Saturday, March 28, 2009

Parvum Opus 318 ~ The Invisible Circus


Number 318


The Invisible Circus

Where we live, movies on TV are rated 1-4 stars, and in between, like 2-1/2. After looking at these ratings for years, I realize that the ratings are not assigned by objective experts in cinematography, acting, scripting, and so on. Some of them are inexplicable, but some are very explicable. I will explicate. I watched a 2001 movie with Cameron Diaz called The Invisible Circus, rated only one star on TV. gives it about 5 out of 10, which is believe is an average of ratings by the web site readers. So it’s not a great movie, but it’s not bad. I’d never heard of it; it was produced in Spain and perhaps wasn’t released in the U.S. It’s a little slow, but has OK acting and good production values, and the San Francisco hippy scene seemed realistic to me (though it’s pretty impossible to simulate on film an LSD trip well with camera tricks, even with today’s computer graphics). It’s about a teenage girl whose hippy sister died in Europe in the 1970s, so the young girl goes to Europe to try to find out more about her sister’s death. It turns out that the hippy sister was enamored of underground terrorist revolutionary groups, and violence ensued. Guilt also ensued. The girl bombed an office building theoretically full of corporate devils, but in fact she just killed a young accountant who was a family man. I think the TV reviewer who gave it only one star may have disliked the anti-terrorism message, the disillusionment with the extreme left, and the few references to God in the movie. I’d wager that if those elements were removed (e.g., change the remorse to “We didn’t do enough” a la Bill Ayers, and erase all religious notes), the same reviewer would have given it at least 2-1/2 stars. There’s no other way to account for a one-star rating here for this fairly average movie.

Homeward Repair

Last week I wrote about the almost archaic use of repair to mean go. At first I couldn’t see the connection between that meaning and the more common meaning of mend or fix. But it occurred to me (right after I hit the Send button) that it makes sense that going back home can repair you, too.

New Pubs

I’ve just published three pieces of fiction on as digital books, which can be downloaded to a computer or a Kindle reader. You can search for Rhonda Keith, or for these titles, to read the plot summaries: The Wish Book; Carl Kriegbaum Sleeps With the Corn; and Still Ridge. The Wish Book, a novella, is a fantasy-suspense-romance involving the old Sears Roebuck catalogues. Carl Kriegbaum is a short story about a young gambler who finds himself upright in a cornfield in Kansas with his feet encased in a tub of concrete; how would you get out of a spot like that? Still Ridge is a short story about a young woman who moves from Boston to Appalachia and finds there are two kinds of moonshine, the good kind and the kind that can kill you.


Mike Sykes wrote about the Periodic Table of Typefaces:

I found it not too difficult to print the image of the Periodic Table of Typefaces to a pdf file to a disk file, using CutePDF, which fits to the (landscape) page size (and is free). I like it, but don't understand the arrangement - maybe I haven't though hard enough. Or maybe it's arbitrary?

If you read the fine print at the bottom of the page, it says that the fonts are sorted by popularity, some sort of polls. But there’s a preponderance of heavy old-style German fonts — 9 out of 100 seems excessive; I could find a lot of fonts I’d rank above those. And I don’t understand the numerical arrangement of the ranks. But it’s still the wallpaper on our computer.

Why Teachers Chew Nails, and I Don’t Mean Their Fingernails

Here’s an excerpt from The Vocabula Review:

by Carey Harrison

… I'm sitting in my English Department office, staring at an undergraduate composition class paper — a summary of the short story the class has been reading — and I read: She seek Connie Dad, he was the man who kill her boyfriend. This is not a freshman paper; not a paper by a recent immigrant but one American born and educated, if that’s the word I want; the student in question is about to graduate in a few months' time as a political science major. I can feel my head throbbing with rage. But who is there to kill, or even to berate? Not the student, who tells me in dignified but tearful outrage, when I point out her errors (all of the same sort as the sentence quoted), that none of her other professors have complained about her written English.

[Oops, should be “has complained”.] Not only can this student not write tolerable English, I’m certain she cannot read with much comprehension — she certainly hasn’t paid close attention to her reading — and she certainly hasn’t spent much of her free time chatting with literate people. What understanding can she have of her field of political science, which is about ideas, thus about words; and what can she contribute? But this college graduate will no doubt have her self-esteem, once she dries her tears.

Further notes on my ESL teaching fiasco last fall: The Moroccan Berber student I mentioned before whose Facebook self-photos were first of a black African child with a big gun, and then of an adolescent black African boy with a big gun, now features a young black African man with a big gun. Is this a not so subtle message?

Another anecdote: One day the Saudi princess (she was a real Saudi anyway) argued with me about an assignment to write a brief thank-you to a professional woman who had volunteered her valuable time to talk to the group about her specialty. I wanted everyone to say thanks as an English writing exercise. I have no idea why this girl was arguing about it (“Why do we have to do this?”), but I actually tried to explain why one should say thanks, and be thankful, explained the philosophical concept of gratitude, and quoted William Blake, just to try to turn this into an intellectual exercise; but for her it was an exercise of will. Finally she said, “Why are you so rude?” I had descended into sarcasm at last, but not actual rudeness. So I had no choice but to say she was being rude. I think she was one of the students who thought I was “insensitive”. Another time, when we were talking about unusual foods and culture, she also said she’d eaten horse. I said, “Oh really?” She said, “Yes, horse, camel, dog, ass…” I asked her to tell us more about that and she smirked and said it was just a joke. But, though she was Saudi, she’d lived here a while and attended high school here, so her English wasn’t bad. Disingenuous is too polite a word for her.

I continued to be polite to her and all the students, but I found increasingly hard to be cheerful, because the (tenured) program director supported the complaining students (re my insensitivity) and not me. So I gave up the job and the paycheck. The point is that when I started teaching many years ago, my university department was more supportive of the teachers. This began to change not long after I left, and now it seems that many schools are pimping education. Anything to keep the students in the seats. See Carey Harrison above.


Trivium pursuit ~ rhetoric, grammar, and logic, or reading, writing, and reckoning: Parvum Opus discusses language, education, journalism, culture, and more. Parvum Opus by Rhonda Keith is a publication of KeithOps / Opus Publishing Services. Editorial input provided by Fred Stephens. Rhonda Keith is a long-time writer, editor, and English teacher. Back issues from December 2002 may be found at Feel free to e-mail me with comments or queries. The PO mailing list is private, never given or sold to anyone else. If you don't want to receive Parvum Opus, please e-mail, and I'll take you off the mailing list. Copyright Rhonda Keith 2009. Parvum Opus or part of it may be reproduced only with permission, but you may forward the entire newsletter as long as the copyright remains.

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