|From: Glenn Petersen||9/6/2019 2:55:47 PM|
|Quantifying My Cognitive Decline |
by James Wallace Harris, Thursday, September 5, 2019
I subscribe to a service called Grammarly which checks my spelling and grammar as I write. Grammarly sends me a weekly report on how I’m doing. Two years ago it would tell me I was more accurate than 65-70% of their users, referring to grammar and spelling. I doubt even when I was young it would have been much higher. In recent months that number has fallen to 35-40%. And I can feel it. I have to proof my posts countless times and I still find errors after I’ve published. I’m appalled by how bad my writing has become. If I published my first drafts readers would think they were following Charlie Gordon into his descent phase from the book Flowers for Algernon.
I consider this good quantitative data on my cognitive decline. Grammarly does give me some good news. I’m generally more productive than 98-99% of their users, and my vocabulary is larger than 98-99% of their users. The first is explained by being retired and writing for two blogs. The second reflects long term memory. I can tell it’s my short term memory that’s failing.
I still don’t see this as an early sign of dementia, but I might be deluding myself. I think it’s just an aspect of normal aging. We’re used to seeing our bodies getting old because of all the visible physical changes. We’re not used to mental changes because they are less observable to ourselves and the people around us. Unless we talk or act differently, other people don’t see the changes. And we don’t feel the changes unless we try to do something and fail.
I have been noticing the number of times people ask me why I’m not talking. I tell them I’m just listening to them. Or say I’m thinking. But I believe it’s because it takes more effort to put thoughts into words, and when I do talk I can’t remember words, or I verbally trip when saying sentences. My cognitive problems are the most obvious when writing. If I’m just playing with the cats, watching television, or listening to music I feel fine. I believe we ignore our mental aging by doing less and saying less. Of course, many people also ignore signs of physical aging — that’s why so many foolish oldsters fall off ladders.
The real question is: Can we exercise the mind like we exercise the body? It appears we can slow physical decline by being more active. Is that also true for mental activity? My first reaction when I realized I was making more spelling and grammar errors was to quit writing. But I quickly decided that was the wrong approach. I believe writing exercises the mind. Instead of quitting I should work harder. However, I might need crutches. I thought about pilots who use preflight checklists, or how surgeons now use checklists to avoid making surgical mistakes.
I already pay Grammarly to keep an eye on me, but it’s far from perfect. In fact, when I see errors after I published it means Grammarly and I both missed them. I usually proofread my posts four or five times before I hit the published button. Often the most glaring mistakes are last-minute rephrasing where I don’t proof the whole sentence, or whole paragraph again. But other mistakes come from reading too fast and assuming I’m seeing what I read.
I believe my essays give the illusion that my mind is working just fine. Y’all don’t see how many broke things I fix. I use the internet to cheat. It really is my auxiliary memory. And I have unlimited do-overs. Most importantly, I can take all the time I need to say what I want.
I’ve always been a good typist. It’s been the most useful skill I learned in high school. What I typed used to be what I thought. Thoughts came out of my fingers. That’s no longer true. Now my fingers give me sound-alike words, leave out words, type words twice, and even throw in extra words. Quite often I end up typing just the opposite of what I was thinking. While typing this paragraph I created 8-10 alternate words to what I was thinking. Just that could explain the halving of my accuracy score in Grammarly.
[When proofing the above paragraph I had a new insight. What if my typing is as accurate as ever, and I’m merely typing jumbled thoughts when I once transcribed clear ones?]
Writing isn’t the only way I’m seeing increased cognitive problems. The other day I wrote “ Untying a Knotted Plot” about my difficulty of understanding a short story. I had to read it four times. Admittedly, it is a complicated story. The author even wrote a couple of comments to help me. That essay was extremely difficult to compose. I struggled with trying to comprehend the story and write about it clearly. Every time I typed the author’s name I looked at the magazine to verify the spelling. I still got it wrong three out of eight times. I proofed the hell out of that piece because errors seem to be popping like popcorn. I felt like I was playing a very desperate game of Whack-a-Mole.
