Thursday, August 17, 2017

July-August 2017: "In the Wake of the Eclipse"

Astral Facts, July-August 2017

Astral: (Theosophy) Consisting of, belonging to, or designating, a kind of supersensible substance alleged to be next above the tangible world in refinement; as, astral spirits; astral bodies of persons; astral current.

In the Wake of the Eclipse

As usual, lots of things are changing – statues are coming down, tempers are flaring up, and on August 21 the sun will (or did depending on when this is being read) go dark. What and who will be saved in this process and how will the changes and unchanges emerge once we find the light at the end of the tunnel, or eclipse?  Will the “wake” provide some kind of “awakening” in the future?

Literature and the extension into associated fields in the Humanities Sciences can be a means for addressing, understanding, and imagining potential causes and effects. 

They say we study history and its lessons “to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past.”  Certainly I’ve learned from studying Hannibal’s experience not to try to cross the Alps with my elephants, but I’m more interested in building upon the successes of the past.  Regarding the experiences of the history of eclipses, the experience of Columbus is one expanded upon by writers and other humanities scientists and artists (before and after).

In 1504, Columbus and his crew were stranded in the Caribbean and the local inhabitants of the area had become hostile toward the Europeans due to previous mistreatment by them and others.  As a result, the food supply had been cut off and Columbus and his crew were in danger of starvation and/or being killed.  Columbus had a copy of an astronomic and astrological text, Ephemerides, (literally meaning "astronomy chart”) written over 30 years earlier by Regiomontanus (the Latin name used by Johannes Müller, a German astronomer and mathematician [1436-76]) which predicted a lunar eclipse at that time (February 29, 1504).  On February 28, Columbus warned the local natives that he would turn off the moon if they did not resume the food supply.  When they rejected the threat, the moon was blackened and the rest is history.

I can understand how frightening that must have been. 

In 1977,  I was working in sales on the East Coast.  I had been out on “the road” for over a month travelling from town to town selling herbal products to small health food stores.  Because I was on commission sales with a limited expense account, I mostly stayed in campgrounds and state parks – my sleeping bag and tepid showers were the norm. 

However, on July 14th the sales people were to gather in New York City for a sales conference.  I remember arriving in my car late on the hot evening of July 13.  Seeing the bright lights of Manhattan in the distance as I approached the Hudson River and entered the Lincoln Tunnel filled me with joy at anticipating having a hot shower and sleeping in a comfortable bed.  I emerged from the tunnel and the city was in darkness!  While I had been driving under the river, the city experienced a massive “brown-out” with no power for two days! 

Frankly, it was extremely spooky to be surrounded by all the tall buildings with no traffic signals, no street lights, no lit up building, and so forth as I cautiously drove to my hotel.  Only the headlights of my car and other vehicles were penetrating the gloomy atmosphere and crowds of astonished people stumbling around us in the dark.  (It might not have been so “spooky” for everyone; nine months later the hospital maternity wards experienced a “spike” in new births.)

But getting back to Columbus and the Astral Facts – how fortunate that Regiomontanus had done the scientific research in the natural world, but even more important was that it had been written in a text that Columbus could have handy!  

Many other Humanities Scientists have used eclipses in their writings – most similar to the experience of Columbus was Mark Twain’s “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court” (1889) now perhaps more familiar to the general public as presented in the 1949 musical film starring Bing Crosby as the “Yankee,” although many other earlier versions had been done, including the stage version A Connecticut Yankee by Richard Rogers and Lorenz Hart performed on Broadway in 1927.  

Even Tintin is able to use a Columbus technique during a solar eclipse to escape death from the Incas in the story Prisoners of the Sun by Hergé.

