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Alter Egos - I Am Done Watching This

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Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Modelling Languages Demise

Dead Beat was recently bemoaning the death of language. His buddies meanwhile over at the Department of Theoretical and Applied Mechanics, Cornell University, got on the blower.
"All is not lost, Dead Beat."
"How so?"
"Mathematical modelling."
"Oh, now you're talking my language."
"See we developed a simple model of language competition that explains historical data on the
decline of Welsh, Scottish Gaelic, Quechua (the most common surviving indigenous
language in the Americas) and other endangered languages. A linguistic parameter that
quantifies the threat of language extinction can be derived from the model and may
be useful in the design and evaluation of language-preservation programmes."
"More, more."
"Previous models of language dynamics have focused on the transmission and evolution
of syntax, grammar or other structural properties of a language itself. In contrast,
the model we describe here idealizes languages as fixed, and as competing with each
other for speakers."
"Don't stop."
"Consider a system of two competing languages, X and Y,in which the attractiveness of
a language increases with both its number of speakers and its perceived status (a parameter
that reflects the social or economic opportunities afforded to its speakers). Suppose
an individual converts from Y to X with a probability, per unit of time, of Pyx(x,s),
where x is the fraction of the population speaking X, and 0 less than or equal to 1 is a measure of X’s relative status. A minimal model for language change is therefore dx/dt=yPyx(x,s)-xPxy(x,s)."
"Gosh darn, of course it is."
"Contrary to the model’s stark prediction, bilingual societies do, in fact, exist. But the
histories of countries where two languages coexist today generally involve split populations
that lived without significant interaction, effectively in separate, monolingual
societies. Only recently have these communities begun to mix, allowing language
competition to begin. So what can be done to prevent the rapid
disintegration of our world’s linguistic heritage? The example of Quebec French
demonstrates that language decline can be slowed by strategies such as policy-making,
education and advertising, in essence increasing an endangered language’s status."
"Speaking of Bingo Dead Beat. I did a mathematical analysis........

The Gestalt Approach Of A Real Writer

"Hey Daniel Berkeley."

"Dead Beat."

"So what's on your mind today. More deconstruction of the craft of narrative?"

"God forbid."

"What, don't you like teaching all those Dead Beaters out there a thing or two about the business?"

" This effort of approaching a piece of fiction as though there's something slightly wrong with it that can be fixed is maybe not the gestalt approach that a real writer ought to have. "

"Shoot, there goes my livelihood."

"Why don't you write for a livelihood?"

"Hah hah, very funny. We can't all be Updikes."

"Most of the writing world aspires to be. But really Dead Beat I did write a lot of light verse, and even some verse that wasn't too light. Even I knew there was no living in being a poet, so fiction was the game."

"Game, Daniel Berkeley?"

"Yes of course Dead Beat, what else could you call it? I found when I attempted fiction it's like sort of a horse you don't know is there, but if you jump on the back there is something under you that begins to move and gallop."

"A sort of horse game then?"

"The trick about fiction, Dead Beat, as I see it, is to make an unadventurous circumstance seem adventurous, to make it excite the reader, either with its truth or with the fact that there's always a little more that goes on, and there's multiple levels of reality."

So there you have it. Writing is but a game, and there is a trick to it which you all now know. So what are you waiting for, you aspiring Updikes, go to it!

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Too Much BS

Dead Beat has a question - just who is Britney Spears.?

Dead Beat has been around the block a few times, but who is B.S?

What she write?

No Way


Friday, September 21, 2007

New Room For Shapelessness

So Updike returns. "Hey Dead Beat."

"Hey Daniel Berkeley."

"What I was saying about Salinger."

"Weaving fiction from seemingly unconnected events."

"Yeah. Well I got to thinking. You see like most innovative writers he made new room for shapelessness, for life as it is lived. I'm thinking of a story like "Just Before The War With The Eskimos.""

"Don't you forget it. There's been times you haven't been so kind to Mr. Sal."

