Monday, July 14, 2014

Welcome!

Welcome to my blog! Here you will find humorous and satirical essays on various topics (such as education, nutrition, and films) and information on my books. The problem with blogs is that most of their material is buried. So here is a list of the main essays at Write Away, organized chronologically by topic; and I invite visitors to take the moment or two required to use the handy archive gadget on the left to locate the articles they might find interesting.

For regular visitors—if such there be—let me say that I am preparing a new edition of Miscellanea, my collection of essays. It will include several new pieces—some already on this blog—and will have a new title (probably Hodgepodge). I hope to release it in September.

Please leave a comment on any essay that moves you to express an opinion, and remember that my books are easily available at Amazon.com, other online retailers, or from the author—see the brightly-colored flyer directly below this post. Why not buy one? You will find descriptions and excerpts on the blog. I also welcome messages at brnlbb@gmail.com.
ESSAYS (Amusing)
2014:  February 25:  Yet More Health
2014:  January 13:  More Health
2013:  December 29:  Healthy Eating
2013:  October 5:  On Institutional Advancement
2012:  August 23:  An Innovative Boarding School Model
2012:  August 13:  Testing Kinesthetic Students
2012:  May 20: A Cautionary Tale
2011:  October 10:  An ‘Aria of Revenge’ a la Verdi
2011:  July 26:  Lights! Cameras! Teach!
2011:  July 26: Project 1812: History for Kinesthetic Students
2011:  May 10:  An Innovative Grading System
2011:  January 12:  Evelyn Waugh on Educational Reform
2010:  October 11:  A Theory of Art
2010:  February 15:  The Test of the Future
2010:  January 28:  The Newest Members of the U.N.
2010:  January 7:  Just What the Doctor Ordered

FILM CRITICISM (Trenchant)
2011: July 25  / July 20:  Historical Films
2010: March 1:  The LOTR Film Trilogy (Take That, Peter Jackson!)
2010: February 21: Star Wars III:  A Critique of "Revenge of the Plot"
2010: February 7:  A Critique of "Tacky Clowns"
2010; January 8:  A Critique of "The Phantom Mess"
EXCERPTS
2013:  April 24:  The Adventure of the Surprising Ending
2011: March 17:  “Consulting”: from And Gladly Teach
2010: October 6:  Resolution
2010: April 4:  Gold and Glory
2010: March 7:  Storm Approaching
2010: February 1:  And Gladly Teach

Monday, March 24, 2014

BOOKS!



Keeping in mind that one purpose of this blog is to publicize my literary efforts, I here present a handy flyer that gives you lots of information about them. If any interest you, please do not be shy about buying them or sending me any questions about them that you may have.

(You should, of course, click on the images so you can see them clearly.)

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

YET MORE HEALTH


I am unsure if these little pasquinades meet with any approval—since no one leaves any comments here—but I cannot resist bringing you further examples of what people must put up with today on the subject of food.

1)  From the March issue of Consumer Reports OnHealth:  “An English study found that women who took a brisk 15-minute walk reduced their desire for chocolate…. All of the groups reported a lower level of craving—and were less tempted by images of chocolate."

I assume that the value of this English study is to warn women against taking 15-minute walks and thus depriving themselves of enjoying one of the most delicious and nutritious foods on our planet, one of the things that makes our wretched existence bearable.

2)  In the March issue of Consumer Reports there is a review called “Top Popcorns.” It begins thus: “Plenty of Americans reach for popcorn when it’s time to watch the Oscars, the Crawleys, or the latest zombie attack. When we asked readers their favorite snack during special shows, popcorn led the list. (To our readers’ credit, ‘Nothing: I don’t snack’ came in second.)”

You see? You see what these people are doing to us? In an article that reviews popcorn, the writers commend those (16.7%) who never touch it—who, indeed, “don’t snack.” In an article that tells you which popcorn is best to eat, we are made to feel guilty about eating it. How frail and wicked we are! How we must admire the stalwart Puritans who never snack, who sit there nobly not enjoying a light collation of goodies, who resist the promptings of Satan to eat between meals. (And God knows what their meals consist of. Probably celery sticks and clear broth.)

The same issue of CR contains a long article about the best TV sets to buy. It might be better if the magazine warned people about wasting their time watching the Oscars, the Crawleys (whoever they may be), or zombie attacks.

PS - Any comments? 

Monday, January 13, 2014

More Health


On Dec. 29 I published a satirical essay, "Healthy Eating," about the wonderful advice my colleagues and I receive in the Wellness Weekly, a newsletter that our employer thoughtfully sends to us. The latest issue arrived today and after reading it I realized that to publish funny stuff on this blog I need not cudgel my brains, I need only reprint this newsletter verbatim. I suppose that doing that might cause copyright problems, though, so today I offer just one item from the Weekly, from the article “Top 10 Ways to Control Portions”:
5.  Keep seconds out of sight: Don’t serve family meals family-style. Keep pots and dishes away from the table where it’s all too easy to go for seconds. If the extra food is right in front of you, you are more likely to continue to eat than if you had to get up from the table to have seconds.