Many other literary works have also featured an eclipse (solar and lunar) as key factors, including:

The Odyssey (Homer) probably based on the actual eclipse of 1178 BC.
King Lear (Shakespeare)
“The Sun Rising” (John Donne) – perhaps population growth nine months later as well?
The Return of the Native (Thomas Hardy)
Dolores Claiborne (Steven King)
Eclipse (John Banville)

While the so-called “civilized” people of New York understood what was happening when the power went out in 1977, my experience a few years earlier was quite different:

When I was in the Peace Corps in Afghanistan, I did experience a lunar eclipse – unexpectedly – on “Thanksgiving Weekend” 1974.  My roommate Ed and I were the only two westerners in the village of Jalalabad (near the border with Pakistan). Since this was a Muslim culture, this Friday, November 29th, was the Sabbath day with no school and we were celebrating our own Friday after Thanksgiving along with some other volunteers visiting us at the time.

We were in a warmer climate with school summer vacations, while the northern areas had school vacations during the extremely cold winter. Thus, our area 90 miles from Kabul, the capital city, was like the “Palm Springs” of the eastern half of Afghanistan, and those other volunteers teaching up north often traveled down where we were (they brought our mail from the Peace Corps office in Kabul, which made them quite welcome).  Jalalabad had a population of about 3-4 thousand in summer, with temperatures regularly over 100 degrees. From November to March the temperatures were in the 40-80 degree range, and the population swelled to an estimated 36,000.

That evening we had just finished dinner and were enjoying tea and conversation when we heard some unusual noises outside. When we went out, the full moon had a strange orange arc along the edge, and we realized a lunar eclipse was occurring. We moved to the roof of the slightly taller of the two buildings in our compound, dragging a table and chairs up to enjoy the event.

The warm evening air was filled with an eerie combination of the voices of groaning men, wailing women, and agonized children. In addition, the local mullah was using the loud speaker that normally called everyone to prayer, and his voice vibrated along at a lower octave. We asked Ghrafar, our live-in “servant” who took care of the cooking, cleaning, shopping, and such, what was happening. He said the people were saying that God was punishing them by eating the moon and they were all promising to repent and be good from now on if God would stop.

Ed ( originally from New Jersey but more recently a faculty member at Seattle Central College) then held up a grapefruit and an orange to explain and demonstrate how the moon was merely moving into the shadow caused by the larger Earth, using the ceiling light to represent the sun. As we explained all this, Ghrafar was nodding his head in understanding and agreement. So Ed asked Ghrafar what he believed was happening. Ghrafar pointed to the fruit and agreed that he accepted the scientific explanation. Then Ed asked him, “What makes the Sun, Moon, and Earth do all this?” Ghrafar didn’t have a clear explanation, so Ed supplied it:  “God makes it happen!” which thoroughly pleased Ghrafar.

So we went up on the roof to watch the progress of the color change on the moon while Ghrafar prepared more tea for us all. After a while, I realized Ghrafar was not watching the progress with us. I went downstairs and I saw Ghrafar in his room – frantically kneeling and bowing on his prayer rug.

Fortunately, all the effort was very effective, and the entire city reverberated with cheers once the original moon began to reappear again over the repented community. 

In addition, I can say that I experienced “Black Friday” long before Madison Avenue began to use the term to get us and our credit cards to the Malls in the wee hours of the morning!

Walter Lowe
Astral Facts is a somewhat regular presentation of Humanities Science, produced in the bowels of the Humanities Science offices during the academic year.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Early Spring 2017: Where in Panem Are You?

Astral Facts, Early Spring 2017

Astral: (Theosophy) Consisting of, belonging to, or designating, a kind of supersensible substance alleged to be next above the tangible world in refinement; as, astral spirits; astral bodies of persons; astral current.

Hunger Games:  Where in Panem Are You?”

In the fourth Harry Potter book (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire) Professor Alastor “Mad Eye” Moody repeatedly gives Harry some essential advice in life (although it isn’t really “Mad Eye” who says it).  Anyone reading the book might not note the emphasis, and anyone only watching the film would certainly not note it, since the advice is not mentioned in the film.  (Ironically, this provides all the more reason to pay attention to its presence in other versions!!)  In the audio books version, narrated by Jim Dale, that advice is strongly emphasized, like in all caps:  “CONSTANT VIGILANCE!” and Dale’s reading adds an emphasis strong enough to cause people listening in their cars during a commute to snap to immediate attention to traffic around them.

