Glare of the limelight

Sports: fiction or fact?

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While watching a recent bone crunching pro-football game on TV, I saw a player dive into a fracas and come up the fumbled football. He took off for his goal, running for the sidelines to avoid being pummel by a pile of opposing players.  With the TV camera in close I could see his grin as his teammates gave him congratulatory fists to the his helmet. It looked like his head was being knocked around inside his helmet.

“Doesn’t that hurt him?” I asked.

“Players frequently do things to their own players that would result in a penalty if they did  it to an opponent,” was the response of a more sage sports aficionado.

If you read many of the current sports books you will find there is a much darker side to sports than the painful  celebratory punching that occurs between team members. The same sports aficionado advised me…

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The distant lands of home

Reading the earlier work of famous authors….

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Biltmore (77)aIn grade school I would skim the readers for something intriguing, passing over stories of everyday American life and fun science facts for narratives about other countries. As  junior high student I soaked up Jules Verne adventures in distant places such as the famed  Around the World in Eighty Days, 20,000 Leagues under the Sea and the lesser known Michael Strogoff: Courier of the Czar.  As an adult I discovered he chafed under the formulaic requirements imposed on him for writing these shallow adventure novels. But they were the right stories to get me hooked on reading at that time. (Maybe, if these same requirements were followed by some of today’s YA novelist their works would actually improve).

Often in secondary education, we foist the best works of classic authors on students when they are not ready for the abstract thinking required to appreciate it. There is…

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Ten top reasons not to read classic literature

My top ten list for the week.

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grimm's grave w10 – There are so many choices of books to read now, why bother with less relevant writing from the past. There is also a lot more to learn in the fields of history, science and math so while we’re at it, why don’t we just pare them down to the important events of the last fifty years, too.

9 – Most of the people who wrote this literature stuff are long dead. This is also another good reason to eliminate the all the history we now have to study now.

8 – The people who wrote classic literature, do not really know what our life is like. Of course, the most influential people alive now–political leaders, business moguls, movie stars–probably don’t know any more about the way we live.

7 – We want to read about what matters to us now. However, if we read only what is current…

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Laughter and learning

When does humor help to get your point across?

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359px-shy_guy_imagicity_5A Photo by Dan McGarry “Shy Guy” CC BY-SA 3.0 

Imagine two different college classes: in one the instructors is always logical and serious; and in the other the instructor throws in frequent jokes only tangentially related the subject. In which class do students learn more? According to research it depends the students. In one study, Melissa Bekelja Wanzer found that humor found offensive or directed at students interfered with learning. In another study, Mark Shatz, and Frank LoSchiavo discovered that when a professor made self-deprecating jokes and included subject-related cartoons in on-line classes, students said that they enjoyed the class more.

But that research doesn’t tell us in which class the students learned more. The problem is that most studies on how humor affects learning end up with mixed results. Wasner found that when professors use a dry sense of humor when instructing, the students perceived them as better communicators…

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He laughs, she laughs

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Originally posted on Write about what?:
? Once I heard a bit of advice spoken by one adolescent boy to another. “Do you want to know if a girl likes you? Tell a really stupid joke, the stupider the better. If she…

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The giggling girls have power

Why do we laugh at things that are not funny?

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It's_so_funny_cropWhy can’t we be all like adolescent girls, and laugh more? The topic of the discussion thread caught my attention. Evidently girls between the ages of 11 and 18 all over the world laugh more than any other group. In the past, I have often been in classrooms where teenage girls were unable to suppress their laughter. Most of the time there was nothing particularly amusing to start the laughter. However, the very sound of an initial giggle seemed to generate the impulse for laughter to spread. It frequently turned into a high pitched and disruptive twitter, bringing the class to a halt. I suspected that was the reason the girls were giggling so much.

It turns out that I was not far from right. Girls don’t giggling all the time because they are having fun, but because they are building their first line of defense. Giggling is an attempt…

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How funny am I?

Return_To_Innocence c

Return to innocence by Syed Touhid Hassan 2.0

Traits that are found in people who are considered humorous include: adaptability in communication, desire to make a positive impressions, orientation towards feeling/emotions, and being able to see the irony in a situation. There are advantages to being considered humorous; you are seen as socially attractive, a competent communicators, and you are probably less lonely. Students feel that teachers who appropriately use humor are more in touch with them, and workers view bosses who crack a few jokes as having a great immediacy.  When others laugh spontaneously at your jokes you can be assured that you have a sense of humor.