There’s another reason to keep writing. I want to document my own decline. Like the researchers in Flowers for Algernon, they tell Charlie to keep a journal. I’m going to be my own researcher and subject. I think it’s useful to be aware of my diminishing abilities. Aging is natural, and I accept it. I’m willing to work to squeeze all I can from my dwindling resources. What’s vital is being aware of what’s happening. The real problem to fear is becoming unconscious to who we are. Like Dirty Harry said, “A man’s got to know his limitations.”
The reason why Flowers for Algernon was such a magnificent story is that we’re all Charlie Gordon. We all start out dumb, get smart, and then get dumb again. Charlie just did it very fast, and that felt tragic. We do it slowly and try to ignore it’s happening. That’s also tragic.
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|From: LindyBill||10/27/2019 12:33:51 AM|
|I have just started reading "The Night Fire," the latest Harry Bosch. It's after 9pm and I will finish it before I go to bed. I am reading it on my PC. I have "Miles Davis & John Coltrane - Kind of blue" playing in the BG. |
Michael Connelly is my favorite author. He is 63 and has published 31 novels now. Season six of his Amazon series will be on next spring.
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|To: Cush who wrote (8646)||11/15/2019 9:15:53 PM|
|From: Glenn Petersen|
|I read The Sympathizer earlier this year. Not the easiest read, but worth the effort, even if the ending was a bit befuddled. Definitely a different perspective on the Vietnam War. The Ugly American from a Vietnamese point of view.|
Very carefully crafted; every word, every sentence. Caputo's review suggests that it is "marred by overwriting."
‘The Sympathizer,’ by Viet Thanh Nguyen
By Philip Caputo
New York Times
April 2, 2015
The more powerful a country is, the more disposed its people will be to see it as the lead actor in the sometimes farcical, often tragic pageant of history. So it is that we, citizens of a superpower, have viewed the Vietnam War as a solely American drama in which the febrile land of tigers and elephants was mere backdrop and the Vietnamese mere extras.
That outlook is reflected in the literature — and Vietnam was a very literary war, producing an immense library of fiction and nonfiction. Among all those volumes, you’ll find only a handful (Robert Olen Butler’s “A Good Scent From a Strange Mountain” comes to mind) with Vietnamese characters speaking in their own voices.
Hollywood has been still more Americentric. In films like “Apocalypse Now” and “Platoon,” the Vietnamese (often other Asians portraying Vietnamese) are never more than walk-ons whose principal roles seem to be to die or wail in the ashes of incinerated villages.
Which brings me to Viet Thanh Nguyen’s remarkable debut novel, “The Sympathizer.” ­Nguyen, born in Vietnam but raised in the United States, brings a distinct perspective to the war and its aftermath. His book fills a void in the literature, giving voice to the previously voiceless while it compels the rest of us to look at the events of 40 years ago in a new light.
But this tragicomic novel reaches beyond its historical context to illuminate more universal themes: the eternal misconceptions and misunderstandings between East and West, and the moral dilemma faced by people forced to choose not between right and wrong, but right and right. The nameless protagonist-­narrator, a memorable character despite his anonymity, is an Americanized Vietnamese with a divided heart and mind. ­Nguyen’s skill in portraying this sort of ambivalent personality compares favorably with masters like Conrad, Greene and le?Carré.
Duality is literally in the protagonist’s blood, for he is a half-caste, the illegitimate son of a teenage Vietnamese mother (whom he loves) and a French Catholic priest (whom he hates). Widening the split in his nature, he was educated in the United States, where he learned to speak English without an accent and developed another love-hate relationship, this one with the country that he feels has coined too many “super” terms (supermarkets, ­superhighways, the Super Bowl, and so on) “from the federal bank of its ­narcissism.”
The narrator’s acrobatic ability to balance between two worlds is his strength and weakness, as he makes clear in his opening lines:
“I am a spy, a sleeper, a spook, a man of two faces. Perhaps not surprisingly, I am also a man of two minds, .?.?. able to see any issue from both sides. Sometimes I flatter myself that this is a talent,” he continues, but “I wonder if what I have should even be called talent. After all, a talent is something you use, not something that uses you. The talent you cannot not use, the talent that possesses you — that is a hazard.”
And a hazard it proves to be.