While such “literary” works may not qualify as “literature” in the academic sense, they do remind us of the allegorical nature of our own lives.  A case in point would be the article from the Seattle Times, March 29th of this year, reporting on the research done by Professor Kate Starbird at the University of Washington on the “alternative media ecosystem” expanding throughout the apparent mainstream social media stream in a sort of “information war for your mind” which Starbird says, “we’re losing.”  As reporter Danny Westneat puts it, “The information networks we’ve built are almost perfectly designed to exploit psychological vulnerabilities to rumor” according to Starbird’s research.

This follows the book iWar: War and Peace in the Information Age another best-seller by award-winning journalist Bill Gertz published last January.  In it Gertz uses very readable language in detailing how issues and concerns about simple circumstances of individual personal identity theft is just a small tip of many icebergs drifting in the current media streams, rivers, and tsunamis of OSR (Open Source Resources).  “Don’t go near the [allegorical] water” still seems to be good advice.  .

X Marks Your Spot

I suspect many people must have similar experiences as I do when I go to the mall and drive around for twenty minutes in order to find a parking spot that is five or six spaces closer than the first one I found.  Then when I actually enter the mall itself, I am totally disoriented, which must be why every entrance has a map with a red “You are here” X to help me find that same store I have been to multiple times previously (from various directions).

Literature and the rest of the Humanities offer their audiences another type of “X: are you here?” stimulation.  Regardless of “literary” merit, such texts do also draw upon Mad Eye Moody’s “Constant Vigilance” caveat with the Hunger Games trilogy as somehow cropping up to ask us if we control our environment or vice versa.  While my “millennial-aged” son dismisses the texts as silly propaganda that social ills can only be solved by inexperienced idealistic teens rather than by experienced and ethical adult authority figures (gotta love that boy!), the text does make many of us wonder where we might be situated if in Panem, as posited in a recent article in the Business Section of the Seattle Times and an earlier item in the Business Insider:

Hunger Games:  Which District Are You?

Where do You Find Yourself?

In the past, one would say “imitation is the greatest form of flattery,” but in this post-modern age, perhaps the new adage is “spoofs are proofs” as noted with the examples of four spin-off “mocking-jay” versions giving homage, as reported in the Washington Post several years ago: 

The Hipster Games:  Blowing Smoke
"May your Trends always be in Fashion"

Sesame Street: The Hungry Games (Catching Fur) 
"May the cookies always be in your flavor"

To sum up: 
Maintain “Constant Vigilance”: keep your eye on the ball, your shoulder to the wheel, your nose to the grindstone, and your ear to the ground – just don’t expect to get anything done in that position!  

But at least the odds will always be even in your favor!

Walter Lowe
Astral Facts is a somewhat regular presentation of Humanities Science, produced in the bowels of the Humanities Science offices during the academic year.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

February 2017: Do You Copy? -- Just Jokin'

Astral Facts, February 2017

Astral: (Theosophy) Consisting of, belonging to, or designating, a kind of supersensible substance alleged to be next above the tangible world in refinement; as, astral spirits; astral bodies of persons; astral current.

Do You Copy? --- Just Jokin’

I suspect most of us have heard that “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery,” but so far none of my students have used that concept yet as a justification for plagiarism.  Nonetheless, it seems perfectly acceptable to take past concepts and ideas espoused by others and tweak them a bit to adjust context and relevance and “Viola!” (as they say in the French orchestra), we have a new and somewhat “original” creation/text/work. 

Shakespeare was quite adept at doing this, as scholars have unearthed evidence of many sources for his works (  However, he padded  the concepts and templates with his own plot twists and turns, catchy phrases, and contemporary references to make it all his own intellectual property that resonated with the audiences of his time and since has ridden the rollercoaster of the collective unconscious of professors and students ever since (many of the latter having been put into an unconscious state in university classrooms).