Now perhaps you think I made that up. But I did not. It’s right in front of me in black and white. “Don’t serve family meals family-style.” Someone really wrote that and did not see either humor or irony. And… but I need not go on. Just read it, relish it, and laugh (or cry).

I would like to offer more suggestions to Gallagher Benefit Services, Inc., the publisher of the Wellness Weekly. Why stop at half measures? Here is a revised version:

5.  Hide the food.  After slaving for hours to prepare a delicious meal, place minuscule portions of each item on tiny plates, then hide the rest in the attic. If any diners are so wicked and greedy as to wish to eat more of your food, tell them to go get it. After climbing a couple of flights of stairs, getting cobwebs in their hair, and banging their heads on the rafters, perhaps the insatiable gluttons will think twice about gorging themselves. After all, what better compliment can there be for a chef than for people not to eat the food? After the meal, go to the attic, get the extra food, and throw it away. That’s the best thing, after all—nasty, evil food. Poison, all of it.

PS – Did you know that “3 oz. of meat is the size of a deck of cards, 1 oz. of meat is the size of a matchbook, and 1 cup of potatoes, rice, or pasta looks like a tennis ball”? That’s item number 9 in this week’s bulletin. Careful diners will of course want to carry a deck of cards, a matchbook, and a tennis ball with them whenever they succumb to the temptation to eat, so they will not accidentally eat 4 oz. of meat or 1½ cups of rice.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Well, Here It Is


Today amidst the arctic misery of Minnesota I received the first copies of The Free Lands. Anyone else who wishes to receive the book may do so by ordering it at Amazon or by sending me a mere $23. At 6 x 9 x 1.5 inches, 667 pages, 263,000 carefully-chosen words, The Free Lands is a large—and, I hope, worthy—addition to the MERCENARIES series.

Why not own the complete set??
 Brian Libby / 1000 Shumway Ave. / Faribault MN  55021    brnlbb@gmail.com 



Sunday, December 29, 2013

Healthy Eating

As part of its sedulous concern for the welfare of its workers, my school favors us with periodic health tips via a newsletter put out by some medical organization. The most recent newsletters, which came out just before the holiday season, offered advice on how one should approach this merry time—a time that the writers of the newsletter apparently assume to be a period of gluttony, self-indulgence, and sybaritic abandon that would make the Roman Saturnalia look like a Quaker prayer meeting—without entirely destroying one’s constitution.

Of course, this is not the first time I have seen such helpful screeds. One can hardly go on the Internet or enter a store without finding signs, handouts, and flyers that proffer advice, monitions, and scary predictions concerning the consequences of eating food—almost any food. Merely reading the many articles that appear in the News section of Yahoo.com could convince a person that hardly anything is safe.

Indeed, I have concluded that the basic belief held by the authors of these manifestos is that all food is poison and that it would be far better if we could eat nothing at all, or at least nothing that tasted good or in any way appealed to human beings.

Since, however, human beings do have to eat, the dietary experts have undertaken to make us feel as guilty as possible about it, so we will eat as little as possible. Their language is remarkable. We are told we may “allow” ourselves a cookie at a Christmas party; that we should eat some “healthy” concoction before going out so as to minimize our evil lust to consume a sausage or a brownie later on; that we ought to seek out the plate of broccoli and celery while fighting down the death-wish—a wish perhaps the result of the inherent wickedness imparted by Original Sin—to instead have a fried onion ring. The day after we blaspheme the temple of our body by riotous gourmandizing we must, of course, head for the gym and exercise especially hard so as to exorcise the aftereffects of insensate indulgence.

The language of these publications really is a bit theological. We are prone to sin—sin in this case that may result in crippling ourselves and bringing pain and misery to our loved ones when we collapse as a result of easily-avoided dietary wickedness—and must seek forgiveness by, for example, a few hours on a treadmill. (Did you know that treadmills were used as punishment in Victorian-era prisons? Yes. Prisoners were compelled to put in so many hours on a treadmill. Think how healthy they were at the end of their sentences. And they didn’t even have to pay for using the equipment!)

As one who was brought up in the pre-Vatican II Catholic Church, I can speak with some authority on techniques of inducing guilt: the modern food-haters are doing a good job. I am sure they have succeeded in removing joy from the lives of many people. Even at a holiday party we cannot eat an hors-d’oeuvre without a premonition of doom; as you pop that small, wizened sausage into your mouth you can feel a stain spreading onto your soul; you find yourself excusing your reckless indulgence in a handful of popcorn by resolving to starve yourself for a week to make up for your transgression. This is an improvement on the Confessional: the sinner now assigns himself his own penance even as he commits the sin.

I do not think the heralds of health go far enough, however. So I would like to offer a few ideas on how each of us can contribute to the welfare of our fellow men:

1)  If you are invited to, let us say, a New Year’s party, station yourself next to the table that bears the most seductive goodies. Be sure to have with you a heavy ruler and a bag of healthy food. Whenever some libertine is about to pick up a cheese cracker, rap him sharply on the knuckles with the ruler and offer him a carrot. Recalled as by a guardian angel from impending corruption by a Satanic canapĂ©, he will surely be grateful.

