment of bad judgment before pushing “post” (or even having a private joke overheard by an ill-humored SJW) is sobering reading. I used to not take the web all that seriously, but the need to exercise caution has never been more clear to me.  This one is worth a look.

4 out of 5 stars.

Content advisory: Many of the interviewees Ronson recounts use profanity in their conversations. There is also a chapter where he does research into the shamelessness of those who engage in the porn industry, so there is frank sex talk and recounting of some of the things he witnessed. None of it is offered in a titillating, gratuitous way, but it is included in the book in a matter of fact sort of way.