 Kurt Vonnegut has also revealed an even more basic formula for “successful” plot structures that he has filled in with his own “startling eccentricities” as the narrator says in introducing this short clip (where he reveals how to grab a quick million dollars):

Further scientific research has revealed that humor and jokes also occur in some variation of eight different patterns leading to an infinite  combination merged with social, political, and such contexts, which come from what the researcher Alastair Clarke refers to when he says:

Basically humour is all about information processing, accelerating faculties that enable us to analyse and then manipulate incoming data…..In instances of humour these patterns may be recognized individually or in any possible combination of the eight. Most instances are founded on one or two, although theoretically there is no limit to the number of patterns a person has recognized when they find something funny.

Thus, the joke about the Irish, English, and Scottish fellows meeting in a bar can be revised as the Priest, Mullah, and Rabbi meeting at Starbucks or the Redhead, Brunette, and Blonde meeting at a NASA conference. 

These days, in our Postmodern Age, the patterns have taken on the tone of satire and ridicule as the application tends toward the “deconstruction” of the context, which stimulates the intellectual aspect through clever manipulation of the context.  This puts the emphasis on technical expertise perhaps even more than upon content quality or value.  As Clarke puts it, “However, while all the patterns are relatively simple in structure the activity of some forms of translation and recontextualization can seem counter-intuitive at first sight” [Ibid].

The roots of this can be seen back in the 1950s when artists created music “spoofs” by inserting lines and phrases from popular music or TV commercials into story lines of quite different contexts.  Although much of that relevance may be lost today, people like Stan Freberg back in the 1950s were precursors to (and probably cursed) artists as seen more recently in the creations of later artists such as Weird Al Yankovic:

This spills into the academic arena as well:

(If you don’t get this last one, sign up for English 105:  Grammar and Usage next time I teach it).

Next Month: 
“Hunger Games:  Where in Panem are You?”

Walter Lowe
Astral Facts is a somewhat regular presentation of Humanities Science, produced in the bowels of the Humanities Science offices during the academic year.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Who Watches the Apple Watch While the Apple Watch Watches You?

Who Watches the Apple Watch While the Apple Watch Watches You?
Astral Facts, January 2017

Astral: (Theosophy) Consisting of, belonging to, or designating, a kind of supersensible substance alleged to be next above the tangible world in refinement; as, astral spirits; astral bodies of persons; astral current.

Who Watches the Apple Watch While the Apple Watch is Watching You?

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” is how Charles Dickens began his story in 1859.  (Snoopy’s unfinished novel begins the same as well.)  How interesting that we can continue to relate to such content from literary works, of varying degrees of stature, as life unfolds and plays out around us. 

Perhaps more interesting is the application of such content done unknowingly in a chain of dropped reference citations.  For example, during a recent informal conversation among faculty here on campus, the discussion turned to the current trends in technology with wrist devices now counting steps, measuring heart rate, and doing everything except providing answers to questions on the SATs.  Someone mentioned that in China, people are now wearing “movement tracker” body devices that observe and record aspects of body language, noting the frequency of positive and negative body language.  Through this, the accumulation of points by using “positive” body language can be a factor in a person’s social and professional status, resulting in job promotions for those responsible for creating “positive vibes” around them. 

The immediate response around the table evoked the phrase “Big Brother is Watching.”  Of course, at our table the origins of the concept coming from George Orwell’s 1984 was understood, and the discussion then continued revolving around aspects of the “lag time” of advances of technology outpacing issues of ethics – and where/how do people, especially young people today – learn or acquire their body of ethics.  People use live video to post up reprehensible behavior. We remarked on how the emphasis on STEM content has left less time for reviewing content from literature, philosophy, the arts, etc.on life's lessons - in the best of times, in the worst of times.

At home I asked my children where does the expression “Big Brother is Watching” come from and only one attributed it to Orwell, although he admitted he had not read the book (or even seen the movie).  Another child thought it might have come from a scene in the film Fahrenheit 451, which is not so far from the truth.  That child was vaguely aware that the story was also in book form - probably as a result of the film. 

