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The purpose of the honeybee

Bees give us honey. It’s a wonderful food, and many people make a living by harvesting and selling honey. Bees also pollinate many of our crops. Some estimate that up to 30 percent of what we eat is on our tables because of honeybees. Important as these activities are to humans, neither is central to […]

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Fanny Burney: paving the way for Jane Austen and the Brontes

Before there was Jane Austen, before there was George Eliot, before there were Charlotte and Emily Bronte — before even women were supposed to be able to write in this new developing form called a novel — there was Fanny Burney (1752-1840). Burney, daughter of Dr. Charles Burney, a well-known scholar and music teacher of the second half […]

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Bill Mauldin, the voice of the grunt

Those who served in the United States military as enlisted men and women — particularly from World War II through Vietnam — have a particular affinity for Bill Mauldin. Mauldin was an artist whose cartoons depicted, with brilliant perception, brutal honesty, and insightful humor, the life of the everyday “grunt,” the guy who dug the ditches, […]

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Webster, Chesterton, a World War II hero, and a clock that hasn’t quit for 600 years: newsletter, Oct. 26, 2018

 This newsletter was emailed to everyone on Jim’s email list (3,045) on October 19, 2018 This week you will meet a couple of “colossal geniuses,” one from the 19th century and the other from the 20th. You probably know of these guys: Noah Webster and G.K. Chesterton. I’ll admit I had heard of both, but I never knew much about either. […]

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The detective story, according to G.K. Chesterton

G.K. Chesterton, the great British author of the early 20th century, liked detective stories, read them, and wrote them. He had the formula down pat. It went like this: The bones and structure of a good detective story are so old and well known that it may seem banal to state them even in outline. […]

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The difficult Noah Webster and his difficult times

Noah Webster was a difficult man living in a difficult time. In 1806, when he published the first edition of his dictionary, it was judged not for its content but by for the political positions of the author. Webster was a Federalist, but he had with Republican attitudes about the language Americans spoke.  Because of his apostasy, […]

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Toss your sundials – mechanical clocks are here to stay

You probably have a sundial or two still laying around the house. Well, it’s probably time to let the garbage guys (and gals) carry it away. Mechanical clocks are here, and they’re not going away. That could have been the message to the people of Salisbury, England, in 1386 when the mechanical clock was installed in […]

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G.K. Chesterton: Everything about him was big, including his ‘colossal genius’

In so many ways, Gilbert Keith (G.K.) Chesterton (1874-1936) was an enormous man. — Physically, he was massive: 6 feet 4 inches tall, he weighed more than 250 pounds. He had a shock of hair that on many days looked like it had exploded out of the right side of his head. — His writing production almost […]

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Luck, chance, courage and daring – another heroic tale from World War II 

Joachim Ronneberg, like so many other courageous individuals during World War II, tried to do what he could to fight off the Nazi invasion and oppression of his nation. He didn’t mean to become a hero. But that’s what happened. In 1943, Ronneberg and eight fellow resistance fighters skied across the Telemark pine forest, mostly […]

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The bees in October, Ray Bradbury, Walter Isaacson, and the Eugenics Crusade: newsletter, October 19, 2018

 This newsletter was emailed to everyone on Jim’s email list (3,060) on October 19, 2018 The bees, I am happy to report, are in good shape, So far. We opened our four hives last weekend and found that the bees in each were multitudinous and had stored up honey for the winter. That’s exactly what […]

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Good advice for the General: Write like you talk

As a writing teacher of several decades, I never cared for the advice “write like you talk.” Most people don’t talk all that well. Besides, writing is a different process from talking. Talking is easy. Writing is hard. But “write like you talk” was the advice that Ulysses S. Grant got from Robert S. Johnson, […]

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The teenage revolutionary, Cold War spies, Potterheads, and the writing of a sentence: newsletter, October 12, 2018

 This newsletter was emailed to everyone on Jim’s email list (3,079) on October 12, 2018 The workshop on self-publishing that I conducted for the Blount County Public Library was well attended and lots of fun for me. The participants had much information and many ideas, and they were not shy about sharing it. Self-publishing (I […]

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William Davies: How feelings took over the world

Those of us concerned about the increasing irrationality of civic life and public debate –the denial of expertise, the “fake news” canards, the rush to believe rather than to examine, etc. — should pay some attention to why we have come to this state. William Davies, a sociologist whose next book is –, has a […]

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Wendell Berry: begin with natural resources and local cultures

If you aren’t familiar with Wendell Berry, poet, essayist, and most of all farmer, this article by Gracy Olmstead in the New York Times is a good introduction, and you should take your time and read it. Berry is an ecologist who has long been critical of the way in which we farm. Mr. Berry […]

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Benedict Arnold, explained but not excused

Nathaniel Philbrick‘s Valient Ambition: George Washington, Benedict Arnold, and the Fate of the American Revolution. explains–but does not excuse–Benedict Arnold. And the explanation is an important part of the history of the American Revolution. And, therefore, it is important for Americans to hear and understand. Philbrick is a top-flight historian whose narrative prose makes any topic he tackles readable […]

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Scientists discover what they believe is the oldest known drawing by human hands Discovered in South African Cave

Seven red marks resided in a cave in South Africa for about 73,000 years until a few years ago when rocks from the cave were extracted for examination. Now scientists believe they are the oldest drawings yet discovered that were made by humans. They are about the side of two thumbnails, and what they mean, […]

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George Orwell, Joe Moran, and the complexity of the problem of writing a good sentence 

Joe Moran, an English prof in Liverpool, whose book First You Write a Sentence: The Elements of Reading, Writing … and Life has been well received and reviewed, has written a marvelous essay on the sentence for The Guardian. He begins it using the words and thoughts of George Orwell, who thought deeply about the use of […]

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Ben Macintrye: another spy tale by the master of the genre

 Ben Macintyre has done it again. His genre is 20th-century spycraft and espionage, and he had told some thrilling tales. (Operation Mincemeat, A Spy Among Friends, Agent Zigzag, Double Cross; see his Amazon author page) Now he’s got another one — the story of Oleg Gordievsky’s betrayal of his KGB masters and the Soviet Union […]

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The American Revolution from the common soldier’s point of view: Joseph Plumb Martin

Joseph Plumb Martin, an otherwise quiet New England farmer in the first half of the 19th century, did three remarkable things in his life: — He lived to be 90 years old, dying in 1850. — He wrote and published his memoirs, to little acclaim, when he was 70 years old in 1830. — He […]

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Benedict Arnold explained; Joseph Plumb Martin, pictured; and more about William Tecumseh Sherman: newsletter, October 5, 2018

 This newsletter was emailed to everyone on Jim’s email list (3,091) on October 5, 2018 As I look through this week’s newsletter — as well as those of the last few weeks — I find that the items I have included seem to be getting a bit longer. That is the case this week, I’m […]

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