Before you broadcast your collection of puns and one-liners remember that believing you are funny doesn’t necessarily make you so.  There is a skill involved here. So how do you know if you are funny? The Humor Orientation Scale has been developed by a pair of West Virginia University researchers so you can rate your Humor Orientation or HO. Actually others rate it for you. Humor is not just the content of what you say, but also the manner of delivery. People who have high HO scores are perceived as being funnier than those with low HO scores, even when delivering the same jokes.

Finally, understanding the language and culture of your audience is crucial for being funny. One time I listened to an educational speaker who sprinkled his presentation with humor as a way of keeping audience attention. He bemoaned the time he presented in China. “I was using the same jokes and puns that always get a laugh, but the  people just sat there, deadpan,” he complained. “So I asked the translator if she was translating me word for word or restating the meaning in her own words. She admitted she was restating the meaning. That’s why it wasn’t funny.”

He failed to comprehend that jokes and puns don’t translate well and sometimes not at all. If the woman had repeated his speech word for word in Mandarin, it still wouldn’t have been funny. His Chinese audience might have thought his presentation full of nonsense. However, as he continued to whine about how the translator ruined his humor, he got a chuckle out of me.

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Writing satire


Having a fondness for satire, I savor that kind of humor. But, many readers stumble over it. I introduced my children to the pleasure of reading satire when they were young. While in grade school, my daughter delighted in the annotated versions of Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. These “children’s” classics gave her insight into Lewis Carroll’s ironic views on education that many people miss. But, these books still had humor that a child could understand.

Satire takes more intelligence and a deeper than average exposure to culture to comprehend. The extra work to understand unspoken meaning behind spoken sarcasm actually seems to make us smarter. In a study in Israel, college students listening to complaints on a customer service line were able to come up with more creative solutions to problem if the complaint was delivered in a sarcastic tone of voice. University of Haifa psychologist, Simone Shamay-Tsoory noted that people’s ability to understand sarcasm is related their level of social cognition. She found the area of the brain responding to comments that means the opposite of what one is saying also enables us to recognize emotions and social issues. When people suffered damage to the prefrontal lobe, which controls executive processing, they have a harder time picking up sarcasm. The loss of ability to “get” a sarcastic remark may be the beginning of a brain disease.[1]

The best tactic is to have a mix of levels of humor. Include an average intelligence character that the others have to talk to and deal with to make it easier for your less erudite readers. If you expect people to understand allusions as part of the humor, the very act of having to look up the name will reduce the instant humor. Include  annotations in the sidebar (footnotes if that is not possible) to explain the real or fictional people, places and events. Even a very educated person from another culture in another country may not understand your allusions. And, why should we deny anyone the pleasure of comprehending satire?




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A proper repartee

It’s not easy to write humor.

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Southern-belle-civil-warThe group of women sat around a table, discussing their mother’s instructions on being a “Southern Lady. ” In their story telling manner they competed with each to relate the most outlandish piece of advice.

“I never could understand that bit about making sure I had on clean underwear before going on a car trip in case I was in an accident,” one drawled.

“Me neither,” agreed a second woman with a honeyed giggle. “If I were in a car crash and bleeding, I doubt anyone would be worried about how clean my underwear was.”

The first woman continued. “Still she would remind me every time we got in the car. Sometime she simply would insist that I go back in the house and put on another pair, but I would have none of that.”

“My mother would insist that I put on clean underwear, too,” a third woman chimed…

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The origins of optimism

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Investing_money (1)Investing money cc-by-sa-2.0

Optimism and pessimism are not two distinct styles but rather ends of a continuum. At the optimistic end people expect only good events to happen to them. They concentrate on stimuli that indicates a rosy outlook and ignore warning signs of unpleasant possibilities. At the pessimistic end people expect bad events to happen to them and become preoccupied with signs that something is going wrong.  Recently we have been told the further one is on the optimistic side, without reaching the oblivious dysfunctional state of being unable to see any pitfalls, the better life is.  Look at the all the benefits that some psychological researchers claim to have found for people who are higher on the optimism scale; they are purportedly happier, healthier and make more money.

However, careful examination of these claims show that social support[1], health, higher income[2] and optimism are really…

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