Note:  I'm glad I read Fahrenheit 451 before I saw the movie, but when I reflect upon it, the scenes from the movie are mostly what appear in my mind as my thoughts align with the filmmaker’s views.)

In a 2006 TED Talk, “Do schools kill creativity?”, Sir Ken Robinson comments that the emphasis on “productivity” and doing things “right” has diminished the reliance on the natural creativity inherent in children.  The fear of being “wrong” supplants the curiosity and ingenuity that seeks out different approaches and innovative thinking.  Robinson tells the story of the Nativity Play put on by the four-year-old performers when his son was in preschool.  The boys in the role of the three kings mixed up the order of the presentation of gifts (gold, frankincense, and myrrh) as they walked on the stage, set down their gifts and said, in turn,

“I bring you gold”
“I bring you myrrh”
“Frank sent this.”

This was charming as it came from a four-year-old.  However, children a bit older would have embarrassed their families by such “mistakes.”  Later in his talk, Robinson related the story of Gillian Lynne, a dancer and choreographer who did Cats and Phantom of the Opera.  As an eight-year-old child, she was not a good student – fidgety and unable to concentrate - and consequently diagnosed as having serious learning disabilities.  When her mother took her to a specialist and used most of the session to explain all the symptoms, the doctor told the child he needed to speak privately with the mother and they left her alone in the office.  As he left, the doctor turned on the radio on his desk.  Upon leaving the room, the doctor stopped the mother and said “Let’s watch.”  Not realizing she was being observed, the child immediately stood up and began moving with the music.  After a few minutes, the doctor turned to the mother and told her, “Gillian isn’t sick; she’s a dancer.  Take her to a dance school.”  Robinson noted that this occurred back in the 1930s, before ADHD had been invented.  He speculated that today, the child would have been diagnosed with ADHD and medicated to keep her calm.  Of course, she would have been watched carefully as well.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.  Or as the full quote states as Dickens looked back in 1859 to the days of 1789,

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

Recently I saw a little activity on a friend’s Facebook page:  “Grab the nearest book, turn to page 117, and post up the second sentence on the page.  This will be your life in 2017.”  I happened to have my literature class anthology at hand, and page 117 put me in the middle of Kafka’s “Metamorphosis”: explaining the habit of the father finishing dinner after a long hard day and then falling asleep in his armchair and later needing to go to bed for a good night’s sleep before getting up early for work the next day. 

The mother plucked at his sleeve, whispering sweet words into his ear; the sister would leave her homework to help her mother, but none of this had any effect on the father.


I shared this on my Facebook page, and with very few exceptions (such as the person grabbing the 2017 Ford Explorer Owner’s Manual), the responses were “literary” in nature – writings by Mark Twain, Dalai Lama, Jane Austen, W. Somerset Maugham, Joseph Conrad, John Grisham, Georges Simenon, etc., which might merely reflect the preferences of my Facebook community homies. 

We could ask: 
How might the results differ on the Facebook page of the younger generations (like my former student, who posted “My Kindle doesn’t have pages!”)?

In fact, the original posting was done by the "younger" generation members of the Indie Band “Tegan and Sara.”  The hundreds of postings by their followers on their Facebook page also reveal a wide range of “literary” quotes as well.

Better yet to ask – 
Which nearby book would you choose as a prediction source to look on page 117?  How do you imagine it applies? 

As you reach for that book, remember – your FitBit is watching!

Walter Lowe
Astral Facts is a somewhat regular presentation of Humanities Science, produced in the bowels of the Humanities Science offices during the academic year.

Monday, March 14, 2016

March Madness: Incurable Disease?

March Madness: Incurable Disease?
Astral Facts, March 2016

Astral: (Theosophy) Consisting of, belonging to, or designating, a kind of supersensible substance alleged to be next above the tangible world in refinement; as, astral spirits; astral bodies of persons; astral current.

March Madness: Incurable Disease?