The protagonist’s narrative, which takes the form of a confession written to a mystery man known as “the commandant,” begins in the final days of the war, as Communist forces close in on Saigon. The narrator is aide-de-camp to “the general” (one of several characters who, like the narrator, is never identified by name), the chief of South Vietnam’s National Police and, with it, of Special Branch, the secret police.
But the narrator is also a mole, a Communist undercover agent assigned to keep tabs on the general and Special Branch’s activities. His closest friend is Bon, an assassin with the C.I.A.’s Phoenix program, “a genuine patriot” who volunteered to fight after Communists murdered his father for the crime of being a village chief. The narrator’s North Vietnamese handler, Man, is also an old chum. Indeed, the narrator, Bon and Man were high school classmates, who in their youth melodramatically swore allegiance to one another by becoming blood brothers. This complex relationship, with the narrator in the tenuous middle, riven by conflicting loyalties, is a recipe for tragic betrayals, and those come, one after the other.
Viet Thanh NguyenCredit...BeBe Jacobs
Working through a C.I.A. spook named Claude, the narrator dispenses liberal bribes to engineer an air evacuation to the United States for the general, the general’s wife and their huge extended family. Bon is also to be lifted out with his wife and child. The narrator wants to stay and take his place in a reunified Vietnam, but Man, convinced that the general and his cohort will plot a counterrevolution from abroad, gives him a new mission that is an extension of his old one: “Your general isn’t the only one planning to keep on fighting,” he explains. “The war’s been going on too long for them to simply stop. We need someone to keep an eye on them.”
Nguyen presents a gripping picture of the fall of Saigon, its confusion, chaos and terror, as the narrator flees with the others under a storm of shellfire from his Viet Cong and North Vietnamese comrades. Bon’s wife and child are killed before their plane takes off, giving him two more deaths to avenge.
This rich narrative stew is assembled in the novel’s first 50 pages, then set on a low simmer. From that brief, intense beginning we proceed to a picaresque account of the narrator’s experiences as a ­refugee-cum-spy in Los Angeles. He lands a clerical job with his former professor, has an affair with an older ­Japanese-American woman and sends messages to Man (written in invisible ink) via an intermediary in Paris. Here the novel becomes both thriller and social satire. If you like your humor written in charcoal, this is the funniest part of the book, though it’s occasionally spoiled by zingers that belong on “The Daily Show” more than they do in a serious novel.
The narrator’s espionage activities lead him to make a foray into the movie business. He is hired by a director, “the auteur” (who bears a resemblance to Francis Ford Coppola), to round up Vietnamese in a Philippine refugee camp to work as extras in his film (which bears a resemblance to “Apocalypse Now”). Nguyen adroitly handles the shifting tones of these episodes, now hilarious, now sad, as the narrator tries to do what Nguyen has done: de-Americanize the portrayal of the war. But, unlike Nguyen, he fails.
Thereafter, the book’s mood darkens. The narrator falls into a web of deceit and treachery spun by his dual role and the schisms in his soul. Man’s suspicions prove accurate: The general and some other die-hards, guilt-ridden for not fighting to the death, bored with their mediocre lives in the States (the general has become owner of a liquor store), plot a counter­revolutionary invasion with the help of a right-wing congressman.
The narrator assists in the planning, while sending reports to Man. However, to avoid having his cover blown, he is compelled to take part in two assassinations. One victim is an ex-Special Branch officer, “the crapulent major,” the other is a Vietnamese journalist at a California newspaper. The descriptions of the murders are tense, psychologically complex, riveting. The narrator’s conscience becomes as torn as the rest of him. “Remorse over the crapulent major’s death was ringing me up a few times a day, tenacious as a debt collector,” he thinks.
(A parenthetical quibble. Good as it is, “The Sympathizer” is sometimes marred by overwriting. Lines like this — “The waiters arrived at that moment with the solemnity of Egyptian servants ready to be buried alive with their pharaoh, platters with the main courses propped on their shoulders” — appear a bit too often.)
The general eventually assembles a ragtag army of former South Vietnamese soldiers, armed and funded by the Americans. Man, kept abreast of the scheme, orders the narrator to remain in the States even as this army heads back to Asia, but he is once again rent by divided loyalties. He feels he must go to save Bon, his blood brother, from dying in what he’s sure will be a suicide mission. He finds himself caught in his familiar dilemma, “with no idea how I would manage to betray Bon and save him at the same time.”