"Goddamn Glass family!"

'Life as it is lived."

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The Loss of the Unknown and the Everyday

Dead Beat notes that the Living Tongues Institute for Endangered Languages and the National Geographic Society have reported that while there are an estimated 7,000 languages spoken around the world today, one of them dies out about every two weeks.

"In addition to northern Australia, eastern Siberia and Oklahoma and the U.S. Southwest, many native languages are endangered in South America — Ecuador, Colombia, Peru, Brazil and Bolivia — as well as the area including British Columbia, and the states of Washington and Oregon."

K. David Harrison, an assistant professor of linguistics at Swarthmore College and associate director of the Living Tongues Institute stated: "When we lose a language, we lose centuries of human thinking about time, seasons, sea creatures, reindeer, edible flowers, mathematics, landscapes, myths, music, the unknown and the everyday."

"As many as half of the current languages have never been written down," he estimated.
That means, if the last speaker of many of these vanished tomorrow, the language would be lost because there is no dictionary, no literature, no text of any kind."

Dead Beat remembers well the chant when he was learning Latin - "Latin is a language as dead as dead can be. It killed the ancient Romans, and now it's killing me."

Well we got it right in a manner of speaking. Allowing a language to die is a sure way of killing ourselves.

Centuries of human thinking about time... the unknown and the everyday...

Monday, September 17, 2007

Updike Has His Eyes Opened

"Dead Beat?"


"Updike here."



"Sorry, I think you got a wrong number."

"I need to tell you something."

"Daniel Berkeley Updike: American printer and scholar, founder in 1893 of the distinguished Merrymount Press?"

"John Updike."

"John....John... Name rings a bell. Merchant banker?"

"World famous prose writer."

"Why thank you, I am."

"Not you Dead Beat, me, John Updike. All those Rabbit books."

"Oh, now I got you. Wrote one on Golden Retrievers too. Hudson seemed to like that."

"Not those sort of rabbits, human ones."

"Oh like science fiction."

"Can it, Dead Beat. I got something to tell you. It's about Sal."


"The short stories of J.D. Salinger really opened my eyes as to how you can weave fiction out of a set of events that seem almost unconnected, or very lightly connected."

"So what are you saying, that all writers of fiction would be well advised to read his stories?"

"I'm saying they really opened my eyes."

"So all writers of fiction should have their eyes opened?"

"I'm saying my eyes were opened."

"Got you, Daniel Berkeley. I'll pass that advice on."

So from one D.B. to another D.B. to all you writers out there. Read Salinger, have your eyes opened.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Constants, Units and Uncertainties

Dead Beat, as you know, considers an appreciation of science a necessary prerequisite for any writer worth their NaCl. He has a particular interest in constants.

Indeed he will never forget his Grade 8 science teacher trying to catch a gormless student unawares by asking if the constant k ever changed. The boy nodded silently that it did amid the guffaws of all. Even then Dead Beat felt angered, not so much by the unnecessary teasing but by the notion of a fixed unspecified value. The teacher being a priest, Dead Beat thought, should have known better in every regard.

But now it seems that the nodding boy may have the last laugh.

Dead Beat reads that the international prototype for the kilogram, kept tightly under lock and key in Sevres, outside Paris is losing weight. While the rest of the world is gaining weight and turning obese, the little kilogram does it's best to lose weight as some sort of counterbalance.

A little bit of history: At the end of the 18th century, a kilogram was the mass of a cubic decimeter of water. In 1889, the 1st CGPM sanctioned the international prototype of the kilogram, made of platinum-iridium, and declared: This prototype shall henceforth be considered to be the unit of mass.

The 3d CGPM (1901), in a declaration intended to end the ambiguity in popular usage concerning the word "weight," confirmed that: The kilogram is the unit of mass; it is equal to the mass of the international prototype of the kilogram.

Along with the prototype were dozens of copies - the reference kilogram has lost 50 micrograms
compared with the average of the copies.

Has the prototype got lighter or have the copies got heavier?