Humanities Scientists have interests that extend beyond the classical forms of literature, art, and philosophy, for drama, film, and sports as entertainment also fall within our purveyance.  While the Natural Scientist may ponder how the final minute in a basketball or football game can actually last as long as ten minutes or more, the Humanities Scientist only revels in the splendor of life not controlled by the clock or other technology-imposed concepts that squeeze the essence out of the vintage of life with a mechanical whine!

No clearer evidence of this can be found than the national frenzy occurring every year around this time with the “March Madness” associated with college basketball.  It has been estimated that nationally over four million hours of productivity are usually lost during the time of the national basketball tournaments as workers are distracted by the events on the hardwoods. 

In the past, workers had the radio on, with regular distractions stimulated by the emotions in the announcers’ voices in the background.  Local and national television only exacerbated these distractions, adding eyes to the ears and bringing the distractions to the foreground.  The Internet spiked this even further, as people began to watch the scenes in their cubicle workstations.

 Supervisors and managers then began to patrol the hallways and cubicle aisles to crack the whip and get the workers back on track.  (Several of websites, such as,, and even offered a “boss button” in the corner of the screen.  A quick click at the approach of a supervisor, and the screen changed to a complex multi-colored spread sheet.)

However, more recent research has shown that those lost man-hours (not so many “woman-hours” have been lost in the past, but that is changing with further emphasis on the Women’s Tournament) are actually more than doubled in later productivity as a result of the “bonding” and camaraderie created as workers share “the ecstasy of victory and the agony of defeat” as their teams soar and/or crash and burn.  Here are the poll results from last year:

This is intensified as the “office pools” stimulate interest in even the obscure match-ups not involving the individuals’ own alma mater or hated cross-town or intra state rival, for each game means points added or lost toward bragging rights in the ‘hood.

However, more than just bragging rights are involved.  This year it has been estimated that nationally approximately $9 billion will be involved from the twenty-five cent office pool antes up to the open match book bets in places like Las Vegas and discreet off-shore financial cachets.

Because our mission in the two-year colleges is to prepare students to transfer to appropriate four-year colleges and universities or directly to the workplace, for the past 15 years in conjunction with the Popular Culture class I have taught, I have offered my students an opportunity to determine if they are “Smarter Than A Teacher” by taking the March Madness Tournament Challenge.  In addition to teachers and students, the “pool” also is open to anyone else in the greater community in order to “randomize” the population sample involved.  (Minimum age is 13, so the supposition is you have to be smarter than a 5th grader!  However, you can still get advice from a 5th grader!)

(You will notice that President Obama reveals his bracket picks each year as well as indicated by the link from last year.  Here is the link from last year, when he predicted the victory by the University of Kentucky (Duke beat Kentucky in the final):

Are You Smarter Than A Teacher?

Now is a chance to prove it!    Non-credit activity: English, 101, 105, 126, 128, 185, and 246.

March Madness “Sanity” Test

Go online to the ESPN Fantasy game link and select the home link:
Click on the “Create a Bracket Now” link and follow the directions to register to participate.

Once you create your entry, you can join the group. Our group is Green River(Teachers are asked to put a “T” in their entry.)  

Sunday, March 13 was the day for the choosing of the 64 teams for the college basketball tournament.  Between then and the morning of Thursday, March 17th (when the first game in the tournament starts) you can fill out your predictions regarding the winners of each round of the tournament.

(Note: You must fill out all the information including the final winner before the first game starts at 9:00 PDT on the morning of the 17th.)

You may compose as many as ten different versions of how you predict the tournament will end.  After you register the first entry, click on the “my brackets” link again to set up an additional entry.

You will be competing against a group of teachers, members of the community, and your classmates to see how many are smarter than the teachers!!

Our group has no cash incentive per se, but we are part of the 600,000 entries submitted nationwide.  Seven years ago a sophomore high school student from Alabama had the best result in the nation, winning $10,000.  This year the top prize (in the nation) is $10,000 from Amazon and a trip to Hawaii.  In our group, top prize is bragging rights in the ‘hood.  à Almost the same!

