Question: Where and what is “home”?

“There’s no place like home.” That was Dorothy’s homesick mantra in the Wizard of Oz, and saying it got her back to Kansas. For her, “home” was where she was from, and where she wanted to be. But I find it quite difficult to say just where home is. Is it where we are now, or where we are from, or something else entirely? Two of the best ways into small talk are “So, where are you from?” and “Where do you live?” But even little innocent questions like that can open up a whole can of worms. These days you might find yourself living in a virtual home someplace between BlueTooth, Minnesota and WiFi, Israel.

Let me tell you about where I am at home in this week’s podcast. I can tell you: It doesn’t have much to do with my street address. And what about you? I’d love to hear from you.

Life’s a voyage that’s homeward bound. – Herman Melville
Where thou art, that is home. – Emily Dickinson (thou art = you are)
A man’s homeland is wherever he prospers. – Aristophanes

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The lioness of Iran

Thomas Pierce, Weekend Edition, NPR, via 3quarksdaily:
“NPR’s Davar Ardalan interviewed Simin Behbahani, Iran’s national poet, today from Tehran. She’s 82 years-old and one of the most respected figures in modern Iran. She recites two poems inspired by recent events — one dedicated to the people of Iran and another to Neda, the woman whose death during the protests was viewed by millions on the web and on TV.”
There’s a very interesting, frustrated comment by “Young Iranian” on the NPR blog, who calls Western empathy “hypocritical” and “politically driven”, because it comes now, late, when Iranians protest. I’d say we Westerners have learned to be selective about who we empathize with, and crises are what focus our attention. You could be cynical about it, but why? I really think Iran has make its way on its own.

Blog carneval: No blog is an island

Well, you know, I never really meant to become a blogger. It was all a bit of an accident. You see, I used to keep up individual course (b)logs to post homework and materials. Then one day I decided to get help (wouldn’t be anywhere without help) to build Beautiful Islands, my Moodle site, with separate project spaces for each of my company courses. The Island Weekly was the front page and was to contain weekly updates on what was happening on the Beautiful Islands. Well, most of my students had no use for Moodle, but the blog had some readers, so I eventually dropped the former and started expanding the latter from a weekly to a daily. Though I don’t make money from it and know I’m one of (and not one in) a million, blogging is as important to me as the teaching and writing I charge for.

The best part has been the discipline of thinking about things in greater depth. I write and podcast for people I actually know. It’s improved my writing style. But it’s also intrinsically rewarding: I came to teaching through the back door, an academic who loved discourse and had to start over in a new discipline. In my first ten years as a teacher I focused on learning the craft of helping others express themselves and became a good “midwife”. Now, writing has brought discourse back in through the front door. Of course a freelance teacher my age also needs to skill up. I’m fully aware that older does not mean better. So blogging keeps me on my toes and ready for the future.

The worst part of blogging is that writing has replaced making music as my meditative way into and out of the day, and I’m no longer making any progress on the keyboard. I really miss that.

I’m not in this for selfexpression, promoting learning is still what makes me tick. So I’d like to get a group of connected EFL bloggers up and running. I’ve taught academic writing and think – no, I know! – blogs would be the perfect vehicle for an open writing group based on assignments. This would all be free without competing with courses. People need to achieve a different level of English fluency than their parents did. I’m dying to try out my peer review system in such a group, but it’s a very slow process getting people up.

What traffic I get to this blog is generated though Twitter, posts on other people’s blogs, links on networking sites and word-of-mouth. People outside teaching with my interests find me through Google, and I’ve just begun using SEO. All of those are very effective ways of making sure a blog is connected. Because no blog, and no blogger, is an island.

You’re a blogging teacher? Join the blog carneval organised by Karenne Sylvester by going to >the blog carneval site. For details see Karenne’s blog and reminder. Submit your article by 15 July.

That takes the cake

A few days ago I said that a presentation “takes the cake“, meaning it was great. Now I just saw that Macmillan defines “take the cake” like this:

take the cake

to be the worst, most shocking, or most annoying example of something
I’ve heard some ridiculous excuses before, but that takes the cake.

Isn’t it interesting and strange how a phrase can be used ironically to mean the opposite? In German I would say “das schärfste sein”, “den Vogel abschießen”. Depending on the context, your tone of voice and your relationship to the people you are talking to the meaning will change. Irony is one of the defining types of communication … in my life, at least. In fact, I didn’t even realize I was being ironic. It’s interesting to see that the Urban Dictionary only lists the positive meaning.

About the Urban Dictionary: Founded in 1999 by college student Aaron Peckham as a parody of the dictionary, features definitions written by people from all over the world. Since then, Urban Dictionary has been cited in court, in graduation speeches, and by countless news media outlets, including CNN and Time magazine. Aaron listens for the newest words and phrases in San Francisco, California.

So if the Urban Dictionary meaning is the ironic one and it is so widespread, when does it stop being ironic? Hey, and why doesn’t Macmillan allow for both meanings? Could it be an American English/British English thing, too? Must ask Vicki Hollett about it, she’s Learning to speak ‘merican.

Bob Ross’ happy little paintings

Whatever this man was taking, I want some. Helmut thinks his paintings will be valuable one day. I’m not so sure. But his boundless optimism and general spaciness will go down in history. Bob Ross (October 29, 1942 – July 4, 1995) was absolutely priceless.

He repeatedly stated on the show his belief that everyone had inherent artistic talent and could become an accomplished artist given time, practice, and encouragement, and to this end was often fond of saying, “We don’t make mistakes, we just have happy little accidents.” (From Wikipedia)

Link: Bob Ross

How to sound like Bob Ross:

Let’s just do a happy little painting
happy little strokes
just sort of let it happen
see how easy it is
I’m just an absolute fanatic for water -… love it!
That makes it sort of pretty
thought today we’d put in some happy little clouds
take out all of your frustrations and hostilities
Decide where your big ole clouds are going to live
clouds are very, very free
it doesn’t matter
happy little bushes
don’t want this little tree to be left out
all kinds of happy little things
Isn’t that super?
And it works so well
the squirrel hilton
We don’t make mistakes, we just have happy accidents
There it comes…
Whatever, just sort of scrub it in

PS: What, spaciness isn’t in the dictionary (OED)?!?
spacy (or: spacey):

1. very eccentric or unconventional
2. spaced-out: not in touch with reality; flighty, irresponsible, neurotic
3. with lots of space, roomy
4. connected with the extraterrestrial
1. ditziness (dumb innocence); state of being off-beat

Paul Collier: Post-conflict recovery

Paul Collier, former director of the World Bank’s Development Research Group and current director of the the Centre for the Study of African Economies at Oxford, gave a TED presentation at the State Department on rebuilding broken nations. He says when long conflict has wrecked a country, peacekeeping is needed to build security ad hoc, followed by focussing on three immediate areas to develop over the long term: Jobs (especially construction) to rebuild the skillset; health and basic social services co-branded by the government and NGOs; and clean government, meaning that a lot of technical assistance will need to follow any money given, ie “Accountants without Borders”.