And so a better difinition if needed. Something more precise than the platinum-iridium cylinder. - just as the meter which was once defined as the distance between scratches on a bar, now involves the distance that light travels in a vacuum.

The ever varying constant. The writer and his search for a measure.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

A Perfect Day For Bananafish

So Dead Beat's old croony J.D wants in on the discussion of legend and myth.

"What's up Sal?"

"It's this distinction you draw between legend and myth D.B."

"What are you saying?"

"I'm saying, it doesn't have to be an either or. Look at me for crying out loud, part legend, part myth."

"So a story could be both."

"Haven't you read A Perfect Day For Bananafish."

"Read it J.D.? I live it out each and every day."

"That's all I wanted to say."

"Much appreciated. Now tell me, what are you doing tonight? Want to paint the town red?"

Monday, September 10, 2007

Dead Beat - A Myth or a Legend?

So myth and legend.

The main thing to remember is that in myth the story is timeless and the events are symbolic.

In a legend the story is told as though it were a historical event and does not have a symbolic narrative.

Myths it has been said are stories shared by a group which are a part of their cultural identity.

And so as writers, creators of stories, we need to keep this in mind.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Dead Beat Hands Out Homework

Now, nothing particularly nice about this legend, I suppose.

Black Jack Ketchum.

A legend, nevertheless.

Before becoming Black Jack Ketchum of course, he was simply Thomas Edward Ketchum.

For us writers, all of this is paramount.

Homework for today: What is the difference between a myth and a legend?

How does a person assume legendary status?

How does all of this affect your writing?

Twenty lashes of the birch for all who do not complete this assignment.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

The Myth of Writing

So Casey Jones blows his lonesome whistle in the dark of night outside Dead Beat's window. Dead Beat sits up in bed. A half-moon shines its light through the curtains making the shadow of a train derailing.

"Is that you Case?" I whisper.

"The one and only."

"What you doing up this late?"

"Why Dead Beat I'm here to thank you for keeping the legend alive."

"Gee shucks, C.J. but you're my hero."

"Not everyone agrees anymore."

"Problem Case is that they don't know their myths from their hisses."

"Thanks again D.B. Now I gotta go. I gotta run a No. 638 all the way back to Water Valley."

And with the low call of a whippoorwill Casey was on his way.

Now Old D.B. lay his head back down on his pillow, but he couldn't get back to sleep. You see folks, the low call of Casey's whistle, the pounding of John Henry's hammer, they're too insistent.

There is a notion that myth equates to something that is untrue whereas nothing could be further from the truth.

A myth is but a framework which allows us to interpret, make meaning, from something else. In our case fiction, poetry. The myth itself is not intended to be interpreted. A myth creates a rich array of metaphor. It utilises imagery and symbolism. From these we make meaning of the real world.

Our stories are not in themselves real - however they represent reality. Our characters are as far removed from the the individuals peopling our world as is possible, but when we are successful they are believed in as being real. At that moment in time they are mythologised.

As writers our raw material is the stuff of myth - is indeed myth itself.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Hammer Gonna Be The Death Of Me

"Daniel Boone, Davy Crockett, John Henry, Johnny Appleseed... I could go on and on.."

"Well, old D.B. far be it from me to tell you but you do."

"They're myths. Don't you get it. That's what us writers do, create myths. If you don't know a good myth when you see one, you may as well lay down your pen... Let me sing you a song:

One, two, three

Well, John Henry was a little baby

Sittin' on his daddy's knee

He pick up a hammer and a little piece of steel,

And cried, "Hammer's gonna be the death of me, Lord, Lord

Hammer's gonna be the death of me

"Now the captain he said to John Henry,

"I'm gonna bring that steam drill

'roundI'm gonna bring that steam drill out on these tracks

I'm gonna knock that steel on down, God, God

Gonna knock that steel on down"

John Henry told his captain,"Lord, man ain't nothin' but a man

Before I let that steam drill beat me down...."