Note: Since 2001, students have finished first eight times (including one female student, so this isn’t only a male domain), teachers have won four times and members of the community (including my wife one year!) have also won three times. 

Walter Lowe
Astral Facts is a somewhat regular presentation of Humanities Science, produced in the bowels of the Humanities Science offices during the academic year.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

The "Busman's Holiday" in the Parked Bus: Winter Break 2015-16

The “Busman’s Holiday” in the Parked Bus
Astral Facts, Winter Break 2015-6

Astral: (Theosophy) Consisting of, belonging to, or designating, a kind of supersensible substance alleged to be next above the tangible world in refinement; as, astral spirits; astral bodies of persons; astral current.

Busperson in the Parked Bus

Each November, while the students sequester themselves for autumn midterms, I usually realize that I haven’t used my two “personal days” allowed under the contract and those days will expire on the calendar year end, carried over from the previous contract year.  In the metaphorical “busman’s holiday,” I pack up the pile of student papers and my wife and I leave town, booking space in a nearby WorldMark facility for an extended November 11th holiday break.  In between whittling down the piles of student papers and taking walks together for physical escape, one or both of us peruse the resort’s DVD selections of past films that have passed us by while ploughing through previous fields of student papers.

For those of us not so hardy and not willing to face the madding crowds of the current winter break film lines, here are some suggestions for escape options we found for home viewing, where the popcorn is fresher and more natural (organic popcorn at Trader Joe’s is the best deal in town).  Along with real butter and Himalayan sea salt, you can supply your own favorite beverage, hot or cold, caffeinated or not.

With the discussions of multicultural issues at the forefront locally, nationally, and world-wide, we recommend The Railway Man (2013) starring Colin Firth, Nicole Kidder, and Hiroyuki Sanada.  Combining scenes from the "present" with flashbacks to the wartime events, the film considers concerns such as how a survivor of a wartime POW camp might deal (or not) with issues that continue to persist many year later.  More importantly perhaps are options that others -veterans included - might have in support and how extreme these might be.  The film offers some insight.

Another film that addresses issues of immigrants bringing their cultural traditions and differences to established neighborhoods and communities is the topical issue in the film The Hundred-Foot Journey (2014) with Helen Mirren, Om Puri, Manish Dayal, and Charlotte Le Bon.  While the surface conflicts might be culinary in nature, and, as many of us acknowledge during these holiday seasons, food is a bonding substance that defines and unites cultures, the film offers commentary on that theme that goes deeper than how much is on the plate itself.

Finally, for a more “long-term” escape journey in the parked bus, we recommend a BBC mini-series To Serve Them All My Days (1980) (included in the 1982 PBS Masterpiece Theater series), which involves 13 episodes covering the time between WWI and WWII.  The setting is at Bamfylde School, a fictitious private (referred to in Britain as “public”) boys boarding school in England, with the main character a young soldier recovering from “battle fatigue” (now recognized as PTSD).  This main character (played by John Duttine) secures a position as a history teacher in the school, which is a “world” distant from his Welsh upbringing in a working class coal miner family.  The episodes cover his challenges dealing with social, political, philosophical, psychological, religious, gender, etc. issues and stereotypes stemming from class and ethnic differences coming from students, fellow faculty, community members, family, and even administrative changes at the school.  Although the original book was written in 1972, and the series itself was one 35 years ago, the issues still persist.

We have found all these also available at our local (King County) branch libraries, and all thirteen episodes of the BBC series seem to be available on YouTube.  Regardless of the medium, we wish everyone a “grande” time during our “short” break.

Walter Lowe
Astral Facts is a somewhat regular presentation of Humanities Science, produced in the bowels of the Humanities Science offices during the academic year.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Summer Reading; Some Are Writing

Summer Reading; Some Are Writing
Astral Facts, May-June 2015

Astral: (Theosophy) Consisting of, belonging to, or designating, a kind of supersensible substance alleged to be next above the tangible world in refinement; as, astral spirits; astral bodies of persons; astral current.

