Writing

1989 September 13

No One Like Alice

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Lake Champlain, Alaska

I think Springsteen said once that the only time he’d used a rhyming dictionary was for Blinded By The Light. Similarly, the only sentiment behind these lyrics was to play off the Robert Service–esque rhyme scheme.

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1989 September 30

The Good Old Days

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Two GIs with their tank in Italy during World War Two

Sad how easy it is to update this song, by switching “Syria” for “Lebanon.” Although not many WWII vets are left to fill the shoes of the first protagonist. Still, there must be another justified war to reference instead. Right?

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1993 March 8

On Morality

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OK. Let’s start with basics: What is right? A few centuries ago, the above question would have been enough to start the search for an ethical system. Modern philosophy, of course, is much more devious, and backsteps to an even more basic question: Is there such a thing as “right”?

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1993 September 8

Ethics Esthetica

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In the beginning—as far as we know—there was nothing [Note 1]. And then, roughly 15 billion years ago, the greatest event in the history of the universe happened. This occurrence was so important and so wonderful that humans call its cause God and often ascribe intelligence to it.

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1993 November 8

On Nobility

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To the Right Highly-Esteemed Misunderstood Undoubtedly-Noble Maharajah of Meaning and Ameer of Angst—

Dear Steamy:

Someday our correspondence will constitute Appendix A of one or both of our Collected Works. (Properly edited, of course.) While it’s always nice to get mail, there’s no adventure quite like reading an S. Williams epistle. Just wanted to let you know that I do appreciate your injections of metaphysical quandary and Socratic examination.

But trying to answer them!

View On Nobility

1994 November 2

Constitution 2.0

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Scene at the Signing of the Constitution of the United States

In 1976, I celebrated my 6th birthday while my native country celebrated its 200th. It was many years before I realized that one of us had been somewhat premature. The truth is that in 1776, the United States was only an idea. The legal basis of government—the Constitution—would not go into effect until 1789. It was in that latter year also that the first regular session of Congress met, that George Washington was inaugurated as our first president, and that the Supreme Court was created. Surely, then, the United States should consider 1789 to be its year of birth. Yet there was no bicentennial celebration in 1989.

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1994 November 2

On Government

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The United States capitol

Pictures taken by Raul654 around Washington DC on May 7, 2005.

The framers of the new United States knew exactly what the country should be—or at least not be; the Declaration of Independence is, in fact, a long list of grievances the Colonies had with England. Mixed with a few recent political ideas of the Enlightenment, their vision led to a brilliant experiment in democracy that has forever changed the relationship of a people to its leaders.

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1997 November 3

The Difference Between “That” and “Which”

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The Chicago Manual of Style's explanation of "that" versus "which"

“The movie which I saw last week was terrific!” “The movie that I saw last week was terrific!” You might think the sentences above are just two different ways of saying the same thing—but only one is grammatically correct. The distinction arises because words, phrases, and clauses can be restrictive (essential to the sense of the sentence) or nonrestrictive. It’s really quite simple. (Cue sadistic, maniacal laughter in background.)

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1999 April 4

Jacob’s Birthday Song

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Jacob seems perturbed at the thought of hearing the same old birthday song again.

For years, the best man at my wedding said he hated “The Birthday Song” and never wanted people to sing it to him. So one year we were challenged to write a new song that he couldn't complain about. Music maestro Aaron Gee-Clough composed some music, and I bashed out the lyrics.

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2007 March 6

Viva la Serial Comma!

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The Chicago Manual of Style section on the serial comma

To copy editors, the “serial comma” refers to separation of listed elements (in a series, get it?). Specifically, the final comma in the construction “I like apples, pears, and oranges.” Somewhere along the line, newspaper editors who were obsessed with saving space decided the final comma was redundant. Today, the serial comma is omitted more often than not.

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2007 September 16

Translating Moscow Nights

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Moscow's Red Square at sunset

My friend Andrei, from Moscow School No. 45, got married in September 2007. Since his American wife's family was mostly from Massachusetts, the wedding was held in Salem. Large bride's party; smaller groom's party able to make the trip from Russia. I wanted to bring a little balance to the reception, so I toted along my 6-string and was allowed to serenade the couple with the old Russian standby Подмосковные вечера (Moscow Nights). Back in the mid-1980s, the opening bars were used by the Moscow radio station to introduce the evening news.

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2010 October 10

Translating Le Moribond

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Portrait of Jacques Brel

NL-HaNA, ANEFO / neg. stroken, 1945-1989, 2.24.01.05, item number <914-8399>, license: CC-BY-SA

I’m not fluent in French, but when I heard the original Jacques Brel song on which the 1973 pop hit “Seasons in the Sun” was based, I could tell it was a very different song. I was surprised to discover that the lyrics translation had been done by famous poet Rod McKuen. How could he have gone so far astray in his translation?

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2016 September 24

My Favorite Books for Children

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One of Elliot&#039;s shelves of children&#039;s books

I've often been asked about my favorite books, a question that defies a succint answer. But I certainly have many best-loved books, so I thought I'd share them here. I'll post them in three lists: favorite books for children, favorite fantasy & science fiction books, and other fiction and nonfiction favorites. This first list covers children's literature.

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2017 February 1

Journeys & Destinations

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A circular labyrinth with a single path winding around to the center

Over the next few weeks we settle into a simple routine. I bring in books to read—⁠children’s books mostly, which are easy to read aloud and often wiser than their grown-up counterparts. Although Ashoka still can’t summon the details of his forgotten tryst, he stops worrying about it.

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2017 March 8

Image Credits

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Journeys & Destinations: Labyrinth image based on the design of the St. Lambertus Church labyrinth in Mingolsheim, Germany.

Knowledge & Judgment: James Gordon Bennett Monument silhouette created from a photograph © Ad Meskens / Wikimedia Commons.

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