The blood of friendship is thicker than the water of ideology. The narrator joins the general’s army. What happens to it is predictable; what happens to the narrator and Bon is anything but. I don’t want to give anything away, except to say that in its final chapters, “The Sympathizer” becomes an absurdist tour de force that might have been written by a Kafka or Genet.
As that narrative unfolds, the protagonist makes several startling discoveries, among which is the identity of the commandant’s own boss, the commissar. Under interrogation, the narrator goes temporarily insane; but in his madness he achieves a new mental clarity. He sees that the revolution for which he’s sacrificed so much has betrayed him and everyone who fought for it — as revolutions are prone to do.
Even the people who call the shots must admit that the fruits of victory are rotten, and the narrator in turn must recognize “this joke, about how a revolution fought for independence and freedom could make those things worth less than ­nothing.”
But that revelation produces an insight that saves him from complete despair: “Despite it all — yes, despite everything, in the face of nothing,” he writes at the end of the “confession” that is this book, “we still consider ourselves revolutionary. We remain that most hopeful of creatures, a revolutionary in search of a revolution, although we will not dispute being called a dreamer doped by an illusion. .?.?. We cannot be alone! Thousands more must be staring into darkness like us, gripped by scandalous thoughts, extravagant hopes and forbidden plots. We lie in wait for the right moment and the just cause, which, at this moment, is simply wanting to live.”
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|From: JohnM||11/20/2019 10:01:59 AM|
|Just finished reading Michael Connelly's most recent. I confess to some disappointment. I've liked much of his previous work. It's not been at the top of my list (rearrange my daily life to read) but definitely (most of the books) on my second ranked readings (enjoy and look forward to reading times during the day). |
I'm afraid this one was not quite at the level of my second rank. I did read it all, which speaks well. But Connelly's tendency to keep several cases alive at the same time made this one a more difficult read than past books. I repeatedly lost track of figures, had to go back and reread sections to place them (should have read it as an ebook so it would have been more easily searchable).
As usual, he pulls it all together at the end but it's a bit manufactured.
Connelly's writing remains superb--blunt, colorful, etc. And readable. Just the plotting suffers.
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|To: JohnM who wrote (9087)||11/20/2019 10:34:03 AM|
|Connelly writes at such a great level that even a drop off is still above the rest. |
I love British History and have got hooked on a Amazon Writer, Griff Hosker. He does 8th to 12th century England, using a young man who becomes a great warrior as his plot line. His books are in serial fashion and all sell for $4.95. He is quite popular and has well over a 100 of them there. A few of them are in the free section if you pay the ten bucks a month for rental books there.The "Anarchy Series" is excellent, as is "Border Knight" and all the rest in that time period. I don't care for his recent history ones.
What holds my interest is that he really explores that period of History in Britain. Plus. how people lived then is well researched.
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|To: LindyBill who wrote (9088)||11/20/2019 11:12:58 AM|
|Thanks for the Hosket recommendation. Will look it up. My serious reading has been biographies--the Roberts' book on Churchill, a dip into Roberts' Napoleon book, the Saul Bellow bios; and Atkinson's book on the American Revolution. Not so serious a spate of Brit mysteries--Charles Todd, Harvey, and so on.|
Have variable recommendations on all this.
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|To: LindyBill who wrote (9090)||11/25/2019 3:13:59 PM|
| My Norman ancestors joined an army of Norman, Breton, Flemish, and French soldiers who followed William the Conqueror to England and ended up serving the ruling class in England as Sheriffs and tax collectors for the various Kings. They held the Earldom of Arundel during the period 1267 - 1580 and are still close to the Royals, the head of the family serving today as the 18th Duke of Norfolk |
My line drew the short straw and my earliest ancestor struck out for America landing at the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1634,
Read the introduction to this book at AZ and you'll see that the Normans moved extensively throughout Europe and brought with them a remarkable willingness to incorporate the good things they found in the various countries they conquered and settled with the culture they left behind.
Among other things:
"They had the instinctive ability to recognize which local traditions were superior to their own and to combine the various cultural and legal elements into a cohesive whole."
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