Fanfic As You Like It!

Now that school is out for the summer just about everywhere (except for those of us teaching summer school and/or supporting those doing the instruction), it only seems appropriate to turn to the traditional summer reading lists.  While some of us can turn to the shelf with all the new materials on the bucket list, quite a few of us might choose to go back to re-experience the old favorites.

Somewhere in between we can find those doing both by combining old and new.  Like most of us, they wish the stories could have turned out differently or perhaps they recognize characters have acted in unreasonable ways just to please the author.  Even sometimes, the book has ended without finishing the story.

 While most readers might just accept that as the way life is, others haven’t been so complacent.  Rather than taking the lemons of life and making lemonade, they trade those lemons for prunes, make prune juice, and let things flow!  They are the ones who have created and participated in “FanFic” – the action of continuation or alteration of the text by its fans.

For example, why not revise all the “Harry Potter” stories into a feminist version of something like a “Harriet Potter and ….” series?  The child of the muggle dentists could then be Herman Granger, who has the book smarts but not the dauntless courage of the female protagonist. Could you image a good girl/bad boy relationship between Harriet and Draco Malfoy with Harriet’s nurturing feminine character in conflict with her role as “the girl who lived”?  More than just a love triangle, let’s put Herman Granger and Ron Weasley into the mix to create a “love rhombus” with Harriet as the hypotenuse! 

Dip your quill in the inkwell and take it from there …..

For inspiration, read what others have done: Google “fanfic” and your favorite book or author.  Try it with “Shakespeare” and over 2100 stories show up on 77 pages, including those little-known versions of scenes such as “Fresh Off the Gondola” and “The Twisted Balcony Scene.” These go much beyond the more passive cinematic version of Leonardo DiCaprio and street gangs in LA with its agonizing “balcony” scene in the swimming pool.   

We could also try to rewrite the texts in the style of another author. For those expecting academic content,  here is a link to the final scenes of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows as if Ayn Rand had written it:

For those of us who prefer a lighter summer vacation fare, how about just rewriting Liam Neeson’s short phone statement from the film Taken (which we now know is Taken 1)?  Here’s how Ralph Jones would imagine it done by Dr. Seuss, Shakespeare, and Hemingway:

The original“I don’t know who you are. I don’t know what you want. If you’re looking for ransom, I can tell you I don’t have money; but what I do have are a very particular set of skills; skills I have acquired over a very long career; skills that make me a nightmare for people like you. If you let my daughter go now that’ll be the end of it. I will not look for you. I will not pursue you. But if you don’t…I will look for you…I will find you…and I will kill you.”


“No I don’t know who you may be,
I don’t know what you want from me.
I have no money but I do
Have skills that would endanger you!
If you let my daughter go
I won’t chase you, no! no! no!
But if you keep her, oh dear me,
I will find you, you will see.
Not only will I catch you, I
Will make sure that I watch you die!”


“I know thy voice but know not who thou art.
Nor can I profess to know thy mind.
If ransom be thy motive, know that I
Hath money only for the clothes that cloak
My skin. In place of coins I hath acquired
Valuable knowledge of the sort that breaks
The backs of men like you. Return my girl.
If she and I are reunited, thou
Shalt have no cause to hear from me again.
But lo, if you should choose a different path
(O God! I can scarce imagine such a fate),
Scouring land and sea I will find you
And with my sword I will remove thy tongue.
A plague upon you! I will not rest until
Thy body rots six feet beneath the earth.”


“Will kill you if you do not return daughter.” 

These and four others are posted here:

So this summer as the sands of time trickle through the hourglass, spread them out on an exotic beach, with pen, Ipad, Kindle, or other device in hand (and a cool drink with a little umbrella also at hand) and create your own reality: some are reading and summer writing!

Walter Lowe
Astral Facts is a somewhat regular presentation of Humanities Science, produced in the bowels of the Humanities Science offices during the academic year.