David Weinberger is in a German hotel with a paternoster elevator! I know what they look like, but I don't think I've ever ridden in one.
But I was reminded of one of my favorite short stories, "Murke's Collected Silences" by Heinrich Boell. It begins like this:
Every morning, after entering Broadcasting House, Murke performed an existential exercise. Here in this building the elevator was the kind known as a paternoster - open cages carried on a conveyor belt, like beads on a rosary, moving slowly and continuously from bottom to top, across the top of the elevator shaft, down to the bottom again, so that passengers could step on and off at every floor. Murke would jump onto the paternoster but, instead of getting off at the second floor, where his office was, he would let himself be carried on up, past the third, fourth, fifth floors; he was seized with panic every time the cage rose above the level of the fifth floor and ground its way into the empty space where oily chains, greasy rods, and groaning machinery pulled and pushed the elevator from an upward into a downward direction; Murke would stare in terror at the bare brick walls, and sigh with relief as the elevator passed through the lock, dropped into place, and began its slow descent, past the fifth, fourth, third floors. Murke knew his fears were unfounded: obviously nothing would ever happen, nothing could ever happen, and even if it did, it could be nothing worse than finding himself up there at the top when the elevator stopped moving and being shut in for an hour or two at the most. He was never without a book in his pocket, and cigarettes; yet as long as the building had been standing, for three years, the elevator had never once failed. On certain days it was inspected, days when Murke had to forgo those four and a half seconds of panic, and on these days we was irritable and restless, like people who had gone without breakfast. He needed this panic, the way other people need their coffee, their oatmeal, or their fruit juice.
Neil Young wants fuel-efficient cars, and as a politically active rock star, he wants everyone else to have them, too. But Mr. Young is not ready to give up his love of big cars, and he doesn’t think many other drivers are, either.
So Mr. Young, the iconoclastic godfather of grunge, has assembled a team to turn a nearly 20-foot-long, 5,000-pound 1959 Lincoln Continental into a vehicle that will run on natural gas, electricity or some other form of clean energy. His aim is to win the Progressive Insurance Automotive X Prize, a $10 million challenge to develop a vehicle that can get 100 miles per gallon or better by 2009.
Check out the details: they're planning to run a rotary engine on natural gas. They expect to get 1,000 miles of driving out of one tank. A German engineer is involved. :-) And Young is making a documentary about this project, and sharing knowledge online, including clips on YouTube.
Reading Dirt, one of my favorite gardening blogs, asks you to VOTE!
Dearest U.S. readers, consider all those who have struggled, fought, and suffered for your right to cast a private ballot in any election, from the Revolutionary War to the Suffragettes to the volunteers right now who oversee elections to make certain they are conducted fairly. Honor them by casting your vote on or before November 4. (For those in Virginia and other places where the dumb flyer went out telling people of a particular political party to vote on November 5th -- ignore it. It's a stupid, desperate attempt by some to negate the votes of others.)
Linguists use the phrase "code switching" to refer to the act of using more than one language when speaking. As someone who grew up in a multilingual household, I'm intimately familiar with code-switching, and one of the most interesting traits about the practice is not merely how easy it is for people to switch language on the fly, but rather how the choice of language actually informs the meaning and the nuance of the words being said.
This gets even more pronounced if we use an expansive definition of the idea of "code switching" and include switching between dialects of the same language. Then, we can look at some familiar examples to learn from them.
For example, Oprah Winfrey is an extremely successful businesswoman, obviously well-versed in the General American or Standard American English that's the language of business in this country. But Oprah regularly and effortlessly code switches to AAVE (also known as "Black English" or, to its detractors, ebonics) on her show or in various media appearances. Though her use of the dialect is clearly sincere and authentic, it's also obviously a savvy way to stay connected to audiences with whom she wants to maintain a particular resonance or credibility. In short, code switching is an efficient way to target a particular message to a particular group without explicitly telling the world that's who you're speaking to. The context makes it obvious.
We see George W. Bush do the same thing regularly, as well. No man who has an MBA from Harvard and grew up among the most privileged families in the United States can be unaware that "smoke 'em out" isn't Standard American English. That's not to say his use of folksy sayings is merely a put-on, but rather that it's a linguistic choice he makes in some settings, and with the same goal as Oprah: He's speaking directly to a particular audience in a way that resonates with them as credible, and signifies to others that they're not the target audience for his words.
Bestselling author Tony Hillerman began writing his contemporary mystery novels set in the Navajo region of the Southwest, in part, he once said, because "they have a fascinating religious philosophy and a lot of good values."
And, he told Newsweek magazine in 1989, "they're the very bottom of the pecking order among Indian tribes out here. They're the country bumpkins. And I've always identified with that."
The critically acclaimed author, whose mysteries featured two Navajo tribal policemen and were known for providing insight into the native people and culture of the Southwest, died Sunday. He was 83.
I always liked his stories of Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee, and his depiction of the arid landscapes. I've probably read about half of his novels. Now might be a good time to stroll on over to the library and see which ones they have. Or better yet, log on to sjlibrary.org and see which branch library they are in, and maybe have one or two held for me at my Willow Glen neighborhood branch. (I love that I can do that!)
Oh, and it's a very interesting obituary. Mentions that he and his wife were married for 60 years, and had six children, explains where his interest in and respect for Navajo culture came from, and says,
He never considered becoming a writer until a newspaper reporter did a feature story on him. His mother had let the reporter read the letters he had written home, and the reporter was so impressed she told him he should become a writer.