2)  Bring with you to parties pictures of malnourished children. (You can easily print these from the Internet.) Scatter them about the snack tables. This should induce healthy guilt into all the revelers.

3)  Cards printed with improving slogans such as these can be placed at strategic spots:

      A moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips.
      A slice of cake and you're at your wake.
      "Devil's Food" indeed!
      An apple tart may stop your heart.
      Abandon all hope, ye who nibble here!
      Like some pie? Prepare to die.
      The way to Hell is paved with chocolate cupcakes.
      Water is God's champagne.
      
The health savants, as well as the spirits of Oliver Cromwell, John Calvin, and all our Puritan forebears, will surely thank you (even if no one else does).
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- Feel free to send this essay to anyone who might enjoy it (as is true of all posts on this blog.)

Saturday, October 5, 2013

On Institutional Advancement

In this latest ground-breaking essay--part of the series exploring innovative change in contemporary pedagogy--I turn from purely academic matters to the important issue of raising funds. Readers are encouraged to distribute this seminal brainstorm widely.
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                            ON INSTITUTIONAL ADVANCEMENT

Let us imagine that you find a family living in a dilapidated old house. The roof leaks; the windows are cracked; the carpets are threadbare; the furnace is erratic, often providing much heat in warm weather and little heat when it is cold. The stone walls are crumbling.

Let us also imagine that you—Mr. Hastings van Rensselaer Plutocrat—are wealthy and altruistic. You wish to assist this family. You leave your mansion in Palm Desert, California, and go to them. You smilingly announce that you are going to help them. You will construct in their yard a marble fountain that will send a beautiful spray of water fifty feet into the air; further, you will hang upon their living room wall—over the cracks—a genuine Gobelin tapestry depicting colorful scenes of medieval pageantry.

In proper recognition of your generosity, a fine bronze plaque will be affixed to the fountain designating it the Plutocrat Water Display and the tapestry will appropriately bear a small label: “Gift of H. van R. Plutocrat, 2013.” Your benevolence will be fittingly acknowledged at a public ceremony where you will be hailed as a modern Maecenas, a philanthropist extraordinaire. 

How happy this family will surely be! Even as they sit in their cold, drafty living room watching the rain drip into the buckets placed under the holes in the roof, they will hardly be able to stifle their cries of joy as they admire the intricate weaving of the tapestry and marvel at the loveliness of the fountain.

If this seems like an absurd flight of fancy, I have to suggest that, unfortunately, it is not. It is analogous to what can happen when a combination of generosity, self-esteem, and misplaced priorities, facilitated by faulty fund-raising policies, are brought to bear on an impoverished institution—such as, to choose a random example, a tuition-driven boarding school.

Would it not make more sense, if, before adorning a shack with golden gables, one first repaired the walls? If the roof leaks, should the construction of a magnificent garage be the first priority? When the heating system is antique and undependable, one might replace it before installing a jacuzzi, might one not? Should one not water the lily before gilding it?

Surely it does not strain credulity to assert that institutional advancement implies that the institution must have a sound infrastructure before more buildings are built and comparative frills added. That is common sense. Why then is it not done?

One reason may be that some potential philanthropists feel that to endow a grand building, to construct a statue, to equip rooms with huge tables that the users of those rooms neither want nor need, is preferable to repairing a heating system or tuck-pointing a crumbling wall, because building, constructing, and equipping offer more opportunities for recognition than repairing and replacing. Perhaps such people feel that little prestige attaches to renovating bathrooms or laying carpets, to fixing roofs or caulking windows. After all, the pharaohs are remembered for pyramids, not for sewers.

I suggest that it is the function of Development Departments not to take the easy way out by abetting such erroneous notions and soliciting money for secondary things, but to grasp the nettle and tell potential donors what is really needed. If Lorenzo the Magnificent, class of ’53, announces he will finance an air-conditioned, twenty-lane bowling alley, it is the job of the Institutional Advancement experts to tell him (politely but firmly) that the institution does not need such a thing, but does need—to invent an exaggerated, unlikely example—to prevent a dormitory that has visible cracks in its outer walls and whose windows are out of plumb from continuing its slow but steady descent into a ravine, so would he kindly write a check for these much-needed repairs to an already-existing structure even though it is not named after him?     

So, wealthy, public-spirited alumni: when your alma mater needs shoes and a dress, do not give her a feather boa. When she huddles in the cold, do not give her a painting of a fireplace. When her house is falling down, do not offer to build her a tanning salon next door.

And advancement officials: take the bull by the horns and insist that you have a strong, well-built cart before you get a horse, or a white elephant, to pull it. Repair the infrastructure before adding to the superstructure. 

For if this is not done, the eventual fate of institutions which do not do it might well be that so famously depicted by Shelley:

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said, “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half-sunk, a shattered visage lies….

And on the pedestal these words appear --
‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

Maybe Ozymandias built an Arts Center when he really should have repaired his palace.

______________________________
For all those awaiting news of The Free Lands, I want to tell both of you that the book is completed and that I am awaiting the cover. If the artist finishes it on time, I am hopeful that Volume IV of Mercenaries will appear in November.